My Retirement Week (3)

I was caught up in books this week which is always a good way of passing the hours. The main one I was reading was The Boys in the Boat, one of these occasional books about sport that turn out to be about so much more. This is about personal character, teamwork and the drive to achieve an ambition. But it’s also about the fall out from the United States depression, the portent of war in Europe, the rise of Hitler and Roosevelt’s “New Deal”. It becomes an analogy about a team, and a country, pulling together in tough times.  It’s been a great read.

Reading books means less time for other things. I always wish I could listen to more podcasts, and Kevin Kelly (author and journalist at Wired) posted his Top Fifty Factual Podcasts list via Twitter this week. It’s heavily biased toward the US, but good to see a couple of British ones in there. I can certainly attest for his top three picks, all of which I’ve listened to over the years, on and off. (If you are unaware of Kevin Kelly, I can thoroughly recommend his book, What Technology Wants, which I read last year.) I did manage to listen to a fascinating Radiolab podcast about surveillance techniques, Eye in the Sky, which I can recommend. I will set a goal to try and listen to a few of the others on his list.

Talking about books on technology, I found this interesting list via a podcast. In the interests of frugality, I’ve managed to reserve three of them via my local library.

As I perused my bank statements this week (almost a daily routine for me!) I noticed that my car insurance company had nipped in and direct debited an amount for the forthcoming year. Fair enough, I was dimly aware of this, but maybe an advance e-mail would have been nice? I was therefore interested to see this article posted in The Spectator, entitled The Car Insurance Industry is a Disgusting Racket. I bet almost everyone reading this has had a similar experience to that of the columnist. I know I have.

I see there was a kerfuffle about whether or not Germaine Greer was going to be allowed to speak at a University debate. As many of you will know, all of life is encapsulated in The Simpsons (Series 1-9 only!) so Germaine should take comfort from the fact that Lisa Simpson has been there and got the exclusion T Shirt.

I noticed that the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow visited my neighbourhood this week. Seemingly they discovered their “most valuable item” at the show. I’m not surprised, Harrogate is full of very quietly rich Yorkshire folk. It made me think of what I have in terms of “collectables” that could be a worthwhile “investment”. I didn’t have to think long: sod all.

Finally, in the week that saw Talk Talk give us all the shivers about web security and with both Amazon and Trip Advisor struggling with the problem of fake reviews, our regional paper highlighted a review written by a man about his stay in a local hotel:

“Everything about the hotel was great.
Except in the morning, I was unable to get access to the wife”.

The No. 1 Sign You Are About to be Fired

Just how hacked off at your job are you? I was idly surfing the web the other day when an item caught my eye, entitled “The Number One Sign You Are About to be Fired”. It tweaked my interest if only because, in retirement, “being fired” doesn’t actually apply to me. That’s a big change from the near thirty years of my previous working life. For most of those years, being fired was a risk you lived with.

The core of the article boiled down to this: if you hate your job, it will be noticed and inevitably management will take action. Making it obvious that you hate your job is the Number One reason people are fired. Which is no surprise when you think about it. The surprise – if it happens to you – is possibly that you weren’t concealing the hatred of your job too well!

When I left my job, I was in the fortunate situation that the severance was professionally handled. For a variety of reasons, it was clear to both my employer and myself that I’d come to the end of that particular career, and neither of us had further options we felt were worth discussing. Neither of us had done anything “wrong”, and so I was “looked after” with a fair settlement. I was a “good leaver”. The word “fired” didn’t come into it – it just lurked unsaid between the lines. Lucky me, I was treated well. Had I stayed longer, things might have turned out differently, because I was pretty fed up with the job and seemingly wasn’t disguising it too well.

Once I had left the role and the company, my friends from work whom I kept in touch with started telling me that it had become very obvious that I “wanted out”. I had been “switched off”, “demotivated”, “highly critical” and “in withdrawal” during the previous year of work. Reading my journal from that time, I have to hold my hands up. All true. Unfortunately, nobody was giving me that feedback when I was there! Okay, things turned out alright for me in the end, but losing your job isn’t a recommended course of action that I’d advocate for anyone. If you’re worried that you might be heading down this road in your career, it would be valuable to ask for some personal feedback from trusted friends and colleagues and think hard about what your options are.

