March 2021 Savings, plus other updates

Another month has flown by, our humdrum lives just go on.

I’ve had a more positive outlook this month, with the better weather, brighter days and the prospect of lockdown restrictions being lifted.

Work eased off a little, allowing me to tackle my mountain of boring admin and although I’m still trying to catch up on my blog reading, it’s better than it was before.

A few ‘highlights’ this month:

  • Had my COVID jab (AstraZeneca) – felt crap for a few days (shivers and aches) but not so bad that I couldn’t work. Thanks go to the volunteers and the nurses at the local medical centre for making the whole process so smooth and easy.
  • Attended the latest Zoom ‘Manchester’ FIRE meet up.  This one had a good presentation by an independent financial adviser on ISAs vs SIPPs, so there were some good discussions.
  • Started a daily stretching routine – the creaking, popping and cracking sounds emanating from my joints show me that this is long overdue and that I seriously need to keep this up.
  • Followed this guy on Twitter and got some lighthearted updates on the (now resolved) ‘traffic jam’ on the Suez Canal :

Some Bad News

My boss revealed that she has handed in her notice at work because she has ‘had enough‘ (her words).

No, she hasn’t reached FIRE in her 30s but she has saved enough during the pandemic (built up her FU fund!) to allow her to take a long break from work.

I can’t say that I’m really surprised as there’s been an unreasonable amount of pressure put on her this past year (her boss left and wasn’t replaced) but I’m pretty devastated all the same at the news, as I have a great relationship (work and non-work) with her and we work well together as a team.

My job will become very tough without her having my back and there’s potential here for it to go from something I like doing, to something I don’t like, way before I’m ready to pull the FIRE plug…

Some Good News

The day after my boss announced her impending departure, I was notified that I was to receive a 6% pay rise.

This came as a surprise because 1) I didn’t ask for it and 2) we’d all been told that there was a cap on salary increases this year. Unlike many in the public sector, I don’t get an automatic annual increase in pay (not even 1%), any increase is subject to the whims of the powers that be and partially based on performance (as discussed in my annual work appraisal). Since the former carries more weight, it’s usually a zero increase.

I guess my performance has been good (I did win Employee of the month in August)  but perhaps this is just the company not wanting me upping and leaving too. The extra will come in handy with the bills, with my sister moving out next week.

Anyway, how did I get on money-wise in March?

I saved 50.5% of my net salary – continuing with my decent start to the year.

The above savings includes a top up of £55.05 from affiliate income from OddsMonkey* (thank you to all who signed up via my links!).

Shares and Investment Trusts

No new investments, I just topped up existing holdings.

Current share/IT portfolio can be found here.

(Entire portfolio here)

Future Fund 

Who knows what’s going on with the markets, down one week, up the next.

At the end of the month, my Future Fund jumped up to £227,628, so the rocket is back!

What a difference a year makes

Dividends and Other Income

Another bumper month of dividends:

Continue reading

February 2021 Savings, plus other updates

Monthly update time again – how time flies, even when you’re not really having fun.

No, I’m not sad, depressed or feeling fed up –  I think I’m just suffering from a bit of mental fatigue.

Long busy days at work have left me pretty brain-dead and brain-tired, I’ve gotten behind on my blog reading/commenting and for the first time in a long while, I didn’t get round to sorting out a post in between my monthly numbers updates.

I’m still exercising regularly, eating well, not drinking too much, getting enough sleep and avoiding too much social media or news.

The brighter days and better weather might help drag me out of this listless phase, back to my normal self.

Not many ‘highlights’ this month:

    • Attended (and also did a presentation in) the latest ‘Manchester’ FIRE meet up.  Always good to see familar faces, some new faces and to be able to chat about FIRE, pensions and such-like without people thinking you are a bore or a weirdo. Also attended a ‘Leeds’ Invest Meet up.
    • My nephew finally returned home from staying at his dad’s since before Christmas. Bless him, he’s grown an inch, his voice has changed but sadly, he’s picked up some very bad teenaged boy habits (less said about those, the better!).
    • Losing myself completely reading The Way of Kings, a 1000+ page fantasy tome recommended by SavingNinja. It’s been a while since I stayed up reading past 2am because I got caught up in the ‘just one more chapter’ cycle! Just started book 2, so I can lose myself again!

