My Deliberate Life

Okay a confession, I was going to write a second post about the UK property market, and I am still going to do that. The thing is I started writing about that but then I went off on a complete tangent, and, well, this is that tangent. For some reason I’m in a philosophical mood.

Milan, Italy

I moved to Northampton to start a job at a large financial company in 2012. I actually began as a contractor and was made permanent after 5 months. In September 2012 I was asked whether I wanted to do a secondment in Milan in Italy for a few months. The conversation was a little like this:

Manager: Hi W, now it hasn’t been officially signed off yet, but the Italian branch of our company need someone to go and help out in their marketing analytics department and we thought you’d be a good fit, what do you think?

Me: (Trying not to appear too excited) Okay yeah I mean, that sounds good, I would be interested in that. For sure. Definitely. When are they thinking?

Manager: Their current analytics guy is leaving the business in a couple of weeks, so you’d need to go out there within the next week or so to get as much of a handover as possible.

Me: Right, right okay. That’s quite soon.

Manager: I’m aware it’s a difficult decision but I do need to know reasonably soon – maybe think it over this evening and let me know tomorrow morning?

Me: Ha! I mean, er yes, sure I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Of course I was secretly incredibly excited, there was never any doubt in my mind about whether to go. And before I knew it I was flying out to Italy to begin my secondment.

Milan is one of those cities that divides opinion – some say there is too much traffic, or that it’s too consumerist for their liking, especially compared to the rest of Italy. Personally I thought it was beautiful – the architecture, the history, the culture, the food, the people. I absolutely loved it. Living there, and working with people who knew the city made a big difference – I was able to eat at some lovely restaurants, I was able to play and talk about football with people who are possibly even more mad about it than we are, I was able to learn about what makes Italian people tick. I drank some amazing coffee. I had possibly the best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

Having said that, I had a lot of free time while I was there. I was in serviced accommodation so I didn’t need to tidy up or anything like that. I only really knew the people I worked with so most evenings I didn’t really know what to do with myself. Work was too busy to really take any holidays and I stayed for four months in the end, only coming home for my sister’s wedding and for Christmas. I think I mentioned in an earlier post, I watched a lot of Star Trek and Breaking Bad. I took some lessons in Italian and went out with my classmates a bit. I also read a lot, and I read a lot in particular about financial independence.

It’s interesting, when you have a lot of time to think about things you really start to reflect on what’s important in life. You start to think, what is my plan? What do I want to achieve in life? What is important to me?

Mindlessness and Modern Life

My experience of Milan was not to dissimilar to the time when I was younger that I travelled around the US and Canada for three months. It was a fantastic experience. But what they don’t tell you about travelling is how much free time you have – how much time you spend sat around waiting for a bus or a train, or sitting on said bus or train waiting to arrive at your next destination. But that is not a bad thing. Having extra time means you have time to think, to consider things in depth, your emotions and future desires.

(I suppose kids these days might watch something on their tablet or read something on their kindle whilst they travel about. These options weren’t really available to me when I was 18! I did read books, but every book had to be carried round so it was a limited pastime.)

In our ordinary lives we fill up our time, with television, exercise, cooking, cleaning, playing games or sport, socialising with friends – well these are the things I do anyway. I suppose if you have a family you have even less free time. And when you get a holiday you try to cram in as much as possible – sight-seeing, food, activities perhaps and so on. The thing is you can go months without really having a spare moment and suddenly another year has gone by and you wonder, well, where did that go? It becomes almost mindless.

How often do we really spend the time to sit back and think about what we’re actually doing? I would guess it happens less than we’d like to think. I find the only times when I can really have the time to think is when I’ve had a break from work longer than about ten days – that’s when my creative side starts to really come out and I start writing, or drawing, making things, and just generally thinking about stuff.

My Deliberate Life

Earlier this year one my best friends from university died from cancer. He was the same age as me. He was a reckless alcoholic and his favourite phrase when drinking was “Let’s trash the place!” (I should be clear, we never actually trashed any places, it was more a state of mind). He was impulsive, a prankster, and something of a womaniser. He was also a gifted physicist, a multi-linguist, and capable of the most sublime gestures of romance towards girls I’ve seen before or since.

It’s strange, I wasn’t too upset at his funeral because I knew he’d lived his life to the full and he had achieved so much. At the service his academic supervisor talked about his work on radioactive waves and how he was using physics to identify different types of cancer quicker. I sat there in awe. After the service I reminisced with my old university friends about all of the stupid things we did at university, and we laughed a lot. I’m pretty sure my friend would have been happy to see us laughing.

Where am I going with this? I suppose what I’d like to say is that when I’m on my death bed, looking back on my life, I can be like my friend and say, yes I did the things I wanted to do. I didn’t just accumulate money for the sake of accumulating it. I didn’t waste away my life on workplace targets. I didn’t spend all my time watching television. I want to be able to say that I contributed. That I made something. That I loved and lost.

I suppose this is why my blog is called ‘My Deliberate Life’. I don’t want to just live mindlessly one year to the next, following the herd, doing what society tells me I’m supposed to do. There has to be an aim, an overarching plan. I want to contribute in some way, in some small way make the world a better place. And I want to be happy – deeply happy not just superficially or temporarily happy.

Currently it seems like financial independence could be one of the ways to help me achieve that. If I’m able to stop working by the time I’m 40 then I can start a new chapter in my life free of financial worries.  But that’s a long time to wait! I don’t want my life to be on hold for 8 years until I achieve financial independence – that seems an impoverished existence and probably unrealistic.

Creative Writing

Over the last 4 years I’ve completed an A-Level in Creative Writing, and I’ve just finished a Diploma in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. I’ve written a lot of stories in that time and have ideas for more. My current plan is to take a little time off work next year – I’ve agreed with my manager that I can take January and February off – half of that is paid holiday leave, the other half is unpaid.

The idea is that I’ll do a little travelling – perhaps a month’s worth – whilst writing. I guess the hope is I’ll receive extra inspiration along the way. And then I’ll have a month to write everything up. I plan to write two stories, each about 100,000 words in length – a standard novel’s length. And then I will start to write to agents and publishers I guess.

I have two particular stories in mind, one of which is already reasonably developed and has over 20,000 words. But both still need a lot more work. I also realise I need to make a good start on both of these before my extended leave starts. I received good marks for the extracts I submitted in my studies so I’m reasonably hopeful I’m not just walking up a blind alley. But even if I were, I enjoy the process of writing and I’ve made some good friends along the way so I don’ t think it would have been a complete waste of time.

It’s a philosophy, stupid!

One of the reasons I like Mr Money Mustache is that his blog is not just about tips to save money, or investing advice, or humour – although it is all of those things. The reason I like his blog is because it’s a philosophy. He tells us not to buy that big pickup truck with all the extra features (which is such an American thing to buy by the way) not just because it’s a waste of money, but because ultimately it will have little effect on our happiness and actually will probably negatively affect our happiness (in the form of debt, longer work life etc). He encourages us, in his own humorous way, to think about what’s truly important – family and health and so on, and he shows us why actually those things don’t need to cost the earth.

These are not new ideas, though we do need reminding of them every now and then. There is an Ancient Greek philosopher called Epicurus who spent much time considering the subject of happiness and concluded that (and I’m quoting from Wikipedia here) the purpose of philosophy is to attain a happy, tranquil life, characterized by ataraxia – peace and freedom from fear – and aponia the absence of pain – and by living a self-sufficient life surround by friends.

And because we’re talking about philosophy we don’t have to have a rigid one-size-fits-all outcome. We all just have to spend some time and think for ourselves. Some people reach that big financial independence milestone and decide, actually, they would like to continue working. It gives them structure, a social life, a purpose. And that’s fine – the important thing is that they’ve truly considered why they’re doing what they’re doing, and they are continuing to work out of their own free will, not because they have to.

Who knows, when I reach financial independence maybe I’ll decide, actually I want to stay working? Maybe all this pontificating about meaning and purpose is just hot air, maybe I’ll find out I’m not as creative or thoughtful as I thought I was? It’s certainly possible. But at least I won’t have lost anything along the way and I won’t look back and regret the things I didn’t do. A wise man once said, ‘it is better to aim high and miss, than to aim low and hit’. Now there’s a motto to live by.