One of the most appealing exit routes would be to try and engineer a departure from a company with some compensation – but you’ll be a highly skilled negotiator if you’re a thoroughly hacked-off employee trying to get out with a “package”. Try not to let things get to that stage. Can anything about your employment improve? Working part time? Moving to a different function? Reporting to someone else? What would make it better? Do you know? Have you really thought about it? Or are you stuck in a negative rut that only flags up everything you hate about the job? It’s an easy mindset to fall into and there will be no shortage of people happy to back up  and reinforce your discontent. Very few, if any, will ask you to question it.

There’s plenty of advice out there on the internet that will help you find strategies to move on from a job that’s getting you down. A good start would maybe be to consider the general advice given out by Sam at Financial Samurai who has thought a lot about the process (albeit from an American perspective). I didn’t guess what “The Number One Sign You Are About to be Fired” was, so I wrote this as it offered me an interesting insight from an employer’s perspective that might also benefit others. It strikes me that many people are drawn to the idea of FIRE perhaps because they’re unhappy with their current career. It could be deeper than that though. As ever, the answer to a lot of difficult questions can only be found through understanding what it is that’s really bothering you, as opposed to finding something or someone to blame. It’s worth doing the work before someone else decides for you.

The Four Hour Retirement

I’m quite a fan of Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Work Week and the producer of an excellent podcast that is always worth listening to. I recently came across a passage I’d clipped from his book voicing his opinion about “early retirement”:

Retirement as a goal or final redemption is flawed for at least three solid reasons:

  1. It is predicated on the assumption that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life. This is a nonstarter – nothing can justify that sacrifice.
  2. Most people will never be able to retire and maintain even a hotdogs-for-dinner standard of living. Even one million is chump change in a world where traditional retirement could span thirty years and inflation lowers your purchasing power 2-4% per year. The math doesn’t work.  The Golden Years become lower middle class life revisited. That’s a bittersweet ending.
  3. If the math does work, it means you are one ambitious, hardworking machine. If that’s the case, guess what? One week into retirement, you’ll be so damn bored you’ll want to stick bicycle spokes in your eyes.

Hmm. His starting point is a bit of a massive generalisation. Are most of us striving for early retirement because we want to exit jobs we hate? Possibly, but I don’t think that’s quite the reason. I’m sure some of us quite enjoy our jobs (I did) but still have the ambition to get out of it sooner rather than later. My experience is that a job, to a greater or lesser extent, robs you of your freedom of choice, and it’s that freedom that people want to regain. “Retirement” isn’t completely opting out of life, although Tim is trying his best to make it sound like that.

On (b), sorry Tim, you’re wrong on this one. The maths does work. You do need the income, the motivation and the determination to get there, but you CAN save the pot of money you want to fund the retirement lifestyle you want. And the “golden years” becoming “lower-middle class life revisited”, well, that’s a choice too, if you’re not careful.

On his third point, Tim admits he’s being disingenuous about the maths, but twists this round to say that the type of people who can earn and save a self-funding retirement income are exactly the type of people who will not want to “retire”. They’ll be too restless, ambitious, goal driven and creative to sit still and vegetate, and inevitably they’ll return to work. The only question is what kind of work? Which is, of course, the point of his book – his “Four Hour Work Week” is the four hours of money-earning, “have to do”, perhaps traditionally defined, work that most of us commit forty hours a week to doing. If you can get this done as quickly as possible it will free time to allow you to do other stuff that you really enjoy.

It’s at this juncture that Tim Ferriss and, say, Mr Money Moustache, meet up and agree. Quite a few of the Early Retirement bloggers casually let slip that they haven’t completely forsaken the world of paid work. It seems to me that often the work they do could be donated freely, but generally they take the cash. Who knows, perhaps they give away the money they earn? The point is though, they take the pay as validation of the work done.

Although as a blogging community we’ve chosen “Financial Independence Retire Early” as our watchwords, I think that the “retirement” element isn’t what most other people probably think it is – loafing around, doing nothing and waiting for the Grim Reaper. The Early Retirement I think most of us are thinking about is from the traditional career and life cycle that Jacob Fisker calls “The Lock In”, where you spend all your time working for an organisation that pays you money with which you go and buy stuff that you don’t need and don’t have the time or energy to enjoy. So I agree with Tim Ferriss, generally, on his third point. It does strike me that The FIRE community are really not idle drifters or dreamers and are actually quite the reverse. They are objective led, target orientated, have a real sense of purpose and a determination to succeed.

