Walk Like a Man

By now, I hope you’ve all listened to, or intend to listen to, the Tim Ferriss podcast of an interview with our cult leader, Mr Money Moustache. You can tell (I thought) that common ground was sparse between them, as Ferriss has gone in writing about how early retirement would utterly bore him to death, but there were more than a few areas that they could agree upon.

If you’re a regular listener to this podcast (and can get past the first few minutes of annoying “infomercials”) you’ll know that Ferriss has a set list of questions that he likes to pose to most guests in order to stimulate some dialogue. One of the problems with this routine is that the guests now know the questions are coming and sometimes have pat answers prepared, or answers you suspect are somewhat less than genuine. Still, it’s better than “Loose Women” and generally speaking I like the approach.

One of the regular questions is “If you could erect a billboard for a month and write a message on it, what would it be?” and MMM’s answer struck a chord with me. He’d write “Just Walk”, which surprised me a bit because I’d have more expected “Just Bike” from him. But no, it was walking that triumphed for a variety of reasons that he and Ferriss went on to discuss.

I don’t want to regurgitate their praise for this simple activity but I agreed with just about all of it.I posted earlier this year about resolving to try and get a bit fitter but, in general, I can’t be arsed with serious exercise or the gym. I do enjoy walking, however, so about two weeks into January I resolved to try and hit a target of 10,000 steps a day on my Fitbit monitor. When you’re in an office almost five days a week, this takes a bit of effort – I know from experience that an average day, sitting at a desk, will result in me clocking up about 4,000 steps between breakfast and bed. Given I walk about 1,000 steps in ten minutes, I need to find an additional hour, most days, to achieve the target.

We all lead busy lives, or tell ourselves we do, but for me when it comes to exercise it’s just an eternal battle between discipline and distraction. I can find a hundred reasons not to exercise if I allow myself to, so I need to be firm with myself. I have to have a plan, or write a goal to commit to it. I can’t just vaguely tell myself I’ll get up half an hour early tomorrow and take a morning walk because, if I’m vague about it, I won’t.

And, in order to achieve my 10,000 steps, I do have to get up half an hour early and take a walk, because I’ve found with this base achieved then the rest of the day takes care of itself. Once I have the morning set done and dusted, I then tend to make sure I nip out for lunch and fit in a half hour or forty minutes at that point, and then, if necessary, pop out in the evening for a quick pint to the pub at the other end of the village to claim the rest. (No doubt this undos any calories burnt, but ye Gods, you have to live, don’t you?)

There’s other parts to the routine that I put in place to ensure that I get out the door in the morning. I have to have my gear ready and prepared for that 6am exit, including my iphone, headphones and downloaded podcasts preloaded in my jerkin pocket. If I have to end up looking for any of these items then it will throw me completely out of kilter. I also have an insulated mug sitting by the kettle so I can boil it up and then slurp a morning cuppa as I walk around the quiet village streets. Having an objective helps too, such as walking to a local shop (or BP petrol station for me) to buy a paper, a pint of milk or anything else that gives a “point” to the excursion. Actually, this really helped me at the start because I was quite self-conscious about aimlessly walking at that time of the morning. What did people think I was up to? A trainee Peeping Tom, clearly. I almost considered buying a dog.

In the same way they say “money goes to money” I’m finding “walking leads to walking”. It’s now my preferred way to go from A to B if it’s a feasible proposition. When I find myself frittering time away on an evening at a loose end, then I’ll don the headphones and head out for a stroll. I don’t mind what it’s like out, believing the Billy Connelly adage that there’s no wrong weather, just the wrong clothes.

There’s loads of side benefits too. I’m slowly losing weight despite sticking to three square meals a dayrest-hr. I’m sleeping like a log and the seeming lack of dreams probably signals that I’m not waking as often during the night. I’ve posted here the graph of my Fitbit’s tracking of my resting heart-rate since I began this campaign, an alleged indicator of improving fitness, although I was more interested to see the peaks inspired by Friday night visits to the pub (especially last Friday’s rather lengthy session!) You need a bit of excitement after all, and it’s the one downside of walking that I’ve discovered so far: my DOH tells me I’m turning into a walking bore.

 

Love in the Afternoon

Recently I’ve been thinking about addressing the “challenge” of retiring again. Reviewing my finances and my pensions – and, mostly, my health – I’m coming to the conclusion that it’s going to be daft to work full time beyond fifty five, largely because I believe that the ten years between fifty five and sixty five are going to be a lot, lot different, physically and mentally, from the ten years following on from that. And I don’t even want to think about the ten years following on from seventy five. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, and all that, so quit the job in eighteen months, that’s my current thinking.