Anyway, I was supposed to be talking about houses. Where was I?

As always, thanks for reading,

Wephway

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On the UK Housing Market – Part One

There follows three posts on my experience of the UK housing market. I wrote it all out and then realised it was quite long for one post so I’ve split it out into three – the houses I grew up in, the houses I bought, and my thoughts on the current UK housing market and strategies to make the most of it.

My parents bought a house in Ashtead, Surrey back in the late 1970s and I was born there in 1984 – a home birth. My mum told me recently that they couldn’t really afford the house, my dad had only recently finished his PhD in medical engineering and she was a physiotherapist in the NHS. Fortunately in those days bank managers had a lot more freedom to make decisions and didn’t have computers to check things on, so the mortgage paperwork all went through.

It also helped that house prices were comparatively cheap back then, ridiculously cheap by today’s standards. Before I was born my parent’s added a second floor to the house. We had a long garden that backed onto some woods and farming land. When I think about it, it was idyllic really. Here’s the house I lived in for the formative years of my life (thanks to the magic of Google maps):

first home
We used to have a big tree out front that I remember climbing – the current owners must have cut it down – boooo!

I checked on Zoopla today and this house is currently valued around £750k. When I was 6 years old we sold that house for £180k and moved to a bigger house. It was next to a park and had a long garden (my parents like gardens). At some point in the 1990s (I forget exactly when) we had an extension done which made the new house even bigger. I lived in this house until I went to university in 2004. Here it is:

second home
This is a recent pic courtesy of google maps – our car wasn’t nearly as fancy as this BMW!

Eventually, in late 2011, my parents sold the house. It had more than tripled (almost quadrupled in fact) in value over 22 years and they sold it for £875k. They moved to a similar sized but much cheaper house down in Dorset, releasing about £200k of equity as they did so. All this on the salary of a phyiotherapist and a medical engineer. My parents also ran a little business from home in addition to their day jobs and constantly worked late into the night and over weekends to help pay for everything. Even so it’s incredible when you think about it.

A couple of years back my mum showed me one of her yearly budgets – it had a month by month breakdown of our spending as a family, in categories such as bills, food, holidays and so on. It turns out they regularly spent more money than they had each year, despite always making fairly frugal decisions.

It ties in with my experience – I remember growing up that money was always tight and I didn’t get all the perks that my friends got. I got hand-me-down jumpers (with sewn in arm patches) from my older brothers. I didn’t get much pocket money (it was always my age multiplied by 10p, so when I was 10 years old I got a pound a week). We went on caravan holidays (which I loved). We did all our food shopping in a monthly shop, buying long life food mostly. We never ate out. This spreadsheet brought all that home to me – my parents were living on the edge, financially speaking.

Of course it all worked out for them (and by extension, me) but it so easily could have turned out differently – if one of them had been made redundant for example. They protected me from that knowledge – if I’d known how close we were to being unable to pay the mortgage it would probably have frightened me as a child.

‘Your house is the most important investment you can make’

This is what my dad told me when I was about sixteen years old. He also told me I should always buy the biggest house (well, most valuable house) I could possibly buy. This seems to have become conventional wisdom in the UK. And in my dad’s experience it was true, my parents gained massive wealth by always buying the biggest house they could possibly afford given their salaries and watching the value double and double again. None of this buy-to-let malarkey, they just concentrated on adding value to their own house over the years and sat back to watch inflation do the rest.

They had interest-only mortgages for a lot of that time, only really paying the mortgage down in the final years, but it worked out well for them because this is what the average house price did in the UK between 1967 and 2014:

uk house prices

This story has a happy ending but I have to say it was a risky tactic and there was a huge helping of luck for my parents in terms of house price gains. They couldn’t possibly have known how much the house would go up in value and how much their close proximity to London would help, though I suppose they had an idea.

Furthermore I’m not convinced the same tactic will work in today’s housing market – it seems inconceivable that house values can continue to keep rising the way they have been, especially given how stagnant average wage growth has been over the last 10 years. Also these days mortgage conditions are a lot stricter, higher deposits are needed, and interest-only mortgages are non-existent.

Even so I have to give a lot of respect to my parents – they played the game hard and they won. They made sacrifices along the way, took their chances, and now they’re living comfortably in a lovely house with a two acre, private garden and a view to die for. Here it is, hidden behind all the foliage:

third home

In my next post I plan to document my foray into the UK housing market. It’s a little different to my parent’s experience that’s for sure!

As always, thanks for reading,

Wephway

On the Importance of Finding Housemates You Get Along With

Apologies in advance as this post is going to sound like a bit of a rant. You have been warned!

I have recently discovered how important it is to find housemates I get along with. Some people can be completely lovely but when you live with them they have a way of winding you up, so much so that you can’t stand living with them anymore and avoid them in your daily interactions. Surely it can’t be that bad you ask? It’s true, perhaps I am being petty – I’ll let you make up your mind, but I have to say I’ve lived in house shares for years and while I have had disagreements I’ve never felt so completely at odds with any housemates as I do currently.

So I currently live in a house share with a girl (who I will call M) and a couple (who I will call L and G). Again, they are all lovely and I get along with them on a personal level perfectly well. I have no issues with M, she is always tidy and considerate, and we tend to miss each other most of the time anyway due to her work hours – we’re like ships passing in the night. L and G on the other hand…

I’ve raised some objections, don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type of person to be passive aggressive or anything like that, but when there are constant daily little annoyances it builds up. I don’t want to be that guy who is always nagging and patronizing them – they’ll only end up hating me for it so most things I just keep to myself, waiting until they move out. So here is a list of things that have riled me up:

  • Eating my food. I first noticed my veggie sausages had disappeared from the freezer when I came to cook with them – it messed up my meal plan for that week. I sent a message to L asking if he and G had eaten them by mistake, and he flat out denied that they had anything to do with it. I’m fairly sure M wouldn’t have eaten them though. L did generously offer some of his veggie sausages but I declined. This isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve noticed my milk being opened and the contents disappearing, I’ve noticed my herbs and spices reducing very quickly and I’ve noticed my garlic (I have one of those ‘easy garlic’ jars) is now almost empty when I’ve hardly used any of it.
  • Cutlery and utensils from the kitchen going missing. When I bought the house I bought a set of cutlery and utensils so I know there should be 8 knives, 8 forks, 8 tablespoons and so on. When there were only 3 forks left (and had been for a couple of weeks) I eventually asked L and this was our exchange:

Me: Hey I noticed there are some forks missing, do you know where they might be?

L: There are plenty of forks.

Me: There’s only 3. There should be 8.

L: Oh I don’t know then.

Me: It’s just M has her own cutlery so I don’t think it would be her. You or G haven’t taken them to work and forgotten to return them?

L: I don’t think so.

Me: Huh, strange.

The next day L sent me a message saying he’d discovered some at work (L and G work together), and would bring them back. The thing is not all of them have been returned and some different looking spoons, knives etc have turned up so I can only assume the nice ones I bought have gone into circulation at L and G’s workplace.

