11 Nov 2014, 11:46pm
personal finance
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  • Sometimes you should not be allowed to do what you want to do

    Over at the Torygraph they are fulminating gently about the hidden costs of capping payday loan charges. To most of us the action on Wonga et al seems pretty clear-cut – the cap means that they are limited to a 100% interest rate – ie they can’t charge you more than twice the original loan amount.

    A Money Shop

    This is a Money Shop. It is what a problem looks like, not what a solution looks like

    Judging by the number of money shops and assembled crap joints in the High Street, there’s a lot of demand. The apologist for wanting to make a profit out of lending money to people that shouldn’t be borrowing money is this mouthpiece for the Institute of Economic Affairs Steve Davies, on Radio 4

    Payday loan companies will no longer be willing to lend to those judged to be at a fairly high risk of defaulting. Previously, these people could arrange a short term loan from legitimate businesses. As has been the experience in other countries, we can now expect more of them to turn to often vicious loan sharks that operate entirely outside the law.

    Mark Littlewood of the Institute for Economic Affairs

    The Torygraph cited the IEAs Director-General Mark Littlewood for the gem, but it sums up what Steve said on Radio 4. And hell, if you’re the DG then I guess the buck stops there

    Now if you look at the IEA’s website you can see that these guys are basically right-wing-nut-jobs. You know the search for John Galt is strong in the hallowed halls of the IEA from the topics. Now there’s nothing wrong in having right-wing nut-jobs, humanity needs a range of views. There’s no doubt a school of thought that considers an Ermine in that category with intemperate snarls like this.

    Nevertheless there are some wickets it’s really hard to bat on. Like giving matches to two-year-olds, ‘cos it’s an affront to their yuman rites of freedom to stop them discovering fire. It being A Good Thing that uniquely among European nations ordinary UK citizens will receive their mains powered goods with three exposed wires and will have to source and fit their own mains plugs 1 with a one in three chance of a lethal outcome 2, and other things like that.

    So let’s translate what IEA DG Mark is saying here

    We at the IEA think it is a jolly good thing to lend money to people who don’t have any. It’s a decent, honest source of profit and there are a few edge cases where it’s the right answer. Obviously there’s a risk of collateral damage and totally screwing up some punters’ lives, but in the end you gotta ask yourself

    What would John Galt 3 do?

    And then do the right thing by John, natch.

    Err, yes. There are about ten good ways of using payday loans and about a hundred wrong ways of using them. Guess which ones most people use, which is why we’re having the discussion. The IEA’s bod was on t’other side to the Bishop of Stepney. The fundamental beef the IEA has is simply summed up on their website

    Regulating payday lenders will shrink the supply of credit

    Well yes, that’s the ‘king point you wunch of bankers! I am just old enough to remember a time when Britain had credit controls, before Thatcher iced them. That was a terrible time, believe me.  Ordinary people could manage to buy houses, because they weren’t allowed to borrow stupid amounts of money to pay stupid prices for a collection of stones. If you couldn’t afford to buy a TV you bought your consumer shit on hire purchase. You ended up paying a hell of a lot more, but if you couldn’t afford the repayments then all that happened is a bunch of guys with thick necks came into your house and grabbed their telly back without paying you a bean.

    Stumbling and Mumbling sums up the results of Thatcher’s easement of credit controls as a successful failure pretty well.

    her relaxation of credit controls in the early 80s had a bigger economic impact than she intended. She envisaged these as a step towards economic freedom. But they were more than that. They permitted a consumer-driven society and economy. This was not her intention. […] her vision of Britain was of a property-owning democracy of savers with moral restraint. She got indebted spendthrifts. She wanted the British people to be like her father, but they turned out more like her son.

    In short, the IEA need to get the idea that sometimes the puer aeturnus in us all needs some roadblocks to getting his own way. What happened with the expansion of credit was that after three decades the property owning democracy got hard for ordinary grunts because it tempted them to put too much of their lifetime earnings into the purchase cost of a house, aided and abetted by the suppliers of that credit. That trickled down to the poor, who in the past were saved from revolving credit card debt by the fact that they couldn’t get any. I recall the first Access card I got in 1979 as part of the student banking deal at Imperial College with Nat West. It scared the shit out of me because I had the voices of previous generations ringing in my ears

    Don’t spend more than you earn, son

    and yet to use a credit card at all you have to spend more than you have at the instance of the purchase. It’s the whole point of a credit card – to increase your instantaneous spending capacity.

    Wonga is out there bottom-feeding in this market. The IEA is missing the point deliberately when they assert regulating payday lenders will shrink the supply of credit

    Shrinking the supply of credit to people who shouldn’t have it because they can’t pay it back is the whole bloody point

    Earth to IEA right-wing nut-jobs

    The FCA is fighting the fire that was started by the loosening of credit controls – those indebted spendthrifts epitomising Thatcher’s legacy  by spending money they don’t have because they can. The IEA then tried to play the bleeding heart about where will the poor get their utilities from? Well, way back when I had an electricity meter with a slot for 50ps guess what happened when I didn’t have any 50ps?

    I lived without electricity until I had the money

    People did it for hundreds of years, y’know.You get cold. You get hungry. You go to bed early in the winter. There are better electricity solutions than a Wonga loan. It’s called a prepayment meter. Yes, the cost per unit is higher. But that’s just the way the world works – poor people pay more for a lot of things because of credit control, buying in small lumps and it being increasingly hard to tell the thrifty poor from the spendthrift poor, hence the Sam Vimes Boots model.

    Let’s face it, if you can’t afford the ‘leccy bill you aren’t going to get any sustainable electricity supply using Wonga, are you? The kind of situation that Wonga can help with are people who have assets, but can’t  access them for the moment. Those assets can be the value of your future work, or next year’s un-CGT-embargoed share sales . But this is a very small set of Wonga’s client base, because usually when you have enough income to generally cover your spending you are financially literate and don’t get yourself into such financial shit in the first place. Most of Wonga’s customer base are people who are on the wrong side of the Micawber principle. Their spending is too much for their income. The guys need to Spend Less or Do Without. In theory they could Earn More but that’s not working out in this economy, leastways at the bottom end.

    Wonga and the guys that the IEA are batting for basically lend money to people who they know can’t pay. They take the risk because they holler loud enough in people’s ears and garnish their credit card accounts such that the non-payment gets shifted to some other unlucky creditor – like the utility supplier or the credit card firm.

    The next line the IEA took is that all this will do is push people into the arms of loan sharks ;) The answer to this is to crack down on loan sharks, seize their assets and if you can’t actually break their legs then at least do a Taylor Swift on their Beemers and Mercs

    Now in my view the Bishop of Stepney has an error in his thinking too, but it isn’t dangerous. He believes credit unions are the solution. They aren’t, because unlike banks, credit unions can’t lend money they don’t have. 4 So they need to persuade rich people to save with them at low returns to lend to poor people who are bad risks. Rich people don’t get rich by taking on bad risks at low returns. It’s just not how you get or stay rich.

    If he wants rich people to give money to poor people he needs to do that through the political arena, and that’s a different question. Shrinking the supply of credit to people who can’t pay it back is a start in plugging the hole. Every time you buy something on credit, you are choosing to buy it at a higher price, because you pay interest, and you are choosing to impoverish your future self.

    Thatcher apparently believed people had morals when it comes to money. History has proved her wrong

    I had the bad luck to look for a job in the aftermath of Thatcher’s first recession, so I’m probably not a balanced critic, but it appears that Thatcher believed that people had principles, even when it comes to money. Bless. I’m not sure I buy this interpretation, but let’s run with it

    Presumably she didn’t foresee her property owning democracy ending in a BTL property owning oligarchy, and giving the market power over lending meaning that lending would be advanced  to NINJAs in times of plenty leaving seven lean years and counting that ruin whole generations. In the end asking for any politician to have a crystal ball that shows true across thirty years is a big ask, and even if she did set a wrong course the ghost of Thatcher past could reasonably challenge the weak hands afterwards of failing to steer the ship of State away from the sandbanks.  There are some people who have principles when it comes to making money, but not enough. Somehow you have to regulate an ever increasingly complex system that is global, not national in scope and staffed by the finest minds money can buy, while your regulators are the civil servants of nation states.

    Wonga et al are obviously parasitic enough that regulation isn’t hard, though I’m sure Wonga will find some way round the rules and their customers are desperate enough not to face up to their problems that they’ll comply. But for now the cat is ahead of the mouse. Anything that pisses the IEA off is probably good for the country as a whole.

    The trouble is that it isn’t just the poor who are drunk on credit The middle classes are drunk on it and passed out on the kerbside with the bottle in their hands. Those high house prices are still there. One way of regulating credit is increasing interest rates, but there’s no taste for that because of the massive keening noise that would ensue ;)  Now that we’ve cracked down on poor people spending more than they earn with Wonga, it’s time to move on to the overstretched middle classes in their zombie households. Their pay is falling behind inflation. Somebody should step up to the plate and stop them borrowing money to spend more than four times their salary on a house. And demand that they have a convincing answer for the question “how are you going to pay off the capital before you retire“?

    No doubt the IEA will come over all John Galt on me and say well, it’s a free market, why shouldn’t these numbskulls borrow loadsamoney to buy a house with? To which the answer is that they jack up the price of commodities like houses until every bugger has to borrow loadsamoney. Even if they don’t want to buy, their rent goes up to service the capital. It’s not a victimless crime.

    I’ve accepted most of the fault in overpaying for a house early on, But some of it was because I was competing as a single man with couples desperate to get their MIRAS double tax relief before the door closed on that. We’re not all independent actors on the stage when a shitload of easy credit is dropped from helicopters, precisely because it is a market. Thatcher can perhaps be forgiven for the stupidity of thinking she’d get savers rather than spendthrifts, the experiment hadn’t been tried. But we have thirty years of research that shows give a Brit easy credit and s/he will chuck it into housing which will go up in price to soak up the credit. Where it festers – if they had to spend it on meals out at least restaurateurs would get some of the money and it would enter the economy. As it is the money just goes to make the land and bricks dearer, and no, the answer isn’t a land value tax it’s to stop feeding the Beast  in the first place. Credit isn’t just bad for poor people. It’s bad for homebuyers too.

    Sometimes you should not be allowed to do what you want to do. For your own good and that of the people around you. Reining in Wonga is the hors d’oeuvre. It’d be nice if the mortgage market were the main course one day.

    Notes:

    1. this was the situation in Britain before February 1995 when commonsense prevailed in the  face of resistance from manufacturers. There’s a bunch of old fossils reminiscing about the lost art of UK mains plug wiring which tickled the vintage geek in me.
    2. there are six ways of wiring a plug, assuming one wire to one pin and nothing left out. If you wire the green and yellow earth wire to the live and it’s a Class I device like a kettle, then if you plug it in and grab hold of the tap and the metal case it will piss you off deeply if you are lucky, and kill you if you aren’t lucky
    3. John Galt was the protagonist in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, with the motto “I am not my brother’s keeper”
    4. That in itself is no safeguard – the branch manager of the Ipswich credit union looted £100,000 of savers’ money. Although it’s claimed this didn’t have any effect on the ISCU, I note it is no longer in existence
    29 Oct 2014, 11:01am
    housing personal finance
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  • Financial Foolhardiness is Forgivable in the young, not old Fogeys

    It’s perfectly understandable at 12 to want to have your cake and eat it, but unseemly after middle age. Taking an interest-only mortgage when you’re 30 is naive, but having one when you’re 60 is wilfully ignorant. The Torygraph seems to be metamorphosing from the journal of retired generals to cheerleader for those growing old disgracefully and a representative for their greedy children. So they fulminate on behalf of the wilfully ignorant

    Take your mortgage to the grave, older borrowers told

    Around 130,00 interest-only mortgages are due to expire every year until 2020, with half facing a shortfall of £71,000 on average, according to the City watchdog. One in 10 borrowers have no repayment plan in place at all.

    It was in the mid 1990s that warnings of endowment shortfalls started going out. I know because I got one of these. So I got on the case of the endowment firm and eventually pursued a claim against them for selling a single fellow a life insurance product. But I was a dumbass, and realised this so I started to overpay the sucker! The eventual result was that this contract I had so foolishly entered to in 1989 which was due to come to the end of its term in February 2014 was discharged early. There’s a case to be made that this is a vaguely stupid thing 1 to do for an early retiree with no income for a while wanting to defer his pension, but fair enough.

    Now there isn’t anything fundamentally wrong in taking out an interest-only mortgage in your 30s as you are buying for the first time, if you expect to earn more as time goes by, or indeed spend less. From a high-level tragedy of the commons viewpoint it is a stupid thing for us to do collectively; if Help to Buy, interest-only, shared ownership and all the other methods of paying more than you can afford for a house were disallowed, or we had decent credit controls, then the market would settle at a level that most buyers could actually afford. But that’s a different story.

    So the latest that somebody could take out an interest-only mortgage without being aware that this is the purest form of renting money from a bank is probably 2000, and these are presumably people whose parents look like this

    A terribly disturbing reflection to see in the bathroom mirror for 15 years, no?

    A terribly disturbing reflection to see in the bathroom mirror for 15 years, no?

    if they haven’t jumped to the fact that they have a serious problem when more than halfway through the terms of their mortgages. If they haven’t paid off any of their capital, then they are living beyond their means, and we all know from the old boy Mr Micawber what happens then

    Result misery

    Now it is true that you get a bit more hidebound as you get older, and you become  more reluctant to up sticks and move. The human animal is a wondrous marvel of evolution/chance/creation, something, anyway. You really owe it to your forebears to honour all the work and the chances they took to create a rich, First-World country where you have many things that people used to sweat for handed you on a plate to make use of that to at least try and become wiser as you get older.

    So if you want to stay in the house you raised your children in, rattling around the empty spaces full of memories then damn well pay off your mortgage, because ownership of an asset gives you control. If you don’t want to do that, then FFS downsize, if only because that house you raised children in could be used by people of your children’s generation to raise their kids in, and you will find it more and more expensive to heat, clean and maintain unless you are rich enough to pay over the odds for your consumption.

