City or country – where you live matters in the budget for early retirement

Most of the personal finance community I’ve come across in the UK seems to live or work in London. Monevator lives in London. mistersquirrel does too. I don’t – although I was born in London, grew up, went to university and started work there I moved out in my 20s because I couldn’t see any way to being able to buy a house. Stupid house prices relative to earnings are not a new thing in the UK; this was a shade over a quarter of a century ago.

Where you live is a large part of your running costs. It’s there in terms of the capital tied up in your house or the rent you pay, but it is also in the price of the goods and services you buy. More subtly, it’s there in the goods and services presented to tempt you to buy. It’s one of those strange facts of capitalism – normally increased scale lowers prices of goods and services. 13% of the population of Britain lives in London. Obviously that is going to jack up house prices, but I’d have guessed the cost of supplies and food would be lower, because there’s so much of it shifted. But it doesn’t work that way. London is a damned expensive place to live. The one thing that is notably cheaper as well as better in London is public transport – it’s far better than anywhere else I’ve seen in the UK[ref]Where I do get to try provincial bus services I usually concur with Mrs Thatcher on the subject [/ref]

But there’s a great buzz to the place, it’s full of things to do, though most of these things involve spending money, as the natural world is not well represented in the city. Even the sparrows got pissed off and left the city in the late 1980s[ref]they are meant to like being around lots of people, the clue is in the name, house sparrow, and the Latin name Passer domesticus. There were plenty in the garden when I was a child, but they have nearly all gone from London now. Sadly it appears they just lost heart and died out in London, rather than flying somewhere more agreeable. If you think about the use of the canary in mines, this might give Londoners pause for reflection…[/ref].

gotta get out of this crazy place
gotta get out of this crazy place

If you want to move town and particularly country, that’s usually easier when you are young. As you get older you pick up connections, often have kids, and then you just get used to a place. You also gain a lot of ‘domain knowledge’. You know who to ask for how to do various things. You know where to get things from and where is usually cheapest/best. You know how to get places, and which are the rough parts of town. A lot of this you lose if you move, and have to acquire again. It’s possible that I was lucky in that I left London in my twenties, because leaving the city later on seems to be a big wrench.

Not living in London appears to reduce a lot of my costs, but I didn’t realise by how much until I visited the fair city of Oxford for a conference recently. The place smelled of money, like London does. I live in Ipswich, and the town has money shops, betting shops. closed down shops (nowhere near as many as a couple of years ago) and all the other accoutrements of the ‘cost of living crisis’. In short, compared to Oxford, and many parts of London, it’s a dump. The citizens of Ipswich are clearly not as rich as those in London or Oxford. You can see that on this income heatmap. Oxford average wages are 26k, for Ipswich this is 18k, whereas London has high values all round, nothing is as low as 18k. Even in places like Lewisham and Deptford, which were rough as guts when I left London people are on an average of 25k.

Services have to be priced to reflect that, from the cost of housing to the council tax. There’s one service that always seems to sum this up as a quick guide for me, and it is this one

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn Oxford it’s a little bit dearer than I am used to,


but it’s nowhere near the outlandish sorts of prices mistersquirrel is happy to pay in The Smoke. I’m not a cocktail guy, so it may be that I don’t know the prices but I just couldn’t pay £10 for one drink. I just couldn’t do that. I could afford it okay, but paying that much out would bother me so much I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the experience 😉

Let’s all move somewhere cheaper once we’re financially independent

Seems obvious, really. Not so damn fast. In addition to the domain knowledge bit, within any one country places with a higher cost of living are often more interesting places to live. Intelligent people go there and start creating wealth, which drives up the cost of living because they can afford to demand higher standards.


It’s why Oxford is a much nicer town than Ipswich. So is Cambridge. Those places are known for attracting clever people and the blighters apply themselves, creating value and then go around drive up the cost of everything, though they do make it all fancy as well. Hence the beer is a bit more expensive that in Ipswich, though I’d argue that The Fat Cat in Ipswich is a better pub than the Oxford one I was in. But Oxford’s probably got better pubs than the Fat Cat. We settled for a place on the bus route that looked okay.

More Oxford
More Oxford

Your requirements as a retiree also vary if you are in a relationship and if you have children. Philip Greenspun has a fascinating article on choosing a place to live as an early retiree with few attachments, written from a US perspective. You’re not necessarily limited to the country you worked in, of course, and some places can be a hell of a lot cheaper, particularly in Asia[ref] an exercise for the reader is, of course, to look in their crystal ball and decide whether that will still hold after 30,40, or in some cases 50 years. 50 years is a very long time and you are asking a hell of a lot of your crystal ball – 50 years ago London was a grimy city of many bomb-sites, few cars, outside bogs and often the water stopped running when there was snow on the ground. Nobody would have guessed it would have loads of people making loads of money all around the world while its residential property becomes the reserve currency of last resort for Russian oligarchs, Greek tax dodgers and the like.[/ref]

Most of Europe is simply too crowded and expensive to be attractive to the average North American.