  • Similarly the scissors have disappeared from the kitchen. I asked L about these and he said he was using them to cut the parsley plant in his room. I left it at that, I didn’t think I needed to actually explicitly ask him to return them to the kitchen, it was sort of implied in my asking where they were. Of course, weeks later and they’re still in his room. It’s not like they’re for everyone to share or anything.
  • We have a guest room that I set up with a double bed, with duvet, bed sheets and everything. A few weeks after I set it up L asks if he can use the guest room for a friend staying over, and I say yes of course, as long as you wash the bed sheets after so it’s ready for the next guest. That was my only condition. That was weeks and weeks ago, and, you guessed it, he hasn’t done what I asked him to do. The only thing I asked him to do.
  • They’re really f**king noisy, all the time. This I should take some blame for – I didn’t realise before they moved in that the hard wood floors would provide absolutely no sound insulation. It basically means I get woken up in the morning by their footsteps moving around – G actually has quiet footsteps but L seems to crash around the room – you wouldn’t believe how loud it is. In addition they play their TV really loud and the bass reverberates through the floorboards. I have asked them to turn it down and they have turned it down a couple of times but most of the time it’s still just as loud as normal. As soon as they move out I’m putting a carpet and padding on the floor so that the next person who moves in doesn’t bother me so much, in the meantime I’m wearing ear plugs when I try to sleep and putting up with the rest unfortunately.
  • They don’t pay their rent on time. For the first couple of months I had to remind them each time. It took 3 weeks to pay in the second month. It’s not hard, set up a standing order and forget about it, then none of us has to have that awkward conversation. They have gotten better but it’s never on the first day of the month (like it’s supposed to be). I shouldn’t have to ask for such things.
  • They don’t seem to understand how recycling works. G is from Texas so I sort of understand – she said when she moved in that she’d never had to recycle before so it was all new to her. For L, who is from Birmingham, there is no such excuse. Often I’ll be about to throw something in the rubbish bin and I’ll notice there is a can in there, or some cardboard. I always fish them out and put them into the recycling basket which is right next to the bin. I can’t emphasize this enough, it’s actually more effort to put things in the bin than it is to put them in the recycling basket. On the other hand I constantly see things in the recycling basket that obviously can’t be recycled – plastic bags, foil wrappers, etc. It’s like there are no thought processes going on. And then when it comes to take the basket down the garden and put the recycling in the recycling boxes they always put them in the wrong boxes – mixing glass with plastic, tins with cardboard, so I have to sort it all out before putting them out each week. And what’s even more annoying is when they have a cardboard box, say they’ve bought some shoes, and they just leave the cardboard box by the recycling without breaking it down – I mean what do they think is going to happen, that little elves will come along and do it for them?
  • Washing up. Okay this is always going to be a stickler and everyone has their own tolerances. But seriously? Most of the things they wash they don’t actually properly clean – L does actually need to wear glasses but hardly ever wears them (L has one of those ‘man buns’, and I saw some treatment for hair loss in the recycling recently – you can make your conclusions). Also we have a system where you put your washing-up in the draining rack and let it dry itself – this system only works if you empty the draining rack (ie put things away) before putting your new washing-up on there. I constantly come in and have to play a game of Jenga with the washing-up because it’s piled up precariously high. And finally they’re stacking is so haphazard – I always thought it was straightforward – you put the cutlery in the little cutlery holders, you put the plates and bowls in the rack, you put glasses face down in the main section, and then everything else fits around that. L and G seem to just throw everything in the draining rack in any order, with bowls upright so that water collects in the bottom (it’s called a draining rack because the water is supposed to drain away, not coalesce in the bowl, surely?), cutlery in the rack, glasses on their sides and so on.
  • Further I’m always tidying or cleaning up after them. The number of times I’ve cleaned the sink, or wiped the surfaces, or the kitchen table because they’ve left some spillage, or they’ve left some vegetables in the sink, and so on and so on. M, the other housemate is great, she helps out with household cleaning and is always considerate, but L and G don’t seem to care. I’m not their parents, I shouldn’t have to explain how these things work to them.
  • They’ve taken over the kitchen. I had everything set up nicely and they started moving things around (plates to different cupboards for example), buying lots of new glasses, taking over every spare space for all their cooking equipment (which they don’t seem to use), filling up every shelf of the fridge and freezer, and so on.
  • I left some lasagne on the side the other day – it was piping hot so I put the plastic cover over it at an angle, to cover the food but let the hot air escape. No sooner had I left the kitchen, G comes in and puts the plastic cover on the lasagne, sealing it up. Naturally the plastic melted, ruining the cover and some of my food. I cursed loudly when I came back in and she apologised to which I mumbled some sort of ‘okay don’t worry’ type response. But I’m still annoyed about it.
  • The hot water ran out the other day (we have one of those hot water tanks), and L messaged me asking me to fix it. I told him to press the ‘+1 hour’ button on the little panel below the boiler. Instead he went to the hot water tank and turned the temperature dial up to full. I’m not sure how he got that from my instructions. When I got home I pointed out the boiler panel to which his response was ‘Oh I didn’t realise that’s what you meant.’ Of course he didn’t change the temperature dial back to what it was, so when I go to take a shower the next day the water is ridiculously hot and I have to abandon my shower for that day. He’s very absent-minded – more on this below.
  • They talked about going vegetarian when they first moved in, lasted about a week and then went back to their old habits. I’ve been vegetarian for about 9 years so when they said they were going vegetarian and started talking about all these animal rights issues I was quite impressed. Clearly it was just a phase for them though, a passing interest.
  • G has quite a high-pitched loud voice that can be heard throughout the house.
  • Their TV watching habits annoy me. This is a minor annoyance but when combined with the extra loud TV (above) it sends me up the wall. Recently I watched the latest Game of Thrones series, like everyone else, week by week. L on the other hand insists on waiting until all the episodes are out and then binge watching them all in one evening, he says he doesn’t like having to wait for each episode to come out. I can’t be the only one that thinks that is quite sad. It’s become a major annual event, GoT, where everyone watches it, and then we all discuss what’s happened, what we think is going to happen, what we think about certain character’s decisions and so on. When L is there that whole conversation has to stop. And surely, if you watch it all in one sitting you’re going to miss important details, you’re not going to take in all the great acting, plot nuances and so on. It just seems a really impoverished way of approaching TV viewing. They did the same for the Handmaid’s Tale as well – I sat through 10 hours of moody music and anguished screams reverberating down through my ceiling while they watched it all.
  • They are both psychology academics but I’m pretty sure another psychologist would enjoy analysing them. G follows everything L does – she doesn’t complain, he is quite intense and she is besotted with him so I think he gets his way most of the time. She follows him around everywhere and he tells her what to do – she is finishing up a PhD and he makes sure she stays in her room and works hard on it. It’s not my place to say anything but I find the whole dynamic a bit unnerving. It’s not like he’s physically abusing her or anything – he’s far too morally opinionated to do something like that – but there is a level of abuse that is psychological rather than physical and I wonder how close to the line they are. G told me the other day she had been going out with another guy for 9 years, they were engaged and the wedding was all planned before they cancelled it at the last minute. She’s only 28 so I can only assume she started seeing L straight away after this whole thing – I’ll let you make your own conclusions about that. I don’t know, again, not my place to speculate.
  • L is one of those loud pissers. I’m sorry to lower the tone but I can hear him pissing. He pisses straight into the water in the toilet – most of us either sit down or we aim slightly to the side of the water so that it’s not so loud. Not L, his lack of consideration and self awareness extends to his pissing habits.
  • G started to complain about M to me the other day. That’s right, G started bitching about M. I realise this whole blog post is one long bitch, but at least it’s to anonymous people on the internet – I’m not trying to drive a wedge between other people in the same house. G said something along the lines of: ‘M is always so quiet, and she always takes that shelf in the fridge and keeps to herself. And she has her own cutlery and bowls, its weird.’ I immediately defended M of course.
  • Finally they’re always in a rush it seems. This ties in with the lack of cleaning, but in some ways it’s like they’re not really present, they’re so busy that they’re not really self aware, and because they’re a couple they are always talking and I think perhaps they just don’t notice things around them. They make decisions together without consulting their other housemates (ie me and M), and I guess because they back each other up and justify each other’s actions they feel like what they’re doing is fine.

Okay, I think that’s everything. Rant over. Sorry again, I had to get all that off  my chest.

You might think we’ve been living together a long time, actually it’s only been 3 months and there are still another 3 months to go before they move out.

Before L and G moved in I remember chatting with L about his university work and his hours and he said some weeks it’s fairly light, say 20 to 30 hours, and some weeks it’s fairly intense, like 70 hours plus. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it did seem like he was boasting a bit. I’ve seen it in some work cultures (especially in the US), people work long weeks like this and it becomes a sort of ‘badge of honour’, like, hey look at me and how hard I work.

Personally I think this attitude is quite sad, and actually if you aren’t able to do your work in the time you’re being paid for then that’s your fault – you should manage your time better or if there’s too much you should push back and refuse to do it. No one should work for free unless it’s for charity or something. If you get fired for that attitude then that’s what lawyers are there for.

