Journey’s End

Another day, another tax year, and an Ermine finishes a long, slow glide path running off my cash savings, the ancient sunlight of the fossil wealth accumulated over my 30-year working life. I now return to the regular pay of the salaryman I was but now without selling my time or skills for money – using Osborne’s pension freedoms to front run my works pension that I will draw in five year’s time at its normal retirement age.

In that respect the financial problem is solved for me at the moment. Of course it’s always possible to imagine scenarios of desperate governments taxing everything, war, pestilence and social disorder. But the end of the world has occupied people past midlife since Roman times. So I will park worrying about the things I can’t change and do the Money Mustache Shuffle. I built up a six-figure ISA since 2009/10, but in the end it was Osborne’s pension freedoms that saved my ass. That ISA will, of course, give me options and some tax-free income, which is nice. But I never learned properly how to live off capital without converting it into some sort of income statement, so that I had an answer to the Micawber question. In that respect I am Poor Dad out of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I learned Rich Dad’s vocabulary, but never learned to speak the language fluently; I cannot determine if I am overspending or underspending until I can measure it against an income. I found it possible to improve as an investor, largely through learning to sit on my hands on the selling side, and learning to acknowledge that luck does not equal skill.

The evidence is probably that I was underspending, you don’t fearfully husband an ISA stash across three years and then go WTF do I do with this now at the end if you have the cojones of Rich Dad. The job of that ISA now lies both near and far. Far as in 10 years out or so, where my pension may start to be overtaken by real inflation (as opposed to the official measure RPI) and/or a rise in general earnings relative to inflation, although this is hard to imagine at the moment. Near because I may use the dividend income thrown off to augment running down my SIPP at the personal allowance less any earnings, I really must get out of this working malarkey, since I’m not working for the government any more, which limits my pension + income to the personal allowance. The reason I’m not dropping working isn’t the money, it is that I don’t want to drop people I care about in the shit. 30 years of paying tax is enough, that’s a mug’s game when you have wealth, eh, Dave? At least I earned mine1 rather than getting it from Daddykins…

Like RIT I made mistakes along the journey, but like him fortunate enough that none of them was terminal. Unlike RIT, most of the heavy lifting for me was not Saving Hard2, but Investing Luckily. I was standing next to an open goal of the stock market in March 2009 and that Monevator fellow gave me a kick up the backside that seemed to make sense. Maybe I had a guardian angel who got him to write then and me to look at the right time, when the student is ready the teacher will appear.

The big tragedy of personal finance and FI/RE is that for most people it is a marathon, not a sprint, it is an accretion of a small amount, but steadily. All the projections you see, like the ones in MMM’s the shockingly simple maths behind early retirement

pinched from MMM
pinched from MMM

show this marathon running steadily, either in their underlying assumptions or in the narrative. Now some people seem to swing that – take a look at RIT’s path to FI and while you can’t draw it with a ruler it’s not far off. Beats the hell out of me how he did that. I could never have saved £100,000 a year because I never earned that much, perhaps a higher savings rate makes spending disappear into the noise. I saved bugger all at the start – indeed by screwing up buying a house I anti-saved with negative equity for 1o years after 1989. Real lives have much more drama in them than the steady as she goes narrative. You can probably still do it with the marathon approach, but it won’t be a linear process and anybody in their twenties or thirties predicating FI on a stable savings rate for the next 20 years may rub up against some challenges to that assumption in the vicissitudes of Real Life™. Obvious challenges are Children, Divorce, Redundancy. And these are the external hits, although I guess children can be sort of planned, not so much the others.

My biggest error was assuming I was a steady-state system. I wasn’t. You, dear reader, aren’t either. It is easy to make that assumption because once you enter your 30s you have passed the Turning Outward then the next transition you can see is your children coming of age or retirement. However, you may find along the journey what you want out of life and work may change. In particular you may favour more Life and less Work. Not necessarily the nuclear option on Work, but you might want to ease back. I am surprised at how few of the projections of FI/RE account for the life stages. Some written by DINKYs  don’t seem to account for the total devastation that having children wreaks on a DINKY couple’s finances. I don’t know that from personal experience but I saw enough of it at work, you have the double whammy of the extra costs of baby, and the suckout of losing one partner’s earnings, together with the concomitant damage that does permanently to their earning prospects if it’s a professional career. On the upside I guess the Government does sponsor the lifestyle a bit through the benefits system.

A colleague at The Firm sometime in the mid 2000s was talking in the tea room about the opportunities presented by saving via salary sacrifice into pension AVCs, I guess I was 46 at the time. I was turned off the concept of pensions because they had just shifted the earliest age you could draw a pension from 50 to 55 and it all seemed way off then. However, one of his phrases did strike me “with these opportunities, you’re daft if you’re still working here after 45”. Obviously that’s going to stick in the craw, I was at the grand old age of 46.

Funnily enough this fellow is still working at The Firm, so he clearly missed the boat too. There was nothing wrong in his reasoning, but one of the assumptions behind it is that you can take the axe to your consumer spending. The fly in the ointment for him was that his wife and kids quite liked the middle class lifestyle. You can’t spend more and save more at the same time without upping the Work monster, so I guess this fellow lacked the cojones to walk the talk, and turned into a walking wallet. The best laid plans of mice and men, eh? I could drive my pay down to a whisker of the national minimum wage using salary sacrifice because I had paid down my mortgage. OTOH presumably he and his wife and kids have some 5 bedroom executive house in a bijou village whereas I live in a crappy 3-bed semi in the better-off districts of Ipswich3. But the walking wallet has to go to work whereas I get to listen to the birds and ruminate, you pays your money and you takes your choice 😉

The non-financial error

I failed to identify that I needed to stop working because work held no meaning for me any more, and I didn’t need the money if I stopped spending it on vacuous crap and empty experiences to compensate me for flushing my life away eight hours every day. The answer for me wasn’t to buy even more crap. It was to stop flushing my life away. I admit a sneaking admiration for several young people (well, in their thirties) I know who electively choose to work part-time because they value their free time. This was not my path – part-timers were despised at The Firm for being, well, part-timers, but it seems tolerated more nowadays despite being very hard to manage from the company’s point of view. Since I didn’t do that, effectively I saved all those days off these young ‘uns take during their working lives and get to take that all off at the end of my working life. Their pattern seems to be three days on two off (then weekends which I also had) so I guess I got the short end of the stick. If a normal working life is 35 years then a 2/7 taken off would imply a 25 year long full-time working life. Epic fail on my part. On the upside I have a lot more Stuff and capital assets, there ought to be something to show for all those hours indentured to The Man.

