Doubt – with a coffee to go

Doubt and self-doubt can be paralysing. How do we get past it? Thasha Aly discusses.

Self-doubt. I’ve had it since I can remember. I’m constantly rebuked by beloved friends and family when I talk myself down. When I make less of a ‘thing’ of any achievements I may have had. Or when I downplay my role in any success. It’s just never felt comfortable for me. It’s okay to feel humble, but when that humility morphs into self-doubt, surely that isn’t a healthy thing? When does it stop being about appearing grounded, and when does it start to just weigh you down?

I had a conversation with a friend recently, where we talked about what life would be like post-pandemic. After keeping her children home from school for the entire year and with a vaccination pending, she felt strangely paralysed. She asked me, whether she would have to return to the way things were after the vaccine. It transpired that during her strict lockdown, she had become more doubtful about the return to ‘reality’ than lockdown itself.

With primary school admissions suffering a steep decline in some areas of the UK, it seems that my friend isn’t alone. Not everyone wants to carry on with business as usual. I know many parents who have decided to home school their kids permanently after this pandemic, now preferring to keep them home altogether. It’s just a theory, but perhaps doubt about the schooling system has also found its way into some people’s minds? I actually work in a school myself, and I personally couldn’t do it. My hair was practically torn out after home-schooling a nursery age child for just six weeks. But again, maybe that’s because I haven’t got the self-belief that I should have?

Another friend told me an anecdote today about a woman being given the wrong order in a coffee shop. She obligingly said that it wasn’t a problem, and that she would just take the wrong coffee. But the barista stopped her and said, “No. You deserve to have what you wanted.” I think we could all do with that advice in life. It’s time we stopped prioritising the needs of others before our own. We need to ‘call time’ on letting our doubt or lack of self-belief, rule our lives. I’ve got my vaccines in hand for this brave new world, and this time round I’m ready to ditch that side sprinkling of doubt. We simply have to believe that we can move forward in whatever it is that we want to do next. No more what-if’s, and no more ‘can I do this?’ We deserve the coffee we ordered in life. Au revoir doubt. Hopefully.

Is life causing you to doubt something in life? Share your stories.

New Normal

With the pandemic still ongoing, Thasha Aly considers what the year ahead will bring and how we can equip ourselves with the right tools for a more positive 2021.

2021 has got a lot riding on it. It’s safe to say that 2020 was a total wipeout for most. Not just on a local, regional or even national scale. But, internationally. For the first time, at least in my generation, we saw a whole year get written off by the powers that be. The world kept turning, but aside from the incredible health and science sectors, the rest of us just need to pretend that it never happened.

So, now 2021 had better step up. We’ve had enough of keeping each other at a distance. We all need a jolly good hug and a cup of tea with those we love. But what will the new norm be? And when will it come for those of us who are still effectively in lockdown? Who’s to know. I say, let’s get prepared.

What do we need to do to make this year a good’un? Here’s my two cents.

  • Make work work, for you – If there is anything that the pandemic has taught us, it’s that the traditional ‘in office’ set up isn’t an absolute must anymore. We have proven that we truly can work from anywhere, as long as we get the job done. Cut down your commute where you can, and push for flexible working patterns to suit your set up. It can mean more time for the things and people that really matter.
  • Compassion – Something we’ve hopefully all had to work on this past year. You’ll go far with bags of this on your side. Give people the time they need to grieve last year’s losses, and the space to get themselves ready for a fresh start.
  • Do something new – It could be as simple as going out for a coffee on your own to watch the world go by whilst the kids are at school; or even learning a new skill, so you’re ready for the next apocalypse.
  • Wellbeing – This past year has been a mental health catastrophe for so many. Become an ally for those who need it. Check in with each other, listen more, get outdoors and breathe. Help others where you can; the goodness will bounce back to you in so many unexpected ways.
  • Grow your bubble – Who knew we’d be talking about bubbles so much last year? Hubba Bubba should cash in on the amount of gum-based advice we endured. But, truly, this is the time to grow your network of family and friends. Relish in their company. Speak to your neighbours more and just make the extra effort. We have missed the opportunity for almost a year now. When we get the chance back, we can’t waste it.
  • Chocolate. That is all.

