2022: Financial year in review

I like to start the new year with a stocktake of how my finances are doing and whether my savings and investments went according to plan, then using this as a prelude to setting some plans and goals for the coming year. This isn’t the only focus for the year, so check out future posts to find out more about setting intentions, vision boards and the like. But it is a good way of gathering some baseline data to see where I am starting from.

To say 2022 was a tricky year financially is a massive understatement. Whilst the economy globally seemed to be strengthening post-COVID at the start of the year, the invasion of Ukraine in February turned a lot of the world’s certainties on their head. Prices started to go up for petrol, food, energy, leading to massive cost increases in the basics for most households.

This trend has continued throughout the year, with supply chain issues as well as scarcity in some areas leading to a crisis with the soaring cost of living. I feel like I’ve been writing about this all year: 92% of adults in the UK have reported an increase in the cost of living, with 60% saying they are ‘very concerned’ about their ability to cope with additional rises. Food banks in the UK had to distribute more than 1.3 million food parcels in 2022, an increase of 50% since pre-COVID figures. I recognise that whilst financial freedom remains a critical goal in my life, so many people are getting closer to the financial precipice that they really need to get support, and get it now.

Inflation also grew at a significant and rapid rate, hitting almost 11% in the UK by the end of December. For many people, including me, this had an immediate impact on mortgage interest rates, biting even deeper into the daily costs of getting by. Whilst the expectation is that inflation has now hit its highest point and will start to reduce in 2023, the impact (and uncertainty) of these shifts are real.

It has also been a shaky year for the markets. Again an understatement, with the Financial Times headline for the end of the year reading Stock and bond markets shed more than $30tn in ‘brutal’ 2022. Markets in the US had their worst year since 2008 (and we all remember what a brilliant year that was). Whilst I love FIRE and the focus on both balancing for risks, and keeping your head in the event of a downturn – and I have definitely moved on from panic selling in 2020 – it has felt like another rollercoaster ride which just hasn’t been that fun.

This has also been the worst year in terms of growth for my own portfolio. I made some major changes this year (more about this in future posts) to rebalance away from being over-invested in property, but continued to invest throughout the year in mutual funds and my pensions. I added in kids’ savings here which I don’t normally do, but as they are starting to get older I need to come back to my financial planning for them, and make sure I am adjusting as needed depending on their age and stage.

My investments this year came to almost £80,000, though some of this came from my property sale meaning that my investment from salary alone came to £50,000. I am extremely proud of this figure and what it represents in terms of prioritisation and tenacity. Since I have been working on myself over the last few years, I can feel that pride at the same time as recognising that my salary and privileges mean that I am in a very unusual and blessed position.

2022 Contributions
Personal pension (SIPP) £                   8,600
Savings (stocks and shares ISA, emergency savings) £                 31,000
Work Pension (pre-tax) £                 18,444
Mortgage capital overpaid £                   5,000
Kids’ savings (JISA, J-SIPP) £                 16,000
Contributions £                 79,044

Next steps for me are to do a review of my net worth (and realistically to not compare it to a US$ amount as I traditionally have – with the recent forex issues, this is a pathway to sadness) and set out some plans and goals for 2023. Whilst I do that, I will just continue to save and invest as usual, and get ready for what is hopefully an easier year for us all.

Look forward to hearing about your 2022 and how able you were to follow your financial plans given that major challenges during the year.

The cost of having kids

This started off as two totally different posts but for whatever reason, I ended up wanting to talk about the cost of having kids. Clearly feeling grumpy about it!

Having kids is a huge fianancial commitment whether you are single or not: even a married mama will earn one-third less than male counterparts by the time her eldest is 12. Very often people focus on the cost of having kids in terms of the things we need to buy for them, which is honestly by far the smallest part of the equation. Lots of places list out the things you’ll need and how much they might cost but it’s not rocket science, and with the rise in great second hand equipement, doesn’t need to break the bank. I bought everything second hand (other than a car seat because you can’t guarantee it hasn’t been in an accident which migth render it useless, and cot or Moses basket mattresses since you there is a small chance that using a second hand mattress from outside the family increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS).