So, how did I get on money-wise in February?

I saved 47.7% of my net salary – continuing with my decent start to the year.

The above savings includes a top up of a £25 premium bond win, £27.96 from TopCashback* and £20 from Matched Betting profits (from last month).

Shares and Investment Trusts

No new investments, I just topped up existing holdings.

Current share/IT portfolio can be found here.

(Entire portfolio here)

Future Fund 

Another wobble in the stock markets apparently, something to do with bond yields going up but whatever, I carried on investing.

At the end of the month, my Future Fund stood slightly up at £221,108, but the increase was from the addition of capital.

Steady and calm…

Dividends and Other Income

A bumper month of dividends:

Continue reading

January 2021 Savings, plus other updates

Was it just me or did anyone else find that this month passed by both slowly and quickly?

I daren’t think too much on why this was, as it hurts my brain!

Anyway, ‘highlights’ this month for me in the first lockdown month of the year included:

    • 4 hour+ Zoom chats with a couple of friends from uni, whom I hadn’t met up with for 6 and 12 years respectively – we had a lot to catch up on!
    • Attending two FIRE meet ups: the London one and the Manchester one. Of course, with the meet ups being on Zoom these days, you can be dialing in from anywhere and we even get some FIRE peeps from overseas joinng in. I know many people might be ‘zoomed out’, but unless you talk openly about FIRE with your colleagues or family and friends, I’m guessing these sessions will be different from your usual Zoom calls. Anyway, I’ve put in the links so people can join ‘Meet Up’ and see when the next events are on (the next Manchester one will have discussions about savings rates and the next London one will be talking about aiming for FIRE as a couple).
    • Downloading the Zombies, Run app – (thanks go to Faith of Much More With Less for the heads up on this fun app!). I’m not paying for subscription so have to wait for the new missions but that’s ok, I can be patient!
    • Buying some ‘working-from-home clothes’, in other words, a couple of pairs of leggings, £5 in the sales!
    • Rewatching ‘The Matrix’ for the gazillionth time – I liken Neo’s Red Pill moment to when I discovered FIRE and went down the proverbial rabbit hole myself…
    • Being riveted by the whole ‘meme stock‘, r/wallstreetbets vs hedge funds thing. I even had a few small ‘bets’ myself (using Freetrade*) on GameStop, AMC and Blackberry and came out eventually +12%, although the whole saga continues to unfold. Certainly the fallout from all this will be interesting. Silver, anyone?

    • Rotting my brain with guilty-pleasure TV shows like ‘Married At First Sight – Australia’ and ‘The Masked Singer’….don’t judge me 🙂
    • Spending a whole month with just my Sis in the house since nephew is still with his dad from before Christmas, as pointless him coming back yet with his school shut. It’s been surprisingly ok…
    • Not a highlight but making another trip to the dentist which had me going home minus £300 (2 missing fillings replaced – ouch!).  That went on my credit card and I may just plug this with some emergency cash.

Anyway, how did I get on money-wise in January?

I saved 46.6% of my net salary – not a bad start to the year.

The above savings includes a top up of £20 from Matched Betting profits (from last month).

Shares and Investment Trusts

No new investments apart from ones mentioned here, where I adjusted part of my investment strategy earlier this month.

Current share/IT portfolio can be found here.

(Entire portfolio here)

Future Fund 

After the end of year rush upwards, the stock markets wobbled a little so I saw no real gains, despite new capital being added. Some ‘experts’ are saying there’s going to be another big crash at some point. Yeah, whatever.

At the end of the month, my Future Fund stood at £220,324.

Steady as she goes

Dividends and Other Income

Not a bad start to the year for dividends:

Continue reading

Adjustments to My Investment Strategy (II)

As mentioned in recent posts, I’m making some adjustments to my investment portfolio.

The last time I made any real changes to it (and its allocations) was back in 2019 – apologies if this post is just as lengthy (and rather waffly) – I’ve added a bit more detail as to what’s in my Future Fund.