Most of Asia is too strange and far away to appeal to the average North American. Nonetheless, there are a lot of expatriates who’ve found their Buddhist bliss in Thailand, a country with an excellent infrastructure and stable government[ref]No longer it seems[/ref].

Greenspun on early retirement destinations 🙂

In the States people seem to move all over the place all the time, so retirees are happy to move where things are cheaper – this seems to be towards the south, presumably where it’s warmer and the are lower property taxes. Anybody who is retired is usually very sensitive to wealth taxation for several reasons. Their income is normally lower than a typical working person, their wealth is usually higher (because they are skimming their lower income from capital saved from many years of working). [ref]Britain has very few wealth taxes, the council tax is the only one I can think of. We have capital transfer taxes when wealth is transferred  – from one form to another in capital gains tax. There is a theoretical tax on intergenerational/dynastic wealth in terms of inheritance tax, unless you are a member of the aristocracy/Establishment in which case you hold your dynastic wealth as agricultural land on which there is no inheritance tax because your forebears struck deals with the postwar governments to hide this egregious aberration in the principles of equality of opportunity from the wage-slaves and serfs.[/ref]. In the UK retirees have historically moved towards the seaside. which strikes me as a bizarre thing for the elderly to do, because the cold and wet in the winter will bother their aching joints and make it dearer to heat their homes, but what do I know? Nowadays they seem to gravitate to Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. In the Telegraph’s best places to retire series all the places seem to be in the south of the country[ref]this may be the result of sample bias, if they ranked the places by number, since most people in the UK live in the south of the country[/ref]

I didn’t apply any intelligence to this choice. I was ejected from London because I was too poor to live there, and I got to like Suffolk which has a fair number of things going for it – it has far lower rainfall than most of the UK, it has a fair amount of natural beauty, it is an easy if expensive train ride to London. On the downside it’s very badly connected by road to the rest of the UK. Every time I want to go to any part of the UK that lies south of Cambridge and west of London I have to drive halfway round the M25.

At the moment Mrs Ermine has more ties with the area. The decision to move or not isn’t purely a matter of economics or geography however, it is also about your social web of life. Early retirees by definition retire earlier than the norm, so many of the people they know will still have the constraints of work, in free time and in geographic mobility.

Let’s all move to a cheaper country

It’s not a bad idea – RIT is on the case with that one.It probably works better if you have some connection with the country or culture, and like everything about retirement it works better if you have more money. Where it really doesn’t work is if you haven’t saved enough money and you are simply looking to reduce costs or try and make a lack of savings work. There are a bunch of subtle tail risks that can get you, associated with the divergence in fortunes of your destination and the place the money that gives you an income is in. And of course you are starting again socially, but you have to pick up the language and the cultural references, or live in some expat enclave.

And even if it hadn’t lost its Buddhist bliss, while somewhere like Thailand sounds like a great place to visit or even spend months or a year or so, I’m not sure I’d like to grow old and die in a greatly different culture from the one I’d spent most of my life in. Maybe I am particularly unadventurous in that way.

International Living has a guide to various countries and costs, and the HuffPo likes Portugal, Thailand and Malaysia. Changing country also involves currency risk – if you’re looking at spending 40 years in a different country from the UK you have to take a view on the relative wealth of the two countries and how they would diverge. You’re okay if the UK stays the same or gets richer relative to your destination, but you’re in deep shit if it’s the other way round unless the funds upon which your income is based track the fortunes of your destination. This is a case where a DC pension beats a DB pension hands down because you can target your investment base accordingly. You see some of this thinking in RIT’s portfolio although he is unwinding the Australian bias because that isn’t his preferred destination any more. And just as Jim Slater said elephants don’t gallop, the potential of the UK to get richer more rapidly than a low-cost Asian country is questionable. It’s a tough bet, and as a UK expat you’re on the wrong side of it…

if you depend on the UK State Pension then be very careful retiring abroad

I’d go as far as to say if you depend on the UK state pension you can’t afford to retire abroad. You definitely need to know it doesn’t necessarily increase with inflation particularly relevant for Canadian and Antipodean retirees. Canada, Australia and NZ attract UK retirees because they speak English, but it appears this policy comes as a surprise to some of these retirees. Although there’s a lot of bitching about this, this isn’t something that was sprung on people retrospectively. Indeed, I’m amazed people who rely on the UK State pension retire outside of the UK at all because of the currency risk. Fair enough for people rich enough to have their own pension provision, but the UK State pension is not particularly generous compared to other First World countries so depending on it and retiring to another country particularly where you may have to pay for healthcare looks like sticking your neck out to me.