It was easy for me to psychologically project much generic crap on The Firm. Modern performance management is a dreadful and stupid way to herd cats, all stick, no carrot and all tied up in barefaced lies for no good reason. You know the pack drill. And so the first three quarters of this blog is about how that sucks. Yeah, it did. Deeply. But in the end it wasn’t the fundamental reason I left, though I believed it was at the time. I had only one really bad half-year, and that was when the project I was on was canned due to a reverse takeover, and anyone who didn’t have enough billable hours was shot with a performance improvement plan. The poor sod instructed by HR a year or so after to try and patch the twisted wreckage up when The Firm needed my skills for the London 2012 Olympics work even said that they were rotating the piss-awful reviews round, because they had to reduce the marks profile.

But something snapped within. Although others weren’t happy with being targeted I was unduly susceptible at that time and place. Once the mainspring is broken the dream can never be repaired because it has become a nightmare. I will never work for an organisation with a modern performance management system, and I focused all effort on making sure that I will never be in that weak position again. That meant three very lean years and seven lean years in all to to eliminate The Man from my life. The cloud had a sweet silver lining though – I paid my dues of angst about retirement upfront while I was working. I don’t miss the meaning and life structure The Man gives many people, it was weak in me from the off and got incinerated in 2009. But it took me three and a half years of running before I slowed enough to stop, look back and realise the footsteps I heard chasing me were the echoes of my own.

a human being is never what he is but the self he seeks
Octavio Paz

I had to switch off so much of myself to fit in with work, and in the end the unused parts of my psyche needed the freedom. Initially the freedom from, and then the freedom to.

I get the upside now. Kate Bush was right all those years ago.

All the colours look brighter now. Everything they say seems to sound new

I hear the robins and their territories spread across the land, a patchwork with the other birds interleaved. I hear the shifting dynamic tension between the calling males and the 3d spatial pattern of the territories, it is a thing of beauty to observe, as the others interleave their song. I pay attention more, and see and hear and smell things better. You aren’t supposed to gain any sensory acuity as you grow older, but by unrepressing parts of myself the grey matter does a better job of interpreting what is there. I was lucky enough to grow up when personal audio devices were uncommon, but most of the win is being present in the moment. You can do that actively most of the time, not just in bursts with the much-vaunted mindfulness. All you need is time…

I did some tech stuff for the RSPB a little while back, and for the bizarre way they fund projects (this was not paid work as I was interested in the results) they wanted a guesstimate for the time spent. I was dumbstruck – I had no idea. The whole point of being retired is you don’t have time sheets and project codes and shit like that. I get up, think what moves me to do right there and then get on and do it, after some undefined time I go do something else or waste time on the Web4or go for a walk. Although Philip Greenspun made a decent case that the average person has zero drive and it is the strictures of school and employment that get them focused enough to make anything useful happen, I haven’t found that my days disappear into


Suppose that the guy cashes in his investments and does retire. What do we find? He is waking up at 9:30 am, surfing the Web, sorting out the cable TV bill, watching DVDs, talking about going to the gym, eating Doritos, and maybe accomplishing one of his stated goals.

I told the project leader to make it up. I’ll back up whatever he says. Nobody is going to sack me for it 🙂

Along with not going to the gym, not eating Doritos etc I have done a fair amount of introspection, and came to the conclusion that Work and I grew apart. Retirement seems to be different for me than many others because of this. I’ve really struggled to get this across, and I think I now understand why. Work used to matter more to me, the status of earning decently more than my parents, and, okay, I may as well accept my heart of darkness, most other Brits, the sense of changing things. The sonofabitch work turned me into in my late 30s and 40s used to get a rush from saying jump and have people do stuff just because I said so5. It’s hardly as if this was a big part of my life but after a certain level you have to lead teams and projects even though I cleaved closely to the technical axis. So I never got the rush that the big swinging dicks of finance  have. But a small dose of the poison coursed through my veins, and I became a worse person because of it.

A Cock of the Rock. Basically wants everybody to do as he says
A Cock of the Rock. Basically he wants everybody to do as he says. Primates are even worse, which is why you can never have too big a yacht

If this is one of the reasons lesser BSDs carry on working until they are 80 fair enough, well, as long as they don’t ruin too many people’s lives playing Cock of the Rock. I started to outgrow this phase with the start of the Turning Inward at 45. Work, particularly the management structures, seem to increasingly demand and express the psychopathology of the extrovert writ large as you go up the greasy pole, so in the end I had to switch off so much of my nature to do that and it wasn’t sustainable.

Since retiring the armour of bitterness and unkindness accreted over many years of competing and expectations of dog-eat-dog behaviour slowly begins to ease and fall away. I was not born for Work, and while I discharged myself acceptably I have now transcended Work6. Rabindranath Tagore speaks of a similar transition, he’s more articulate than me

“I travelled the old road every day, I took my fruits to the market, my cattle to the meadows, I ferried my boat across the stream and all the ways were well known to me.

One morning my basket was heavy with wares. Men were busy in the fields, the pastures crowded with cattle; the breast of earth heaved with the mirth of ripening rice. Suddenly there was a tremor in the air, and the sky seemed to kiss me on my forehead. My mind started up like the morning out of mist.

I forgot to follow the track. I stepped a few paces from the path, and my familiar world appeared strange to me, like a flower I had only known in bud. My everyday wisdom was ashamed. I went astray in the fairyland of things. It was the best luck of my life that I lost my path that morning, and found my eternal childhood.”

Hermann Hesse and others have been similar places, indeed art and literature seem to be more in touch with the meaning of the changes of life than the dry narrative we have of  A Successful Career.