Anyway, I need to caveat all this and say that actually, L and G are both lovely people, and maybe a better housemate than me would try a bit harder to make things work than I have. I do wonder what all the above says about me as well… maybe I’m just getting old and need my own place or something. As it is, they’re moving out in December so I’m not too concerned. They did say they’d like to move back in 3 months after that but I think I’m going to make up some excuse why it won’t be possible (a friend wants the room or something). No hard feelings, sometimes it just doesn’t work out and they’ll find somewhere else.

So there you go, a little snapshot into my mind! I can’t believe I just wrote 3000 words about this! Has anyone else had a similar experience, or want to get a rant off their chest like me?

As always thanks for reading,

Wephway

August 2017 Review

August was an attempt at a ‘model’ or ‘perfect’ month for me. I tried to eliminate all unnecessary spend and lived frugally, or as frugally as I could anyway.

It was an experiment of sorts. I cut my food budget down to £25 a week which had to include any drinks or meals out. I allowed myself to carry over any leftover money, so in the second week for example I had a meal out at the pub with my workmates, but I asked for a glass of water (instead of my usual coke), and waited til I got home to have dessert.

Of course it all fell apart in the third week – I caved in and ordered a big takeaway which blew my food budget for that week. I also went out for meals in the third and fourth weeks, had a couple of nights out, and by the end of the month I’d overspent my budget significantly. Having said that, when I tallied up my spending at the end of the month I found I’d spent half of what I usually spend.

pizza
Mmmmmm. It was all worth it.

I also discovered a bit more about myself – about what I can happily get by on, and about where the line is when it comes to budgeting. It turns out my social life takes priority over frugality, but there is a middle road where I can be a bit more conscious about my spending choices when I’m out.

No one else really seemed to notice either which is good thing I think. In the third week I found a voucher for 50% off main courses for a table of six and my workmates were happy to oblige so I not only saved myself money but everyone else as well!

Calamity!

Everything was going fairly well on the finance front until the last Saturday of August when I had an accident.

There I was, sat at my desk with my feet up on the table. I had my laptop in my lap, playing a game (Guild Wars II if anyone’s interested), when the back of my desk chair broke off.

It happened in slow motion – I went over backwards, managing to hold onto my laptop as I did so. I knocked a glass off the table which smashed on the wood flooring. I did a sort of half roll and next thing I know I’m lying on my front, the laptop held above my head, as though I’ve just scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

touchdown.jpg
I definitely didn’t look as cool as this.

My housemate came running down the stairs – he later told me he thought someone had broken into the house! It was a pretty loud crash. I imagine it would have been fairly comic if anyone had been watching.

To be fair it was an old chair – I’d had it about 9 years and I’d taken it to 5 different houses in that time. It was probably about time I replaced it. And so I did – I went shopping for desk chairs and am now sitting comfy in a sturdy chair that I hope will last me several years.

Of course this didn’t help my attempt at living frugally for the month – I ended up spending £120 on the chair. Still, needs must I guess. On Sunday I took the old chair apart and bid it a tearful farewell at the tip.

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Maybe I’m overreacting a little bit.

August 2017 Round Up

So here we go, here is the breakdown of my spend in August:

Spending:

  • Mobile phone – £19.40
  • Rent – £550  – I own my house (with a mortgage) but I pay myself rent. I don’t actually move any money around, but for the purposes of my spreadsheet and my savings rate I treat my house as though it were a rental property and I am a tenant in it.
  • Food, drinks, toiletries – £95.15 – This is basically my supermarket shop.
  • Eating/drinking out, takeaways – £88.06
  • Petrol/travel – £33
  • Car expenses (insurance, repairs etc) – £0
  • Gym/Sports – £49.99 – My gym membership is £29 a month, but this month I bought myself a pull up bar as I’m trying to work out more at home – eventually I’m thinking of dropping the gym membership though I’m not quite ready for that.
  • Music/gigs/cinema – £27 – Bought a ticket to see a band in February.
  • Cash Withdrawals – £55 – I still get cash out from time to time. I suppose some of this should fit into some of the above categories somehow but it’s complicated. I do try and spend on my card for most things to keep this category as low as possible.
  • Miscellaneous – £286.75 – Including one new desk chair, a repayment on a couple of mattresses I bought a few months back, and some other bits and pieces.
  • Bank charge – Negative £9.01 (ie they paid me). I’m not sure why but I always put this in here – I suppose I should consider it extra income but on the other hand if I was paying for my bank account it would be an expense. Something to consider but it doesn’t change the overall figure very much.

Total: £1195.34

Income:

My income is a little complicated.

I have my salary from work, from which a pension payment and a sharesave payment are automatically taken out.

I also have the income from my properties – I have 2 properties one of which I live in. I have 5 tenants in the house I don’t live in and 3 tenants in the house I do live in (4 tenants if you include me). Both houses I pay all the bills and then my tenants each pay a flat rent each month. Then of course there is the mortgage on each house, and on top of that I’m paying back my parents a certain amount each month as they loaned me the money for the deposit on the first house – this is effectively a 3rd mortgage as far as I’m concerned – I pay interest on it and have a plan set up to repay it all over 10 years.

I split out my income into active and passive – passive is basically my rental income, active is everything else. At some point I might go into these in more detail but for now here are the vital statistics:

  • Salary (after pension/sharesave removed) – £2176.34
  • Pension payment – £877.50 – I put in 6%, my employer puts in 20%
  • Sharesave – £250
  • Matched betting – £332.59 – I don’t do matched betting very often but this month I tried out the 888casino freeplay offers and made £332.59 before my account got ‘gubbed’.
  • Rental Income (after bills, expenses, council tax and mortgage interest removed) – £1291.95 – the actual rent received was £2660 but once everything is considered my actual income drops to less than half that. It would drop even further if I considered the mortgage repayments as well but then I will eventually pay off the mortgages so I consider mortgage repayments as savings.

Total Active Income = £3636.43

Total Passive Income = £1291.95

My Savings Rate

This is where my approach differs to other bloggers. Most bloggers don’t appear to consider their investment income (my passive income above) the way I do. They usually just reinvest it, or they might add it to their total income.

So for most bloggers looking at my stats above they might see an income of £3636.43 and spending of £1195.34 and say, aha, your savings rate is 1-spending/income which equals 0.67, or 67%.

Other bloggers might add the active and passive income together for a total income of £4928.38 and use the same calculation above to get a savings rate of 76%.

Other bloggers might consider the mortgage repayments as an expense also (I’ve only considered the mortage interest above) but that’s a different topic altogether.

My method is to use passive income as an expense reducer. That is, my spending is £1195.34 minus £1291.95 which equals negative £96.91. As my active income is £3636.43 and my spending is negative £96.91 then my savings rate is 103%.

Let me just repeat that, my savings rate for August 2017 was 103%.

Say what now?!

mourinho
Mourinho is unimpressed with my ‘savings rate’

A bit of explanation

Okay this wasn’t a typical month. On the one hand I didn’t have any of the big yearly expenses – car insurance/MOT/repairs, home insurance, holidays, presents, and so on. I also didn’t have any of the big adhoc expenses – social occasions like weddings or stag dos for example. And finally I didn’t have any of the big life expenses – I didn’t get married, or buy a new house, and I don’t have kids to pay for.

So yes it might look great but there are many caveats to that savings rate and over time (over many years in fact) I expect my average monthly expenditure to be much higher than the sub £1300 it was this month.

Even so I’m fairly happy with how I did – there are still ways to trim the expenses down but it was a good month overall.

Thoughts on my new method of calculating my savings rate

Interestingly this month I knew that if I spent less than a certain amount then I would reach the 100% savings rate. I actually was able to count down how much I had left until I would go below 100%. This is a new development for me.

Also I noticed I was much more concerned about the passive income – if I could just increase that then I could spend more whilst still getting the 100% savings rate. This is a surprisingly powerful motivator – on my other house this month I moved my gas and electricity bills to a cheaper provider – before I’d have probably been lazy about it but now I know that every pound I increase my passive income by is an extra pound I can spend before my savings rate drops below 100%.

Conversely I wasn’t so bothered about my active income. As long as my passive income outweighed my expenses then it really didn’t matter what my active income was. My active income could be only £5 and I’d still have a savings rate over 100% (as long as my passive income outweighed my expenses). Ultimately this makes sense – when I’m financially independent if I decide to stop working then my savings rate should still technically be over 100% even with a lack of active income.