    Speaking on behalf of the greedy children, the Telegraph asks

    Would you agree to die in debt?

    What’s actually wrong with that? Why the bloody hell not – it isn’t like the debt would be a claim upon the assets of your heirs. Obviously they don’t get to inherit anything, but there isn’t anything that terrible about this, from the deceased’s point of view. What’s wrong with it is the wider picture. If you’re of working age, no money and live in a house you don’t own  that’s too big for you then people will give you a hard time until you move or  become rich enough to afford the privilege. Get past that, even if you rent your house from a bank and not a landlord, then you are home and dry.

    We flog ourselves to tie up such a large part of our lifetime earnings in a mute capital asset largely because we haven’t worked out a better way of manage the physical assets of the world for the transitory existence of humans 2. In the UK, the renting a house option is so heavily loaded it’s a ghastly alternative to renting the money. An interest-only mortgage is a good way of getting better security of tenure, because paradoxically the 25 year terms on renting money from a bank seem to be a hell of a lot better than the six months AST terms on renting a house from a landlord. In which case why not rent the money, but the 25 year term still comes to an end one day.

    The Torygraph is wrong:

    Experts said lenders were compromising by creating lifetime mortgages which allowed older couples to stay in their homes if they promised the keys would go to the lender, rather than a family member, on death.

    However, borrowers should see the new mortgages as a “last resort”, the experts said.

    They think this is terrible because the kids don’t get to own a family asset that was never in the family in the first place. There’s nothing wrong in penalising foolhardiness in the old. Folly should have consequences. If you want to featherbed your kids and not have to move from the family home/ancestral seat of residence then FFS go on fewer cruises and pay off your mortgage, it’s not hard to understand!

    Notes:

    1. There seems to be no limit to ways a Ermine can screw up anything that involves property but I don’t regard it as a calamity and I’m prepared to pay for my folly by paying 5% on the money I borrow for a few months rather than 2% on a mortgage
    2. The luxury watch brand Patek Philippe had an ad running  “You never actually own a PP. You merely look after it for the next generation.”  The ad is absolute poppycock targeted to aspirational wannabes but could be applied to houses, or the world – anything of value that lasts longer than a lifetime. Houses in the UK can last four or five human lifetimes before they become slum clearance, so having to own the whole thing is inefficient in some ways
    16 Oct 2014, 11:32am
    personal finance
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  • The difficulty of managing money in silos

    Pensions, ISAs, NS&I - they all break your capital down into silos isolated from each other  Image: dsearles/Flickr

    Pensions, ISAs, NS&I – they all break your capital down into silos isolated from each other Image: dsearles/Flickr

    Silos are bad for organising a lot of things where the contents should all be pulling in the same direction, singing from the same hymnsheet and other associated buzzword bingo 1. All through my working life companies have moaned about ‘silo mentality‘  – well WTF do they think is going to happen when you reward people for individual results using S.M.A.R.T. metrics, the stupid berks? Knowledge is power, and you don’t want to be an interchangeable outsourceable meatspace unit x – you want to be the irreplaceable kingpin…

    The same intractable problem is easily introduced into our personal finances – some of it by foibles such as mental accounting, but a lot of it is by government action – if you want to take advantage of certain tax breaks you are pretty much forced to split your money into different silos. Pensions are the obvious example, a one-way silo that you can draw on after 55 2, and ISAs, which only have tax protection inside the silo.

    The whole reason humans invented money was to create a divisible and fungible token of wealth – later on that became a fragile store of wealth 3 too. That’s all very well, but in practice we don’t really seem to like operating in a miasma of undefined cash or debt swilling around, so we often break it all up into itty bits and tackle each one of these on their own. In doing so we often lose the big picture – the classic case is somebody carrying credit card consumer debt who has savings, or even worse, has money in the stock market. There is no point in having savings if you have debt that is at a higher interest rate than the net return on those savings unless you have a specific reason for it. If you are carrying chargeable consumer credit you have no business being in the stock market – fight the nearest fire that is burning faster before worrying about the flames on the horizon.

    The Silos of Tax-advantaged Savings

    The biggest and most complex of these taxation silos is the pension. It has the greatest restrictiveness, and is therefore the hardest to manage. It’s also usually at a high-water-mark in your 50s.

    As you get closer to the magic 55 the problem of silos gets a lot more acute, and doubly so if you are an early (pre 55) retiree. For an early retiree with a defined contribution pension the decision is clear – draw the pension from the age of 55, because you have no other earnings income (that’s what retiring is) so you get more of your money back paying less tax by choosing the longest time period to draw it. That favours drawing from 55, all other things being equal. If you’re still working that’s nuts, but if you aren’t, knock yourself out.

    However, just before 55, you have pension silo that is a dead hand that demands maximum feeding at the expense of the ISA silo, or indeed your general free cash flow, because it is the most lucrative. For instance, the Ermine specifically took out a DC pension when Osborne’s pension reforms were mooted, because, well, it’s rude to turn down a guaranteed roughly 10% p.a.  uplift on about £7000 in cash, tax-free if you swing it right. The fact that this allows me to defer my main pension increasing it by 5% is an added bonus.

    Trouble is, you have to design your savings plan and glide path while you are still working, and I predicated mine on an ISA allowance of £9,000 p.a. and being able to ignore pensions, because I didn’t want to have to take out an annuity at 55 or wait until I was old enough for it to be worth it.

    I’ve only been retired for two years, and in the meantime they’ve mucked around with the silos so much that the original plan is in tatters. My original aims were simply to fill my ISA each year, basically by selling unwrapped holdings up to the CGT limit and tossing them into the ISA and topping it up a bit from savings. The increase in ISA allowance means I want to top it up a lot – there’s another £5000 p.a. to find. And then Osborne changed pensions so that it’s worth tossing £9000 into one to win £2000 of tax that I paid years ago back – even if you’ve never paid tax the deal is on offer, though it’s only really favourable for people close to being able to draw the prceeds in a couple of years.

    Fortunately I overestimated my spend rate; I expected to have to draw the pension after a year and a half, so the start of this year. When I do draw it I get hold of my 25% pension commencement lump sum which is a shitload of cash saved up for this, and then have to push that into ISAs for a few years. It is this which makes me keen to max my ISA allowance across the intercession between stopping work and getting hold of the AVCs.

    Then I needed to find about £10k for an opportunity that has come up, and so I am now up against the end of my free cash flow. I still have deep strategic cash savings in NS&I and a Cash ISA, which would easily cover that but I am loath to break into them, because God knows when I will be able to save and preserve cash in real terms with NSA&I again, and I don’t want to lose the ISA capacity. So heck, it’s time for the Ermine to borrow money!

    Lenders are all computers these days, and all lending is predicated on income

    The last time I borrowed money from a bank as a loan was in the mid 1980s. At that time there was this quaint custom of going into the bank where you would talk to someone about what you want the money for and what your income was etc, so I went into my bank in South Kensington and showed the fellow the payslips and how much I wanted to borrow for a car. Arguably what the bank manager should have said was don’t be such a damn fool you young whippersnapper, a car is a wasting asset that will depreciate faster than you will pay down the loan, but for some reason he didn’t, I had another £2k in my account and everything was fine. They got their repayments on time every time and that was that. It was a damn fool thing to have done, don’t ever borrow money to buy a car, particularly as cars as much cheaper now in relative terms. But I got away with it.

    It so happens that I am still with the same bank, branch and account because I can’t be bothered to fiddle about with this, I never go overdrawn so many of the so-called benefits of switching aren’t of value to me. So I spark up their website and inquire of a personal loan for £8k, using the non-credit referenced query. Income – 0 (I suppose I should have put in my ISA income, but what the hell). Now bearing in mind this is my own bank and they should damn well know that my Cash ISA has more than enough money to cover the £8k, but the answer is basically

    Computer say no, fuhgeddaboutit m8.

    There’s apparently a hidden assumption that has crept into lending money these days, and that is that you are a good li’l consumer trying to buy more consumer shit than you can afford at the moment, but your income is enough to service the debt. There seems to be no concept that a member of the consuming proletariat may have the money but because of the silo structure it is in the wrong place and he may lack liquidity. Let’s face it, who would you rather lend money to – some kid wanting to buy an iPhone or somebody with financial assets of many times your loan but ensiloed in a pension AVC or shares that can’t be sold till the next tax year? There’s no question – go for the iPhone toting kid any time ;)

    Now in the 1980s, I would have gone to see Mr Bank Manager, I would explain that I have these CGT embargoed shares to cover it, and if that isn’t enough that in two years I would have my AVC of way, way more than the loan amount and I am being sensible in deferring my pension so this loan is in fact there to use my capital to make more money. It isn’t for a wasting asset like an iPhone or a car, and he would look back over 20 years of running that account, figure £8k isn’t quite enough to do a runner to Rio and advance the cash. But we aren’t.

    Computer says no

    Now unlike many people I never go on the assumption that I have the right to have people lend me money, so that’s just the way the cookie crumbles, more loss Mr Nat West, because compared to most people they advance personal loans an Ermine is probably a good bet.

    Where can a skint Ermine borrow from – aha – Wonga and Credit Cards :)

    My main problem comes around the turn of the next tax year – I need enough liquidity to max the rest of this year’s ISA, and to max my SIPP this tax year. There’s no point in drawing money out of a Cash ISA to fill a S&S ISA – it’s the old Silo problem again, that money is already in the ISA silo so there’s no point taking it out the bottom and chucking it back in at the top. That silo needs new money.

    As soon as the tax year is done, however, I get a new CGT allowance, so I can sell some unwrapped shares and pay off the loan 4. For a short period I even considered Wonga or The Money Shop, despite taking the piss something rotten a while ago. A two-week period over the 6th April would actually be the correct use of a payday loan, but the thought of being spammed shitless for the next 10 years by their ilk wasn’t really an attractive proposition. This from Moneysavingexpert is pretty much all I need to know.

    1402__wrong_way_signage

    Yup, got that. Wonga is probably more crafty than I am clever…

    Mrs Ermine didn’t really approve, either. So let’s take a step back. Now it so happens that every month Barclaycard entreat me to borrow money from them. I don’t use the card, but I have it because I figured that after leaving work nobody will give me another credit card until I become a pensioner, so I may as well hang on to the ones I have got. Presumably Barclaycard still think I am working for The Firm, because I told them truthfully that I was when I took it out and they haven’t asked me since. So like clockwork, every month they send me something like this

    1410_bcard

    Now I don’t know how ‘king stupid Barclaycard think their customers are, but a 0% interest cash loan with a x% fee is not 0%. At first sight this is a loan for 9 months at 1.9%, ie a loan at an APR of 12÷9×1.9%=2.6%. It’s actually a little bit worse than that because you have to repay a credit card loan at quite a high rate, about 3% of the loan outstanding per month, so you don’t get to use all of the cash for all of the time. The car loan was so long ago I can’t remember if you have to repay a bank loan every month. Here in practice you either get not to use the full loan amount or you effectively borrow a smaller amount at a higher interest rate, say about 5%. And you must must must ensure you repay the minimum amount every month, I’ve always taken card firms up on the Direct Debit pay minimum amount off each month, so the first thing you have to go on getting the loan is chuck some of it into the debited account ready to pay the loan down.

    I actually prepaid the 1.9% fee – ie paid too much into the card account before taking the loan so the fee is taken from the existing credit balance and not the loan, because I suspect they would charge monthly card interest on the fee, which they can’t it it’s not carried :)

    Then I repeated the operation with MBNA, who offered me a year and a half loan for 5%. They also offer this every month or so. I still have a soft spot for MBNA – 25 years ago they lent me £15,000 interest free which was a significant part of the deposit on my first house. And I really didn’t pay any interest on it – in those days 0% interest really meant 0%, no fees involved. The fact that it was a tremendously stupid time to buy a house, very much like the present time, indeed, can’t really be blamed on them.

    That will take me into the time when I can draw my DC pension, and all of a sudden I am rolling in liquidity, particularly as the impending stock-market rumble means I can probably liquidate more unwrapped holdings CGT free as they fall to par. Which is dead good, as stock market rumbles are exciting and opportunities to get stuck in and pick up value. I love the smell of fear in the markets in the morning. And it so happens that I have a fair amount of uncommitted cash in my ISA. Maybe I can stop writing articles like this and write more like this. If I can have just one word in Mr Market’s shell-like, if he could just delay the denouement a teeny bit, so say Q4 of next year, I’d be in a better position to use it. If he has to throw a benny earlier, I may have to switch some of my AVC fund that is currently in cash into say a FTSE100 index. The trouble is my AVC fund is currently already exactly 25% of my pension capital by design, so I can’t really use any increase that much…

    Oh yeah, about that classic bad case of somebody carrying credit card debt but with savings, indeed who has the temerity to be in the stock market to. Well, that’s me. What the hell, do as I say, don’t do as I do ;)

     

    Notes:

    1. you can take the Ermine out of The Firm, but not yet the biz lingo out of the Ermine, it was drummed in over 20 years
    2. corrected 20 Oct from earlier version “only fill until you are 55″ which wasn’t what I meant
    3. money in terms of cash is a fragile store of wealth because it tends to depreciate over time as it is created at a higher rate than the value accumulating in the economy
    4. I was dead chuffed when IDJV that I hold unwrapped fell to the price I paid for it in the current market loathing for all things European. That means there’s no CGT to pay, so I sold them and that will give me some extra liquidity at the turn of the tax year – or I can simply to an internal transfer of the cash into my ISA this tax year, leaving only 2k to find this year. It’s an ill wind…
    10 Oct 2014, 12:42pm
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  • The incredible lure of day-trading

    Ah, day trading, the ultimate signal of feel-good in the markets 1. It’s the harbinger of doom, because it is a signal of irrational exuberance. A bunch of day-traders were on the telly a few days ago, hat-tip to Under The Money Tree who flagged up Traders – Millions by the Minute as an object-lesson in what not to do.