Okay, sounds like a plan. Mind you, I had the plan to retire at fifty, did it, had a year out and then went back to work! It will need to be different this time around. My plan needs to be improved and the devil will be in the detail. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

I failed to prepare the last time I retired in that I’d absolutely no plan or structure to my days and repeatedly failed to apply myself to the task of creating such. I just took the days as they came and made it up as I went along. This wasn’t a good approach, something that I’m currently changing with regards to my health and fitness and wondering if I can apply a similar system to filling my retirement days.

In the year since I’ve returned to work I’ve put on almost a stone in weight. I’m sitting at a desk for most of the day and I’m massively less active (in lots of small ways) than I was when I was retired. It shows. A couple of weeks ago I decided to “grab hold of the wheel” and change my direction with regards to my diet which, I’d read, can be five times more effective in losing you weight than any exercise programme. This is, to an extent, the story of my life. If only I could avoid the beer, the biscuits, the butter and the bread then surely my pot belly would retreat under pressure? Probably, but how many times have I resolved to do that, and lasted all of two and a half weeks? What would be different this time?

It’s early days, but what I decided to do differently this time was to create an eating plan for each week and follow it.  I kind of know the “lean” meals I need to eat, so I sat down and wrote up a menu list for breakfast, lunch and dinner that I intended to follow. So far, I’m finding this approach to be surprisingly effective in a variety of ways. I know what I need to do, it’s written down, and I’m thereby finding it relatively easy to stick to. It’s the first time I’ve ever done this and, so far. it’s working.

This has made me think. Can I apply this approach to other areas of my life? I’d admit I’m a bit resistant to this, thinking that this is an overtly “anal” thing to do that really doesn’t suit my personality type. Maybe it would suit an accountant, but not a free wheeling lion tamer like myself. I don’t want to sit down and write a schedule for my evening that chunks my time into half hourly tasks and has me thinking “Oh, eight o’clock, time to put down this book I’m enjoying and go and listen to a podcast for half an hour as I have committed to do.”

When I was retired, I had a fairly well established morning routine, and I found it really enjoyable and easy to stick to. My evenings weren’t difficult to fill either. But the afternoons were often a yawning void that saw me at a complete loose end and frittering the time away, achieving nothing. My worst retirement hours were always between midday and five in the evening and the challenge of filling those hours was something I never really got to grips with. I did think about planning an afternoon schedule, but this felt like defeat. Surely the point of retirement was to have all the time in the world at your beck and call and not some slavish devotion to a timed list? If I was going to do some scheduled work, why not get paid for it?

Why not indeed? I blogged recently that my next goal at work was a four day week. That’d be good, but an even better solution would be to work in the afternoons only. I doubt my employer, or many other employers, would be up for that. So I’ll maybe need to construct a plan for myself, and find something that I’m happy to do in the afternoons that generates some pin money too. That’s something to work on.

 

Choose Life

I’ve been catching up on a website that heretofore I haven’t really bothered with much, that of The Mad Fientist. Not so much the site itself, which I’m sure hosts great content, but I’ve been visiting to download the back catalogue of podcasts available of The Fientist interviewing various “stars” of the FIRE fraternity. I’ve already listened to quite a few of these and enjoyed them all so far.

The other night as I walked back from the library in the rain, I was listening to an episode in which the interviewees are Mr and Mrs 1500 from the “1500 Days to Freedom” website. Liberally dosed with quantities of alcohol, the interview teeters on the verge of irritation, but just gets away with it due to the undoubted, and possibly unguarded, honesty of the participants. And, from my perspective, they were discussing a subject close to my heart and experience, namely the difficulty of giving up work when you actually quite enjoy it. How refreshing to hear Mrs 1500 unequivocally state, “Early retirement is such a stupid term”, as she went on to explain how, after eight years of being a mum, she was desperate to re-enter the workplace. Mr 1500, on the other hand, and to an extent the Mad Fientist himself, told of how they could barely imagine giving up their coding jobs which, they averred, they would do for free – never mind being highly paid to do it. “I just feel I’ve got hold of a winning lottery ticket that just keeps paying out”, said Mr Fientist. “Why would I walk away from that?” Mr 1500, who actually sounded to be a bit of a workaholic, was heavily in agreement and seriously doubted his ability to walk away from his work even when he was financially more than able to.

So, are we listening to the only three people in America who like their work? I doubt it. The same I feel can be said – but isn’t said too much – here in the UK. I haven’t come across many blogs on either side of the Atlantic extolling the virtues of the office. We’re all suspicious of anyone who goes on about how much they love going to work, unless the job is one of these “dream roles” that you see on the telly which make you ask yourself why, instead of accountancy, you didn’t train to be a microbiologist in the Bahamas?