Clue: you need very little of this stuff. Photo by elliot verhaeren on Unsplash

I got many things for free, and did without a whole load of others which seemed unimportant. Then I made sure I passed on all my used stuff, from books and maternity wear to kids clothes, toys and books, to make sure someone else benefitted. Kids use things for such a short amount of time – though honestly they can also properly trash some things which are just unusable after a few months – that most things are good for another few years. So much of the things we purchase for our children end up as waste, with more than 2.2 billion pounds of clothing for children aged 0-11 ending up in American landfill each year: the equivalent of 45 pounds per child. 90% of toys are made at least partly of plastic, and 80% end up in landfill including things in good working order that kids have just grown out of.

Which is kind of ironic given that this wastefulness is bringing about the kind of climate change that means the lovely babies we are so proud to show off in a new outfit, or make smile with a new toy, are more likely than ever to end up living their adult lives at the sharp end of a fiery apocolyptic disaster. And even if you don’t believe in climate change (you probably shouldn’t be on this blog to be fair) or don’t care, the sheer wastefulness in terms of money and resources makes doing things differently surprisingly easy.

Not my child but what a cutie: Photo by Kiana Bosman on Unsplash

But these costs are nothing compared with the cost of childcare, and the impact on your career. And we haven’t even started talking about if you want to prepare them for college, or save up so they can have a deposit for a house. In 2020, 49% of first time buyers under 35 got help with their deposit from their parents, with the majority of them saying they wouldn’t have been able to buy a house without this support. So if you can’t help out your kids, they are going to get left further behind. Just in case you didn’t feel bad enough already.

Research (though I always think these things are a bit vague given the many different approaches you can take to parenting) suggests that the cost of raising a child in the UK is £193,801 for a single parent. Using that and the lack of financial support since their birth, I will have lost almost £400,000 by having children. According to some back-of the-envelope calculators, investing that in a low cost ETF or stocks and shares ISA would grow to around £700,000 in the 18 years. Add to that the reduced earning power, and having two kids has probably cost me £1 million.

Obviously, I didn’t have children to make money (child labour is illegal after all…) And this calculation doesn’t include the fact that they will look after me in my old age (which, thanks to our cultural background, they really really will). Having kids is awesome, and my two are both pretty much the best fun I ever have, as well as potentially being part of the solution to the problems my and my parents’ generation have created in this world.

Also not my kid, but a child quietly reading a book is something I fully support. Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

But the cost of having children is real, and shouldering the burden alone can feel like a huge strain. Being part of the FIRE movement, where it feels like it’s predominantly white married couples who have nothing to do with my life (this was the other post I started writing) can make things feel even lonelier. But FIRE as an approach means that I feel in control or the spending and financial decisions I make, and more confident that I am creating the kind of future my kids, and I, deserve.

Commitment #1

I just missed a week. A whole week over on my Insta and a week of posting here.

I thought about both, over and over. But I was too busy, too tired, too focused on a whole load of other issues in my life and in my head.

It was disappointing because I had a made a commitment to post – to write out my feelings and my journey, give myself time and space to think, and be there to support others. I made a commitment to just show up, and keep showing up.

These past few weeks and months have made me think a lot about commitment. As it’s such a critical part of our life journeys – financially, spiritually, at work, and in relationships – I want to write a few posts about it. They might feel a bit different to how I ususally post so I am grateful for your being with me whilst I think this stuff through.

Or should you? Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

My first question is – when do I need to choose between commitment and self care?

There is real value in committing to something, and even more in being consistent. But are there times when it is better to waver, and to just look after myself? Is it better to honour my word, or to give that time inwards to rest and recover? Does it matter how I approach that in terms of messaging, or preparation? I know plenty of people who just change their mind and their plans at the last minute, sometimes for good reasons. Am I ok to be one of them?

