Dutch Brexit humour from outside the nuthouse

Note: If you think we are conducting Brexit in a competent manner and it’s all a great idea, let me save you the time; don’t bother with the rest of this, OK?

Once upon a time, when that Jacob Rees-Mogg were a nipper, he sat on the knee of Daddy Rees-Mogg in charge of the Thunderer. Our lad Jacob was regaled with tales of Imperial derring-do, and he thought that’s the world he’d grow up in. Sadly, his cosseted public-skool upbringing never forged character in the crucible of adversity, so he got to grow up thinking that the world really was like he had been taught by daddykins, that it remembered the British Empire with fond sepia tones like the Road to Mandalay declaimed by BoJo rather than say, the trains oozing blood in the Punjab when in the shambles of the secretive Partition as the British scarpered. Sure, Britain did less badly de-Imperialising than some of her European neighbours, but let’s not celebrate that as something that will be a source of great common cause and better trade deals in the 21st century, eh, Jakes me old mucker? It’s probably safe to assume that Empire is recalled more fondly by the aristocratic class of this septic isle than the erstwhile subjects in all those red bits on the map, so check your facts Jakey-boy before sending your henchmen to go batting on that wicket in the trade talks, should we ever get that far.

Right now we Brits are making such absolute twats of ourselves on the international stage, what with striking a deal with the EU and seeming to agree, then saying well, no, that’s not what we actually meant all along, though hold the line, caller, while we actually work out what it is that we meant.

May picks up the old hotline to Jake’s pad where he celebrated her defeat with champagne for his buddies. Yes, I know, with friends like that who needs enemies and all that, but any port in a storm, eh? Brr, brr may I speak to JRM please? “heeelooooow, Jacob Rees-Mogg here, what’s that? (screws monocle into eye) oh what do we want? Simples, Treesa me gal, dont’cha-know, one wants not to give a bally inch. We keep all our cake and eat it, those dashed Continentals will soon come to their senses, they need us more than we need them. Stiff upper lip, Treesa, still upper lip and all that. Tally-Ho” Click.

It’s left people scratching their heads and wondering WTAF is going on here1. Hat tip to the Dutch government. Sometimes, faced with a clusterfuck over which you have precious little control, a spot of humour is the best answer. That’s exactly what they’ve done with their latest website to help their businesses understand Brexit. 2 Obviously they can’t really help them because nobody understands Brexit as it’s being made up on the hoof, but they’ve depicted it as a great big obstreperous woolly mammoth looming over small biz’s attempts to work out which way is up with Brexit.

And yeah, I’m doing the sneering Remainer bit here, because, to be honest, the absolute snafu being made here with Brexiters fighting with each other to imagine what success looks like does look bloody stupid. It looks bloody stupid inside the country, it must look like a collective nervous breakdown outside, though I tip my hat to the Irish Times in calling it a peculiarly English breakdown. Of the two constituencies of Brexit, I have some sympathy with the people who lost out to globalisation3, and I guess Theresa May’s original agreement would have been a serviceable answer to their complaints. I’m not sure it would have been a solution to their problems, but nevertheless, it would have delivered the result of the misbegotten referendum and allowed us to get on with life.

But it wasn’t to be, because there is another part of this heart of darkness, and it consists of people rich enough to not care one whit about the knock-on effects of their dreams. These are the toffs and aristocrats of Jacob-Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group. Just like you can take a bet that any country that has ‘democratic’ in its name is probably not democratic in any accepted term of the word, the ERG is neither European nor does it do any research, if you define research as inquiry into a topic where you don’t know what the answer to your inquiry is beforehand. These are guys who have a very purist view of sovereignty – pretty much ‘we are top dog and no other bugger has influence on what we do‘. Ahem, chaps and chapesses, along with that whole sun never sets on the Imperium no longer being a thing

that was the late 19th/early 20th century, guys

some dashed clever buggers invented something called trade, y’know, where you buy and sell stuff and services to foreigners. It goes on a bit more nowadays that it used to. Anytime you want other people’s money, well, you get to dance a little to their tune. It also pays to speak nicely to them rather than charge around like you own the joint. You do seem to have your heads stuck in a time when you did own the joint, it’s been nearly 80 years since then.