The conversation then turned to what, I think, is a much more rewarding line of enquiry, that of Financial Independence. Now, try as I might to think about how I can rain on this parade, I find it difficult to see the downside in attaining this goal. For a start, it makes the workplace a choice. If you don’t really need the money, you don’t have to stick the job, and that might make all the difference to your mindset. To be fair, I haven’t found it to make all that much difference to mine, because some days work still feels like work and there are more complex attachments to a job than just the wage packet you receive for doing it. I would admit, however, that I have a sense of security at work that I don’t think was always there before. After all, “the worst” happened to me in terms of losing my previous job which, in the midst of it, left me feeling as if it was actually the best thing that had ever happened to my career – but largely only because the severance package I received brought my FI target over the line some years before I’d expected to hit it.

One of the other subjects that Mr 1500 touched on, that I also felt in agreement with, was the attraction and satisfaction to be had in choosing to live a frugal life. The small joys to be found in going without, of not accumulating stuff, of making and mending, of making cash work for you instead of the other way around. The feeling of being in control and refusing to go along with the social pressure of keeping up with the Jones’s. (Don’t get me wrong, I also think there’s a lot of positives to be found in competing with the Jones’s, just as long as the Jones’s don’t necessarily know about it!) It’s the lifestyle that I think attracts a lot of us to these sites, reading about the Millionaires Next Door who appreciate the abundance of the world we live in, but don’t gorge themselves upon it until they’re sick.

Once you reach your chosen level of Financial Independence you can choose to retire, or not. You can take a risk and try to change jobs completely, strike out on your own, do what you feel you want to do, even if that’s to stay at the job you’re doing. The goal of retiring early was a great motivator for me, but the reality of it wasn’t quite what I expected. Maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised, but hardly a day went by when I wasn’t working that I didn’t say a small prayer of thanks that, for me, finding a job wasn’t a financial necessity – and that’s the part of the FIRE equation that I’ll always feel there are just no downsides to.

Generation Rent

 

When I started this blog and was trying to think up a suitable clickbait title, I asked myself what subjects would middle-aged, middle class, middle British people be likely to be interested in? The trouble was I didn’t think that the title, “Sex, Health, Money, Property” had the same ring to it.

An Englishman’s home is his castle – although he’s also very interested in the slightly bigger castle just along the road. His wife, meanwhile, is interested in about ten other bigger castles in a better location than the current dump, which hasn’t even got a moat.  

I’m approaching the stage of life now where I take being classed “middle aged” as a compliment. Let’s face it, I’m heading toward the Third Age and finding I’m starting to think that, instead of needing a bigger house, more space and trying to get a foot on the next rung of the property ladder, I actually need to downsize and release some of the equity in the property.

Over the last year, my wife and I decided we’d start to look around at likely places we’d consider staying in for that “Third Age” and, somewhat to my surprise, met a number similarly aged couples doing what we were doing (it was the amount we met that was the surprise, not the fact that older middle aged couples would want to downsize their homes.). They too were selling up, releasing equity and moving on. But, what was almost more interesting, was the fact that many were selling up with nowhere to go. They intended to rent until they spotted that house of their retirement dreams and could bid for it as a cash buyer.

We were considering doing the same, because we knew from previous experience that the only thing that trumps a ridiculous over-bid on a property is a cash buyer who isn’t in a chain and can be pretty flexible on moving dates. It’s a big advantage when a desirable property pops up to not to have to say, “Oh, we’d need to sell our house first before we can buy yours”. When you’re the seller, this feels like you have two properties to sell before you can move on – theirs first, and then yours – but someone offering cash, well, it’s a done deal.

So selling and renting was our “secret strategy” that would enable us to grab that little rose-covered cottage when it came up. That’s a laugh. It began to look like we’d be up against at least half a dozen grey-haired cash buyers trying to do the same thing. So, yet again on the property front, the question of whoever had the biggest pockets would come into play.

Now I’m pondering two things (1) has this come about because there is a massive amount of rental property options out there in attractive locations which offer quite good value for money? And (2) if so, and if we find a place we like, why shouldn’t we just rent until it’s our time to move on to the Big House in the Sky?

I’m finding the latter idea growing on me. There’s a lot of advantages to renting. For a start, we’d have to jettison a lot of the sheer junk we’ve accumulated over the years (one of the things that puts me off selling the house is the thought of literally packing up.) The thought of “living light” with a lot less material possessions appeals to me. Then there’s the money freed up – I reckon selling our house will transform those bricks and mortar into a substantial wedge of wonga that I can invest. I mean, over the years, my investments have pretty consistently delivered a return of between 5% and 10%. If I could keep that up, I’d be generating an income that would more than cover any likely rental charges.