This is a forked stick I come to often. This post is absolutely not about this blog, but it’s a good personal example of things that I am committed to but I don’t have to do it. I tend to write my blog on Sunday mornings, when I could be doing a myriad of other meaningful things, many of which fall under the heading of ‘self care’. I mean, often it’s getting some extra sleep after a beer or two over the odds the night before (which raises entirely different questions about how I view self care issues against areas of life which are a challenge vs over the easy, but equally impactful, decisions on going out for a drink…). But it might be getting ready for the week, taking it easy, or going for a walk with the kids. So there are a whole load of ways I can talk myself out of sitting down to write, and can validate those feelings.

So – here comes a stinger, for me anyway – a blog is such a strange creature. I know it gets read, but not so much whether anyone cares if I show up week after week. I believe and hope it adds some value, but if I stopped writing, the waves of the internet would soon wash over any castle built on this sand. Nothing would really happen if I don’t show up.

The waves will wash it all away. But what remains? Photo by Sean Oulashin on Unsplash

Which means that the most important thing about the commitment I made to writing this blog, is the commitment I made to myself.

And keeping these promises, without external accountability, are the hardest ones.

Whether I tell you I will meet you for lunch, water your plants, call you on Wednesday, or love you forever – unless something completedly unexpected happens, which it rarely does – I will do it. There are many people not like this (again, a whole other post) but for me, if I say it, I mean it. If I have said the words, you can expect the action.

But I don’t give myself the same kind of respect. If I tell myself I will wake up at 5, stop smoking, get fitter, or love myself forever – these are all totally negotiable.

Which leads me back to the question on how to make decisions between commitment and self care. And over the past few weeks I have concluded this: making and keeping commitments to myself are an act of radical self care.

I am not sure why this feels like news. I mean – this is the basis of a financial independence journey, right? Committing to a vision for a future and regular acts which will create that, are exactly in this space. Nobody else cares if I do it or not. Nobody is impressed if I succeed. Nobody goes hungry (sorry, kids, you will have to get yourselves through college though) if I don’t. But I have such devotion to the belief that God made me to live and contribute through my best life on this earth, and faith in that plan, that I do it anyway.

What is confusing for me is why I struggle with this message in other parts of my life when the core remains absolutely the same. When I have made an agreement as well as a commitment – whether that is to go to work and do my best, or how I try and act as a mum – I can stay in the zone. When it comes to things which feel more optional, especially good habits and high expectations around health and relationships, I find it much harder to be so consistent. I don’t know if it’s a need for results, or a need for reciprocation (or, frankly, whether I need therapy) but everything else feels more fuzzy. More optional. Perhaps I have less faith in how things will turn out. And that is defining how, and if, I show up.

Foundation stones, and building up. Or give up and throw them in the waves? Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash

Protecting your joy

I’ve been thinking a lot about comparison recently, and it really is the thief of joy.

This weekend it was Shavuot, the Jewish festival which celebrates the giving of the ten commandments. The tenth commandment is about not coveting what others have, be it their ass, or their wife’s ass (see what I did there??) Whilst this makes sense from the perspective of discouraging jealousy and conflict in a community, it also strikes me that there is something in there about not comparing yourself to others and finding yourself wanting.

Celebrating! Image credit.

Comparison is the thief of joy because it diminishes your own space, achievements and uniqueness. It also sets up a narrative in which whatever you have is not enough, and that leads to a lack of gratitude for the space you are living in.

I absolutely loved Paula Pant’s recent podcast episode with Molly West Duffy talking about how to keep your feelings, and particularly your envy and covetousness, in check. Whilst it might seem obvious that these emotions are not a good place to live from, the podcast talked specifically about ways of ensuring that – even if you are feeling those things, as we all do at times – they are not driving your decision making.

Their cup might be bigger, but maybe yours is just perfect for you? Photo by Vanesa Giaconi on Unsplash

To me, part of what mindful living means is remembering that it’s ok to have moments where you feel covetous, or envious, and forgiving yourself for it. But it also means moving on from it quickly, and not letting it cloud my judgement. I sometimes compare my life now to what it could have been if I had done things earlier, and that’s not a very helpful line of thinking. Being grateful and present for how things are, and planning for the future, feels like a much better way to approach things and reminds me to stay focused rather than comparing myself with others.