Thus I do find myself thinking – sometimes – that it may well be that the people who do reach FIRE are the least qualified, in a psychological sense, to really be comfortable with it!

My Retirement Week (2)

Who’d have sex with a zombie? Only the French would consider it, and this week I was pleased to see the return of The Returned, a subtitled French drama series I watched last year. Although it’s about zombies, this is not The Walking Dead which I also watched. We’re now at Series 6 of this epic (?) and it’s coming extremely close to Jumping The Shark.

On BBC iplayer catch up I watched a recommended documentary on the secrets of Alex Ferguson’s leadership success, which left you in no doubt whatsoever that this success came from the fact that he was, always and without a doubt, Alex Ferguson.

When it comes to looking for stuff to read on financial matters, I pretty much rely on Monevator’s weekly round up of links. It’s always excellent. With regard to other business articles that I’ve found myself, in the week that Facebook insulted all of us by paying around four grand in tax I hope this opinion piece is accurate in predicting the first signs of its demise: Facebook is Big but Big Networks Can Fail.

On books, this week I’ve started to work through The Richard Burton Diaries, which is full of interesting gossip and tales of extraordinary drinking. “Yesterday I drank three bottles of vodka”, he writes. God knows how he held the pen. Sober, he has a good turn of phrase. “She is beautiful beyond the dreams of pornography”, he says of his young wife, Liz Taylor.

I did manage to follow a link from Weenie at Quietly Saving to the podcasts from Share Radio, and listened to the episode about how robots are taking over our jobs. Never mind that, have a read at this somewhat terrifying book, Our Final Invention, which sets out to show that it’s not our jobs that machines are after, it’s our very lives.

One of the blogs I regularly read is “Wheeling It‘, largely because of the fantastic photography of the USA that is a feature of almost every post. This past week has been a picture fest of Route 66 and Arizona’s Painted Desert. The previous week’s posts have seen the RV-ers  visit the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta, and that series is also well worth checking out. Hot dogs, jumping frogs and all that.

Where Hemingway Wrote First Drafts

Where Hemingway Wrote First Drafts

Finally, here’s one of my own photos from the USA, Sloppy Joe’s bar in Key West where Ernest Hemingway used to drink. Why? Because I noted a quote from the man himself to stick on my laptop and refer to when blogging.  Remember, said Hemingway, when writing, “The first draft of anything is shit”.

Fifty and Not Fecked

I had written a post I’d entitled “Fifty and Fecked”, about how it was hard getting back into employment once you’re into your fifth decade and find yourself out of work. It was a bit of a moan, so I’ve decided I’ll post it if and when I make a real effort – a real effort – to find myself a job. (And only then if I find it actually is quite difficult.)

Born to Run

Born to Run

Instead, I decided to summarise some points from an excellent essay from Garrison Keillor, entitled “Stop Complaining” from a book “50 Things to do When You Turn Fifty”, which is much more positive. Keillor (who’s actually in his Sixties) gives a Moustachian punch in the face to the elderly tendency to moan about almost everything, and recommends some alternative strategies which, I think, are good ones to remember. I also think they apply to almost anyone over twenty, not just those of us thinking about retirement.

  • Stop complaining about growing old. Nobody cares. Instead when people ask how you are, say “Absolutely great, Never better.”
  • Lose 20 pounds in weight. Eat one meal a day, two snacks. That’s all you need. Have one feast day a week when you eat what you like.
  • Give up TV and newspapers for six months or a year and sample an “unmediated life of direct experience”. You might like it.
  • Adopt a new dress style, but make it appropriate. No ponytails! Risk being a bit more conventional in a cool way. Stay trim, keep smart.
  • Put your past behind you and find something that will absorb you today. Your heart’s desire, not anyone else’s.
  • Start telling the truth. Say what you think. Express outrage if necessary. Don’t fear what the Big Cheeses in your life might think. You’re past that.
  • Express simple preferences. Don’t want to do dinner Saturday night with those moaners from across the street? Then don’t. Relax with a glass of wine and talk to your loved ones instead.
  • Talking of wine, try cutting out the booze for six months, if only to simplify things for a while.
  • Fifty is an excellent age for reform.

