Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 HYP Review

My mature overall investing strategy is these days not much more complicated than a diversified collection of low expense, physical (as opposed to synthetic), income based (as opposed to accumulation) ETFs tracking enough indices to give me diversification across asset classes and countries held within low expense wrappers.  While this is where my journey has left me, as the best strategy for me, I’ve tried a number of different things over the years that I’m either neutral on or negative to.

A negative, for example, are actively managed investment funds.  As I’m negative on them I’ve done everything I can to move my investments away from them but even so I still have a couple that I can’t sell for tax reasons.  A neutral is my UK High Yield Portfolio (HYP) which because I’m neutral on it now just sits passively amongst my portfolio doing its thing.  It’s just completed its 5th calendar year and still contains a not insignificant £65,000 or so of my hard earned wealth.

Its original aim was to help me live off dividends only in FIRE and in that regard it’s still punching above its weight as it’s now only 6% of my total wealth but spins off 16% of my dividends.

My neutral approach mean changes to the HYP are now few and far between with changes for now only being forced by corporate events.  In 2016 there was only one of these:

Saturday, 17 December 2016

I’ve written and published that book

Over my 9-year journey to financial independence (FI) I’ve had a number of readers of both this blog and the fora that I frequent ask me if I’d write a book.  If the truth be told I was reticent while on my journey as I thought I would be a hypocrite for writing about how to achieve something that I actually hadn’t done myself.  That all changed in July 2016 when I achieved my financial independence goal with being a hypocrite switching to feeling empowered and ‘qualified’ to tell the story.

I also thought that I was too busy to write the book but in hindsight that was just the victim coming out in me.  Like anything in life both achievement and success is all about unrelenting prioritisation in my experience.  Without that you just don’t have a chance.  So with a focus on just work and the book (thanks go out publically to a very understanding and supportive family who’ve had to put up with it and me) I’ve been able to get it written over the past months and it’s now published.

I’ve called the book - From Zero to Financial Independence in less than 10 Years: Tools and techniques to escape the rat race quickly.  It’s currently only available on Amazon but is available in both ebook and paperback formats giving some choice.

So why write it?  A few reasons:
  • I’ve found my FI journey an incredible experience both financially and spiritually.  I’ve also learnt so much, including a lot about myself, most of which will serve me well for life.  This includes a switch to focusing on quality of life rather than the far more common standard of living.  At age 44 I am also now in a position that is incredibly liberating and empowering.  I would just love others to be able to at least see what’s possible and hope the book might spread that message further than this blog.  If they then choose to stay on their current course I’m more than ok as at least they saw an alternate option and made a choice.  The book has only been live a few days and this goal is looking good so far.  It is already ranked number 4 in their retirement planning category, number 11 in their ebook personal finance category and number 24 in their ebook finance category.
  • I wanted to provide the book that readers asked for.
  • An unexpected reason was that I actually found the whole process incredibly cathartic.  For years I have been learning and had tonnes of information swirling in my thoughts.  By sitting down and putting pen to paper it allowed all that to be organised and filed forever freeing my thoughts for more.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Pushing pensions to the limit

I continue to find pension wrappers are a powerful tool for building FIRE wealth quickly.  Let me demonstrate with a couple of quick examples:
  • Over my FIRE journey I am fortunate to have found ways to earn more which means that I am today a 45% additional rate tax payer.  On top of that I also have to pay 2% employee national insurance on the last of my earnings.  This means that if I earn £10 and I don’t salary sacrifice it into a pension wrapper I only end up with £5.30 to invest.
  • My employer allows pension salary sacrifice, has a contribution match up to a certain percentage and also gives me 10% of the 13.8% employer National Insurance that they save when I contribute to the company pension.  So under these conditions if I put that same £10 into the company pension I actually end up with £21 to invest.  That’s nearly 4 times more.
  • Even if I continue to contribute to the pension wrapper once the employer match is over its still favourable.  In that instance I still end up with £11 going into the pension which is more than 2 times the savings outside of the pension.

The wise among you will now being saying ‘but pensions are just a tax deferral scheme’ and that’s certainly true but let’s look at how that will play out in FIRE.  The UK in my view can almost be considered a tax haven for those with enough wealth that work is not required.  To demonstrate let’s take £20,000 from that pension pot every year.  The 25% pension tax free lump sum effectively gives one £5,000 tax free.  Then one also gets a 0% tax rate from the £11,000 Personal Allowance leaving just £4,000 subject to 20% Basic Rate tax.  That works out to be an effective rate of tax on the £20,000 of just 4.0%.

Move to the Mediterranean and it could be even more favourable.  Cyprus, for example, gives a choice of how pensions can be taxed.  The first is 0% tax until you earn EUR19,500 with the next band being 20%.  In this example our £20,000 (assumed to be EUR22,460) sees an effective tax rate of just 2.6%!  The other method favours high pension sums as the income is taxed at the flat rate of 5% on amounts over EUR3,420.  In this example one’s effective tax rate would be 4.2% so one would pick the former in this example.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Where’s the snowball – why you’d better save if you want to FIRE

You don’t have to travel far into most personal finance sites before you find the obligatory compound interest post.  Even I did one back in 2012 where I was so bold as to call it The Miracle of Compound Interest.

In brief Compound Interest, sometimes also called the snowball effect, is at its most basic just interest on interest.  A trivial example.  Let’s say you have £1 and can get an investment return of 10% per annum (those were the days).  Choose that option and after a year you’d have £1.10 which is your £1 plus ‘interest’ of £0.10.  If you reinvest that for another year you’d have £1.21 which is your £1, last years interest of £0.10, this years interest of £0.10 on your £1 but also £0.01 which is interest on your £0.10 interest from last year.  Interest on interest...

So that’s the lovely theory but as someone who is now Financially Independent and so has been there, done that, got the t-shirt, what’s my view on it.  I’d now say care is needed.  Let me demonstrate with three simple examples.  Let’s go back in time to the end of 2007 where I’m going to give each of our punters seed capital of £50,000, I’m going to assume a real (after inflation) return of 4.1% (what I’ve achieved on my portfolio of trackers after expenses) and I’m going to assume their each looking for wealth of £800,000 (which is not far off what I thought I needed back then although inflation since has ensured I now need 2 commas) before packing in the day job.  From here their journeys will vary:
  • TheRIT will crack on with working hard, focus on quality of life and so annually squirrel away £58,728 per annum (which is the average annual savings I’ve achieved since I’ve been on my FIRE journey, equating to a post tax Savings Rate of 82.4%) earning a real return of 4.1% per annum (my actual real annualised return thus far).  I know that will include inflation adjusted savings but please give me a little slack here as it’s not important to the point I’m trying to make today so won’t bother with inflation adjusting.
  • MrAverage will also crack on with working hard but instead focuses on standard of living.  This means he can only save 5.1% of post tax earnings which has been deliberately chosen as it’s the current UK household saving ratio according to the ONS.  Like TheRIT, MrAverage achieves a real return of 4.1%.
  • MissInvestingSuperstar follows in the footsteps of MrAverage but boy does she know her stuff when it comes to picking winners.  So much so that every year that she invests she manages double the return of the others and so achieves a real 8.2% per annum.  Ask yourself how many people actually achieve that and would you be prepared to back yourself to achieve that with severe disappointment many years hence if you don’t?
My after tax Savings Rate over the long term has been 82.4%
Click to enlarge, My after tax Savings Rate over the long term has been 82.4% 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Herefordshire or bust?

