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Tag: how do you afford your rock’n’roll lifestyle

How much I’ve spent on becoming a British citizen

It’s a lot of money, people.

Cha-ching!

I have gone back through all the records I have and wracked my brain to think of all associated costs. I have not been able to find the specific figures for everything, so I’ve made best guesses in some cases. I’m sure if I wanted to, I could find the proper facts, but I’ve already spent about an hour researching what I COULD find, so I think that’s plenty.

All in, I have spent approximately £15,000 on visas and all associated costs in the past 9 years. The true total is probably much higher than this because I’ve probably forgotten some bits and pieces that should be included.

The biggest chunk of that is actually the cost of my Masters degree. International fees for an MSc in Design and Digital Media at the University of Edinburgh were around £10,000 in 2007/2008. Some might say that’s not a directly related cost to citizenship, but it actually is because it got me a post-study work visa and I wouldn’t still be here without it.

Post-study work was one of the 5 visas I’ve had over the past 9 years. Visa fees alone (not including the citizenship application, as it’s not technically a visa) make up for about  £2,300 of the total.

Other costs included in that £15,000 include any travel I had to do in order to get visas, including one set of return flights to the US, legal fees for advice, checking service and biometrics appointments, Life in the UK test fees and materials, passports, pictures, and all the other little things that go along with this volume of paperwork.

And MAN is there a lot of paperwork. I still have copies of most of it.

I should also note that the route I took to citizenship literally does not exist anymore. Some of the visas I’ve held have changed or disappeared altogether. For the ones that do still exist, many of the rules around things like timings and income requirements have changed drastically, often right after I obtained them under the previous rules. I got in under quite a few wires. And I have had a lot of luck and a lot of help.

It has not been an easy or cheap endeavour, and the costs above are only the monetary ones. There is a lot of stress and emotion involved in all of this, even for the most straightforward of cases. It’s actually really hard to represent what that portion of the experience is like to people who haven’t been through the system. But people who have been, REALLY know.

There is a camaraderie among those of us who have gotten to know the head-spinning ins and outs of the UKBA/UK Visas and Immigration processes and ever-changing rules and regulations. And I am more sympathetic than ever towards anyone going through any kind of immigration process anywhere in the world. No one does this lightly. You have to really, really want it. It’s not for chancers or freeloaders by any stretch of the imagination. You need to be completely on top of it. It’s a difficult road and it sometimes feels like you will never have to stop proving yourself. It’s an exhausting and occasionally Kafkaesque way to live.

As of this Tuesday, that’s over for me. While not without it’s faults, I still believe the process was absolutely worth it. But now I can spend my money on exercising my new British passport (when it arrives)!

(And if you know someone going through any stage of this kind of process, for Pete’s sake, give them a hug or a drink or a ‘Hang the fuck in there’. It’ll be well-appreciated.)

Put that on the card

You know. Like they tell you NOT to do.

Sunset on the Okavango Delta

Worth the interest.

I have mentioned before that I paid for my big trip to Africa largely on credit. And I said I’d get into that later, so here I am. I know conventional wisdom states that the last thing in the world you’re supposed to do when Sorting Out Your Life is to solve the problem by paying in credit, so this is going to be wildly unpopular advice. But I say you know yourself well enough to know what you can handle financially as well as physically and emotionally and all the other -lys.

That trip was something I really wanted to do. I knew it would be a game-changer (though not precisely how so). I also knew that I would be able to pay it off by the end of the year because I had a job to handle it and I did the math.

I’m not at all saying that you should put every little thing you want to do on a credit card just because you want it. But cards exist for a reason, and I think that gets skipped over because this financial expert or that doesn’t believe normal people can handle it anymore.

There are very few people who keep their credit immaculate. It’s hard. There are surprises in life and there are impulses you can’t or don’t want to ignore. Until about 3 years ago I almost never carried a balance, and then life threw me a curveball during which I learned that A: no emergency fund is ever really big enough, and B: it’s impossible to be prepared for EVERYTHING, no matter how much of a control freak you are.