So, let’s brace ourselves for a tough, but hopefully brighter year ahead. Get ready 2021. We’ve got banana bread recipes, and we’re not afraid to use them.

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Putting your money where your morals are

Simoney Kyriakou is an award winning finance journalist who has been writing on personal finance since the late 1990s

When I first became a financial journalist, a few folk questioned the morality of my career choice.

Not because journalists are all liars (we’re not – there are laws against that), but because I was writing about the stock market and, in their view, investing was gambling. Being strict Christians, they were completely against doing anything ‘reckless’ with their money.

I tried to explain the difference between equity investing – buying shares in an established, listed company or units in a well-researched, well-managed investment fund in order to meet a long-term goal – and betting £10 on PotLuck to place at Cheltenham.

But while doing so I realised they had money in the bank, in cash savings. I pointed out banks do not sit on your money and wait for you to take it out again. No: banks invest your money back into the stock market – that’s one of the ways they make money to operate.

The same goes for pensions: you pay into a pension fund, but the money doesn’t sit in a Scrooge McDuck-style vault underground – it gets reinvested into stocks and bonds and other assets.

Realising this means you can take more control over where your money ends up, and you can choose to invest alongside your morals and values.

You have a choice to move banks if a certain bank is putting money to work in countries with appalling human rights records, or into sectors such as tobacco or fossil fuels.

If you have a workplace pension, you have voice about where the trustees place your money. Are there funds available that have a strategic environmental, social and governance (ESG) investment process? Are your trustees taking ESG seriously? If not, write to them!

The same applies to Isas, personal pensions – in fact, any investment plan. If you want your money to do good while it’s accumulating, then speak with an adviser about how to select an investment strategy that incorporates funds with a strong focus on clean energy companies, for example.

Maybe you have a strong aversion to companies that produce alcohol or pornography, for example. This is where an adviser can help you, by carrying out a fact-find to help pinpoint the right portfolio that screens out such stocks.

You can align your faith and your finances. It’s been done before. For example, the Church of England has an ethical investment advisory group, which creates policies for a distinctly Christian approach to investment, embracing screening, active stewardship, and alignment with the Church’s teaching and values.

Investing to meet your long-term goals does not have to conflict with your faith, your values or your ethics. Nor does it mean you have to sacrifice returns. What it does mean is being open with your adviser about what’s important to you.

A Legacy to Remember

In a climate of uncertainty, Thasha Aly ponders the surprisingly not-so-daunting prospect of writing a will. And the importance of leaving a legacy, no matter how small, for the ones you love.

I have a confession. Until recently, I hadn’t written a will. As a qualified lawyer, you think I’d know better, but life just somehow got in the way.

They say that the moment you experience a significant life event (or a “Yikes, I’m a grown up” moment), you should get things written down. So, if you move house, make a will. If you get married, sort your will. If you have a change in health circumstances, you’re embarking on a life-changing journey, or you’re about to have children, the will just makes sense.

Despite ticking most or all of these boxes, something was always holding me back from putting quill to parchment (how a proper will should be written surely? Inkpot at the ready!). It doesn’t make sense though. I’ve worked in the law, I’ve witnessed wills, I’ve even urged others to make sure they settle their own affairs – so, what about me?

I think there’s something so final about writing down how you want all your worldly possessions to be distributed once you shuffle off this mortal coil. It feels so horridly morbid to talk about the practicalities of death that we often just shy away from the inevitability of it all. Well, at least, I did. But with the difficult conversations of Covid-19 dominating nearly every household, and the discussions around mortality being more relevant than ever, it’s time I faced it too.

I’m very blessed to have a little boy who I want to provide for. I don’t earn a great deal, but what I do have, I would want to be at my family’s disposal. I want my son to have the option of going to university, or of living out to take on an apprenticeship if he wanted. To travel, to see things I never did. I know I’m incredibly lucky enough to have a husband who’d take care of him, but if what little I have can make life slightly more comfortable for the both of them, then why not?

A little legacy of love. That sounds good to me.

So…can I get a witness? (Or two).

Our guest contributor is Thasha Aly. Thasha was born and brought up in Kent, after her parents emigrated from India to teach here. She has worked in the law, the third sector and in special educational needs during her career. She and her husband live in London, and when she’s not running around after their toddler, she enjoys travel, learning, and eating (a lot).