Selling up and renting also gives an element of flexibility – I often fantasise about heading to warmer climes for the winter. Santa Barbara, California, from about October through to March would be nice. It might also be a real option if I could trust and count on the investment income generated from the sale of my home. I could live six months abroad and not worry about my house going on fire, the pipes bursting and flooding the home, if squatters had moved in and so on.

We could live the next ten years like that, until we became bored with it (or became seriously worried about falling ill in America!) Then we could buy a property more appropriate for a couple heading into their seventies and beyond which, I feel, would look a lot different to any houses we’re currently considering buying.

When you start thinking about how many years you have left on the planet, never mind in a house, you inevitably have to think about eventually leaving all your possessions behind. Of course I’m talking about that other middle class property obsession, Inheritance. Well, let’s say my wife and I both live for another forty years (assuming we haven’t killed each other by that time.) My son will then be sixty two. I’m sure he’ll appreciate getting an old house at that point in his life as opposed to getting some of that inheritance now, just as he’s thinking of getting into the property market himself. Right. Surely, as a concerned parent surveying the current housing market from the perspective of a twenty year old wondering how on earth to save for a deposit, that’s a no brainer? I mean, I know I’m in a lucky position to be able to consider the options, but it’s a fact that many of us are, or will be in a similar position. Like old age, it’s a subject that needs thinking about.

Pondering these questions makes me think back to the title of my blog. When I think that I have to admit I’m no longer middle aged, maybe I should shuffle and change the title to reflect an older age priority of obsessions: Death, Property, Health, Money (and Sex, If You’re Lucky). What do you think?

Keeping It Up

I noticed a tweet from Mr Money Moustache the other week that an article about him that appeared in the New Yorker magazine was one of its “most read” in 2016. He couldn’t quite believe it, but was happy to shout about it with a #Humblebrag handle to show he was proud, if somewhat abashed (I think), with this success.

Good for him, though. He is the preeminent writer on FIRE in my opinion and must have inspired tens of thousands of people to think about the way they are living and to make changes to both their finances and lives, inspired by his example. He wasn’t my original inspiration, though. That was Jacob Fisker with his book and blog Early Retirement Extreme, which I somehow came across back in about 2010, giving me almost five years to think and plan on how to get out of the workplace a lot sooner than I’d ever previously considered.

Fisker’s book, to be fair, can be quite heavy going and almost preachy. You can tell – and he often lets you know – that he’s a pretty smart dude. So smart, in fact, that he clearly pined for more intellectual stimulation than his Early Retired life was giving him, and returned to work as a Quant in finance, or something equivalent.

I often feel I struggle to put into words exactly why I went back to work when I probably could have stayed retired. I often ask(ed) myself if I just didn’t have the imagination, motivation or smarts to keep myself occupied? So I take solace from the fact that Jacob returned to work after literally writing the book on Early Retirement. There’s something about paid work as an employee that offers something different to both self-employment and Financial Independence. One day I’m hoping to be able to begin to formulate an idea of what that might be!

If Fisker is the philosopher of FIRE, Mr Moustache is the populist preacher, but what they have in common, from a British perspective, is that their blogs are very American in both content and tone. I hankered after something that related more to my own situation and cultural background and soon found the Monevator and Simple Living in Suffolk sites which, in addition to some great content, seemed to have a much more “British” take on FIRE. (I’ve listed some of the others I regularly read on my Blogroll and Books page.)

It was through Monevator that I recently learned about the demise of my favourite UK forum on the Motley Fool UK website. This was like a blow to my heart, because it was The Fool’s original book The Motley Fool UK Investment Guide that inspired me to take control of my own finances and start investing. They taught me about Index Trackers and passive investing which, prior to that point, I’d never heard of. They wrote with such an easy style and “You can do this!” attitude that I was totally inspired to take their advice. The fact that I was latterly able to financially afford full retirement at the age of fifty, more than fifteen years after I’d picked up their book, I put totally down to the simple core advice they gave: invest regularly in tracker funds and let the markets and compound interest (and one or two other factors) do their work over time.

It seems I wasn’t the only one dismayed about the demise of the Fool’s forum because a couple of regular contributors immediately set up an alternative, The Lemon Fool. The boards there are already quite active, and I was pleased to see that one of the most popular threads on the Retirement Investing forum is about FIRE. As Mr Moustache found in the New Yorker, there is definitely a lot of interest in this subject out there.