Some might say this is a bad thing – that I should choose a calculation method which motivates me to increase my active income. But I still have my net worth tracker and this increases more the more income I have so that is motivation enough for me. Which leads nicely on to:

My Net Worth Tracker

My net worth increased in August from £169,331.28 to £177,208.63. Not too shabby, a £7,877.35 increase. This is based on the estimated values of my properties minus my debts (mortgage/loans etc), plus my savings, plus my investment accounts (including pension) and the total of my bank balances. Since this time last year I estimate my net worth has increased by £59,106.40. Here’s a lovely graph to show how my net worth has increased since September 2012:

Net Worth 31-08-2017

It’s the green line that’s the main one. I’m hoping to get to a net worth of £200k by the end of the year though it depends to a great deal on share values and house values so we’ll see.

Conclusion

So there you go, a snapshot of where I am, financially speaking. If I’m honest with myself I probably won’t be doing an update like this every month, but it’s still interesting to check in like this every now and then.

If anyone is reading this, let me know your thoughts!

Thanks, Wephway

Am I obsessed with FIRE?

This last month or two I’ve been playing around with my spreadsheets, looking at savings rates, net worth, investing and the like. I’ve input my savings, pension balances, and bank balances for the last 5 years, along with mortgage balances and house values and this is what I’ve come up with:

Net Worth 30-07-2017

 

It’s pretty, right? So the blue line is all my assets – my house values (I have two), my pension balance, my bank account balances and investment and savings accounts. The red line is my total debt – I have two mortgages and I owe my parents quite a lot – they helped me buy my first house and I’m paying them back month by month (I count myself lucky every day for this, not everyone has this leg up – maybe I’ll write a post about this sometime). The green line, probably the most important line, is the difference between the two and is effectively my net worth.

That’s right, five years ago I had nothing. Not in financial terms anyway. I was 27 and I had a car, a laptop, a TV, an extensive music and film collection, the usual stuff, but nothing to my name really, no savings or anything like that. If you’ve read the ‘About’ section of this blog or my first post with a bit of my background you’ll know it was about that time that I first read ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad’ and discovered the whole FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) scene. Since then I’ve slowly but surely grown my wealth and this month I reckon my net worth is about £170k. Still a long way to go until I can comfortably retire, but not too bad either.

I’ve run projections using fairly conservative assumptions (eg salary increasing by 2% a year, investments and house values increasing by 5% a year, etc) and I believe if I continue on my current trajectory I should get to a net worth of £1m by the time I’m 40, at which point I should be able to start thinking about retiring. At the very least I’ll be able to cut down my hours at work – I hope to have children by that point so it would be awesome to be able to just work say 6 hours a day, 9am to 3pm and then I can still drop the kids off at school and pick them up when they finish.

An obsession with FIRE?

July was a really busy month for me. I went to a festival the first weekend, a stag do the second weekend, a wedding the third weekend, and this weekend I went down to Portsmouth to see my sister and my baby nephew who are doing really well. I’ve spent a lot of money – on drinks, eating out, hotels, petrol and so on – but I don’t regret any of it and I’ve still posted a fairly healthy savings rate.

One thing I noticed was that I found myself wanting to shout about financial independence a number of times. Any time a friend said anything to do with finance I had a sudden urge to talking about Mr Money Mustache (MMM), or leveraging mortgages, or being frugal. Maybe they’d bought a new house, or a new car say, and the FIRE buzzer started going round in my head. Don’t buy such an expensive car, I would think. Buy a cheap second hand car like I did. Don’t buy such a big house, I would think. Buy a modest house and get a second rental property.

I didn’t say these things of course. I have learnt over the last few years that talking about FIRE to someone who hasn’t shown any interest will likely result in them thinking (a) I’m weird, (b) I’m crazy, (c) I’m boring, (d) I’m selfish, or (e) all of the above. It’s just not worth the hassle. When I mentioned MMM to a woman I work with she thought the whole thing was very amusing but far too hard for someone like her to consider, and then she’d make jokes very loudly in the office and introduce me to new people as ‘the early retiree’. I did manage to convince her not to buy a car on lease at £600 a month – she instead bought one on lease for £200 a month. Still not great but a small victory I suppose.

On the other hand, I’m learning to spot the signs of someone who is open to the concept of FIRE and might actually take it seriously. I mentioned to a workmate this week that I’d maxed out my pension contributions (26% of my salary if you’re interested), and he asked me how to do the same. He then told me he’d been keeping all of his spending in a spreadsheet and had been doing so since 2009. I immediately thought of the book ‘Your Money or Your Life‘ by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez and pointed out that he’d already fulfilled 2 of the 9 steps in the book. I sent him the link but I didn’t start babbling on about FIRE. Small steps and all that.

The thing is, I find myself checking the blogosphere every couple of hours to see if any new posts have been added, and I find myself thinking about FIRE even when the topic of conversation isn’t at all related. Do I have an obsession? The fact that I’m even writing a blog post would suggest maybe I do. All this reminds of:

That time I went vegetarian

So, I’m a vegetarian.

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This is what vegetarians look like (apparently)

I became a vegetarian back in May 2008. I also went vegan for a little while, maybe 6 months or so before I caved in to cheese (I found out the other day cheese has an addictive substance in it – this is not surprising to me). These days it seems quite acceptable to be vegetarian and no one bats an eyelid really. I tend to keep it to myself though – I don’t go round trying to convince other people of my views. People always ask though when they find out: ‘Why are you a vegetarian?’ I’ve experimented with different answers over the years but these days I just say something along the lines of ‘I think it’s wrong to kill animals’ and leave it at that. Most people accept that and we all move on.

When I first went vegetarian though I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. I wanted everyone to understand why I was vegetarian and why they should be too. It’s important for the environment, I’d say, reeling off some statistic as I did so. It’s better for your health, and it’s cheaper, I’d say when the topic of conversation moved to talking about diets. I’d talk about factory farm conditions and the fact that 95% of chickens in this country never see the light of day and live their entire lives in cramped, hot conditions.

It never made any difference of course. People just resented me I think. Or perhaps they just thought I was a bit eccentric. Or a bit of both. I remember the day I said I could make a lasagne with quorn mince and people wouldn’t know the difference and everyone laughed at me. I just think they couldn’t open their minds, they couldn’t get beyond the celebrity TV chefs that tell them all the best food is made with meat. It was easier to laugh at me then to question their own beliefs or the way they lived their lives.

And you know what? FIRE is no different. Read through some of the comments here, and here, and you’ll see what I mean. Admittedly those articles (and that TV program) weren’t great and didn’t really do justice to the concept of FIRE. But to see the backlash was quite disheartening. You just have to shrug your shoulders really. You can’t help everyone, especially if they don’t want to be helped. At least animals won’t be tortured/murdered in this case. People are only harming themselves.

But that’s all by the by really. The main point I wanted to make here is that obsessions fade until they just become a natural part of your life. I’ve been vegetarian for 9 years now and there’s no way I’ll eat meat again, but I don’t think about it constantly the way I did in the early months and years. I’ll still happily talk to people about it if they’re truly interested but I don’t waste my time trying to convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced.

And I’m fairly sure FIRE will be the same. Saving hard, investing wisely, buying only what makes me happy, these principles will just become a natural part of my life that I don’t have to think about, and don’t feel the urge to shout about. When I retire young, or cut my hours at work, or when people find out I have enough income from investments that I don’t need to work, I’ll tell them how I did it if they seem truly interested but not otherwise.

One of my managers once said to me he respected the fact that I was vegetarian and also that I didn’t talk about it. I thought this was an odd thing to say. He went on, saying I was a role model and by going about it in such a ‘zen’ manner (his words) that he was intrigued and wanted to know more. That he considered me a ‘normal’ who is doing something ‘abnormal’ and that made him more interested than if I was some hippy seeking attention (not that all hippies are seeking attention but you know what I mean).

