Bloggers on FIRE – Ditch the Cave
In our Bloggers on FIRE series, we interview European FI bloggers to find out what makes them tick. Our aim is to build up a “who’s who” directory for the European FI blogging world. We hope you enjoy the series and discover some new blogs to follow. You can find a full list of our Bloggers on FIRE interviews here.
Please briefly introduce yourself to FIREhub.eu readers
Hi there, I’m a UK blogger based just outside of London who writes as Caveman at ditchthecave.com. I’m in my 40s and married with two children who are both at school. Unlike a lot of people seeking to reach financial independence I don’t work in finance or in software. In fact I spent most of my career working in the public sector although, sadly, not in the sorts of areas that come with a final salary pension!
I’m not particularly interested in writing about the numbers and strategies that people can use to get to FI. There are many people that talk about that with much more knowledge and insight than I will ever have. Instead I’m more interested in the emotions and the thought processes that we go through on the FI journey.
What is your backstory?
My father worked as a freelancer when I was growing up and I was always aware of the precariousness of our lifestyle. When he was working things were fine, but when he was out of work for more than a month or so then an atmosphere would descend over our house. It wasn’t that we would be cutting back on things or that there wasn’t food on the table, it was more that my father would withdraw into himself. We would be very aware that he was there when we left for school and that he was still there when we came home again.
That experience left me with an absolute abhorrence of debt of any kind. It meant that as a student I would sometimes go hungry rather than have to use my overdraft. As I got older it meant that I got rid of my student loans as quickly as I could and then focussed on paying off my mortgage very early.
This all then led to a desire to educate myself in personal finance so I spent a lot of time reading the money pages of the newspapers and forums of sites like the Motley Fool (back in the day when it had forums). That then led me to the idea of Financial Independence and I was reading sites like the Mad Fientist in the days before he had retired – in fact I think even before he moved to Scotland!
The site that really pulled me in though was a blog called Living A Fi. Although it’s not been updated for years, the site is still up and it is well worth reading through some of his posts if you have a spare afternoon. While other blogs were largely about the money side of things, his blog was all about how he was feeling. How he was coping with the stresses of working knowing that he wanted to stop soon. The emotional connection that I felt towards what he was writing was what convinced me that FI was something that I wanted to work towards as well.
I realised that I was already doing a lot of the things that would be needed to reach FI without consciously trying. From there it was then just a process of running a few spreadsheets and making some tweaks to my lifestyle.
How much is your “enough”?
I have a very particular way of thinking about my enough that is related to how I think about the stages of Financial Independence. The most important part of my ‘enough’ is a paid off house. I know all of the arguments as to why that is a bad idea but I still want it. For me the peace of mind and security that will give outweighs any financial disadvantages.
The second part of that is to build my savings through a series of milestones. Specifically how can I have an income of £1,000 per month (very Lean FI), £2,000 per month (normal to lean FI) and £3,000 per month (comfortable FI – i.e. one where I don’t have to change my current lifestyle at all).
The thing that I am wrestling with at the moment is what I actually want from life and what trade offs I am prepared to make. What my ‘enough’ will be depends on what I conclude about that. I talk about that more later.
Where are you on the road to Financial Independence?
In terms of my journey I am working through a tricky decision at the moment.
Where I am at is that I have:
- Paid off the mortgage on my home;
- Saved into retirement accounts that should mean that I should be fine at traditional retirement age; and
- Savings that could cover several years worth of spending at our current levels.
The big question for me is what I want and when. I don’t want to cut back on the opportunities for my family that would be needed if I stopped work now. However the longer that I wait the older my children get and the less time I will have with them.
The question I’m asking myself is whether I take a career break of a decade or so now and then look to have some form of ‘Barista FIRE’ after my children have left home. i.e. cut back after they go and just look to cover living expenses until I can access my retirement accounts.
What I have realised though is that whatever happens there will be a trade off between time and money. What I need to be very careful of not doing is to just carry on as I am without making a decision. Carrying on as I am is, in effect, a decision to spend less time with my children but instead to give them, and me, more things both experiences and physical things.
Lots to think about!
What do you want to do with your life once you reach Financial Independence?
I am very lucky in that I have already managed to achieve a lot of things that people want to achieve in their lives. I’ve climbed mountain, trekked deserts, done charity work, written a book, gone back to university, speak a second language etc .
