2021 was my fifth year of early retirement, and the second one lived in the context of the Covid pandemic.
Although we've got used to living with the restrictions, looking back over the year reminds me that the rules have muted our activities. I'm not moaning, just realising that we're operating within a narrower band of what we can and cannot do.
Despite that, there were still some memorable aspects to 2021, and at least there were more freedoms compared to 2020.
What one word sums up my last year? Realistically, I can't distill it down to a single word, but gratitude is one that should feature. During these continuing Covid times, I'm grateful for my health and I'm also grateful that I appreciate it and work towards keeping it. I'm also grateful that, despite the restrictions, I still got to do things. And I'm grateful for our financial position that opens up opportunities and makes life easier. I'm also grateful that I'm grateful about these things...if that makes sense.
Back in March, I wrote a post Taking a moment to be grateful. I think it was my favourite post of 2021, taking the time to think and write down some of the things I'm grateful for. It was the first time that I'd delierately done that, and I'd recommend it. My list included that I'm grateful for:
Trying to be adventurous
Being healthy and fit
A positive attitude
Being stress free
Although I sometimes feel that I spend too much money, I'm grateful that I at least think about my spend and try to be mindful about it, and I'm also grateful that I'm an organised person who likes making lists and set myself targets. And on that note, it's time to have a look at how the money and targets went in 2021.
How I did against my targets
At the start of 2021 I made a list of twelve targets, and I give myself six A's, one B-, a C-, a D, an E and two F's. I'm okay that it's not a sea of green A grades, because that would suggest I'd set my ambitions too low and wasn't challenging myself enough. I believe challenge, as well as occasionally being pushed out of my comfort zone, is a healthy ingredient in my early retirement.
I'm most pleased with my targets for running, blog, managing to visit four new places, getting a campervan and booking our Aurora Borealis trip.
Having not run in any events since early 2018, I took part in three in 2021. That's not many, but all were memorable. The first was a relay event, running the course of the Berlin Wall in a team with friends. I loved running with my buddies, and it made me realise how much I'd missed it. It also encouraged me to sign up for a marathon. Training went well, and I dreamed about running sub 3 hours, although I didn't really believe it was possible. In the days before the race, I decided that I was going to "go big or go home", a strategy that can end in tears. To cut a long story short, I did it, a new personal best time of 2h 59m 09s. I was a very happy runner, and that my daughter came to watch was the icing on the cake. The following month I ran a personal best time for the half marathon, 1h 22m 39s, with my sister, brother in law and niece watching on. I reckon that I earned my running A grade!
Also on running, we're trying to form a running group in our village/small town. It's baby steps, with our biggest turnout being ten runners. Hopefully we can keep our weekly group runs going and growing.
Don't worry, I'm not going to go through all of my targets in so much detail, but I do want to touch on the campervan. I'd been thinking (aka watching YouTube videos) about converting a van into a camper for a number of years but the idea was perhaps petering out. Did we have the skills to do it, where would we do the conversion, where would we park it when done, would we use it, was Sally keen? Then, for Christmas 2020, my daughter and son gave me a campervan coffee table book which reignited my enthusiasm. So I put it on my list of targets, to figure out the campervan plan i.e. either do it, or accept it was a dream and nothing more. Putting it on the list forced the issue, Sally and I talked about it, decided the original self conversion plan wasn't practical, but came up with an alternative idea. In June 2021, we took delivery of our campervan. I'm glad we took the plunge. Time will tell how much we use it, hopefully a good amount, but at least we went for it instead of doing nothing and looking back with regret at some point in the future.
Not all of my targets ended in success. I'm disappointed with my efforts to learn French (quelle surprise!), although I did make more effort towards the end of the year. My report card should say "too little, too late - could and should do better". I also wish that I'd made progress on imagining a new adventure for Sally and me. My thoughts have hardly got off the ground on this, although I suspect Sally is as relieved about that as I am frustrated!
Early retirement money
Of our five years of early retirement, 2021 was the most expensive, even without counting the campervan purchase. I thought it would be easy to compare the five years and figure out why, but it's complicated because our early retirement years haven't all looked the same.
Year 1: living in Dubai, Sally was still working.
Year 2: six months in Dubai with Sally still working, 4 months travelling, 2 months in France.
Year 3: Lived in France. Travelled to California, Costa Rica and Colombia for 3 months.
Year 4: Lived in France. Covid restrictions. Incurred set up costs for second home in UK.
Year 5. Lived in France. Covid restrictions. Costs for second home in UK before deciding to Airbnb it.
I really was surprised at how much we spent in 2021 given that we didn't have the big travel adventures of our first years of early retirment, nor the house furnishing costs of the previous year.
In the end, I decided to compare our 2021 and 2020 spend, both Covid years so there is a degree of similarity. The items that varied by more than £/€/$ 1,000 between 2021 and 2020 were:
A. Reduced spend in 2021 compared to 2020:
Furnishing UK second home (now an Airbnb) - we spent a lot less in 2021.
Groceries - although we spent loads on groceries, it was actually less than in 2020.
B. Increased spend in 2021 compared to 2020 (from biggest to smallest increase in spend):
Car - I haven't fully got my head around this. Less Covid restrictions allowed more overland travel. 2 trips from France to the UK and trips to Scotland, Berlin and Italy added significant fuel and toll costs. I suspect we did more trips to Zurich as well. The campervan will be less fuel efficient too.
Gifts - the main increase in 2021 is the Finland trip for the kids.
Medical - Sally and I both had dental work done.
France home furnishing/maintenance - various costs for hot tub, a new shed, vacuum cleaner and garden stuff.
UK house costs - bills and municipality/property tax while not used for Airbnb.
Holiday/Travel - less Covid restrictions meant we added a trip to Italy in 2021.
Going out - less Covid restrictions meant we went out a little more often.
My instinct is that we've spent more than I'd have liked this year - it will be interesting to see how our spending goes in 2022.
By the way, read this if you want to know how much the campervan cost...you may want to sit down, it was a lot!
So that's my review of 2021, how I did against my targets, how much we spent and some of the things I'm grateful for. Another important event was our son finishing university/achieving his degree and starting his new job. Good for him, and good for our bank account too!
Now that I'm done with the words, it's time for a few pictures.