Thursday, 30 April 2009

One month of blogging

Was so pleased to discover that I got my 400th visitor today - exactly one month after I started writing this blog. I'd like to say thanks to everyone who has visited and commented on this site in that month, and also thanks to those followers/subscribers who have come back for more - it's very much appreciated and I am actually quite shocked at the response to a project that was spontaneously set up on a whim during an afternoon tea break. Thanks to you all!

I shall return later with a relevant post.
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Wednesday, 29 April 2009

(Un)important Things

I'm actually secretly rather glad that Squirrel Queen, author of three lovely blogs called The Road To Here, Through Squirrel Eyes and The Chase For Baja, tagged me in her post of the same title as it made a welcome break from cleaning my apartment from top to bottom (I still haven't finished, that's how much there is to do!)

I actually deliberately stayed away from the computer from Monday night until now in order to get it done.... so I have no posts in mind for today and am actually very glad that Squirrel Queen has given me a ready-made post to put up! Unless you want to hear all about my cleaning exploits that is.... but of course I'm sure you don't.... (on the off-chance that anyone actually does.... sprinkling a liberal amount of bicarbonate of soda in my oven and scrubbing with a wet sponge scourer worked a treat. Ha! The green lobby are gonna love me!)

Here are the 3 rules:

A. Mention the person who tagged you.
Just did. See above.

B. List six unimportant things that make you happy.
Hmmm, that's not easy, there are so many. OK, here goes....

1. Cups of tea - obviously. With plenty of milk. Although hot chocolate is a good substitute. Actually, make that chocolate in general!
2. Sunshine and blue cloudless skies - like today! I'm not a great photographer but I took this photo on my iPhone today to share with you all:

3. Watching "The Apprentice" with boyfriend (UK version - haven't seen the US version). It's the only TV show I bother to watch.
4. The smell of parks and gardens just after the summer rain has fallen and the sun has come out.
5. Singing. And karaoke with friends (don't knock it till you've tried it!) I can't sing for toffee though, so that's not a potential career-change option.
6. Pressing or pushing buttons (just don't ask.... it'll take too long to explain)

C. Tag six blogs, state the rules and notify them with a comment on their blog.
Hmmmm, this is again a hard one. Can't I do what Squirrel Queen did and just tag everybody?

I'll try and nominate different blogs this time for people to visit....

1. The 1,000,000 Project (sorry, I know I've just nominated you for an award - I just thought you'd enjoy doing this one!)
2. accidentally, kle
3. Serendipitous Freelance Writer
4. Musing
5. RoRo Fusion
6. Live Write Dream

Right, I have to go, "The Apprentice" is on at 9pm so I've only got a couple of minutes.... Will post tomorrow, see you all!
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Monday, 27 April 2009

Recession and redundancy - disaster or opportunity?

My mate Steven's 26th birthday party was on Saturday night, so my boyfriend and I had the perfect excuse to spend the day - well, the whole weekend, really - wandering round in the glorious sunshine before heading over to Covent Garden where the party was. Despite a spate of redundancies at the City law firm he works for, Steven confided cheerfully that he wasn't worried.

"I've decided to take voluntary redundancy," he confessed over his pint of beer. "There's so many people losing their jobs, I'm not going to sit around and wait to see if I'm next."
"You're doing what?!?" I gasped. "I thought you liked your job?"
"Oh, I do like my job," he answered airily, "but I work such long hours all the time, I haven't had a break for years. So the opportunity's come up, and I've decided to take it. Besides which," he added, grinning, "I get a much bigger payoff this way."
"But, mate," I continued to protest. "Are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"Well, yeah," he said. "I mean, come on, this is an opportunity, innit? I can sit at home, have a rest, do nothing for a year, maybe I'll even travel a bit, then go back to work somewhere else..."

Now that's a response I haven't often heard this recession: "It's an opportunity". Open any newspaper or turn on any TV, and you'll hear a thousand and one doom-and-gloom articles about the failing economy and the ever-increasing queues outside jobcentres up and down the UK. In the past 18 months the BBC news website has featured stories of despair from people who have either been made redundant, or are under threat of being made redundant. People are worried sick, taking on more work, taking pay cuts, working longer hours, being nice to the boss, all in a desperate scramble to hold onto their jobs as tightly as possible, yet here's my mate Steven jumping at the chance to lose his job - hell, he's even asking his firm to let him go.

While the next few weeks will show if Steven actually meant it (or whether he'd simply drunk too much beer), I couldn't help wondering about both points of view. Clearly the media have painted the credit crunch as an unmitigated disaster, the worst financial crisis for a century; but there is a small crowd who feel that the recession has thrown up plenty of opportunity. In Steven's case, he's 26, single and has no domestic or financial commitments. He went straight into practising law after university, so unlike myself, he didn't have the chance to travel or try something else before embarking on a career. It's easy to see how he'd view this recession as a big opportunity for himself.

But it's not just him, though. Some businesses are taking that view as well. Budget supermarkets like Aldi and Lidl in the UK are apparently having a great time, as is any business marketed for "the credit crunch". Foyles Bookstore in London's Charing Cross Road put up posters listing their examples of businesses that had started in recessions:
  • Burger King
  • Disney
  • FedEx
  • Microsoft
  • CNN
  • General Electric
  • MTV
  • Sports Illustrated
  • Hewlett Packard
among others.
While I am not going to be one of those dismissive or unrealistically "optimistic" people who bray that this recession is nothing to worry about, or who belittle the hardship and distress of many going through tough circumstances, I do feel it's probably worth remembering that there are two sides to every story as with everything else.

Now I just have to sit down with a cup of tea and consider what opportunity my own redundancy has given me!
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Friday, 24 April 2009

Noblesse Oblige Award

I have been kindly presented with the Noblesse Oblige Award by fellow blogger When I Am Rich - thanks a bunch!