The last thing I needed right then was the guilt of not being able to keep my credit super-clean. That’s way too much pressure. The cards were there to pull the weight when I could not. Your best intentions are no match for the reality of life, and that’s why these things exist. Give yourself a friggin’ break. I wish current me could have told past me that, but, you know, LEARNING.

Of course it’s a privilege to have the flexibility of credit, and abusing it is just going to stress you out or get you in trouble in the long-run, but there is a balanced view to take here. It’s just money. You can make more money. Not that it’s always easy, but you can.

You can’t, however, make chances. You can’t turn back time. (Even with money, as Jay Gatsby has so shown us.)

Since that’s all the case, I believe that since you can lean on credit in rough times, you should absolutely be able to make use of it for the good times as well.

In a tiny plane over the Okavango Delta

14.9%’s got nothing on this.

I could have waited an extra 6 months to book that trip to Africa if I wanted to be ultra-responsible. But it was meant to be a celebration and a reward and all sorts of other intangible things as well as a trip. It was the right time, so I went for it. And I spent a lot more money than I expected to while actually ON the trip. (It’s hard to say no to things you may never get a chance to do again. So no regrets.) As I throw about £300 at that balance every month, it doesn’t feel too bad, because I remember what it’s for.

I don’t want to spend my whole life catching up to my credit balance though, so that’s why I AM waiting the extra year for the Trans-Siberian. That and it’s not really smart to go off for months at a time without a good cushion of cash.

If you can pay up front for these things, it’s always better. But if money is the ONLY thing holding you back, and you can come up with a workable plan to manage that when you get back, that is what credit is made for. There is such thing as using it responsibly. Trust yourself.

…and think about getting the frequent flier mile bonus card BEFORE you spend loads of money on going to Africa, so you don’t, like me, come back and kick yourself on the could’ve-been-billions-of-bonus-miles-on-top-of-your-amazing-holiday you just missed out on. But more on that some other time.

Jules teaching us to do Springbok shots

Money can’t buy a lesson in Springbok shot-taking, but for everything else there’s MasterCard.

Trail Wallet app review

I have never been a hard-line budget person. I always know what’s in my bank account (and what’s not) and I have a sense of how much things should cost and what is reasonable, so I just try to stick to what seems like a sensible amount to be spending. But ‘sensible’ is nebulous, and given my goals of a travel-based future in combination with my current credit card debt, I figured I should probably make more of an effort to track my spending, particularly while traveling. Being a little more hardcore about it will not only give me a very clear idea of where my money goes, but also of what I end up spending on that I might have avoided had I been better prepared.

There are a handful of travel budget apps out there. I chose to try Trail Wallet after I saw recommendations on a fair few of my usual travel blog haunts. I had also recently started reading the blog of the team from whence it came (Erin and Simon’s Never Ending Voyage) which I think is great. And I love that they built an app for fellow travelers as a source of income for their own life of travel. RESPECT.

Trail Wallet overview screen.

Trail Wallet overview screen.

Trail Wallet’s got a clean interface, and it’s intuitive to the point where I found my way around in about 30 seconds. This was particularly good as I’d forgotten to download it ahead of my trip and ended up hastily sorting it out around midnight after getting to Helsinki. I was tired. It was still easy.

The overview screen is very clear and it’s useful to be able to switch between currencies with a simple tap. I think the ability to see my totals in multiple currencies so often also helps me get a sense of the exchange rates much faster, which is the thing that teaches my brain what are good and bad prices locally without having to calculate back to pounds in my head all the time.

It’s also very fast and simple to add new entries, and you can go in later and add more detail to the notes if you want to. The categories are customisable, including the colours used to code them (attention to detail. NICE TOUCH). You can then look at your spending breakdown by category (nifty pie chart included) or by day. The by day breakdown is where you can get back into individual entries. The only thing I really wish you could also do is get into the same kind of list via the category breakdown. They do say there will be a big update soon so I’m hoping this will be included.

Trail Wallet category breakdown.

