FIRE Escape in Sheffield + Win

So, Huw from Financially Free by 40 had organised another FIRE Escape gathering, this time in Sheffield.

I wasn’t able to attend the entire weekend so just dropped in on the Saturday.  This was the 4th such meeting I’ve attended.

The venue was Weaver’s Cottage, a superb detached, stone-built, Grade II listed property. It did look a bit stark on the outside but inside, it was beautifully refurbished with new, modern amenities.

It was good to catch up with Huw, Lou, M, Martina and Richard again, but also great to meet nine new faces – James, Ed, Eva, Valerie, Anne, Cora, Helen, John and Organised Redhead (OR did attend the last FIRE Escape, but wasn’t there the day I turned up!).

As with previous FIRE Escapes, it was a good mix of people, everyone at various stages of their lives and FI plans, from savvy millennials using enterprising ideas to make money, right through to folk who had already retired and were living off their investment income and those who are FI already who were happy to share ideas and advice.

We talked about all kinds of stuff including investing (shares and investment trusts), health and fitness, buy to lets and shared ideas on how to generate money such as buying stuff to sell on eBay, making things to sell, Kindle publishing, P2P, investing in whisky – maybe not a good one for you, FiL! 😉 and matched betting.

I have to say that after each gathering I’ve attended, I have ALWAYS come away with fresh ideas or end up learning about something which I want to research further – I learned some new stuff about matched betting (thanks M and James) and about investment trusts (thanks John).

I was there for 6 hours which just flew by and I wish I could have stayed longer. Had it not been for the fact that I really dislike driving down the Snake Pass in the dark, I would have stayed later. As it was, when it started to rain as I was driving back, I was glad that I left when I did.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I had the chance to chat to everyone properly but hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity next time.

Try It!

If you’ve never considered attending a FIRE Escape before, I would highly recommend these friendly and informal gatherings. I believe it’s Huw’s intention to continue to organise them and I for one am very grateful, as his efforts have enabled me to talk to people who understand what I’m trying to achieve and I love hearing about other people’s stories and plans for FI.

Whilst it’s great to put faces to bloggers, it’s also great to meet people who do not have blogs but who have similar goals, so cheers Huw for organising these FIRE Escapes!

PS – M, I forgot to grab one of your home brews before I left! Doh!

Premium Bond Win

I was out most of Friday so although I saw that I had received an email from NS&I about my premium bonds, I didn’t get the chance to log in to check my account and I only remembered after I’d gotten home from Sheffield:

I won £50 (2 x £25)! It’s my first win in 9 months. I can’t recall if I’ve mentioned this but some of my redundancy money has been used to purchase more premium bonds. These bonds are accounted for separately (in my spreadsheets) from the bonds in my Future Fund since they’re not part of my long-term plan.

Yes, premium bonds make terrible investments – however, if you don’t view them as ‘investments’, but as somewhere to park your cash because you’ve already exhausted the high interest current accounts etc, then I don’t see anything inherently bad about them. Plus, you can win something, like I have! 🙂

Anyway, until I’m gainfully employed again, as and when I need funds for my living expenses, I’ll be selling some of the bonds. Let’s hope I’ll have notched up a few more wins by then! Unlike Jim who treated himself with his winnings, I’ll be chucking mine into my ISA!

A Bit on my Holiday

When it was confirmed that I was being made redundant at work, I had already booked my holiday to Hong Kong to spend Christmas with the family, so I took the opportunity to extend my stay by a few weeks, resulting in my longest time away from home since I was a student!

(Cue some random photos from my trip!)

Time

The long break meant that for once, I had time to enjoy things at a leisurely pace – previous visits have often left me feeling like I needed another holiday as they’ve been packed with too many activities all squeezed into the relatively short space of time that I’m out there for my usual annual trip.

I last visited this place as a teenager – didn’t recognise any of it!

On this occasion, things which time allowed me to do included:

  • Spending more time with my parents and grandmother
  • Spending quality one-to-one time with my siblings
  • Going on a couple of hikes (including one extreme off-track one!)
  • Playing Mahjong
  • Going kayaking
  • Playing badminton and football with my nephews (although I did suffer a little tumble #spectacularfall. My knees are still bruised!)
  • A lot of walking, although this was in part due to various members of the family (including me!) downloading the game ‘Pokémon Go‘ and we went on family walks to catch Pokémon, haha!