It’s funny though – I can sit for hours browsing the Fool’s forums or the investment advice in Monevator, or tracking back through ERE and Mustachian posts, but when Ros Altman (ex Pensions Minister) tweets a link to yet another dreary, but no doubt important, article on pension issues, I quickly lose the will to live. I know that, at the moment, populism is getting a bad name, but it is the blogging “investment poplulists”, including some of my own favourites that I’ve mentioned here, that have had a big impact on my life. Here’s hoping that they continue to flourish.

Dreaming the Dream

I was listening to Radio 4 on a drive home the other day, to the somewhat mysteriously titled “You and Yours”, and an episode entitled “Dreaming the Dream in the Third Age”. Ostensibly this was about people who had made life changes for their retirement and how those changes had come about, but what piqued my interest was some research that was discussed about which type of people fared best in retirement. Basically, it boiled down to two simple things. The first was that if you tended to lead a full and vibrant life before your retirement, with plenty of varied interests and pastimes that lay outside of family and work, you were likely to continue with these and add more in. If you’d let work and family life dominate and take up the hours in your life, you’d find a pretty big hole to fill in retirement. Secondly, the more planning you did for retirement, and all the related aspects of it – social, financial, health, relationships etc. – the more likely you were to enjoy it.

I found myself nodding in much agreement to these points. My bout of “early retirement” was forced on me when I found myself out of work. As it turned out, I was almost fully prepared for this financially and totally unprepared for it on almost every other measure. Firstly, and I suspect I’m not alone in this, my life before retirement had been pretty much dominated by work and family. When I wasn’t with one, I was with the other. I did try and fit in some “me time” around this – I tried to play golf once a week and I made an effort to visit the pub with friends for a few hours early doors on a Friday evening – but other events tended to involve either work or the family. I’m not about to give myself a hard time over this because I think that this is normality for a majority of people and, if you’re lucky enough to have a family, it’s worth devoting as much time as you need to keeping it a happy, functioning unit.

On the other hand, I’ve found that it’s a real challenge not to think that everyone else has masses going on in their lives compared to your own rather boring and staid “work and family” existence. “Every man should have a hobby” said Rod Stewart as he headed off to work on his train set – or another blonde – and all I can say is that’s easy for him to say. If I’m critical of myself, in my almost thirty years of working, a hobby was the one thing I felt I didn’t develop. I suppose I could point to golf, or reading, or cooking, or keeping fit, but these aren’t hobbies in the true sense of the word, or how I imagine a hobby to be. A hobby should be, I think, an interest that sits outside of these more regular pastimes I’ve just mentioned. It should be something like repairing old watches, restoring a classic car, building replica furniture, refurbishing classic computers and so on.

When I had what turned out to be my year out, people often suggested that I should look into finding such an interest – as if I wasn’t wracking my own brain trying to do so! I dearly wanted to think of something I could “get into” and grew frustrated that I couldn’t.  It was almost as if everyone, including myself,  felt that all I needed to do was sit down, think hard, and suddenly I’d discover the thing that really interested me that had been eluding me during all these years I spent in work. Aha, photography! Aha, community theatre! Aha, crochet! Aha, ten pin bowling! Aha, gardening! But I found that it’s just not as simple as that. You can spend hours in the garden – and I did – and still hate as much as you did when you spent five minutes in it.

In the end, I went back to work to help fill the hours, once I finally admitted to myself that, in a way, work had been my hobby and I missed it. These days I don’t dream about full time retirement, I dream about working a four or a three day week. Or, even better, finding something that leaves my mornings free and gives me something constructive to do in the afternoons and early evenings. The next stage is for me to come up with a plan that will turn that dream into something more concrete. But I won’t kid myself, as I used to do in my previous working days, that this is going to be easy. It’s going to require some mental hard work, application and, above all, taking action against a plan (which is unfortunate because it’s the planning bit I think I like best!) But I think I can say that I know from experience how much of a challenge retirement can be if you haven’t a plan to fill the hours, while telling  yourself that you’ll have time to work on that when you get there. My advice – in line with “You and Yours” – is to start working on it long before then.

Paying for The Professionals

I generally try to avoid politics in this blog, but is it possible in Britain to talk about the NHS and private medicine without it being seen through a left or right wing prism? Years ago, in my twenties and at the start of my career, I caused a bit of a stir at work when I tried to find a way to opt out of BUPA when the company instituted it as part of our benefits package. Ah, the principles of youth! Suffice to say I didn’t follow it through, I stayed in the scheme, and had cause to thank my lucky stars I hadn’t opted out when I had to use the service a few years later. I still felt a bit guilty about it though, jumping queues because I was able to afford to.

I was lucky enough to have company funded private medicine for almost all of my working life, but it all stopped when I stopped working. I’ve seen and used the benefits of it, and it’s a pretty nice bonus when someone else is paying for the service for you and your family. Paying for it yourself though, that’s a different question, especially when there looks to be a free alternative that might be every bit as good.