I first discovered When I Am Rich and her eponymous blog a few weeks ago completely by accident, like most of my best discoveries! Her blog is cute, thoughtful and light-hearted, and the posts are written on a very simple premise: what she will do when she is rich. What I liked about her blog is that there's no wistful regret and sighing; instead you are rewarded with quirky, optimistic insights which show you - along with some excellent photographs - that there are actually many great things in life you can still appreciate, for free (like moonlit starry nights and hot cross buns - complete with some very yummy pictures of course!)

Here's what the award is all about:

The recipient of this award is recognized for the following:

1) The Blogger manifests exemplary attitude, respecting the nuances that pervades amongst different cultures and beliefs.
2) The Blog contents inspire; strives to encourage and offers solutions.
3) There is a clear purpose at the Blog; one that fosters a better understanding on Social, Political, Economic, the Arts, Culture and Sciences and Beliefs.
4) The Blog is refreshing and creative.
5) The Blogger promotes friendship and positive thinking.

The Blogger who receives this award will need to perform the following steps:

1) Create a Post with a mention and link to the person who presented the Noblesse Oblige Award.
2) The Award Conditions must be displayed at the Post.
3) Write a short article about what the Blog has thus far achieved – preferably citing one or more older post to support.
4) The Blogger must present the Noblesse Oblige Award in concurrence with the Award conditions.
5) The Blogger must display the Award at any location at the Blog.

What my blog (Career Changing in the Credit Crunch) has achieved so far:
I started writing this blog about 3 or 4 weeks ago as a web diary of my attempt to change career, with the hope of helping anyone who is thinking of changing career but is not sure how to go about it. Every career changing resource I looked at offered small suggestions of advice but never actually offered a story of how someone did it, or how they dealt with any of the issues they went through. So I started this blog as a way of filling that gap: partly to offer practical advice based on my own experiences but also to share my story to those who need that little bit of encouragement to go for it.
As I wrote at the end of my very first post, back in March, "There is never a 'good' or 'right' time to change career for many people, but I don't agree that we must doom ourselves to unhappy or unfulfilling lives because of it ... if I manage to persuade one person that tough economic circumstances are no bar to changing career, then I will have achieved something."

While I think all the blogs I'm following are great (or I wouldn't be following them!), I am going to pass the Noblesse Oblige award to the following selection of blogs:
1) Paused in Peru:
Argentum Vulgaris has already won this award for one of his other blogs, but Paused in Peru is his latest blog about his travels through Peru, complete with some wonderful pictures and commentary.
2) Reduce Footprints:
Small Footprint's blog discusses ways for each of us to reduce our "footprint" on this earth and live in a greener, healthier way. Full of discussions about environmentally-friendly issues and tasty-looking vegan recipes (yeah, I know I'm a meat-eater, but still tempted to try these!)
3) England Rents, Rants & Raves:
Blog by an English expat living in America, aka The Prodigal Tourist, who occasionally returns to visit, taking some nice photographs and making observations about his homeland on the way.
4) Laura Reviews:
Intelligent, witty, insightful blog reviewing the written word - whether from books, news articles, or any other source. Includes interviews with authors of books Laura has reviewed.
5) The 1,000,000 Project:
This is a hilarious blog of projectmanager's attempts to be a millionaire by the age of 30. I still don't get why he/she wants to buy a cow, but it made me laugh anyway.
6) Greenback Savvy - You Can't B.S. the G.$:
US-based Greenback Savvy shares her sensible advice on how to manage your money in a highly readable way. As she says, "you can take her advice or leave it", but it's worth a thought if you need an idea of how to deal with your hard-earned US dollars.
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Wednesday, 22 April 2009

I read the news today, oh boy....

I apologise for bringing a very melancholy note into this blog, but I've just had the shock of my life reading the news about the family that was killed in a car crash on the M1 motorway on Saturday. It turns out that I knew the 27-year-old man who was killed alongside his sister, mother and uncle: he was in my class at secondary school 10 years ago. You never imagine these things will actually happen to someone you know, or someone who you once knew quite well.

While I was never really friends with the bloke and therefore wasn't in contact with him - I last spoke to him when I bumped into him on a train in 2002 or 2003 - words can't express the shock and horror I felt when my brother rang me up to tell me he'd read it in one of the London newspapers yesterday evening. This is the sort of tragedy you never wish on anyone, let alone someone you once saw at school every day.

I suppose because of yesterday's blog post (about letting fear hold you back in life) I was in a philosophical mood anyway, but it reminded me just how fragile life is. It reminded me how time really is precious, and you can't waste it because you simply don't know how short your time on this earth will be. It also made me think of a quote from one of my favourite speeches: Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computers, said in his Stanford University commencement speech in 2005:
"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."
For those who want to see the full text of the speech (and it's a damn good speech, so I recommend it), click here, and for those who want to watch it see the bottom of this post.

Thanks for all your comments yesterday regarding fear and how to move past it. I think the news I've just talked about above pretty much follows on what I talked about yesterday, though obviously I wasn't originally planning on writing this post! Your thoughts and advice were all very much appreciated.

P.S. Happy Earth Day to all of you.
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Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Holding Back The Fears

I was woken this morning by the ringing of my mobile phone; my ever-charming recruitment consultant James had a potential lead at a financial institution in the City. "I can't promise that it would lead to a vacancy," he told me, "but my contact seemed interested, so can I forward your details to him? It's likely that it'll lead to a temporary job, but like I said, at this stage I can't promise that it definitely will."

I've been hearing this virtually every day in the past two months, so I gave him my usual jaded yes. I hung up and spent the rest of the morning pondering last night's revelation about a colleague of my boyfriend who I know and had been, to everyone's knowledge, happy in his job.

It turns out that all this time he wasn't. My boyfriend (along with his inner circle) has been asked to keep this quiet, but the lad is quitting his job in 3 months, and going back to university to study a degree in politics. Needless to say, it came as a shock.