 

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Surviving the Millennial Debt-Crisis Trend

Our guest contributor is Rachel Mildred. Rachel lives in London with husband Joseph and their Welsh Terrier puppy. As well as navigating life as a millennial homemaker, Rachel is also a freelance lawyer, nutritionist, online business ower and founder of ‘Oh Your Glow’, as well as Trustee for grassroots charity, ‘Freedom from Poverty’.

Most of us have been there – living life in our mid-twenties and spending like there’s no tomorrow. Out into the big wide world of employment and salaries and trying to figure out our independent living costs.

But the truth was, that I acquired my first credit card with the most responsible of intentions.

I’d read up on how to build a credit rating and with my long-term vision of a mortgage, I proudly hit ‘submit’ on my first ever credit card application. It wasn’t long before I received a letter in the post with my shiny new card. And there it was: that £500 credit limit was my journey into adult financial responsibility. Or in hindsight, quite possibly the ‘gateway drug’ into the impending mountain of debt I would soon find myself in!

Still with the objective of building up my credit score for that first home, I spent and repaid, spent and repaid… As a model debtor, I was frequently offered a higher credit limit and went on to get a second card, and a third, all of which had enticing ‘interest free’ periods.

At one stage, I had a total credit limit of £33,000.00 across 4 different cards! I didn’t quite reach the limit, but quite honestly, not far off. I justified the debt to myself as I wasn’t living a lavish lifestyle, I was just quite simply living above my means. Spending a little more each month that I was earning; leaving a mounting compound effect of debt.

The first time I really took stock of my debt was when I got married just a few years ago. My new partner handled his finances like nobody I’d ever met at our age. He had a five-figure savings account, an ISA, a private pension, stocks and shares. I must say, aside from being a little intimidating, this was a rude awakening of my own sorry financial state.

My debt was always something that I would deal with ‘one day’ and as I was smart with my cards and juggling different interest-free offers, I constantly avoided penalties. It didn’t really feel like it affected me too much, and rather than facing it, I simply began living within my means so that the debt merely plateaued and almost blurred into the background.

But when the time came for my wealth-wizard partner to pop the question, it dawned on me that my financial burden would soon become our financial burden and that wasn’t something that I was prepared to bring into our new marriage.

The twelve months that ensued were some of the most challenging but rewarding of my working life. Not only did I manage to clear my five-figure debt, but also jointly save with my husband to pay for our wedding outright and take the honeymoon of our dreams to The Seychelles and Kenya!

I now have zero debt, an ISA, a separate tax account as I’m self-employed, and a healthy savings account. And most of all, I’m proud to say that I can finally class myself as that financially-responsible adult that my twentysomething self dreamt of becoming.

 

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Death of a Home: a journey of love, life, ‘death’, forgiveness and acceptance

Save us out from the darkness stock

Our guest writer and client has suffered from serious mental health problems in the past and has been on a positive road to recovery.  Her experiences have impacted her identity as a daughter, a sister, and a mother. She prefers to remain anonymous to respect the privacy of those involved in her story.

Fifteen years ago, it happened. It all had culminated around the time I hit twenty. I was both numb and excited. Excited? And numb all at once? Hmm. Such a paradox of emotions. I suppose at this age very rarely is one so aware and reflective of one’s thoughts, feelings and emotions. There’s a certain level of emotional immaturity. A lack of an awareness of reality. I jumped in the car next to my siblings and never looked back. Number 51, my family home for seventeen years, was just a number from then. Arbitrary. Meaningless. Denied. Dead. It was as though I had been fed a banquet of flavoursome foods for almost two decades and then been stripped of such privileges in the blink of an eye, being fed nothing but stale bread. I was hungry. Feeling undernourished. I missed the taste of structure. The flavours of togetherness. The aromas of love.

My father’s gambling problems cost him a marriage, his children, their stability and their opportunity for security and nurture in what was still our formative years. Yes, I still felt like a child at 20-lost and vulnerable. My father had forfeited the house. The family home. Our family home. Gone… just like a new-born bird flying its nest. Never to be seen again. The blame I shifted onto him was surreal. It was all his fault! The man who had put 51 on the line and dropped it so effortlessly without a fight. I remember intruders frequently waltzing into my bedroom, snooping around and smiling. I felt sick. I wanted to throw them out and chain myself to the walls. It was still my bedroom and my window that overlooked our enchanted garden.