I drew from Carl Jung in the last narrative, but in chasing some of the other references I came across several citations from to Gail Sheehy’s Passages, which is a good read. It is a more accurate read for my life than probably for Generation Y, who will probably be better off with the revised edition New Passages, though the original reads much less New-Agey.  Some of the stages of life are due to the natural life cycle of the human animal, and its physical development, but a lot of the transitions are across the stages society and world of work set, and these have changed dramatically since 1969 when she wrote the first book. The blurb of the revised edition explains some things that have changed –

Seven years ago she set out to write a sequel, but instead she discovered a historic revolution in the adult life cycle. . .
People are taking longer to grow up and much longer to die. A fifty-year-old woman–who remains free of cancer and heart disease– can expect to see her ninety-second birthday. Men, too, can expect a dramatically lengthened life span. The old demarcations and descriptions of adulthood–beginning at twenty-one and ending at sixty-five–are hopelessly out of date. In New Passages, Gail Sheehy discovers and maps out a completely new frontier–a Second Adulthood in middle life.
“Stop and recalculate,” Sheehy writes. “Imagine the day you turn forty-five as the infancy of another life.” Instead of declining, men and women who embrace a Second Adulthood are progressing through entirely new passages into lives of deeper meaning, renewed playfulness, and creativity–beyond both male and female menopause.

I’m not sure I am ready for the concept of a male menopause, presumably this is decadent metrosexual London/New York sort of thing 😉 Her narrative is very different from the Jungian descriptions I am more used to, but they are derived from observations of hundreds of people7, though of course edited by their conscious selves in telling them to the author. The conclusions have great similarities despite the varying methodology, Jung gives more of a hypothesis why, Sheehy’s work is more observational Big Data before its time sort of thing.

Sheehy’s book is a tough read at times if you’re over 45, any life worth living has error in it, and she distills some of the errors of people refusing to grow, it’s a harsh spotlight of some of mine. The increasing competitiveness of working life over my career due to globalisation and improved communications did not foster that sort of thing, I favoured the outer world over the inner, playing against my introverted type and failing to grow.

The surrender of those career goals on the Turning Inwards and the overflowing of the Shadow and the unlived elements that are incompatible with careerism are also recorded in other narratives -I am not such a special snowflake after all 😉 Sheehy covers a decent range of adult passages, I see friends and colleagues in some of the others. Of course the details vary and some are dated, but the big pictures match. As Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces described, the stupendous variation of individual life stories is woven from a surprisingly small number of different archetypal threads.

But I feel have probably won most of the fight to turn that particular decade of life experience into wisdom, to clear out the baggage, and to disembark from the old vehicle and be ready look to the new beginning. That is the point of journey’s end for the Work phase, to change mode and start travelling the journey of Life in a new way at a new stage. Hopefully be a long and happy retirement full of people and things many of which I have no inkling of now. Of course there are no guarantees, a hundred and one ways it might all go titsup, but I will do the MMM thing on that.

The financial errors

Some readers may one day need to float ISA savings ahead of their pension savings simply because of the arbitrary age as of which you can draw a pension. It is very hard to do that right, because your money is in silos, and you can easily flatten one silo and find yourself short, even if others are flush. My solution to that was being prepared to borrow money but it is very, very tough  for the debt-free to make that mental adjustment, it caused me to underspend since retiring in 2012. It’s probably also hard for me to borrow money other than on a credit card offer by now because my credit scoring probably stinks, not from a litany of missed payments but from an absence of ‘normal’ credit8. MBNA let me money a few days ago because it was just before the end of the tax year, I need to put all my earnings into a SIPP, fill up the last few thousand in my ISA and front-load £2880 into the SIPP just after the tax year, so I can maximise my tax-free SIPP PCLS. Since I was at  journey’s end I didn’t have enough money in my bank account to do all that, and I couldn’t sell unwrapped holdings because else I’d fall into capital gains tax. So I borrowed the money in the old tax year and just now I have sold some unwrapped shares without tripping the CGT limit  to pay them back when I get my T+2 settlement. Thank you, MBNA for your kind loan of 5.6% APR and no fee – for about two weeks I figure  that will be less than £100. There’s nothing wrong with debt if you invest it in productive assets which return more than the interest. I don’t need to do that any more, now I have access to the SIPP silo.

It’s not easy qualifying a withdrawal rate

Nominally the safe withdrawal rate is 4%. It’s easy to know that, but I was just not able to bring myself to do spend at that rate. I am fortunate that most of my pension is expressed as an income – effectively an annuity. It’s that Rich Dad Poor Dad thing. I have no mental model of personal finance that works with Capital, rather than income when it comes to spending. I never built that mental model in 30 years of being paid a monthly salary, so while I did okay on the investing front I was horrendously conservative in my use of that saved cash – in 2012 I thought it would last one or two years. For each of those three years I saved the max into my ISA, which made bridging the gap much harder. Now as it was, that was a lucky sort of error, because after a while that Osborne fellow came along and totally turned my retirement plan around. I was going to have to draw my pension early about now and eat a 25% actuarial reduction due to it being paid five years early. Then Osborne comes along and tells me I can burn up my AVC savings before the main pension. I saved those AVCs in the last three years of working, and because this was a combination of 40% taxed earnings and salary sacrifice I only gave up net income of about 40% of the amount saved. Thank you Osborne, and goodbye to actuarial reductions. The Firm can bloody well pay me what it contracted to for the amount of time I was there and my final salary. And I can leave my ISA be, and indeed add to it over a few years.

networth from that fateful appraisaement in 2009 (it doesn't include house or main pension)
networth from that fateful appraisement in 2009 (it doesn’t include house or main pension) The ISA is less than half

Most of the variation post 2012 is stock-market variation on the ISA, my spending is in the noise at this scale, indeed I failed to spend more in total than the stock market gained (in reality I should deflate this by the rate of inflation, though that hasn’t been terribly high over this period, the aggregate fall since 2012 is about 10%). Now that I have a basic income that is fine for my needs the 100% equity invested ISA looks more reasonable although it would be considered madcap aggressive in an IFA attitude to risk assessment.

If I invest my PCLS  in the ISA then perhaps I should draw the natural yield of the ISA and spend more. I have never drawn money from my ISA, but it will probably be better if I increase the capital and draw the return rather than leaving the ISA static and running down the cash across five years. The annual cash income from the SIPP is enough to keep the wolf from the door and a few treats, which is just as well, at current valuations a stock market crash is pretty much guaranteed some time in the next five years. Shame the mini-crash earlier this year didn’t really get its boots on now I have a load of cash.

