Ralph Borsodi, and a codicil to Two Years on

One of the features of Mustela erminea is that they are curious. You only have to look at someone trying to walk a ferret (another mustelid M. putorius furo) in a straight line to see that. I think if you are going to retire early you really do want to be curious. I read a lot as a child, and the modern world gives a lot of opportunity to be curious about it. The tools are immeasurably better too, compared to those of 30 or 40 years ago. Starting with Google but extending to the fact that information is much easier to collect, store and marshal. People share ideas more widely, because they can, and humans are a social species.

The world is full of fascinating stuff – it is good to heave the freedom to get a hold of interesting ideas, run with them for a while, then stick them into the armoury of things that might be applied to different areas. I find it a little bit disturbing how many people imagine that people who have retired get bored, unless they can spend loads of money on entertainments. Jacob’s trifecta of shopping, restaurants and tickets springs to mind here, in supporting evidence I cite this page on MoneySavingExpert. Key headings

Clothes and Fashion, Food and Drink (generally fast) and Travel and Days Out

looks much like shopping, restaurants and tickets to me. This is on the otherwise generally awesome Money Saving Expert site where many of the users have got themselves into deep financial doo-doo by buying too much of these items on tick? WTF? The hot tip here, guys, is take the fight to the enemy: do much less of these things. Not only will you enjoy each instance more by dynamic contrast between going for a decent meal set against the norm of not doing that, but then you don’t have to prostitute your personal details to try and get a lousy 5 or 10% off. Just. Do. Less. Do half and that’s a 50% discount – even if you pay full price ;) I don’t muck around with Quidco and the likes of that sort of thing because I don’t spend enough on the sorts of things that Quidco works with to make it worth it. I buy components and raw materials to make stuff, not finished goods, which seems the key to the boredom problem – create more,  consume less.

from DJing to personal finance…

That curiosity recently delivered me an insight, combined with some of your comments. The Oak Tree farm party is this weekend, and I largely solved the problem of how to rig a couple of hundred watts of power on an unpowered island site. That’s not rave or Glastonbury level, but enough for a party of about fifty people outdoors (and a few hundred metres away from neighbouring houses – sound fades quickly outside).

In the past I’ve stuck the tracks on a mp3 CD player and set it to shuffle, which is okay as far as it goes, but I wanted to understand how to do better. Although for some reason I actually like some of the more mainstream EDM despite being one or two generations beyond clubbing and no aptitude for dance, I don’t think our members want too much of that, but I figured a look at how DJs 1 do this sort of thing. Now I don’t want to do all this live, so I want to create the CDs with the right running order (apparently called a mixtape) and then patch in people’s iPods with a DJ mixer I bought at a radio rally for £10. I learned about BPM and mixing in key and a whole load of stuff about music theory I didn’t know, and came across this article about bringing back flow, which introduced me to the difference between insight and analysis.

a modern-day Mark of the Beast

Investing by insight rather than analysis

For the last five years I shifted greatly towards analysis, because insight isn’t easy to do under pressure. There are some classes of problems which are only amenable to analysis, and personal finance has a lot of these. For instance if most people use insight to qualify risk they end up doing the National Lottery and ‘investing’ their money in Cash ISAs (which is indeed what most people do) whereas analysis shows there may be better ways. And the National Lottery is always wrong – though if you want to have the it could be you buzz then do it. Once, and only once. That turns ‘it couldn’t be you’ into ‘it wasn’t you’ for a modest cost. There’s vanishingly little more to be gained by pursuing the ‘it wasn’t you’ any more – analysis is the way to know why.

However, I have got that analysis/insight balance wrong for the future, and worse still, some of my insight is distorted by outdated forms that have become linked, particularly with the term work but also some wider principles. Unfortunately only insight can connect me with my values as far as I can see; analysis addresses the how I do something but insight is a large part of knowing why. Because it can’t be decomposed into steps it’s easy for insight to be distorted – by advertising, by rotten experiences, by general state of mind.

Few things really a pair of totally isolated poles, I need to add insight to my analysis to direct things closer to my values, and analysis to my insight to clear out some of the distortions and old forms that bias the compass away from my values – try and use more insight and less instinct.

The past is a different country. I did things differently there

One of the things I learned has been that I have shadowboxed the experience of getting out of The Firm for too long. Two years is enough to integrate the experiences.