The ERG and their ilk are despicable rich bastards that don’t have to giveashit

And they don’t give a shit. Sure, the entire UK body politic has conspired to make a pig’s ear of this, but I’d like to direct Donald Tusk’s infernal ire better. I reserve a special place in Hell for Jacob Rees-Mogg, BoJo and all the strutting rich bastards who seem to be getting a massive horn out of sticking spanners in the works, and telling people that the only way to think about sovereignty is the way Kim Jong-Un thinks about it. Presumably Jacob’s got My Way on repeat on the old gramophone, with some pliant serf to wind the dratted thing up when the spring runs down.

If this is the way we are negotiating our first and possibly largest trade deal or non-deal with our largest and nearest trading partner, then as far as negotiating with Trump-land and China, well, so help us God. It reminds me of Tacitus’ description of the Druids retreating to Anglesey and hurling curses at the invading Roman Army across the Menai Straits.

On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that [it was] as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement.

Apparently the troops got a right bollocking for such wussy behaviour along the lines of WTF is wrong with you lot, are you men or mice, and they stormed the island swimming across the Menai Straits with their horses. There’s a lesson in there, and it’s that hurling curses across a watery boundary at the other side doesn’t end well.

This is not a professional way of carrying on, people. We look like incompetent buffoons, and a great big blue furry buffoon looks about right. Hats off to the Dutch

Project Fur – you gotta have a larf, else you’d cry

At least they will be shot of it soon enough. We have to live with the massive monster of our projected id – it’s Forbidden Planet all over again without the pretty girl to make it better.

Forbidden planet – beware the power of the twisted darkness within the ERG

So here’s a gratuitous picture of Altaira

Altaira

before we have one of the villains of the show, the “I drink champagne wiv my Brexit Bruvvas when ‘my’ side loses a battle they deserve to lose” Jacob Rees-Mogg

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Now I’d rather have JRM for prime minister than Boris Johnson, but that’s not setting the bar high. In fact I’d prefer the Dutch woolly mammoth to either…

Our next PM, the fella with the blue wooly head!

because when it comes to British politics, let’s take a leaf out of Hippocrates.

Rule 1: Do no harm


  1. I am aware of the Brexiter’s line that you have to keep the enemy on it’s toes and not knowing WTF is going on during negotiations. Sometimes you do have to play the capricious fool. However, I think that the problems here stem from Brexit hiding two quite opposing world-views, and like the Red Dragon and the White Dragon under Vortigern’s castle, they fight endlessly so no stable structure can be built on the house divided.  Where are Merlin and Arthur now? We need them now in the kingdom’s hour of need, there is only greed and evil in those that rule today… 
  2. since obviously nobody in Britain speaks foreign any more, what with our Imperial glory meaning all we have to do is yell louder at our subjects till they get it, Google can help us with that
  3. In theory these guys would be ably represented by the Labour Party,  it’s fairly simple and honest what they want – less austerity, a better welfare state, some middling and low level jobs that pay enough to live on. They don’t really give a toss about the trade deals. However, if anybody can work out what Jeremy Corbyn thinks about Brexit, well, could they tell him, please, because there’s no consistent signal that comes out of the noise from his mouth, apart from that it’s not what the other lot wants. Which other lot, Jezza? in fact which part of which other lot? Oh, fuhgeddaboutit. 
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Will the last UK finance blogger please switch off the lights on their way to Twitter

In a recent post Monevator started off decrying the slow fade-to-black of the UK finance blogs, did nobody tell him that

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

but more seriously, I wonder if it isn’t in the nature of the beast. The blaze of frenzied writing is to be had in the initial stages as you are working out what is what, and if this FIRE malarkey is possible at all, and what  stage of the process you are at. Then come years of grind, when not much interesting happens at all, particularly is your investment strategy is basically buy a tracker every month for 20 years, then quit on the proceeds.

