December 2023 Savings, plus round up

Happy New Year!

I was in the gym on New Year’s Eve and out litter-picking on New Year’s Day morning – starting as I mean to go on!

Anyway, let’s just get the numbers out of the way for 2023!

I saved 12.1% of my net salary – not great, but a big credit card bill to cover gifts and social outings meant that I didn’t save as much as I would have liked.

The above includes £67.92 from doing Prolific surveys. I also received £103.83 from TopCashback* but ended up spending that on socialising.

Shares and Investment Trusts

No new investments, I just topped up existing ones.

Current share/IT portfolio can be found here.

(Entire portfolio here)

Future Fund 

Well, a mediocre year for investing ended up somewhat better than expected!

The Santa Rally did its thing and resulted in me achieving my £250k milestone for the first time since August 2021! Woohoo! 🙂

As at 31st December 2023, my Future Fund stood at £250,605.80.  After the painful sideways crawl of my investments over the past year or so, I am very happy and somewhat relieved that I’ve hit the milestone again.

Here’s how it all looks at the end of another year:

However, I had believed (hoped) that after raiding my Future Fund for my house deposit in 2021 (the big dip in Oct 21), the pot would have recouped/grown quicker but sadly, it was not to be.

Using unitization, I’m up just 5.8% this year across all my investments. This figure includes my dividend income portfolio, where stock prices continue to remain fairly depressed.

Nothing as spectacular as the growth that some other investors have reported, but after the nightmare of 2022, it was most comforting that things finally appear to be heading in the right direction.

Still, I daren’t be too hopeful for 2024 – it just feels like everything (at home and abroad) is teetering precariously on a knife edge and things liable to tip one way or another, causing tremors and disruption (or boom, if we’re lucky) in the stock markets.

Dividends and Other Income

A decent final month for dividends:

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Le rêve est mort?

After a lovely relaxing holiday in August, I was brought back down to earth and reality not by my brimming work inbox but by an email from my current mortgage provider, reminding me that my fixed rate mortgage deal was due to expire and to consider their current mortgage product offers. If I did nothing, I would automatically revert to their standard variable rate of 8.4%, so doing nothing was definitely not an option!

Their deals were not pretty – they were all variable apart from one 2-year fix that was offered at 6.4%.

Whilst I’d been preparing myself for a big jump in interest rate (from the now almost mythical 1.25% I’m currently paying) by playing around with mortgage calculators, checking affordability and such like, it was jarring to seeing the numbers in black and white. I see now that I’d been somewhat optimistic with my calculations and wishful thinking about interest rates dropping. Or that getting my LTV down would actually make any real difference.

I contacted an independent mortgage adviser, one recommended by a friend who had just recently herself remortgaged.

Unfortunately, the best 2-year fixed rate deal would have resulted in me paying nearly an extra £300 per month for my mortgage (a 55% increase!) so I had no alternative but to look again at my current provider’s offers, where at least there would be no arrangement fee, nor would I have to provide all my financial info again.

Their best offer would increase my mortgage by £240 a month (a ‘mere’ 44% increase), a 2-year 5.30% variable rate. With the rate being variable, this might go up, so I could end up paying that extra £300 (or more), but there’s also a chance that this extra could decrease a little, if/when the interest rates fall. I’m more inclined to think (and will take the gamble) that they will likely drop, though by very little and certainly not in the short term. I reckon in my lifetime, <2% mortgage rates will be consigned to history, we’ll look back and think of ‘the good old days of borrowing’! At least we’re not back to the double-digit rates that my parents were paying for their mortgage.

I still have a month to go so I haven’t signed up to anything yet, but not sure I want to leave it too late in case even that offer I’m considering is withdrawn.

How will this affect me?

Despite shouldering all financial burdens on my own, I’m in a fortunate position in that this not-insignificant (to me) increase to my monthly mortgage payments still isn’t going to result in my struggling to keep up with payments, getting into arrears, having to choose between heating or  eating, resorting to food banks or pay day loans.