I really like the sentiments he expresses (apart from cutting out the booze!) Every now and then it’s a good idea for me to turn down the cynicism and sarcasm – much as I enjoy revelling in such an outlook – and turn my attention more to the positive things in life. Inevitably these are the simple things that generally cost little or no money. The moderate life. There’s a lot to be said for it.

My Retirement Week, October 16th 2015

“Aren’t you bored yet?” is a question I’m sometimes asked by people who know I’m in “Early Retirement”. Well, honestly, I have my moments, but by and large I am filling my time quite well. Here’s some of the things I’ve been doing, watching, listening to, reading, buying and generally passing the hours with this week.

As a blogger, I found this TED talk by Jon Ronson interesting and unsettling in equal measure. It’s about “online shaming”, but is also a big warning to watch what you post on social media.

I’m always interested in things I could maybe post about Death on this blog, and came across this rather touching podcast by Oliver Saks on Radiolab. There was some interesting songs featured during it, which led me to check out Ponyhof. Not too sure about what I found, to be fair, but maybe one or two tracks will go on my Sonos playlist for late night listening.

Poets are big on Death, and I watched the BBC documentary on Ted Hughes, which was just about worth the ninety minutes I spent on it. He could well be the poster boy for my blog, Sex, Health, Money and Death – with a particular emphasis on Sex and Death.

Book wise, this week I’m currently reading Paul Theroux’s latest travelogue. I’m a bit of a fan of this author and big fan of the American South too. I’m about halfway through and it’s….just okay. Which is slightly disappointing for me.

In terms of buying stuff, I splashed out this week on 50 aluminium cooking trays which, in my experience, are the best things to store all kinds of food in, largely in the freezer. If you batch cook, get these on your shopping list. I filled four of these trays with this recipe for Spanish Rice with Chicken and Chorizo which I tried in my pressure cooker.  Thanks to Thrifty Lesley for leading me to it via her Pinterest Board (and M at There’s Value for the link to Thrifty Lesley).

Out Liars

Anyone can do it. The American Dream. The glory of Britain’s new meritocracy. Isn’t it all true? One of the perils of reading the financial press, or exposing your brain to any of the mainstream media, is that you begin to believe the hype (and the misery, as The Escape Artist points out this week in his blog). When it comes to business, the message is that you too could become the next Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne, Michelle Mohan. You could build a business from scratch into a multi-million concern. They’ve done it, you could too. What’s stopping you?

The Barely Acceptable Face of Capitalism

The Barely Acceptable Face of Capitalism

I was recently flicking through the pages of Moneyweek when I saw a profile of “The Reluctant Barista Who Made a Million”, Sahar Hashemi, co founder of Coffee Republic. It wasn’t quite a “rags to riches” tale, signified by the fact that she attended City of London School for Girls, but I read on. Seemingly, she’d  had the idea for her coffee shop on returning  from a trip to New York (as you do) and was unable to source the skinny lattes she enjoyed so much in the Big Apple.

So she set up a coffee shop, and quickly opened more with the funding help of an “angel investor”. Seemingly the banks wouldn’t lend the money needed to fund the expansion. No wonder the banks passed on the opportunity. Coffee shops are notorious business quicksand for anyone trying to make a buck. Just take a quick look at any local businesses for sale in your area. The money you can make from even a relatively successful one isn’t good. The money you can make from fifteen, in London, in the right areas, well, that’s a different story.

So who was the “angel investor”, I wondered? I nipped onto Google to find out, largely because I was beginning to smell a rat. My friends run a coffee shop. It does okay, but it’s only borderline profitable and they work like demons to keep it going. Would an angel investor step in to help them with a £600,000 injection for expansion? My arse they would.

My quick Google search revealed nothing, so my suspicions heightened. Who did she know? An old school friend, perhaps? A friend of the family? A helpful business associate from mummy and daddy’s network? Where were the connections that brought about a 600k investment? In a coffee shop?