The end of the world features tumbleweed

Before I join in bemoaning the passing of the old guard we really ought to have a rundown of some great new UK FI blogs I have come across:

There are also some interesting EU FI blogs, achieving FI is different in most of Europe because tax-sheltered accounts seem to be less generous and tax thresholds lower. It reminds me of the situation in the UK when I started work, when although we were all poorer the social safety net seemed to have a bit more humanity1. The Anglosphere has gone more towards a winner-takes-all model, diverging both from mainland Europe and from its former self when jobs were more stable, addressed a wider range of the intellectual ability range and particularly in the UK, housing was less vile. Firehub.eu is a good place to start. I wonder if the Brits will be kicked out in April for their renegade ways 😉

Steady investing and a lack of market drama isn’t good for narrative

I would say that RIT has done well with the steady investing narrative, turning it into a book. But there are only so many ways you can slice the lemon. Maynard Paton has an interesting FIRE journey – note that it also features some fantastic luck. In his case, calling the housing market well, but selling out of stocks before the GFC to realise liquidity to buy the house. Luck on its own is not enough, you must also carpe diem. MP gets to stop work nine years earlier in life than me.

It was much easier to write about investing ten years ago. We had just gone through a humdinger of a crash. Not only did you stick out in a big way saying the stock market was something to run towards, rather than away from as fast as you could, but starting from such a low base meant the market was tolerant of mistakes other than churning. The expected return is inversely proportional to valuation, you could buy pretty much anything left standing in early 2009 and do reasonably OK. Building a high-yield portfolio (HYP) with a useful yield looked like a reasonable possibility then. Nowadays you’d have to indulge in risky behaviour to get a high yield because valuations are higher. Sure, there’s Sturm und Drang in the papers about recent retrenchments, but the FTSE100 is back to two years ago, not 10! Continue reading “Will the last UK finance blogger please switch off the lights on their way to Twitter”

100% mortgage backed by BOMAD? I’ve seen this movie before – it didn’t end well

Rich kids will get to bid up house prices aided and abetted by BOMAD1 and a Lloyds bank 100% mortgage. BOMAD are on the hook for defaulting rich rugrats in the first three years, then Lloyds bank should be OK with the equity said kids2 have built up in those three years. Let’s hope Brexit doesn’t make the housing market go titsup, eh?

No, actually scratch that. I wish exactly that. I have no sympathy for these featherbedded chillun – let them suck up the negative equity, and let BOMAD be rocked for a chunk of the debt as a useful playing-field levelling action. Bring it on.

Perhaps after that’s happened some other poor devils will get to afford a house, should they be fortunate enough to still have a job in post-Brexitland.

BOMAD-backed mortgages are tough luck for kids who don’t have well-heeled  parents, because, natch, the rich kids will bid up house prices. So we can understand the delightful sentiment behind Frank Field’s letter to the Grauniad which proposes extending the largesse of the 100% mortgage to all those who don’t have access to BOMAD. Bless your egalitarian cotton socks Frank me old mucker, but you happen to be older than I am. So how come in your 76 turns around the sun you haven’t noticed yet that if you subsidise people’s mortgages, what happens? House prices go up. The maths is simple.

Punters have £x they can spend on housing, and in general when you are young an inexperienced as to the vicissitudes of financial life you deploy all of that £x, because everybody around you tells you that you can’t lose with housing. You also don’t tend to have much capital behind you and are in the first part of your working life, so your earnings are limited. You’re running on empty once you’ve committed your £x to the rapacious maw that is UK residential property. There are no reserves. If you’re £x is more than someone else’s you soak it up by having more house or living in one of the more tony districts, or reducing the zone on your London Underground ticket if you are rich enough to buy in the Great Wen.

The market is set by some punters finding their £x just ain’t enough to own where they want to live, so they leave the market for the rapacious BTL rental market, reducing demand of housing to buy. So, Frank, you go and subsidise that buyer’s £x by £y allowing these folk to borrow more than they can actually afford, guess what happens? Prices rise by £y, or if you subsidise mortgages by £y, by the increase they can borrow with that extra £y, which is a lot more. Result misery. This is an area that needs tough love because of the law of unintended consequences.

We’ve been here before. MIRAS, Help to buy3, LISAs. Get the government the hell out of the home loans market and keep it out of it, nail their feet to the floor. That includes you, Frank. Sure, BOMAD ain’t fair and the rich will screw everybody else. See also: private schools, moving to catchment areas, the lot. If you have the money you will always shit on other people’s kids to get yours ahead.