I don’t know what to do with cash, it is the asset class I most loathe, though inflation hasn’t been as high as I once feared. You seem to have loads of itty bitty aggravation to make it work. Yes, there’s P2P but after the kicking Osborne doled out to the scalpers of the young otherwise known as Britain’s army of leveraged BTL landlords there’s one thing I know from experience, and that is that negative equity is a bear, and faced with keeping the overpriced house or paying back the P2P loan which one are people gonna do? I have some P2P, but no more than I can afford to lose. Matched betting, I didn’t stop work to try and grind out a living trying to arbitrage the fine difference between lots of big numbers on a screen. And I’m always scared by wizard wheezes where I can’t see what value is being rendered to the world by introducing myself as the middleman, P2P falls squarely into that category too. Too many methods of making cash turn a return these days have a whiff of financialisation and arbitrage rather than value-add. We’re fighting central banks if we want a return on cash, and let’s face it, the punters are the small guys in that fight. Gimme a stock market crash, and pronto, guys, the same forces are inflating equity prices.

The move from a definitely optimistic to an indefinitely optimistic outlook

I read Peter Thiel (one of Paypal’s  founders) ‘s book Zero to One today – had to read it in the morning because the library wants it back. He had an interesting taxonomy of views of the future, he was applying this to civilisations, not individuals, but it holds true in the micro as well as macro scale. His taxonomy had four quadrants

Definitely optimistic

This was the western world I grew up in, Thiel classes this as the US up to 1982. If you are definitely optimistic you expect the future to be better than today and you have some idea of what that will look like. So it makes sense to understand it in advance and apply yourself to making it happen. You spit on your hands, roll up your sleeves and get to work – moon landings, railway electrification, Arpanet, satellite communications.

Indefinitely optimistic

Thiel classes this as the US post ’82. You expect the world to be better tomorrow, but you’re buggered if you know how. Thiel says

indefinite attitudes to the future explain what’s most dysfunctional about our world today. Process trumps substance: when people lack concrete plans to carry out, they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options […]

A definite view favours firm convictions, instead of pursuing many-sides mediocrity a definite person determines the one best thing to do and then does it

You can be definitely pessimistic (China – you then take what worked for others and do more of it, but don’t innovate) and indefinitely pessimistic (Europe since 1970 – you know tomorrow will be worse than today but not how quickly, so you party while you still can and kick cans like Greece down the road.)

On the micro scale of my career, I used to know one definite way of adding value – engineering. The young Ermine switched my career in this direction, against the backdrop of the definitely optimistic time when science and engineering were sorting a lot of problems9. I have surrendered that – I have moved to being indefinitely optimistic, and that means

they use formal rules to assemble a portfolio of various options

which we otherwise know as index investing, indeed the name passive investing already kind of flags Thiel’s point. I am slightly definitely optimistic in that in my HYP I use individual stocks, but there’s still a lot of the indefinite optimism that lies at the heart of diversification. Peter Thiel sticks the knife into the Efficient Market Hypothesis with verve and doesn’t take prisoners –

“The efficient market hypothesis is the idea, that people can’t have ideas.”

it is a poster child for for the wider way the West has lost it’s mojo and the way productivity is flatlining as more and more human effort is going into finance and lawyering. Maybe he has a point. If you look at what Physics graduates of Imperial College do after graduation10, IT, banking and accountancy take over 25%. You don’t particularly need a Physics degree to do any of those.

I now have time for reflection – no longer the desperate trying to build an ISA which throws off an income I can believe in, to compensate for an actuarially reduced pension. My plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy, but in a good way. In financial terms, I have reached journey’s end. I crossed the three and a half years without an income and without destroying my liquid capital, because I had enough cash savings, inflation was low, the markets were kind to me, and I learned to be less of a damn fool in them than the first time round. I got roughly a 50% uplift in the unitised value as of 2010, rabid indexers will tell me I could have got roughly that with VWRL and they’re right – I have a big hole in my asset allocation of the US, because it’s been too dear throughout my investing time. So I’ll give that point. OTOH I will load up on the US when they take the sucker punch at some point. And the VWRL dividend yield at 2.8% is too low for me11, I get about 4.8%, though it’s a moot point as I don’t draw from it yet.

I have work to do now. To know myself, to roll back the years of activity without thinking, unpick the characteristics amplified in my Shadow by the increasingly competitive nature of work12. To deepen, and grow, to experience things that transform me. That is for me. It’s not for everyone, vive la difference and all that. For sure, I am poorer in money than if I were still working. I will never be worth a million pounds in today’s money. But I am richer in Life, and accreting these riches of experience faster as I return to shape after the straitjacket of three decades of working life. Although I am far more comfortable with Jung’s concept of individuation, Sheehy’s description of the midlife gateway is more generally understandable

dangerous years when we confront the loss of youth, the fading purpose of old roles, career changes, spiritual dilemmas, but also find the greatest opportunity for self-discovery and renewal

It’s not a bad description of the point of retirement. Getting the money sorted is necessary. But it isn’t sufficient. You have to roll with the change of that stage of life too, and grow, otherwise freedom to will turn into dissipation, decadence and decline.


  1. There is an argument to be made that the investing gain wasn’t earned, I guess, but it’s still not risk-free unearned ancestral wealth of the sort that exercises the Torygraph’s old buffers 
  2. discharging my mortgage before I started saving to get out had been a topsy-turvy form of saving, you can of course save a lot more if you don’t have a mortgage to pay 
  3. the rules of real-estate still apply – a bad house on the right side of the tracks beats a good house on the wrong side, because all the others residents are carrying the cost 
  4. I am slowly cutting that down, but there is a fine line between intellectual curiosity and rabbit-holing for the sake of vacuous novelty 
  5. Mrs Ermine tells me this is a guy thing, but look at the caricature of this writ large that is the CEO and officer class – think Robert Fuld, Fred Goodwin and anybody with a yacht in the harbour that is driven by ‘staff’ rather than skippered by themselves 
  6. I am still young enough that much may change within and without. One should never say never. But it’s my current state 
  7. Carl Jung’s observations were derived from his patients, by his hypotheses merged these, Sheehy cites individual lifestreams, and they are closer to our times than Jung’s 
  8. I have no mobile phone subscription, I pay most things cash upfront or on a credit card cleared each month, I have not had a car loan for 25 years, I have no mortgage, compared to normal Brits I am a debt cleanskin. 
  9. later in Thiel’s narrative he says that the Baby Boomers experienced the world getting better for the first 18 years of their life though it had nothing to do with them , and extrapolated this to be just the way things were, whereupon the mainspring of innovation in the West ran down because they switched it from definite optimism to indefinite optimism 
  10. Why Physics? Because I did Physics at Imperial. I would have been classified in technical consultancy/R&D, after a period in manufacturing and Others 
  11. yes I know, in theory there’s now’t wrong with running down your capital. You try doing that and feeling good about it though, once you aren’t accumulating 
  12. It all seems a terribly long time ago, but once upon a time it was possible to progress at work by simply becoming a better engineer, learning from others and sharpening the saw which showed as skill in action, showing up in better, faster or cheaper work. Skill in action takes time to accrue and show, years not months. The change to performance management meant you have to tell a story each quarter that is better than the last, and to pump up minor successes into major triumphs, and shout louder than everyone else – a microcosm of the short-termism of quarterly reporting by companies. That sort of thing emphasises form over function. Real Life doesn’t show monotonic progress on a quarterly basis. 

