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.

Saturday 9 January 2016

An Interesting Week

Blowing bubbles
Source: wikipedia
Rather than a particular focus this week my brain has been a little all over the place.  Maybe it’s the after effects of too much Christmas and New Year cheer...  What it means though is that instead of a detailed focused post today what you get is a smattering of random thoughts.  If that’s not your thing then you might want to move onto your next piece of Saturday reading.

Stock Market Fun

The big boys and girls seem to have come back from their Christmas vacations and (started to?) put the markets back in their place.  On the week:
  • China’s Shanghai Composite Index is down 10.0%;
  • The US’s S&P500 is down 6.0%;
  • Japan’s Nikkei 225 is down 7.0%;
  • Our FTSE100 is down 5.3%; and
  • Our FTSE250 is down 4.0%

It’s only a week of market action but I thought it might be interesting to compare that action to a diversified portfolio that has different asset classes across multiple countries.  I hope I have one of those so comparing to my portfolio I’m down 2.3% on the week.  I’m not yet at FIRE but even now in pounds, shillings and pence that is a fall of £19,320 which is more than a year’s worth of post FIRE post home purchase living expenses.

London Housing

It’s all too rare that The Investor over at the excellent Monevator has a good rant but there was some good value this week with the post they don’t tax free time.  Like The Investor I've watched the London property market go insane so this comment

“But with London prices having moved from extreme to insane to “oh, so this is what my grandmother meant when she said flinched at 50p for a bag of chips that used to cost a ha’penny”...”

was particularly amusing.  Now every year I try and assess the house value of all the counties ofEngland and Wales so I already knew it was insane and really no longer a place for anyone who isn't an oligarch or money launderer.  Hell even the bankers can’t afford it any more.  In light of this throwing this chart together this week did make me smile:

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

Does this make my first picture today relevant?

Friday 1 January 2016

2015 HYP Review

The vast majority of my low cost portfolio consists of low cost trackers.  The one big exception to this is my UK High Yield Portfolio (HYP), which has just completed its 4th calendar year and contains a not insignificant £60,000 or so of my hard earned wealth.

I am a big believer in passive index tracking as I don’t believe it’s possible to consistently beat the market over a very long time (think 40 years or so in my case).  So why did I start a HYP then?  It all centred on trying to understand my own psychology.  At some point in the not too distant future I'm no longer going to be in the portfolio accrual stage and instead will start drawing down on my wealth.  As a very early retiree my draw down phase is with any luck going to be a long time.  It could even be equivalent to my whole 43 years of life so far.  For me at least I feel that selling down assets to eat on a good day could be psychologically difficult even for somebody as rational as me.  I could only imagine how difficult it would be if Mr Market had tanked by 50%.  So with that in mind I set myself a task to position my portfolio to have a very good chance of being able to live off the dividends and interest only from my portfolio.

The HYP has helped me achieve that goal with my total portfolio dividends and interest (less the funds allocated for a home purchase) currently generating a yield of 3.6% against a planned retirement withdrawal rate of 2.5%.  With this now being well in control I haven’t had a need to add a great deal to the HYP this year.  Additions have been limited to:
  • BP.  Bought in January 2015 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -11.1% and a forecast dividend yield of 7.4%.
  • Rio Tinto.  Bought in March 2015 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -37.1% (ouch!) and a forecast dividend yield of 7.5%.
  • Legal & General.  Bought in May 2015 and currently sitting on an annualised capital loss of -1.1% and a forecast dividend yield of 5.0%.
  • National Grid.  Bought in July 2015 and currently sitting on an annualised capital gain of +25.3% and a forecast dividend yield of 4.7%.

The complete HYP and their respective values are shown in the chart below.  The purchasing rule that I follow is the amount of the next purchase is the median share value of the current portfolio (with the exception of RMG and S32).

Retirement Investing Today High Yield Portfolio
Click to enlarge, Retirement Investing Today High Yield Portfolio

Tuesday 29 December 2015

Giving my bonus to those better able to spend it

I believe that I work hard.  In fact I'm now at the point (and have been for a few months) where I'm wondering if I can increase my discretionary energy further or whether doing so will result in burn-out.  I'm therefore for now maintaining status quo while I better understand my long term capability.  Fortunately, that hard work typically transfers into results meaning another year has passed where my personal work objectives have been yet again knocked out of the park.  Great I hear you say, another year of big bonuses, which you’ll save all of, which will pull you even closer to FIRE.  I wish it were true...

Firstly, bonuses at my company are structured in such a way that it considers your objectives as well as the objectives of the company as a whole.  I can sort of understand this as it protects the company in very bad times such as those seen at the bottom of the Global Financial Crisis.  So has company performance been good this year?  Unfortunately the answer to that question is a resounding no.  If I was asked was the company doing well I would of course give a very different answer but hey ho.  The end result of all this is that a large portion of my bonus will not pay out.  Of course the portion not paid out goes straight to the bottom line meaning a large portion of my hard work this year has gone to enriching the owners of the company.