Sahar Hashemi is now an OBE and is held up as an example of British entrepreneurship. I don’t really want to knock what she has achieved because she’s clearly good at what she does. So are many of us though, but not all of us get the breaks. I hadn’t heard of her before I read this article, but I had heard of Alan Sugar, Duncan Bannatyne and Michelle Mohan, people who really did build businesses from nothing, with no connections other than to hard graft. Why have I heard of them and not Sahar Hashemi?  Perhaps it’s because these are the aspirational role models the media like us to focus on, to show us that “Anyone can do it” in modern Britain. Yes, true, in the same way that anyone can win the lottery. Mind you, if you can buy six hundred thousand tickets, instead of one, you have a better chance.

The media don’t want the masses to focus on the real back story to a lot of business success. Networking. Connections. The right schools. Who you know, rather than what you know. Why? Because many of the owners, proprietors and directors are from that background themselves. They’re happy to let one or two “normals” slip through the net to keep up the pretence that we’re a meritocracy, as long as the majority of the ranks of highly well paid executives are peopled by their own.

If you’re interested in looking further into this, try reading “The Establishment” by Owen Jones. No, I can’t be bothered with his left-wing posturing either, but his book gives you a glimpse into how the real world often works in Britain today.

The other big factors influencing success is being surrounded by some great people, being in the right place at the right time and having some lucky breaks. There are very few entrepreneurs, however, willing to champion these factors as explanations for their success. Generally, it’s all down to them. Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book exposing the fallacy of individual entrepreneurial flair, “Outliers“, which is great if only because ego-mad entrepreneurs hate its conclusions (for example, read Peter Thiel’s book “Zero to One”. It’s clear that Thiel hates to think his success as a Silicon Valley Billionaire can be down to anything other than his own greatness, and he takes a few paragraphs to have a proper go at Gladwell’s book.)

The more we question and poke what the media tells us about “business success” the better and more realistic we will become. “Anyone can do it”, maybe, but the more information you have about the real world and how it really works, the better chance you’ll have.

Death Tax

Let’s face it, we are going to die. And we are going to be taxed. Maybe both at the same time.

One of the great money hang-ups of the middle classes is fretting about inheritance tax. This is especially true in London and the South East where the average dog kennel is now worth in excess of a million quid. With the media unable to focus on life north of Watford, the TV and Press return to the subject again and again to highlight just how unfair and iniquitous this tax is.

Fair enough. I agree. It is unfair and it is iniquitous. It is also completely avoidable. How? Simple. By spending the cash while you’re still alive and not leaving any “inheritance” for your kids.

I can hear howls of protest already. How could I be so selfish as to even think such a thing? Surely everyone wants to be able to leave a legacy? Something our loved ones will remember and cherish us for? This is typical of our day and age materialist tosh. Where did we get the idea that all our children will have to thank us for after we kick the bucket is the big house that we’ve left them? Because for many of us it’s will be the house that is the inheritance “problem”.

One of the biggest hurdles we need to mentally cross about inheritance is our fixation with having our “own home”. This is where most of our cash is sitting and many of us intend to sit on this pile until literally the day we die. At that point, our (sixty year old) kids can have it, preferably tax free. This attitude is frankly mental. There is a shortage of good family homes, partly because they’re all occupied by one or two pensioners. The reality is that many of our kids would be better off in our house right now and we’d be better off in the small flat or home that they’re currently in, or are hoping to buy.

Many of us have some half-baked notion that we’d like to die in our own bed in our own home. It’s a nice dream, but it’s probably much more of a dream than a reality for a number of reasons.  And what is “our own home” anyway? Which one? I don’t know about you, but I’ve moved house about seven times. It’s no big deal and I don’t sit and pine for the days I lived in some previous dwelling. Home is where the heart is, maybe. Or maybe, more accurately, it’s merely where your arse is at a particular point in time.

Increasingly I think that my home-owning days are numbered and that the time is becoming ripe to think about renting. That way, I will have much more access to liquid funds. What could I do with that?

Well, one of the primary things I could do is start giving it away. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to start handing our stash over to our children sooner rather than later? I know that the amount you can gift someone tax free is “only” three grand a year, but if there are two of you and you give this over twenty, thirty or even forty years, that would add up, wouldn’t it? I think my son would appreciate six grand a year from us right now, when he is trying to get on his feet, as opposed to the potential of a much bigger sum at some point far in the future. At least, I hope it’s far in the future!