    There are two fundamental approaches to trying to make money out of the stock market. One is to regard it a way of purchasing a selection of productive assets, and then becoming a rentier, sitting back and taking a slice of those productive assets without having to do any work. Don’t knock it -that’s the way the super-rich are getting richer. They’re not saving from income, that’s soooo 20th century, dahlink. You need to have inherited wealth or stupendous good luck. The latter is how Russian oligarchs get rich, the former is how Paris Hilton and the Ecclestone daughters got rich. You don’t get to have a pad at the Odeon Tower Monaco if you’re on the side of income no matter how clever you are or how good a footballer.

    Capital, not income will get you here

    Capital, not income will get you here

    Half a billion is doable as income, but you need a turbo-charge from the stock market to keep you there. CEOs and the like have managed to get into this area by getting on the side of the stock market, but they don’t day-trade.

    The second is to regard the stock market as a casino, and to attempt to pick a smidgen of signal from the noise the market throws off. In Traders-Millions by the Minute the punters were taking this line, using spread-betting. The Ermine has indeed had dealings with spread-betting. I’m a fan of it in dealing with sharesave, because you can lock-in profits.  Though I lost money on that side of the trade I achieved my goals. Every year I get on the wrong side of the trade with my house insurance too, and lose money. I am cool with that.

    WTF? The Ermine is a fan of trading and spread-betting?

    Sometimes you have to hold shares for a particular period. Sharesave and Employee Share Incentive Plans are a classic case, particularly the latter. You have to be a special kind of mug to lose money on Sharesave, but on ESIP you can, because you purchase the shares from pre-tax income but have to hold the shares for five years from purchase, else you get to pay the tax and NI you didn’t pay to buy the shares.

    So say you buy 100 shares of Megacorp at £1 a share using £60 of your hard-earned cash post-tax. The £100 only costs you £60 because the taxman doesn’t thieve £40 from your income in this instance. But you have to hold those shares for 5 years. If they go down to 60p at the end of those 5 years you break even, less five years of inflation.

    If you short the number of shares you buy, then you will cancel out any gain or loss on the shares, though it will cost you something to do that. But you do get the benefit of the 66% tax bung. Why 66%? Because you forgo £60, but you get £100. Thus a profit of 40/60 or 2/3 = 66%/ Less three years of inflation, say about £10, so you come down to 50% up.

    I used this towards the end of my time at work with ESIP and Sharesave – to protect myself against significant falls in The Firm’s share price. As it was The Firm’s SP went up, and I got to pay IG about £1000. I was easy with that – it was worth paying to insure myself against losing a lot of what I had gained already.

    Social Trading and Trading Superstars, a new development in the trading universe

    Apparently you can now track some other trader’s trades if you can’t be bothered to do the legwork yourself. It really puzzles me whyit’s not obvious what’s wrong with this. The long-term rise in the stock market is roughly 5% p.a. real 2 , though you have to be invested for long periods of time (about 20 years) for things to settle out like this. It’s one of the reasons why I believe index-investing’s studious ignorance of high CAPE/valuations is am issue. But that’s something for another day. So traders, every day, are exposed to  1/7300th of their stake on average in real stock appreciation if they go long, less the cost of the spread on every turn which applies going long or short.

    Now trading tends to be a short-term activity – that daily gain from the stock market going long isn’t going to speak for much there at 0.01% per day. So you profits as a trader have got to come from somewhere, and it comes from either the punters or the casino your spreadbetting firm. Seen any spreadbetting firms go bust recently? Nope. So it’s coming from the punters. In theory it could come from the markets, because the SB firm presumably hedges any major shifts building up over time, but the programme seemed to indicate most of the profits were from the spreads on the trading, which stays within the system.

    And therein lies the rub. If all the punters start getting ahead, the odds will lengthen. Particularly in spreadbetting, where you are running on a model of the real thing, not the underlying market.

    The trick with day-trading is to quit when you’re ahead

    Over a dreary telephone conference at work way back in 2010/11 an Ermine extracted £400 from IG index on gold, trading per tick, and gave up £350 of it by the end of the meeting. It was sheer luck. Some while later I dabbled in forex trading, using a VAR spreadsheet to control risk. After a few months 3 I looked at the results, observed how much risk it was necessary to pay the fees. I experimented with IG’s automated trading system, where you try and craft a black-box strategy based on the previous charts price history, and back-test it on historical data without using real money.

    I could find no strategy that permitted risk to stay bounded as time passed – everything seemed to trend towards a martingale situation where you can always win – if you have infinite wealth and infinite time. If you have infinite reserves of wealth you don’t need to piss about with spreadbetting, cos you don’t have infinite time. I was never tempted by the breathless folks offering courses and training to learn how to trade xyz because of the natural suspicion – if you can make me rich then why the hell aren’t you in some darkened room making yourself rich, dude? Cut out the middleman. I guess it’s the gonzo version of the active fund charges.

    I was Frankie, although I derived the result in a different way from The Escape Artist, by observation and hypothetical experimentation. So I took my £800 gains plus the £1000 stake, and stopped doing that, because it was the logical thing to do. MMM has a nice post on get rich with science. It’s harsh, but when you see the statistics tell you that this is more luck than judgement you can either ignore the results or take the insight offered. If I want to make money out of a spread-betting firm, I will buy their shares. I did learn from this, however, and applied the knowledge to my investing. Trading costs you money. So I stopped selling, and made it a priority to sit on my backside and take the dividends.

    That, fundamentally, is the trouble with day-trading. In the end you are part of generating the wall of noise – for you to gain, somebody else must lose. This does not necessarily hold with the stock market over the years – because in aggregate returns accrue to capital. But those returns accrue very slowly. To actually get rich from a 5% p.a. real return you need to live frugally and ideally you need to take a multi-generational view. If you have talent and/or cunning, you are much better off leveraging your capital with a business and then selling it.

    How do the rich get rich?

    Take a look at the top 10 of the  Forbes Rich List There are more Mark Zuckerbergs,  Bill Gates et al than there are Warren Buffets. If you look through the top 10, the sources of wealth are typically from running or selling a business, followed by ancestral wealth of some sort. Four are self-made, and six are inherited wealth. Forbes trumpets this as saying the American Dream is hale and hearty. I’m not quite sure I want to imagine what it looks like when it’s poorly – holders of old money outweighing new in the top 10 shows maybe the rags to riches isn’t quite as easy as it’s made out. But it can be done. Something else of note is: no actors/actresses. No musicians. No sportspeople. None of the ways teenagers hope to get rich. Something else of note is that most of these are no spring chickens – it’s the greybeards who have all the money. And they’re not a pretty bunch, eh, indeed some of them probably can’t have intact mirrors in their homes.

    Of those ten, only one  ‘made it on the stock market’. And curiously few in the top 25  ‘made it day-trading’ ;) Mind you, Sheldon Adelson comes in at #12 from running casinos. There’s nothing wrong with casinos as a way of making money. It’s just that most people go the wrong way about it! Don’t walk through the casino  doors. Own them.

     

    Notes:

    1. I wrote the first draft at the end of September. The feel-good doesn’t quite ring true now – exciting times ahead?
    2. this comes from the BarCap Equity study
    3. I had a similar temperament to the timid trader in the programme, if in doubt I did n’owt. This is apparently not the route to success in this field
    23 Sep 2014, 1:42pm
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  • the trials and tribulations of the rich poor

    Or should that be the poor rich? Anyway, it’s hurting, and particularly would like to make it known that Things Are Not What They Used To Be. It seems to be particularly through their kids that they are hurting, more specifically that, y’know,

    one does everything one can for Tarquin and Jemima, even, good lord, shopping at Aldi, driving a secondhand Fiesta and forgoing the annual holiday to Tuscany. But it’s really, really hard to make the public school fees, yah?

    Shock, horror, even on £370,000 p.a. we can’t afford to pay to send them to private school these days. Whatever is the world coming to?

    I indirectly know a couple who have had to send the SAHM out to work after 10 years at home to pay for the school fees. Obviously they think this is terrible, along with the beastly Government not giving them child tax benefit because he earns more than 60k. Oh yes, the ermine nodded. How terrible. dreadful, indeed, while secretly asking myself how it was that myself along with the other good taxpayers of England were subsidising their lifestyles and how it’s perfectly reasonable to ice child benefit for people paying higher rate tax FFS. He worked harder than me and earns more than I did, which is fine and as it should be, but me, and indeed someone earning 15k a year for that matter, paying for someone on well over the average wage to have kids? Don’t get me wrong, he was perfectly entitled to take it up when it lasted, but I’m not that amazed it was canned, and can’t imagine it made a huge difference to their lives ;)

    Every so often the Ermine thinks back to the guys getting on their bikes to cycle out or get the bus to the old glass factory in Charlton when my Dad once worked, and where you’d see the wives line up outside the factory gates on Friday which was payday to make sure the money didn’t get flushed down the pub when the end of day siren blew 1. And I ask myself how the heck has Britain gotten so damn soft in 45 odd years that the rich need sponsoring like that – I believe CB was originally targeted at the poor though the history of child benefit is so convoluted I don’t really know.

    How do you know you are rich?

    Easy. You look at all the shit in the external world that tells you that you are great because you have it or consume it. The stuff you have, the size of your house, the services you buy like the au pair, the holidays, the cars you drive, how often you change it, the public school for your kids. For the sake of any non-British readers, in the UK if you deem the universal education paid for from general taxation to be beneath your dignity/requirements you pay for private schooling at what is called a public school, as opposed to a State school which is one paid for from taxation.  I believe Americans quite sensibly called State schools public schools and public schools private schools, because they are logical that way. Go figure.

    I look up to him and down to him - seminal comedy skecth on being rich

    I look up to him and down to him – seminal comedy sketch on being rich

    You look down on people that have and spend less, and you look up at people that spend more. You are rich if roughly speaking there are twice as many people below you as above you 2. To save you the embarrassment of doing this publicly you can head over to those guys at the IFS on where do you fit in. There is a hidden implicit assumption at the IFS that you spend everything you earn with that tool, which is of course not a way to doing well financially

    So why are the rich feeling poor, then?

    The problems for the modestly rich is that they also look back along the time axis at their parents. Say you’re a GP on about 100k, the daughter of medics, and your parents sent you to public school. Assuming you’re married to another GP so the combined income is 200 kilosods, you are still short of sending both Tarquin and Jemima to Eton 3

    Fundamentally the problem is too many other people are getting rich. Although your absolute living standard 4 is vastly greater than that of your parents, your comparative status has dropped, and you feel the draught. You feel poor and hard done-by. Your parents simply had the benefit of fewer rich people to compete with them for finite resources. You will live longer, have better food, better houses, better health than them but there are more people above you in the income scale, because this happened. I know it’s US data

    the 1% are falling back - it's the .01% you want to be in

    the 1% are falling back – it’s the .01% you want to be in

    so I am winging it a bit assuming the pattern is followed in the UK. Interestingly if you look at general plot of the S&P500 over the same period you get to see some similarities

    this is price, not total return, of the S&P500 over a similar period

    this is price, not total return, of the S&P500 over a similar period

    So how do the .01% get rich? From the Atlantic

    How’d they all get so rich? It wasn’t the way the rest of us get rich. It wasn’t their wages. It was something else.

    The richer you are, the more likely your riches come from stocks, not salary. For the three groups graphed above—1 percent, 0.1 percent, and 0.01 percent—capital gains account for 22, 33 and 42 percent (respectively) of their average income. […]

    Practically all the growth in average income at the top comes from stocks. Between 1992 and 2007, the average salary of a top-400 tax return doubled, but average capital gains haul increased 13X. Wages are for normal people. The richest get richer from their investments.

    So now you know what to do. Listen to that Monevator fellow and get on the side of Capital, because that’s where all the action is, and it’s slaughtering Income.

    So what’s with all this public school stuff then?

    That’s the problem for our doctors, and indeed our rich poor. Capital is riding into town and eating their lunch, outcompeting them. The public school system has increased, but not by as much as Capital is increasing. These poor rich people’s mental picture of what it means to be rich is formed in their early years from their parents, but their parents weren’t in such a competitive space. So it stands to reason that the merely rich are feeling poor, and they’re pissed off about it.

    Something that struck me, listening to Mr 60k+ and his SAHM about to go out to work after a 10 year break so they can pay for the school fees is that there’s a category error in their assumption. They assume that by sending their kids to public school they will earn more.

    This isn’t the only reason – public schooling buys you influence, connectivity 5. The fact that entry into public school is selection by parental wealth 6 means you of course keep your kids away from chavvy poor people who make up the 93% of Brits that can’t afford it. You aren’t meant to say many of these things, but observation shows me that people become extremely tribal when it comes to their children – if I had them and I had earned enough I am sure I would send my children to public school too. Just whatever you do make sure you can keep doing it till they are 18 because if you suddenly can’t afford it and they are hoicked out of Eton to be sent to the local comp with all the rough sorts and chavs that make up the rest of the 93% of the population then Tarqin and Jemima are going to have a really, really hard time as the rough sorts take the piss. Not only will they get the detriment of a scummy State education like wot I had but their self esteem will take a bit of a hit.

    As a text-book example of why people send their children to public schools I offer Polly Toynbee, who is strongly for State education – but only for other people’s children. As the Independent says

    She is far from being the only prominent liberal journalist whose children are privately educated, but her head seems to be furthest above the parapet.