My Future Fund is made up of my ISAs, SIPPs, employer DC pension, cash savings and premium bonds and will provide me with income when I retire from full-time work – it is not a net worth number and does not include my DB pension, cash emergency fund or any property.

Do I have Passive or Active investments?

The bulk of my investment portfolio is made up of index tracker ETFs (passive). The other part is mostly investment trusts (active). The intention, when it comes to drawdown/early retirement, is that I will likely sell off the ETFs for capital, whilst taking dividend income from the ITs.

I’m mostly a buy and hold investor.  However, I do enjoy tinkering about with a bit of active investing, small experimental portfolios and the like – I guess the ETFs and ITs are the ‘core’ part of my portfolio and the other bits (individual stocks, Dogs of the FTSE etc) are the ‘satellite’ part, which make up around 5-6% of my entire portfolio. Here’s some more info on the core and satellite approach which I loosely follow.

What’s in my Future Fund?

This bit is probably more for my benefit, since before I did this, I only had a vague idea of what it all looked like – too many disjointed spreadsheets which didn’t give me a complete picture!

So it looks like I have an equity/bond ratio of around 75/25 (I’ve lumped the cash and bonds together) which is probably on the more aggressive/risky side for someone my age but I’m ok with this.

However, over the next few years, I’m likely to increase the bond/cash allocation a bit to perhaps 35 or even 40, just for peace of mind.

Index Tracker ETF Portfolio

I’m not making any changes to my ETF portfolio, which I set up after reading Tim Hale’s Smarter Investing book, combined with Monevator’s Lazy Portfolio post.

Thus, I created my own Portfolio for All Seasons, one which would supposedly weather all kinds of stock market shenanigans and which suited my own appetite for risk. I thought it didn’t do too badly during the ‘pandemic panic’.

The original % allocations have altered slightly over the years but not by that much:

How did I come up with these allocations? They’re just what I’m comfortable with and happy to maintain right now.

I re-balance via new monthly contributions but when the bottom fell out of the market in March 2020, I sold some bonds (which were in the green) and reinvested in some of the others which were looking rather rubbish in the red.

I may ultimately whittle these allocations down to 4 core holdings for simplification in time, not sure yet.

And finally, why ETFs and not funds, like Vanguard Lifestrategy? The fees are cheaper for ETFs on the platforms I use.

So here are my main ETF holdings:

Global: Vanguard All World ETF (VWRL)
Bond: Vanguard Government Bond ETF (VGOV)
UK: Vanguard FTSE 100 ETF (VUKE)
Property: iShares Developed Markets Property Yld ETF (IWDP)
Emerging Markets: iShares Emerging Markets Equity Tracker (EMIM)
UK Mid: Vanguard FTSE 250 ETF (VMID)
Global Small Co: SPDR MSCI World Small Cap ETF (WOSC)

These are my majority holdings but I do have a few smaller (more specialised) holdings in other ETFs which are just lumped into my ‘global’ allocation, for example iShares Global Clean Energy ETF (INRG) and VanEck Vectors Gaming Esports ETF (ESGB) for a  further bit of diversification – these did quite well in 2020:


Investment Trust/Share Portfolio

I wanted a part of my portfolio which I would just hold and which would generate regular income.

Originally, I had a smattering of individual shares but wanted more diversification  (plus it’s really time consuming trying to research the best individual shares to buy) so I started to build up a basket of investment trusts (ITs).

I initially chose from a mixture of ITs considered to be ‘dividend heroes’ (paying increasing dividends over many consecutive years) and diversified across global, a mix of both growth and income ITs.

However, it was time to ditch the growth (and lower income paying) ITs to see the potential of higher yielding ITs.

Using the AIC Income Finder, I had a look at what ITs paid a decent yield (generally >4%) and did some further research into the ones which caught my eye.

Big thanks to Gez, who I know from Manchester FIRE meet ups and who provided me with some helpful ideas to research! This Monevator post on investment trusts was also handy for reference.