Staying strong

I’ve had lots of topics in my head this week to write about – the possible impact of inflation in investments; how to get started with real estate; my tax return (I am SO MUCH FUN at parties). But sitting here this Sunday morning I just feel – crappy. It’s been a busy few weeks but it has felt sort of like a deflating balloon: handing off at the end of my temporary promotion (after almost nine months of working my ass off); hitting some financial walls that I wasn’t expecting; finding it hard to get the enthusiasm together to plan for the summer, which should be exciting but I. Just. Can’t.

I mean, really. Consider how many people in your life ask this question becuase they care about the answer. Credit Finn /Unsplash

I feel lonely. And that’s a difficult spot to be in and stay motivated. There is something about having to constantly be my own cheerleader, my own auditor, commentator, coach, tiger mom or whatever else is just exhausting. Right now, nothing is motivating me enough to play all these roles and keep myself on track. I want to just lie down in a dark room – and unless I can pull myself out of it and get back to a place of peace, that is exactly what I will end up doing.

It is also hard to accept that when you start growing into your self, you leave people behind. The simplest antidote to loneliness feels like it’s company. So we go and hang out with those friends at the bar, take someone home for the night, get into social media scrolling. But all those things feel so empty that they can make the loneliness feel worse – make you feel like you are creating white noise instead of real connection, to distract yourself from doing the hard things.

Somewhere between these two things is where I am spending a lot of my time at the moment. I’m struggling with my own judgement about what matters, who to trust, and how to voice my needs. Honestly, I am scared that the depth of my need for closeness means that I am prepared to overlook a lot of small things which are flags that there are people who aren’t really that bothered about me after all. And I just don’t know where to go with that at the moment.

I wrote a post in January about loneliness, how it is more common than even, and the impact it has on our well-being. In that post I focused on three strategies for mitigating the feelings of loneliness and finding the kind of peace which acts as a foundation when things get rough. The first was building a stronger community, whether with family or friends, all the other Sunderland supporters you can find (good luck with that) or the girls you play Roller Derby with. My second strategy is around focusing on the calendar. Having rituals or activities which mark the passing of the seasons – from new year’s resolutions, spring cleaning, or The First BBQ of the Summer – makes me feel more like an active participant in something positive. Finally perhaps it’s about learning to listen, and to be heard. Building meaningful connections can take time and can be challenging – especially if you are feeling low – but it’s really worth it.

The JFK quote above though is also a reminder that finding peace, which is the first step to pretty much everything else really, is a transformational process even at personal level. It means taking down walls, building up new boundaries, reframing pathways and just keeping on going with the constant shift. This article about the habits that people give up on the road to peace was insightful and is helping me think about my own reactions. It talks about moving away from toxic people, from comfort, from the pursuit of perfection or impressing others, or from holding grudges (this is my own personal favourite).

But even though it sounds obvious, transformation is hard. Growth is painful. Moving away from people, and having that level of certainty in yourself and your pathway, can be lonely and exhausting. Thinking about where you will be in five years might be the right approach when you’re struggling to keep going, but if you’re doing that whilst watching people you have moved on from have The Best Party Ever on IG then it can feel like a fictitious bargain made only in your mind. I have days like today when I forget how these feelings and challenges show up, but I know that I always get through them, however crappy I feel for a little while. It’s ok. We got this.

And if it gets on top, go somewhere that reminds you of the powerful certainties of this world, and get it back into perspective. Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash

Don’t Panic!

TL:DR – don’t panic! Whilst I’m not the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, those two little words do have to give particular comfort. Especially without the exclamation mark, which suggests that panic of some kind is right around the corner. But it’s Sunday morning, and I am three coffees in and heading to a kids’ birthday party once I’ve written this, so perhaps I need the drama. But whatever you do, don’t let your panic define your actions.

This week I have been thinking a lot about doom and gloom. More than usual, in any case. I wouldn’t say that I have Eeyore tendancies but the world is a busy, scary and sometime relentless old place these days, so a bit of doom is on the agenda. From the endless heartbreaking news from Ukraine, to the real debates about what the exceptionalism shown in that situation means for the reckoning coming for the colonialist staus quo, to the ridiculous news that the UK has a monkeypox outbreak (I mean – really?): it can feel like the only time I hear the word ‘positive’ is when a friend does a COVID test.