The power play is obvious. A UK government is influenced by UK voters. If you’re a UK resident pensioner, you are a UK voter. If you’re resident abroad, you aren’t. In a squeeze on pension resources, a UK government will focus resources on people who vote in the UK. If you don’t like that, either don’t retire abroad, or accept the tradeoffs, or make adequate private provision to become FI, and maybe hedge currency effects. The UK Government is quite explicit on the policy

Essentially, the reason for not uprating retirement pension in these countries is cost and the desire to focus constrained resources on pensioners living in the UK.

town and country – the city is a spendy place

it’s easy to spend money in a big city. There are so many expensive places to choose from, the temptations are all around.


I can get out of Ipswich and do something interesting without spending any money at all – I can bike to somewhere I can poke a telescope at birds, or listen to some. I can reach open fields on foot, though the council is looking at filling some of these with houses. The natural world abounds in things that don’t cost much. Whereas a city abounds in things that are interesting, and often cost something. Not always – f’rinstance in Oxford I went and poked an inquisitive Ermine snout at these oddities for free at the Museum of the History of Science

copy of John Dee's Enochian tablets
copy of John Dee’s Enochian tablets. Science wasn’t as nailed down in the past…
various historical lab glassware
fabulous historical lab glassware
cabinet of preparations

but we paid to see the William Blake exhibition  – as mistersquirrel said, it’s easy to spend money in a city.

It’s possible that one of the things that made financial independence easier for me was being out of the city. When I look at city boys like theFIREstarter’s £24k hit and mistersquirrel who won’t let on as to the absolute level of spending because the drinking and dining stands head and shoulders above the rest then I think to myself we’ve got some high-rollers here 😉 And these are people who have their spending under control from a Micawber point of view, so God knows what this looks like for the rest of the country – no wonder that Britons slapped another £1.25 billion on their credit cards. In TFS and mistersquirrel’s favour, it was an Ermine rather than they who contributed to this statistic, though I used it to avoid crystallising a capital gain as opposed to spending money I didn’t have 😉 For what it’s worth my take on spending is back here. I’d probably add another 6k on that of elective spend between us because that was drafted in lockdown to get out mode. However, even now, I don’t spend more on running costs and elective spend than goes into my ISA each year.


38 thoughts on “City or country – where you live matters in the budget for early retirement”

  1. What a fascinating piece! Lots to think about here. On the subject of our lost sparrows though, the sparrows may have moved out, but the Ring-necked parakeets have moved in. So even our animal population is always on the move….:-)


  2. Ermine,

    Well I straddle the two…working in the city with the red brace brigade but living in the country (v near you in fact!). Ignoring the horrendously expensive train season ticket we have the best of both worlds.

    Our spending plummeted when we moved out of London. Previously our entertainment was similar to Mr Squirrels : dining out, drinking etc. Now our weekends tend to be filled with free activities such as cycling, walking/hiking etc. When we do venture out for a meal it is of course much cheaper.

    Once FI is attained we’ll likely move further into the sticks primarily to cash in on the cheaper housing.


  3. As ever, lots of thought provoking practical points well made.

    Personally, I have come to the conclusion that family and friends are the most important consideration for the best place to live.

    Having last worked full time in Devon some 6 yrs back, I have now gravitated back to the North West to be near family and enjoy spending lots of time with the new grandchildren.

    As for the pub, could never spend £5 on one drink never mind £10 – real ale night at my local and a pint of my favourite Rev. James for £1.99!


  4. @Bug Woman – hehe – ring-necks are hard to love. Didn’t realise they were sexually dimorphic. My mother’s house has them in some trees at the back and the noise makes corvids sound mellifluous in comparison.

    What on earth is happening to London’s birds – it isn’t just the sparrows that have been lost from her quite large SE London garden which hasn’t really changed in landscaping rom the 1980s. Song thrushes used to be a common sight but nowhere to be seen, and over recent years even the blackbirds seem to be thinning. Birdtrack indicates that swifts no longer come to that part of London either.

    Maybe it’s a SE London thing – although all I saw when I worked with LOCOG in Canary Wharf were a few desultory pigeons and the odd crow somebody is reporting good numbers of house sparrows in the TQ3780 tetrad!

    @UTMT – Interesting – that supports the theory a bit. I hadn’t really appreciated how spendy cities are inherently. People often slow down a bit on the decadence as they get older, particularly if they have kids, but the PF community seems to have a higher proportion of DINKs than the 20% average. From observation I would suspect child-free couples to stay more spendy into their 30s and 40s.

    TFS reports beer is running at £5 a pint in SE London compared to around the £3.50 to £4 mark round these parts. So he and Mr S are taking a 20-25% mark-up on all that.

    Interesting that you’d move further out on FI. I’d be a little bit loath to move to a village rather than a town, guess the formative London background still persists. OTOH I’ve never taken the decision ‘where will I live after FI’ as an active step, I’m still in the same house I was for half my time at The Firm.


  5. @diy investor – £1.99 – that’s remarkable. What we need is an inverse beer pricemap to go along with that population density map!