    Trouble is there is an opportunity cost, and if these kids are entering secondary school (at 11 in the UK I believe) let’s take a butcher’s hook at the costs. Apparently school fees are £14,000 a year, (update – from this comment it appears I screwed up here and the figure is double that – so double all the school figures from here) so that’s seven years at 14k, or 98,000, let’s call it £100k. There’s a lovely infographic on how much it costs to send your kid to public school on Nutmeg. Add onto that another 50k for university, which starts to look like a bargain. Trouble is, these kids are going to enter a world where humans need not apply. I know every parent thinks their little precious is a genius mathematician with great artistic talent and all round at the pinnacle of human existence, but after we’ve done the Lake Wobegon thing they are up against this

    There is an alternative – the money set into this, accumulated over time and assuming you put the same 14k a year into university (£9k fees, £5k maintenance NOTE TO NON-RICH PEOPLE – MASSIVE WEALTH WARNING for God’s sake don’t pay up front for university rather than a loan until you have read and digested this) then this would accumulate

    savings of school + university fees vs age of child

    savings of school + university fees vs age of child

    to £200,000 of capital. Enough to buy them a house outright in many parts of the UK and/or derive an income of about £5k p.a. Clearly they would have to go to school with the lowlifes that make up 93% of British schoolkids, and going to public school can buy you influence and all sorts of good stuff. But it’s certainly worth looking at the road not travelled, particularly if the child is likely to graduate into a world in 10 years time where humans will find it harder and harder to add value unless they are exceptional. MisterSquirrel has an interesting narrative of the last 30 years of the workplace and the direction isn’t good for the averagely talented. Getting on the side of Capital has much to be said for it…

    The IFS is behind the time with their focus on income

    FWIW the IFS informs me that I am abjectly poor, because it’s all about income. You have to search elsewhere to find out about capital – I got this chart from the government who got it from the IFS. Now unfortunately the IFS often talk about households whereas I always do this calculation as an individual, I believe ELSA is the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing so this assumption should apply to this. I was surprised to learn the the state pension is a capital wealth of 100k and have never factored this into my networth. Let’s just say that my position on this chart is not the same as the one on the where do you fit in site.

    wealth distribution in the UK

    wealth distribution in the UK

    Clearly as a retiree I need to be on the side of capital. But if the rich are feeling poor, then they need to stop spending so much on consumer shit and McMansions and start saving and get their asses on the side of Capital, and particularly if they are going to be realistic about their kids not being poor then it’s time to think outside the public school box. Instinctively they know this, because of the keening noise about inheritance tax and many articles about how to avoid it.

    I personally believe that people featherbedding their kids in the way they want to will lead to huge wealth discrepancies in Britain in a couple of generations particularly as the ability of earn and save capital from income falls for most people. By doing so you will advantage your children which is understandable but the societies they will grow up into will be violent, dog-eat-dog and the English revolution we never had may ensue. But I’m not going to fight that because I don’t have children so I am neither part of the problem nor the solution – I’d expect the revolution in about two generations of IHT being repealed, for which there is strong political pressure. Good luck all those future souls, and I hope the solution is peaceful and equitable.

    It’s worth noting from the school example that the rich poor can give a decent amount to their kids within the tax threshold – even one-year olds have a personal allowance so from a standing start you can give your child 7 £210,000 by the time they are 21, and probably more because of compounding and investment – 21 years is enough to see a good few business cycles. Of course, you also have to bring them up with enough nous not to blow it all as they come of age…

    Notes:

    1. for the record my Mum didn’t need to do this. But I think she did take me to see it as a nipper once when I said I didn’t believe it
    2. this is my guesstimate from observation of people who think they are rich. There is a seminal class sketch that satirises this. In the 1960s being rich didn’t automatically give you class in the UK, but I think it does now.
    3. I may be displaying my chavvy lack of savvy about public schools, because I’m not totally sure Jemima would be allowed into Eton. ‘Cos she’s a girl, bur fear not, we have public schools for girls, so it can be fixed. Whatever…
    4. you know, like how long you live, how warm you are, enough decent food. Humans are odd blighters, because being rich is not about having enough shit to live like a king of days gone by but all about being better than other people
    5. This only really works if you already have connections, so maybe a moot point for Mr 60k+ who doesn’t AFAIK
    6. I’ve never been able to work out if there is an intellectual ability entry standard, or if the smaller class sizes means that they can coach those that used to be called educationally subnormal in my schooldays
    7. It appears you need to take great care to avoid being taxed on the income if the capital comes from you. A junior ISA seems to be the way to go for up to £4k p.a. – I guess if you are saving the full £14k p.a. you can pay for advice in how to do it for greater sums. Laundering the money through grandparents and friends seems the obvious gonzo way to avoid the money coming from the parents but don’t blame me if that doesn’t work – DYOR :)
    16 Sep 2014, 11:18am
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  • Financial Independence is about more than money

    In Blighty there’s a raging debate about the subject of independence going on – Scottish independence that is. I’m not going to add to the verbiage about Scottish independence because this is a matter for the Scottish people themselves on Thursday, but I am struck by the paucity of the thinking of the No/Better together campaign.

    Independence is about self-determination, not about money. When I chose to shoot for financial independence, the reason for doing it wasn’t financial. In purely financial terms it was a disaster – dropping my income to a prospected 20% of the high-water mark 1

    The No campaign seems to have taken Bill Clinton’s adage that it’s the economy, stupid to the extreme, and focus on the alleged economic Götterdämmerung that will come to pass as a result of independence. Now there are inconsistencies in Salmond’s campaign 2 exactly what the point of independence is if Scotland continues to use the pound and retain the queen as a figurehead is hard for me to understand, but the No campaign seems to have missed the point entirely.

    It’s about more than money. It’s about time, and about self-determination

    Independence is about freedom of action and of self-determination. I was prepared to eat a 80% fall in income to win my freedom – to choose how I use my days. We often get too hung up on the how of financial independence because it is a big, challenging ask. Don’t get me wrong – if you want to get there, you need to understand the how, and some of the UK bloggers are doing a great job in doing what ERE did for the US scene with his book. Mistersquirrel has written an excellent condensed summary of how to achieve financial independence with his ebook, Monevator will set you right on the hows and whys of investing.

    The reason financial independence(FI) is a hard sell is because of the No campaign thinking – the focus is all on what you can’t do.The focus is clear and sharp, because money is measurable. The hours and years of your life aren’t so quantifiable, because unlike the Cyclops you don’t have a clear measure of the end-date. But as Gretchen Rubin highlighted 3, the days are long but the years are short.

    The Escape Artist does a good job of summarising the issues

    The flipside of this is that once you have met your reasonable financial needs, you owe it to yourself and to others to raise your sights and stop just focussing on money. In my time in the City, I used to meet plenty of people that (I’m guessing) had a net worth of £2m+, who were good at their jobs but would have been happier being a writer, tree surgeon or a school teacher. Why behave as if this one life we get is just a dress rehearsal? If you are one of those people and you carry on working in your all consuming City or Corporate job, then you are wasting your life.

    Now I didn’t work in his field, my networth is far less than £2m+, but I do have other advantages – not living in London, being a bit older for instance. So relatively I am in a similar position. And I didn’t get that wasting your life bit  – I assumed I’d carry on working to 60 (the normal retirement age at The Firm) because  er, well somewhere along the way between starting my first job and getting to my late 40s the clutch must have slipped in the why am I doing all this department. Now to be honest my job wasn’t all consuming for a long time and gave some intellectual challenge, it served me well up until the early 2000s, But then it started to go wrong, and demand too much for too little, in particular micromanagement and Digital Taylorism started to creep in and the erstwhile research facility was driven down the value chain into a jobbing shop.

    And although it took me far too long to jump to it, in the end I came to the conclusion I didn’t want to live like this, and I wanted out. That is the time when the how of financial independence matters, and I took the resources available to me and focused them with extreme prejudice on getting out. The Escape Artist was exactly right

    […and you carry on working…, then you are wasting your life.] This is more frequent than you might think. The most common motivation for this behaviour is fear – fear of change, (irrational) fear of poverty, fear of loss of status, fear of their spouse’s reaction etc. Its not enough just to make a life-changing amount of money, you still have to change your life. Don’t just load the gun, pull the trigger.

    It’s easy to get lost in the money side and paralysed by fear. It’s where the No campaign is going wrong, IMO. Independence is about more than money. Yes, having enough money is necessary, but sufficient. There are cultural differences in Scotland that have not been answered, and there is more of a feeling for the collective good. Because I personally am somewhere to the right of the Scots 4 I think they will be sorely disappointed in the promises of milk and honey offered by Salmond, but I have enough faith in their savvy that they probably suspect this too. The nation of Scotland has achieved far too much for far too long to be made up of people universally daft enough to believe him.

    It’s a perfectly reasonable call to accept some degree of economic poverty for greater freedom of action. In the big picture, it isn’t all the economy, stupid. Money is crystallised power, it is a claim on future human work or resources that displace the same. It is an enabling component of a life well lived, in the same way as your car needs four wheels to run, three won’t do. But five, six or three hundred aren’t needed. When success starts to look to you like a yacht then it may be worth asking yourself if you haven’t strayed onto the motorway to consumerism hell. In general, if success starts to look to you like Things and Wants then you may want to consider that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has at its pinnacle

    “morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts”

    Not so much Stuff in there, eh? I don’t know about morality and lack of prejudice, but I would go along with that getting better at being myself, expressing myself, and individuation are the primary wins of early retirement, and the main enabler is that I own my own time. It really doesn’t matter how rich your are or how many of your yachts are in the harbour if you are still owned by The Man and have to be somewhere and do something for a lot of your day to keep things that way. Obviously if you are truly of independent means then more is better, but there is a long sliding scale between the amount of your life that you give to The Man and the amount of wealth that you accumulate.

    I am poorer, but I have far more self-determination than when I was working

    Let me take an example. The Ermine household was out in Wales this last week – Mrs Ermine was attending a community-supported agriculture shindig, and I went along for the ride to go look at things like this

    prehistoric site in Wales

    easy to get to prehistoric site in Wales

    as well as searching for less easy to find sites, going round in circles because Cadw are poor at signage and rights of way are also poorly maintained in Wales I am a  crap hiker because I only do it to get to interesting stuff, rather than the the whole personal challenge/because it’s there thing. Cadw are erratic at signage and I did find one place where some toe-rag had extended his front lawn over the erstwhile footpath and removed all signage to the stone stile, but it’s still no excuse for wandering aimlessly on a rocky outcrop, and I could learn to get that right, and have learned that blaming others for stuff I could fix isn’t a way to long-term success. I am a unreconstructed map and handheld GPS 5 when it comes to hiking, but it struck me that what I want is a GPS that shows a moving OS map. It’s been a long time coming because of the technical challenges and ridiculous Gollum-esque licensing restrictions of the Ordnance Survey, but I can go out and buy such a thing now.

    Oy vey – £350. Now when I was working I would have dropped the £350 on this just like that. Because this was going to change my life and make it easier to find things in the open.

    Err, no. For starters, all but five weeks of my time was sold to The Man, and much interesting stuff like this is left lying around in places far away from people. It takes time and effort to get to. I now take some time in places, to look and to listen, be it some urban nexus or a prehistoric site or something else.

    A colleague at work did me a great favour in highlighting the contradictions and lack of intentional living of those expensive, fast and furious holidays while working. It was when he told me that his wife got on the internet as soon as they came back from their summer holiday to book the next year’s one. And I thought to myself  “I do not want to live in the future like that, flushing away 50 weeks of my time like that for two weeks of respite”

    I stopped going on holidays then, for three years, so that I could maximise my savings rate. Yes, I was living in the future for those three years. But my future is now. And I have far more freedom of action. If I wanted to I could spend more time looking at prehistoric stones, indeed I considered a period as a peripatetic photographer. You can never travel with anybody else if you want to make money take decent pictures outdoors, because you need to be out at the times of day when most people are eating or sleeping because the light is better then, rather than the harsh light of the middle of the day. It’s just too antisocial. I can consider that – because I own my own time, so it wouldn’t be robbed from our collective couple of weeks of freedom. Three or four weeks a year just wouldn’t cut it. But then I wouldn’t want to try and be creative or make the money because The Man would be paying to own the remaining time, and time away from The Man is more about recovery than about creativity, spontaneity, problem-solving 6.

    Consumerism attacks you at the third and fourth levels particularly

    In particular the need for respect… It’s all the buy this to make yourself look better, set you above the Jones, etc. The Joneses don’t give a shit about what you have, they are bothered about what they don’t have. They don’t respect the people that have what they don’t, indeed they hardly think about the people, it’s the stuff – it is the feeling of the missing eyes from their own peacock tail that exercises them. I know because I’ve been there – consumerism gets you to project part of your self image on stuff and lifestyles – can you even remember much about the beautiful people who were the clothes-horses for the lifestyle in the ads?

    If you want out of this rat race then refuse to run with rats. Focus on what you think about your stuff, not what other people do. If your stuff displeases you, then change it. If it serves you okay but isn’t the latest smartphone/gizmo/whatever then so what?

    Another thing that helps you with consumerism is that when you own your own time you can work out what you want of your stuff and how to use it right. F’rinstance, I discovered  that I could use the existing iPod I have with a CoPilot bluetooth GPS I got from ebay ages ago for a project, and then make it work with Viewranger which can download individual tiles of OS maps for a price. Smartphone aficionados will of course say they can do all this but one thing the last week did teach me is that mobile data coverage is non-existent in the parts of the UK where interesting stuff is often to be found – I had thought it would be a useful fallback data network for researching but it’s useless – run and gun WiFi is far more reliable because at least you know where to find it  at centre of habitation. With a bit of experimentation I can find out if a GPS showing OS maps is useful to me for about £20 using gear I already have. If it is I may consider the Garmin product – but I will do so knowing what questions to ask and how I use this in the field, rather than having to sport the £350 up-front just to find out if it works for me and take the risk of there being some subtle gotcha or yet another gadget that promises much but fails to deliver on the essentials – let’s hear it for the smart watch with less than 24 hours of battery life and which doesn’t tell the time at a glance as a case in point of getting the 20% gimmickry right and losing the 80% essentials.

    The Scottish referendum highlights that it isn’t all about the money, and it’s the same with financial independence.