In recent times some focus in the RIT household has now switched from A Place in the Sun to what about Herefordshire?  As with any of our crazy ideas our approach is always plenty of desk research and then boots on the ground.  All I can say is that Herefordshire is everything we remember from previous visits.  An absolutely beautiful part of the world but then again at this time of year in the UK, with the leaves yellow to red and starting to fall, ugly parts are probably the exception so some care is needed.

Click to enlarge, Kingsland, Herefordshire (source)

Of course our trips have not been all about roaming around country paths, lanes and villages  although we’ve done some of that.  They’ve also initially focused on looking at the possibility of building a modest warm home.  Don’t get me wrong, we love an old historic grade II listed home like the next man or woman, but as a FIRE’ee we don’t very much like the energy performance or maintenance costs that go with them.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

9 months into 2016 – The plans they are a-changin’

Cyprus vs The English CountrysideWith the back of 2016 now largely broken this year is fast shaping up as one of the most memorable of my FIRE journey thus far.  Personal finance wise it’s been great.  My wealth passed 7 figures, I became financially independent (FI) and the rate of change in my wealth has been like nothing I’ve ever seen before or could have imagined when I started on this journey.  To put that last point into perspective by the end of quarter 1 I had added £55,000 to my wealth, by the half year mark that had become £142,000 and by the end of quarter 3 it had become an almost unbelievable £220,000.

However, this is not what is making things memorable.  That’s coming from me slowly realising that because my FIRE strategy makes me an outlier it also makes me vulnerable and exposed rather than invincible.  This was nicely demonstrated by the Brexit vote.  As a ‘young’ retiree looking to head to The Mediterranean within a year I’m sure it doesn’t take a genius to guess that I voted Remain in the Brexit referendum.  If everyone else had have been on my trajectory that would have been the result.  Instead my demographic had no influence, as the numbers of people looking to FIRE to The Med are probably not much more than one, so democracy took over and we ended up with Leave for many other reasons.  So far that result has resulted in pound devaluation (which on its own I could have coped with) but also discussions of Hard Brexit which has turned my plans from 95% The Med to 50%.  I’m a minority affected by politics and populism and because I’m not part of a significant demographic my vote just won’t make a difference.  What if the next populist democratic step is to start taxing capital and providing relief to the indebted...  We’re almost there via interest rates anyway but what if it becomes an overt policy...

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Post financial independence, post Brexit, what next

FIRE in Cyprus?
There are now literally hundreds of personal finance bloggers out there in cyberspace with many of them blogging about trying to reach financial independence.  Some are more extreme than others but I have now started to see a distinct pattern that separates them into at least two categories.  The first are those where reaching financial independence in just a few short years was a doddle and where life since early retirement has been a bed of roses with low spending, plenty of international travel, new cars, new homes and nothing ever going wrong.  Then there are those where stuff, including negative stuff, happens.  The journey to FIRE maybe takes determination, maybe their company gets bought out with redundancy coming relatively soon after, maybe their company simply doesn’t agree with their lifestyle choices causing a rethink or just maybe early retirement was not for them so they have returned to work.

I’ve started to call the first the blogs that are selling a life and the second the blogs that are living a life.  I’ve also pretty much stopped reading the former as they no longer resonate with me as my journey has and continues to be much more like the second type.  If you however prefer the first type then I’d suggest you move onto your next piece of Saturday reading as this post will likely disappoint.

I’m now coming up on 3 months of financial independence (FI) and the one thing I’ve been trying to leave via FIRE (financially independent retired early), work, has already become a very different place.  My workplace and the career I chose is one that is very focused on the financial top and bottom lines.  This means that it’s no secret that as soon as my job can be done by somebody else cheaper or more efficiently in the world then I won’t have a job.  It’s also one where if you perform well you can do well financially, and I have, but also one where even average performance will result in you quickly finding yourself without a job.  For me this has helped with my rapid progress to FI (of course it’s taken a number of other choices as well) but it’s come with the sword of Damocles always in full view.  3 months ago that sword was taken away and it’s made a big difference.  It’s firstly just simply removed a weight from my shoulders as out sourcing or average performance will now just result in a nice pay off, which I negotiated some time ago when I seriously looked to move on but was still a golden child, which will further bolster my wealth nicely and result in me simply sailing off into the FIRE sunshine.  Additionally, to ensure continuous success one technique I’ve used over the years is to work very hard which gives me extra time to drive the risk out of every decision I make.  The ramifications of this are pretty long days but it did help with surety of tenure.  Since FI I’ve started to take now take more risk as there are now no downsides personally.  So far this has me back to peak performance, having dipped for a few months following extra work load, but I’m also working slightly less hours and that 0.5 – 1 hour less work per day has put a spring back in my step.  It’s still not the place I’d choose to be Monday to Friday and FIRE is still very much in view but it’s a lot better post FI then pre.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Checking my credit report (and it’s not great news)

From the fortunate position I currently find myself it’s unlikely I’ll ever need or want to take on any form of debt ever again.  That said I’m also a plan for the worst just in case kind of guy. Incidentally, the end result of which is usually a nice upside surprise but you just never know.

So with this in mind I decided to finally, having never checked it previously, check in on my credit report and score.  I used as its ‘free for life’ but there are a few of them out there including Experian and Equifax who offer free 30 day trials.  Just don’t forget to unsubscribe with those or you could be paying up to £14.99 per month for every month you forget.  Not an insignificant amount.

If I’m being honest I was expecting a nice credit worthiness upside and the actual result surprised me somewhat.  So let’s look at what they have on me:
  • Personal Information.  They have my date of birth and history of addresses.
  • Financial Account Information.  They have my American Express Platinum Cashback credit card which shows a long and perfect history of repayment as I direct debit full payment every month.  They show my current account but have no record of my cash savings accounts.  Unfortunately they also show a store card with a missed payment of £4 which is not even mine.  I’ve disputed that which they say can take 28 days to resolve.  So checking my credit report has already been of value.
  • Electoral Roll.  I’m showed as being registered and the details are correct.
  • CIFAS (the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service).  I positively get “THERE ARE NO CIFAS WARNINGS REGISTERED AT YOUR ADDRESS(ES).”  

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Rearranging my YouInvest SIPP

I have had a YouInvest (formerly Sippdeal) SIPP (Self Invested Personal Pension) wrapper since 2011.  It came about when I first started transferring expensive insurance company based Stakeholder and Group Personal Pensions across to SIPP’s to save on expenses.  Over the years this SIPP has grown steadily to become a significant portion of my wealth as it now contains circa £200,000.

Within the YouInvest SIPP I was holding the following three investment products:
  • The Vanguard FTSE U.K. All Share Index Unit Trust with annual expenses of 0.08%;
  • The Vanguard U.K. Inflation-Linked Gilt Index Fund with annual expenses of 0.15%; and
  • The iShares European Property Yield UCITS (IPRP) with annual expenses of 0.4%.