Psychologically though, I wonder, because I did have to pay privately for dental root canal work last year, which cost the best part of a thousand quid. Previously I’d had this done on the NHS, but I still can’t shake the feeling – and it’s only a feeling, not a fact in any way shape or form – that the private dental treatment was, somehow, “better”. Perhaps this was to do with the peaceful ambience of the surgery compared to the busy chaos of my local dental practice. Perhaps it was because the dentist seemed nice and relaxed and took his time, ensuring I was always comfortable and informed about what he was doing. Perhaps it was because he used a lot nice shiny new equipment with laser beams and stuff. Perhaps, in other words, private dental treatment was a triumph of marketing over expertise?

Another instance where I think I paid over the odds for professional advice was when I retained an expensive lawyer over a potential dispute with a former employer. He charged me a small fortune and I didn’t learn much more than a good search of Google and forum advice wouldn’t have given me, but somehow I still think it was some of the best money I ever spent. Again though, the palatial offices, the lawyer’s fine suit, his good hair, his expensive watch, his Mont Blanc fountain pen, his erudite pontification on my situation (while the clock ran up the money), they all combined to give me the impression that this firm knew its stuff much better than anyone on the MSE forums. I followed his advice to the letter and felt it served me well.

Other financial bloggers have written about the glory that is Youtube videos which show you how to repair stuff. I’d admit they’re fantastic too and have saved me a pretty penny, but I look at the kitchen tap I fitted versus the ones properly fitted by professionals and I wonder when, not if, it’s going to start dripping? And is it on slightly squint? I just can’t say that my repairs give me the peace of mind that paying for a tradesman, with the experience and knowledge of his years, lends to his work.

I’ve never needed the services of a good accountant, but people tell me they can be worth their weight in gold. In fact, they tell me that even if I think I don’t need one it only shows how much I do, because I’m clearly ignorant of tax affairs. I must admit I’m kind of tempted by this advice because, no matter how much I Google, I can’t get my head around such simple tax subjects as ensuring you’re claiming back the right amount of higher rate tax relief on your pension. I have the gnawing doubt that a thousand pounds spent on a decent accountant might pay me back ten fold in years to come.

But, there’s one area where I think the fees will never justify the advice, and that’s when it comes to Fund Management. Give me low cost trackers every time. They can brand it all they want, elevate their star performers to the level of top footballers, write pages of high fallutin’ analysis in glossy reports and tell you “Here’s what you could have won”, if only you’d put your money with this financial genius. It’s all bollocks, and it’s one professional service that’s not going to get any of my hard earned cash, ever.

Who Moved My Cash?

When I was retired for a year, I was quite impressed by how little money I seemed to need to get by – enjoyably – on a week to week basis. My biggest expenditure seemed to be on coffees and cake, which I’d indulge in when I went to the gym, or when I met my DOH during her work break, or when I’d wandered into town to visit the library or on some sort of errand.

In many ways I now see my year out as “retired” was quite unusual and, I’m beginning to think, was certainly so when it came to money. I now think I was getting quite a kick out of actively avoiding unnecessary expenditure because, for me, it was quite a novel situation to be in. Why spend today what you can put off until tomorrow, or better still, put off indefinitely? I’d mentally scoff when many of my friends seemed to be continuing with their bad spending habits and congratulate myself that I had matured on from that childish “I want, I want” stage.  I mean, imagine spending sixty quid on a meal out for two! Imagine buying another set of new golf clubs when you’d bought one five years previously! Imagine buying a new winter coat when that one you’ve worn for the past two years is still in perfectly good nick! Imagine believing that you need to change your car every three years. And so on.

Before I found myself retired, I was never much of a spender and much more of a saver, but I enjoyed having the monthly salary dropping into the bank account giving me choice and relative flexibility when it came to money. Security too, as there wasn’t much I could imagine happening that I couldn’t take in my financial stride. Although I could still sometimes imagine money running through my hands like sand through an egg timer, I was topping up that top half of the egg timer every month with more sand. I didn’t take it for granted, but maybe I didn’t appreciate it as much as I might have either.

My year out, financially, didn’t do much to disillusion my notion that I didn’t need all that much to get by and that’s probably true, but ironically – or fortuitously – since I’ve returned to work I’ve begun to wonder if I was kidding myself? Because this year, so far, has turned out to be a bit of an “unplanned spend” nightmare. Last year, in retirement, I don’t remember spending too much on the house. So far this year alone I’ve needed a skylight window replaced; our garden furniture has literally fallen to bits; our central heating has broken down; our kitchen tap (a bloody expensive one, courtesy of the previous occupant) needs replaced; our shower leaked and needed a plumber to get to a leak behind the shower wall. This month our roof needs a major repair, our hoover has broken down and needs replaced (and no, Youtube couldn’t help for once).