I need to shift focus from trying to outrun the past to run towards the future. The shift to a more frugal way of living does seem to have absolved me of the requirement to work, as it was designed to do. In doing so, however, I have linked unhealthy subconscious forces to the concept of work. It is very unlikely that I will apply to work for a company as an employee in future. So I am done with all the Digital Taylorism that is screwing up work at the middle level I was working at. I need to let the toxic waste go – it served me well in bringing enough focus to escape the rat race. It’s as if I had read this by ERE and followed the instructions but retained the anger ;)

curiosity is not the only way

There’s a massive variation in what people want to do with their life. For many people the value to be had from shopping, restaurants and tickets is well worth the cost of working, particularly if they can’t imagine any other way.  If it weren’t presumably they’d do something else. As long as they find working agreeable there’s no problem, in which case why not take part in the cornucopia of goods and services a modern industrial economy makes available? Indeed, I need you to consume so some of the companies I own a share of can make money, but more to the point, if you enjoy it, knock yourself out.  Obviously if you design this into your life you may want to consider how stable your work is, because it would be tough to build in so much cost into life and then feel rotten if work dried up. A portfolio career is better in that way; you can lose some strands without it becoming catastrophic.

Although there’s a hint of bread and circuses in it, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with hedonism. As long as it isn’t done on borrowed money that is, because you borrow it from your future self and your future self might feel differently about your current self’s inability to wait. There’s an inherent asymmetry between saving and borrowing – when saving you electively choose to live below your means now so that your future self can live above their means for a while. Your future self still has choice – they don’t have to live above their means – they could give it to their(your) kids, or the cats’ home, or burn it in the backyard. Whereas if you spend your future self’s money now they get no choice in the matter though you do – they have to live below their means, or go bankrupt.

Another perfectly good reason is that you find the shopping, restaurants and tickets worth the aggravation of working. In that case, the game is worth the candle, but again, doing with borrowed money there’s still the issue of your future self not getting a say in the matter.

For those who come it find working disagreeable in a way exceeding the buzz of shopping, restaurants and tickets, one good option is then to spend less. The sheer variety and range of stuff on offer can easily bamboozle us with its richness, the essential question to ask is how much is more doing for you? You first smartphone is presumably transformational 2 – it means you don’t have to arrange to meet up before hand but can do it on the fly, you can Google the price of alternatives when you are in a store thinking of a bit more retail therapy, and you can ignore the real world a bit more and walk into lamp-posts/other passers-by/the road while being virtually somewhere else, and play Candy Crush Saga to get rid of some of those empty hours. Each to their own. Your second smartphone, and indeed all the upgrades add much less to your life in terms of extra capability than the first one. When you get to this stage


queue of punters waiting to buy an Apple iPhone

you’ve probably lost the plot and are out of touch with some part of yourself. Or trying to make a few bucks, but getting paid to queue is telling you something about the value of your time ;)

I needed to get a mobile web browser a while back to test a piece of web work I had and what it looks like on a mobile. I got an iPod, and use WiFi, because it was the cheapest, didn”t come with a mobile contract and did the job. I’ve occasionally used it out and about with BT Wifi in towns and campsites. It works fine for what I want to do. For mobile telephony I have a bog-standard mobile phone with Giffgaff PAYG for when I want to do such things, and a really old hand-me down from Mrs Ermine with a Virgin SIM in it, because that’s free to call her.

The Ermine mobile phone estate

The Ermine mobile phone estate. Skanky, n’est’ce pas? All bought and paid for, no contracts, and cheap. But not ‘with it’ at all

The most useful item is the USB dongle, of course now hacked to break the 3G lock so I can use it on Giffgaff to connect my laptop PC to the Internet if I am on the road. I can afford a smartphone and I’d buy one cash without a contract if I wanted/needed one. But I don’t need the continual contract cost, because I don’t prize the service enough. A typical mobile phone contract seems to be £30/pcm or £720 a year, so while not outrageous, it’s a fair yearly hit. Plus a £300 smartphone seems to be amortised to scrap over one or two years because of upgradeitis or the disgraceful habit of Apple IOS orphaning their older products after three years or so – deliberately.

The key to early retirement is to look at how you are living and to ask yourself how much of this spending matters. And target your spending on what matters to you, rather than what matters to people you know, or to the companies getting rich off it. Mistersquirrel has a rant on consumerism sparked off by an OU programme that sounds interesting.

Personal finance works

Get out of debt and stay out of it 3 and live below your means.

That’s it. easy to say but hard to do – like living like a celibate monk in a brothel. The ERE theory of living on a lot less than half your take-home really does work, and it works in spades with the 60% boost into pension savings (why 60% and not 40% is explained in the previous post) where the saving is applied to the tax-free lump sum. The pension changes have opened this whole area up. This is also easier for me because it builds upon 30 years of conventional work – the extra push to ice 8 years of work is nothing like the push to get rid of 20. Obviously the 20 year early retiree has 12 more years of freedom and life to enjoy.