    I’m often surprised at how little the human setting fares in the early retirement set. Maybe this is another form of sample bias – those that can see their way to early retirement at 40 rather than 50 are more globe-trotting in work and can make and remake their human web of life more easily than I can. OTOH perhaps the HuffPo is right with ‘the bucket list changes’ –

    It is not the death of adventure in our lives but rather a reordering of our priorities. Family and friends rank high and leaving your mark on the world matters a great deal more than going skydiving.


  6. A great peice yet mostly echoing what everyone knows: London is overpriced in every sense of the word!

    My hometown of Reading is very quickly catching up though due to the London commuters and their inflated salaries compared to local employment. Still; We havn’t quite reached the point of £5 pints yet.

    The problem with moving somewhere cheaper is that the lower salary there will start to lag behind due to % salary increases. Eventually you’ll be unable to return to where you once started as prices have shot off ahead. I recall reading recently an excellent artical about New Yorkers who, whilst hating the city, are terrified of leaving because they know within a few years their new salary will have dropped so far behind the New York equilivant that they could never return if they wanted to.

    Something to keep in mind for anyone looking to take early retirement abroad but eventually returning to the UK for closers family ties or medical assistance as they get older.


  7. I live in Oxford. It’s a very strange city: filled to the brim with students, the elderly, and London commuters. There is very little outside of these demographics, as they are the only one to afford the high house prices: the London commuters have high salaries, the elderly all bought when they were young (or retired from high paying London jobs, perhaps), and the students are crammed into damp, badly maintained terraced where every room that isn’t the kitchen or the bathroom is converted into a bedroom.

    Outside of the city centre and the colleges (which are very pretty), Oxford is very much a generic small English city, with perhaps more charity shops and less pay-day lenders. The only advantage is that it’s quite easy to get out into the cheap countryside, though the Cotswold village pubs are not exactly cheap either.

    If I didn’t like my job, I would have moved. It’s not a city with much to do outside of the university, and the price of property makes it almost impossible to buy for the long-term and skews the demographics badly.

    But it is pretty in the middle.


  8. Town mouse or country mouse? UK Northerner or Southerner?
    Growing up in a Northern city, DH and I left it in 1980 to seek our fortunes in the posher, richer south of England. We eventually found our niche in the rural West Midlands, and the houses were still cheap in 1990. The basic northern upbringing and lifestyle has always felt comfortable to us, we don’t flaunt our savings. And we’re definitely country mice (London is scary!).


  9. @ERG It’s a deadly embrace, eh – you gotta take the stress of the job to be able to afford the lifestyle to make up for the stress of the job. Presumably the Mexican Fisherman is out of print these days…

    There’s nothing wrong with young folk taking an unpleasant job that pays shedloads for a while to make their fortune in their 20s, though it takes more grit and get-go than I had then. I came across one guy, a geologist, who was working in Australia in what he termed a ‘girl-free zone’ making as much as I did right at the end, and the advantage of living places like that, or Dubai etc is there isn’t that much of the usual temptations to spend your loot. I guess the military has some of the same ‘advantages’. But when people get stuck in an overpriced house in an overpriced city trapped on the hamster wheel it seems a little bit sad that here we are in the 21st century and Keynes’ vision for his grandchildren born in the depths of the 1930s Depression seems further and further away.

    Oddly enough I could sell up, liquidate my ISA and just about buy my parents house in SE London cash (the area has, ahem, un-gentrified somewhat in the intervening decades), and still have my pension. It would be a daft thing to do and I have no desire, but it does give the lie to the fear that you’re always stuck outside the city. Those high costs grind away at you too. London is a fantastic place to be a young person and I was privileged enough to grow up, go to university and start work there but it would drive me nuts now, I’d get nature deficit disorder

    @Brendan Great insight – thanks! That’s the trouble with visiting somewhere at this time of year on ‘business’ – I only really saw the centre in the daytime over the lunchbreaks as the bus journey to our campsite was in the night. Oxford feels much bigger than Ipswich but it’s only got 16% more people (158,400 versus 133,384. The university seems to splurge out a lot of the area in the middle in greens and parks, whereas Ipswich’s boarded up shops don’t actually take up much area 😉

    @Rowan Tree Great timing on entering the market, pretty much all houses were cheap in the 1990’s, don’t I know it, having been stupid enough to buy one at the rough equivalent of today’s income multiples.

    I fear I had to look up what West Midlands actually means – I’m sure some parts of it used to be called ‘Wales’ back in the day 😉 You have great connections, natural beauty and enough rock for there to be standing stones, which is something the East is seriously deficient in!