Same can be said for cars – four tires so far this year, plus minor repairs.

Then there’s the social “special events” that, I reckon, have cost about a grand this year on presents, hotels, dinners and booze. Weddings, “21st’s”, fiftieths, Silver Weddings, Golden Weddings, this year has been the year for them.

And, coming to think of it, the year began with a round of dental treatment that I had to pay for because the NHS would have pulled the tooth instead of trying to save it. This cost the best part of a thousand pounds too which, as I write it, I can hardly believe. But the bank statements don’t lie.

The other day I had a go at calculating what I’ve spent over and above my monthly budget this year and took a sharp intake of breath when I realised that the figure was nearing ten grand! Unbelievable Jeff, but the devil is there in the detail on my financial spreadsheets. I began to wonder, however, if maybe this was a more normal situation than my retirement year when, it seemed, that I was able to stick pretty closely to my budget. Maybe I just had a lucky year out? Plus, prior to that point, I was fortunate enough to have a salary that took care of all eventualities without breaking sweat. Perhaps my “unplanned spend” in those days went by almost unnoticed?

When I was working, I was never much of a fan of having an “Emergency Fund” in cash that equated to about three month’s worth of salary, as many financial advisors would tell you that you should have. This year is teaching me that it’s not too bad an idea at all. Apart from anything else, it’s a psychological cushion because, in a way, you’ve planned to have that emergency cash available. My “Unplanned Spend” this year has had to come from my investments and I haven’t liked cashing them in to bridge the gap. It makes me feel like I’ve slipped up, miscalculated and got my sums wrong.

I’ve quite a few spreadsheets that try to calculate what income I’ll need when both my wife and I retire for good. None of them have previously included a line or amount for “Unplanned Spending”. They do now.

In Praise of Donald and Hillary

It’s the eve of the American election and never in history have two more disdained, disliked and dishonourable candidates been the choice that America has to make. Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again” is ironic in that really, when it comes to the Commander in Chief, in having to vote for either of these two you’re starting at Ground Zero. You can “Make America Great” by ensuring that it’s starting at the bottom in terms of Presidents. Whichever way it goes, it’s not going to be a happy outcome, with almost half the people in disgust at their fellow countrymen for voting for the alternative. It’s America’s own version of the Brexit referendum.

I like to tell myself I’m a passive investor, but I do keep half an eye on things that I believe might affect my portfolio. Back at the start of this year I decided it was time to sell up on both my American and European index funds on the basis that there was just too much uncertainty ahead in both markets. I’m of the firm belief these days that politics is an increasing sideshow to a rampant capitalism that just bullies its way on with things, ignoring political boundaries and exploiting the rule of (tax) law at every opportunity. To this end, I switched out of the index funds and into Global Dividend funds, telling myself that the vast majority of the big players in these investments were either American or European capitalist behemoths anyway. I’d still be heavily invested in both the European and American markets, just more biased into the bigger corporate players within them. Through these investments I have my money where my mouth is, except my mouth is usually mouthing off scornfully about how Google, Amazon, Starbucks and the rest are swerving their tax paying duty to society while governments seem powerless to stop them. Yes, I admit, even when it comes to me, money talks and bullshit walks (to quote the legendary Bobbi Fleckman), and it would be more accurate to state that I’m putting my money where my mouth isn’t.

One thing I will say about both Trump and Hillary is that they’re NOT really good adverts for retirement, but they’re both great adverts for pensioners. Both are nearing seventy and carry themselves as if they were forty years younger. They’re a fantastic poster boy and girl for the notion that an exciting and stimulating job keeps you energised, intellectually sharp (well….) and physically ahead of many, if not most of your peers. After my experience of “retirement” it was this stimulation that I missed most from work. The demand to perform to the best of your ability in order to meet challenges and opportunities that are externally imposed as opposed to internally invented are very different things. Both Donald and Hillary must be under tonnes of pressure and stress but it seems to me that, on the whole, they’re both loving the challenge. When people talk about the stress of the workplace there’s always a negative aspect to the debate, but there’s a positive side to it too. It was that side that I missed in my year out.

I watch both candidates performing and find myself divided between hoping that I’m still as engaged and switched on as I approach seventy, and hoping that I’ve actually settled myself better to the prospect of old age than these two! I heard that Hillary’s schedule yesterday was something like starting at seven in the morning campaigning in Florida before flying to a rally in Massachusetts, then onto another one in New Hampshire before heading down to Pennsylvania where she’d attend a Bruce Springsteen concert before heading to another midnight rally in some other state! I mean, really, wouldn’t she have preferred a night in with a cup of tea and a good book? Donald had a similar itinerary. It exhausted me just listening to it and hats off to both of them for keeping it up.