A decent amount of luck, seizing the day in Spring 2009 and maxed Sharesaves and ESIP helps. And of course there are the known and unknown unknowns. Much can happen over the next 20 or 30 years, though some of the bad stuff cannot be hedged with financial assets. Or at all… Nevertheless, it’s good to do something about the things you can control. Coffee is there to help with things I can change, red wine to help with those I can’t ;)

It is more important to me to be of independent means than to be retired

man-with-savingsUntil I integrated some of insights in some of the comments I had not realised a simple fact. It is the powerplay of not being financially independent that I came to detest. I don’t really give a hoot about being retired.  But I really do care about being of independent means – because it is the latter that fixes the powerplay, not the former. You often do retire once you are of independent means,  if you aren’t you have to keep working. To my chagrin, I failed to understand that difference. It doesn’t particularly change what I do, but it does change how I feel.

MMM cited this cheesy ‘A Man with Savings’, and he can get away with it because he’s American 4. I even used it in 2011 and had got half the story right. A man with savings does not have to be always running.

I missed the other half. It is the freedom to do things independently of needing to earn money. I liked this account of James Lovelock and the need for non-institutionalised engineers and scientists – I’m not in his league but I can recognise where he’s coming from.

It’s been two years, and it’s obvious looking back, but I didn’t realise that, until seeing some of it reflected back in some of the comments. As an example I constructed a camera using a Raspberry Pi to see if our newly arrived cows are still there. It needed to happen quickly, because Mrs Ermine was worried the cows might scarper. As it is, although I am still scared of cows (particularly as these are bullocks/steers) and I really don’t like the way they follow you around, I will speak for these guys in that they are fairly placid. Look to pigs if you want to see troublemakers, and a pig is a lot sharper of mind than a cow or steer. I’d watch them rather than the cows, but what the hell do I know, this is not my area of expertise, so if Mrs Ermine thinks there’s a cunning interior to those steers then maybe they are the awkward squad in bovine form.

Camera is the mess top left of the IBC

Camera is the bodged mess top left of the IBC. And the plastic bags for the MiFi box to keep the water out…

It’s a mess, indeed if the IEE get to see it they’d probably revoke my C Eng for unprofessional bodgery of the first order 5. But Mrs Ermine knows that she’s got cows.

Got Cows.

I may see if there’s and wider application – I know a guy who is into wildlife and Raspberry Pi, because he is into trailcams and had ideas for a time-lapse Raspberry Pi camera. I have the edge on the engineering, but I want to retain my freedom of action and don’t really want to be into selling or dealing with people I don’t know in connection with money. I might be able to add value to his panoply of devices and services, and if not – well, that is what is precious about being of independent means. There isn’t any of the desperation that bad shit will happen if not.

now this looks like trouble...

now this looks like trouble…

Update – Mrs Ermine has now reallocated the camera to the pigs. You really can’t trust hogs…

...whereas though this is huge and a bit scary, it's basically gormless, the lights really aren't on much in that head

…whereas though this is huge and a bit scary, it’s basically gormless, the lights really aren’t on much in that head

If I can add value, then naturally I want to make something of it – otherwise my contribution isn’t valued. It becomes the symbolic talisman of the exchange of value, because the money itself wouldn’t change my life. I’m not Russian oligarch rich – I don’t have a million pounds if I liquidated everything I own. Over at RIT and Monevator, intelligent and wise people are generally making the case that a million pounds is not quite enough to retire on; I guess their lifestyles are more expansive and therefore expensive, and they sometimes have requirements like the desire to pay for university for their children which adds up. More money wouldn’t hugely change my life, it is still Time I am short of ;)

The money is then much more along the lines of Ayn Rand’s exchange of value between free agents 6, who choose to do it (if they do) because of mutual added value. And I know all the theory behind the Ricardian advantage and all that, but it never felt that way as a wage slave, because I felt I had no choice. I should not be bound by old thinking.

Work is a four-letter word…

It’s something I did, and for long enough to make my fortune, as they used to say in the fairy tales of old. The last three to five years should not so dominate the first twenty-five, during which The Firm and other companies served me well. I should appreciate that a bit more. I used to read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project in my last three years at work, and I am sure that somewhere in there I read that it is good to recall some things that one is grateful for.

In the round, The Firm served me well, particularly in the early days. And if it was going to go bad at least it stayed together until I was able to get enough together to purchase manumission.