Really don’t, even if you can’t hitchhike your way off the planet

But what is going on in the world of FIRE, of savings and investments? There have been a few things that struck me recently and I try to keep coming back to these:

This is even more true in the world of finances i.e. literally everybody’s day to day world. The soaring cost of living, shortages of fuel, eggs, potatoes or whatever is real. Every time I go to the supermarket there are empty shelves, and shelves full of things at a price that I am not willing to pay. In the UK, the price of cheese (CHEESE!) has gone up by almost one-quarter. Once the costs of Marmite and tea start to spiral out of control we will all be shafted, frankly. (Denmark is powered by licorice and pork products, neither of which we eat so I focus all my crazy-hoarder-lady issues elsewhere).

Beautiful! But can you afford any of it?? Photo by ja ma on Unsplash
  1. Plan for the worst, then remember this is what you did. My Crypto portfolio has totally crashed. In the last two weeks, more than $300 billion has been wiped off the value of Crypto overall, so this is not really a surprise. There was real panic that Coinbase was going to go bust – and take people’s money with it. Whilst that didn’t happen, Luna, a popular Crypto token, did, taking $40bn with it. My reaction has been to do absolutely nothing. I refuse to look at my portfolio other than on the twice-monthly date I always look at it. And then I refuse to act or worry about it. This is based on the fact that when I invested in Crypto, recognising that it is high risk, I did so only with what I consider to be beach money. This is money where if I lose it, it means not taking the kids to the beach in the summer, rather than meaning I can’t pay the rent. So when I freak out about losing it all in Crypto, I try and thank my previous financial planning self, and then just not worry about it.
  2. Remeber you are not a mystic. Don’t make decisions based on crystal ball gazing. The thing weighing much more on my mind is house prices and whether they will crash. And this is also one where my attachment to my net worth is at odds with a moral sense that rapid house price increases really are shafting those less well off in a way which will impact on generational wealth for a long time to come. The reason I put this one under the heading of trying to predict the future, is because a) we really don’t know and b) none of the ‘experts’ can agree. Whilst there is a general sense that the market cannot keep rising, particularly in light of inflation and changes to mortgage interest rates, there is no evidence at this point that the housing market is actually slowing down. I’ve been thinking about selling my house in the UK to diversify my assets but I need to make this decision on a range of factors – none of which is whether I can guess the future.
  3. Use this time to deep dive into your risk tolerance and decision making, rather than wanting to act. In March 2020, I panicked, and sold out a significant chunk of my investments. This was based literally on being inexperienced, and freaking out. I wrote a lot about it at the time, both the why and the results. This has definitely impacted on my holdings now but I have to chalk it up to an experience that I needed to get better at investing. It also gave me space to think about what my risk tolerance really really looks like, and how I can build that in to my investing (and my life).
Beautiful! But can you afford any of it? 😉 Photo by Travel-Cents on Unsplash

More next week on overall approaches to investing, but I wanted to start with some thinking – and reassurance – that however doom laden the picture is, panicking is definitely not the answer. Trust yourself, your knowledge, and your planning. You’ll survive the storm.

Don’t forget if you want more cakes/sunrises/Barbies and less doom, come and join me on Insta.

Baggage ≠ Peace

So I have been out for a while, trying to deal with being very close to burnout. Feeling better now, but taking that space was critical. I tend to keep pushing myself well beyond what is a good idea, then getting surprised when things start to fall apart. The last few weeks I have been thinking about this and about the sense of going through life with baggage – as a single parent but also in general, as we all do – with the results and scars of our past mistakes and misfortunes, fears and triggers.

This is showing up in my life in a few ways at the moment. From the FIRE perspective, for many people the concept of baggage means coming into this journey deep in debt. And not just in debt, but with the habits, choice and often value systems which led to that debt in the first place. For me as with others, it’s more coming in and realising what I have wasted in getting here and what kind of different position I could be in. But the worst waste of time would be to get stuck in those feelings instead of getting up and at it. Your time is always now.

