Saturday 15 August 2015

My Spending

Saving Hard has thus far been one of the biggest contributors to my reasonably rapid FIRE (financially independent retired early) Number progress.  For me this has never been about simply spending the least amount possible but instead always about maximising the answer to the formula Earnings – Taxes – Spending.  This results in a twofold approach:

With this in mind I suspect my spending profile will look quite strange when compared to many, but hey we’re all different and that’s what makes the world an interesting place.

In July 2015 I spent £1,926 (an annualised £23,112) and 2015 Year to Date I've averaged £2,068 per month (£24,816 annualised).  This covers all family spending, whether for fun or just too live, plus any personal spending that I desire.  The only thing excluded is my better half’s small personal spending.  Given this is hopefully my final full year before FIRE I want to track my full 2015 average spending as well as monthly for a couple reasons:
  • It gives me a floor of spending at which the family are happy with the lifestyle that we are living.  This will help tell me when I’m FI (financial independent), which will be before FIRE’d.  It will also help me understand how much overhead my 2.5% wealth withdrawal rate, at the start of FIRE, combined with my £1,000,000, actually provides me with.
  • We are still torn between early retirement in The Mediterranean vs Old Blighty and this will also help us understand our average spending profile when in different countries.
Retirement Investing Today July 2015 and Average 2015 Spending
Click to enlarge, Retirement Investing Today July 2015 and Average 2015 Spending

Now the detail:

Saturday 8 August 2015

The Lending Works Experiment

A little over a year ago I cried enough of the derisory instant savings account interest rates that were being offered by the banking sector, which after inflation and taxes, meant the value of my wealth was going backwards.  A quick trip over to Money Saving Expert reveals that the problem still exists.   The market-leading rate if you want instant access to your money is 1.6% meaning a higher rate tax punter, after inflation of 1.0%, is going backwards by 0.04% annually.  Additionally, this rate then reverts to 1.1% after a year meaning you have to do the savings account dance all again.  Even the best 3-year fixed rate account is only offering 2.65% meaning after inflation of 1.0% and higher rate tax our punter would only be getting ahead by 0.59%.  The chart below shows it’s been like this for a long time now and with no sign of an up-turn.

Average UK Savings Account Interest Rates
Click to enlarge, Average UK Savings Account Interest Rates

Meanwhile, while this has all been occurring I’ve been quietly shifting/building wealth with peer to peer (P2P) lending (while of course acknowledging that P2P has a different risk profile to bank savings accounts) as an alternative to a bank savings account.  Today I have as much money invested in P2P, £43,000, as I do in savings accounts.  Since starting out in May 2014 I’ve earned interest/bonuses of £1,342 which after taking into account deposits/transfers occurring over time is an annualised 4.3%.

Given my successes so far with P2P my interest was piqued this week when I was contacted by Lending Works enquiring whether there was any opportunity for us to work together.  At the time I wasn't using Lending Works as a P2P platform but I was aware of them as I know weenie over at Quietly Saving has money in their platform.  A few emails later we had agreed that rather than something like a boring advertisement that would add little value to readers I would instead run a published experiment with real money lent into the market.

Saturday 1 August 2015

My FIRE Number

Since starting this blog at 35 years of age in 2009 I have never revealed my portfolio values or targets in £ terms.  Rightly or wrongly I've always believed that it was irrelevant to readers given we all have different earnings, investments, risk profiles, savings rates and target retirement amounts.  This has resulted in posts that always focus on the theory and how I'm applying it but that in hindsight come across as dry and impersonal.

Today I'm going to try and change that by starting to talk in real numbers rather than percentages.  My hope is that it will up the debate a little and help us all continue to learn from each other.  I just hope it doesn't kill the community that has developed over the past 5 or so years.  Given the name of this blog and my closeness to FIRE (financially independent retired early) the amount of wealth I am trying to accrue is probably the number that is currently most important to me and probably one of the most popular topics debated/discussed within personal finance blogs and forums.  So let’s start there.