There is a passage in the LivingAFI.com blog where he tells his manager he doesn’t need to be there, he doesn’t want to work overtime, and he could retire if he wanted to. The balance of power shifts as his manager realises his subordinate isn’t worried about losing his job, and afterwards there is a new respect and equality between them. Needless to say I love LivingAFI’s blog and this post is a highlight. I would like to be in that position one day, able to reveal this sort of unusual information, the kind of information that would make someone do a double take. You have how much invested? You could retire if you wanted?

Conclusion

Yes, I am obsessed with FIRE. It’s good to get that off my chest. It’s probably a quirk in my character that I get obsessed with things in this way – I’ve seen the same trait in my brother so it could be genetic. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I’ve since examined the whole FIRE concept inside out, taking on board the good ideas, rejecting the things I don’t like and I believe I’ve found my own way of approaching it.

I’m also quite aware that this obsession will eventually fade away. That doesn’t mean I won’t be committed to FIRE, quite the opposite in fact. It just means it will become so much a part of my life that I don’t even need to think about it. It will become another facet of my identity, who I am. And I suppose hopefully I’ll be a role model – that day when I declare my early retirement people in the office, my friends and family, they’ll sit up and be shaken out of their daily slumber. Maybe they’ll examine their own lives and make changes of their own. Or perhaps not – their loss if so!

Why I Need to be Financially Independent

There’s a blog I really like called livingafi.com. It’s by a US blogger who documents his journey from university through to wage slave and eventually to financial independence. It’s inspiring and very entertaining stuff. But what I found most interesting about it was his stories of work; horrible bosses, ridiculous targets, stressful hours and so on. He talks in some detail about the different jobs he’s had and you really start to understand why he was so intent on retiring early and escaping work altogether.

I remember reading livingafi’s blog with a mixture of fascination and horror at how bad work practices seem to be in the US. And it made me realise how lucky I am that I don’t have to suffer so much here in the UK. I’ve had crappy jobs, sure, but now I’m in a relatively well-paying job, with a good work/life balance, and a decent manager. Or so I had thought.

Towards the end of last year and throughout this year work seems to have been getting shittier and shittier. It has been a gradual change, a slow creep. Today I had a full-blown argument with my boss in which I laid down why I was unhappy and why I’ve become somewhat withdrawn of late. Here I’m going to lay out the same and let you, the reader decide.

Perhaps I’m overreacting. Perhaps I need to get some perspective, see things more objectively. Or perhaps I’m totally right.

The Work ‘Culture’

It has probably always been there, but managers where I work seem to think it’s intelligent to come up with some acronym for the way we should work, our values as it were. I’m probably going to get in trouble for this. For the last couple of years our values conform to the acronym ‘RISES’, that is; Respect, Integrity, Service, Excellence, and Stewardship. Everything we do should be lead by these ideals, the way we treat customers, colleagues, the community, and so on. And it sort of makes sense, you should treat people with respect, and give great service, and so on.

But let’s think about this for a minute.

Firstly you could come with any old word and make an acronym work. One of my reportees was trying to do just that for our team. His acronym was the word ‘ONE’. He came up with ‘ownership’, and ‘networking’, but he was struggling with the letter ‘E’. I suggested ‘enterprise’, the first word I thought of, and so the ‘ONE’ acronym was born. It turns out that as long as you use vague and all-encompassing words – like ownership, networking, and enterprise – you can come up any old set of values for your team and it sounds good and covers most scenarios.

The latest acronym by our new big boss is ‘EDGE’, which stands for ‘Engage, Delight, Grow’. Yes that’s right, it’s an acronym that doesn’t even work! The letter ‘E’ at the end isn’t even being used! Perhaps they could have used my ‘Enterprise’ word to fill it out.

It’s just fucking bullshit.

I mean come on, are we really that immature that we need to remember a word like ‘integrity’ to act with integrity? I think I can do that already thank you very much. And yet when you enter our office there is in huge blue letters on big glass plinths the word ‘RISES’, to remind us of how we ought to be behaving.

I get it, we in the banking industry have gained a bad reputation and rightly so. We managed to cause a massive recession that is still being felt today. We’re probably partly responsible for Brexit and all the untold misery that will cause. Every week you hear of fines in the billions of pounds/dollars being levied on banks.

But at the same time, that is a small minority of bankers and there are dicks in every industry. And it is the system that broke down, these people shouldn’t have been given so much control. Anyway, I don’t want to get into that debate here, I made my peace with the industry I work in (I had to right?).

The point I’m trying to make is that coming up with some bullshit acronym to try and tell people how to behave is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard of. It’s demeaning and patronising.

Agile and Lean

Well, where to start. The term ‘agile’ describes a method of management/work that apparently works really well for delivering tech projects. It’s about being iterative, completing small tasks at a time and getting something that works. The term ‘lean’ is often associated, and roughly means cutting out waste in projects and thinking of the customer and end goal at all times.

On the face of it, they both sound great, until you realise that either (a) they don’t apply or work for your team, or (b) you were already doing those things anyway.

There are lots of made up words, borrowing heavily on Japanese culture, include Kanban, and Muda, and Muri, of which I still can’t remember what they mean. And there are new names for people in the team, such as scrum master who holds daily ‘scrums’ (basically a team leader holding a quick daily meeting). And there are different levels, you can become a green belt in lean and so on.

I’ve lost count of the number of courses and meetings I’ve sat through on the subjects of agile and lean. I dread to think how much the company has paid contractors to come in and teach us about these methodologies (I hate that word ‘methodology’, is it even a word?). Talented people were taken out of their roles to become full-time devotees to agile and lean.

And guess what? After two years agile and lean are now quietly being swept under the rug. I hear less and less about them every day.

For a good 2 years that was one of my main targets, to adopt and encourage agile and lean practices. Never mind my actual work, I had to be a role model for this crap that didn’t make any difference and is now being forgotten.

Personal Development and ‘The Bonus’

I remember when I first started in my current business, thinking how great it would be to receive a bonus. Amazing, I thought, a random lump sum of money to be spent however you want. And I thought how lucky I was to be working in an industry where this was the norm.

Well, let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. The bonus is held over you to make you do things that are not part of your job. It’s held over you to get you to agree to things you don’t agree with. It’s held over you and makes your life far more stressful than it needs to be.

How can this be? Well it’s through the Personal Development system, and the ratings system. You see every year around October/November time your manager and other managers at the same level will get together and decide on your rating. It used to be a rating of 1 to 5, where 1 is ‘outstanding’ and 5 is ‘poor’ (now it’s a rating of 1 to 3 which is basically the same). If you do a fantastic job all year round you could get a rating of 1 say, and that means your bonus will be better. If you get a rating of 5 on the other hand you won’t receive a bonus at all.

What they don’t tell you is that very few people are given this top rating, and sometimes no one in the team at all will receive it. And because you are being compared to other people in the team, if everyone in your team is fairly decent (which is hopefully how it should be) then they start trying to find ways to mark you down. You had a disagreement with your manager? Well you need to be more open-minded. You made an easily made mistake? Well you should be delivering projects flawlessly. And so on.

Recently I was asked to look after a project I didn’t really have time for. This was ‘side of desk’. ‘Side of desk’ is when you are told, okay, you aren’t theoretically resourced to do this so it’s not obligatory. Except, when there is a bonus system, suddenly all ‘side of desk’ activities become obligatory, because if you don’t do them your rating will suffer. Indeed some ‘side of desk’ activities become more important than the job you’re being paid to do, but you better not mess up your actual job because then your rating will suffer.

So last Tuesday my manager comes up to me and asks how this particular ‘side of desk’ project is going. I say, ‘Sorry I haven’t had time, I’ve got a major piece of work that needs to be done and it’s quite complex.’ My manager, unperturbed, says ‘But you’ve had 5 days to look into it’. At this point I’m thinking to myself, he asked me on Wednesday afternoon, and now it’s Tuesday morning, is that 5 days? Realistically that’s Thursday, Friday, and Monday, so 3 days. But I don’t want to get into a big argument in the middle of the office, it’s my rating that will suffer after all, so I keep this to myself.

I look down at my screen and all the emails that keep popping up, knowing I need to keep on top of them. My manager is still standing there over me. And then he says, ‘Did you understand the brief I gave you, I thought it was clear?’ Bear in mind this is in the middle of the open-plan office, my colleagues are sat around and probably listening in. And I’ve already given him an answer which was that I haven’t had time yet.