For me, it also brought home my own fears. I know I've been too scared to take the plunge all these years, but even now, when I am actually taking baby steps towards a career change, the idea of being out of an accountancy job brings me a mixture of relief... and terror. Last week's realisations that I'll have to alter my original game-plan of staying in that field until I'm "ready" to leap should have galvanised me into action, but it left me paralysed with fear.

What is it that I am so scared of? I questioned myself, and came up with the following answers:
  1. I am scared of disappointing my family.
  2. I am scared that the career change won't work out, and then I'll be left unemployable.
  3. I am scared that I will have no money.
  4. I am scared that I am being foolish, or expecting far too much from life or from work.
  5. I am scared that, for all my overwhelming desire to write, I can't actually write. I am scared that I have no ability in that arena and that no-one would be interested in what I've got to say.
  6. I am scared of being considered a failure.
I thought for a moment, then wrote down the following:
  1. Striving for what I thought my family would approve of, led me up a path that I hated and felt I didn't fit into for ten years.
  2. I won't know that until I try. Besides which, most of the most successful people are unemployable. That's why they've struck out on their own path.
  3. My current "career" has actually ended up costing me far more (in expensive suits, training fees, salary deductions, severance fees, and emotional/health issues) than I've got out of it.
  4. It's not expecting "far too much" from life to ask that "the good outweighs the bad" about one's job - as my lovely boyfriend constantly reminds me, spending 8 hours of one's waking moments per day (not even including travelling time) is too much time to spend being miserable.
  5. According to the author Stephen King, Stephenie Meyer "can't write worth a damn". That hasn't stopped her Twilight series becoming one of the biggest-selling book series around the globe. Madonna (no offence to her fans) hasn't got as good a singing voice as many other pop singers, but hasn't let that stop her becoming the worldwide Queen of Pop.
  6. I am fairly resourceful and self-reliant. Anything I've failed at in the past, I've tried harder, tried again or tried something different till I succeeded. Why should this time be any different?
It's not as if I don't have the knowledge or the tools to get writing, or explore other subjects I like (like sociology and English literature), or even to research some more how to break into another field; yet I find that fear is the biggest obstacle to taking any sort of action at all. It can even be worse than having a physical disability: once, when a sports injury meant I could barely walk for a week, it never stopped me showing up to work until I recovered (although my limp caused much amusement in the office). But being scared and fearful stops you from even limping to your destination, let alone walking to it. In fact, it makes you unable to move at all.

I suppose one way of moving forward, in spite of everything I'm afraid of, is to motivate myself by remembering just how bad it got - the searing chest pains, like red-hot knives, that I had before I quit that job last year were one example. How did the rest of you hold back any crippling fears you had?
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Sunday, 19 April 2009

A much-needed afternoon tea break

As you can imagine, the reason I called myself "Afternoon Tea Break" to start with is because I started this blog during an afternoon tea break - well, one of many, being your typical tea-gulping Brit. After some of the news I've had this week I reckon I'll need a nice soothing cuppa or two!

Sometimes changing career can really feel like you're taking one step forward and two steps back. Or, in my case, one giant leap forward... and an equally giant leap back.

No sooner had my delight subsided over winning a two-week work experience placement in the office of a national daily broadsheet, I got dealt several setbacks on the job front this week. Not only did I get rejected for the accountancy jobs I'd applied for, I found out I won't qualify for the full entitlement of Job-seekers Allowance from the government, on the grounds that I have savings, no children and my own home. I had to laugh a little. Yeah, I've spent the last four years paying a fair amount of taxes and National Insurance (social security) out of my wages, so you'd have thought I'd qualify for the full entitlement on losing my job, but apparently not. Ah well.

I could sit here and moan about it some more, but it would serve no purpose so I won't. It did make me realise that my little career-changing plan may have to undergo some tweaking.

Some people are able to jump straight from one career to another, but I am not in that fortunate position. As you know, the original plan was to use the accountancy jobs to build up some savings to cope with a fall in income, especially as I was sure I would have to either re-train or take some courses to get into either of my chosen fields. However, with accountancy jobs very thin on the ground at the moment - most of the chartered accountants that have been made redundant are newly-qualified, like me - the career change may have to happen a lot sooner than I'd planned. I'd had a chat with a recruitment consultant this week who told me that some of the newly-qualified chartered accountants on his books had been looking for jobs for the past seven months, so my situation (i.e. having been out of work for two months) wasn't so unusual.

"Seven months?!?" I screeched, "but I can't be out of a job for seven months!!! How on earth do these people survive for that long???"

I didn't get a definite answer, but it really didn't matter. I realised I had to kick-start something, and soon. While I was glad that I had already embarked on my distance-learning A-Level courses - English Literature is hopefully helping my writing ability and Sociology is giving me a fascinating insight into that field - the original idea was to study them alongside a full-time job. Despite hating accountancy, it was still in the original plan to use them to fund my next move, but obviously if there are no jobs (as well as the fact that I want to quit anyway) then there's no point hanging on, is there? The courses are certainly enjoyable, but not bringing in an income, and career-change or not, we all need something to live on!

So it's back to the drawing board for me; I shall need to re-think the original plan. But not before I take another afternoon tea break.
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Thursday, 16 April 2009

National newspaper comes calling!

First of all, very briefly, many thanks for all the comments that have been left on my previous posts - I enjoyed reading and replying to them and enjoyed reading the blogs that were linked to them too. Please do keep giving me feedback, even if it's (constructive) criticism. I am quite keen to get discussions going too, so don't hesitate in leaving a comment. I am happy to share all the lessons I've learned, so here's my most recent one....

As with everything in life, when an opportunity in life presents itself, you have to grab it with both hands. As you move forward on the conveyor belt of life, sometimes it flashes by with only a split second to jump up and grab it. For me, this was one of those moments.