    To paraphrase Bill Clinton, It’s the freedom, stupid. Financial independence isn’t a notch on the bedpost, it has no meaning in and of itself. Even in the midst of trying to find a way out, I understood this, because I was driven by wanting options, to win a way out from having other people be able to tell me what to do with my time. It’s important to first answer the question why, before addressing the how.

    Savings. Yes, there’s a lot to be said for them. Most people save in order to buy something. That’s good, particularly is the alternative is to use credit. Though the most common reason for saving, it isn’t the only one.

    I save to buy power and freedom – the freedom to walk tall […] – modern ads for savings accounts emphasise saving up for something like a house, or the advantageous interest rate. I have never seen a modern ad advocating saving to buy yourself independence of thought and action. Wage slavery is too ingrained in our culture, and we have surrendered to Illich’s modernized poverty.

    What’s your reason for wanting to be financially independent? After all, many, many people in Britain live happy and fulfilling lives enjoying the fruits of consumerism and living paycheque to paycheque, and good for them. I have no quarrel either with the YOLO set who ram themselves up the eyeballs in debt, as long as they don’t then turn round and demand I pay to bail them out without getting a slice of the YOLO fun ;) There are choices to be made in life, in general you can do anything you want 7 if you want it hard enough, but not everything you want.

    So it is for Scotland on Thursday. It is freedom to live in the way they want, albeit in probably straitened circumstances 8. It’s not about the money. It’s about freedom and self-determination. These are things that it’s sometime worth making sacrifices for.

    Notes:

    1. There are many, many distorting factors that make this a lowball estimate and it being less of a hit than the headline fall, but 80% was the drop I was prepared to eat
    2. Alex Salmond worked as an economist in MAFF in the late 1970s – I presume he is fully aware of the consequences of being in a currency area with a bunch of guys who are carrying on in a way so opposed to the way your area wants to live that you want to get shot of them, but if he has forgotten that, the Euro area is a good object lesson in why you don’t want to be the 60lb gorilla next to the 600lb one in a currency union
    3. warning – extremely cheesy child-centric crap, but says a truth all the same. You may or may not need a sick bucket and/or end up in hyperglycaemia shock due to the saccharine schmaltziness
    4. more from the point of view that “if you aren’t a socialist when you are young you have no heart and if you are when you are older you have no head” rather than a deep Ayn-Randian philosophy or being a dedicated follower of Hayek’s Austrian school
    5. with a mechanical compass to back it up, but I don’t normally use this
    6. Not everyone working for The Man needs the recovery time – I know a few people who choose to work some jobs that pay modestly but aren’t particularly consuming precisely to have a better lifestyle. They do enjoy their time off much better, and it’s a perfectly reasonable alternative the the financial independence/retire early approach, albeit with the inherent risks of depending on the availability of that type of job, which seems to be falling over time, or at least paying less well
    7. bearing in mind you are in a rich first-world economy, assuming you are of above average aptitude in something that can enhance the lives of your fellow men and that you are capable of understanding that your actions have consequences
    8. I don’t believe the milk and honey promises, though I don’t believe the hell on earth the No campaign are selling. And I find it more admirable when someone chooses freedom over the chimera of economic comfort through slavery anyway, it’s what this blog is about :)
    28 Aug 2014, 8:43pm
    personal finance
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  • Cash ISAs are king, it appears

    We have not just one but two bearish articles on the stock market now that the hacks have returned from their hols and decided everything looks less fun than on the beach.

    Maybe the teeming masses of our British ISA ‘investors’ are wise after all, as only one in ten of us 1 open a S&S ISA. The Torygraph asserts

    ‘Super Isa’ savers play safe by putting their money overwhelmingly into cash rather than investments in the first month of the new, enhanced tax-free plans

    Blimey, if that’s what they call safety, I’d hate to see what these guys think of a racy high-risk strategy. At least the writer got one thing right – you don’t invest in cash, because it always offends. The one good thing you know about cash is that it’s dying on you. I’ve will have lost about £10k to the depredations of interest-free cash 2 in my AVC fund by the time I get hold of it; fortunately I saved considerably more by not feeding it into the rapacious hands of the taxman so sometimes you have to eat the cost of doing business. In retrospect I should have left some of it in the market, but because I didn’t know when I’d need to draw it I left it in cash. And I’ve seen this safety at work, and t’aint pretty at the moment.

    The advantage of havign termites eat yoru cash is you can see the buggers and you know what the problem is. When the government does it who are you gonna call?

    Termites can also eat your cash, but the government can ruin its value without getting at it. They simply make a lot more of it.

    Not only that but I have a lot of cash outside pensions. That’s the trouble with having a low income – you need to hold a lot of cash 3. If you’re earning a decent wedge then if something goes wrong you slap it on the credit card, roll back your partying for a few months while you pay it off and that’s great. Whereas if you haven’t, you need to hold a lot of cash to cover emergencies. Or do without – Wonga is not an option because it never gets better if you have no income, something that an unfortunately large number of my fellow Britons haven’t jumped to yet.

    I have a cash ISA, from way back, in two halves – 2008/9 and 2009/10, when I thought I had very very few options and was going to be iced from The Firm in months, not three years. I’ve hung on to it because cash does give you some optionality, but I’ve never been tempted to add to it as an ISA, though I did take those nice guys at NS&I up when they were offering inflation-proofed cash. If they did that again to be honest I’d probably draw that cash ISA and whack it into NS&I. But they aren’t.

    Anyway, I’ve held this for five years, over which it’s fallen in value in real terms. Of course the nominal value hasn’t fallen, and indeed inched up, but it’s grim, and it ain’t going to get better. I retain this cash ISA purely for the tax-sheltered value – when I get control of my cash it’s going into my S&S ISA.

    Cash is king but has no earning potential

    Whereas my S&S ISA, which I have been feeding exclusively and to the max has increased by about 20% over the same time, relative to the total cost of purchase as of 2014 – not all of the money has been working for four years. Now there’s a very good argument to say this isn’t because shares are inherently better than cash over four years – over that period all you needed to make money in the stock market was to have a pulse, actually be in it, and not screw up. It’s been getting harder and harder to find much worth buying, and what with the relative strength lack of weakness of the pound, I have looked towards building out – in emerging markets, Asian smaller companies, Russia, and Africa. I could use some of the mayhem in the stock markets trumpeted by the Torygraph to get valuations down from the silly levels, particularly in the US.

    After leaving work and coming to the conclusion that my HYP will soon be able to make up the pension income I lose from leaving early 4 I started to look towards the longer term defence, and while emerging/frontier markets seem on sale this year it is a bit nutty to ignore the largest capitalist economy on earth. Although I couldn’t bring myself to buy the S&P itself at current valuations I managed to hold my nose long enough to diversify a shedload of The Firm’s Sharesave into Vanguard FTSE Developed World ex-U.K. Equity Index Fund which is more than half US. I was going to Bed and ISA that sucker but it’s had the temerity to appreciate by 12%, which puts the kybosh on that idea for this year as I’m capgain maxed. So the Coming Reckoning Of Doom will have a grain of silver lining amongst all the mayhem – it would let me Bed and ISA a whole load of stuff. It’s an ill wind, etc, and of course all the buying opportunities, yay ;)

    Maybe our cash ISA-niks are keeping their powder dry

    Beats the hell out of me what all the punters are doing with their cash ISAs. It’s not even like you can turn that much interest on cash for the tax difference to be worth the candle. Maybe they are mindful of the Torygraph’s second article and waiting for the Case-Shiller to drop back to historical averages. The trouble with that line is that it’s easy to say and hard to do. However, if the massed ranks of cash ISA savers are under the fond impression their money is safe, they need to think again. Knowing that you aren’t safe is better than believing you are, but discovering the power of inflation does destroy your money. You know that compound interest everybody goes on about? Inflation is it’s Mr Hyde – compound interest run by Bad Guys. Tax takes more than one form, and printing cash to devalue the debt takes most financial assets with it, as more and more money chases a finite supply of things of value. Most of the rise in stock market valuations isn’t real either, more money chasing the same or less Stuff. The advantage of the stock market is that the risk is printed on a sign above the door – “here be dragons, volatility and 50% swoons in a couple of days”. Whereas on a cash ISA it’s all marble hallways and apparent solidity, but in the night the termites unleashed by the Bank of England are in there, busily nibbing away and the value of your cash. The tax is the disappearing value, not the small part you pay to HMRC ;)

    There are some ways to greater safety than cash

    If our cash ISAniks really wanted more safety, they could do worse than ponder Harry Browne’s  Permanent Portfolio. (Permanent Portfolio at ERE) It’s one example of diversification across asset classes, wider than the usual trio of equities, bonds, and property/land. And cash has its place there. But you have to accept a lower return, because there are two passive non-income generating components in the mix, cash and gold. They are the sleeping King who will rise up when the Kingdom is in mortal peril – but obviously half your capital base is asleep in times of prosperity, and so far the prosperous times have been a larger proportion of the time than the recessions.

    The advantage of having a few year’s ISA behind me is that the decisions to be made each year form a smaller part of the whole picture. At the beginning, I was desperate for a sustainable income, and I was lucky to start from a bear market and one where income investing was particularly bombed and people could consider swapping income shares for income ITs on a discount. As time goes on preserving what I have becomes more important – and that means building a diversifying shell around the income core. I accept my yield will fall, and yields are generally falling at the moment. But there will come a time when things are different, and there will be a time to buy income again. Hopefully those ITs at a discount – I had only got started with one and was going to buy more but ran out of ISA space in 2009, there is unfinished business there. In the meantime, there is a time for everything – the various sectors fall in and out of favour over time. Buying into the ones in favour (right now US equities, UK residential property) doesn’t work for me. Some people make momentum investing work, but I’m not one of them. Buying sectors that are out of favour works for me, but it’s hard seeing things go down before they come good – I can get a feel for lows but not for market bottoms. Which is why I hate it when markets hit new highs – Mr Market want you to pay so much to get on the dancefloor, I want to sit those ones out :)

    the search for safety leads to danger

    Donald Rumsfeld had a point. It’s the unknown unknowns that are hazardous, but believing you have found safety leads you to have apparent knowns that are really unknowns.

    But one thing I know, from personal experience. A Cash ISA is not safe – over several years, never mind decades. Yes, the cash ISAniks will say – but the stock market can halve its value from one moth to the next. They’re right, but there’s a faintly discernible upward trend over the years, whereas cash has a downward trend that dares not speak its name 5. When I was at university in London many years ago, you could get a pint of beer for under a pound. Slowly and stealthily the value of that pound fell away.

    It doesn’t matter than 9 in 10 cats prefer the cash ISA door. Somebody should make a ‘here be dogs‘ sign for that door.

    Notes:

    1. I know they said ten to one which isn’t exactly the same thing
    2. great when you’re borrowing, sucks when you’re holding
    3. If you are going to retire early, before 55, then for God’s sake don’t pay off your mortgage if interest rates are low. They weren’t as low as now when I did that, so the folly wasn’t as clear.
    4. Once again I’m not claiming to be a fantastic investor with hot hands there – the ask is made a lot easier by the fact that my spend rate was so dramatically lower than projected I have been able to defer for a year, and indeed with Mr Osborne’s shenaigans will be able to defer for another year after that. In general, for civilian Sheep of Wall Street spending less trumps greater investing chops
    5. it’s called inflation, and NS&I were the last people to offer a believable hedge against inflation
    3 Jul 2014, 9:37am
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  • 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

    1407_apple-iphone-5s-queue

    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!

    Notes:

    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.

    Two years in – how’s that early retirement working out

    It’s soon coming up to two years since I checked out of the rat race, a good time to take stock and look at what I’ve learned. This is particularly long. I did think about breaking it over several posts, but what the hell, it is a long story. I’ve collected a few pointers to some things I’ve heard people being interested in over the years as a table of contents

    1. become an opportunist
    2. A lot of early retirement is about reducing living costs
    3. Retirement is a different phase of life. Making it like work without the work is not the only choice you can make
    4. Not having a regular income is scary
    5. what it feels like to live off ‘drawdown’
    6. The extra win a 40% tax payer gets from pension saving is much higher than that for a basic rate taxpayer
    7. Work and all that
    8. The distinction between work and not work is peculiar to the non financially independent
    9. Grow within yourself – or else
    10. The tl;dr summary

    Overview

    First off, I am not using any of my retirement savings – my pension remains deferred along with my linked AVC savings.What I am using now to live off is saved cash, though I also have income from ISA savings but these are reinvested. If I were to draw it now, my pension is notably above my annual running costs.

    Three things contributed to this –

    getting the mortgage monkey off my back

    Paying off my mortgage eliminated much of the static drain of housing from my finances.It was a long job paying down the debt over twenty years. It’s not always a wise thing to do for an early retiree – anybody who is retiring before they can access their pension savings may want to consider keeping their mortgage and saving into pension savings with the aim of paying off their mortgage with the pension commencement lump sum. I didn’t do that because I was reactive and fearful. It’s a mistake that’s fail-safe – I live off less at the moment but will have more later on. It so happens that I was able to save the maximum worth saving into my pension savings and pay down the mortgage, after which I tossed what would have gone into the mortgage into ISA savings because I also saved money by

    shooting the consumerism monkey

    Breaking the cycle of mindless consumerism has helped me no end. Initially I did it because I was desperate to win freedom from The Man and needed to save every pound I could. I’m not going to bullshit, the first six months are hard. I never borrowed to buy consumer crap, but I wasn’t above buying Stuff because I thought it would make me happy. Only after about a year did I come to the awful realisation that

    Stuff very rarely makes me happy

    Now the validity of this varies across one’s life-cycle. When starting out, and you have very little, of course Stuff makes you happy, from you first iPad/kettle/car/bed/chair whatever. It’s later on, particularly in the upgrade cycle where the wheels come off the whole spending money on Stuff thing. People started to realise this, so there are some classes of Stuff that are deliberately engineered to become worthless or hard to use over time – the way Apple manages IOS to depreciate their historic gear is a classic example. Other examples are cloud services. I am using a 10-year old copy of Quicken because it does what I want it to – the rental versions introduced after 2004 have become worthless in the meantime.