At this point I have to quietly say that ‘Yes I do understand the brief. I’ll look into it this afternoon.’ He responds saying there is a meeting tomorrow and he’d like to see some progress before that meeting takes place. It’s a loaded response. He’s basically telling me to get on with the job he asked me to do, and to hell with my actual work, if that needs doing as well then I’ll have to stay late to complete it.

I guess conversations like this happen all the time in offices up and down the country. That doesn’t make it any easier when it happens to you. This isn’t the first time it’s happened either.

Resource

So this is the big stickler that on the face of it seems like a good thing but in practice is massively annoying. Basically different projects are assigned resource values, so if a project requires 1 FT, that means it should take up the time of 1 full-timer in a given month. Typically you’ll be assigned a few projects, say with the values 0.3 FT, 0.25 FT, and 0.5 FT – it should all add up to 1 for each person but invariably it adds up to a little more, and that’s okay as far as I’m concerned.

The trouble is the way they decide these values. Last year I was working on a project that had 1 FT assigned to it, and it basically meant I could spend all my time on this project. At the start of this year, without warning, one of my managers changed this resource value to 0.5 FT. There I was, blithely working away, unaware of the extra work that was about to be sent my way.

Suddenly I start receiving emails from people, asking me to do things I know nothing about. Then I get colleagues saying, ‘Hey can you just do this, you’ve got loads of resource spare.’ At which point I look at the resource tracker and realise, yes I’ve been screwed over. I appeal to the manager who assigned this resource value and he says ‘Well, other people give me a detailed list of what they do on their projects. I didn’t receive anything like that from you so I have to assume you don’t have that much to do.’ (I later find out that actually hardly anyone else provides a detailed list of what they do on their projects.)

So I start producing a list of the main tasks I do on the project I’m working on. It takes me hours. It’s a complex project, and we don’t always know what will take place from month to month, but I give it a good go and send over the list. The manager turns around and says, ‘I don’t see where you’ve got the resource from. If you add up all the tasks they don’t make 1 FT.’

‘Well sure,’ I say, ‘but you’ve got to account for all the other things I do to make the project run smoothly, analysis for upcoming campaigns, volume reports, and forecasts.’ He says, ‘Put that in the list then.’

At this point I’m starting to get a bit annoyed. Surely your manager should have some level of trust in you? I’m actually pretty good at my job, I’m one of the faster members of the team, and I pride myself on treating our stakeholders well. But okay, I think, I’ll start keeping track of every little task I do, and so I start compiling a list of all the necessary things I do to make the project work. I put these into the list and show it to the manager.

‘Yeah, I’m not sure,’ he says. ‘Next month the list isn’t as well populated and even less so the month after that. So does that mean you don’t need as much resource?’

I try and point out that I don’t know exactly what I’ll be required to do next month and the month after. I want to say ‘I don’t have a fucking crystal ball’, but I keep that to myself. Even so, at this point I’m starting to lose my cool. Then the resource manager does what any dickish manager does in such a situation: he cc’s in my direct manager.

What that means is he starts copying other people in on our emails. And so my direct manager starts asking me questions. ‘Why don’t you know what you’re doing next month? Surely this is a simple spreadsheet to fill out?’ And I’m thinking all the time, I do actually have work I need to do, am I really being asked to fill in bullshit spreadsheets just because they don’t trust that I need the time I say I need?

And so it goes on. At some point I lose my cool, not in any outward way. I lose my cool completely internally, because that’s how I deal with things. Because nothing I’m saying seems to be making any difference. Eventually I speak to my manager and say ‘Look, fine, if you want me to work overtime every day, then that’s what I’ll do. That’s what I’ll have to do.’ At which point my manager says ‘Oh well you should be able to manage your workload within the hours you’re given.’ I just laugh and walk away.

I could go on

I could go on. I could talk about the lack of opportunities to progress, despite the constant talk from management about helping us with our ‘careers’. I could talk about the time I won ‘Colleague of the Month’ out of a team of 900 people and yet it did nothing for my rating. I could talk about the time one of my managers tried to come up with a new way of measuring effort which did exactly the opposite, making our life harder and encouraging idleness.

Basically it all makes me more determined. More determined to get out as fast as I can. To free myself from the daily bullshit that makes my life so stressful.

The sad thing is, I actually like my job. That is, I like the work I’m paid to do. It’s all the extra crap that comes with the job that I hate, the workplace culture, the difficult manager, the bonus system.

I’ve probably already said too much so I’ll leave it there. Maybe one day I’ll look back at this blog post and shake my head at the sheer madness of it all. Maybe when I’m feeling annoyed about something in future I’ll look back at this post and laugh and think, ‘Well, it could be a whole lot worse.’

 

 

Savings Rates, Your Mortgage and Passive Income – A New Way of Thinking?

I created this blog almost two years ago and I’ve posted a grand total of, wait for it, two times. And one of those was the ‘About’ section. That’s pretty poor really. I think of interesting things to post about but somewhere between me having an idea and writing it down there seem to be obstacles, be they internal (doubts, laziness, overthinking) or external (workload, social life, other priorities). And nothing gets written. I need to change that.

A couple of weeks ago I had a brief conversation in the comments section of a Firestarter post (link) and realised maybe it is time for me to start contributing. I had been rambling on about mortgages and savings rates and thought I was just talking to myself when Mr Firestarter himself replied. He ended by saying:

“You sir/madam are a Genius! Thanks and yet again I will incorporate this into a new spreadsheet and post on the subject ASAP!”

Maybe I’m a sucker for flattery but I was taken aback. Here’s a guy I really respect calling me a genius, and while I’m sure he is exaggerating, it has boosted my confidence somewhat. So here you go (anyone who’s reading this), here are my thoughts on savings rates, your mortgage, and passive income.

The Savings Rate

A few years ago I came across a Mr Money Mustache (MMM) article called ‘The Shockingly Simple Maths Behind Early Retirement’ (link). Those in the FIRE community are probably all too aware of it. In the article MMM explains how there is a link between your savings rate and the number of years until you can retire. If for example you’re saving 10% of your income each month then it will take 51 years until you’ll be able to retire. Increase that to 50% and the number of years drops to 17. Increase it to 66% and it drops to 10.

MMM's Famous Savings Rate Chart
MMM’s Famous Savings Rate Chart

What I like most about MMM’s article is that it gives you a FIRE date. Currently I’m 32 and I know if I want to retire by the time I’m 40 then I need to be saving just over 70% of my income. There are lots of assumptions involved, your return on investments is predicted at 4% per year after inflation, your cost of living wont change (planning children anyone?), and so on, but it is still a powerful motivator. And it’s for that reason that I have a spreadsheet where I input all my income and expenditure, my savings and my net worth. This is quite common among the FIRE community.

So far, so good. The problem comes when you try and work out your savings rate. When you look at your income do you take pre-tax or post-tax income? What about your mortgage, is that a saving or an expense? What about income from investments, should that be added in?

There is a more fundamental problem as well. Unless you are somehow living completely off-grid, making your own food and energy and not relying on society for anything, then you are always going to have some expenses. But in that case, even if your income is really high and your expenses really low, you’ll never reach a 100% savings rate. How can that be?

I think I’ve figured it out. I have many doubts of course, but I’m going to lay out my theory and invite discussion and then you can make up your own mind. Here we go.

Do you take your pre-tax or post-tax income figure?

In my humble opinion you’ve got to take post-tax income when you’re calculating your savings rate, because once you retire you won’t be paying income tax. This doesn’t sound controversial but it is, as I will explain. You should add on automatically deducted items like your pension (including your company’s pension match if you’re lucky enough to have that) because it’s all savings towards your retirement pot.

The problem is, if you take post-tax income then you’re not necessarily going to be motivated to make the most of beneficial tax arrangements such as your company pension. RIT talks about this in his blog Retirement Investing Today and for this reason he uses pre-tax (or gross) income as his basis for the savings rate. I agree with his reasoning but his method does mess up the savings rate somewhat. Ultimately I want to know how many years until I can retire and to work that out I need to use the post-tax income figure. But I take his point and I do put the maximum amount into my company pension scheme each month.