For the privilege of using the YouInvest SIPP wrapper I was also paying annual expenses of £300 which was coming in the form of:
  • A YouInvest SIPP custody charge of £25 per quarter as my SIPP value was greater than £20,000; and
  • A YouInvest Funds (Unit trusts and OEICs) charge of 0.2% per annum but which was capped at a maximum of £50 per quarter

Life was good and even though I didn’t like paying the £300 per annum I didn’t do anything about it as to correct it I would have had to be out of the market and might lose significantly more than I gained.  That was until I received a notification from YouInvest in early August 2016 that they were intending to change their charging structure from the 01 October 2016 which included a great reason [sic] for the change – “We believe this will be easier to understand, whilst maintaining AJ Bell’s commitment to offering some of the lowest charges in the market.”

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Can you afford to not DIY invest

Grant Thornton has completed some research (free FT link or Google “How much do you really pay your money manager?”) which concludes that someone entrusting £100,000 for 10 years to a UK financial adviser or investment manager would pay an average 2.56% annually for financial planning services and financial product expenses.  Let’s look at what that might mean during both the wealth accumulation and drawdown (assuming no annuity is purchased) phases of a typical investor.

Wealth accumulation phase

When it comes to investment return, excluding expenses, I believe that active investing is a zero sum game resulting in average performance no better than that of the market average.  Of course there will be some winners and some losers, particularly in the short term, but that’s for another day.  Today let’s therefore assume that the investment return these money managers achieve is that of the market.  Let’s look at a couple of possible portfolios.

Unfortunately, the Vanguard LifeStrategy funds have only been around 5 years or so which isn’t enough time to use for this study as I need 10 years (or so) of data.  Vanguard does however have an interesting Asset class risk tool (h/t diy investor (uk))which allows you to input a period and an asset allocation.  Let’s create a reasonably balanced portfolio with 60% stocks, 35% bonds and 5% cash and run for a period of 10 years.

10 year time frame, 60% stocks (FTSE UK All Share Total Return Index), 35% bonds (FTSE British Govt. Fixed All Stocks Total Return Index (1983 - 2013) and BarCap Sterling Aggregate Total Return Index), 5% cash (LIBOR 3-month average over the year)
Click to enlarge, 10 year time frame, 60% stocks (FTSE UK All Share Total Return Index), 35% bonds (FTSE British Govt. Fixed All Stocks Total Return Index (1983 - 2013) and BarCap Sterling Aggregate Total Return Index), 5% cash (LIBOR 3-month average over the year)

The result is an average annual investment return of 5.59%.  So with this return what does our investor have left after a few subtractions.  Firstly, let’s subtract the erosion caused by inflation.  The RPI has averaged 2.87% over the last 10 years.  Subtracting that gives us a real return of 2.72%.  Now let our money manager and the investment products s/he is peddling take their cut of 2.56%.  Oops our real return is now 0.16%.  Looking at it another way our average money manager/investment product provider is taking 94% of our real return, leaving us with 6% only, which is hardly conducive to long term wealth building.  It also gets worse as that will be before portfolio turnover costs, taxes and trading costs to name but three.  After those we’ve probably nearly done no better, or maybe even worse, than matching inflation which might mean we’re actually even going backwards.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

The power of AND

Putting the scores on the doors reveals that I progressed to my Financial Independence number at a rate greater than 0.9% per month.  In hindsight this wasn’t because of any one particular silver bullet but instead was made possible by focusing on the personal finance many, rather than a few, or even the one talked about so often, investment return.  Putting it another way I focused on the personal finance AND.  Mechanically that included earning more and spending less and an appropriate portfolio and minimising taxes and minimising expenses and investment return.  Psychologically that included starting and determination and accepting I’ll make mistakes and never becoming a victim to name a few.

Over the last couple of weeks I think I’ve shown this trait again by maximising pension contributions while also minimising expenses.

I have two low cost SIPP’s (two rather than one is for risk minimisation reasons) in which I buy low cost tracker products.  This is my method of minimising pension wrapper expenses and investment product expenses.  However, even though I have these and they would enable me to defer tax if I invested in them directly I choose not to use this route.  Instead all my contributions enter pension wrappers via my employer’s expensive defined contribution old school insurance company group personal pension.  I do it this way as in addition to deferring tax like I could also do in the SIPP this maximises my contributions in a few more ways:
  • My company does an employer match up to a few percent, which of course I take advantage of, however I also contribute a lot more than this for the two reasons below;
  • My company allows salary sacrifice which means I get an extra 2% contribution into my pension rather than it being lost to employee national insurance contributions;
  • My company adds 10% of the 13.8% employer national insurance contributions that they save if I sacrifice into the pension. 
So I’ve maximised contributions but my employer’s pension scheme then has the big elephant in the room - Expenses.  I try and keep it to a minimum by buying into their tracker funds but even this means I’m paying annual expenses of between 0.6% and 0.87% depending on fund selected.  I can do much better than that in my SIPP’s.  So the trick is to complete a partial transfer into my SIPP when the pot becomes a reasonable size.  The last time I did this it could only be described as a palaver however this time the more appropriate description would be a doddle.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Naive, a victim or just plain irresponsible

Naive (adjective) – (Of a person or action) showing a lack of experience, wisdom, or judgement. Source
Irresponsible (adjective) - not thinking enough or not worrying about the possible results of what you do.  Source

My work day generally does not afford me a lunch break.  It’s generally scoff a sandwich, but not fast enough to give indigestion, between tasks.  A couple of weeks ago after a particularly rough morning I did however break away and joined the ranks of those at the ‘lunch table’ for a few minutes.  This is normally a place of general chit-chat, of what gadgets people are buying, of the latest sports news, of what people are doing on the weekend, but today in the wake of the BHS pension scandal the topic switched to investments, pensions and retirement plans.

When it comes to saving, investing and retirement planning I am very transparent on this blog but in the office I am the definition of a grey man.  After all an environment where your employer knows you have a decent FU stash or are only a few months from FIRE is hardly one where you are going to be able to ramp earnings at a rapid rate.  So I switched on my spidey sense but didn’t dive in with ‘my view’.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The more likely scenario

My financial independence and early retirement (FIRE) planning has been a pretty negative affair so far, with me always trying to focus on the worst case what if scenarios.  I’ve done this as I wanted to have a high confidence that work in the future really would be optional and based on a want to do it and not a need to do it.  With me now over the financial independence line it’s time for me to switch from glass half empty mode to one where the glass is half full.  I’m going to try and answer the question - based on historical data (which of course is not a predictor of the future) what is the more likely outcome for my wealth?  This then enables me to think about what could happen to my spending if I so choose.

I’ve used the cFIREsim tool many times in the past and I’m going to use it again for this analysis.  The negative of it is that it is US based which means if history repeats it will likely be a bit bullish.  The positive is that its data set goes back to 1871 meaning plenty of data points including plenty of bear/bull market cycles but also that it allows you to output data in real inflation adjusted terms which is important as I want to always think of wealth in terms of what can it buy in today’s pounds.

So let’s plug in the data.  Firstly, my financial independence day wealth of £799,000, planned spending of £19,973 (2.5% of wealth),  40 year FIRE period assumption and assumed annual investment expenses of 0.27%.