    I say very rarely because some Stuff does make me happy. The key to achieving a decent balance with consumerism is to know why you are buying something, and to evaluate its likely impact on your life without the spurious trappings of advertising. One of the simple rules to help with that is to wait 7 days before buying it – the initial sugar rush of ‘this will change my life’ decays over a couple of days, leaving me with a clearer head.

    Mr Money Mustache has an entertaining read on this topic, titled recovering from the Pack Rat years. I came to a very similar conclusion to him independently – all the way down to no longer having a broadcast-TV capable viewing system. The only area I disagree is that I have no smartphone, because a smartphone is an absolutely shit digital camera and equally crap audio recorder 1, and it seems I am more demanding of these functions than usual. However, all my camera and recording gear was bought before 2007 – I am still the limitation there. In the event that my skills and creativity become honed to get better results out of better gear and I can turn that into profit I will consider it.

    savouring the moment

    It took a long time to realise this, and it wasn’t the result of any conscious decision. Perhaps it’s the result of having more time – when I was working I was always chasing after being somewhere else, in space or in time. I don’t know why, maybe it’s the ‘anywhere but here’ of a drone, I spent too much life energy wanting what I didn’t have rather than wanting what I did have. I need time to appreciate what I do have, and maybe it was time I didn’t have before I retired.

    There’s a corollary to this, which is

    become an opportunist as a retiree. It’s cheaper, and more fun

    Many of the costs associated with life are to do with controlling your world. As a wage-slave you must control your world to fit in with the strictures of your job. You have to make sure you are somewhere for specific times. Even if you are a freelancer you have to work a certain amount of the time unless you are financially independent. You have to arrange a lot of things to be just so, you have to take your holidays within so many days, often people have to match their availability with the requirements of other people’s jobs and childcare etc.

    All of this takes optionality out of your life so you need to control your non-work life to fit in, and control costs money. If you have to be at work you have to pay someone to look after your children in the day. You have to pay commuting costs. And so on.

    It takes a long time to realise that there are other ways of living, that are far less structured if you let go of the inner control freak that had to fit in with work. Roll with opportunities.

    A lot of early retirement is about reducing living costs

    As we go through the many decades of a working life, we tend to see some lifestyle creep. We are social animals, we spend money on things that other people do because no man is an island, entire of itself. Others may spend money on things that really matter to them, and often we end up apeing these or hankering after stuff because, well, if it’s valued by others it must be good.

    In the first couple of decades of working this social pressure is stronger – as time goes by there are more differences in the way people live their lives and this pressure is less. In my twenties most of my peers lived similar lives, often flatsharing or in digs. As time went on they paired up, then many had kids. The differences in living styles diverged more, and these divergences add up, reducing the social pressure. I should add that being childfree means I don’t know about child-related social pressure, though I suspect this is high. The way people work themselves up about schools indicates this child-related peer pressure is of a quite stupendous nature!

    The key to early retirement is to look at how you are living and to ask yourself how much of this spending matters to me or people dear to me, how much does it enhance my quality of life? Then stick with that, and start to eliminate the rest, and simplify things. Complexity begets cost and dependencies. And take a wider systems approach to your living – how far you are living from work, how big a house you have.

    For instance I took the shaft from housing early on, so I am in a lower grade of housing than most of my ex-colleagues. There is an indirect upside to that – my house is smaller than theirs, easier to heat, less to decorate and furnish, and less council tax to pay. Year on year on year, and that adds up over time. Some of this shows in the result – I discharged my mortgage in 20 years despite buying at a stupid time, taking a hit on a relationship breakup and buying with an endowment. My ex-colleagues often still had big mortgages on their big houses as they entered their 50s. Obviously I don’t get to spread myself out over such a wide area. Unlike them, housing is not the largest capital ‘asset’ I have.

    A lot of consumer complexity I seem to have avoided by a combination of luck and the fact there were fewer temptations in my formative years. ERE has a nice wiki article on this for people who want to design their lifestyle by intent rather than by happenstance. Like starting to save for retirement, ideally you try and design your life consciously by the end of your twenties, because a lot of big lifestyle costs start to get baked in to your life after that.

    You can reduce living costs further by ignoring differences that don’t really matter to you. MMM has a great rant on Cure Yourself of Tiny details Exaggeration Syndrome which saves me the bother of explaining that. It often staggers me, when talking to people who in theory would like to retire early how much they cling to things like being able to run new cars every three years and regular high-cost things like the fast and furious skiing holidays of the cubicle slave. As for golf – it seems designed to be the nemesis of economy, with high course fees, club fees and equipment costs plus the depredations of the 19th hole.

    Now if they have sat back and asked themselves does this really matter to them and the answer is yes, then of course that’s intentional living and to be saluted. But often if you scratch a little harder it is because they fear the loss of status. The obvious question is who are they living for, because the Joneses don’t really give a shit. But to ask it would be unkind – people can only shift their world-view at a certain speed, and it’s always better if that shift comes from within.

    Retirement is a different phase of life. Making it like work without the work is not the only choice you can make.

    Retirement is a different phase of life. The tradeoffs are dramatically different. If you want your retired life to look exactly like your working life but without the work, then fine, you gotta do what you gotta do, generally working to 65. You will be able to broadly maintain the same spending, provided you have paid down your house. But you owe it to yourself to at least challenge the assumption and examine alternatives. Many people at The Firm have this pathology – they’ve been there so long they struggle to imagine anything other than the same life they have, but without the work. Some indeed fear that subtracting work will subtract meaning from their lives. These types of people should never stop work – because Nature abhors a vacuum. It goes along with the general thread that flexibility and openness to new ways of doing things is important to retiring early successfully.

    Not having a regular income is scary

    Two years ago I went from being a wage-slave with a steady income to being some odd combination of drawdown retiree and investor, I’m not even an honest pensioner because I’m not drawing a pension. I am doing what any early (pre-55) retiree has to do for some of the time. It’s impossible to overstate how different that feels to having a regular income. People who have been self-employed or otherwise handle a variable income will find that transition easier, but I find it scary.

    The problem is that the job of squaring the financial circle is easy to define to a wage-slave. Keep at it, don’t do anything to lose your job without lining up another, and don’t spend more than you earn, with some notable exceptions (housing and education).  Summed up pithily by the distillation of my parents’ wisdom

    Don’t spend more than you earn, son

    The definition is easy, though the implementation isn’t. What you earn in a year is a number, written on your P60, and what you spend is a number too, in my case available from Quicken. Take one from the other, and Wilkins Micawber is your man

    Tools of a typical office-based trade

    checking in the tools of a typical office-based trade

    So the Ermine checks in his computer, phone and staff card and all of a sudden the inflow stops. Now I got a year’s salary as redundancy, so the intuitive answer to ‘how long to go before I have to draw my pension’ is one year, but all of a sudden everything gets more complex.

    For starters I had to toss a significant part of the redundancy into my pension AVCs to avoid paying tax on it. I also want to fill an ISA’s worth every year, so doing that for a couple of years means all of a sudden I am left with less than the minimum full-time wage for a couple of years. And at the moment I don’t use any of the income on my savings; the reason for that is that at the moment I cannot turn a useful return on cash savings so it makes sense to run my cash reserves down and reinvest the dividends from the ISA.

    Many aspects of finances are easier for a wage slave, with their steady flow of income. For instance I have to hold much higher cash reserves against the unexpected – fortunately this is held with NS&I so at least it doesn’t particularly depreciate over time. If you have a regular income you don’t need to do that, so simply need enough slack in the system to be able to cut back if something untoward happens like the roof leaking. You simply cut down your partying until you’ve paid the unexpected bills down. I have to hold the cash to address these hits up front.

    But the hardest part of having no annual income is that it’s hard to qualify what a sustainable annual spend would be. If  you ask Wilkins Micawber he’ll shoot back

    expenditure > income, result misery, wrong way, do not enter, turn back now, don’t go there bud

    I don’t have any of my retirement capital available to me, as I am deferring my pension to raise its annual value once paid. So my AVC savings are also quarantined by that. In one limiting case I am okay now – if I drew my pension now my spending is lower than the net amount, and that also excludes any value from my AVCs or existing share portfolio. The job of bridging this gap has also been made harder by some of the opportunities that the Chancellor has made – the greater flexibility of taking a DC pension pretty much mandates saving about a personal allowance-worth of DC pension because HMRC toss a fifth of it in the pot and the new increased ISA allowance needs filling up.

    Fortunately I have a shedload of The Firm’s shares purchased under Sharesave and Share Incentive Programme, all unwrapped. These can get sold over time and the proceeds bulk up the ISA. Once I get hold of the pension the I will have the AVC funds to shove into ISA savings over a few years. In the long run my ISA savings will be about half the capital value behind my pension which is RPI linked to a point. The ISAs  job is to fight inflation in the medium to long term.

    what it feels like to live off ‘drawdown’

    So I’m easy with the long term strategy. But obviously, I am running down the cash at the moment. And that’s not a good feeling. I fought against the depreciation of my net worth intially after I retired, before coming to the conclusion that wasn’t possible. At the moment it turns out that it was possible – this is a zero based networth chart, excluding the value of my house and any pension associated savings.

    Ermine instantaneous networth excl house and pension

    Ermine instantaneous networth excl house and pension

    It looks okay, but I’d also have to deflate this by inflation, two years of inflation roughly knocks 10% off the real value. I don’t have an excel version of this so I used the shear function in Photoshop to drop the right hand side by about 10% 2.

    inflation-adjusted version

    inflation-adjusted version – the original baseline is shown by the dates

    What is, however, happening is that the balance is shifting from cash to equities, which looks in Quicken like a madcap 20-something’s asset allocation. Although the equity allocation is getting on for three-quarters equities, this also explains the strange image of networth increasing while drawing down some of the capital. I need to remember the good men in white coats (hat tip to Monevator) who rock up just in the nick of time with their ‘this too will pass’ ring and remind me that this is illusory.

    Observe the increase, and increasing volatility with time. That, my friend, is what the stock market does to you. In exchange for a little bit of real return, it gives you a hellaciously rough ride with a massive noise signal to bamboozle any attempt at rational thought. Remember there isn’t any income in here 3, there is some spending, and the equity ratio is increasing. And stock markets have been on a tear for the last few years, only last year people were asking ‘I don’t know what the ‘king hell we’re doing up here mate‘. Twice

    Three-quarters of my current asset allocation is in equities, and in a bad year, equities can fall by 50%. In a different world it could look like this

    the retired in 2007-ish version

    the retired in 2007-ish version. Okay, falls happen more sharply than rises so it isn’t that realistic. There’s only so much you can do with Photoshop ;)

    This sort of roller-coaster ride is what awaits anyone with a DC pension who does not annuitise any part of their capital on retirement or shift to some safer asset class. In particular, the good people who the Pensions Minister exhorted to enter drawdown rather than go buy a Lamborghini are going to be facing this. Yes, they don’t end up getting a fixed crap income of 5% of their capital, non RPI linked. But they have to accept that bronco ride. And every time an IFA asks Joe Public about his risk profile the answer comes back that he hates risk. I am in the stratospheric nutcase end of the risk tolerance (because my risk tolerance is balanced by the bond-like nature of a final salary pension)

    An Ermine's risk profile

    An Ermine’s risk profile

    And I don’t like it. Am I drawing down at a sustainable rate? The 4% SWR is an article of faith, and that faith is easy to come by at the moment, as the good doc said. It was probably harder to find in 2009. If it mattered greatly, I’d have to ‘fess up that I have no idea to that sustainable question. However, since I have a pension that is greater than my rate of spend waiting, plus an AVC fund that is in cash and larger than my ISA I will probably get away with it.

    The takeaway is that living off a large equity based capital allocation feels like a very rough ride indeed, and let’s face it, I’ve only have the upside of that ride. For someone who has drawn a steady salary for 30 years, that is not a peaceful feeling. I have other options, and perhaps I am more fearful than others, but it would totally creep me out to rely on that 4. I don’t know what the answer to that is, but I am happy to say I don’t need to find out, because I will get some of that steady income back.

    I am probably underspending

    It’s not a common observation in the PF universe, but I am probably running below my financial capacity. I had expected to reach the zero cash line between a year and a year and a half out (that would have been end of 2013), and to be drawing my pension already or imminently. I am six months into extra time. The reason for the underspending is because I extrapolated from spending at work, and it was also cluttered a little bit by spending on establishing a business.

    Now if you’re going to err in retirement, err on the underspending side. However, da yoof is not totally wrong with YOLO and at some stage I need to review this. Even after two years, I am still in the recovery phase from a pretty rough experience of the last couple of years of work. So this spending pattern fits my needs at the moment.

    The extra win a 40% tax payer gets from pension saving is counterintuitively high, compared with the BRT win.

    We all know the pack drill. When you save £100, you put it somewhere and you can’t spend that £100. Easy – that’s pretty much how your ISA works, and almost all non-pension saving. The deal with pensions and taxation is different – you save some amount x and you don’t earn £100 net. The net effect is the same – you have £100 a month less to spend on beer/chocolate/paying off your mortgage.

    It’s very counterintuitive, but forego £100 of net income and you get to save £166 in a pension. That’s because the £100 has been taxed at 40%, ie your net £100 is 60% of the gross amount, so the taxman gives you back 40/60 ie 2/3 of the amount you have foregone. Everybody thinks oh it’s only 40%, but in truth of the amount you can forego it is 66% – for every £100 net you don’t earn, you save £166 in your pension, a 66% bump up compared to if you earn it and bung it in an ISA.

    Compare that with the basic rate taxpayer – they forego £100 and it’s made up to £125. Okay, it’s still a 25% boost but it’s nowhere near the boost the HR taxpayer gets. It was a little bit better at The Firm because they used salary sacrifice, so the BRT payer gets 32% (20% tax and 12% NI) so for every £100 he doesn’t earn he gets £47 added, which is nearly twice as much.