As already outlined in previous posts, once I'd drawn up my financial plan in January 2008 - and took steps to implement it - I started to take stock of what I wanted to do with my life if I wanted to leave the accountancy profession. I spent the next few months mulling this over, but by spring in 2008 I still hadn't come to any definite conclusion. While frustrating, I don't think it's entirely uncommon among people who want to change career. So I decided instead to just identify what I had been interested in at school and university, and follow those interests to see where they would lead - if anywhere at all. In order to hone my eventual career-change decision, I decided to try out any possible avenues along the way if the opportunities ever arose.

For example, two things I'm definitely interested in are writing and people, both on an individual psychological level and a socio-cultural level. Trouble is, so many people are interested in these subjects - and are a lot better than I am at them, too - that it's really hard to break into these fields. Take writing for instance, where the odds are particularly stacked against the newbie. Even if you want to just get a short unpaid placement on a local newspaper for experience on your CV (resumé), that's hard enough, so the chances of getting one in the nationals is virtually impossible!

One evening in late March, my mum happened to mention the fact that her boss regularly played football (that's soccer to any American readers) with someone who was the editor of a well-known national daily newspaper. I think he regretted mentioning it at all because as soon as my mum told me, I was ringing the poor man at work the next day and pleading with him to mention me to that newspaper editor.

His protests that he "didn't know him that well, only casually" didn't deter me as I tried to persuade him (nicely, of course!) that if he could just mention that I was available for any type of unpaid work experience placement on that editor's newspaper, I'd be very grateful. "Well, OK...." my mum's boss started, hesitantly, "but I can't promise anything...."
"There's no harm trying though, is there?" I pressed. "Please....?"
"Well.... I can try.... but he's a busy man.... national newspaper.... they get thousands of requests for unpaid work experience every year...." he said.
"But you can still mention me, right?" I persisted. "There's no harm trying, is there? The worst he can do is say no, and neither of us has lost anything if he does....?"
Eventually, he agreed to mention me, if only to shut me up: I wouldn't be surprised if he was inwardly cursing my mum at this point!

Nevertheless, he was as good as his word: the editor told him to tell me to get in touch with his PA. I wasn't provided with a phone number or email address, but fortunately there was a switchboard number on the newspaper's website, so once I was put through to her I introduced myself and informed her that her boss asked me to ring her to discuss the possibility of an unpaid work experience placement (I had to write out my little speech before I rang her; I was so nervous that I was convinced I was going to completely fluff it!)

She was surprisingly receptive: she simply asked me to send her an outline of my experiences to date, and a sample of any work I'd ever had published. The last time I'd written anything - the last time I'd actually had time to write anything, before I started working long hours as an accountant and spending my spare moments studying for demanding exams - was at university in 2002, so I emailed her a PDF scan of one of my articles that got published in the student magazine. I hoped that the fact that I'd written it 7 years ago - when I was 20 - wouldn't count against me, but I wasn't expecting to hear anything, especially as my working and academic experience since 2002 hasn't really been relevant to journalism or writing.

I was therefore stunned and pleasantly surprised when I got a response inviting me for a two-week unpaid work experience placement, starting in June! Result!

So there you are - have a go and try any opportunity, because you simply never know. I really wasn't expecting to be accepted but I am glad I plucked up the courage to try! (It's the first time in my life that networking has actually paid off. My mum's boss has been profusely thanked in the meantime, rest assured!)

While obviously I don't know if journalism is for me - even in spring 2009, a year after my initial career change decision, I'm still undecided - I am sure this unpaid work experience for a fortnight will help me find out; after all, you can never be certain what any career is going to be like until you try it for yourself.
I have to admit, though, that I'm really looking forward to it and will definitely post to let you all know how it goes. Stay tuned!
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Monday, 13 April 2009

Clouds and silver linings

Realising you're in the wrong job should, ideally, be a liberating experience. In theory, it should be the first step in moving on to work that's better suited to your talents and passions.

In practice, it's likely to send us into a tailspin at first. Finally paying attention to all those niggling doubts, the continuous low-level boredom you could never explain, the lack of enthusiasm for anything relating to your work, the tendency to suppress any negative thoughts and emotions about your career in case they interfere with your job performance... clearly you knew it deep down, but rather than being a liberating experience, it can initially seem like you're on the fast road to misery. You start to regret, most bitterly, the time you wasted following a path that you were never going to enjoy or feel fulfilled in. You regret the times you mistakenly told yourself that it would get better, if only you would just try harder, work harder, or stop expecting so bloody much all the time. Most of all, you simply regret the amount of time that has passed before you realised you had to get out of that job.

However, they say every cloud has a silver lining. In my case, my job was both the cloud and the silver lining. Training to be a chartered accountant, while dull, does teach you things you'd never learn anywhere else. Like ways to minimise paying tax, for example (legally, of course!) and what all those strange and complicated finance and business terms actually mean (they usually mean something quite simple, so hell knows why they use words that make it seem strange and complicated...) You learn how companies maximise profits and drive down costs, and about financially efficient uses of capital and resources. One can even apply some of the principles they've learned to their own situation. Which, of course, is no bad thing.

The other silver lining is that working as an accountant enabled me - as with any job - to slowly build up some savings (once I'd come up with a financial plan in January 2008, as detailed in the previous post). I tried to think of accountancy as a means of financing my future career change.

Perhaps the silver lining is small, but it's a silver lining nonetheless. And who knows - the knowledge and skills gained from the past few years may well come in useful one day. It may not have been "wasted time" after all.

The author James Allen observed back in 1905:

"If circumstances had the power to bless or harm, they would bless and harm all men alike, but the fact that the same circumstances will be alike good and bad to different souls proves that the good or bad is not in the circumstance, but only in the mind of him that encounters it."