I was talking to a friend last night who has recently become an expat, a move which has given him a bird’s eye view of his home town. Realising that the years of making just enough money to go out and kick it with friends meant living life, which was all about ‘having fun’ actually kept him in stasis for decades. Now this could be a cause for regret. But equally, our journeys are what made us: looking backward and sneering at our younger selves is not going to change the past, though it might diminish the value that we did find. Being able to make peace with whatever our baggage is – the poor decisions, the risks that we miscalculated, that person we continued to trust in spite of there being more red flags than the bunting at the Communist Party conference – is to make it manageable and be able to take that past along on a brand new journey.

I wrote a while ago about loving what is‘ – that sense of accepting and loving the present just as it is, something which is a critical step on the pathway to peace. The ability to reflect on my own triggers and limiting beliefs means that I can at least recognise them when they come up. Something like shaking hands across the divide. This is what making baggage manageable means to me: it’s not denying it but recognising my part in it, and the positives that either came through the results or through the journey. Kind of like taking a luggage trolley full of giant suitcases, feeding them into a magic vortex machine, and coming out with a little badge that you wear to remember without being tripped over by it. Or, as per my experience last week, you can just give your bags to Kenya Airways and never see them again. Either way, it works.

Making peace can be hard. It can also feel counter-intuitive in a world where – especially with FIRE, and at my stage of life – it’s all about striving. How is it possible to come from a place of tranquility and still have enough drive to get out there? The quote above from Eckhart Tolle speaks to this I think. So much of what we do is about rearranging circumstances, or the small things (or indeed the deckchairs on the Titanic) instead of rearranging how we look on the inside.

Don’t get me wrong, this internal rearranging can be just as tough as making peace. Encouraging the tectonic plates to shift inside you requires tenacity and strength. Especially when it raises questions about whether you will continue to accept the systems you have been brought up with, to live inside the structures you have internalised and all the comfortable spots you’re used to seeking solace in, however damaging.

As I start the long process of moving back to Nairobi, being able to focus on the inner work instead of the busy-work of administration, is critical. The organising bit is easy (actually it’s a massive pain in the ass, but meh) but the work on finding my peace is much harder. Who am I now, as opposed to when I last lived there? Who are my people, how do I feel about how I have moved compared to them and the spaces we find ourselves in? What are the values I have instilled in my myself and my own children and how will these blend or clash? How can I stay open to the great things coming whilst not being so attached to certain things working out that for them to go wrong would destroy me?

All those questions are critical but they aren’t things I need answers to right now. Coming to them with an internal stillness and certainty gives a certain protection both from the intensity of negative results and from freaking the F out. That has to be worth it.

Take a break – and breathe

No blog post this week, apologies. If you have been over on my Insta then you will have seen that I’ve been busy both dealing with, and coming to terms with, some family stuff.

This week is also Pesach (and Easter and Ramadan) and the school holidays, plus I have a ton of work on so overall, it’s a lot. But it has been an important week for me thinking about all the things that really matter to me, to us as a family. Not just in terms of what the future holds, but what holds us.

Wishing you all a great and peaceful week. See you on the flipside.

Mind the (early retirement) gap

Quick reminder to come and join me (and the FIRE community) on Instagram @brilliantladiesmoney. At least join once a week for the Friday Banger – music that inspires me on my journey – definitely my favourite moment of the week. From Sauti Sol to Sizzla (plus artists who don’t begin with S), it’s all the tunes that get me back on track.

Following my posts on working out what you need to retire on and looking at where my current portfolio will take me I wanted to talk about the early retirement gap.

Unsurprisingly, most non-FIRE retirement discussions focus on investing in pensions. Paying into pensions is a tax efficient way to save, and has the added benefit of hiding your money from yourself so you can’t change your mind about your future plans and spunk it all on a beach house. But the early retirement gap is the time between quitting traditional employment and being able to access your pensions.

Mmmm beach house though. Photo by Harshil Gudka on Unsplash

Looking at my portfolio really showed how critical this gap is. Since my assets are heavy on real estate and on pensions, there is a gaping hole in the middle where more flexible options should be. Add in the need to wait for pension income, and it might be time to rethink the plan a little.