As a result my ambitions when I reach FI are modest. First of all it is about being a good husband and father and friend. Secondly I want to embed myself in my community by, for example, joining a choir again, volunteering to do local conservation work or helping out at my children’s school. The final element is work towards making myself a better person. By better I mean, physically, culturally, practically, socially. Trying to push myself to improve in all aspects of my life. That could involve cooking a new dish, learning an instrument or a language, working out, reading a challenging book or something entirely different!
My perfect day would incorporate elements of all of that.
What is your strategy for reaching Financial Independence?
I am trivially simple in my approach:
- Pay off my mortgage
- Make sure that I get the full pension match from my employer
- Save enough in a large emergency fund to cover all living expenses for a year or two so that I can ride out any stock market volatility and put this into risk free savings accounts
- Use up my tax free allowances to automatically save into index tracker funds
That last point is the area that needs most attention. In my drive to pay off the mortgage I have neglected non-pension savings so my non-pension savings are relatively low.
In terms of making all of that work I have some simple rules that I follow. A big one in that is to automate as much as possible. Saving, investing, paying bills, putting money into pensions, all of it. For me the key to achieving FI is to “set and forget”. It means that I know that I’m achieving my long term goals while still living in the moment and focussing on the day to day business of work, family, friends, hobbies and so on.
What will be your financial strategy after reaching FI?
I am still thinking about this but my current plan is basically to live off savings until I can access my pension. My plan is to be 60:40 or even 70:30 invested in stocks:bonds while having a c. 18-24 months cash cushion. It will mean that I can withdraw from the market if things are going well, while allowing myself to ride out any major stock market movements.
Once I access my pension I intend to follow a 3%-3.5% withdrawal rate in addition to the fixed income from the state pension once I reach the right age (assuming that there is still a state pension the quarter of a century or so until I am eligible to access it)!
What was your biggest financial mistake?
When I first started my career after university I had the opportunity to go into banking, specifically M&A. There was also an opportunity to go into fund management. Instead I decided to go into strategy consulting. The consequence was that I still worked almost the sorts of hours that you have to do in banking and faced the same intellectual challenges and stresses but got paid a fraction of what I could have earned. If I hadn’t done that I would have been Financially Independent 10 years ago.
And yet, and yet, and yet. When I look back on that, the job that I DID decide to do led me to the job that I’m in now which I find absolutely fascinating. I wasn’t working quite as many hours as I would have done in banking. That meant that I could spend time with the woman who is now my wife. It also meant that I could spend some of my free time singing in a choir which led me to meeting some of my best friends.
So yes, it’s undeniable that it was a FINANCIAL mistake not to take that job, but I can’t quite bring myself to regret it too much.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Spend more time with your friends. Go out more to enjoy the things that London has to offer when you are in your 20s and have the money and freedom to do that. Theatre, opera, galleries, museums, comedy, concerts, restaurant.
I was working so hard in my 20s that I didn’t really do very much beyond working, eating and sleeping. In particular I neglected my friends and that is the thing that I regret the most.
What’s your wildest dream?
I should probably say something altruistic like world peace or reversing climate change but let me instead be quite self indulgent.
As I said before, I don’t have a lot of big things that I still want to do. I mostly want to improve myself and engage with my local community. However, my idle moments I think that I would love to spend three years abroad after my children have left home. The first would be in South East Asia and India. My time would be split between a Thai Boxing camp and learning scuba diving in Thailand and then yoga in Bali and India.
The second year would be spent in Paris. Likely doing similar things to what I would be doing in the UK, i.e. local conservation projects, going to the gym, writing, becoming part of the local community. The big reason for me would be to embed myself in a different culture and to become fluent in French.
The third year would be spent in the Americas. One part of that would be spent in the United States working around the NFL season. We would be going to all of the home and away games of, probably, the Seattle Seahawks and using the rest of the time to explore the related parts of the country. The other part of the year would be spent in Spanish-speaking central and south America. Basing ourselves in places for a month or so at a time. Again the idea would be to really experience a new culture and become fluent in Spanish.
The loveliest thing about these dreams is that there is a good chance that they will come true!
What is your favourite just-for-fun activity that brings you joy?
OK so let’s take as given things like spending time with family and friends or reading, or watching films. Beyond those things, the thing that I love doing is to go to woods and practice bushcraft. You know the sort of thing, building fires and cooking over them, foraging for berries, building shelters, all of that. I just love waking up in the silence of the woods and spending time away from technology.