But it’s enough that it’s probably going to have some impact on my every day lifestyle; how much I’m able to put aside for my social life, holiday funds, house repairs, emergency funds, overpaying the mortgage.

Ultimately, how will my increased mortgage payments affect my ability to continue adding to my FIRE savings/investments and advance towards my goal (shifting goalposts notwithstanding)?

I’d like to think that I’m quite mentally resilient, of  stoic-ish nature but I can’t deny that increasing costs in pretty much everything have been causing me a bit of worry, about my plans, about the life I lead.

For the first time in a long time, since my debt paying days, I’m considering running a proper budget, tracking all my spending to the penny.

It’s not a task I relish, in fact, it fills me with dread and I could almost sense a small cloud of doom and gloom coalescing above me.

Bills, Bills, Bills

I have some unavoidable and quite significant expenses looming on the horizon, costs that I can’t really put off much longer or ignore.

In no particular order of urgency (since they all need sorting out):

1 – Dental costs – that private dental referral from March has finally come through and they called me to make an appointment. I’m no longer in pain but still can’t really eat on that side of my mouth. £99 paid in advance just to see the consultant and then, he will diagnose whether I need root canal treatment or extraction. Cost estimated to be around £1-£1.3k.

2 – New Glasses – my prescription has changed these past couple of years, so I need to get new glasses to avoid eye strain and headaches. Cost estimated around £350-£450.

3 – Car repairs – the advisory issues flagged up in my MOT need to be sorted as I don’t want them to balloon into reasons for my MOT to fail (and for safety reasons, as one of the issues was to do with my brakes). My air con isn’t working but I’m deeming that an unnecessary nice-to-have right now. Cost of repairs quoted at £700. I also have a slow puncture. Every week or so, I need to check the tyre pressure and pump up the tyre. That will cost another £100-140.

That cloud of doom and gloom continues to spread over me…

Lifeline

The other week, I got a last minute “quick catch up” meeting invitation from one of the big bosses in the US, my ‘interim boss’ since my previous boss had left at the end of July. I thought (with some relief) that the meeting was probably going to be news that his replacement had been found.

Only it wasn’t that – I was being given an unexpected pay rise.

I had already received a performance-related pay increase earlier this year, so I was rather speechless to get this extra increase on top!

The reason? A ‘reward for continued excellent services’. Okaaaaay…

Well I didn’t want to question it so just mumbled, “Wow thanks!!”

My mind was reeling (in a positive way), however at the same time, my chimp brain couldn’t help but negatively wonder what this actually meant. Did it mean that they weren’t going to replace my boss and that I was going to be given extra duties? Was something else on the horizon that would affect my workload and this was a sweetener to keep me happy?

Anyway, two days later, I was notified that my new boss had just accepted the job offer and would be starting in a couple of months – hurray!

Four days later however, I found myself part of a new project team, to help with the integration of a recent company acquisition. Looking at the project plan, I have been assigned a lot of tasks so my workload will go through the roof.

Is it bad that pay rise or no, I would have still signed up for the extra project tasks because that’s just the kind of ‘worker bee’ I am? More fool me, perhaps.

I’m really grateful for this extra pay, which won’t quite cover the entire monthly mortgage increase but will give me a lot more breathing space, makes things more manageable and me less stressed about it.

Annoying that in more ‘lower interest/lower inflation’ times, I would just be throwing the extra into my ISA or SIPP and not succumb to lifestyle inflation but I don’t have a lot of choice right now.

So in answer to the title question of this post, “Is the dream [of FIRE] dead?”, I’d probably say “Pas encore!“.

Onwards and upwards as always!

[Note, for those interested, I am still learning French via Duolingo! 431 days and counting!]

 

April 2023 Savings, plus other updates

April was a bit of a spendy month.

Enjoyed a couple of social outings, one of them being the Manchester FIRE pub meet last Friday.

Also, unusually for me, I intentionally went clothes shopping. I haven’t done this in a long time as it’s not something I particularly enjoy doing, but with my preferred hipster/low-waist jeans back in fashion, I had to pick up a couple of new pairs to supplement my old ones (still fitting me from the 90s but looking rather shabby!).