Now let’s plug in my FIRE financial strategy with one exception.  CFIREsim doesn’t allow you to input REIT’s so I’ll just split my allocation here 50% to Equities and 50% to Bonds.  So that’s 60% Equities, 29% Bonds, 5% Gold and 6% Cash (assuming 0% return on the cash).

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Half 1 2016 – What a ride

July has been a month I will never forget.  Firstly, I joined the 2 comma club and then soon after joined the ranks of the financially independent (FI).  In all the excitement what I didn’t do was run my regular quarterly update on my year to date performance.  I’m going to belatedly do that today as I do want a record of my quarterly performance put down on paper (or pixels)

The first quarter of the year started well but the second half was one of the wildest financial rides I think I’ve ever been on.  To put it in pounds, shillings and pence by the end of quarter 1 I had added £55,000 to my wealth but by the half year mark that had leapt to £142,000.  That is more than my savings and investments have produced in any full prior year of my FIRE journey.

RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth (Saving Hard + Investing Wisely)
Click to enlarge, RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth (Saving Hard + Investing Wisely)

With strong contributions from both saving and investing let’s look at the detail.


I continue to define Saving Hard differently than most personal finance bloggers.  For me it’s Gross Earnings (ie before taxes, a crucial difference) plus Employee Pension Contributions minus Spending minus Taxes.  Earn more and one is winning.  Spend less or pay less taxes and you’re also winning.  Savings Rate is then Saving Hard divided by Gross Earnings plus Employee Pension Contributions.  To make it a little more conservative Taxes include any taxes on investments but Earnings include no investment returns.  This encourages me to continually look for the most tax efficient investment methods.

Where my earnings goes
Click to enlarge, Where my earnings goes

That difference is significant and I think best shown graphically.  Measured my way and my Savings Rate since the start of 2013 has been 52.2% but at the same time I only actually spend 11.7% of my earnings.  If I measure it like most in the FIRE community, which substitutes Gross Earnings with Net Earnings, my Savings Rate jumps to 81.7%!

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Maximising withdrawal rates in retirement

Wealth warning: This post should at best be taken with a pinch of salt and at worst should be likened to crystal ball gazing.  I’m posting it because this blog is about retirement and particularly early retirement so it is particularly relevant.

If in retirement, including early retirement, we decide to use a strategy that generates an income by drawing down on our wealth, as opposed to say buying an annuity for example, then there are 4 key decisions that we need to make.  They are what withdrawal rate are we going to make (which could be fixed, variable or fixed with an annual inflationary increase to name but three), how much risk (where risk is the likelihood of wealth depletion) are we going to take, what does our asset allocation look like (the equity : bonds ratio) and how many years do we want our wealth to last (the duration).  The aim is to settle on a combination that suits our needs while ensuring we don’t run out of wealth before we run out of life.  The one decision that is unfortunately out of our control is the sequence of returns that Mr Market is about to provide.

The 4% Rule is but one combination of these variables.  Based on historical returns it states that if you settle on a 50% US stocks : 50% US bonds allocation, accept risk that will historically fail 4% of the time and a 30 year time period then you can take a maximum withdrawal rate of 4% of your wealth on day 0 and then increase this by inflation annually.

This post, which for some reason received very little interest from readers but which was highlighted by somebody I respect very much, then shows the historic maximum withdrawal rate available to us for a given asset allocation, risk and duration.

The problem with all of this work is that if history repeats and we are reasonably prudent in selection a withdrawal rate it more than likely results in us leaving wealth on the table (or more inheritance than planned) at the end of the duration.  Historically that is also a very large sum in sum instances.  Take the 4% Rule for example.  Historically it fails 4% of the time which means it succeeds 96% of the time.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

That’s it. I’m calling it. It’s my Financial Independence day!

“Financial independence is generally used to describe the state of having sufficient personal wealth to live, without having to work actively for basic necessities. For financially independent people, their assets generate income that is greater than their expenses.” 

3,186 days ago I started on a journey to early Retirement which at the time I defined as work becoming optional.  Only later did I discover that the more appropriate terminology for what I was chasing was FIRE – financially independent and retired early.  Every week since that journey started I’ve sat down and updated my financial position and progress to FIRE.  Today this stared back at me:

Path trodden towards financial independence
Click to enlarge, Path trodden towards financial independence

Yes you’re reading that right.  Today at age 43 I’m officially stating that I am financially independent (FI).  You’d think we’d be out celebrating but in the RIT household this week (and in the run up in recent weeks) there has been calm as I’ve actually been umming and ahing about whether I can actually call myself FI.  The main reason for this is that over the years I’ve diligently planned for just about every financial situation that I can think of however what in hindsight I’ve actually glossed over is the risk of politicians just blatantly changing the rules.  In the past few weeks we’ve seen some of this appear via the Brexit vote which for somebody who intends to emigrate to an EU country as soon as they FIRE has brought real risk.

One of these is the risk that my State Pension might not be triple locked or at least increased with inflation.  Now in my financial planning I’ve never assumed I’d be entitled but I’d always planned on continuing to pay in voluntarily as my insurance policy against financial Armageddon.  Now that insurance policy might be almost worthless as we all know the damage that inflation can inflict.  A second is the risk that at State Pension age I won’t be entitled to the same public healthcare as a local in my new adopted EU country courtesy of UK PLC.  This might mean private healthcare into our dotage but what if we do fall into poor health and our chosen private provider decides we’re no longer profitable enough for them.

At the other end of the scale we’ve seen the government of one of my potential homes, Cyprus, reduce Immovable Property Tax (IPT), which is the equivalent of Council Tax, by 75% in 2016 with a plan to then subsequently abolish it in 2017.  This is a country with so much debt that the Troika stepped in to bail them out only a few short years ago and now they’re cutting taxes by 75% or more.  Sure it plays into my hands for now but it’s not much good if it leads to bust and closed cash points later.

So in light of all of this what right do I actually have to call myself financially independent?  Below is my justification.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Sobering retirement income drawdown demonstrations – 9.5 years in

Unless you’re one of the lucky ones sitting on a defined benefit pension (although it’s likely you’ll also need some other income source in the early years if you’re going to FIRE) or you intend to buy an annuity (again, not likely for the early years of FIRE) or you’re just planning on living off the State Pension then income drawdown in FIRE (or even just plain old retirement) is relevant.

This is the annual update of a series of drawdown demonstrations that are now some 9.5 years in.  To put this in perspective we are now within a whisker of one third of the way through the period that the 4% rule is based upon and this simulation assumes retirement was taken on the 31 December 2006.  If this date sounds convenient then you’re right.  The date was deliberately chosen as it is the year prior to the commencement of the global financial crisis and so hopefully represents a modern worst case.  Someday it may even go down in history as one of the time periods which saw a poor sequence of returns however of course that will only become clear when we are firmly looking in the rear view mirror many years hence.

Over the years readers have suggested various alternatives for these demonstration portfolios however for long term consistency I want to make as few changes to the original assumptions as possible so will stick with them for now.