So I went back to basics in terms of what I will need and when, and mapped out income against it. This resulted in a long and complex spreadsheet which I won’t share here but started from the premise of living until I am 80. I already wrote about being at the ‘tail end’ or probably half way through my allotted time on this earth – and I would caution that you think about this stuff when you are in strong existential form as I found it quite depressing. Anyway – it’s infinitely less depressing than not thinking about it and ending up broke, so here we go.

You will see I put in some assumptions and I wanted to unpack two of these a little. The net result though if I follow my plan to retire at 50 is three years where my expenses will still be super high, then 15 years of gap until pensions kick in.

The impact of having kids and the choices we make. I don’t know where I would be financially if I hadn’t had children, but without them I could already retire on my current portfolio. I wouldn’t change them for the world of course – this is purely a financial observation. If you want rantings about how the system is stacked against single mothers, then pretty much the rest of the blog awaits you.

One big question though for the next phase is about whether I support my children through higher education, assuming they want to go. I have already committed to putting them through private schools, most of which is based on the fact that we move country every three years and need some consistency. Part of me absolutely wants to make sure they get through university debt-free. Whilst debt levels in the UK is still nothing like the USA, it is heading in that direction. On the other hand, with the right money mentality and guidance, there is nothing to stop them getting scholarships, working and managing what debt they had to get through on their own. The FIRE community tends towards the latter, with Mr Money Mustache in particular being vocal about both reducing costs for college and letting your children use the tools you have given them and find their own way.

I looked at the most basic costs for a UK college education and it would add around £20,000 per year per child to my expenses. Because of the age gap between my kids, I would need to cover this for six years, three of which are after my planned early retirement date. So that’s likely £120,000 in total that I would need to earn in that period in order to cash flow it.

In some ways this is a conversation that will never end though – will I help my kids buy their first house, look after their kids for them, whatever else? Or just focus on not being a burden to them and help out when I can? It is one of the times I hate being the only parent giving financial support, because whilst I don’t want them to miss out, it’s a lot.

Will an Oxford education even still be relevant in the future? Photo by Ben Seymour on Unsplash

Pension dates and what the future looks like. This is another interesting question which I never really thought about until I hit 40 and my future as a creaking elder suddenly felt a whole lot closer. Most of the US podcasts on FIRE assume that pensions kick in from 59.5 but in the UK – at least with pensions in any way connected to the public sector – pension age is 67. This really does add a lot of years that have to be covered by investments or income. By the time I retire, this could easily be 70 years old. Public sector pensions may be great because they are defined benefit but they are also pegged to the national pensionable age so there is a chance these will all shift to be much later. And pensionable age continues to increase, as the overall population ages and there are more people drawing pensions than paying into them. Which I understand but it’s hard to plan when the goalposts keep moving.

I have also bravely added in the UK State Pension which I struggle to believe will exist as anything other than a means-tested benefit by the time I retire. And whilst at £716 per month or £8,592 per year, it’s not enough to live off it would make a significant difference to how much I need in my overall portfolio. However I hold it very lightly as a possibility in spite of paying tax and NI for my whole career, even the overseas year. We already have ample evidence that the UK Government will not hesitate to shaft women (and by shaft I mean change the age at which they can access their pension with almost not notice, then underpay women £1 billion and not even bother to try and clear it up) if they think they can get away with it.

Planning for the sunset years <cries in Young Person> Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

So that is how it looks. The gap is real but thankfully there are a number of ways to think about filling it without having to stay in full time employment – more on that in a future post. For now though, working out exactly what this looks like and what the options are makes me feel more confident about making movements.

What does your early retirement planning look like and how are you thinking about future support to your kids?

My portfolio: what’s it made of?

I’ve been writing a series of posts about what it feels like to reach a net worth goal and also what it has made me reflect on in terms of what you actually need to retire on. This post is an exploration of my portfolio and what it means to me, both now and around next steps on planning. Do come and join me on Insta where I also look at my day to day actions and thoughts on all these things (and some more random stuff as well, let’s be honest).

