Europeans on FIRE – Venci

In our Europeans on FIRE series, we interview people living in Europe who don’t blog to find out what makes them tick. Our aim is to give non-bloggers a voice and hear what they have to say. We hope you enjoy hearing from people you’ve never heard of before!

If you’d like to take part in Europeans on FIRE, contact us at hello[at]firehub[dot]eu and we’ll send you the details.

You can find a full list of our Europeans on FIRE interviews here.

Europeans on FIRE Profile Card Venci exp

Please briefly introduce yourself to readers

My name is Venci. I’m 32, from Bulgaria, currently living in the UK, working in construction, single, no kids . 

What is your backstory?

I learned to be good with money from a young age simply by necessity. I used to get a breakfast-lunch-pocket-money combo – my daily allowance was enough only to buy a sandwich (not a fancy one). If I wanted a sandwich, I had no money left. If I wanted to save up for a toy or something else, I had no breakfast. I could have one or the other, but not both. My mother used to buy me clothes a couple of sizes bigger so I wouldn’t outgrow them as quickly and wear them longer. I have a winter jacket from 8th grade which I still wear to this day. Thanks, Mom.

In 2007, Bulgaria joined the EU, and I moved to the UK to study tourism since I no longer needed a visa. And also, as a student from an EU country, I could get a student loan. (Looking back studying any kind of engineering – mechanical, electrical or computer – or finance, or business would have been a much better choice. But you live and learn I suppose). I worked various jobs throughout my studies to support myself.

After graduating I moved from London to Manchester to work for British Airways. It was a dream come true, the biggest success of my life. Only after a few months that success story turned into a nightmare. I worked in a call centre and I absolutely hated it. The job was stressful and low-paid (I was getting slightly above the minimum wage). After a few unsuccessful attempts to move to another position within the company I couldn’t take it anymore, and I quit.

After that I moved to Germany where I worked as a bartender in a Mexican restaurant. It was great fun, but it was a dead end job. Serving people alcohol didn’t go well with my values, and also it was quite a back breaking job – people don’t realise how much heavy lifting is involved in being a bartender. We had a black rubbish bin with wheels, filled with full glass bottles that had to go upstairs, and another one filled with the empty bottles to come down. The bin was too heavy for a single person to lift, so I had to ask someone from the other staff to give me a hand. That was happening five to six times per night. Did I also mention that the German language is a bitch? After a year and a half I was done with that as well.

Then I moved back to Bulgaria where I decided to take it nice and easy and slow, enjoying life for a change. I had great fun working on my little projects – constructing a solar hot air heater from aluminium cans, building a rocket stove with my dad etc, visiting nearby tourist attractions I never had the chance to visit before, enjoying our great nature which had been missing from my life, living abroad for so long. As much as I had fun in Bulgaria, I also struggled with the system. Everything is so slow, so difficult and backwards.

I tried setting up my own business – selling “poo-pourri” online. I had researched everything: How to make my own spray, where to get the bottles from, I found suppliers, labels, everything. However, it turned out that there is a ban on shipping liquids from Bulgaria to other countries for some reason. There isn’t such a ban in the UK, nor in Germany, only in Bulgaria…

I realised that if I had a passive house, rainwater harvesting, solar hot water etc., basically having minimal expenses and pretty much only working for the food (that was my idea of FI before discovering the actual FIRE), I could be free and keep working on my little projects. Maybe start a different business, enjoy nature, have time for the family. So even if I had to work a low-paid job I hated, it would only be part-time, a few hours a day, or seasonal – some months of the year (that was my worst case scenario). Achieving such freedom and flexibility is what many people can only dream about. I knew however that I couldn’t achieve my vision as quickly and easily in Bulgaria as I could abroad. So back to the UK it was.

This time I had a plan. I was done with career chasing, white shirts, clean shaving, and all that. This time I only wanted money. And I was going to get it by working in construction. It pays way more than my previous customer service jobs, and it’s way quicker to get a qualification. At the time when I worked at British Airways in Manchester, a friend of mine got a licence for a telescopic forklift in London. It only took him a week to get it, and he stared earning twice as much as I was. I have a Bachelor’s degree in International Tourism Management, he could barely speak English… That friend also bought a small flat back in Bulgaria for €14k. Money he saved in a year or two, not a single cent borrowed from the bank.

So that was my plan, I was going to do what he had done (sort of). I was going to work for one year in the UK, move back to Bulgaria, buy a small flat, and live happily ever after. So I moved back to the UK in September of 2017, and off to forklift school. Needless to say nothing went as planned. I didn’t get a job as easily as I thought I would, being a newbie. Also, in the winter construction slows down, so not that many jobs. The prices of real estate in Bulgaria went crazy. The long distance relationship also didn’t survive.

Slowly things started to improve. I got a job, I started earning and saving way more than I could before. (Just to be clear: it was a lot to me personally not a lot as a computer engineer. I was, and still am getting around £16-£17 per hour). Then I discovered Mr. MM and the idea of FI, and it clicked. It just made so much sense to me – if I could earn more than I spent, I could buy myself a better life.

Why do you want to reach Financial Independence?