Trail Wallet category breakdown.

The other thing I wanted to mention was the budget comments on the overview screen. I didn’t actually set a trip budget for Finland because I just… didn’t. The app displays congratulatory or cautionary comments depending on how far over or under your budget you are. I was spending quite a lot of money but I had no limit set, so when I kept getting things like ‘Hope it was worth it…’ and ‘Over budget. No cookie for you.’ I was laughing, but I was also like, JUDGEY APP IS JUDGING ME. I like the comments, because I like when tech has it’s own personality, but I did find myself being all ‘Shut up, app, I’m not over budget because there is no budget, GEEEEEEZ’. However, maybe pointing out that I was spending a lot was no bad thing. You gotta stay in check in a variety of ways. I guess I just want to know what the default daily budget line is that makes it start telling me to watch my wallet.

This brings me to the way I feel about travel budgeting in general. While I don’t usually properly track things, I am hyperaware of how much money I’m spending all the time. In face, I often over-estimate what I’m spending on a daily basis and then exist in a near constant state of freakout about it. This really can’t be healthy and I wish I could cool it a little. I mean, of course it’s good to control your outgoings and of COURSE it’s good to be aware of your own financials, but life is about living. Sometimes I wish I could forget the money for two seconds and just realise that what I’m spending it on is likely worthwhile, as I decided to spend it on that in the first place and I have good judgement when it comes to my own enjoyment.

Yes, you gotta pay for everything, but I also believe that money is easier to make than memories (think I heard that first on Yes and Yes) and if you don’t go ride a rebellious elephant early in the morning after a big night out in Zambia just because of what it costs, you are probably gonna regret that. I know I would have. $80 is a day or two’s worth of smacking computer keys for me, end even if I had to do a bit more of that to make up for it, riding an elephant is worth so much more to me than the cash I paid for it.

I wish I would have had this app for Africa, because frightening as the final figure probably would be, I really would like to see how much I spent in total on that trip. You can’t put a price on happiness, but sometimes you can see how much getting there costs.

In any case, I am a fan of the Trail Wallet app and I’m looking forward to see what surprises the next big update holds. I think an app built by people who are living the lifestyle of the audience it’s aimed at can only be a good thing. And they seem to take constructive feedback from that audience, so I have a lot of confidence that the work going into improving it is well-aimed.

I have also just now decided that I’m going to use it to track my usual spending for September, and I AM going to set a budget based on what I should be sticking to to help reach my financial goals. I’ve got no travel planned in September so it should hopefully be a good control experiment. I’ll check in with the results at the end of the month.

Reduced bills: ask and ye shall recieve

Ducks!

Bills bills bills.

Today, I decreased my energy bills AND my broadband and landline bill. This is totally boring life admin, and it’s hard to see how it will help The Big Trip so far down the line, but it will. Baby steps. Boring, boring, adult, baby steps.

I procrastinate with this stuff all the time, but I know if I really want to do any kind of financial overhaul, I’m gonna have to cut all expenses as much as possible. Which requires communicating with companies. And there are few things I dislike more than calling someone I do not know and love. Particularly when it requires any kind of negotiation or customer service.

Luckily, in the interweb age, there’s instant chat for phone-phobics! Sometimes it’s a bit crap, but today I knocked £13 off my monthly Virgin Media bill just for asking what was possible and committing to a 12 month contract! (Which is fine, because I’ll be here for 12 months.) And all I had to do was clack at my keyboard while also reserving the domain name for this website. MULTITASKING.

I did have to call SSE about my gas and electric, but I got that down from £84 per month total (I know. I KNOW.) to £59 total. Still cringe-y, but again, fixed for a year. I live in an old, draughty, top-floor flat and there’s not much more to be done for the amount of gas I use in the winter. I already walk around in a hoodie and reindeer slipper socks at least 5 months of the year.

Anyway, I just saved myself £38 per month. From the comfort of my crappy IKEA folding chair. That’s £456 of my money I get to keep in the coming year already, and I’m gonna need it all.