Government – stay out of the home loans biz. Get into the house building biz

The government can do something about housing – build the bloody things as social housing, don’t subsidise the buying of houses. Leave that to the market. Fewer that half of British households can afford to buy a house IMO. It’s a tremendously expensive capital asset that sucks up roughly 6-10 years of your gross earned income4, and in earlier generations before 1979 we catered for these people with something called council housing.

Let’s not over-romanticise that – some council housing was ghastly, I remember playing on some of the elevated walkway council estates as a kid where some friends lived, and they were dire. Council houses were often terrific, though, particularly for families – far more space than the typical four bedroom premium executive detached-in-name-only5 rabbit hutch constructed now.

Typical taste bypass of a modern estate aimed at those with more money than taste, this one in Turkey. Someone’s missing the whole point of a castle, these ones are definitely DINO. A castle should be 10 miles from the nearest one 😉

The government should stay out of the homes loans biz. Totally, other than to regulate charlatans, minimum lending standards, and to deny BTL lending totally IMO. I’ve nothing against private landlords, if they really own their properties. If they are competing for mortgages with homebuyers, well we survived perfectly well without BTL mortgages up to 1994 and nothing about the British housing or rental market has gone in the right direction since then for the poor bastards that have to live in the properties.

If the government wants to do something about housing, then look to the days before Thatcher screwed it all up to buy votes giving away free money to council tenants with Right To Buy. They were council tenants because they weren’t rich enough to buy their homes, and 40% of these houses are now in private BTL hands, shitting on the generations after. Thanks, Thatch.

We could roll this back  – build social housing, which we used to call council housing, and employ the best lawyers in the land to place a perpetual restrictive covenant on council housing so that any politician that even thinks of doing a Thatcher Right to Buy to sell them for votes is threatened with an official summons to be put in the stocks at the Tower of London to be pelted with eggs by everybody that can’t afford to buy a house until they think better of it.

In other news, personal insolvencies reach a seven-year high and household spending is at a 13 year high often fuelled by credit or depleting savings. Just the sort of situation that absolutely calls for 100% mortgages , natch?


  1. That’s Bank of Mum and Dad if you are one of the lowlife oiks that don’t happen to have mater and pater with the odd 10% of your starter house kicking around in loose cash they don’t need for three years. 
  2. In the curmudgeonly Ermine worldview you’re still a kid whatever chronological age you are if you are financially dependent on your parents. Paying your own way in the world was one of the key rites of passage to adulthood in my day. I do appreciate that such non-launched kids like to be called adults nowadays, but this is my narrative, so bite me ;) 
  3. Help to buy was on new houses, FFS. Yer typical first time buyer isn’t rich enough to spaff their money on a new house, you whazzocks. This was straight bung from taxpayers to Dave’s housebuilder chums 
  4. At a purchase multiple of say 5* one salary, and typical mortgage terms at typical multi-decadal British interest rates of ~ 6% means you pay about twice the capital sum over 25 years 
  5. DINO is when there is separation of about two inches from one ‘detached’ house to another. You need a few feet to get away from your neighbour’s bad taste in rap and to keep your squealing grandchildren out of their beauty sleep. 

Unitising my portfolio shows I sucked last year

The trouble with unitising one’s portfolio is there’s nowhere to hide. Unitising lets you track the effects of adding money, which helps avoid the easiest gotcha in fooling yourself on returns. The Beardstown Ladies Investment Club effect. The hard earned cash you lob into the pot makes your portfolio go up, but it’s not profit, or ROI, or anything like that.

Unlike starting with a one off lump sum from which you draw nothing, evaluating performance gets a lot more complicated if you draw a yearly stipend from your stash. It gets a lot more complicated if you’re one of the ordinary mugs who has to actually, y’know, earn the money they are putting into their future freedom fund, paying it in year by year as they go.

The UK version of the Motley Fool used to have the greatest description of how to unitise and worked example called Stockpicking – Are You As Good As You Think? by G.A.Chester which was still visible to freebie members, but all that was lost when they reorganised the website(19 January update – see Neil’s comment for the original text – he had saved this). Sadly G.A. Chester seems to serve up endless spammy clickbait articles these days, what the hell happened to you, man? Stockpicking was an article pure genius, putting across a tough concept in actionable bitesize steps.