Where we left our retiree’s last year can be found here.  In brief, the key assumptions are:
  • Our retiree’s are drawing down at the stated withdrawal rate plus fund expenses only.  This means any trading commissions, wrapper fees (eg ISA, SIPP fees), buy/sell spreads and taxes have to be paid out of the earnings taken.  For example, our 2% initial withdrawal rate retiree is actually drawing down at between 2.1% and 2.2% dependent on the asset allocation selected.  
  • 6 Simple UK equity / UK bond portfolios are simulated for our retiree.  The UK equities portion is always the FTSE 100 where the iShares FTSE 100 ETF (ISF) is used as the proxy.  This fund currently carries expenses of 0.07% however this has been as high as 0.4% in the past.  For the bonds portion a simulation is run against UK gilts (FTSE Actuaries Government Securities UK Gilts All Stock Index) where the iShares FTSE UK All Stocks Gilt ETF (IGLT) is used as the proxy and the bond type I have preferred in my own portfolio, UK index linked gilts (Barclays UK Government Inflation-Linked Bond Index), where the iShares Barclays £ Index-Linked Gilts ETF (INXG) is used as the proxy.
  • All calculations are in real (RPI inflation adjusted) terms meaning that a £ in 2006 is equal to a £ today.
  • The wealth accrued at retirement (the 31 December 2006) is £100,000.  To simulate a larger or smaller amount of wealth just multiple by a constant. For example if you want our retiree’s to have £600,000 just multiply all the subsequent pound values by 6.

A 4% Initial Withdrawal Rate

UK Retiree Real Portfolio Value, £100,000 Initial Value, 4% Withdrawal Rate, 30 June Value
UK Retiree Real Portfolio Value, £100,000 Initial Value, 4% Withdrawal Rate, 30 June Value, Click to enlarge

I always start with a 4% withdrawal rate because of the often quoted 4% safe withdrawal rate rule.  The 50% equity : 50% gilts portfolios (the red lines on the chart) are the closest representations to the 4% rule with obvious differences being that:
  • the 4% rule was for a US based investor with US based investments while I’m simulating UK investors with UK based investments; and
  • the 4% rule doesn’t consider fees where I’m capturing the OCF’s of the ETF’s which makes my withdrawal rate very slightly higher.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

2 Commas = £1,000,000

Today, as I have done pretty much every Saturday morning since October 2007, I again sat down and updated my wealth and progress to FIRE (financially independent retired early).  This morning was however a little different as when I usually look at the wealth column of my spreadsheet after entering the data I see 6 figures and a single comma.  Today, for the first time, I saw a second comma indicating that my wealth had passed the £1,000,000 mark.

Wealth spreadsheet snapshot
Click to enlarge, Wealth spreadsheet snapshot

This number means I am now 98.9% of the way to FIRE.

RIT path trodden to Financial Independence
Click to enlarge, RIT path trodden to Financial Independence

Retirement Withdrawal Rates vs Probability of Success

The 4% Rule gets bandied around pretty loosely (I sometime think dangerously so) in the personal finance (PF) world these days and on some of the forums people seem to believe in it almost religiously.  What I’m not sure about is if these same people have actually read the T&C’s of the 4% Rule.

Within the T&C’s there are a couple of pertinent points relevant to this post.  Firstly, it is based on US historic data which doesn’t seem to hold for the UK, a global portfolio or for many other countries for that matter and of course history is not necessarily a predictor of the future.  The other point about it is that it gives you a 96% chance of success historically.

Having debated/discussed PF topics and specifically FIRE topics with many of you over the years I’m finally (I can be a bit slow and a bit stubborn at times) starting to realise that I’m a fairly conservative creature and that I also like to go to a level of detail that probably few others would have the patience for.  These traits lead me to selecting FIRE withdrawal rates after expenses of 2.5% that hopefully will give me a 100% chance of success at planned spending even though I know I have the ability in my plans to cut back on discretionary spending in severe bear markets.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Brexit vs FIRE to the Med

So the UK has voted, Article 50 of the 2009 Lisbon Treaty will soon be invoked and over the next couple of years we’ll negotiate (hopefully sensibly) our way out of the European Union.  Of course I have no idea what those negotiations are going to result in but I also don’t really want to hang around and wait.  After all I’m trying to become financially independent in less than 6 months from here and retire early to the Med in less than 12 months.

It therefore seems worthwhile to get my initial thoughts down on paper which can then be modified as I learn what is happening and being negotiated.

Wealth to FIRE

Post referendum there was plenty of economic doom and gloom around however there was also plenty of exuberance in the days prior.  Priced in £’s my portfolio actually ended the week 1.9% higher than my position at the end of last week and priced in Euro’s I’m down 1.2%.  Hardly FIRE destroying leaving me very much still on for financial independence in less than 6 months.

My path trodden to financial independence
Click to enlarge, My path trodden to financial independence

As a person positioned as a UK investor right now I’m also stress testing my portfolio against a £ to Euro exchange rate of 1.123.  It’s currently 1.2307 so this is still also looking good.

Getting in the door

One of the founding principles of the European Union was the free movement of its people across its countries borders.  The RIT family were planning on taking advantage of this to enable the move to the Med.  I would say there is a definite risk now, that with us Brexiting, this right will be taken away for UK passport holders not already resident in their new EU country.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

My Early Retirement Financial Strategy and Portfolio

With FIRE now on the doorstep it’s time to finalise what my early retirement drawdown strategy and portfolio is going to look like.

Firstly, let’s look at the strategy and portfolio that has put me where I am today.  I first published it in detail in 2009 and then polished it slightly in 2012.  In brief it was about building significant wealth (at least for me) in quick time.  Quick time was less than 10 years which meant I needed to be accruing wealth in relation to My Number at just a little less than 1% per month.  A very aggressive target when I look at it that way in hindsight but one which provided Mr Market behaves for just a few more months looks real.

By living frugally while focusing on earning more I believed I could Save Hard.  To date my Savings Rate has averaged around 52% of Gross Earnings so that has played out.  This then advantaged me when it came to investing as I didn’t have to take great investment risk giving me an increased probability of success.  I called it Investing Wisely.  As it turns out since starting my annualised investment return has been 5.9% which is 3.3% after inflation.

When I came out I stated that at the point of Early Retirement I wanted wealth of £1 million (it was actually £1,011,000).  Today my trusty Excel spreadsheet is telling me that once I hit £1,023,000 I’m good to retire.  At this point it’s then no longer about building wealth but instead the simple problem of ensuring I outlive my wealth which will be drawn on as I’ll have no other earnings.  I suspect it may require a slightly different strategy and investment portfolio to that which I have today.  That said the principles of tax efficiency, low expenses and a diversified investment portfolio, with a key decision of what Bond to Equity Allocation Percentage at its core, I intend to keep.

Given the seriousness of this topic it’s about now that I have to pop in a wealth warning:  History is not a predictor of the future, this is not financial advice, I’m not a financial planner and I’m just an average person who’s made investment mistakes on a DIY Investment journey to Financial Independence.  The post is also just for educational purposes only and is not a recommendation of any type.  Ok let’s move on...