Despondency and regret over past or current circumstances is easy: I admit I've fallen into that pit in my darker moments. I think all career-changers do at some point. Ultimately, however, it doesn't serve us: those regrets won't solve or change anything. We still have to keep moving forward with life rather than let those regrets hold us back.

As Allen noted in the above, "the good or bad is not in the circumstance, but only in the mind of him that encounters it." I will try to bear that in mind next time I start regretting becoming a chartered accountant.
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Friday, 10 April 2009

Finances First - How to "sort out your finances": advice and detailed tips

I really do apologise for the delay between posts, but I've been pretty busy these last few weeks for some reason - I've hardly been near the computer. I intend not to let this slip in future, and blog more regularly - otherwise what's the point of anyone following my journey of changing career in tough economic times if I'm not keeping you all updated?

Now that I'm back, however, I need to follow on from the previous post. This will be quite long as it's packed full of advice and tips, so be prepared. It's easy for me to advise "sort your finances out first before you think of a career change" without actually explaining what the hell I'm talking about, or even explaining what I did.

By "sorting out finances" I mean putting into action some sort of plan for your finances that will help your career change than hinder it; your own personal financial plan that will free up time and energy for you to consider what you want to do.

This means considering the following areas:

How to deal with each of these will be covered in the rest of the post below - click on the above links to view each section in more detail. Click here to read more...


You will need to put a plan in place for paying any debts off as quickly as possible (barring mortgage debt and perhaps any university student loan debt). The debts with the highest interest rates must be paid off first - credit card debt, for example. Ideally you will be able to pay off your credit cards debts in full by the payment date. If not, you could try transferring the balance of any credit card debts you have onto a limited-period 0% interest rate credit card (so that you don't incur additional interest which will cost you more money) and try to pay off the debt before the 0% interest rate offer runs out. Some people, at this stage, transfer the outstanding balance to another limited-period 0% interest rate credit card and continue to pay down the debt.

Alternatively, you could pay off all your credit card debts by taking out an unsecured personal loan with the lowest interest rate you can find, and pay this off. This is often a sensible idea, as with a credit card you are often paying interest at about 20-30% a year (which, on an outstanding balance of £10,000 - or $10,000 if you prefer, but I'll use British Pounds rather than Dollars as it's easier for me - equates to an extra £2000-£3000 a year that you owe the credit card company, or about an extra £167-£250 a month) and with a personal loan at say, an interest rate of 8% a year, you would be paying A LOT less (a loan of £10,000 which paid off the outstanding balance on your credit card of £10,000 will only be paying an extra £800 a year on top of the loan, which is an extra £66.67 a month).

If you're a homeowner, there is option of paying off your credit card debts by taking out a secured personal loan - which is a loan that gets added onto your outstanding mortgage. The advantage of this is that the interest rate on mortgages is far lower than that on credit cards. Personally I don't think it's a good idea to consolidate debts on your house if you're a homeowner, particularly in times of falling property prices. However, it is best to seek advice on whether this is the best option for you or not, as in some cases it may well be the best way for you to pay off debt. The Consumer Credit Counselling Service in the UK (see below for details of website) may be able to help.

Debt is the fastest eroder of wealth there is; it is also the fastest eroder of a person's peace of mind. While it is highly likely that it can be paid off overnight, it still must be paid off, and by putting a plan in place for doing so you would be well on the way to attaining that peace of mind. It's not pleasant, I know, but think of it as a sacrifice now that will bring you far greater rewards in the future.

In the same vein, try to think of your current job as providing the financial means for your future, even though you hate it. Again, it's a sacrifice now that will bring you far greater rewards in the future.

In the meantime, do not get into any more debt. Try to kick the habit of relying on debt to pay for your life. Not just because of the credit crunch and the likelihood of losing one's job, but also because the longer you are committed to paying back debt, the less time and money you will have for building up some degree of wealth which will buy your freedom, and enable you to make that career change.

If you're renting, do not buy a property. I know house prices are the lowest they've been in the last 3 years, but unless you have a 50% deposit or down payment on your desired property, you are probably going to pay more money for your mortgage every month than your rent. And having the monthly commitment of more debt (this time, your mortgage) is going to keep you in your hated profession longer than you would like rather than freeing you up to make a career change.

Trust me, I know all about this one. While the property I bought was reasonably priced (a rarity even back then in spring 2006) and the mortgage payments are still not too high, the fact remains that I was renting a room in a very nice house with very nice tenants for half my monthly mortgage payment. Which was stupid as I knew even back then that I hated accountancy and wanted to get out. The fact that I had a mortgage means that I have had to stick with that accountancy career right up until the present day - when I could really have left it a lot earlier: probably back in 2006 actually, when the deposit I had saved could have lasted me at least a year without work, if that's what I wanted. So don't make the same mistake I did!

If you're unemployed (and many of us are during this credit crunch), don't panic. You should be entitled to Unemployment Benefit in the UK, and although readers anywhere else will have do some research into similar government welfare programs in their countries for financial assistance while you look for another job. There are government debt agencies (like the Consumer Credit Counselling Service at, which is a UK charity that gives free debt advice) if you are struggling with debt.

And remember: you SHOULD NOT HAVE TO PAY for any debt advice, so please steer clear of those sharks who prey on the debt-ridden to "help" them with their debts "for a small fee". Please don't give them either your time or your money - they are only there to rip people off.

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Living within your means

This basically means not spending more than what you earn. If your income per month (after tax) is £1,500, then your spending each month should not exceed £1,500. This might sound obvious, but the average household in the UK and the US is breaking this basic rule every month, sending people deeper and deeper into debt and ensuring they are back at square one, continually paying off debt. It's like being a hamster on a wheel - no matter how fast you run, you will never get anywhere unless you break the debt cycle.

Living within your means does not mean you have to spend exactly what you earn either. You need to be able to meet your essential financial obligations (mortgage/rent, utilities, property taxes, transport and food) and still have money left over to save.