Monevator has a description here but for some reason I really struggle to follow that, although I recognise the moving parts when I analyse my spreadsheet written to implement GA Chester’s more ermine-friendly narrative. I tested the spreadsheet against Chester’s example. Pity that gem of wisdom is lost to linkrot.

Unitising is quite a grief-stricken and error-prone process because it involves going through the spreadsheet and entering the current price of holdings I own at the January sampling datum point. After 10 years, particularly with some occasional muppetry I have a few dead lines of stocks I have no holdings in, but it’s easy to miss the odd line where I do have holdings. It fails safe in that if I don’t enter the price of a holding I own, it says the value of that line is 0 which makes the unit price lower, which is an incentive to go back and catch all of ’em on the grounds I can’t be that crap, surely? There’s also a error-checking catch line that tots all the holdings up, it’s kinda nice if it matches Iweb’s view of my world. Obviously fans of Cloud Services like Money Dashboard will have this easier, though you still need to do the annual spreadsheetery to unitise. Money Dashboard claims to be

a secure cloud-based open banking website that enables you to replicate and then track all the spending categories you set up in MSE’s Budget Planner

Colour me a cynical sonofagun but I am of the firm opinion that secure and cloud-based do not belong in the same sentence. See Equifax for a worked example.

The Ermine portfolio unit value is down 5% this January to last January. It’s also changed nature, more gold and I have taken 20k out as cash, though I may stick that back in to Charles Stanley, which is a Flexible ISA, and pull it out again halfway through April. And I may contribute something to Iweb this year, though I can’t make the full 20k.

Now that’s not dreadful. What would I have been doing otherwise – I’d be in VWRL a la Lars Kroijer.

Hargreaves Lansdown tells me VWRL is down 6.87% Jan 18 to Jan 19

I get divi from VWRL, which is about 2%, I guess there’s a .25% platform fee too. So instead of all that tracking, I could have had one lot of VWRL and been about the same.

What about VGLS100? That was about -5.36% in acc units. Much of a muchness and not worth the Sturm und Drang. In general, a little bit shit. Where Eagles Fear to Perch did better than me last year for instance, congratulations that man!

Defence, not offence is the word at the moment

Now I did shift much more defensively, there’s a lot of gold, there are some government bonds in there. I am probably suffering the deadweight drag of the gold not earning an income. Well, that’s my excuse. I shifted more defensively for several reasons. It is not quite determinate when the best time to take my main pension is, there is a balance between the actuarial reduction because I am not 60 and what appears to be high CETVs which incidentally seem to reduce the actuarial reduction, for reasons I don’t understand.

So I have to keep on pinging the pension modeller. I might need some of that cash if the modeller says delay a bit, and money you might need in the next five years has no business being in the stock market. Particularly when said stock markets are at high valuations. I did much of the switching mid last year, but all that gold and the cash is pretty much a passenger now. I am not one of you young finance workers getting a savings rate of 50% into your SIPPs, I might have a negative savings rate this year.

I’m also trying to keep some of this year and last year’s ISA allowance, because I will draw a pension commencement lump sum from my main pension. And there is some hazard of a Corbyn led government in the future. As a retiree I won’t have a particularly spectacular income1 so I will probably be safe from his ministrations, but an ISA allowance of £20000 is way above what the vast majority of the population could even dream of saving. The argument that letting the rich shelter such a large yearly amount from tax does have some cogency, so I want the possibility of getting that PCLS into the ISA within the next year or two. Whether £20,000 will have any useful value in the Brexit Brave New World of buccaneering brio will remain to be seen.


  1. by the standards of my professional self or indeed the general UK PF scene – even the employed Ermine was way down in the ranks of finance whizz-kids well represented on the UK PF scene now. It wil be fine and more than my early retired self, but I don’t expect to be a tall poppy in Corbyn’s sights. Hopefully Corbyn won’t have the Blairite ambitions of siring a baby-boom through pronatal giveaways as we had in a tough period midway through my career, where every other bugger seemed to be getting the breaks. 

New year, New You, New hope

A Happy New Year to you – what are we looking forward to in 2019 then?

I was out walking with two friends – the sun was setting – suddenly the sky turned blood red – I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence – there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city – my friends walked on, and I stood there trembling with angst – and I sensed an endless scream passing through nature.