My current estimates, based on my forecast FIRE date, suggest I’ll actually overshoot my FIRE wealth Number with circa £1,117,000.  A Mediterranean life will then mean a life priced in Euro’s.  The average exchange rate with the £ since the Euro’s inception has been 1.3742.  I’m not going to bank on that.  Instead, I’m going to use the worst average year since inception, which was 2009, with its rate of 1.123.  That gives me EUR1,254,000 of wealth to buy a home with and live from for the rest of my life.  I’m going to assume a 40 year retirement period.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Valuing the Housing of England and Wales at County Level – Year 4

In my view (and unfortunately) house prices in this great country are driven by Affordability, which is one’s ability to service debt at current interest rates, and not by Value.  This is one reason why I’ve never bought a home, and now don’t intend to buy, choosing instead to move overseas.  So when/if salaries increase, the price of debt decreases and/or the government provides ‘help’ we can expect house prices to rise.  Let me demonstrate with one simple example showing how just one of these affects prices – average house prices vs average employee earnings:

Average house prices vs average employee earnings (in England and Wales at County level)
Click to enlarge, Average house prices vs average employee earnings (in England and Wales at County level)

For me, clearly mistakenly, I’ve always been more focused on Value.  With this in mind every year at around this time I preparing a house Valuation metric that goes beyond that generally presented by the mainstream media by getting more granular and trying to Value housing at County level.  For completeness last year’s efforts can be seen here and you can track back to previous years from there.

My definition of Value is simply how many years of gross earnings (median and average) are required to buy an average house.  This is a simple average Price to Earnings Ratio (P/E) and is not unlike how some might value a company share.

For House Prices I am using average house prices as published by the Land Registry. This is calculated by using:
  • The Land Registry House Price Index (HPI) dataset.  This index uses repeat sales regression (RSR) on houses which have been sold more than once to calculate an increase or decrease.  As it analyses each house and compares the latest buying price to the previous buying price it is by definition mix adjusting its data also.  It uses all residential property transactions made in England and Wales since January 1995 so covers buyers using both cash and mortgages.
  • Average prices are then calculated by taking Geometric Mean Prices (as opposed to an arithmetic mean), to reduce the influence of individual values, from April 2000 and adjusting these prices in accordance with the Index changes.  They are seasonally adjusted. I am using the latest published data which comes from March 2016.  

The Valuation analysis is arranged according to the Regions and County’s defined by the Land Registry and is shown in the Table below.  Unlike the mainstream media I am calling high house prices bad (unsurprisingly the County with the highest house price is London at £534,785 and is shown in dark red) and low house prices good (the County with the lowest house price is Blaenau Gwent at £69,384 and is dark green) with all other prices shaded between red and green depending on house price.

Monday, 30 May 2016

I think I can, I think I can, I think I can FIRE in 6 months

Life is really busy.  No, that’s not right, let me try again.  Work is consuming me.  I’m pressured, stressed, exhausted and for the first time in my life that I can remember have so much workload that I’m failing to achieve what I’m setting out to do.  If I was a normal 43 year old working away to my current State Pension Age of 67 then I really would have to be doing something about it as it is just not sustainable long term.  Looking at my progress to Financial Independence tracker is however going to make me do something else instead.

My path trodden towards financial independence
Click to enlarge, My path trodden towards financial independence

Today, I have wealth of £938,000.  This is also my net worth as I have £0 in debt.  With a FIRE (financially independent and retired early) target of £1,000,000 and provided Mr/Mrs Market behaves him/herself I should be able to close that gap in 6 months according to my Excel spreadsheet.  That is not far away and now requires me to do some things over the coming months.

1. Pick an early retirement date

Into the melting pot for this decision goes:
  • the weather.  Not much point moving in the middle of winter.
  • tax efficiency.  As I’ll have the opportunity to work for only part of the year it seems to make sense to earn enough in a tax year to take me up to the start of the 40% higher rate income tax rate to maximise my FIRE wealth for a given work effort.
  • work projects.  I do have some longer term projects at work that I would like to finish.  I know I don’t have to but for me at least I feel it is the right thing to do both for myself and those who work around me.
  • assured shorthold tenancy (AST).  As a renter I have a tenancy period that I need to comply with.  There is no point paying rent on a flat that is empty.  

Working through each of these in turn and it looks like I’ll actually resign in late winter/early spring 2017 with a plan to be in The Med in late spring/early summer 2017.  So at this stage it looks like I will be overshooting what is physically possible financially and I’m ok with that.  I’ll only be 44 years of age after all.  It’s not like I’m planning to do One More Year (OMY) or anything like that...

2. Ensure my portfolio is right for distribution and not accumulation

When I built my investment strategy it was all about the accumulation of wealth.  That book is now fast coming to a close and I’m about to start a new book called Starting out in the Retirement Distribution phase.  My investment portfolio today looks like this:

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Q1 2016 – Rocket boosters lit and then stayed lit

Quarter 1 has been what can only be described as one where the rocket boosters fired and subsequently propelled my personal finances forward at a rapid rate of knots.  I passed the one year to FIRE (financially independent retired early) mark during the quarter and then finished the quarter with wealth addition of some £55,000!  To put that into perspective that is more than half of what I achieved through the whole of last year.  Positively both my Saving Hard and Investing Wisely approaches made strong contributions:

RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth (Saving Hard + Investing Wisely)
Click to enlarge, RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth (Saving Hard + Investing Wisely)


I define Saving Hard a little differently than most personal finance bloggers.  For me it’s Gross Earnings (ie before taxes, a crucial difference) plus Employee Pension Contributions minus Spending minus Taxes.  Earn more and one is winning.  Spend less or pay less taxes and you’re also winning.  Savings Rate is then Saving Hard divided by Gross Earnings plus Employee Pension Contributions.  To make it a little more conservative Taxes include any taxes on investments but Earnings include no investment returns.  This encourages me to continually look for the most tax efficient investment methods.

Even with a large portion of my bonus going to those better able to spend it, including HMRC, I was still able to save some £31,000.  This was possible by once again keeping spending nicely in control.  In fact my personal rate of inflation (ex taxes) compared to Q1 2015 was actually -7%.  An interesting dynamic has developed here.  With FIRE being so close my better half and I seem to have just sub-consciously battened down the hatches as we can see the finish line which is then self-fulfilling.

Combining Earnings, Spending and Taxes together results in an average Savings Rate of 48% for quarter 1 against a plan of 55%.  Sounds like a pretty poor effort until I also mention HMRC took 47%, including some back taxes, with us living off the remainder.

RIT Savings Rate
Click to enlarge, RIT Savings Rate

Saving Hard score: Conceded Pass.  I yet again missed my savings plan of 55% but against a back drop of back taxes I’ll take it.  Savings were also still able to add 3.6% to my wealth, which is not to be sniffed at, even at this late stage of my journey.  Savings also continues to make the biggest contribution towards my wealth accumulation with 67% now having come from savings and only 33% from investments.  Compound interest is still not really firing on all 4 cylinders.


Investment return for Q1 2016 (02 January 16 to 02 April 16) was a healthy 2.8%.  In 7 out of the last 8 years savings has made a greater contribution to my wealth than investments.  That theme has continued into quarter 1 with my investments contributing £24,000.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The decision that cost me £95,000

Back in late 2007, at about the same time as I was starting to think about saving hard and investing wisely, I seriously considered buying a home in London.  We were still planning to live well below our means and not be greedy but even so the small home we found would have still resulted in a big mortgage.  As I do with everything I did my own research and came to the conclusion that property in London was overvalued.  It was charts like the below that gave me that view, with at the time London first time buyer house price to earnings ratio’s having averaged 4.4 since 1983, while they were now at record highs of 7.1.