As a person who does not plan on receiving a State Pension and is not going to be receiving any sort of inheritance it is a crucial number for me as to fully FIRE it needs to be enough to last my family and I for the rest of my life.  That could be 45 or more years.  The methodology to calculate it was first devised back in 2007 when I first started on my DIY FIRE journey and went like this:
  • I was renting in London, as I still am today and though of London as home
  • I asked myself what a good salary would be that would enable me to live well including covering rent or mortgage payments.  That number was £30,000
  • As I worked towards FIRE I would increase that salary annually by inflation.  Today that salary within my Excel spreadsheet is £37,691
  • I calculated what I expected my portfolio to return annually in real terms.  This number still dynamically calculates in my Excel spreadsheet every week when I update my financial position.  That number after expenses was 3.8%.  A number I later learnt wasn't so far from the (in)famous 4% Rule
Dividing that FIRE salary by the expected return enabled me to calculate my number.  Today Excel tells me my early retirement number is £1,011,034.  To avoid discussions about me being obsessive compulsive let’s do a little rounding - I will be financially independent and have the option of early retirement with wealth of one million pounds.  My journey to the million is shown in the chart below.

Saturday 25 July 2015

The Exchange Rate Conundrum

It’s no secret that exchange rates can be and are volatile.  If you’re a person who’s earning in Pounds, has a reasonable portion of their wealth in Pounds and intends to retire in the UK spending Pounds then exchange rates are probably not going to lose you too much sleep.  Short term volatility might add a couple of hundred pounds to your continental holiday or repress the return on your international equities for a couple of years, where if you've made reasonable plans with a little contingency, is going to be noise in the scheme of things.  Long term volatility could end up resulting in some inflation but your Safe Withdrawal Rate has hopefully accounted for that as well.

Now let’s jump to somebody like myself and I'm sure I'm not along out there.  I'm earning in Pounds, have a reasonable portion of my wealth in Pounds, intend to retire early somewhere in the Mediterranean (still favouring Malta) but want to always give myself a chance of coming back to the UK if it for any reason turns ugly.  From today this is how the plans are unfolding:
1. 12 to 18 months still working for The Man in the UK and earning Pounds
2. Move to Malta (more likely Malta’s smaller island Gozo) and rent for 6 months to be sure I still love the place and know exactly which region I want to live
3. Buy a home for my family
4. Live happily ever after spending Euro’s but with my wealth still set up assuming the UK is home.  Longer term I may start to tilt more towards a European home assumption but that would be very gradual and take many years.

So I'm more heavily exposed to the GBP (Pounds or £’s) to EUR (Euro or €) exchange rate.  The Euro first started on the 01 January 1999 as an accounting currency and the chart below shows its monthly performance up to present day.

GBP to EUR Exchange Rate January 1999 to June 2015
Click to enlarge, GBP to EUR Exchange Rate January 1999 to June 2015 

Even over that relatively short period big swings are evident.  It was at its weakest in October 2000 at 1.6977 and strongest in January 2009 at 1.0863.  The long run average is 1.3756 (the red line on the chart) which isn't far from today’s rate of 1.41287.

Saturday 18 July 2015

A Retirement Investing Today Half 1 2015 Review

On this blog I talk a lot about my own strategy and portfolio including how I'm managing and changing them as I learn.  Importantly, this is not a demonstration strategy or portfolio but instead reflects every penny I have to my name.  The journey also now represents a significant portion of my life with me now having been on this DIY Early Financial Independence (FI) path for seven and three quarter years which is nearly 20% of my life so far.  When I started in 2007 and even when I started this blog in 2009 I had no idea if I would succeed.  Today I'm far more confident that I’ll eventually get there and I also now believe that I have a level of personal finance knowledge that will enable me to self manage my portfolio to and into Early Retirement.  Even so I’m not yet going to relax.  At some point I'm also sure I’ll need to start thinking about how to set-up an autopilot portfolio (Vanguard LifeStrategy anyone?) but that’s for another day.

This strategy and portfolio is an essential enabler to how I want to live my later life – one not burdened by the need to work for The Man but instead able to focus 100% on what’s important to me which enables both location and time freedom.  Given its importance I like to stop every quarter and in line with my Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) strategy do some Checking against the three key focus areas that I believe are essential to get over the Financial Independence line - Save Hard, Invest Wisely and Retire Early.


Saving Hard is defined as Gross Earnings (ie before taxes) 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 Savings 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.  It’s a different and tougher measure to most of my fellow personal finance bloggers who don’t include tax in the calculation.

Savings Rate for the quarter ends at 53.8% against a plan of 55%.  This is identical to last quarter.  While not achieving plan in pounds, shillings and pence it’s actually 56% more than I managed in Half 1 2014 thanks in part to a healthy bonus.

RIT Savings Rate
Click to enlarge, RIT Savings Rate

Saving Hard score: Conceded Pass.  While not achieving a plan of 55% in pound terms I’m a long way above 2014.  Savings have also added 7.6% to my net wealth in the first half of the year – a surreal amount given I’m towards the back end of my Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) journey.