  10. London is as expensive as you want it to be

    Many people get by on very little

    Finding cheap accommodation is key

    There is an article from Money Mustache on living cheap in Hawaii which is (unusually) sensible on how to live cheaply in a high cost location

    The advantage of living in a high cost location is that often it is somewhere where there is either a good supply of high paying jobs or something else that makes it very attractive


  11. @Neverland Interesting that the MMM article says renting is the way to go in such places. Much of the narrative on London seems to finger renting as the problem. I had a gander at the London Rents Map for renting a room. While it’s dear, about twice round here, it wasn’t as shockingly high as I’ve been led to believe. The places I rented when working in London, Acton and Ealing are still relatively okay @£120 pw, but it’s the east of the city that seems to have become des res over the last couple of decades.


  12. A Canadian perspective.
    When my wife and I retired 10 years ago we moved from the suburbs of Toronto to a small town in the exurbs of Ottawa. It was more a lifestyle decision to be close to our daughter and her husband – although we did get more house for our money. Now we have 3 grandchildren nearby – well worth it.
    We were both from Eastern Ontario originally and I grew up in a small town so it hasn’t been that difficult. As you get older you aren’t as much interested in wining and dining as before. We are close enough to an airport if we want to fly away on holiday.
    It’s not for everyone though. People we know sold here and moved all the way to Vancouver Island to get away from the cold and snow. But oh my, does it RAIN there in winter.


  13. Very interesting. I live in a small town in Northumberland, and it feels like another country compared to London. Apart from travel time to the big smoke, I suspect it’s not worlds away from your experience of Ipswich. General levels of prosperity definitely feel very different.
    I find the US (and FI community) idea of ‘just move somewhere cheap’ a bit odd. Surely the stuff of life is relationships, and if none of them are where you live, how does that figure? Ok you can make relationships, but I value continuity and the feeling of belonging. (ok I’ve lived in this part of the world for 25 years so perhaps I’m unusually cautious about this). But I see the dislocation with roots and place as one of the problems of modernity…


  14. I did not know that about sparrows!

    In the spirit of sharing, and emboldened by @thefirestarter’s “bloodbath” post, here’s the spend data:

    It’s actually *less* PCM than @thefirestarter 🙂 but definitely way too high in my view. Although of course there’s no car costs which I know can add up bigtime.

    I can see us moving out at some point to “the country” but I guess we want to squeeze just a bit more out of London. Having said that, it is most definitely a young persons city and we’re beginning to notice it more and more 😦


  15. I can also confirm that I’m one of those London based Personal Finance bloggers.

    I can also confirm that Malta is still very much on the radar. My family and I have now also spent time there during the good weather and bad which has not hindered our positivity. While I love the UK, for my family at least, Malta just seems a better choice.

    If we do jump we’ll rent for at least 6 months to really try and understand the country fully. Who knows at that point we might even buy ourselves a home allowing us to hang a picture on the wall – something the UK just doesn’t allow.


  16. The thing is, you were able to buy a home in Ipswich by taking a spectacular risk — that the big comms firm you worked for wouldn’t cut enormous numbers of jobs at the R&D centre out to the east. There are plenty of plausible alternative histories where you got really burnt in the 1990s or 2000s, with a nigh-worthless house in a town with high unemployment for technically-gifted folk.

    London turns out to be a good deal for certain types of employees, because there is diversity of employer. Company towns or those with limited industrial enterprises (telecoms and insurance for Ipswich, IIRC) can be very risky to buy into.

    Your bet paid off okay.


  17. @mistersquirrel I confess to a hefty dose of good old fashioned green eyed envy. Your budget item: Drinking and dining: £831/month. I love good food (and nice drink) The farmer chap in this lovely book also loved good food, and realised he had to choose between merchant banking, or farming, in order to be able to enjoy it. I couldn’t face the merchant banking (though my first summer job after university was at Goldman Sachs, which I despised). I do eat well from The Oak Tree Farm. But oh to have it cooked by someone else and served to Mr and Mrs Ermine by a discreet waiter, with gentle music and candlelight to the tune of £831 a month…. rather than having spend the day plucking and gutting two pheasants and three chickens!


  18. @Ray there’s definitely the theme that the human web of life matters more as people get on. I was also a bit reluctant to make a change of region of England because of that!

    @Elliott > I see the dislocation with roots and place as one of the problems of modernity…

    I wonder about that too. People do move much more, and possibly further now, and make and remake their web of life more frequently. It wouldn’t suit me.

    Northumberland was a region I considered retiring to, because the opportunities for wildlife and also quiet regions attracted me. But I dropped those plans largely on the web of life grounds.

    @mistersquirrel I salute your openness, and I tip my hat to a gent who knows good living and how to use it. There’s a case to be made for using the facilities of the city if you’re gonna eat the costs! I lived like a churchmouse in London in ’86 trying to save a deposit and there was no fun at all in that, and I failed to keep up to boot!

    Britain’s birds have shown a steady decline, but London used to have lots of sparrows when I was a child there, though they had already fallen from previous numbers. The BTO report shows a sorry tale – if a commensal bird like the house sparrow is dying out in the city there’s a signal in there somewhere… In Paris tourists still feed masses of sparrows outside Notre Dame, and I’ve heard the friendly chirp in other European cities and indeed in the concrete canyons of New York. large scale dieoff seems to be a London thing.