So let’s talk about Death for a minute. Most of we middle classes have absolutely no intention of dying before we’ve clocked up at least four score years and ten (technically 87 years, by the way). Which means our own kids will be well into their fifties before they sniff any cash from us.  Another middle class dream for many of us today is to retire financially independent in our fifties, or even sooner – why would we want any different for our children? We should be educating them to do exactly the same as ourselves and we should lead by example. If they succeed in this – and let’s hope they do – they won’t need to rely on any cash from us when we die. Especially if they’ve already received quite a lot of it over the years before we snuff it.

What about those who would receive the death benefits? Well, I would much rather see my parents really enjoying their retirement for themselves than going without just because they want to leave me “an inheritance”. They can’t take it with them, so they should spend it, mostly on themselves. Seeing them live in comfort, enjoyment and security is way ahead on my priority list for them. I’d hate to think they would do without, or worry about money, just so they could leave some cash for their kids to enjoy. My siblings feel the same way, regardless of their own financial position.

We spend a lot of time focusing on saving, investing and protecting ourselves financially for the future. When we think about spending, it’s material goods we focus on. Very few of us think about spending in terms of systematically giving our money away as we grow older. It seems counter to everything we’ve learned. We want to hoard. But, when it comes to inheritance, I’m beginning to think that the sooner I start spending, on myself and my loved ones, the better it will be all round.

The Weird and Almost Scary Power of Goal Setting

As I’m writing and reading blogs about FIRE, one of the recurring themes I notice revolves around goal setting. Now, I’m not going to bore you with a step by step guide on how to set goals “properly”, as there are is a massive library of information on the subject available at the click of a mouse (the best of which, IMHO, is Brian Tracey’s book, “Goals”. )

Over the years, I’ve used goal setting, affirmations, visualisation and NLP techniques to see if I can change my behaviour. It works, up to a point, for me. Apart from anything else though, I found it interesting and fun to learn about and experiment with the concepts and the instructions on what you need to do achieve the best results. Over time, I probably began to use the methods as part of the way I approached life without really thinking about it. For example, it has only very recently occurred to me that I had a very defined goal to retire early from my work. I had a spreadsheet that detailed how my finances might grow and a projected date that I could walk out of the office and not look back. Not only did I have the goal in my mind, I’d written it down, I had a time bedded in (November 2018), I had alternative scenarios mapped to help me get there and I worked on the spreadsheet a lot, maybe even weekly. In other words, a pretty good recipe to facilitate the achievement of the goal.

I didn’t actually realise this at the time. That spreadsheet was just something I was working on. It only began to occur to me that I’d been goal setting when I achieved my target early, thanks to my work making me redundant and coming up with financial compensation that bridged the gap between January 2015 and November 2018 almost perfectly (weirdly enough) . I then started joking with people that one of my issues with Early Retirement was that I was so focused on achieving the retirement, I’d forgotten to set any goals for life after it happened, something that I feel has more than a kernel of truth within it.

I was musing on this the other morning after my early swim at the gym (an output of previous goal setting, incidentally). I felt I needed to write out some broad goals and objectives for the coming year as I was feeling that I’ve had enough of pleasantly drifting through the days.  To get me started, I jotted down 10 potential targets to work on. I didn’t give the application the full nine yards as per Brian Tracey’s book, but it was a start.

About half an hour later,  I arrived back home and had a few things I needed to do. Near the top of the list was a despised task: “ironing”. In our household, my wife and I do our own ironing, because we both hate it. When I was working, I paid to get it done for me. Those were the days.

Oh well, I thought, at least I can listen to some Podcasts while I’m doing it, maybe Dave Ramsey, as I’m currently reading a book of his. I opened my Ipad to browse my Podcast list while the iron heated up. Hmm, Tim Ferriss, long time, no listen, due to his utter hagiography of Silicon Valley billionaires. Pathetic. Mind you, that one with Scott Adams, cartoonist of of Dilbert fame, that should be different, that might be a bit of light entertainment. I’ll give him another chance.

I put it on and within fifteen minutes there was a somewhat intense (but lighthearted) discussion about the power of affirmations, goals and systems. I had to laugh –  what are the frigging chances of that happening immediately after I write my own goals and state to myself that I’m going to get seriously back into that stuff? Really? It’s borderline weird, as if The Universe has said, “Okay Jim, we’re with you on this. If you’re up for it, so are we, so have this nudge free of charge”.