Oh. Not so much, really. Did you know there were four versions of this picture? I didn’t until now, so I have learned something new today before 10am. Can’t be all bad. There are great parallels between now and the beginning of the global financial crisis. There are some that say there are great parallels between now and the 1930s, but let’s fight that one later on, eh? What do we have in front of us?

It’s an ill wind blowing, young FIRE folk…

The problem with seeing many new bloggers starting on their journey to financial freedom in the last couple of years is the thought in the grizzled Ermine’s fur that you really want to start that journey with a stock market that hasn’t been pumped up by funny money. I wish y’all the best of British luck, but I know from bitter experience that taking a suckout a couple of years after starting one’s journey to fabulous riches financial independence via the stock market is tough as hell if you take a spanking a few years in. Here’s how I did it wrong, so you don’t have to 😉 Continue reading “New year, New You, New hope”

Odd Christmas sales and consumerism

Unlike most years, where the Santa rally is a thing, there’s not so much cheer on the stock market at the moment.

In other words, there’s a sale on. The Ermine has an additional problem, in that my money is held in increasingly worthless Lesser British Pounds, which are going lower relative to foreign assets day by day. That’s largely due to the pickle we have got ourselves into. Having narrowly voted to leave the EU for a land of unicorns and unlimited supplies of cake, hard reality seems to have met the dream. Usually when that happens the dream loses the fight.

The narrow majority for Brexit covered up an inconvenient problem in that there are two pro-Brexit constituencies, and their interests don’t really overlap.

These are roughly the groups as I see it – one lot want their unskilled jobs back, or at least not to see them going to young folk from the EU who can live more cheaply than their constituents can for a while1. There’s another lot who are the Tory headbangers of the ERG group, who are sore about the loss of sovereignty. There’s an argument that the sovereignty fight should have been had at the time of Maastricht and they should have signed up with James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party. These guys are usually rich enough to weather any storm of a no-deal, or old enough that they don’t have to find work in the resulting maelstrom, and some of them have fond memories of an imperial past when Britain ruled the waves. Whenever I hear Jacob Rees-Mogg speak, I do feel that the 1950s called, and I wasn’t even born in the 1950s, although I am about ten years older than him!

The top left side want much less immigration, they don’t really care about trade deals with non-EU countries, the top right don’t care about immigration but get off on the idea of trade deals free of the yoke of the EU that limits their coruscating ambition. There’s a small dark side of xenophobia, which isn’t necessarily just people who favour Brexit though it does tend to go along with the Brexit patch

At best only one of these groups with non-overlapping interests can be satisfied. Rationally, the largest group that can be satisfied would be the Remainers, because their desire is simple and achievable, what we had before that Cameron chap cocked it all up trying to hold his party together.

If one of the Brexit group gets what it wants, the other group largely doesn’t. The Remainers at least know they lost the fight. The Brexit contingent that doesn’t get what they want will be doubly pissed off because they thought they won. There is no win on offer here that gets anywhere near 50% of people happy. And yet Brexiters are busy screaming the house down about “The Will of the People Must Be Respected”. Well, yeah, as long as it’s not the will of the remainers and as long as it’s not the will of the other half of the Brexit voters, because for them that other lot’s Brexit is not my Brexit.

I’m all for respecting the will of the people, as long as they tell us which will of the people they think that should be. Will the real Brexit stand up and make itself known to the hapless captain of the good ship Britannia? Even when May brings them something that looks like a Brexit, as in ‘submit Article 50 to leave the EU’ people still yell out like two year-olds that’s not what we wanted, Waaah. So they defenestrate May and it’s Groundhog day again.

There should be an honorary eagle pecking out the liver for David Cameron for putting the question is such a stupid, damn-fool and undeliverable manner. It is like having a referendum on “Do You want Real Live Unicorns on the High Street Every Sunday”. The answer may well be yes, but it’s a tough one to deliver. Because: Unobtanium. In the form of cakeism in the first case and unicorns on the other

All that is as may be, but in the immediate future it drives down the real value of my cash. Continue reading “Odd Christmas sales and consumerism”

Anti-FIRE – the YOLO train-wreck edition

It’ll soon be the season of goodwill, which also seems to bring about exceptional financial muppetry for some reason. A few years ago it was Shona Sibary and her excessive brood that was financial folly du jour, along with TV producer Charlotte and a few also-rans. Along with running articles on how you can get to retire early, we’ve had a few on people who don’t seem to be planning on retiring ever.