    @RIT didn’t realise Malta had bad weather!

    @Jonathan au contraire, my bet paid off bloody awful. I have spent pages snarling about the UK housing market – I am a veteran of previous stupid prices and my own damn foolery, and have posted the tale frequently. The only place I was lucky is that the worst didn’t happen that you cited. But I sweated it.

    Take a high level look. My Dad, on a single blue-collar wage bought the house Mum is still living in when he was in his mid 40s (it wasn’t his first, but it was his last); he was 25 years from retirement, and he had children.

    I am child-free, at the high-water mark of my worldly wealth having just retired. If I flattened every single liquid asset I had and sold my house I could just about buy my Mum’s London house at open market prices. True, I would not be destitute because I’d still have a deferred pension but I’d have bugger all else apart from the movable Stuff I own.

    Dad did one hell of a lot better than I did, relatively speaking. He picked up an asset halfway through his working life that I’d struggle to buy and have any change. This is largely because I cocked up massively with housing I’m not disputing you about the risk my foolish former self took on, I am disputing that the bet paid off okay. I sort of broke even at the end of it. And I didn’t get killed off financially. There but for the grace of God etc…


  19. Heh, just checked back on that council flat I moaned about a year ago.

    Another layer of TVs for carpet tiles? 😦

    When considering prices, don’t forget how rubbish the places are! (Yes perhaps places were of poor quality in the past, but we’ve had decades of progress since then and it’s no excuse.)

    As for me, I’ve moved from the pointy-roofed place to the smoky one. (A career change, but certainly not to finance.) I can’t decide which natural history museum I prefer though!

    I can’t imagine ever owning in London.

    Quite how my generation will pay the £5tn needed to buy the houses yours sits in I don’t know. (Of course, a few people will get it back again as inheritance, just in time for them to retire too!)

    At least the government isn’t giving £300m a year of our taxes away to wealthy old people by borrowing at 4% rather than the 0.6% it could do. Oh, wait.


  20. Nice post Ermine and thanks for linking to my post which I’d rather remained in the shadows 🙂

    Thanks for linking to your spending post as well, I’d not come across that one before, off to have a look at how it’s done properly now…. 😉


  21. @Greg BTDT – the story of the London bedsit salt and the slugs is is the same post as the one about how it is that the greybeards have all the money. At least gas safety is better now, you don’t light the oven by throwing lighted matches into it because the landlord was too tight to fix the ignition.

    > Quite how my generation will pay the £5tn needed to buy the houses yours sits in I don’t know.

    Devalue the currency in real terms I’d imagine. Maybe use helicopters rather than QE… On a more positive front the brighter ones among y’all will pump up GDP by inventing new clever stuff, I take it the career change will fight the wells of science and technology running dry? You’ll hopefully rugby tackle any politicians who think higher house prices are a good idea. I’ve already cursed them on here. Twice

    @TFS remember that I was in locked down mode thinking any month could be my last. No holidays and very little elective spending, though my drink bill was higher than the current run rate of about £500 p.a. (personally).

    You’ve done well with your power bill – I have worked to try and reduce mine but you are on about the same. Your water bill is also very low – well done on that!

    Nowadays our combined power bill is about £700pa, food is about £250pcm and internet/phone has gone up a lot say £35pcm. The total including entertainment is probably about £14k pa but there are no fixed costs or subscriptions analogous to your golf/gym in the entertainment budgets of about £6k between us. It will rise over time, particularly once I start drawing my pension, though I doubt we’ll ever hold a candle to Mr S. It’s just not that expensive in the sticks.

    Looking at MMM he’s got us both pasted on the alcohol spend


  22. I’m an Oxford native now living in inner London, so £3.70 for a pint of ale looks cheap to me now!

    It’s worth noting that the £26k Oxford median salary relates to the Oxford West constituency, which is very much the richer side of the city. Oxford East is closer to £21k.

    Brendan is right that high house prices have damaged Oxford’s social mix. It’s become like areas of inner London in that respect. There are a lot of jobs in Oxford related to the huge education industry and spin-offs but the people who work in them often struggle to buy houses in the city which results in a lot of people commuting in from sometimes rather charmless Oxfordshire towns.


  23. I don’t live in London but my son does and I was there yesterday for a quick BL “Gothic Imagination” exhibition, meal in Chinatown and glass of wine in the BFI bar. (Beer may be expensive but the price of very nice house red was fine). Coventry to Euston takes less than an hour and can be got for £25 return on a Saturday.

    It was a lovely day out but I wouldn’t want to live there, although my son can not see himself anywhere else at the moment. He loves the “buzz” (and does find low cost things to do and places to go – the free BFI Mediatheques being a favourite). I’m happy to save it for an occasional treat.