When we wake up tomorrow, one of these pensioners is going to be leader of the free world. I’ll be waking up and possibly reflecting on my little life and what choices I have ahead of me when I reach pensionable age. Both Hillary and Donald are demonstrating that retirement isn’t necessarily the best choice for your later years and I tip my hat to both of them for (if nothing else!) showing a positive side to pensionable age that isn’t often on display in our culture.

Just Giving

I was about to post this week on the subject of Mr Philip Green and pension fund deficits when my e-mail pinged that Mr Money Moustache had posted a new entry in his blog. I’ll admit I’ve not been reading MMM as much as I used to – and he doesn’t post as much as he used to either these days  – but I surfed over to see what he was on about.

I do assume that most people who read my blog have a familiarity with Mr Money Moustache as a guru of the FIRE movement, but this week he was focusing on giving money away as opposed to saving or investing it, and it’s quite a substantial amount of giveaway too. As part of his “abundance” philosophy, he’s giving 100k to various charities as a facet of trying to practice what he preaches. As a thinking “dude”, however, he has selected the most “effective” charities to receive a slice of his money (demonstrably, some charities are a LOT much more effective at spending the money than others).

Personally, I still think that I’d find giving this amount of money to charity as hard to do, even if my blog was coining in the $400k that MMM states that his is. I watched the Peter Singer video on TED that he’d posted and, I don’t know, I kind of thought I should have been more moved and motivated than I was at the end of it. I get the arguments, but somehow it leaves me a bit cold. I “understand” that the walking past a child dying in the street is no different, morally, from sitting here in the Costa Coffee shop where I’m writing this, knowing that 19,000 kids will die today around the world, albeit unseen and unheard of by me. I don’t like to think of myself as someone who couldn’t give a toss about this situation, but then again, what can I point to as evidence against it?

I’m a bit more affected by the Gates’ Foundation slogan that “All Lives Have Equal Value”, which pushes you to acknowledge that the fathers and mothers of those 19,000 kids will today feel the same grief over losing their child as those of us in the cushy West would if we lost ours. If I force myself to think about that, and the fact that I could do something to possibly alleviate some of that pain, shouldn’t I take some action?

I tell myself that I don’t give to Oxfam and the like because it’s hopeless or ineffective or because I suspect my cash will go to pay for their layers of white collar management. What’s the point of encouraging this, and what am I trying to prove anyway? I have my own financial commitments to my own family, surely that’s primary? I can’t “afford” to be charitable and anyway, I donate so much in tax I feel that my government should put their shoulder to the “international misery” wheel. I know this is a fairly ridiculous position that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, but generally I do believe that it’s the “root cause” of the misery that needs to be tackled, not the symptoms. The corrupt leaders, the squandering of the donations, the bandwagon of International Aid and so on. I might be right on this, but the same questions arise: if I think such things are an outrage and shouldn’t be going on, what am I doing to change any of it?

These are near philosophical questions, and they’re psychological questions too. I watch Peter Singer lecture us and wonder what he’s getting out of it? Is he just “holier than thou” on an epic scale? Why just he doesn’t get on with giving his money away, if that’s what he wants to do? Why broadcast it to the world? When he puts up the picture of a young, healthy man who has donated one of his kidneys so that he can save some lives, my first thought is that this young man just isn’t thinking straight. What point is this youth trying to make, and why? I find it difficult to take at face value as a selfless act of altruism. “My arse”, is my initial response to that, followed by, “He’s getting something out if it for himself”. I don’t know what that is, exactly (actually, I don’t even know if it’s true!) but I can’t help but ask the question. That’s the utter cynic in me, clearly, but I’m sorry, I can’t help that.

I posted a comment along these lines on the MMM site, where I concluded that perhaps the most important point of Mr Singer (and of MMM telling us about the cash he’s giving away) was that maybe it will inspire others to do likewise. I’m not about to immediately sit down and start writing cheques myself, but I’m going to read Singer’s book and try to give some thought as to what might “float my boat” in terms of helping others. It might come to nothing, but that’s okay, I’ll be no worse off than I am today if that’s the case. But maybe, if I find inspiration through putting some thought and action into the subject, some other less fortunate people might find themselves slightly better off as a result.

And what would be in it for me, I hear you ask? I’ve no idea, I suppose, unless and until I try it. Plus it may be more fulfilling than just ranting cynically into the blogosphere about “Sir” Philip Green.