Despite work being a four-letter word it should become a neutral one. I need to stop running from the idea, because that is stupid. The ermine does not need to run from a concept. I like Mr Money Mustache’s take on the end of J.D.Roth’s guest article

 Mr. Money Mustache’s Afterword:

Part of financial independence is that you don’t have to advertise yourself anymore. So while J.D. didn’t mention all of his other work, I don’t mind sharing it with you…[read more]

I was always a supplicant in connection with work and finding work, and the concept has been linked to the yoke of wage-slavery. Something about writing that post,  the different perspectives and indeed MMMs angle there helped me shuck the outdated form. I have the FU money, so I am not a supplicant. And for two years after retiring, while I knew this in a theoretical and intellectual way, I hadn’t let go of the old forms so I didn’t feel it.

I still have no great desire to get into the world of work however ;) It still consumes time, indeed this is the biggest charge I hold against it…

Living intentionally

Four years ago, in the About page on here I wrote

I want to craft a richer life. and to do that I have to master the essentials of personal finance, rather than subsist in employment. My younger self chose his career well, but I now want to cut it short by about fifteen years. I have seen too many days from inside office windows, I want to hear the birds, live more simply and frugally and drink in the days, rather than sleepwalk my way through them.

I’m not quite sure why I listed that under personal finance, maybe I was confusing the means with the end.

by buying a camper van. WTF? What’s this outrageous consumerism then?

So I did something highly unfrugal, and bought a mini camper van, Well, I bought half of one, from Mrs Ermine, I already owned the other  half of it. Because I want to travel slowly, and overland, and hear those birds. Since it was our only vehicle, Mrs Ermine was using it to move all sorts of stuff for the farm, like mash for the pigs and pallets. Although I can only really make great use of it once I am drawing my pension, because I have an income suckout until then, at least that will stop the wear from that, and Mrs Ermine now has a small car which is better suited to that sort of thing. The camper van back overhangs somewhat, which is bad for shifting heavy stuff. You want the wheels pretty much at the corners of the car so that when you sling the heavy stuff in the back it lies within the wheelbase. We already managed to break one spring, though I think the rough roads of northern Scotland had something to do with that, but it’s made me windy of bad loading.

Great landscape, but hard on the suspension

Great landscape, Scotland, but hard on the suspension

I wouldn’t have gone out on the open market and bought this – but that way the proceeds stay in the family. And I can use it in Suffolk in the interim for modest cost – the great thing is I can put a bike in the back without taking the bike to bits. But I’m not badass enough to ride tens of miles on a bike. 7 The combination is great – you see a lot more on a bike, particularly nature but also photographic opportunities and stopping to investigate something is so much easier on a bike. Using both gives me range and local agility. So I’ll get some use of it and hone my craft. Long distance or long time period camping is very different from day tripping – you need decent prep and checklists, because otherwise you end up without something apparently trivial that greatly improves the experience. Like the kettle, or a can opener or the spanner to change the gas cylinder – been there done that on all counts.

It’s not frugal. But I don’t have to be frugal everywhere – just in enough places. And of course I bought it cash ;) And secondhand, I’d hate to break the habit of a lifetime and buy a vehicle new. I left that kind of thing to Mrs Ermine. Even if I were rich as Croesus the way half the value of  a new vehicle drops off it as soon as you buy it would take the edge off my day.

In the longer term I want to go on longer tours, maybe a pilgrimage to some ancient sites and places that may or do hold meaning to me, places with history, ancient stones, where people live slower but with more depth. One of the things Philip Greenspun picked out was

Travel: No to the Beach; Yes to the Organized Tour

No the the beach is easy for me. I hate heat and have never sunbathed, I have never been on a beach holiday and don’t get it, and this still holds. The second intrigues me, I have never been on an organised tour of anything – the regimented nature never appealed. There is some logic in his position. If it didn’t work out while working I’d be sore of being out half my annual holiday but this reservation doesn’t hold now. So I might try something in that line.

a codicil on the last post on two years on

The last post on Two Years on was cathartic, but not an easy one to write. Thank you for the great comments and thank you too to Monevator and mistersquirrel for featuring it   – I got an interesting angle from some of the c0mments there too.

I am not the only one to exit the workplace earlier than anticipated. Over the years I have had a few people contact me offline about keeping the flame of hope alive in a difficult workplace, I hope that showed it’s possible to get to the other side.

I don’t want to labour the point, but stress as a mental health issue is very different from what is normally called stress. Some stress is necessary to achieve anything, and if your life has dynamic balance between that and other parts of life then it is not a problem. The NHS has a good summary of what to look for and the typical triggers. It is a very different kettle of fish to having to pull a string of all-nighters and then get hammered at the topping out party when everybody high-fives the results of all that massive effort. I didn’t know that till my late 40s either.