40 thoughts on “Journey’s End”

  1. A long way of saying you’ve lived off cash savings for the past three and a half years, and now intend doing so for the next five!


    1. I’m not sure that the financial parts were the main part of what I said here, but if that’s the takeaway, yes 😉


  2. I have just come back from my bedroom where I saw my cat curled up and fast asleep by my wife’s pillow. He’s the best example of indefinite optimism I know – and it has worked out beautifully for him since we brought him home from the shelter.
    I don’t think I could have taken the leap of faith you did without a safety net of some pension income. I detest any excess time spent in financial wizardry and manipulation – it just gets in the way of my enjoyment of genealogy, photography, computer upgrading and Linux.
    I would just say in closing that you may have ended one journey, but another one starts now.


    1. > I don’t think I could have taken the leap of faith you did without a safety net of some pension income

      Indeed – and as soon as I could I swapped the indefinite opportunity of investing the AVC fund for the definite win of not reducing my pension income, which made it easier.

      I like the indefinite optimism of your cat. Though he needed those definite optimists of humans to make the pillow and the fire!


  3. Wow, I really don’t know how you keep up the quality after that last article …..testimony perhaps to your intellectual recovery after the hamster years of self-sedation by endlessly pounding the corporate wheel to exclude creative thinking? 🙂

    I too experienced the whole nightmare you describe of empty, meaningless, petty, corporate life that robbed me of my best years. It’s not a wild coincidence though, it just means that the cancer of corporate culture has now metastasized throughout the whole economy to impoverish all our working lives.

    Which is why when people simplistically say ”But if you hate your job so much, why don’t you just move?”, the correct answer is ”Where to?” – this system pervades the world, from sweatshops in Bangladesh making consumers’ disposably cheap clothing to the disposable zero-hour contract labour doing any soul-destroying tasks here.

    My UK company was bought by a US one & we soon started to go cold turkey with the inevitable corporate culture shock, stage by stage it turned from a place I liked to go to to work, into a cauldron of gladatorial contest. Office dweebs fighting to the death with the weapons of hypocrisy, duplicity, mindless spite, playground, sandpit tenacity and intricate machiavellian intrigue to gain a small raise, pissant title or marginally better office.

    Careers and lives were destroyed so one psychopath could get a slightly larger monitor and air conditioning in their office, the grandiosity of the titles reminiscent of tinpot dictators declaring themselves Doctor, General, President or Emperor of this or that. Seriously, who can lose enough touch with reality to not look themself in the mirror after just being appointed Associate, Vice-President of whatever Department after last being a mere Something-Director-Something and not think – what a crock of sh*t?

    The whole place become a centrifuge of psychopathy, so that the less empathy you had, the higher you shot up the greasy pole, until the internal phone list was a visible hierarchy of sociopaths. So a powerful decider of when you crack & opt out as soon as you can, [your personal breaking point] is when your daily behaviours have diverged so far from your values, that you just can’t do it any more.

    If you’re lucky enough to have enough fight left in you by then & ability to still think for yourself, the revelation hits that that’s exactly why it has to be FI or death, so you never have to take that sh*t off sociopaths in human form or their useful idiot minion ever again. The few winners out of the corporate experience wont feel this of course, but ironically, they too are not unscathed, they just don’t know it. They come out one-dimensional personalities at the end with no creativity left or ability to think independently. Then as your last post described so well, it’ll probably ruin their retirement because by then they don’t know what to do other than run on a hamster wheel, so end up unhappy with all the free time, no matter how much money they managed to stash. Poetic justice perhaps…..


    1. That is a top growl/rant 🙂 An I wish I’d come up with “centrifuge of psychopathy”. Gapingvoid has a nice diagram of the problem. I found my working life to be a game of two halves – before about 2003 people in The Firm had values and were human, although there was some filtering for undesirable characteristics. Then from 2003 on it went nuts – and not takeovers, either.

      As you say, though, the pathology is written across our culture now. I don’t always agree with what George Monbiot says but he has a knack for cutting to the chase at times –

      Another paradox of neoliberalism is that universal competition relies upon universal quantification and comparison. The result is that workers, job-seekers and public services of every kind are subject to a pettifogging, stifling regime of assessment and monitoring, designed to identify the winners and punish the losers. The doctrine that Von Mises proposed would free us from the bureaucratic nightmare of central planning has instead created one.


    2. My UK company was bought by a US one & we soon started to go cold turkey with the inevitable corporate culture shock, stage by stage it turned from a place I liked to go to to work, into a cauldron of gladatorial contest. Office dweebs fighting to the death with the weapons of hypocrisy, duplicity, mindless spite, playground, sandpit tenacity and intricate machiavellian intrigue to gain a small raise, pissant title or marginally better office.

      Careers and lives were destroyed so one psychopath could get a slightly larger monitor and air conditioning in their office, the grandiosity of the titles reminiscent of tinpot dictators declaring themselves Doctor, General, President or Emperor of this or that.

      What made the culture and experience different before you were bought out? I entered the working world less than 15 years ago and haven’t known anything different to US corporate culture. Whenever “how it used to be run” has come up in conversation with executives, it’s been a rant about how unproductive the company used to be and how the new culture stopped everyone slacking off.

