I blogged last year that I was thinking of investing some money into Premium Bonds as I felt I had enough in equities and not enough ready cash – but I couldn’t stand the thought of cash just sitting in a bank or savings account, earning virtually nothing. Arguably Premium Bonds had the chance of earning me something.

To my delight, my numbers came up last week and I won twenty five quid! Now that’s the kind of prize I like, because it’s total treat money. It’s the kind of sum I can spend without guilt or perceived “opportunity cost” that a win of say, five hundred quid, would bring about. If I won that amount, I’d probably invest it, although possibly in a speculative punt on a single share purchase like Rolls Royce. And if I won five thousand, most of that would definitely be squirrelled away into further investments.

I once actually did win five thousand pounds, on the Littlewood’s football pools. I was young then, just married a year, and we blew it all on a fly drive holiday to California. What a fantastic experience that was. Do you realise, however, that if I’d invested that cash wisely enough to return me 10% over all those years, that five grand would now be worth £60,278.73? Well, to quote those Californian legends, Metallica, so ****ing what? I didn’t regret spending that money then, and I don’t pine over that “lost” sixty grand today (I tell myself in my most adamant, and hopefully most convincing, tone of voice!)

I do sometimes wonder about the common story on FIRE blogs about the Starbucks Latte – you know the one, that if you didn’t spend that three pounds every workday then you’d save fifteen quid a week and over seven hundred pounds every year. Well, you can’t argue with the arithmetic, but it depends on how your coffee adds to your quality of life, doesn’t it? What would you pay to brighten your day? If that Starbucks latte floats your boat, then surely three quid a day is a bargain compared to going without it? Of course, if it does nothing for you whatsoever then why in God’s name are you buying it in the first place?!

In a way, I’m glad I didn’t discover the concept of FIRE until about five years ago, because I think I might have been swayed by that Starbucks analogy had I thought about it. These days I actually have the opportunity to indulge in this habit on a daily basis because there’s a Costa Coffee in the small market town where I work. About twice a week, I leave the house early, drive to work before the traffic becomes annoying, park up, head into the near deserted coffee shop, order up my latte, download The Times to my Ipad and enjoy some quiet time before work. It’s great, and I could easily do it five times a week – except for the fact that I’m thinking “Seven hundred quid a year! On coffee!?”

So I do have some spending thresholds these days that might prevent me from spending a five hundred pound prize on myself. Twenty five quid though, that’s a totally manageable windfall, arriving without fear, guilt or loathing. That’s a bottle of seriously nice wine for Saturday night. Or two (I can’t tell the difference between wine at a tenner a bottle and wine at twenty, except psychologically). Mind you, I couldn’t drink two bottles of red these days in the same evening without totally ruining the next day. Or maybe a it’s trip to The Fisherman’s Wife in Whitby with my DOH on a quiet evening, with its view out to the sea and an effectively free fish and chips? Or it’s a few decent books on the Kindle or, even better, a hardback book to fuel retirement dreams? A Moleskin notebook would be another guilty pleasure to indulge in, without the feeling that I was being ripped off and a bit of a pseud to boot. Perhaps a more manly purchase would be this handy wee Leatherman C33 with its twenty five year warranty? I’d want to spend it on something that I might otherwise apply the twenty four hour rule to, but at this level I don’t find the challenge too difficult.  It seems to me that I’d agree with The Beatles that the best things in life are free, but the second best things aren’t really all that expensive either.

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.