You may need to rein in your spending and change your spending habits to do so. One way to do so is to spend only using cash. People using cash tend to spend less than people using credit cards. Alternatively pay for your spending on your debit cards and check your bank balance regularly (I check mine at least every other day). That way, you can see how fast your bank balance is decreasing and put more thought into what you buy. You may well find that you are spending a lot of money on nice things (we ladies are particularly prone to shoes and handbags!) that you don't really need and won't really use. Even if you see a gorgeous pair of shoes in a sale for only £10, if you're hardly going to wear them and you already have lots of shoes, it's still £10 wasted. It's still £10 that could have gone towards your eventual freedom from your crappy job!

Spending less and being frugal does not have to be a chore. You can still lead a great life and look good for less money. It's about getting more use and more joy out of the stuff you have, and about getting exactly the same experiences and products for less money. Which of course can't be a bad thing, can it?
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Here are some money-saving tips that can still ensure you enjoy life and spend less:

  1. Never pay retail. Make use of discount coupons (you can find some online at the website, "3 for the price of 2" offers, or Buy-One-Get-One-Free (BOGOF) offers, particularly on non-perishable items such as toothpaste, bathroom cleaners, books, drinking glasses, toilet rolls and so on. The "never pay retail" rule can also apply to buying food items like meat and veg on BOGOF offers or similar, although you have to make sure that either you eat them in time (because throwing away bad food would be a waste of your hard-earned cash) or that you put them in the freezer to keep longer.

  2. Borrow and rent books and DVDs, rather than buying them. If I had to buy them, I bought them on Amazon or eBay. If your local library is utterly useless for books, like mine, borrow from friends or use a book-swapping website like (this, like Freecycle at, can be used for swapping other items for free, too).
    Lovefilm ( does a DVD and computer games rental service - for a subscription of £10 a month you can order up to 4 DVDs or computer games to watch or play.

  3. Change your utilities suppliers for better deals. is a popular choice for comparing and contrasting deals on water, gas and electricity.
  4. Buy your clothes in the sales, or with discounts (either online or in-store). Or at low-price stores like Primark and Peacocks, especially for ultra-fashionable items that will go out of fashion next season and therefore be unwearable - you won't feel so bad if you've spent only £5 on a shirt or blouse which will look silly if worn in the next season or so. Charity shops also throw up the odd gem - I bought a gorgeous Oasis woollen-blend pencil skirt for £4 which originally retailed for £50, and hardly worn too! For those of you ladies who love designer clothes, check out for the Designer Warehouse Sales dates in the UK, or Billion Dollar Babes sale in the US - see (got this tip courtesy of Merryn Somerset Webb's excellent personal finance book for girls called "Love is Not Enough: A Smart Woman's Guide to Money").

  5. Remortgaging onto a cheaper mortgage can often save you hundreds of pounds per month (and thousands of pounds per year), especially as our mortgages tend to be our largest monthly cost.

  6. Take your own sandwiches to work. A typical Londoner easily spends £3 or £4 a day just buying lunch. That's roughly £55 to £80 a month, or £660 to £880 a year! If that money was in a bank account at, say, a 5% annual interest rate, it would easily earn you half a month's worth of free sandwiches at the end of the year.

  7. Cut down on buying coffee or tea on the go, and make your own at home or work: it's worth noting that a small Starbucks latte is around £2, compared to making your own for pennies. One Starbucks latte a day for 5 days a week can add up to over £500 a year.

  8. Cut down on your transport costs and walk. Working in London often means I get the train to one of the London stations, then pay a small fortune to use a dirty, smelly, stressful, overcrowded London Underground train to get to work. Taxis, while considerably more pleasant, are ridiculously expensive - if you can help it, don't. When I spent 30 minutes walking to work from London Bridge station, rather than using London Underground (which I hate anyway) for 10 minutes means that I don't have to pay for travel within central London (zone 1), which saw my monthly travel costs fall from £111 a month to £73 a month. North Londoners who have to use the tube may find that they don't save so much money this way, but using a bus instead of the tube, or walking for part of the journey (starting your walk from just outside London's zone 1) can still save a bit of money. Plus not only do you save money, you get fit too!

  9. Eat out less, get takeaways less, learn to cook basic nutritious meals. This can save you a lot of money in the long run. If, like me, you love eating out every now and again, then check for discounts on restaurants worldwide. You earn points for eating at and rating each restaurant you book through them, and if you earn enough points you get a free meal at a selection of top restaurants. Hooray!

  10. Cancel any gym memberships you don't use - you really are paying £500-£600 for nothing. If you do go occasionally, it might actually work out cheaper to just pay as you go. If you need to exercise, running is free, save for the cost of a pair of trainers - if you hate exercise, then disregard the running advice...

  11. Switch to own-brand supermarket products where possible - they're generally exactly the same products as the branded goods (sometimes even manufactured by the same companies) for less. Sometimes you may find there are some exceptions (supermarket own-brand baked beans never taste as good as Heinz, for example) but generally you won't notice the difference.

  12. Buy food in bulk where you can at outlets like Costco.

  13. Buy your fruit and vegetables at a local farmers' market instead of a supermarket - they're generally cheaper and last longer.

  14. Get the cheapest insurance you can.

  15. Get discounts where you can on booking holidays. Ask travel agents for any discounts, or better still, book on the web at budget airlines like easyJet, Ryanair or Air Asia. Other airlines will often run their own promotions too, often in conjunction with hotel deals.

  16. Get the cheapest mobile phone (cellphone) contract you can. As a pay-as-you-go customer I was shocked to learn I was spending around £50 to £60 pounds a month (sometimes even £70 in a hectic month) on mobile phone cards, so I switched onto a contract deal where I pay only £35 for 600 minutes and 500 texts. I never actually use up my allowance, but it's saved me a heck of a lot of money.