      We millennials don’t know any other way…


  4. The support offered to new parents by the government is minimal in the grand scheme of things, but we chose to start a family! By my reckoning, they give us £1,076.40 a year (child benefit). In the 11 months since our daughter was born, we’ve spent perhaps £3,000 (I’m sad enough to keep a spreadsheet). While that has seen us fall into some classic first time parents middle class traps (all types of ‘ethical’ choices) and buying quality so that any future babies will benefit, we’re not an example of wild extravagence. We’ll happily accept hand-me-downs, we’ve bought toys all of twice? and we prepare 80% of her food from scratch. We’ve shopped around for everything and there is a monthly budget. So yes, it’s tough to go from DINKY to new parents at a youngish age. I’m just glad that we got on the housing ladder before it happened, or we would not be able to buy.


    1. I guess a 30% discount isn’t too bad 😉 I had thought it was more due to the massive kickback on Osborne’s HRT childcare thing from people who by definition are earning 60K+ so twice the average UK income.

      The LV cost of a child study seems to show the annual costs fall from 0 to 6 and then increase steadily. Although the tertiary education bit matches equity investment timescales, and hopefully we will have a clearer idea in 18 years’ time whether university is worth the cost of entry.


    2. L: You are right about the lack of support for parents. My bank account is quite concerned by the possibility that we might become a family. You can’t even declare childcare as a business expense. This one thing would be a massive help, especially for women who are far likely to put their careers on hold for their families. Of course, those without children will complain that their tax shouldn’t be paying for someone else’s children, whilst conveniently forgetting who will be paying for their state pension.

      Having children for many takes you out of FIRE like a shot form a blunderbuss.


  5. But is the whole concept of FI/RE even still possible though for the generation of new workers entering UK Plc today?

    With the Ermine’s-eye-view being that it takes many years for most to accumulate enough savings for investment to make that money earn too, let alone compound interest to have a chance, can the average Joe(lla) still make the maths work?

    With the cost of labour stalled or decreasing due to globalisation and robots coming over here and taking our jobs 🙂 the playing field is starting to list badly. Can someone on an average salary in this day and age, really save enough to be FI before the traditional retirement age, even if they’re not brainwashed into being a standard consumer sucker?

    With decent jobs hard to come by, rent rising much faster than wages/ house prices up 10% last year alone, good pensions retreating and investment returns shrinking, has the ladder been kicked away for future generations? Then re: a safety net, you have governments constantly paring back benefits/public services, eyeing pensions, savings, other easily tax raid-able low-hanging fruit to pay for the shortfall in tax lost to exotic island havens and the occasional need to bail out banks and other friends.

    So to labour the point, is the era over whereby you could become FI on merit through frugality and hard work alone over a working lifetime, if not born to the silver-spoon brigade?


    1. > is the era over whereby you could become FI on merit through frugality and hard work alone over a working lifetime

      A good question – it was never easy – I don’t personally know a single other early retiree though I worked with many people who earned similar to me – indeed my career arc was slower to develop than many of my colleagues.

      I think it can work for people who work in the higher-paid jobs like finance and IT, indeed these tend to burn people out so realistically you want to be above the eighth percentile in UK income terms for a significant period of your working life. Plus don’t marry the wrong person, and if you do, then for God’s sake don’t have children with them, unless you are very rich.

      There are examples of people making FI happen in the UK PF community across the age and occupation range – The Escape Artist, Mr Zombie, FirevLondon, RIT , Sparklebee , Weenie and of course Monevator although the latter has an unhealthy attachment to work 😉

      Is the era over? I don’t know, there are huge changes in social attitudes and expectations now, comparable to the 1980s triumph of neoliberalism. We don’t know where the chips will fall – for instance a universal income would mean a lot more young people would be able to leave the hellhole that is London which the telegraph described as a workhouse for the young – they have to go there to get the density of job opportunities given the instability of jobs but get hammered by the cost of living.

      I wouldn’t have made it if I were starting now. I wouldn’t have gone to university because of the cost. I was able to compete with the entrance exams (and the proxy for the 11 plus) but I wouldn’t have been able to compete on money – it is still a source of puzzlement to me why rationing places by finance is more equitable than rationing by academic aptitude. The analogue and unglobalised world I started in had jobs for a wider range of abilities and pay than the increasingly polarised world of lovely jobs and lousy jobs. And the demise of the final salary pension scheme was because in that analogue world, people and companies built skills over time and firms wanted to retain people and skills, whereas now skills change so rapidly that Zuckerberg’s young people are just smarter has some point. I have lost probably half of my old work skills simply by being out of the loop for nearly four years, things change that fast.

      I guess the tl;dr is yes, that time is over at the moment. We can’t predict whether it will come again for someone in, say, the first quarter of their working life. That depends on technical and societal changes which are happening now, but aren’t clear. Will Capital win, in which case Piketty is right and ancestral wealth will come into its own again? Or will something else happen, I slightly favour that possibility at the moment.


      1. Thanks for the mention, ermine – not sure I could be included in the “making FI happen” crowd, but I’m giving it a bloody good go! 🙂

        One of my best friends is a millennial (just turned 33). Been in the company pension since aged 21, had no debt apart from her mortgage. I wanted to dissuade her from buying a brand new sports car recently on HP but didn’t feel that it was my place to do so, not when she was already doing so well compared to many others in her peer group.

        I recall one time I must have mentioned that I had investments and she said that the stock market ‘frightened her’ – she works for a finance company…

        I would love to mention the concept of FI/early retirement to her but I don’t know what her plans are re starting a family etc and as you say, kids can change everything.


  6. @ Ermine, I saw that article, it was very good – & that book, ‘The Shock Doctrine’ was a also a revelation that shook me to my core …’s just so sad to see people sleepwalking to the puppet-masters’ grand plan, oblivious to their role in the food-chain. Cog-life.

    Re: the rant – it’s still a raw nerve for me, because it was a beautiful company filled with good people who wanted to improve the world. What hurts is the worry that that maybe that aspiration is just not possible any more in today’s asset-stripping, bubblenomic economy. Using the mega-recession as an excuse to make savings, (because our profits were actually fine) HQ in the US decided to arbitrarily obliterate the UK branch (shareholders saw ‘human resources’ as a burden) and I saw a chance to leave while still sane.