In the first week of January, I wielded the big ‘Sell’ Axe, so out went the likes of (with their respective gains in brackets) Bankers (+38%), Alliance Trust (+7%), Brunner (+27%), Finsbury Growth & Income (+8%), Aberforth Smaller Co (+7%), Scottish American (+31%), JP Morgan Asian IT (+39%) and yes, the insanely high-flying Scottish Mortgage (+169%) – well, most of the latter anyway, I still have a small holding with one of my providers, so I don’t miss out on future gains…

No, it wasn’t easy hitting the Sell button – I sold them all in quick succession before I waivered about my plan and changed my mind!

In their place, I picked a bunch of ITs for their high(er) yields, including Aberdeen Standard Equity Income Trust, Civitas Social Housing, Henderson High Income Trust, Target Healthcare REIT, Supermarket Income REIT, Bluefield Solar Income and JLEN Environmental Assets Group. Some others will have been added by the time this post goes out – click here to see the full portfolio.

I’m fine spreading the risk across many different ITs rather than a concentrated few, although it does mean there are more to keep tabs on.

In 2020, I received around £1.8k in income from my IT and share ISA portfolio. I think the changes I have made (and will continue to make) will mean I should have a good chance of hitting my 2021 income target of £2.5k.  Ultimately, I think I might aim for £4k a year in income (which would cover most of my utitlity bills) but I’m nowhere near there yet – that will be a goal in a few years’ time.

I still have holdings which yield less than 4% but I’m fine to hang onto those investments for now.

Why have income paying investments while I’m still accumulating?

Mainly because I need to see that I can actually generate a certain amount of income from my investments – I don’t want to pull the FIRE plug, only to find out belatedly that my portfolio didn’t provide me with the income I thought it would.


Cash, or rather premium bonds makes up just 7% of my Future Fund. Before anyone pipes up to say how crap premium bonds are, I don’t really care that they are rubbish, I just like the fact that they carry no risk whatsoever and that there’s a chance of winning something every month.

Last year, I won a total of £325, which works out as a return of 2.25%, better than any instant access bank account that I know of. All winnings were chucked into my ISA. If I ever win a decent-sized prize, I’ll be sure to share the happy news here! 🙂

Much in the same way that I’m increasing my bond allocations in my ETF portfolio, I will gradually increase my cash allocation although I’m not rushing on this one.

I’ll likely do a bigger push later on as I’d like to FIRE with a cash buffer.


Pretty much all of my savings/investments are ‘tax efficient’, ie either in my SIPPs or my ISAs.

I still continue to invest in both, although I plan to build up more in my ISAs as I feel they offer more flexibility and (hopefully) will continue not to be subject to tax, future government meddling notwithstanding. I currently have more in my SIPPs but hopefully that will be addressed over the years. Note that by the time I FIRE, I will have access to my SIPPs.

Fun Investment Experiments

Why can’t investing be fun?

My Dogs of the FTSE experimental portfolio falls in the fun category but the dividend income I receive is reinvested into my ISA, so it benefits my overall portfolio.

I may run other little experiments or other fun portfolios (like my Winter Rock fund) – I was thinking of doing an actual Dogs of the Dow portfolio, which the UK FTSE version is based on. This wasn’t possible to do when I first started these experiments, due to the high value of US shares but with Freetrade*, I’ll be able to buy fractions of shares. Maybe I’ll do it once I’m done with the FTSE one.

I might even run a future Monkey Stocks challenge – thinking about it anyway!

So that’s pretty much it for my portfolio for the next year or so.

I’m not trying to beat any sort of benchmark – my annualised returns since I started tracking my investments in 2014 is around 8.6% so if I can maintain that, I’ll be well happy!

I’m sure there will be many who might disagree with my strategy (eg how many holdings??) and wonder WTF I’m doing but I’m comfortable with what I’m doing and I think I know what I’m doing! 🙂

I’m certainly not 100% confident that it will do what I want it to do – all I can do is wait and see, keep calm and carry on investing!

Anyone else have a similar kind of portfolio or is mine so ‘out there’, there’s nothing else like it? 🙂

[*referral link]