So, what is my portfolio built up of?

It’s made up of three different areas, each of which has its own story and function.

Pensions £   234,973
Savings £      39,207
Property equity £    443,497
TOTAL £     717,677
Net worth as of February 2022
A lot of my net worth is property equity which is not really accessible but means I can dream about living in a fabulous house like this on in Nairobi…

Property

So 60% of my net worth is property equity. This is across two homes. I rented out my main residence in the UK when I got a job overseas and it is still tenanted. This means that the interest rate isn’t great (abot 4%) but I have focused on paying off this mortgage as a matter of priority. That’s based largely on my risk appetite (AKA terror of losing my job and making my kids homeless) and whilst I realise it might not be the most rationale approach to wealth building, it gives me a sense of comfort. I had a huge deposit from the sale of my previous home, so the mortgage was only £156,000 to start with and I have paid off £111,000 in the past six years.

This property is also my only passive income stream, bringing in £1,250 gross, or about £900 net of all costs since I have a letting agent manage it and of course have to ensure that everything is in good working order.

My second property is the home that we live in in Denmark. I wrote a lot about the decision to buy, and then about freaking out about the cost of property here but on balance I still think it was the right decision. Aside from the ridiculous cost of rent, the housing market is crazy at the moment and I have friends who cannot find places to rent. So again – it’s not just a financial decision but one about stability.

I don’t try and overpay the mortgage on this house. Partly because it’s so huge I just won’t make a dent, but also because we will sell this when we move country again. So since housing is a significant monthly cost, I just pay it and hope that I get a return on investment that is better than paying rent to someone else.

I am interested in having more of a property porfolio but it’s so hard in the UK. I listen to a lot of great FIRE podcasts from the US and everything – from the financing, to the market – just seems miles away. There are also ethical issues, in both directions, about being a private landlord but that’s a post for another day.

Savings

The result of buying a second home though was that my savings and investments took a massive hit. I went from almost £100,000 in savings to around £20,000 which I have built back up. That amount includes my emergency fund of £10,000 and the rest is in a stocks and shares ISA.

This is the area that I really want to focus on as there is so much room for growth. I also feel very property heavy in terms of the portfolio overall, and it’s money that just stays tied up.

Whether you’re saving for a rainy day or a cloud forest holiday, this is the most flexible part of your portfolio. Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash

Pensions

So this is the confusing area I think. Most of the FIRE community talks about total pension pots, and for me that is around

But the majority of my pensions are defined benefit which works totally differently. Have a look here for a simple explanation but basically, defined benefit means that the pot doesn’t really matter: what I will receive as a pension is guaranteed. This is a great place to be in lots of ways, though it is limited in terms of flexibility. I can’t, for example, decide where those pensions are invested. But in terms of security and planning they really work.

So what is interesting is not so much the overall pot as how much each one will pay out in retirement. The figures below show both the current pot value calculated as the transfer value (what I would get if I cashed out or wanted to move it) and also what it’s scheduled to pay out. All of the defined benefit schemes pay out when I am 67, so I also need to focus on what could be quite a long period to bridge if I want to retire at 50.

One thing to note is that the third pension pot will pay that out if I carry on contributing at this level for another two years – if I leave the job before then, they just pay me out the transfer value. So I need to stay here at least a bit longer!

PensionsTransfer valuePension on retirement
TOTALS £ 234,973£23,316
 SIPP £ 42,983£400
 Defined benefit pension 1 £ 39,462£1,400
 Defined benefit pension 2 £ 62,304£6,250
 Defined benefit pension 3 £ 90,224£15,266

You can see from this that they aren’t all equal. Each one has a totally different rate of return.

It does make me question the value of investing in the SIPP, as works out as a 1% rate of withdrawal which doesn’t seem that smart. Once I lock in my defined benefit pensions, I might stop this one and focus on saving and investing in other ways.

So that’s it. There are other very small pots in there like crypto but these are the real pillars of my financial plan. I do need to think about rebalancing them but for now I will end on a picture of the kitchen from that same house – because dreaming big is what it’s all about.

Kitchen goals