    I’d been through a boss a year on average as endless restructurings were seemingly designed to relieve the top management of accountability for their massive bonus non-performances, but my last was an utter psychopath, off the scale. (This is not hyperbole, I know because I took professional advice) It had been trying to destroy me for 3 years and the relentless, attritional pressure was exhausting, I held out only through a stubborn hatred of bullying.

    You can only know what that is like when you go through it, imagination just doesn’t do it justice, things like being tortured with ‘Performance Improvement Programs’ [PIPs]….. Only HR can dream that sh*t up, it’s analogous to the bamboozling creativity of financial instruments in crash (‘Investment’) banking – CDRs & all the other acronyms nobody understood.

    In a civilised society, nobody should have to go to be degraded & live in fear doing busy-work on a daily basis for the best part of their lives just to pay their survival bills. Particularly when those basic living costs are an artificially inflated construct for social control anyway….. in that having people busy doing pointless tasks all day long keeps them too tired to realise that their quality of life & future has already been stolen.


    1. Ah, it was a PIP that educated me that for this recalcitrant Ermine, “up with that I was not prepared to put” and fired the starting gun.

      Inside the mind of the psychopath is interesting reading. In particular it took me this far to have enough self-awareness to regrettably say that I know what he meant with

      Making people jump means you have power – or this is the way you see it

      which distresses some early retirees, when they feel the absence of this reflected power.


  7. Being simple is complicated. But you can do it.

    From ‘Inside out Simplicity’ – Joshua Becker

    Contentment is the life blood of simplicity, Gratitude opens the door to simplicity.

    Think strategically, not tactically. What changes can be made to eliminate ‘busy’ work from your life? You should be able to spend a day ‘doing nothing’ without feeling stressed or guillty.

    Learn to turn off distraction and live your life instead. Turn off the television and don’t read gossip magazines. Remove non-essential physical belongings that are robbing you of time and energy that could better be spent living intentionally.

    A simplified life is light easy and free. It is a life that has thoughtfully and intentionally removed many of the things that weigh us down.

    Learning to forgive others releases burden and brings freedom back to our heart.

    Se money only as a tool to move through life.

    Practise not doing, and everything will fall into place. Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished. Idleness is not doing nothing. Idleness is being free to do anything.

    If you’re going to have a meaningful retirement, you need to embrace the idea that your goal is not to have a busy day or a full day, but a day spent on things that produce meaning, fulfilment, purpose, fun, happiness.


    1. I’m with that – although I haven’t done that well with canning physical Stuff, I iced the TV, ad-bust as much as possible and I’m in the process of trying to win this fight

      you need to embrace the idea that your goal is not to have a busy day or a full day, but a day spent on things that produce meaning, fulfilment, purpose, fun, happiness.

      I’ve still got a little way to go with gratitude…


  8. Sadly I think you are right, I have nephews and nieces who are so loaded down with debt from student loans that it’s like they have a mortgage to pay off even before the mortgage they still have to get to live in a rabbit hutch. (And to add insult to injury, the modern day, identikit, government policy-backed, Big-builder, soulless estates have homes acknowledged as the worst build-quality in Europe, while hugely profitable to the builders of course)

    I don’t have the heart to tell these bright-eyed, wildly optimistic youngsters just how badly I suspect they’ve been betrayed. Will they even get a job with that degree and if so, what will that pay?

    Now being much longer in the tooth, I have a friend who managed to get to a very high position in a large global company, so he’s successful by all modern ‘work’ criteria. Somehow he accomplished this without being evil, it is family-run (so that might have helped) and he is good at keeping his head below the parapet in politics. Interestingly, his take on this conundrum was that he doubts the young can ever be incited to revolt against being screwed. He figures that they are kept so busy running on the spot trying to pay off essentials and brainwashed constantly with subliminal, aspirational advertising that they literally don’t have the opportunity to think.

    Psychologically, when you’re overwhelmed, what happens? People shut down because they can’t cope. It’s like why the discounters in the UK are whipping the conventional supermarkets, faced with the ‘choice’ of 23 ‘allegedly different’ washing powders (all from Unilever anyway) they end up just picking up the nearest.

    It’s just the frog in the boiler principle isn’t it? If you increase the heat slowly enough, they wont realise until it’s over.


  9. @ Ermine,

    At that time my then wife had significant ‘recruitment’ experience & unfortunately timed for me, we were heading into a vicious divorce, so on seeing the PIP she couldn’t disguise her mirth as she explained that I was being ‘managed out’ & had 3 – 6 months pay left at best. This is scary when you’re trying to amass a fighting fund in the arms race to afford a better shark/lawyer to keep your life-savings & losing your home is more-or-less a given.

    I did point out that if I lost my decent job, I would have a silver lining when splitting up the joint wealth if my contribution diminished by % of the total.

    Never, never give up until the very end though – my chief torturer/then boss lost interest in me & the PIP when HQ announced they were obliterating the the UK branch of the company. It realised it was going out on the same flight as me now, so concentrated instead on looting what it could before the end so I got the decent redundancy package I’d otherwise have been robbed of.


  10. It’s a funny old thing, work. All told, I’ve worked since I was 14 (when I first constructed a fine portfolio of weekend and holiday gigs while at school).

    When I entered the adult world of Work after school I understood and accepted that I would have to assume a ‘Work’ self during the day, which differed in many respects from the out-of-working-hours me. That was just how it was.

    In the decades since then I’ve done rather well at Work, as it happens. But I have to confess that I have never, ever felt comfortable with Work. Even when I enjoyed doing the job, I did not enjoy Work. I always felt Work was too big a stretch away from myself, and used up way too much of my head space.

    I sense that my final detachment from Work (which will mean giving up my current comfortable semi-retirement gig) will probably come about over the course of the next 12 months. I reckon I’ll be filing for divorce from Work on the grounds of irreconcilable differences…



    1. > divorce from Work on the grounds of irreconcilable differences

      hehe – along the lines of “it’s you, not me” and “unreasonable behaviour” I should imagine 😉


  11. @ Survivor, I recognised everything you describe, although I probably worked in a different field to both you and Ermine. It was perform or die – we were told to wear black to a company meeting, then given a two hour performance of the funeral of the employee who did not work hard enough. We saw professional actors around an open grave. My manager had a breakdown after that.
    Leave that company? There was nowhere to go to, and lots of unemployed, qualified, experienced people desperate to take your place. I survived it all, but it messed with my head.
    I have been happily retired for nearly two years now, it’s wonderful to be myself again. Lots to do, lots to explore and enjoy! No intention of ever working again 😉


  12. @ Rowan Tree,

    Jeez, I don’t think those people realise how weird things like that [sinister corporate ‘bonding’ events] are any more, I mean was that even legal?