When I’ve done goal setting in the past, I’ve found that this kind of strange “circumstantial” thing happens quite a lot. To give two examples that immediately spring to mind: I once wrote down a goal to pick up with an old ex-colleague I hadn’t spoken to for years. I wrote down, “I called Alan this week, before Thursday, and had a good chat with him”, or something along those lines (I forget the exact technique and wording you use for goal setting. Clearly I need to brush up!) I visualised doing it, looked up his mobile to be sure I had it and put it on my goal list.

The next morning, completely out of the blue, and after maybe a five year gap, Alan called me! I was gobsmacked. And I’ve just checked this in my diary. It happened literally the next day. What’s the chances?

A similar thing happened with golf. I hadn’t played in years but badly wanted to get back into the game, so I wrote a precise goal about returning to it. The next day – the very next day – I received my very first invite to attend a client’s annual golf day later that year. I’d never been invited before, don’t know how they got my name or knew I might be interested.

I could go on, but actually I suggest you listen to the Tim Ferriss/Scott Adam podcast for similar stories. I found listening to the discussion almost creepy. I have no idea how this might be explained, but Scott and Tim ponder the possible scientific (?) and psychological/behavioural factors that may be contributing to the process. It’s interesting stuff. But it’s not half as interesting as when you set a goal and something like this happens to you. And I bet it has, so feel free to tell us in the comments below!


Why is it, to normal people (or to me at least) that financial terms seem to be so obscure and intimidating? Acronyms are everywhere. Just off the top of my head, and while my memory of excruciating corporate Board meetings hasn’t yet faded, may I list in no particular order, EBITDA, ROI, ROCE, POR, SKU, NSV, NNSV ….. and so on. Then there’s Cash Flow versus Free Cash Flow, I’ll talk gross margins but you’ll talk net (nett?), or net net (nett nett?) and how are you defining “profit” anyway? Even relatively simple terms, like does a “creditor” owe you money or is it the “debtor” that does, can make me question the fundamentals. I could go on, but already I’m losing the will to live.

The Depreciated Macbook Heading to ebay

The one concept that I liked, and used in my own finances, was depreciation. The way I used it was like this: I bought an Apple Macbook for £1,000 cash. I decided it would last me five years, so each month I “depreciated” it by direct debiting £20 a month into a savings account and forgetting about it. Five years later, I had accumulated the cash pile to buy a brand new Macbook (and I flogged the old one on ebay as a bonus).

It almost goes without saying that the trick to using positive depreciation is to have the cash to make the capital investment first. So saving money is the priority.

I could well have done with being educated this way instead of how I actually was – borrow the money and pay it off with a “Hire Purchase” agreement. As I write the term “Hire Purchase”, I’m struck by the sneaky wording. It actually sounds like quite a positive thing. Much better than “Stinking Debt Repayment” or something similar.

It took me the best part of thirty years to learn about the real difference between credit and debt. I think this is because that my first experience of Hire Purchase was a positive one. Without it, I would never have been able to buy my first racing bike, a Raleigh Shadow, purchased from Halfords when I was fifteen years old. It cost seventy five quid, a figure well beyond me and my folks at the time. It was with a sense of awe that I discovered Halfords would let me buy the bike “today” and pay it off later at the sum of £1.25 a week, which I earned delivering papers. It’s hard to describe how this option suddenly transformed my view of how people could afford things. “Debt” wasn’t one of the words that occurred to me. All I was focused on was the fact that I could have the bike now, right now, the object of my heart’s desire that had seemed an impossibility before.

In fact, thinking about it, there was a positive aspect to the debt – I took it without question that I must pay it off. This underlined to me that I would need to work and keep my job in order to pay back Halfords who I actually felt quite grateful to for giving me this option. I’d put the cart before the horse, of course, and had been encouraged to do it, but that’s not how I viewed it at the time.

I was also lucky in that I didn’t have much else to spend the money on at that age. I do remember that the weekly payments took the majority of my earnings and that I actually had to visit the Halfords shop every Saturday to make them. I had a little card that was filled in and signed by the shop assistant each week when I made a payment. (Ye Gods, even to me that sounds like Victorian Times compared to our computerised era. It was only the Seventies!)

Anyway, at least in those simpler days I had only that one financial acronym to deal with, “HP”, and I understood the deal. If only I could say the same with confidence today.