Encountered on one of my hikes!

Spending

I spent a little more than usual but only because my holiday was longer. My biggest purchase was a new suitcase (£125), as the old, battered one I’d been using for the past 5-6 years finally needed to be replaced (handle broke). I don’t think I was ever tempted to go on a holiday spending splurge, particularly as the exchange rate was so bad. I think most of my money went on food/eating out.

So, I just picked up a couple of items of clothing, some dried foodstuffs, small bits for the kitchen and bathroom and of course, the musical instrument as mentioned in my goals post!

Work/Retirement

My Mum inevitably put a little pressure on me to stay on and seek employment in HK. A decade ago, this would probably have been something I would have seriously considered. However, at this stage of my life, I do not feel the urge to embark on a complete life and career change. To earn decent money, it’s the usual rat race and I don’t feel inclined to join a new one in a different country right now.

Good old Blighty (pre and post Brexit) remains my home, I have a good circle of friends and feel that the best chance I have of achieving FI and retiring early is by staying and working here.  Just need to find myself a job but as I write this, I’m not in a particular rush.

Whilst I was leisurely enjoying my holiday, I pondered on what it would be like to retire in HK. My parents lead a very happy retired life here – they have a big network of friends, a busy social life, are close to the grandchildren, go on trips and outings all the time and generally want for nothing. They enjoy more warm weather than cold too.

The local seafood counter offers a good variety!

If I retired there, I would be close to family and be able to enjoy all the things I love about HK. However the big elephant in the room would be – where would I live? Certainly not long term with family – I can’t remember (fortunately) the last time I’ve been involved in a proper family argument but that’s because I’m never around long enough for one!

Hong Kong is one of the most expensive places to live – more so than London so you can imagine the extremely unlikely proposition of me buying property out there. Renting too would be pretty much out of the question.

So financially, it makes sense for me to continue with my plans to ultimately retire in the UK. Just need enough to live on and have enough to pay for airfares for my visits!

I rubbed the Laughing Buddha’s tummy!

Back Home

As I get over the last bits of my jet lag and a nasty cold (probably picked up on the plane journey back), I think my brain has finally had time to process that I’m jobless.

I still feel quite relaxed and unworried, but I know this feeling won’t last when I get into job hunting mode!

It’s the surprise leaving do of our ex-CEO tonight (he thinks he’s meeting a few colleagues, but there’s a ‘This is Your Life’ thing planned for him!) so I’ll be looking for networking opportunities as well as catching up with ex-colleagues and friends.

I also have an appointment at the Job Centre on Monday, though I don’t think I’m entitled to any benefits. We’ll see anyway.

Have a good weekend all!

February 2016 Savings, plus other Updates

Here’s my belated February update – the numbers are probably not so consistent with other months as I had to use figures I jotted down from 20th Feb:

Feb16saved

Anyway, I managed another savings rate of 51.6%! Woohoo! :-)

This really is a great start for me, though unfortunately it’ll be a real struggle to maintain this level of savings in March (see below), or even for the rest of the year as things have popped up unexpectedly in my calendar which I hadn’t accounted for when I set my goal.

Still, I’ve already, in only the second month, equalled my 2015 efforts, where I only managed to hit >50% savings rate twice all year, so I am very happy with this.

Only other income added to savings was £50 from rent received.

Future Fund 

Bear Market, what Bear Market? I was rather surprised to see my Future Fund bounce back already – this now stands at £61,019.63. After pondering upon things, I decided to take on board Ermine’s comment from my post earlier in the month and have included my work DC pension within my Future Fund (note that I still made a gain from last month even if I don’t include the work pension).

Dividends and Other Income

Dividends received this month (which will be reinvested): Continue reading

A Not so Frugal Opportunity

When you look through FI and PF blogs, various reasons cited by people on why they pursue financial independence or want to retire early include:
  • Want to spend quality time with the family, in particular children
  • Want to be able to do things they’ve never done before or never had a chance to do before
  • Want to learn new skills
  • Want to visit places they’ve never been to before
Often, people express how it’s perhaps more important to enrich their life with ‘experiences’ rather than ‘things’ – collect great memories, not stuff.
Anyway, the fact is, I have been given the opportunity NOW (not right this minute but within the next 5 months) to achieve all the above points, but it will hit my savings rate, such that I will absolutely not hit my 50% savings rate goal and will not achieve my Future Fund target of £50k, although the markets have pretty much knocked that goal out of the window anyway!
So What’s Happening?
My sisters have invited me to join them on a family holiday.