  17. If you're a woman, get your hair done every two months instead of every four to six weeks (I hated this one at first, but having my hair done only 6 times a year instead of 8-12 times a year has saved me at least £200 a year). Alternatively if you're willing to go to a trainee hairdresser, they will often do it for free (though you won't have a choice in the style). If you're a bloke, it's a lot easier to save money: there are lots of barbers who charge a mere £5 or £6 a haircut. I have a male friend who has taken saving to the extreme and cuts his own hair - he's surprisingly good too and hasn't paid for a haircut in years!

  18. The smokers will hate me for this one, and I apologise profusely, but - ignoring the health implications and the wrath of the anti-smoking lobby - if you smoke a pack of 10 cigarettes a day, as the average price for a pack of 10 is about £3 that adds up to £1,095 a year. That's an average of £91.25 you'd be spending of your monthly pay-cheque, on your habit alone!

Tough economic times are horrible for all of us to live through, and cutting your spending becomes even more important. However the flip side of the credit crunch is that, with discount supermarkets like Aldi booming and increasing their advertising spend; with retailers frequently holding discounts and "sales" to boost their revenues; with airlines and hotels and restaurants holding - sometimes quite drastic - discounts and freebies for customers; with interest rates so low that many mortgage-holders are paying less every month; there's actually never been more opportunities to live within one's means!

There are some very good websites for helping you cut down your costs on all aspects of life, such as the following:

Merryn Somerset Webb in her book "Love Is Not Enough" mentions the US money-saving websites, and as ones that are also worth a look.

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With all that extra money you have every month, we can move onto the next section....


Once you've managed to change your mindset from spending everything you earn, it's time to adopt the discipline of saving. There are different ways of doing this. Some people recommend you get paid directly into your savings account, with most of being sent out by direct debit into a current (or checking) account, which you use. So, say, for example, your after-tax monthly salary or income is £2,000, this whole amount goes straight into your savings account, with an automatic direct debit set up to send, say, £1,800 to your current account for everyday spending, paying your bills, paying your debts, and so on. That way, you don't touch the money in your savings account, and when you get a bonus the bonus automatically goes into your savings account, meaning you're less likely to spend it. Another way (and probably the way most of us do it) is to have your salary go into your current account, for everyday spending and bill payments etc., and then transfer an amount to your savings account some time before the next payday.

Another way - a variation on the last way - is receive your salary into your current account, and automatically set up a direct debit for a certain amount to go straight into your savings account. So, for example, if your after-tax salary or income is £2,000, the moment it arrives in your current account £200 is automatically transferred by direct debit into your savings account, leaving you with the remaining £1,800 to spend. David Bach, in his book "The Automatic Millionaire: A Powerful One-Step Plan to Live and Finish Rich", recommends you do it this way: that you set up an automatic bank transfer to your savings account of 10% of your monthly income (or whenever you receive your income). He argues that you soon learn to do without this 10% of your income, and rather than having the mindset that you have £2,000 a month available to spend, you soon get used to only having £1,800 without even thinking about that extra £200.

It doesn't matter which way you do it, as long as the habit of saving is established. Saving between 10-20% of your income is the fastest way to build up your savings, but if you're already so committed to paying of debts, start with a much smaller amount. Bach himself described in "The Automatic Millionaire" how, in his debt-ridden 20s, he started off by saving only 1% of his income a month so that it did not hurt. The important thing is the habit, rather than the amount.

While interest rates are so low that savers are almost being punished with rubbish returns, it's still worth having cash set aside, especially in these times. Having started cutting my spending and saving in earnest around January 2008, I was fortunate enough to take advantage of high interest rates on savings accounts, opening a cash ISA (stands for Individual Savings Account, a type of UK savings account that doesn't deduct tax from the interest that you earn) which paid 6% gross of tax, and a regular saver (which does get tax deducted from the interest) that paid 10% interest provided I didn't withdraw any money within a year and made a payment of at least £25 a month - very punitive conditions, so only worth taking up when I was absolutely sure I wouldn't need to access the money within a year. But it's meant for the last year I've managed to earn a nice couple of hundred pounds in interest income, without me having to lift a finger.

Of course, savings rates have dived since then, but if you look hard enough, you will still find savings accounts that offer interest rates of 3% or 4% a year. Not great, but it's still a lot better than what most people do with their savings - leave them languishing in current accounts that pay a measly 0.01% a year! If that's you then please move them into a decent savings account NOW!!!!

It is never too late to start saving, even if you missed out on the high interest rates of the last couple of years. In the credit crunch, as I've said before, it's even more important to have a pool of savings to draw on in case you lose or job, or if you've lost your job. Remember - when the going gets tough, the tough have cash!

Some people advise paying all your debts down first before starting to save, but in my opinion it's a big psychological boost to start saving small amounts even while you're paying off debts. It is recommended each person has at least 3 to 6 month's worth of savings to draw on, but if you're thinking of changing career, you probably need 6 to 12 in my opinion! Of course, much depends on what you're comfortable with - some people feel they need around 2 years' worth of cash saved up in order to sleep comfortably at night - but as long as it's in a bank account paying a decent rate of interest, that's perfectly fine.

In these times of failing banks, it's best to spread your cash out between different banking institutions. The idea is that if one bank fails, then you won't be left high and dry - while in the UK the government compensate the first £50,000 of cash balances in each institution, you'll still need to wait quite a while in order for your cash to come through.

There's one more important thing to mention: pensions. If you have an employer-linked retirement savings plan (referred to the 401(k) in the US) it is worth contributing some money into that, or at very least accepting your employer's contributions into the plan. I am not going into this any further as pension rules take a lot of explaining, plus it's more saving for your retirement (which is still important, of course) rather than helping to sort out your career change.

If you feel that you'd like to save more money or pay off debts faster, there are other things you can do as below.