MMM has a great post on how to avoid falling into the trap. It won’t help many people, however, because he speaks from a position of strength. The drip-drip-drip of a slowly changing situation creeps up on you, and the tipping point is sharp – a few days IMO. Once you have passed the point of no return then the original problems must be alleviated in some way for healing to begin.

Although different for everyone, recovery is protracted but usually does come – you shouldn’t  lose hope if you aren’t 100% in a few weeks. I spent three years flying into the storm, so two years isn’t unreasonable for the recovery, but in the end it takes as long as it takes. It isn’t a linear improvement day on day, sometimes its three steps forward and two back. I had to be prepared to fall back, and fall back and fall back long enough, and when I was not watching it the faint spark strikes in the darkness and one time it takes hold. Many aspects of self-development have this sort of thing in them where you have to let go to be able to go forward, and otherwise subconscious resistance is induced by the conscious effort to force things; it is in Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, in some of Carl Jung’s work and the mystical concept of the dweller on the threshold.  Camus put it well in a different context in Return to Tipasa

In the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer.

I learned a lot from writing the post, because to actually write things down clarifies things because they must be lifted into the light of consciousness, and I learned more from the comments, which are a different kind of light in this case. One of the things that is clear is that I addressed the first part of the tagline of this blog, breaking free of the rat race. That is good, it was the most urgent part. But on reflection I can take the living intentionally part further.

But don’t you get bored now you have more time and less money?

No. Really. The keys to nailing that aren’t shopping, restaurants and tickets. Be curious, learn something new however trivial each day and create, don’t consume unthinkingly. There is also a subtext in that while my income was much higher when working towards the end my spending was probably lower than now because of the savings rate. I needed to get my taxable pay down to roughly the minimum wage because the taxman’s blood-funnel in my retirement strategy was beginning to really piss me off. I learned something unique and unforgettable when you do that, which is that a lot of my spending didn’t really work for me, and was simply dulling the pain of working 8

I’d really, really, like to be able to say that this insight is mine alone. But it isn’t. As long ago as 1929 Ralph Borsodi wrote in This Ugly Civilization

They do not realize that the idea that mankind’s comfort is dependent upon an unending increase in production is a fallacy.

It is more nearly true to say that happiness is dependent not on producing as much as possible but on producing as little as possible. Comfort and understanding are dependent upon producing only so much as is compatible with the enjoyment of the superior life. Producing more than this involves a waste of mankind’s most precious possessions. It involves a waste of the only two things which man should really conserve–the two things which be should use with real intelligence and only for what really conduces to his comfort. When he destroys these two things, he has destroyed what is for all practical purposes irreplaceable. These two things are the natural resources of the earth and the time which he has to spend in the enjoyment of them.

When he produces more things than are necessary to good living, he wastes both of them; he wastes time and he wastes material, both of which should be used to make the world a more beautiful place in which to live, and life in it more beautiful than it is today.

Lest you think Borsodi was some turn-of-last-century Luddite, he opened that chapter with

ALL civilizations have been ugly. They could not well avoid it.

But this civilization is unique. Machines make it possible for this one to be beautiful, and yet it is in many respects indescribably uglier than the civilizations that have preceded it.

For this civilization, instead of using machines to free its finest spirits for the pursuit of beauty, uses machines mainly to produce factories–factories which only the more surely hinder quality-minded individuals in their warfare upon ugliness, discomfort, and misunderstanding.

Why did nobody introduce me to his work earlier :)  The big problem with work is that it wastes time. Britain’s productivity has apparently fallen since the financial crash. What we need is to match the rest of society (in particular house prices) to that lower productivity. Then people might have the time to raise their children by spending time with them, and pursue outside interests while working, rather than having to stagger to the finish line and then look around.

Mixer and 12V power supply, for about £20 all-in and a bit of Ermine design and build

Mixer and 12V power supply, for about £20 all-in and a bit of Ermine design and build

Today I finished off mastering a compilation CD for someone’s wedding, I was investigating how to make a raspberry PI camera take pictures of our cows every 15 minutes (see above – I started writing this before I made that and got it into service). Then I am looking for a way to make an isolated power supply for the DJ mixer I bought for a tenner at a radio rally on Sunday to be able to use it for our farm party run off a leisure battery 9

I repaired two electric fence energisers. I determined the range of WiFi on the farm (not enough) and investigated approaches to improve this at low cost, using a directional antenna.