I was tickled by this young 30-year old singleton living with her parents. Now I have some sympathy for her original plight of living in London on 40k a year. If you don’t want to share your living costs with other people, be they a partner or some sort of shared housing/flatshare arrangement, I can believe 40k isn’t enough to live in London. What’s a girl to do in such a quandary? Clearing off back home to live with Mum and Dad seems like an eminently sensible thing to do. Hats off to her for effective action in the face of adversity.

£40k p.a and living in her childhood bedroom, but still with a negative savings rate. WTAF?

I also have to admire that she doesn’t have a credit card because she’s too worried about ending up in debt. Wise move, that. But where I am totally nonplussed is that of her £2200 pcm take home,

By the time I’ve paid rent, done some food shopping (I want to pay my way as much as I can), settled my phone bill and insured, taxed and put petrol in my car, there’s not a great deal left.

I mean FFS? Let’s leave aside the breathless insouciance of not getting that: hitting Bank of M&D for a few hundred sods a month for foreseeable expenses like eating and car maintenance is not paying your own way by any of the usual definitions of the term.

An ermine spent some £400 on road tax and insurance and £1k on servicing and fuel last year. My phone bill is some £50 a month, so that’s about £2k p.a. Let’s say that’s £200 a month. Leaves our heroine with £2k a month. Say she spends £1000 a month on drinking with her workmates and clothes, and surely the reduced rent to Mum and Dad plus food can’t eat up the remaining £1k. I’d say our young lady has a serious drugs habit she’s not letting on about if it’s really true that none of the £2200 a month actually sticks to the sides. There’s precious little detail about what she actually does spend it on, this is Grazia, after all, which seems to have little detail about anything. It did, however, introduce me to the latest wheeze to part the financially naive from their hard-earned:

Klarna – a buy-now pay later app

As I was considering a corduroy pink boiler suit in the Topshop Black Friday pre-sales, under the Add to Basket button, a rectangular box winked at me: “Pretend it’s pay day! Pay ⅓ now and the rest later”. That’s Klarna.

I confess I’ve read the entire article, and looked at the Klarna website, and it looks like a credit account that’s restricted in stores you can use it to pay. It absolutely beats the hell out of me why on earth you would want to do that, but if a subset of Millennials really are so gormless that they find ease of use of payment so important to them that they will take these restrictions lying down, then they deserved everything that’s coming to them, quite frankly. A jolly good shafting, by the looks of it.

Financial Friction is your Friend

There’s a strong hint that Klarna’s bad for your wealth right in the rubric here

Klarna is the millennial store card, designed for a generation who want things as easily as possible, or in Klarna’s words “a frictionless buying experience”

You want friction in the buying experience. It throws sand in the wheels of your advertising-addled monkey-brain. One of the wins I had in racking back my spending was the simple addition of controlled friction. If it cost more that £100, I wrote it down on a piece of paper with a date. Allow a week to pass. If it still looks like a good idea a week later, go get it. It’s really quite amazing how many things don’t look like such a good idea a week later. Hours of your life died to earn that money. Honour the sacrifice by taking the time out to think. Obviously if it’s a piece of safety equipment or it’s going to save life right now then go right ahead, but most purchases really aren’t that urgent. A little bit of sand in the wheels of the Iwantitnow reflex doesn’t hurt. Nowadays I can get away with 24 hours, but the week cooling-off period is a good one to break the I-want-it-now habit at the start.

Klarna is good for them. It’s not good for you. Much of Grazie’s article is spent talking about how great it is to be able to ‘buy’ a gazillion sizes, try out the ones that fit and return the others, without having to front the money. In the old days you could do that in the store, it was called a changing room. But fair enough, I geddit, things change, Millennials live busy lives and don’t do face to face, life is lived best through the screen of a smartphone. What I can’t get is what does Klarna do here that my trusty credit card can’t.

