Today we bring you a stop-the-press Monevator exclusive! Mrs Accumulator has wrestled the keyboard away from her other half to smuggle out her side of The Accumulator’s Financial Independence Retire Early story. Is she really living the FIRE dream, as TA has always implied? Or did she just play along with it to stop him going on about synthetic ETFs?
Hello, this is Mrs Accumulator. (I would prefer to be known as The Organ-Grinder but apparently I have to let this outdated anonym slide.)
In case you and/or your biggest asset class are interested, I present here a one-off counterpoint to The Accumulator’s loooooong-running blog saga.
I think you’ll find it interesting. After all – I am the ultimate passive investor.
The early days
I have fond if distant memories of once being in charge of both my own and TA’s money.
We lived as part of a complicated renting community back then. In fact, in those days, I collected rent from The Investor too. Great times. (The things I could tell you! Are those beads of sweat on TI’s brow?)
Due to what I shall term ‘burn out’ a few years later, the mortgage and bill-paying reins were handed over to TA. And that was the moment that a money-investing monster was born.
Over the next couple of years, I remember our walking holidays were constantly accompanied by the soundtrack of TA repeatedly explaining ISAs, diversification, and the inverse correlations of gold and Tamagotchis. Along with plastic (?), artificial (?), imaginary (?) ETAs.
Or were they ETFs?
Anyway, I was definitely listening.
TA fielded my questions about risk and sound-boarded me with options until we had a plan.
From then on, my role was simply making sure that TA knew that if all went the way of the Truss – or, in those days, Lehman Bros – I would never blame him. Much.
There were only a couple of questions I repeated over the years: “Can’t we invest in houses? I like houses” and “How many more years till FIRE?”
It seemed to me that TA gave the same answer every year, for however long was left.
I hit on the idea of sticking his projected date into a Google calendar to cross-reference as evidence – forcing him to be more realistic and enabling me to sound less like a petulant teenager.
Why was I on board?
I like cars, houses, holidays, and buying presents. None of which are conducive to FIRE.
Luckily, a couple of formative experiences made me an easy mark for TA’s ‘get a bit rich eventually’ plan.
1. Catastrophising as a child about the horror of a lifetime working 9-5; cold Wars turning hot; ageing demographics. These all put pensions ridiculously high up the list of my ten-year-old priorities. Albeit a few rungs below wanting a pony.
I really did worry about those things growing up! Thank you Mr A. Senior. (I feel like we’re pushing the pseudonym sitch further than anyone wants to go?)
2. Then, oh so briefly working with my father in an Independent Financial Advisor’s office taught me a few rules: don’t bother with anything other than an index tracker, minimise investment costs and, no matter what – Covid, Putin, China – capitalism eats everything.
The markets always win – excluding a Godzilla-sized black swan or the Four Horsemen of the Environmental Apocalypse. It’s only investors who sometimes lose – when the scary black duck-thing lands – and then we’ve got other worries.
The ups and downs
These life lessons primed me for the path TA plotted for us, and my memory is that I immediately signed up.
But it wasn’t all plain sailing / amiable dawdling.
Inevitably, on this journey the emotional bear market arrives first.
The annual, dreadful, first day back to work after the summer holiday. The only slightly less awful equivalent at the start of January.
The tightly holding onto each others’ hands when careers were particularly demanding, and our time together was all too brief.
There were periods when it felt like a very long road. Was that a speck of light at the end of the tunnel? Or just another migraine coming on?
The joy of paying off the mortgage – or having the money in the bank to pay it off, anyway. Only slightly dented by the lack of reaction from close family members as we whooped the news down the telephone. (I’m still surprised, although I think I now understand why.)
Finding a house that made us relaxed and happy just by being there – despite the 1980s kitchen and bathroom, and the Stranger Things-style portal in the corner of our bedroom.
That house might have played a bigger part in smoothing our journey than either of us realised. Nature and the fun of city life are both an easy bike ride away. Despite the input of friends and family, it never felt like we were sacrificing anything with our shaky sash-windows.
The day to day
It’s easier when I remember all the things I am grateful for. (Mainly freedom from DIY dentistry, killing the family pig, and giving birth to a football team’s worth of kids.)
Then there’s the wonder of living in Britain and next door to the miracle of a united Europe (which I hope we’ll once again view as a net benefit versus the mythical sovereignty we currently enjoy – ).
Also, the family and health. All those things.
It’s harder when I worry that we might be living too much for the future and not enough for the present.
In the early days, we possibly did do that. But no longer.
Crucially, we constantly checked in with each other about our choices. Often one of us would play devil’s advocate for the high life. Sometimes it resulted in us adjusting our aims.