    I hit this hard, and I started investing in a Global:FTSE100 50:50 fund from March 2009 on, so I got a 20% uplift in my AVCs from the stock market and the depreciation of the pound. But even so, I look back at my AVC savings and wonder how the bloody hell did I manage to save a year and a half gross salary in pension AVCs in three years. And fill my ISA each year and save a third of a year’s gross from net savings into NS&I ILSCs. I still don’t really understand it, but that tax relief did a lot of the heavy lifting, and the stock market played its part too, in that lift from March 2009.

    This is why old gits at the end of their working lives can karate-chop the much vaunted magic of compound interest and bust its ass. They’re more likely to be higher rate taxpayers, they have more chance of having paid down their mortgage and they are a hell of a lot closer to getting the win so they are much more motivated because of the effect of hyperbolic discounting – loads of wedge in five years is a damn sight more interesting than loads of wedge in four decades. I saved a quarter of the total value of my work pension in the last three years, which is roughly an eighth of my time there.

    Work

    I retired early because I was stressed and became increasingly out of sync with the way work was being run. I am still recovering from that. It is only recently that I can reliably hear what is good in music, and there’s still a while to go before I will have recovered this to what I once had. In a myriad of small ways I am still reminded that I pushed my luck flying into the storm for three years, and indeed to carry on after I had been off sick. To a large extent the emotional centre shut down, and what was left was fearful; I retained most analytical capacity. Emotion gets a lot of flack in the PF world, and people draft long lists of ways it leads us astray. And yet it relates us to others of our kind, it gives us the hope to carry on against adversity.

    Emotion is the chief source of all becoming-conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and of apathy into movement without emotion.

    Carl Jung Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype (1938)

    The old boy had a point, try living with that function shattered – you attempt to strike lights and they sputter and flare out, never overcoming the steely greyness of undifferentiated days. The analytical capacity did refine my investing behaviour and this was easier with a spanner jammed into the works of some of the biases. But it’s no fun, because I would see how to do things but not why. Motivating yourself when you know how but not why is sheer effort of will, not inspiration.

     

    It’s also interesting that ERE observed

    On an anecdotal note, I vastly prefer less stress to the low level stress that is present in most modern life. The stress I feel now is the “original” stress of a boat about to crash. Not the continuous stress of not being able to meet deadline after deadline.

    Because the world of work changed slowly, I did not realise the low-level stress increasing at work with the gamification of the workplace. That sort of continuous stress is bad because the response of increased heart rate and adrenaline has nowhere to go, it doesn’t help. Whereas when some stupid twat got pissed up at lunchtime last year and came round a corner fishtailing on my side of the road then yes, that is stressful when you see a dark Jag incoming at 12 o’clock. But it did some good, because it did the time-dilation thing and I was able to see what was happening, brake and pull way into the side, turning a head-on crash into a glancing blow. That is one of the correct uses of stress, because it did some good in improving clarity of thought and reactions for a short while where it matters.

    ERE is much younger and fitter than I am, so if he noticed that it took a while to adapt  then it isn’t surprising that the results of the work stress is still washing out of my system. I crossed the finish line exhausted and no reserve capacity. I didn’t expect to be still recovering two years on and to still have significantly impaired capabilities but it is better to roll with it than fight it. It’s also a warning call for all those ‘one more year to comfort‘ merchants. You will almost always be financially better off working for another year. But you may be running out of other resources that occasionally matter more. And everybody is running out of time, 24 hours in every day.

    The two years since retiring has given me some space to see where the working world and I drifted apart. The obvious reason is a combination of the 2008/9 financial crisis and changes in the way The Firm was being run. The obvious reason is not always the whole reason.

    I’ve avoided the vexatious issue of making money myself, largely because I don’t want to enter the world of wage-slavery and I have no desire to fill in an income tax return for lousy itty-bitty amounts. However I haven’t avoided directed action of the sort that sometimes goes under the title of work, I’ve taken these to add value to other people’s projects. And I look at them, and I realise that there was one big thing that I missed where I was diverging from the world of work at The Firm.

    I am a generalist, and worse than that the sort that Firestarter identifies as both Renaissance Man and dilettante :) This runs terribly against the way work is going, which is specialising, knowing more and more about less and less. This applies particularly to IT, which was the way The Firm was going.

    As they drove their way down the value chain they became much more prescriptive in structures and methodology. As a research facility it was a very wide-ranging operation for much of my career but as this was moved to become an outsourcing jobbing shop it narrowed. Specialisation is an aspect of the IT contract world too, it would be unfair to blame The Firm purely for this. For illustration, as a generalist since retiring I have programmed in assembler, JAL, Python, Perl, PHP, C and VB. I code in whatever suits the application and the platform. Raspberry Pi? That’ll be Python then. Arduino – C, Pic microcontrollers? MPASM or JAL. The Firm was trying to make everybody code in Java, and only Java. I am dilettante in seven languages and not master of one ;) In my last project for the London 2012 project I also didn’t focus in IT – CATV was from legacy electronics and system design. Indeed, at work the one thing I didn’t do much of was Java, that policy was instigated just before I got onto the 2012 Olympics project…

    When I retired I had thought that if I were to sell time or skills for money it would be in the field of engineering. But it isn’t likely, because I am running against the tide with that generalisation.

    After leaving work I built wooden shelters and fixed tractors, I’ve designed an irrigation system (the design part is being able to operate through winter, it’s not just going down to B&Q and buying up a load of hozelock connectors). I’ve produced and edited video. I have electronics design facilities, but this is at a fairly modest level. I have produced some IoT environmental sensors and the like. But only as part of a system design to do something else. This may point the way in future - don’t do stuff, do capabilities and services. I’m not going to be hidebound about it – a lot of the problem with Stuff is regulation; small fry can get away with a lot and if you get bigger you can afford the overhead. No small business became a big one by following all the rules…

    Where I’ve actually made money, is photography and sound recording.  I’ve managed to work a little bit harder than my ISA, though these guys will pay me in dollars so I have to wait until the exchange rate is better. Unfortunately this is impaired because the stress nearly wiped out any creativity I had.

    But without this playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth (Carl Jung, the psychology of individuation)

    I actually see some of the recovery in the improved popularity and profitability of the photos I take…

    The fact that I can tell the agency to pay me when I’m good and ready means I am safe from the Internet Retirement Police – I haven’t done that for the money and it forms no part of my financial planning. But even as a cold-turkey retiree I haven’t totally avoided the four-letter w word. But I didn’t seek it out, indeed the problem I have with work is the whole bad power play of it. Perhaps I will have to reconsider this and view that I have achieved manumission through financial independence as opposed to retiring. It’s not really catchy though, is it?

    The thing that runs through these things is that there isn’t any single thread running through them, and if there is something running through them then it was only incidentally engineering, indeed much of it wasn’t even left-brain stuff.

    Google will save serious office space when they get to this stage

    Google will save serious office space when they get to this stage, though they’ll need to improve connectivity

    I am probably unemployable now because of this hopeless sprawling generalisation, it’s just not what the modern workplace wants. The reason for this is the concentration of power to capital and the improved communications. Companies can concentrate the work to hyper-specialists, the distribute the results to the proletariat virtually cost-free. Look at the setup at Google. These will eventually become brains in a jar with multiple redundant high capacity optical fibre data connections. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet with Google Glass. Google employees can’t cook for themselves or do their own washing, which is why Mama Google sees to it to fix their household requirements. Free food, free laundry, free haircuts. free cars. If you want to see where white collar work is going, look at the leading edge – it’ll be most places in 10-20 years. Hyper specialisation has a dark side. I am nowhere near bright enough to work for Google. Nor are many of my fellow Britons. Specialisation is where it’s at, but it will need fewer and fewer people and require more and more of those it does need.

    Generalists work well in a small scale – there are often opportunities to use knowledge across unrelated fields in small-company operations. They are more flexible, there isn’t a structure of existing practice to adapt, and they can get away with short-term fixes for temporary requirements as long as they trust their generalists of they have seen enough track record. But I have no desire to work full-time as a general fixer. The 21st century technical workplace is no place for a generalist Ermine, because of this culture shift towards specialisation and narrow but deep skillsets. But then that’s the whole point of becoming financially independent. I don’t have to give a damn.

    The distinction between work and not work is peculiar to the financially dependent

    because you’re financially dependent (usually on a job). So you have to do what The Man tells you, and that division is clear-cut and non-negotiable. Contractors and the self-employed soften this distinction a bit. It seems to easily end up with work taking over their life, however, because work is still not elective, it is when they work that is more elective than someone working for The Man. Not that they work.

    Philip Greenspun posted an interesting article on early retirement way back in 2006. I used to read his site as photo.net just before the the turn of the Millennium, the empty dreams of a cubicle slave dreaming of making shitloads of money on the stock market from the dotcom boom and then making pin money shooting picture and travelling, those heady days when Momentum was King.  And that’s when I really enjoyed work. Anyway, I came across his article, and the comments as he was seeking feedback on the article. Although I’m normally of the opinion comparisons are vexatious, part of the insight from the article does come from the differences and the similarities between two different journeys.

    I’m nowhere near as rich as Greenspun and I earned less. There’s at least one order of magnitude in it, probably two, possibly more. This is not something that particularly bothers me, I don’t have the desire for flying. However, I can see it gives you more options in the US, where distances are much greater and people disperse over a wider area; Greenspuns college pals are more important to him (Even for couples/people with kids they get a little more important to people after most have gone through the baby/children tunnel of 30s to early 50s)

    He is/was single and is about 10 years younger than me. He had to take special measures to address the social life issues that I just don’t have – he’s clearly given it some thought and does it well. He’s more outgoing that I am. In particular his angle on that being single has a very strong effect on where you choose to retire to have a decent chance of stimulating human interaction is quite an eye-opener. I didn’t appreciate there was this difference, but what he says makes sense. A single early retiree (~40) probably does need more money than someone who has a partner. However, since the single fellow probably doesn’t have kids he probably does have more money, so there’s some auto-compensation.

    Time management (pinched directly from Greenspun)

    How much work does the average college student get done? Almost none. Yet the same person, injected into a corporate bureaucracy, becomes a reasonably effective worker. Why? Most people have terrible time management skills. This limitation is of no consequence in public school. The school tells you where to sit and what to do and when, at least for six hours per day. This limitation is of no consequence at most jobs. The employer tells the workers where to sit and what to do and when, at least for eight hours per day.

    If you’re retired, however, nobody tells you how to organize your life. If you have goals that you’d like to accomplish and your time management skills are poor, you might end up disappointed in yourself.

    Now an ermine isn’t an enormous fan of the self-help industry, though I’m happy to accept it helps a lot of people and occasionally indulge. There’s a very heavy thread of self-discipline and virtual Calvinism in the personal-finance world, but it is nothing to the apotheosis achieved by some of the American writers – Steve Pavlina is over 1000 times more effective than I could ever be, and it’s not like I disagree with the efficacy of what he says. But to me seems me as a joyless way of living – life needs dynamic contrast and empty spaces for reflection and understanding. I didn’t stop work to reproduce the problem again in a different place. Each to their own.

    However, Greenspun has a point. I found it helpful to take the time out in the morning to centre and actually write down what I wanted to achieve that day. The idea is roughly pinched from a book The Artist’s Way at Work, which I bought way back as a cubicle slave looking for a way out. It didn’t work for me, I produced trash because I was trying to make money which shuts down the playful creative side. Presumably people who work in the creative arts don’t have this problem, or the fact they start off with a damn sight more talent makes up for it. It was in the box of to get rid of books until I read How to get Unstuck, and figured I should reread it from a point other than desperation.

    That rough orientation is generally enough for me. though I have used the basic tools of project management for longer projects, such as the open source Gantt Project, and of course Excel has its place in the finance area. It’s not mandatory to leave all the useful tools untouched when you stop work.

    Work, cold turkey, rentierism, aristocracy and the Ermine

    I went cold turkey, or so I thought, because the word work became associated with a traumatic experience. This made the transition easier. And unwittingly, I overlooked some of the positive aspects of making stuff happen in the world for pecuniary reward, because it was associated with having to suck up to stupid crap. The two aren’t inherently linked, provided you don’t need the money. The money has some value – it is an estimation and recognition of exchanged worth.

    And I’m left with a load of inconsistencies and conflicting attitudes because I have simply buried this subject and left it, so it is still linked with outdated psychological forms. To live intentionally I need to dig this out, untangle the knots and live my values.

    The trouble is I have spent 30 years being motivated to work for money because Bad Shit would happen if I didn’t. That’s a terrible way to motivate anybody – it’s the Bad Shit that puts the slave into cubicle slave 5.

    for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone

    Thoreau, Walden, delivering a message for the 1% that they will not hear

    And now, curiously, I have the edge on a significant part of the 1% – who all earn far more than I did. But they spend more, whereas I am within spitting distance of becoming a rentier. Much of the secret, as Thoreau observed above, is to reduce spending. If that works for you, of course!

    So the whole reason I worked for money has gone. The empty space still speaks – I cannot relate to some of the ways the retired ‘work’. I don’t volunteer. I don’t understand it, and at some level I find the concept demeaning, of working for nothing . Maybe I am just a bad person, maybe I will chill on that in time, though I doubt it. There’s still the echo of work being a four-letter word, and ending up in a situation where other people tell me what to do still reminds me of that fateful February day in 2009 in a one to one where I realised that the Ermine was out of luck, out of time and out of options but needed to suck it up for long enough to buy freedom.  I have added value to other people’s projects without being paid, because of this

    Still, it’s hard to suddenly turn off an educated brain.

    Gail Buckner, Fox Business

    What I really want to avoid is an ongoing commitment. It’s far more satisfying to start in the morning, get some tools together and wrangle something into a more useful form and then get out.

    irrigation system under construction

    irrigation system under construction

    That favours Stuff and kind of runs counter to the Don’t. Do. Stuff  argument, but most of the objections are lifted when other people have the problem of buying the Stuff and storing it, and all I have to do is show up sometime and turn it into a working system.