If I buy five pairs of high heels just after I pay the card off, I get well over a month before I even need to think about paying back my flexible friend. That’s probably long enough to find out which four pairs will give me bunions and return the buggers for a refund 1

a hard credit search each time you want to slice it

But the worst thing about Klarna is that say I am Grazie’s Sian, and while Klarna lets me return 9 out of my 10 items without raising the capital up front, I still decide that I need to slice it because my 40k salary is insufficient to buy myself all the things and experiences I wish to have in my young life. Each and every time Sian hits the old ‘slice it’ button, that’s a new hard credit search. Since she’s in the habit of spending more than she earns, that’s a new hard credit search every month, if not every purchase.

In comparison, if a grizzled Ermine decides to slice it, that’s called ‘not paying off the credit card in full every month’. No new credit search, just business as usual. It’s a stupid way of living for all the usual reasons, but were I saving for my house deposit then when I get to ask for a mortgage the bank isn’t going to go ‘Holy cow, 12 hard credit searches in the last year, no way am I lending this punter a single lousy penny, never mind a couple hundred grand’.

Nobody will lend me any money, because I have virtually zero income. The last time a hard credit search for ‘would you lend this mustelid any money’ was run on me was when I took out my credit cards, which was when I was still employed – it’s getting on for over ten years now. I took a look for credit searches on me. They are all for insurance and ID qualification, plus one for Starling bank. Who then go on to lie about my balance, saying it’s £0. It’s £2500 FFS, because they pay me a gnat’s cock of interest on the current account as well as being the solution to not getting receipts for contactless payments. They also don’t charge me stupid amount for using the card abroad 2.

Over There and Overindebted

Everything’s bigger in the States – houses, hot dogs, cars, and debt. And Financial Folly in the pseudonymous Kate and Tom. The problem is simple. Too many snowflake kids, too many airs about the kids, too much house.

Our first house was perfectly fine, but I was pregnant with our third child, and we had three bedrooms in that house and wanted a fourth.

They could probably afford the kids – just save the $15k pa each that goes on private schooling and give it to them as a bounty on reaching 21. See Rule 5 later on

But we have a good deal — we’ll pay $15,000 for the three of them. But, of course, it’s all going back on credit. There’s a company that offers educational loans for private school.

I love the way he claims to be good for $90k a year, and get works as a bartender at night. I mean, how does that bartending job even get to shift the needle on the dial? Then there’s this sort of addled thinking:

Tom: To be fair, we do try to save money where we can. We had a lease on a minivan that was costing us $405 a month that we just downsized to a $208 car.
Kate: We always lease cars. Honestly, we can’t afford repairs. If our car broke down, we wouldn’t have the $3,000 to fix it. We need to have that high car payment because, frankly, we are not good enough with money to have savings.

Dudes, it’s simple. If you need to lease a car, you can’t afford to drive one. End of. Sure, if you could afford to buy one, but choose to lease, well, perhaps you get the new car smell more often. I pay too much for some things, because I can’t be arsed to squeeze the lemon on everything. I can afford to do that because I don’t borrow money for these things.

These guys aren’t stupid and they’re earning a decent screw. They’re playing a strong hand incredibly badly.

More and more I start to wonder if the road to financial success is far less about what you do do. It’s a tough one – in nearly all other endeavours you progress by getting better at what you do do. With money, an individual surrounded by clever people manipulating the atavistic monkey-brain with advertising, social media FOMO and people who want your money finds themselves in an unfair fight. It’s what you don’t do that matters:

Rule 1: Don’t spend more than you earn

Rule 2: if you really must break Rule 1, then not on wasting assets. Sadly wasting assets often includes education nowadays

Rule 3: Don’t lock in commitments you can’t afford

Rule 4: Never own anything that eats while you sleep

Rule 5: invest in your children. Teach them the skills to be self-sufficient adults

The writers of The Millionaire Next Door bring out rule 5 of unassuming millionaires: Their adult children are economically self-sufficient.

None of that is about investing. You gotta plug enough of the holes in the bucket to stop running out of month before you run out of money.


  1. I guess as a quadruped an ermine will need two pairs of heels to strut its stuff, but Visa and Mastercard can handle that 
  2. Not that that’s going to be a thing until we find out which way is up with all the Brexit bollocks coming along.