I know many people these days just get their clothes online, but I’m old-fashioned and prefer to try before I buy. The only time I buy clothes online is if I’ve tried the exact item previously instore. Plus, I can’t be faffed with returning items which don’t fit.

It’s the first shopping trip I’ve been on in a long while and the first items of clothing I’ve purchased since the Marie Kondo 50% cull of my wardrobe in 2021 prior to my house move (with the exception of gym wear/underwear).

During Easter, I went on a traditional bank holiday outing to B&Q and took advantage of the gorgeous weather to paint all my garden fences (front and back). As well as paint, I also came away with a plant (more on this later) – B&Q is one of those places where you inevitably always end up buying something that wasn’t on your shopping list! However, I deliberately didn’t get a trolley or basket so there was only so much I could carry – the 12L tub of paint was heavy on its own! The tricks one must do to stop ourselves from spending needlessly, haha!

Anyway, some good news at work was that I received the maximum performance-related pay rise offered by my company, which was 5%, the same as last year.  Again, nowhere near inflation-busting, but still, I’ll take it for what it is, since annual increases are not guaranteed.

This new bit of extra pay will just get swallowed up by bills as it looks like everything has gone up for me, apart from water and tv licence.

Right, enough waffle, how did I get on in April?

I saved 17% of my net salary.  The above includes £41.78 from doing Prolific surveys and £20 from matched betting profits.

Shares and Investment Trusts

I just topped up existing investments.

Current share/IT portfolio can be found here.

(Entire portfolio here)

Future Fund 

No apparent drastic events to rock the stock markets, so my Future Fund moved up a small notch, to £231,955.

Dividends and Other Income

A fairly average month for dividends.

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March 2023 Savings, plus other updates

The month started quite well, with things I hadn’t done in a while.

The first was a Friday after-work drinks session, which was followed by a cheeky Nandos.

Great fun, which harked back to the days when this was something I used to do on a semi-regular basis and would not have warranted a mention on the blog.

The second was a social outing which had me rolling home after 2am – another fun night but the lack of sleep and ensuing hangover reminded of why I don’t do these very often (aside from financial cost)!

Things went downhill after that – first, the battery in my car died and had to be replaced (£145). The short (but necessary) car journeys I make aren’t great for the battery, so it generally needs to be replaced more often than if I used my car regularly and for longer journeys.

Next, I woke up one weekend with throbbing toothache.

Managed to get a dental appointment first thing on Monday but due to the location of the offending tooth (right at the back), the work that needs doing (likely root canal) is beyond my dentist’s expertise/equipment so I’m being referred to a private specialist.

As someone who doesn’t automatically reach for painkillers at the first sign of discomfort, I’ve not liked having to take so many but needs must if I am able to do my work and get sleep. I hope I get an appointment soon (it’s been two weeks and counting…). The pain is so bad sometimes that I dream of just getting a pair of pliers and pulling out the damn tooth for some relief.

This month, I got paid my company bonus and while in the past, I would have tossed the majority of it into my ISA, this time, I’ve put most of it aside to cover my impending dental work treatment. Ouch, in all senses. That’s not to say I haven’t invested any of it, I have, just not as much as I would have liked.

Anyway, the first quarter to the year is over already so let’s take a look at how I did in March:

I saved 25.9% of my net salary.  The above includes £83.66 from doing Prolific surveys, £59.70 from OddsMonkey* referrals, £20 from matched betting profits (yes, I know, more on this later!) and a nice £400 from taking part in a 3-week online investing community thing with Research in Finance (not a referral link – sign up for free!)

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 

All’s not right in the banking world – Silicon Valley Bank, Credit Suisse and First Republic are unlikely to be the only ones this year to get into a spot of bother, and it’s probably only a matter of time before some other ‘too big to fail’ bank will need propping up/rescuing. Let’s hope regulations help prevent the worst from happening.

At the end of the month, jittery markets caused my Future Fund to drop a little, down to £229,463.

Dividends and Other Income

When markets are down, dividend income provides the only ray of light in my portfolio:

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