I was three years old when my mother and father decided to move to number 51. I had no real concept of what was going on, yet somewhere deep down, subconsciously, I knew this house was ‘the one’. Not just a house, but a home. A base. A foundation of love, magic, stability, and growth. My parents put everything they had into this house. Extensions, new wallpaper, a lick of new paint, etc. Money..! Friends coming over for playdates. Parties in the living room which overlooked the garden patio. Mum baking cakes in our extended kitchen and dad sitting on the couch watching TV (usually football!). My younger brother out in the streets skateboarding up and down that memorable hill that 51 sat on, and my sister prancing and dancing around upstairs playing with her toys. Such a ‘typical’ and comfortable lifestyle we all had. ‘Normal’. Simplicity overruled any external complications, and tranquillity was always a recurring theme in our house. Our home. My home….

Time-jumping to teenage years whilst still at 51, tensions began to brew. Friction. Like two gripped hands clasping for survival upon a thick piece of rope! You can almost hear the red-raw chafing and see the smoke forming from the friction. Damn! What a burn! It felt so painful! If this were a fire, we would all slowly be burning a painful death. Parents arguing, mum discontent, and dad in his own world….Dad in his own bubble. Dad? What’s wrong? No response. I really wanted to read between the lines with him, but he didn’t want to open his book. We could read his front cover. A title of stress and turmoil, visions of cloud and rain, the cracks starting to show. What was once a beautiful-looking egg-so oval and smooth and flawless-had now been cracked, the gooey yolk starting to overspill on the family unit. The egg protected us. It held us. It encased us. It revived us. We grew inside this egg. The egg was no more now, and darkness began to linger over us all, as if some sort of evil entity had possessed the family. What was going on? D I V O R C E.

My brother and I knew it was coming but couldn’t quite believe it until we heard it. We were in my bedroom, lying on the floor with our ears pressed against the carpet listening intently to the words, “I want a divorce”. My brother made a fist and started banging on the carpet. His anger and sadness diffused through the floor like a toxic gas and started spreading throughout the house.

I remember my mother driving us away from number 51, cruising with both tension and hope towards new foundations; towards number 50. Number 50 sat on an unrecognisable street.  A street that was like a piece of clothing that didn’t quite fit right. It covered us, but felt tight, tense and awkward. Settling was only to become unsettled yet again since, some years later, we were to lose this house too. Are we cursed?

Anxiety manifested and depression hit me during these next few years. I experienced major eating disorders and it was as though the breakdown of my parents’ marriage seriously affected my own relationship with both food and people, seeing little value in myself and seeking external acceptance.

My brother was off the rails-smoking, taking drugs, truanting, etc.-and my sister, being as young and naïve as she was, felt like her whole world was caving in. She felt unloved and undernourished in family values and morals. Her studies suffered as she strained to find solace within a broken home. I did my best to educate, inspire, and carry her. I knew it wasn’t enough- nowhere near -but it was all I could offer. We were all alone, and despite my mother’s efforts (which were few and far between), we saw little of her and felt emotionally neglected.

I am a mother now myself, still suffering the trauma of those many years ago. Yes, I wish I had been more resilient in the grand scheme of things, but alas, I wasn’t. I’ve since forgiven my father. In fact, I carry guilt for my blame I put on him. You see, my father was also a victim. A victim of an indescribable grief that I only recently uncovered. I learnt that my father was given a stark choice by my mother during the time my mother had given birth to a beautiful baby girl. She was my sister. She was Danielle. And she was born with Down’s syndrome.

My mother had decided to give Danielle up for adoption and this shattered my father. If he had refused, it would have resulted in his loss of both my mother and me. I learnt how my father would visit Danielle every day without my mother’s knowledge, leaving early from work, just to see her whilst she was in some sort of purgatory awaiting ‘rescue’ from a deserving and loving new family. When she was saved, a part of my father died too. He grieved, and his love for Danielle (and possibly his anger towards my mother) manifested in gambling which addictively consumed him. I don’t remember Danielle as I was barely a year old, and I have no idea of her whereabouts now. All I know is that I have another sister whom is a part of me, yet apart from me.

