Bloggers on FIRE – iRetiredYoung

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.

Bloggers on FIRE Profile Card iRetiredYoung exp

Please briefly introduce yourself to readers

Hi, I’m David. Somehow I’m 49 years old – not sure how that happened and I’m convinced I’m really much younger! After growing up in the UK, I spent more than half of my working life living and working overseas along with my wife, Sally, and our two kids.

Since December we’ve called the French Alps home, now it’s just Sally and me at home as our two kids have flown the nest. Rebecca works in Zurich and Sam is about to finish his second year of university in the UK.

I quit my job back in June 2016 to retire early, but was then persuaded to do another six months of part time consulting (a mistake). Full time early retirement therefore started on 1 January 2017. It’s great! Before that I worked in finance, starting at the bottom as an accounts clerk and working my way up to finance director.

For the most part, I enjoyed my career, although the final years were less fun. The time living and working overseas that I mentioned totalled 18 years in Jamaica, Hong Kong, South Africa (Johannesburg) and the United Arab Emirates (Dubai).

So I’m now in my third year of early retirement, and I like it a lot.

What’s your backstory?

I think I’m a pretty normal guy, so I’m not sure I have an interesting back story. I believe in working hard and trying to be a decent person and I think, if we do that, most things will work out OK.

Strangely, I only discovered the FIRE movement when I was on the cusp of retiring early. Until then, I’d just done my best trying to provide security for my family.

Since then, I’ve become more and more interested in financial independence. I love the choices it can give us. Early retirement is just one option. Others are the freedom to choose different careers, different or shorter working hours, volunteering, maybe travel or try different places to live, and many other things as well.

Why did you want to reach Financial Independence?

I used to say that I wanted to retire early but I wasn’t really serious, it was just a throwaway comment. Instead, my driver was wanting to provide security for my family. I was the main earner, and I worried what would happen if I lost my job, which I thought would be a catastrophe. Naturally it wouldn’t have been good, but I completely ignored the reality that I could get another job – hey, I never said I was smart.

The by-product of saving to provide financial security for my family was that we reached financial independence…almost by accident!

How much is your “enough”?

We have a mixed up FIRE. Our lifestyle is mostly normal but we do have elements of lean and fat FIRE too. Nowadays I like to be conscientious with my spending, ensuring what I buy will be appreciated and used. I like good value, am happy with own brand goods, but I’m also willing to spend quite a bit of money if I think something is worth it. I would definitely hate to be thought of as mean.

That said, I seem to spend more than many FIRE bloggers and, to be honest, I don’t know how some spend so little. We’ve downsized to a smaller apartment (something I really enjoy), make and stick to shopping lists and try not to be wasteful, but we still seem to spend more than many, perhaps even more than most.

At the time of my early retirement decision, I had huge difficulty trying to figure out how much was enough. It’s one of the main reasons why I started my blog and post my costs each month in case that’s helpful for someone else. I found all parts of the “how much is enough” equation difficult: how much would I spend; what amount of investments did I need; and how long did I need it to last?

What I’ve since discovered is that I don’t spend more in retirement than I did before, so that’s a good guide to the income requirements. And, if I were to do it again, I would probably work on a withdrawal rate, perhaps 4%, but maybe 3.5% because I’m a bit cautious.  

Where are you on the road to Financial Independence?

Happy days, we’re already at FI. I gave notice to my employer when I was 46, although I didn’t actually start my early retirement until I was 47. However, looking back, I think FI came a few years earlier because we find that we don’t use all of our income. That’s a nice position to be in.

What do you do all day now that you’re FI?

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but there have been two occasions where I’ve kept a timesheet to see what I do during my early retirement. A timesheet…sounds sad, I know🤣. I kept a timesheet for a month back in November 2017 and another recently for the first two weeks of April 2019. For the two weeks in April, this is how I spent my time:

What was your strategy for reaching Financial Independence?

As I mentioned earlier, my target was security for my family, and that got me a long way down the line to FI, almost by accident. These are the main things that I did:

  1. I worked overseas for 18 years – it paid more and had less tax, two things that made a big difference. I also enjoyed the overseas life. That’s hugely important, saving for the future is great, but you have to enjoy the now as well.
  2. We invested in rental properties which over time became our biggest investment.
  3. I hate debt, although it’s sometimes necessary for things like a house purchase, so we committed to pay off mortgages as quickly as possible. If we had some spare cash we made overpayments which stopped us frittering that money away and also reduced the interest cost.
  4. We downsized. We were fortunate that the value of our family home increased substantially, so we released equity by selling it and downsizing to a small apartment.

I wrote a postrecently that looked at the main things we did to get to FI, and whether we would change things if we could do it again.

What’s your strategy now that you’ve reached FI?

Our portfolio is:

Rental properties             59%

Low cost ETFs                   33%

Other investments            6%

Cash                                     2%

We get enough income from the rental properties to cover all our living costs, we haven’t had to touch the capital nor draw any income from the ETFs. That means we could spend more, but I don’t see the point in spending more just because we can. I’m also conscious that we (hopefully) have a lot of years ahead of us, so having spare now gives me confidence that it will last.

What was your biggest financial mistake?

I’m going to admit to two big, or more like huge, mistakes:

  1. Using a financial advisor in 2009 which was a complete disaster.
  2. Procrastinating on investment decisions for three years after releasing cash from selling our family house.

I did the sums and found that if I hadn’t made these mistakes and had instead invested the funds in the S&P500, I would have an extra £427,000 (or €493,000 / US$555,000 at today’s exchange rates). After doing the math, I was in shock!

Even though it was embarrassing, I did a post about it in the hope that it may help someone else from making the same mistakes that I did.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I’ve generally been quite a worrier and let things stress me out. In some ways that was good because it drove my desire to provide security for my family and that morphed into FI and the life I have today.

What I’ve found is that things often aren’t as bad as they seem, and that there is a solution for most things. Sometimes it isn’t perfect, but mostly it isn’t a disaster. I would advise my younger self to not worry or stress so much over things.

Another piece of advice would be to enjoy life for the now. That doesn’t mean to ignore planning for the future, but to have a good balance between now and the future. Looking back, I don’t think I made the most of the opportunities to explore the regions where we lived and worked. We didn’t do too badly, but my report card would have said “could have done better”.

What’s your wildest dream?

Hey, I used to be an accountant, and although I’ve now left that career behind, I’m not sure that even ex-accountants have wild dreams, or at least not ones they should admit to!

So definitely not wildest dream material, but what I do want is to not waste my early retirement. I don’t want to be lazy in it. Some of the highlights so far have been seeing my children more often (they live in different countries to us), travelling overseas to run marathons (Budapest, Prague, Boston and Eisenach in Germany), we travelled for four months in Australia and Asia, and we’ve relocated to a new country. It’s not been boring!

Plans for later this year are to cycle the Route des Grande Alpes (from Lake Geneva to Nice on the Mediterranean) and two months travelling in South America.

If things like these can continue to be my reality, then who needs dreams?  

What’s your favourite just-for-fun activity that brings you joy?

I’m trying to think of something, it seems a difficult question.

I think running and cycling with friends is what I would say. I started running six years ago, and cycling four years ago. I enjoy the fantastic friendships that I’ve made, the effort required (although it doesn’t seem nice at the time) and then the buzz afterwards as the endorphins kick in. I enjoy the coffee we often have after, and the race days when I compete against my friends and try to get bragging rights for the next week (I didn’t often get these). Running marathons (including the training) counts as the hardest I’ve ever worked for something that I didn’t need to do – I’m baffled how it has brought me a lot of fun and enjoyment, but it has.