    I live a relatively quiet life now, so blissful vs being torn in different directions by the unrealistic expectations of others and have a better appreciation for what is real. I earn a lot less than I used to, but it at covers my living expenses, so it’s enough. I work for myself now – as & when …..and am as free as is possible in the modern age.

    I salvaged enough to have a couple of passive streams of income if I live at a humble level, but that’s OK. If you walked past me in the street you wouldn’t notice me, but I’m more at peace than most, because I have no debt and nobody owns me, every day I can do what I want, how and when I want. Peace to you too fellow-survivor 🙂


  13. As always, interesting read. And timely indeed, I am looking forward to joining the FI/ER crowd at the end of june, aged 54, and am eager to experience the changes you and others have described. Hope detoxing passes quickly, must say my experiences with work were not as tragic as some decribed here ( theatrical funeral ? They are craving mad ).

    My career mimicks yours closely, but being based in CH makes big differences
    in the financial deparment. Engineers are significantly better paid here, taxes are moderate, we have no CGT, but there are drawbacks like health insurance costs, tax on imputed rental value, much less freedom in taking care of your pension fund.

    Unlike you I still do not understand investing very well, so I started too late with ETF’s and missed the upswing since 2008. But also unlike you I did have a good experience with real estate , and fully expect my current mortgage free home to yield close to the ca. 3000 GBP that is considered the minimal monthly income around here. ( I am currently in the process of downgrading house).

    Interesting times ahead for me !


  14. Much as I’ve enjoyed reading this site (and Monevator) these past few years, lately I’m getting more anxiety than inspiration, trying to reconcile broad trends like:
    – longer working life required (increasing lifespans, rising pension age)
    – but shorter working life possible (job elimination, ageism)
    – with a global economy that’s still trying to restart, 9 years after last downturn.

    Not pinning my hopes on Universal Income! About as likely as the mythical bursting of the property “bubble” and Americans giving up their guns 🙂


    1. Ah , universal income….
      We Swiss get to vote on it June 5th. Sadly, no chance of it passing….
      I will vote in favor, but most certainly do not rely on universal income for my FI !
      But good ideas take their time, here it took until 1973 until men realized it might not actually be all bad if women were allowed to vote…..


  15. @JDR

    > Hope detoxing passes quickly

    It is a process of transformation, so necessary. Observation seems to show that for normal early retirees (ie ones that bailed for positive reasons) it seems to be about six months, rather than three years 😉 And of course congratulations, and good luck!

    > Unlike you I still do not understand investing very well, so I started too late with ETFs and missed the upswing since 2008.

    hehe – I wish I could say this was understanding but honesty would have to admit to a decent helping of luck. The understanding was in terms of some personal foibles and learning to fight them. A competent ETF portfolio is a good way of avoiding triggering many such foibles in the first place.

    So here’s a cheer to your June manumission!


  16. @swim Amara’s law runs along the lines

    We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run

    I would be very surprised if we didn’t have a universal income in ten years’ time, barring some catastrophic failure of the economy which is also possible. It would be in the interest of the owners of capital; if innovation pushes jobs out of the intellectual capacity of the likes of most of us but still produces goods and services of value at a faster rate then we may need to tax production rather than one increasingly irrelevant factor of production. Otherwise who or what is going to buy all this stuff/services, and if the 99% end up as hobos they will cause trouble or at least become disaffected terrorists. A universal income is one approach.

    I don’t see the guns being given up, this is cultural and long-standing. The property bubble, yes. Property market cycles are much longer than equity market cycles, but cycles they still are, the dance of the irresistible force of HPI and the immovable object of people being able to earn enough to pay the capital across a working lifetime must go on in its unstable equilibrium.


  17. In discussing millennials, people seem strangely reluctant to mention that their grandparents belonged to a generation where house ownership became widespread, so that some-to-many millennials will inherit decidedly helpful chunks of money. Or do people really believe that the value of grandma’s house just vanishes into the ether when the old soul pops her clogs?


  18. Working for a large FTSE 100 is pretty soulless. Sometimes it seems like admin, bureaucracy, develppment opportunites, dull meetings and even duller chat is all there is too it. Then there is the proving yourself at a performance review to fit into the apparently non existent distribution. “Your work is great. You need to raise your profile.” Pyschopath about sums it up for those near the top. It’s all about claiming the successes and shunting off the failures to some other poor bugger if you want to move up.
    I’ve got myself into a nice technical role now, so there is less of the Bull Shit to deal with. It’s still there, just subdued by actually interesting work. Subdued enough that I can out up with it and pocket the wage for a few more years. If it does get over bearing I can go contracting to shorten the path. B


  19. I notice that you haven’t added a new blog post for the past couple of weeks. Given the somewhat final title of this one, I just wanted to check that your blogging days aren’t over. While you may have reached a financial milestone, namely drawdown, that is far from the end of the story of early retirement.

    I enjoy your blogs enormously, since they contextualise early retirement against the backdrop of human nature and the changing economic and social environment in such a thought-provoking way. Please keep going – your audience demands more!


    1. Thanks! No, I haven’t quit, just indulged in a pause, some decadence to celebrate the milestone and doing some bird surveying which involves much cycling around and listening out for a month or so.


      1. That’s a relief! Early retirement shouldn’t be back-to-back hair-shirtism, saving money, investing wisely and blogging earnestly. There should be scope for indulgence, and even a little indolence.

        Here’s hoping the birds are talkative, and looking forward to reading more of your blogs when time and mojo are aligned.


  20. Just been down a PF web rabbit-hole to arrive here 🙂 I’m new to PF/FIRE blogs since summer 2017 but have learnt a lot! Thanks for the philosophical musings which are a great counterpoint to the financials I’m trying to absorb.

    Graduated Physics IC 1987. We laughed at students going into financial jobs. The Big Bang happened the same year. I had no comprehension what it meant at the time, but nowadays it would be very hard to choose science/tech over the lure of the City.


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