Where does your mortgage fit in?

mortgage
This is wrong. You can only have 7 letters at a time.

Some bloggers out there treat their mortgage as an expense. Personally I object to this, and this is the reason I first posted on The Firestarter’s (TFS’s) article. As I pointed out there, your mortgage, assuming it is a repayment mortgage, will one day be paid off and you’ll have a house to show for it. Put it another way, you’re investing in an asset which will one day pay your rent for you. RIT on the other hand doesn’t own his house and pays rent each month, so while his investment fund looks great (and it is, don’t get me wrong), he will still have to pay rent in the future unless he uses some of that investment fund to buy a house.

Of course, a mortgage isn’t free (if only), although they are reasonably cheap at the moment. Personally I have 2 mortgages, one on my house and one on a rental property and the interest rate averages just under 3%. I’m currently paying around £1500 overall each month of which about £700 is interest. So I’m only paying down my mortgage balance about £800 each month. Many FIRE bloggers treat the interest part of the mortgage as an expense and the repayment part of the mortgage as a saving. Which seems reasonable but the hope is that once I retire I will have paid off the mortgage. So should the interest still be considered an expense? It’s a little like the income tax question above, on the one hand we should consider mortgage interest an expense and we should try and reduce it as far as possible (by moving to a better deal for example). On the other hand there is, hopefully, a time limit on the mortgage and eventually the expense will cease to exist.

Furthermore, what if all of my net worth is tied up in an overly expensive house? If I have a half-million pound property and no other savings then am I really able to retire? If nothing else a larger property usually carries other costs with it, higher property tax, cleaning costs, maintenance and so on. If I’m ‘saving’ to buy this ‘asset’, but it is only going to house me, would it not be better to buy a smaller house and put the rest of my money in investment funds that will actually pay me an income? Perhaps, but do I want to sacrifice that standard of living? It could be that, in choosing the more expensive house you extend your working life and perhaps that’s a valid trade-off, but it does mean your savings rate will look better than it actually is.

Where does that leave our savings rate? Well I’m seriously confused, and I get the impression most people just throw their hands up in the air at this point and say ‘well it doesn’t really matter, the main thing is that we should be saving as much as possible.’ I get that but I still want to know how long until I can retire, and the savings rate is supposed to help me work that out. So what can we do?

Treating your house as a rental property

It was at this point that I thought, hey, why not treat my house as though it were a rental property and see how that affects the figures? If I consider my house an asset that will one day pay my rent for me, why not treat it that way now? I already own one rental property and I have a spreadsheet for that. With a bit of guesswork I can use that model and ascribe a theoretical rent to pay myself.

As it turns out, I recently moved into a terraced house with 4 bedrooms. It’s a 3 storey house and on the top floor there are 2 spare bedrooms and a bathroom. I currently rent these rooms out to 3 lodgers (a couple and a single) which brings in about enough money to pay my mortgage. All part of the FIRE plan. I have 1 bedroom with an en-suite which I use myself and a spare bedroom for guests.

But let’s keep things simple. Let’s say I have a house which only I live in, and I pay £800 a month for my mortgage. Let’s also assume that I’d get £800 a month if I rented it out, and let’s assume my income is £2000 a month (it’s not, just to be clear, this is just an example) and my expenses are £600 a month on top of the mortgage. Let’s also assume the mortgage is split, £500 repayment and £300 interest.

Method One: If we simply treat the mortgage as an expense then my savings rate is 30% (income = 2000, expenses = 1400, so savings = 600). This method doesn’t seem right – as I say, one day we’ll own the house so we won’t have to pay rent eventually and so we should think of it as an asset we’re saving towards.

Method Two: If we treat the repayment part of the mortgage as a saving and the interest part of the mortgage as an expense then the savings rate is 55%. This is the method most FIRE bloggers use it seems. The problem is, if one has bought a house that is far more expensive than what they need then their savings rate will look fantastic, but FIRE will be far away (unless they’re planning to downsize eventually).

Method Three: What happens if I treat the house as though it were a rental property that I pay rent to? Then my income is increased  by £800 a month but my expenses are also increased by £800 (because I’m paying myself rent). That makes sense – if I buy a bigger house that I don’t need then my savings rate will suffer and it will take longer to FIRE. In this scenario the interest part of the mortgage reduces my income, as it would do with a rental property and so my income is actually £2500 a month (2000 + 800 – 300). My expenditure is £600 + £800 rent, so £1400 a month. Therefore my savings rate now is 44%. Sounds about right? Well, it seems closer though I’m still not sure, as I will explain.

Passive vs Active Income

My problem with all this, as I alluded to earlier, is that increasing my income is all well and good but I will always have expenses and so there is no way I can ever get to a 100% savings rate. I kept this thought at the back of my mind for a while because it always confused me, but recently I revisited this and had something of an epiphany. I think it was after reading this post from Weenie at Quietly Saving, in which she stated she wanted to get to £3000 investment income each year because:

“£3000 a year currently covers the following expenses for me – electricity, gas, internet/broadband, mobile phone, water, boiler cover, TV licence and dental/optical cover. That’s a lot of bills to not have to worry about!”

I had a bit of a light bulb moment after reading this.

Lightbulb_idea
My light bulb moment

Of course! If investment income covers all my expenses, then any income from work will all be saved and so I’ll have a 100% savings rate! I began to reformulate my spreadsheet, putting income into two different brackets, active and passive. Fairly self-explanatory really, my income from work is active because I have to do something for it, whereas things like dividends and  rental income are passive because they will continue to come in even with me doing nothing (rental properties are probably more ‘semi-passive’ as I still need to do things every now and then but let’s leave that topic to one side).

So, if I now consider my passive income as an expense reducer (rather than an income increaser), how does this affect my savings rate and how does it affect my ‘pay myself rent’ theory?

Method Four: According to the ‘pay myself rent’ theory I have two lots of income – the active part is £2000 and the passive part is £500 (£800 rent minus £300 mortgage interest). My expenses are increased as well (because I’m paying rent) to £1400. Using the new approach however (where passive income is an expense reducer), my expenses drop to £900 against £2000 active income and my savings rate is 55%.

All those mental hurdles basically leaves me back where I was before with method two – the interest part of the mortgage is an expense, the repayment part of the mortgage is a saving.

So why not buy a bigger house?

Huge garish home
This one will do nicely thanks

Let’s say I bought a bigger house and my mortgage is £1000 a month, split with a £500 repayment and a £500 interest charge. Let’s also assume the rent for such a property would be £1000 a month. According to method two my new savings rate would be 45%. According to method four my new savings rate would also be 45%. It seems whichever way I cut the data method two and method four produce the same result.

I believe my calculations for methods two and four above are correct, though I’m welcome to hear other thoughts. But in that case, why not buy a bigger house? Well, the deposit you’re able to put down will be the same – so you’ll either increase the loan-to-value and so pay a higher interest rate, and/or you can lengthen the time of the mortgage, thereby paying a higher interest rate anyway. The question as well is whether you can afford that extra saving month to month or whether you need a bit of a buffer. You’ll effectively be paying a higher interest rate for the privilege of owning a bigger house. In my example above, when I increased the mortgage from £800 to £1000 it did reduce the savings rate from 55% to 45% so FIRE is further away.

There is also the extra costs of having a larger house as mentioned before – property tax, maintenance costs, cleaning costs and so on. You’ll probably end up filling the house with stuff you don’t need too.

A better option I think is to use half your deposit for your own house and half for a rental property, (or one third for your house and two thirds for two rental properties etc. If you get 5 then you can knock them down and build a hotel apparently) but that is a subject for another day I feel.

Conclusion

I feel a lot more comfortable about how I treat my mortgage in my savings rate now. It all makes more sense once you work it through. Plus I know how to include income from share dividends and rental properties as well. I actually think method four above is better than method two even though they produce the same outcome, if only because I can see logically how it all fits together.

One unexpected side effect of treating passive income as an expense reducer (as opposed to an income increaser) is that my savings rate fluctuates far more from month to month as my passive income fluctuates. In terms of working out how long until I can FIRE this does make things interesting – perhaps it’s best to take a yearly average say and not worry too much about the savings rate month to month? I’m not sure, but something to consider.