When the subject was first brought up, I think I pulled a face, as I immediately thought of the costs and what it would do to my savings rate and my FI plan.

But when I thought about it again, I realised that not only was it an opportunity that I may not get again but that I could actually afford it, without dipping into my Future Fund and without going into debt.

The only ‘loser’ would be my savings rate, as I would not be saving (as much) money, since a chunk of it will be going towards the holiday.

Choices

As I have been pretty much living on just over 50% of my salary this past year, I’m in a position where I can choose what I want to do with the other half of my salary.

I have been choosing to save/invest it for this past year, as evidenced on this blog.

Now, I choose to spend some (not all) of it.

So I said “Yes!”

What’s the Holiday?

Next year, when I go on my usual trip to Hong Kong to visit the family, I will be there a week, where I will spend some time with my parents and my grandmother and catch up with friends out there.

I will then head out to Japan on a family skiing holiday with my sisters! Or rather snowboarding in my case!

Let me refer back to the above list:

  • Want to spend quality time with the family, in particular children
As well as spending time with my sisters, I will be spending some quality time with my niece and nephews. They’re aged between 6 and 8 and there will come a time when they will be far more interested in hanging out with their friends, rather than with their daft Aunt Weenie from the UK! This will be a great opportunity for me to create some great memories with them while I can.
  • Want to be able to do things they’ve never done before or never had a chance to do before
I’ve never been on an actual ski slope before, only ever had a few tries at snowboarding on the indoor snow slope at the Chill Factore a couple of years ago. If I were to wait til I retire, even if I were to retire early (in 10 years), I may feel that I’m too old to try this out for the first time! 
  • Want to learn new skills
I will learn how to snowboard properly! Oh and learn some Japanese words!
  • Want to visit places they’ve never been to before
I have never been to Japan!

Two boxes will be ticked off my ‘bucket list’!

When I embarked on my plan to achieve FI/RE, I realised very quickly that I couldn’t do it in the same way as Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme. That way was far too extreme, too frugal – I still want to live and enjoy my life, still be seen as vaguely ‘normal’ by my colleagues and friends.  I know this shouldn’t matter but it makes my life easier. I have enough personality quirks as it is, without displaying more!

With a decent plan and by cutting down on unnecessary expenses, I have made a relatively good start with my savings and investments, with very little impact on how I live and enjoy my life.
I was always going to continue travelling abroad for my holidays, especially as pretty much my entire family live on the other side of the world. My holidays are not extravagant – when I go to Hong Kong, I’m not staying in fancy-shmancy hotels, I’m staying with family so have no accommodation costs, (it’s a good job I can sleep anywhere as sometimes I’m on a sofa, occasionally on a camp-bed, depending on who I stay with!). When I go on short trips to Europe to get my sunshine fix, it’s to somewhere cheap and cheerful like Greece, spending as little money as possible – yes, even travelling with my own beach mat so I don’t have to pay 5 Euros for a sun-lounger!

This holiday within a holiday however will be my most expensive ever (I of course will be travelling economy class as always!).

Savings Rate
So, I will be unable to achieve my 50% average savings rate by the end of the year. Having just paid off my car loan, my savings rate was actually about to consistently start hitting above the 50% mark …until I decided to go on this holiday!

Based on what I’ve been told about the cost of the holiday, I reckon I will still be able to maintain a savings rate of around 30%, although this could be a challenge as it gets closer to Christmas…we’ll see.

30% is a still good rate compared to some, just not so good compared to what I’ve been able to achieve and rather rubbish against the goal I’ve set myself.

This should only be for the next four or five months, after which ‘normal’ savings rates should be resumed.
I know this holiday flies in the face of being frugal and striving for FI but I just feel that it’s an opportunity that I can’t let pass, not while I’m fit and healthy enough to go on such an activity holiday.

All the more reason for me to save/invest that much harder in 2016!

Incidentally, this is my 100th blog post! Yay! 🙂