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Maximising your income

While we have discussed one way of maximising your income - by cutting your spending so that you do indeed have more money - there are other ways of increasing your income that you can deploy.

You might want to consider the following:

  1. Rent-a-room scheme. In the UK, this is the one allowance the government gives you for tax-free rental income, and in my eyes it's an absolute godsend. If you have a spare room in your main property of residence (whether you live there as a homeowner or tenant), then you can let the room out to a tenant for tax-free income provided total receipts do not come to more than £4,250 within any tax year (the UK tax year runs from 6 April to the following 5 April). This is roughly £354.16 a month of extra income! Income, however, must ONLY be from rent rather than any other services (for example utility bill payments, laundry and meal services, council tax etc). If you are renting, you may have to check the terms of your contract with your landlord to see that you are allowed to sub-let a spare room to a lodger. Further details can be found at the following website

  2. Selling items on eBay. Any old or unwanted items can easily be sold on eBay for some extra cash.

  3. Asking your boss for a payrise. You will need to have a strong argument to support your case: your boss doesn't care that you think you deserve it, so point out all the good work you have done for the company and get recommendations from others within your team. Note, however, that this one might not work in the current economic climate! Even in better times, they may say no - this happened to me!

  4. Remember, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Beware of scams that promise you can earn lots of money in a short space of time - chances are they will cost you a pretty penny and earn you nothing.

  5. Starting your own (profitable) business. I am not really able to comment on this one, having never done it myself, but I will be looking into it seeing as I currently have the time to do so...

  6. Taking on a second job, if you have the time and the energy to do so. You'll have to make sure that you're paying the right amount of the tax though - UK readers should see H M Revenue & Customs' website at for more details.

  7. Investing/trading on the stock exchange. I'm quite reluctant to mention this one, as many people have tried with disastrous results, but unfortunately it is a valid way for some people. It's not a way to make money fast though, which you'll hear some people falsely bragging about. Again I can't comment on this one, having not done it, but I think you should only go into this one if you know what you're doing - having done plenty of research, are interested in business news, read some books on the matter and have plenty of cash to start with. NEVER USE MONEY YOU CAN'T AFFORD TO LOSE.
    For UK readers, Robbie Burns's book "The
    Naked Trader: How Anyone Can Make Money Trading Shares
    " is a good read on the subject, and there are
    plenty for US readers to choose from: Peter Lynch's book "One
    Up On Wall Street : How To Use What You Already Know To Make Money In The
    ", for example. Warren Buffett, the world's richest investor,
    was tutored by Benjamin Graham, and hails Graham's book "The
    Intelligent Investor: The Definitive Book on Value Investing. A Book of
    Practical Counsel (Revised Edition)
    " as "by far the best book on investing ever written". It is probably best to read as widely as possible on the subject of investing before committing to it, but as I say, having never done it, I'm not in a position to recommend whether it's a good way to maximise your income or not.

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I apologise for making this so long, but I wanted to make it as comprehensive as possible... and include it all in one post so that I can actually get on with talking about career changing rather than personal finance.

Thanks very much for reading. If you have any comments or corrections, or want to discuss anything I've put in this blog, please leave a comment below.

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Monday, 6 April 2009

Finances First - An introduction

So you're unhappy in your job. The thought of going through the same routine every day for the forseeable future fills you with dread. You long to do something useful, something fulfilling. Something that uses your talents. Something for yourself, rather than some faceless corporation who you feel don't truly value your input. Something that enables you to see your family more often. Something that makes you feel enthusiastic about life. What should you do then?

Many books and resources usually encourage you to think about what you're good at, what you enjoy doing, and spend some time brainstorming to come up with an answer. My experience was slightly different. For me, with a mortgage to pay - and some of you may even have other commitments, such as a family to support - there was something that I felt must be done first: before any brainstorming, before thinking about what you enjoy, and before thinking where your talents lie.

In my opinion, as soon as you even get the tiniest inkling that you want to change careers - even if you have no idea what you want to change to, or whether you will see the career change through - the first thing you must do is this: sort out your finances.

I am not saying this just because of the credit crunch, although it becomes vitally important during times of economic insecurity. It is because getting in the habit of managing your money now will relieve you from a major source of stress in the future. Many of us will be familiar with the notion of setting some money aside - we're usually advised to set aside 3 to 6 months' salary - as savings, in case of unexpected emergency expenditure (such as repairs that can't be put off) or in case of being made unemployed (so that you have a few months' worth of cash to live on if you are not able to find a new job soon after the previous one). Having a nice cushion of cash savings gives you peace of mind that you will be able to cope financially with any unexpected events that life throws your way.

When you are thinking of changing career, there are various other reasons why you need to build up your savings:
  • you may need to pay to re-train
  • you may need capital to start up your own business or franchise
  • you may need to invest in attire appropriate for the industry you are hoping to work in (for example, a smart, well-fitting suit for an interview for a banking career)
  • you may need to relocate
  • you may be out of work for a few months while you try to break into the new career field
  • you may experience a drop in your standard of living
  • the income from the new career may be lower than what you are used to
  • the income from the new career may be irregular.

Not all of these reasons will be appropriate to your situation, and there are probably other reasons that I have missed out (feel free to suggest more), but this is why it is important to start building up a cushion of cash savings before considering your new career path. The last thing you want to realise when embarking on your big journey is that your dream job involves significant training that you are not able to fund.

And of course, let's not forget the possibility that at this stage, where the thought of changing career is merely an inkling rather than a fully-considered idea, any extra cash savings you have are always useful to weather the economic storm!

Once you have a plan for managing your money and have started saving regularly the income from your job, then you are free to explore whether you want to change career, and if so, what you want to change to.

In a future post I shall detail tips on how to start saving money, budget, deal with debt and potential ways to increase the income you already have (legally of course). As most of my tips will be aimed at people in the UK, any US tips for American readers would be very much appreciated.

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