Then I tried to work out what my policy is for the new ISA limits. They are greater than the capital gains tax limit so I need to contribute some as real cash rather than from gradual sales of my unwrapped holdings. And there’s also the new pension rules making it favourable to have a SIPP. I am getting to the point where I will be prepared to borrow money next year maybe to put into the SIPP, because all these changes mean I have to find about £20,000 extra before I draw my pension, and I don’t want to run down my NS&I cash fund or bend my cash ISA.

Trust me – there’s too much interesting stuff out there to poke a snout in to get bored. The bits from roughly a week described there has involved very little shopping, no restaurants and no tickets. Borsodi was right. It isn’t that you need nothing, you need the right amount of Stuff, and the way it’s promoted it’s easy to end up with way too much. There really is not shortage of things to think and do, indeed unfortunately the box of half-done parked projects seems to be increasing of late, although the box of stuff made, in service or fixed is increasing too!


  1. DJ seems to mean something very different from the straight scheduler of songs it meant in analogue days, it is a performance in and of itself, particularly with clubs and EDM where the aim is to achieve a seamless sequence that works together. I was warmed up to this by the stupendous amount of DJ gear available in the local Cash Converters when I was in the market for a PA amp
  2. I don’ have one, so I don’t know
  3. mortgage in my case, I didn’t have any other debt
  4. I don’t mean this disrespectfully to Americans – they haven’t got to be the richest nation on earth by being cynical, not being open to new ideas and having a great awareness of irony :) There is notable truth in ‘The Pleasure of Walking Tall’ despite it being gagworthy reading to British eyes
  5. The bodgery is acceptable because this is a proof of concept. There is a waterproof case available for the Raspberry Pi so there wasn’t much point in putting a lot of effort into making a repeatable waterproof case. Electrical tape and a minimum of holes, mainly underneath is good enough. If the project has a longer service life then a rebuild is in order
  6. yeah, I know, dangerous territory and who the hell is John Galt anyway
  7. Even if I were, I am also not leaving many hundreds of pounds worth of photo or sound recording gear on a bike and not shaking the hell out of it on the road – the conversion of a cheap Chinese bike camera to a kit of loose parts after a few hundred miles on a bike was an education in itself as to how bad the vibration is on an unsprung bike frame – I only carry camera gear in a backpack, not in the panniers now.
  8. It’s much easier for me as part of a child-free couple and at the end of my career to live on an income of the minimum wage because I have capital assets (paid-for house, productive farm and firewood). I am not a heartless bastard saying it’s easy to live on the minimum wage – it depends on what stage of life you are and what commitments you have, though I am of the old-fashioned view that one’s financial resources should be considered before taking on some commitments.
  9. the mixer take 9Vac and uses a short Cockroft-Walton stepup in the power supply to make the ±12V split rails. So you can’t just stick 9Vdc into it.

Great post as always Ermine.

“There’s a massive variation in what people want to do with their life. For many people the value to be had from shopping, restaurants and tickets is well worth the cost of working, particularly if they can’t imagine any other way” is something I’ve been thinking and posting about recently also. Particularly the “imagine any other way”.

If I could change one thing about my life thus far it would be simply to have imagined the other ways sooner. I was once a shopping, restaurants, tickets, debt kind of person. In hindsight it wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted it was simply the only lifestyle that was visible at the time.

If only I could figure out a way to show the other side to more people. My small site is continually growing but it’s not even noise when compared to the UK population. I’m not so arrogant to expect every one to move that way but if only they could see the option as my life is certainly far better and fulfilling for it. The odds are however against me as living frugally, intentionally and simply is not something a Corporate Marketing machine is paid to put across to the population.


Borsodi seems to be one of those “forgotten” geniuses of the past that the world just kinda ignored. I didn’t hear about him until SawbonesSurio introduced me to his works (he is substantially more popular in India) several years ago—I wrote a couple of blog posts mentioning him back then. He’s written a few books too which can be found on the net or in good libraries. Of other forgotten/rarely mentioned people/trailblazers who deserve to be much better known are Larry Roth and Ernest Callenbach.

3 Jul 2014, 7:44pm
by honeybadger

The campervan reminded me of one of the most pleasurable parts of my often misspent youth. When my son was about 10 we decided to take him to Disneyland Florida. The company we booked with went down and we were lucky enough to get our deposit refunded. Friends sympathised and urged us to rebook urgently. On reflection we decided to spend the Disney money on a campervan (VW bay window), mainly due to the fact we had two small dogs. We bought the van and travelled all over England from Devon to Kent, Dorset to the Lake District . Had to reluctantly sell it in the end due to an upgraded house move and was the only time ever that we made a profit on a car sale. We all still have many happy memories of our old van, it was far from easy going, but always an adventure. I hope your van gives you as much pleasure.