  24. Sorry, slight mistake in the above – Coventry to Euston actually takes around 1 hour 5 mins – it just seems less than that when combined with a M&S picnic supper (including canned Mojito) as mine was last night 🙂


  25. @MrsErmine, the problem is though that if it becomes habitual (as with us) then the specialness of it wears off. The figures were probably a bit distorted as we had an unusually social (ie lots of going out) festive period. I’m going to be tracking it like a demon as it has to come down. I’m sure there’s a balance to be struck somewhere!


  26. I live in east London and there is a largeish flock of house sparrows that hangs out in my back yard every day. I think there are about 30 of them, judging by the number that fly off whenever I go out there to refill the feeders. I can hear them chirping vigorously as we speak. So they haven’t quite all quit the place as yet. We have the parakeets as well, and I confess I love the noise they make – the more of them the merrier, in my book.

    I understand exactly what people mean by “nature deficit”, but I find London is quite green – my place is very close to a small wood, so close I can sit in my bedroom contemplating the trees. Having said that I’d love to live somewhere a bit wilder (Northumberland? Wales? Scotland?) and might move at some point (after I quit work). But I do think it’s quite possible to live cheaply in London, as long as you’re also happy to live quietly – I don’t wine and dine or even visit pubs all that much and walk or get public transport wherever I can. I do go to the opera but my ticket for last night’s performance cost me £8. There are ways of keeping the expenses down.


  27. @cathyp that sounds like a good life! How do you get £8 tickets to the Opera BTW? I sometimes get to London for meetings etc and that sounds like a great way to round the day off!

    @mistersquirrel I think you are absolutely right about the balance, and making sure high living has an element of novelty.

    It sounds like Mr & Mrs Squirrel have gone a little over recently, whereas Mrs and Mrs Ermine have been reflecting and decided they we gone a little under recently. We have made a booking or two to rectify this!

    The socialising thing is hard. I find it quite tricky to say (effectively) to old friends who knew me in my higher earning life that, “now I _could_ earn more, but I chose not to in order to live the life I want overall. Could we please adapt our socialsing to something cheaper? You are welcome to come over for a home reared/grown dinner” In practise, Mr E and I make sure we are in a position to go out for a modest pub meal with friends once in a while to somewhere half decent (fish and chips is usually ok in Suffolk).

    Intermediate restaurants are a disappointment to me. I used to live in France where the service and food is almost universally excellent and good value for money, so most medium budget restaurants get my back up as the food is generally crap (veg that tastes of nothing, and meat of questionable origins). And the service is often poor. So once in a blue moon we go somewhere _really_ nice! Or we go somewhere cheap but good. Dosa Place in Oxford and Indian Palace in Ipswich are two in that category! Lovely friendly service, good food and reasonable price.

    @mr ermine probably is still fair to say our food bill is £250 a month, though I must admit I don’t track it any more. But much of our food is home grown/home produced, so “free” – the “reject” stuff from he farm, which helps to compensate for my otherwise low income (minimum wage equivalent, and that is a big improvement on the early years!) Just in case this helps anyone who is comparing budgets!


  28. @ermine

    Re: gas and electricity… I think you missed the separately categoried “Gas” of £225 (Money Dashboard does still have some foibles it seems with categorising the wrong things or having unclear tags)

    So that brings it to £602 for the 6 months.
    However this is also an unfair representation because the provider always overcharges us on the direct debit (god forbid that we ever end up owing them money at the end of the year!) and so then reimburse us. We got about £300 back when we moved house and switched providers… As you can imagine this makes it hard to work out exactly how much we’ve spent on that as I’m not sure how long the £300 rebate was for, but I will keep an eye better on this going forward (it will be much easier to remember the next “accounting period” as I can remember when I moved house, for a start!)

    We are also looking at replacing our 30 year old boiler with a newer more efficient one, and may even dabble with an Air Source Heat Pump, which is a big cost up front but they are much more efficient, so I reckon we can easily get our spend down to what you are on now, which is a good target to aim for I think.

    I’m certainly not in lock down mode yet (no sh*t Sherlock, right?! 🙂 ) and am still clinging onto the idea that I can have a few moderately costing breaks away per year without breaking the bank and ruining my plans for FI, although the 5 year plan is looking like a pipe dream. I’ll make a post clarifying that this week so that people know what’s going on, in case anyone was wondering… 🙂



  29. A bit late to the comments party as was working yesterday.

    FWIW in our part of SE London we’re a little under Mr Squirrels pcm if i exclude mortgage costs*, & that is a family of 4 with some childminder costs a couple of days a week.

    The house price inflation in London is mind-boggling: when we bought in 2002 it was a lot more expensive than where i moved from (Bristol) but I was still able to get a nice 2 bed Victorian Terrace for under 200K. The equivalent purchase now is around 1/2 million. If i was looking at FIRE now as a younger man than i don’t think buying in London could realistically be part of the plan. Equally for us at our age moving within London has to remain out of the plan unless the choice was to move further out but at that point you might as well up sticks & move beyond the M25.