    So there are loads of inconsistencies and conundrums in my approach to work. None of them are urgent, though resolving and drawing the sting from the psychological hangups is probably worth the investment of time. I want to live intentionally, and not shadowboxing the psychic wreckage of past injuries is part of that goal.

    Grow – or begin to die within

    You have more opportunity for self-development and individuation when you own your time, but you have to engage and work at it. Many people really hate that – they feel they are adults and have it all sorted, that was the whole point of the first 20 or 30 years of their life. Individuation involves being more reflective, writing about what you feel or even things like the Artist’s way journaling. There’s often not enough time to fit that sort of thing into a busy working life, so it easily gets put on hold. It takes time to unstick that.

    Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart … Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.

    Carl Jung

    I’d really like to say I had done well there, but progress is slower than I had expected. I have started, and of course the process of individuation does not have an explicit end target. Journey, not a destination etc. There’s no point in wasting too much time trying to describe this because it’s very different for different people. Just remember that

    the day you stop growing is the day you start to die.

    William S Burroughs, Junky

    Observation shows that one of the big ways people go wrong when they retire is they stop growing, because most of their challenge was at work. Too much TV and too little curiosity kills the cat…

    Luck plays a big part in the story

    More than I had realised, and while it’s easy to point at the things that went wrong far more went right. I had rotten luck in two big areas at the beginning and at the end of my career – I bought a house at a terrible time, and I lost the last eight years of earnings by retiring early. I’ve had good luck in other areas – joining a final salary pension and getting nearly 24 years out of the design 30 in it is a large stroke of luck as is never losing a job since getting my first one 6. And if I was going to bail out 8 years early, then being a higher-rate taxpayer and recognising the open goal of the stock market next to me and taking the opportunity was another piece of luck – if I started now my ISA and my AVC savings would both be a lot lower after five years, assuming we aren’t about to enter the mother of all bull markets ;)

    The tl;dr version

    Looking back after two years I have spent about half of what I expected, and largely got away with retiring early. I am still not drawing on my retirement savings. I have a decent measure of what running costs are in retirement, I am probably underspending and have space to adjust upwards. Cutting costs helps greatly – it helped me save more when working and reduces the drawdown when retired.

    I have learned that being a generalist is also very bad for the way work is going, particularly in big firms. And the recovery from getting knocked out of the workplace by stress has progressed but by no means finished – even after two years.

    Retiring early is good  -I can allow the generalised interests that were becoming toxic in the workplace free rein, and they help me live cheaper than would otherwise be the case because of the various reasons skecthed out by ERE

    Flexibility and openness to new ways of doing things seems key to retiring early successfully.

    Notes:

    1. a smartphone has no optical zoom, and is preset for a good first-person shot of a human-sized object about 2-5m away. Which is what most people want and makes great Facebook posts. Audio recording seems to be stuck in mono and doesn’t take external microphones. Again, great for facebook video. To make a smartphone into a good camera or audio recorder, you end up with a great big smartphone which is stupid as a smartphone
    2. which is obviously a linear interpolation of an exponential function, but it’s okay with such a short period and relatively modest inflation
    3. this isn’t strictly true, as the HYP ISA pays a shade under 5% dividend and there is some unknown amount of capital appreciation too. But I don’t spend this
    4. This is a peculiarity of the short timescale of my DC savings of less than a business cycle. If my savings were the result of a typical DC pension this concern would be softened because I would have entered the market over many decades, the 4-5% SWR would have greater validity because I would have a better idea of what the true value of my savings really was after saving across many business cycles
    5. I use the Americanism cubicle slave because it is common shorthand in the personal finance world. However, the enslavement is just as much for anyone who has to sell their time or skills for money to keep Bad Shit from happening in their life – whether they’re a office worker, a CEO, a coal miner or a Big Issue seller
    6. there is a year’s hole when I took time out to do an MSc but I was sharp and did that in an economic boom so it was easy to get a job afterwards
    30 May 2014, 3:18pm
    personal finance
    by

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  • Archives

  • Why Compound Interest won’t help you retire early

    I’m always the bad guy when it comes to the compound interest myth, but really, it’s not powerful enough to help you retire early. I’ve picked up the challenge, but the tl;dr reasons why are

    1. the real-inflation adjusted return on equities is too low and
    2. you don’t live long enough and
    3. you don’t work long enough (sort of related to #2)

    None of these are within your control.

    Wealth warning – nothing in this should be construed as saying that you don’t need to save into a pension in your 20s. All I am saying is one of the common stories about early pension savings is overrated to mythical extremes. Saving enough money to stop working is a tough job and takes the whole of your working life. The sooner you start, the sooner you can check out, provided you balance pension savings with the rest of the calls on your finances.

    What is compound interest?

    There’s a much more positive account of it not written by a cynical old git available here, but the definition is easy:

    Paddington Bear takes his money to the bank, and deposits a nice five pound note. A year later he gets £5.10. That’s because he gets paid interest on his money, of 2%p.a. Next year he gets 2% on £5.10. And so on until he is rich beyond his wildest dreams, apparently. The mathematically astute will observe that the future value of his investment is basically

    Present value × (1.02) ^years in the bank

    where ^ means raised to the power of. Now I’m going to cheat and raise Paddington’s interest rate to 5% for reasons that’ll be clearer later on.

     

    The Magic of Compound Interest

    The Magic of Compound Interest – 45x gains after 40 years, Whoopee-do

    And show you this chart. You will observe that if Paddington puts in £1 in 1974 and becomes a Retired Bear this year then he’ll get 45 times as much out. Fantastic. People use that sort of thing to give you bullshit like “when saving for 10 years is better than saving for 40” along with the obligatory wacky picture of Einstein, who is supposed to have said compounding is the eighth wonder of the world

    Fabulous story. But it’s fiction. I’m not contesting the maths – after 30 years as an engineer I’ve learned you don’t fight the laws of maths or physics. It’s incontrovertible that if Paddington got a real interest rate of 10% every year, his first year’s saving will punch 45 times the weight of his last year’s saving. Note this graph shows only what happens to the value of his first £1, not the cumulative value of his pension!

    That’s the story, but the devil is in the detail

    Detail #1: Whoa, boy, you said 5%!

    The sharp-eyed will, of course, spot that I said 5% at the start, in which case lower your gaze from the lofty value of 45 to the pedestrian boost of 7 times.

    That’s the first problem. As I described in an earlier rant on this topic, Warren Buffett, the most successful investor the world has ever known , has managed 13% annual return in real terms. So he’s doing better than 10%.

    You aren’t going to do that. You’ll get about 5% provided you can avoid screwing up, which is challenge enough in itself. Follow these ideas on passive investing and you stand a decent chance.

    That’s the trouble – to make the compound interest story interesting you have to sex it up with unrealistic values of return. And it’s gotta be the real rate of return, ie subtract the long-run rate of inflation from your nominal investment return as well as any fees. The FCA regulator doesn’t even allow people to use 10% for their optimistic projection rates for equity based pension investments. Repeat after me – you are not Warren Buffet.

    Detail #2: Most people earn more as they get older

    at least compared to the start. If they save as a percentage of salary they will save more as they get older. I deliberately selected a chart that made a dramatic entrance, because it’s all about that first £1. You save to a pension across your entire working life. A lot of the UK PF community seem to work in finance, where this may not hold because burnout is rife in that industry; it’s a young man’s game. But most people pick up some knowledge, skills and contacts so they can command a higher salary in their 30s and 40s than in their 20s. It’s much harder to save 10% of your salary when it’s £25,000 than when it’s £50,000, because the fixed costs of living are a larger proportion of your income. There are other pressures on people in their 20s that I didn’t have in my 20s, so it’s even harder, but even I found the cost of rent, house deposits and all that stuff hard in my 20s and early 30s

    Cumulative chart of all years contributions to total, zero real value career progression

    Cumulative chart of all years contributions to total, zero real value career progression

     

    cumulative total, 3 times career progression

    cumulative total, 3 times career progression

    These charts show you the total as a sum of all the contributions, growing. You can track how each of the contributions grew if you have the patience and clarity of eyesight. In the top one there is no career progression at all, in the second one over 40 years  the Ermine achieves a 3× real times value career progression (this happened to me over 30 years, which would make the later contributions even more equal with the early ones :) In the first chart £1 is contributed each and every year, and compounds at 5%. In the second chart I start off contributing £1 and then each year  it is increased by linearly interpolating to a final salary of 3× initial salary (ie adding £3)

    You can see in the first example the early contributions punch way over their weight, but in the second this effect is deflated by the increase in salary. The favouring of later contributions is in fact much heavier due to tax breaks  benefiting the better off more because –

    Detail #2a: It’s easier for the rich to save and they get more bang for their buck in a pension

    because they are saving 40% tax instead of 20% tax. So to save £100 in his pension a rich saver only needs to go without £60, whereas a basic rate taxpayer needs to reduce his post-tax income by £80. The fixed costs of living are usually still a lower proportion of income, so they get a win from that too

    Detail #3: Can you stick working for 40 years?

    Look around your office. How many 60-65-year olds are there?  If people start in your company at 25 then one in 8 should be old gits between 60 and 65. If there aren’t that many it says something about the likelihood of you working there that long. Now generalise that to your industry. Note how all the compound interest action happens at the end of the chart… 1

    I’m perfectly capable of engineering, still. It was the stupid gamification of the workplace and nutty management that I tired of and made me want out. Yes, maybe I was more mentally unstable or weaker than the average Brit. I don’t think it’s that huge – in my last year at work I had to rugby tackle one dude in the office who had just hurled a laptop computer at the wall, over a few colleagues’ heads because he was pissed off by something it was or wasn’t doing.

    I took his car keys, drove him home, stuck him in a chair and told him to get on the horn to his doctor. ASAP. The official story was that he tripped and dropped his laptop on the stairs. Mental health wasn’t good at The Firm. There are a few cracked paving slabs under some of the stairwells. You can’t open the windows in those stairwells any more…

    And it’s not good in a lot of places. We have people talking cock like this

    You need Emotional Resilience.

    For many people the workplace is becoming a worse experience. Some of the problems are fundamental. There is a power-shift from labour to capital which is particularly noticeable in developed economies because globalisation and improved communications dramatically increases the global workforce that can be brought to bear on solving business needs.

    So about that 40 years you need to work for compound interest to give you a leg-up, well, it’s time to roll out Clint again

    I didn’t bloody well make it to the modest normal retirement age of The Firm at 60. Will you? And I was lucky – after I got a job I never lost it 2  until I took voluntary redundancy at the end of my working life.

    Detail #4: if your workplace is no place for old men, compound interest ain’t going to help you much

    ‘Cos early retirees are drawing down their savings earlier, and so they have less time in pure accumulation mode

    Compound interest is oversold

    I’m not saying compound interest does diddly-squat for you – in that previous rant I came to the conclusion that it would give you about a 50%-100% uplift on what you pay in over a typical working life, less if you experienced career progression and saved more towards the end, more if you very given a pension at birth by your parents. But don’t get the impression it’s going to do a lot for you, and the Telegraph article was absolute bollocks – the 10 year saving beating out 40 years only applies at unrealistic rates of return.

    You can test this out yourself on Monevator’s Compound Interest calculator. An Ermine saving £100 a year for ten years at 5%p.a. gets £1500 at the end of that 10 years. The lazy tyke then sits back for the next 30, ending up with £6500 after 30 years of 5%. The Johnny-come-lately variant steadily saves £100 a year for 30 years and ends up with £7000. Who knows – the Johnny-come-lately variant might have put the £100 a year for ten years into a house deposit or starting a business, in which case it would benefit his finances in other ways. In my case the Johnny-come lately fellow earned twice to three times in real terms as the young pup, so he probably ended up with £14,000. The old boy was a 40% taxpayer too, so each £100 saved cost him £60 rather than £80. It’s just not a fair fight.

    become a long-lived vampire to get the magic of compound interest working for you

    become a long-lived vampire to get the magic of compound interest working for you

    You ain’t gonna get the rates of return that the Telegraph used, and unless you’re a vampire you ain’t getting to live long enough to have compound interest do the heavy lifting for you. If you get an employer match in your 20s that will probably do as much for your early contributions than compound interest will. The Telegraph had you working for 50 years FFS – life is much too short to donate 50 years of it the The Man. Life is not all about work. My earnings, for what it’s worth, although respectable and well above the UK average were low compared to what I’d estimate to be the majority of the UK PF community – I never earned anywhere near £100,000

    There’s a converse part of the story. If you are an old git in your late 40s and you suddenly find all four engines flame out in the second half of your career for some reason then compound interest does not mean you are doomed automatically. I saved a quarter of the HMRC nominal capital of my final salary pension in the last three years of working and filled ISAs and saved cash with NS&I. I was lucky enough to be standing next to an open goal in the form of the stock market when I started. And I was fortunate enough to have enough mental capacity left to seize the day.

    Compound interest will do something for you. But it won’t be earth-shattering, and it’s not worth flogging yourself into the ground in your 20s for. Try and take the employer match, because it’s rude to leave part of your salary behind. But before you believe the stories about the 25-35 making more difference than the 35-65 years do the maths. With realistic, not fictional values for the rate of return.

    Compound interest is particularly not going to help early retirees. I am a normal early retiree (less than 10 years to normal retirement age for my company). Very early retirement (40s) or extreme early retirement (30s) means your money only has 10-20 years to grow. Compound interest at 5% just ain’t gonna cut it, you’re own your own, which is why ERE’s logic ignores it totally.

     

    Notes:

    1. this is in fact a property of any autoscaled charts of that sort plotted on linear scales. If I were to extend it to a thousand years all the action would look like it happened at the end
    2. I did switch jobs a few times. But without gaps – when I left the BBC in London on Friday I came to Suffolk and started at The Firm on Monday
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