I loved the photo of your pig, so much attitude!

4 Jul 2014, 8:40am
by Rowan Tree

Thank you for “Two Years On” – it’s therapy for me. You see I’m 60 in a few weeks. It’s not so long ago a woman would be getting the state pension at 60, (now it’s 66). I desperately need to get out from work – my company has an evil reputation that is deserved (but after a period of unemployment, professional staff will put up with anything – until they fall or are shot down). I’ve been displaying the physical and mental signs of extreme stress for a few years, but have insisted on just a few months more working. I do my job perfectly – in silent terror.
We’ve been saving a stash, so why do I delay? Perhaps events over years have messed with my head – We (DH and I) first embraced frugality back in ’88 just to get somewhere/anywhere to live, while everyone else was boasting how “rich” they were. We’ve been through good jobs, redundancy, unemployment. Even once had a brief flirtation with consumerism, only to find expensive things can disappoint. DH says stop now – he can keep going for a while.
It’s only now can I visualise this change from full on stress into something better. I used to be creative once. My exit strategy is planned and about to be executed………

I like this. To distort The Man’s closing mantra, Always Be Changing. :)

One thing — just checking you are fully au fait with the CGT rules. You can sell more than £11,000 of assets *on which you have a gain* without incurring CGT. The £11,000 limit before tax is with respect to *the actual gain*.

So, for example, you could fund your ISA by selling £15,000 of shares that had seen an £11,000 gain since acquisition.

Also, provided you remain under the £11,000 annual CGT threshold, then you can sell 4x the limit (so £44K) before you have to report in on a tax return. :)

You may know all this but the language about ‘new money’ was ambiguous, so just making sure!

4 Jul 2014, 2:21pm
by ermine

@RIT That’s an interesting observation, that much of the problem is the “any other way” isn’t promoted, not are there clear role models.

As ERE said, his portrayal is primarily receivable by people of an intellectual disposition, and makes others people angry, because they can’t see a way from here to there.

And yet this isn’t fundamentally an intellectual pursuit. I’d say most of the win is to me had in managing spending and buying/consuming less. Our grandparents managed in the war – but they were surrounded by a society that made a virtue of thrift by necessity, so they saw role models and the values advocated.

We’re a social species. Perhaps more people need to live it.

@ERE I much appreicated the lowdown on Borsodi – thank-you. I’ll take a look at the others too – Ecotopia seems to chime with some of JM Greer’s ecotechnic future ideas, but less of the managed descent and general TOD angle I think you’re familiar with from a previous life ;) I like his last transmission to the future – maybe he and JMG have more in common…

@honeybadger – I think you dodged a bullet exchanging Disneyland for the camper van! We’ve been to Scotland and France and Germany with it so far, and I’d like ot do more. Slowly – I was always short of time when working and covered too much distance in too short a time. I don’t need to do that now…

The pig was a Berkshire, and very fine it was too!

@Rowan Tree – there’s really only one thing to say – get out. You can’t buy health. The uncertainty is always high at the point of making the jump, and many people dither in the crossways for fear of it. I was much more fearful (and shellshocked) when I wrote this nearly a year and 9 months ago. But slowly, imperceptibly things improved, and much of what I feared didn’t show. It sounds like you basic position is good – JFDI ;)

4 Jul 2014, 2:38pm
by ermine

@Monevator – I had to create a spreadsheet to do that calc and I based everything on the lowest SP purchase because I can’t be bothered to do the pool calc. It’s easy for Sharesave but would be a killer for ESIP that was a monthly purchase for years. So I’ll err on the cautious side!

I’m in the fortunate position of making a decent wedge out of those. Despite The Firm being an elephant that doesn’t gallop it nearly died in 2009, so the vast majority of the sale is capgain. I get more than £11k but not more than £15k according to the results of the spreadsheet with the prices I sold at.

The CGT limit isn’t so bad as it makes some sense to spread myself out over a few years anyway, to realise a more broadly averaged price!

4 Jul 2014, 9:02pm
by BeatTheSeasons

@ ermine

I’ve really enjoyed your last two posts, or at least I will have when I find time to read them thoroughly. I’m in a place at the moment when I really need this kind of inspiration and insight and I’m gratefully lapping it all up.

The discussion about CGT reminded me about something. If you and Mrs Ermine are now married (I think that happened?) then can’t you transfer shares between you free of CGT, which would double your exemption by allowing you to utilise hers?