Danielle my darling, it’s like I can hear your thoughts: ‘How dare my mother do this to me?! What type of mother was she?’ But my mother has her own story – she was adopted herself at birth. So you see, by unwinding the tight ribbon and loosening the tension, an understanding is achieved, and with understanding comes acceptance and forgiveness. With all the challenges my mother had to go through as a Jewish Irish woman and the challenges faced by my father of having to forcefully accept the adoption of a daughter, I’ve surrendered to blaming people and taken comfort in forgiveness. People have incredible lives, some with tortured paths, trodden by no fault of their own but one too many an unguided turn. Acceptance, understanding and forgiveness are key to growth. Holding on to dark thoughts and feelings only disturbs the keeper of these feelings. Letting go through acceptance, understanding and forgiveness creates space for healing. I’m able to breathe a new lease of life now.

I’m happy with the person I’ve become. I’m certainly not perfect, but what is ‘perfect’? I am the perfect version of myself, perfectly imperfect. My safety net is as strong as ever, being surrounded by terrific and authentic friends. I own my own home and have a solid grasp of budgeting and investing. I recognise that the financial future I’ve set out for my son is far better than what my parents had available to them. Where am I now? I am in an ideal position to fulfil future endeavours and successes. Here’s to life!

Anon

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Dearly departed

When someone passes away in the family, it hits hard. Harder than you would ever expect. But once the trauma of announcing the news, conducting the funeral, and saying last goodbyes is over – you’re left with the second round of grief. Sorting through your loved one’s personal affairs and finances to work out ‘what’s next’.

It might be that your dearly beloved has been forthright in preparing his estate for his inheritors. Or (and as is so often the case), they might not have felt ready, or even found the time to prepare a will, let alone set up the necessary ‘pots’ for the family to rely upon. From my own personal experience, I am very lucky that my dear father had the foresight to plan ahead for his demise. Perhaps it was different for him. He was very unwell for over a decade, and with the whisper of loss always on the horizon, the grim reality of it all must have dawned on him long ago. But I’ve always wondered at how brave he must have been to face death head on, whilst still brimming with life. I don’t know if I could do it for my own children. Although, having seen the lengths Dad went to for us, I really hope I find that bravery in me one day.

Apart from Mum, none of us really knew how much Dad had prepared his estate for us until we all sat down with our newly appointed financial adviser. The documents had all been kept safely in their filing cabinets (giant grey monoliths that we consistently side-stepped for fear of being explained what was in them). Those cabinets teemed with reams of paper that we never fully understood the importance of, until this day.

We felt so reassured when we were told that Dad had thought to arrange as much as he could to make this horrible time somehow more manageable. Aside from the extensive joint will, there was life insurance, business cover, trusts for each of us, you name it. Our minds boggled a bit on hearing the explanations of how everything would work. And at the same time, we were tearfully at peace when we heard how the family home, and the business our parents had built up over the years, were now protected. Protected by various clever mechanisms Dad and his team had thought up. We truly never gave him credit for everything he thought of. But then, that’s so often the case for loved ones. We don’t see them for the stars that they are until their light is gone.

I think we all were so grateful that we didn’t have to sit there, whilst still in the throes of grief, and work out all the money and legal documents needed to just ‘carry on’ for now. Dad had taken away that exhausting stress for us. Just one of his many parting gifts. It gave us the space to breathe and plan the future, and to say our proper goodbyes in our own time. No probate breathing down our necks. No unnecessary calls back and forth with official bodies. It was all in place with a few signatures and registrations.

So I guess, thanks Dad, we miss you beyond words. You really did think of everything. I’m off to buy a filing cabinet. Because, I want to be just like you when I grow up…Love, Your Daughter (mother of two, 35).

Our guest contributor is Thasha Aly. Thasha was born and brought up in Kent, after her parents emigrated from India to teach here. She has worked in the law, the third sector and in special educational needs during her career. She and her husband live in London, and when she’s not running around after their toddler, she enjoys travel, learning, and eating (a lot).

 

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