London first time buyer gross house price to earnings ratios
Click to enlarge, London first time buyer gross house price to earnings ratios

So as the type of person who tries to avoid buying anything that is overpriced I signed another Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement (AST) for our compact flat and we waited it out.  Roll forward to today and we can see what has happened to London house prices since that fateful period.

London historic house prices
Click to enlarge, London historic house prices

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Errors everywhere but I did get one thing right

My early personal finance records are sparse at best; however I was undertaking a bit of (pre)spring cleaning this week and came across an early retirement planning spreadsheet that was last updated in November 2007.  That’s just a month or so after I started on my FIRE journey.  It made for some interesting reading given my current FIRE position, so much so, that I thought it worth sharing particularly in view of some of the comments here.

On my FIRE journey so far I've found that Saving (Earning minus Spending) has been one of the most powerful accelerators towards FIRE.  To demonstrate to the end of February 2016 68% of my wealth creation has come from Saving while only 32% has come from Investment Return.  Looking at the 2007 spreadsheet I thought I could save £16,000 per annum and I wasn't planning on it increasing through my journey.  To contrast that assumption in 2015 I saved nearly £100,000.  Errors included thinking my Earnings had peaked and that I wouldn't be able to spend less than I was at the time.

I thought my investment expenses would run to 0.75% per annum.  Now ‘way back then’ Vanguard in the UK didn't exist but even so in 2015 they were down to 0.27%.  I also I thought my investments could achieve a real annualised 4.3% after expenses over the long term.  So far I've only achieved 3.4%.

I thought that in Early Retirement a safe withdrawal rate would be the 4% Rule – 4% of my wealth on retirement day increasing with inflation annually.  Today I think 2.5% is more appropriate.  That is a big error.  For a person wanting to FIRE on £20,000 it represents an extra £300,000 of wealth that needs to be accrued which is a big chunk of change.

I thought that the UK would be home and that I would need £28,000 of earnings per annum to live well in FIRE.  Today I think I’ll need closer to EUR25,000 and we’re now 99.9% Continental Europe bound.

Crashing all those numbers above together plus putting some home considerations into the mix made me think I’d need a little over £700,000 to FIRE which included some mortgage payments.  Today I think I’ll need £1,000,000 which includes paying cash for a home early into FIRE.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Another pension’s consultation begins just as the last consultation ends

There were plenty of articles in the mainstream media this week musing about the potential changes that were coming to private pension’s in this month’s budget.  Would Osborne introduce a pension’s ISA, would he introduce flat relief on pension contributions, would he abolish salary sacrifice or would he just cut allowances?  As is so often the case with budget’s these days it looks like we don’t have to wait until budget day for the answer.  Osborne has apparently decided that “There won’t be any changes to tax relief at all in the Budget” (free FT link or Google Osborne scraps pension tax relief shake-up).  So it looks like for now I can just continue with Plan A which predicted no pension tax changes for ‘high earners’ in the 2016/17 tax year.

While all these articles were getting attention it was actually this article (free FT link or Google State pension review begins with John Cridland as head) that has had me more concerned.  This was the announcement that another review of state pension ages has kicked off, from which recommendations will be made in May 2017.  ‘Experts’ are predicting that millennials joining the workforce today might be waiting until their mid-70’s before they can retire.

Now for me it’s not the potential state pension age change itself that worries me, as all my FIRE (financially independent retired early) planning never includes the state pension.  This is because I never wanted to be held to retirement age gun-point by our ever tinkering government with any state pension I might (I actually believe I may never receive any as for example it will end up means tested) receive being an insurance policy only.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

12 Months to Go?

12 months ago I suggested that I might only have 18 months to go before FIRE (financially independent retired early).  The caveat placed on this bold statement was “from here if I can save 55% of gross earnings consistently and receive a real 4% investment return then I am exactly on target to be able to retire in 18 months”.  Since that post:
  • I've struggled to save 55% of gross earnings but this has been more than made up for with earnings increases which were subsequently saved; and
  • Mr Market decided to go all bearish with my Vanguard FTSE All Share tracker still down 10.6% and my Vanguard Developed Europe tracker down 8.8%.  My Vanguard S&P500 tracker also took a dip but has today recovered to a positive 1.9%.  

None of these market gyrations or savings disappointments bothered me.  Instead I have just kept saving as much as I can, which is then used to save for a family home and continually passively rebalance my portfolio by investing into the worst performing asset classes.  Updating my portfolio this morning resulted in the following chart staring back at me:

Path Trodden Toward Financial Independence
Click to enlarge, Path Trodden Toward Financial Independence

A new record level of wealth at £880,000 and importantly if I look at what I should be able to save over the next 12 months, assume a 4% investment return and compare that to my FIRE target of £1 million, I now only have 1 year to FIRE!

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Am I an outlier or could most people do it?

I don’t think there would be much argument that millennials have it pretty tough financially with their plight now starting to make it into the mainstream media (FT link or search “Why millennials go on holiday instead of saving for a pension”).  After all:

  • They’re graduating with big chunks of student debt that their grey haired work colleagues didn't have to contend with, while their even greyer haired fellow countryman are being protected with triple lock state pensions;
  • They’re unlikely to receive anything better than a defined contribution pension with no hope of a defined pension; and
  • They’re graduating into a housing crisis where houses are today priced in such a way that ownership, particularly in the South East, is almost beyond reach.

While this is going on as a Generation X’er I'm starting to get comments that my current personal financial approach has become a little extreme.  To me it doesn't feel like it but I'm also conscious of the boiled frog analogy.

So with both of these in mind I thought today I’d run a simulation to see if a millennial graduating today, who didn't want to be as extreme as I am, but also didn't want to roll over and be a victim could still FIRE (financial independence, retired early)?  So a Saving Hard'ish, Investing Wisely, Retire Early simulation.  In short the uncomfortable maths suggests that the answer is yes...

A millenials journey to financial independence
Click to enlarge, A millenials journey to financial independence

Let’s look at the story in detail.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Good-bye Amlin, thanks for your contribution

Amlin was added to my High Yield Portfolio (HYP) back in August 2014.  At the time I purchased 963 shares at a price of £4.4986 paying £34 in stamp duty and trading fees for a total investment of £4,366.

When the mainstream media get excited about stock market rises and falls they always seem to conveniently omit mentioning those lovely things called dividends.  From purchase Amlin provided me with £485 of those, they were growing dividends year on year and I was a very happy camper.

Then on the 08 September 2015 Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company (MSI) swooped in and made a cash offer for the company.  The rest, as they say is history, with the end result being £6,452 in cash hitting my account on the 08 February 2016.  Totting that all together and Amlin for the short period held provided me with a total return of 59%.  So while I'm sad to see Amlin go I'm not too sad...

So with cash, including some new money, burning a hole in my pocket what to buy?  Market falls have resulted in the UK Equities portion of my portfolio being underweight but not yet enough for active rebalancing so I’ll just passively rebalance for now.  My strategy to build enough dividends to live off in FIRE is also still well in control so I don’t need to add to the HYP.