5 Jul 2014, 1:56pm
by ermine

@BTS sorry, these two posts did ramble somewhat ;) getting more CGT doesn’t actually help me – the Chancellor has lengthened the optimum landing runway to where it’s optimal to draw my pension by his new stuff particularly the SIPP. I’m short of available money to reach the extra year – I’ll have cleared my unwrapped holdings into ISAs a year short of the extended date. I’ll then either have to skip an ISA year or borrow to fill it, then repay with a little bit of my pension commencement lump sum.

6 Jul 2014, 11:14pm
by Rowan Tree

Yes, I have just done it! :-) I need time not income, and you can’t accumulate time in the bank. So bye bye job. Thanks for the link back to “Getting perspective at some standing stones”. I love stones, here’s a circle I visit when I can http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=526
Time and space feel different at these places, and it does feel good.
You said learning about investment management takes a decade at least, if not a lifetime’s work. I’ve been making all the usual investing mistakes for over a decade now (and have learned from them, honest – the stash is still there, thank goodness). I’ve been learning from your blog (and Monevator’s too) for a while, to get ideas to help me improve, but I think my outlook and age lead me to Vanguard lifestrategy in the main. I can’t see the right patterns for me (or DH who leaves it all to me). Later this year, when all the high interest cash and index linked savings mature, well, don’t know what to do with that yet either! Won’t be spending it though….well perhaps a little trip to Carnac, those stones look good:-)

@ermine: re share schemes – I was made redundant last tax year :-) so all my SIPs, options, grant dates, share dribbles, free ones, etc vested and as soon as I could, I sold the lot. Mainly because I wanted to make a clean break from them.

In previous years I’ve done the self-assesment online but last tax year was just too complex. The accountants round the corner will charge me £400 but it’s probably worth it in angst:money ratio

In the spirit of supporting your local businesses, find an accountant – they love reading all that stuff and meddling around with spreadsheets. As you are a raspberry pi cow photographer so they can help you with your particular niche. Share the love.

damn, your system auto corrects old fashioned typewriter symbols into cheese, ach!

8 Jul 2014, 9:52pm
by ermine

@Rowan Tree – Congratulations – and the spring/summer months are a great time to retire. You can drink Pimms at 4 in workadays and enjoy the sun!

There’s now’t wrong with a steady drip feed into VGLS. Some of us just make simple things complex because we can, not because it’s right. Monevator’s definitely the place to look to for investing knowledge, this is more a stream of my consciousness on that…

Carnac is worth visiting when the kids are back at school. Not just for the obvious reason, but I recall that access is better from October, though it’s worth checkig that. I still enjoyed it in September when we were there though – even jaded and soon after leaving work I couldn’t fail to be moved by that. The little museum Rouzic is worth a gander if you have the time.

@mistersquirrel – what’s wrong with cheese :)
Although The Firm did really hack me off in the runout I have to say I have no complaints as a shareholder, so I wasn’t about to give a slice of good luck a poke in the eye. I’m going to run them down over time until they occupy a slightly overweight position in my ISA, as opposed to a humungous lopsided cuckoo in the nest. Since I don’t earn anything at the mo I was easy with that plan of selling a CGT worth a year. Then Osborne queered the pitch by dangling extra opportunities in front of us all!

16 Jul 2014, 1:46pm
by Almontage

Your comments on adding value and financial independence really resonate with me.
I’m older than you – out of the workplace for nearly 10 years – and I worked a bit longer. However my story from a Canadian perspective has a lot of parallels. I was a scientist and found the politics of the industrial workplace pretty toxic at the end. Fortunately my wife and I both have defined benefit pensions and now we collect old age security as well.
We were never tied to consumerism and lived beneath our means all our working life. Achieving financial independence was the key to our being able to retire early.
As far as adding value goes, I did volunteer for a couple of years at a small independent coffee firm in my little town but after a while I just felt used. I had done everything from helping the company get organic certification to packing coffee in the back shop – all for no cost to them.
Now I act as an unpaid IT helpdesk guy for seniors in my neighborhood, Mostly I rescue them from themselves, but once in a while I need to install Linux or set up a wifi network. I think I am adding value to many lives by doing this.
In addition to this we live close to our grandchildren and they enrich our lives in countless ways.
I never derived much social capital or personal worth from my job, although I did enjoy the technical aspects. It all seems a world away from me now.

[…] right too. You don’t see Ermine regretting puling the ‘chute on work a few years […]

[…] early frugal living. I read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854), and I followed a link in a blog post to Ralph Borsodi’s This Ugly Civilization (1929) and thence to his Flight from the City […]


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