Consequently, we have enjoyed fabulous holidays and fine-ish dining, own specialist biking kit, and we’ve never put off buying something we really wanted.
(Apparently I don’t really want an Aston Martin Vantage V600.)
Easier for me than others?
My job doesn’t require much in terms of appearance, which helped. Although I am perhaps pushing the outer limits of their expectations!
Hate clothes, love messing about with TA.
No kids – although I would absolutely recommend FIRE for people with kids. I teach, and it’s an amazing thing to give kids the confidence to not judge themselves by the standards of others or social expectations. Even if they only manage to distance themselves a tiny bit.
The FIRE approach is compliant with our risk-averse mentality. A mindset that prevents us from setting up in business, true, but which does motivate us to take on the responsibility of researching, understanding, and choosing our own investments.
How successful is our version of FIRE?
If retirement means no longer working for The Man – or woman in TA’s case – then we’ve nailed it.
If it means no paid work at all… well it hasn’t turned out quite like that.
Our FIRE is being in charge of our own destiny. Which is wondrous, and partly why we did the freeze for fun challenge this winter. It was another chance to question convention. The presumption that:
We should be warm as we are well-off
We should be warm as we are in a technologically advanced society
We should be warm as everyone else we know is
We need to be warm to feel happy
All BS, surprisingly.
For us, FIRE is work that is not alienating. It is retiring from the marketplace to work for fulfillment. Consequently this feels better than retirement (redundancy, hanging about, time-wasting, haunting the world?) It is comparative heaven.
We tend our garden in our own sweet time. Purpose with balance is contentment.
Happiness is fleeting. Doing nothing for no reason feels like death, or perhaps hell. You can’t even blame your unhappy restlessness on someone else. Unless you read The Spectator.
You may not need any work to achieve this purpose. But for us, right now, it helps.
In truth I’m not sure we’ve found the perfect balance yet, and I’m guessing that any such perfection is illusory. Nonetheless, we are cheerfully filling the hours before inevitable heat death by coming up with our bespoke answer to life, the universe, and everything.
And that answer swirls around the idea of belonging, not belongings.
We did it our way
I do not regret a single choice we have made – as far as I can remember anyway. We made them all with full knowledge of the risks.
The biggest fear I had was saving for a future that we couldn’t guarantee we would live to see. Even this niggle evaporated once we worked out how to spend our money and time in a way that didn’t feel like a sacrifice.
In fact – as I guess many people here already know – there is collateral salvage from pursuing FIRE. Namely, a firm grasp of your finances, of your values, your non-negotiables, and of yourself.
You don’t even need to spend a fortune sitting cross-legged in L.A., self-consciously humming while an ethereal chap disparages your aura.
It may say too much about TA and I that we prefer charts to chakras when it comes to plotting our independence. But the point, if there is one, is that a bit of enlightenment, a bit of distance from the daily struggle, and a greater connection to those at your side – these are the main reasons I’d recommend FIRE to anyone.
It isn’t all about the future. It’s quite a lot about realising what you treasure right now.
If FIRE is important to you, it’s probable that the rat race isn’t. And happily the road to FIRE immediately distances you from that highway, as you set off down your own path.
If all had gone wrong – if all goes wrong tomorrow – there is nothing to regret. We had to work hard anyway, and by choosing not to spend money to fill the happiness void, we discovered the values we truly held. As my earlier comments indicate, we aren’t exactly spiritual people, but we have learned to love the little things.
One thing I will say about TA, is his many, many, many faults (perhaps that’s one ‘many’ too many? – TA) are easier to overlook when weighed against his assiduous pursuit of FIRE-necessary insights.
While you don’t need his sub-atomical knowledge of investment vehicles (literally no-one needs that), the fact that TA did his due diligence has made life a lot less unnerving for me.
When the world lurches into crisis, I raise an eyebrow in TA’s direction, he gives me a nonchalant thumbs-up, and on we go.
(I would say ‘he smiles reassuringly’, but if you’d seen him smile… chance would be a fine thing).
To all on the FIRE journey, I wish you a fair wind. I hope you can treasure the days along the way, even the absolutely god-awful ones.
Just one last thing… If there is no mention of an incident involving sunglasses, a surprising drunken revelation, a glow-stick, and a trip to A&E, then you know that TI has left his heavy-handed editing fingerprints all over this piece of harmless whimsy.
And fear not if whimsy isn’t your thing, normal service will be resumed next week with the latest from The Accumulator.
In the meantime thank you for your patience. (Perhaps I’ll see you again in another 15 years?)
The post How I got mixed up in this FIRE business appeared first on Monevator.