I see many benefits of being FI – freedom to do what I want, be where I want, and so on. But you know how they say avoiding pain is much more motivating than gaining pleasure. Here is my motivation: I don’t want to live the life of my parents – being trapped in a low-paying, high stress job, being too old to find a better one, yet not old enough for a pension. Money equals freedom, money equals choices. To use Jillian Johnsrud’s words: “Living in poverty feels like all your choices are made for you. The place you work, the hours you work, the food you eat, where you live, who you have to live with, and how you spend your free time. Poverty decides all of it. You feel like a cog in the wheel. Just pushing through the motions. No exit plan. Just keep your head down and keep walking. Don’t make waves. Don’t complain.”

Mark Rober said: “it is a statistical certainty that Albert Einstein wasn’t the most intelligent human. It was some random person you’ve never heard of, probably born a long time ago, who spent most of their daily energy just trying to survive.”

I believe that being FI changes that. Also the road to FI changes the way we think, which might be the single biggest benefit of being FI. You know what enough is, you stop living your life on autopilot.

How much is your “enough”?

It’s hard to say because I’m currently single, I have no kids and I live in the UK. If I had a wife and kids and was living in Bulgaria, I would say probably somewhere around €1,000 per month for the whole family + a house/flat which is paid for. If my wife was from a different country and we decided to live somewhere else it would probably be more than that.

Where are you on the road to Financial Independence?

I’m still in the very beginning, I discovered the idea of FI a year ago. I have a long way to go. If I have to put it percentage-wise, I would say ~ 7 – 8% FI.

What do you want to do with your life once you reach Financial Independence?

Other than raising my future children, which I would like to be my main priority, I would like to work on various little projects: Translating useful books to Bulgarian, building a geothermal greenhouse to grow fruits and vegetables that are normally imported.

Finding a way to lobby the EU parliament to enforce various little things in order to improve everybody’s life: Removing the fine print – banning the use of miniature font sizes designed to deceive people, making terms and conditions short and understandable for non-lawyers. All toilet paper, kitchen rolls, tissues etc. to be made with at least 50% recycled paper, all power tools to use the same battery – Makita drills to be able to use DeWalt batteries just like all mobile phones use the same charger (except Apple), and on and on. The list keeps growing all the time.

What is your strategy for reaching FI?

My initial strategy was to buy 100 Tesla shares, then start diversifying into ETFs. Maybe some real estate if the prices drop. However my current lifestyle is mainly work and sleep. I feel the burnout and cannot see myself living existing this way for another 10-15 years. Recently I’ve been thinking about Flexible/Barista FIRE.

I have some business ideas and I’m planning on moving back to Bulgaria in the spring of 2020 and work on them. That also means that I don’t have to wait 10-15 years to live my FI life.

What is/will be your financial strategy after reaching FI?

Flexible/Barista FIRE – some money from my investments, topping it up with some part-time work.

What was your biggest financial mistake?

My biggest financial mistake by far is not investing earlier in my life. A few iPhones ago Apple shares were around $300 each, I wanted to buy some but I didn’t know how. I started researching how to buy but I was overwhelmed. Everything seemed so scary and difficult, and I just gave up. After that, the stock grew to $700 and then Apple split them seven to one – if you had one share worth $700, after the split you had seven shares worth $100 each. At the time of this interview one Apple share is $261.78 multiplied by seven = $1,832.46 – you get the point.

I feel the same way with Tesla. This time however, I’m not making the same mistake by not investing. Also since discovering Mr. MM and the FI community investing doesn’t seem so scary now. So I bought some Tesla shares and made some more mistakes along the way (but not as big as not investing at all). I had around 20-30 Tesla shares in an ISA (for those who don’t know ISA is a type of account available in the UK where you can invest up to £20k per year and you don’t pay capital gains tax). And I thought it would be a good idea to day trade them, so I did. I sold them (I don’t remember the exact price) and bought them back a few hours later at a lower price ($1-$2 lower, nothing special). I should have made $50-$60 that day, according to my calculations.

However, when I my checked my account after re-purchasing at a lower price, I discovered that I had lost money instead. How is that even possible? Fees. Trading fee (calculated for), foreign currency exchange fee 1.25% (not calculated for), multiplied by two (when you sell them and then when you buy them back). That was very inefficient, so I decided to make mistake number two  – sell the shares from the ISA, close the account to get rid off the £12.50 annual fee, open at DEGIRO (they don’t have an ISA option quite yet), and do some more day trading and lose some more money. This time I lost by selling shares at a certain price, expecting the price to drop, and being able to buy them back at a lower price. But after selling, the price increased instead. So I ran out of patience/panicked a bit, and bought them back at a slightly higher price – ending up with one to two shares less than I originally had. I also made some money this way. But overall, I think I lost a bit more than I made, so I stopped doing it.

Making some mistakes along the way to FI is inevitable, and I’m OK with that.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Start investing in your 20s not in your 30s. As I mentioned I was always good with money. I was always saving, never ran out of money, never had to borrow (except the student loan). But growing up I didn’t know anything about investing, nor did anybody I knew. (You know how they say you are the average of the five people around you, I wasn’t surrounded by the brightest minds in the world). Saving can only get you so far. Investing makes all the difference.

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

Working on small projects designed to optimise efficiency, save money, effort and precious resources – a solar hot air heater from aluminium cans, designing a 3D shower head that saves water, making a highly efficient rocket stove, insulated automatic roller blinds, and so on, and on. Even though I’m not an engineer by trade, it seems that I’m definitely an engineer by heart 🙂