    *I exclude mortgage costs as the mortgage is fully offset so we keep it as a way of maintaining liquidity in the asset & just make a 100% capital downpayment each month. Still, it will feel good to be rid of it in a few years time :-).


  30. @Mrs Ermine, thanks, yes I suppose it could be a worse life – a bit of greenery and nature does make all the difference (I think). 🙂 Re the opera, the Royal Opera always has tickets round the £8-£15 mark, up in the gods – not all standing room, either – some seated. You have to be quick to get them though because they go fast. If I resist the temptation to buy a glass or two of champagne it does mean it’s a very cheap evening out, esp for the West End.


  31. As a resident of Cambridge with a large mortgage I’ve been reading this article and the comments with interest.

    After a lot of consideration I think we’re going to stay put. Moving somewhere with cheap housing is fine in theory but there’s just too much to lose in terms of friends, culture and even my OH’s job which she loves. Moving into “proper” countryside like deepest Suffolk does have its attractions, and I’d certainly favour that over a soulless commuter town 10-20 miles out of Cambridge, which is the most realistic alternative during our wealth accumulation stage.

    I have no idea what we’ll do when we near ‘retirement’. If a couple can live comfortably on £20,000 pa, and if you need £500,000 to achieve that at the oft quoted 4% safe withdrawal rate, then you need £500,000 plus one house. At Cambridge prices that might mean £900,000 or in Ipswich perhaps closer to £700,000. I feel the differential can be made up with better paying opportunities in Cambridge and I also suspect inflation will eventually erode some of that mortgage debt. Like others I’ve found we can live pretty cheaply here in other ways, although temptations are everywhere!


  32. I live in York which I find to be a nice balance between city and country living. Like anywhere, you have to watch the pennies when you’re out and about. I nearly fell over when I was charged seven quid for a coffee and a scone the other day in a new (very nice) coffee shop. But I could happily walk the walls in York with a flask of home brewed coffee and home made scone, except the wife would kill me for being a Scrooge. It is nice to live somewhere pretty enough to just enjoy walking around the place for free. Like Oxford, except last time I was there it was so busy it spoiled the place. London? Different country, nice to visit, nice to leave knowing it’s there if you need it.


  33. Blimeh, one hell of a read.

    After university I moved West, while many of my friends moved East to London. Admittedly they have the plan to build wealth there and then retire on savings and “the excess equity” when the move back to the sticks (with us commoners 🙂 )

    Like you say, I think it becomes harder and harder to make that move. If it was your plan proper and you got out before you were 40 (just to sling an arbitrary number in there) it would be possible, otherwise I have my suspicions. A few years ago I would have moved at a moments notice, just to see a new place, but now I am not so sure. The city in the West Country has it’s grip on me now 🙂

    Devon or Cornwall would be lovely, but the prices there are propped up from the other side of the country, it would seem 😦

    Mr Z


  34. A lot smaller than London, but public transport in Glasgow knocks the socks off of London (having lived in both). In London, I paid £1,000/year for the 19 minute trip from Bromley South to Victoria (6 years ago). In Glasgow, I pay less than half of that for bus travel anywhere in the city (6 years later) and I could make it cheaper still if I could track down one of the mythical annual tickets. The service is still rubbish on public holidays etc., but the same is true of the trains.


  35. @all – many thanks for a lot of insight here that will take a while to digest. It’s clear some of my assumptions drawn from experience of looking for jobs have been way overtaken by changes. I understand a little more the draw of London etc to the PF community who are probably aiming at the higher end of the jobs market – the massive increase in geographical concentration of decent paying jobs is something I hadn’t appreciated.

    Although I was thinking in terms of where you live in retirement when I started writing this, I think actually making that change is tougher than it first appears. I still have connections with people who work(ed) for The Firm; I’d miss that. OTOH people move jobs a lot more often now, perhaps I am below average in being able to make and remake the personal connections to other people. Or maybe that just gets a little bit harder as you get older, that also seems to be a theme.

    The geographic concentration seems at odds with the massively improved communications – for all the latter personal and company networking seems to be favouring colocation faster than communications favours dispersal.


  36. Although I’ve yet to get my blog properly off the ground, we’ve been in Devon over two years now.
    The area we are in has good communication links and a number of people like me travelling to London one or two days a week. Unfortunately this makes it more expensive than other parts of the county where you can save a lot by trading accessibility for price.
    The cost of living is lower and also there are a lot more free things to do, such as go to the beach.
    We tend to splurge once a month or so and go out for a really nice meal but otherwise spend much less than in London.
    We were lucky to sell our London house at the end of last year and while we may have missed out on some more growth there, I think Devon will start getting more expensive especially when Openreach finally get around to sorting out our long-awaited fibre broadband…


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