My Annual Dividends
Click to enlarge, My Annual Dividends

I therefore purchased £8,000 worth of Vanguard’s FTSE250 ETF Tracker, VMID, to continue my plan of further UK Equity diversification.  My UK equity split now looks like:

Saturday, 6 February 2016


In my travels I regularly come across 2 types of people.  The first are those that will set themselves a stiff challenge and then go for it.  The second are those that won’t because it’s not possible for some reason or another.  This second group I call the VICTIMS and I have little time for them.  Note here I am not talking about people who look at a goal, look at what it will take to achieve it and decide it’s not for them.  That is a conscious decision and admirable.

This week I saw the victim card being played on a couple of forums as a reason why the Save Hard, Invest Wisely and Retire Early strategy that we follow here wasn't possible:
“Forgive me if I am wrong, but isn't your entire savings strategy based on earning a top 1% income? Not possible for the other 99%.”
“Retirement Investing Today is probably the one to read if you're a captain of industry, he's very 'on' when it comes to reducing tax, expenses and coping in a high cost of living area. That said, he does have a fairly chunky salary from memory (£90k?) which makes everything flow a bit more smoothly.”

These comments frustrated me a little so what follows is a bit of rant.  If you’re not into rants I’d encourage you to move on to your next piece of regular Saturday reader.

So somebody believes that ‘my entire savings strategy is based on earning a top 1% income’.  The implication then being that because 99% don’t, the strategy can’t work for them, so they’re not going to try it.  A victim if ever I saw one.  Let’s clear this one up shall we.  The top level objective that I set myself way back in 2007 was simply that I wanted to Save Hard which would be achieved by both Earning More and Spending Less.  In the interests of full disclosure if I look back at my earnings when I started this journey and compare to some national statistics I can see that I was in the top 7% of earners in the country.  I therefore freely admit that I wasn't poorly rewarded but I was also a long long way from being in the top 1% of earners as I am today.  My strategy has allowed me to become an earnings 1%’er rather than my strategy becoming possible because I am a 1%’er.  A significant difference.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Orders of Magnitude

When it comes to spending I sweat the small stuff.

I’ll never buy a National Lottery ticket, even the £2 minimum, as I know that the probabilities say that I’m more likely to win significantly more by investing it rather than buying the ticket.  Even if there is a ‘£20.9M Rollover plus a guaranteed raffle millionaire’ tonight.  During the FIRE (financially independent retired early) accrual phase investing that £2 a week turns into nigh on £1,300 after 10 years (assuming a real 4% annualised return).  During the drawdown phase not feeding a weekly lottery habit, even a £2 a week one, means one needs £4,160 less (assuming a 2.5% withdrawal rate) wealth before FIRE becomes a possibility.  I know how hard I have to work to save £4,160.

Unlike many of my colleagues I also don’t pay to participate in a daily morning caffeine fix.  I was travelling on the company dime recently and purchased a coffee at one of these new fangled remote Costa stations.  Cost £2.10.  To feed a workday daily habit like that one is going to be spending £568 per year.  Take the free work supplied coffee; invest the money saved and all of a sudden you’re £6,800 closer to FIRE after 10 years.  Keep the habit up in FIRE and you’d need additional wealth of £21,840 (less a small amount of wealth to make one at home) before calling oneself FIRE’d.  I value earlier FIRE rather than an expensive cup of daily brown but I of course appreciate others might be different as they value it where I don’t.  Having different values is after all one thing that makes the world interesting after all.

I also sweat the small stuff when it comes to investing expenses.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Navigating the Never Ending Changes to Pensions

In recent years it feels like every Spending Review, Autumn Statement and Budget presented by our wonderful government includes pensions tinkering which is usually detrimental to what I and many others are trying to achieve.  I'm now at the point where prudence means I have to run some simulations to ensure I don’t fall foul of some new rule or other.  This has forced me to do some research and so in the spirit of sharing here goes.

Wealth warning.  I am not a pensions expert nor a financial planner.  I've also made investment mistakes in the past and will certainly make them in the future.  I also don’t know every pension rule and regulation out there.  I dread to think how long it would take someone to learn all of those.  Therefore this is not a recommendation of any type but instead hopefully provides some terms and tit bits that you the reader may not be aware of which will then encourage you to do some research like I have been.

At their heart defined contribution pensions are nothing more than a tax deferral scheme.  The deal is that you agree to lock up your money for the future and agree to follow the (continually changing) terms and conditions.  In exchange the government (currently) allows you to not pay tax on it now but rather when you unlock it in the future.  I agree to participate as for me it has the potential to be quite beneficial to wealth building as my current effective tax rate is now 47% (45% additional rate + 2% national insurance) and in the future that tax rate could be:
  • 0% and maybe a bit of 20% if we stay in the UK.  On top of that current rules will allow 25% to be taken as a tax free lump sum (TFLS);
  • 0%, 15% and 25% if we head to Malta; or
  • 0%, 19.5% and 21.5% if we head to Spain

That is a big enough incentive for me to use pensions as part of my overall investment strategy.  To maximise the benefit I want to get as much into my pension wrapper as possible while ensuring I keep enough outside of the wrapper to cover all costs and government tinkering between early retirement and my private pension access age which is currently age 55.  I think the first is an easier thing to calculate than the second given current government form.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

2015, Saved by Saving

Looking back on 2015 and I have to conclude that it was a good year for building wealth at a rapid rate.  All in I was able to increase net worth by 14% or £105,000!  That said in terms of the different ways I am using to build wealth it was unfortunately also a very binary year which is demonstrated nicely by the chart below:

RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth (Saving Hard + Investing Wisely)
Click to enlarge, RIT Year on Year Change in Wealth (Saving Hard + Investing Wisely)

Let’s look at the year in a bit more detail.  Before passing judgment on anything below it is also worth noting that the below represents everything that I have financially.  There is no Defined Benefit Pension waiting in the wings, no future inheritance and certainly no bank of mum and dad waiting in case it all goes pete tong.

As always we’ll focus on and score the three areas that I believe are essential to get over the Financial Independence line - Save Hard, Invest Wisely and Retire Early.


I define Saving Hard a little differently than most personal finance bloggers.  For me it’s Gross Earnings (ie before taxes, a crucial difference) plus Employee Pension Contributions minus Spending minus Taxes.  Earn more and one is winning.  Spend less or pay less taxes and you’re also winning.  Savings Rate is then Saving Hard divided by Gross Earnings plus Employee Pension Contributions.  To make it a little more conservative Taxes include any taxes on investments but Earnings include no investment returns.  This encourages me to continually look for the most tax efficient investment methods.

2015 was a brilliant year for increasing earnings thanks to a healthy bonus early in the year along with a good salary increase.  In total earnings were up 54%!  Of course this doesn’t come for free with my company taking a very large pound of flesh in return.  I do not expect and am not planning on something similar in 2016 particularly as the year starts with a dire bonus.  As far as building wealth goes it’s also not quite as good as it sounds as HMRC now takes the lion’s share however that said I am also certainly not complaining.

I’m now 8 and a bit years into my FIRE (financially independent retired early) journey and I can smell victory.  I think this is now further helping me to live well below my means in addition to the spending method I developed a long time ago.