Financial Independence Meetup – November 15th in Dublin!

Financial Independence Meetup – Thursday, November 15th from 6pm!

The Ginger Man Pub: Address39-40 Fenian Street, Dublin 2, D02 KD51

All welcome!

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The simple path to wealth – Irish-style!

This post looks at Irish attitudes to investing, and sets out 3 simple steps anyone can take to automate their finances and secure their future that don’t require complex research and analysis, or sacrificing today for tomorrow.

One Sunday recently my Dad dropped by my house to say hello. When he arrived I was just checking through my tax return and preparing feedback for an email to my accountant. I felt very pleased to be able to give my Dad the good news that, for the first time in my working life I had maximised my allowable pension contribution for 2017, at the same time capturing a nice tax refund in the process. I expected his reaction to be at least vaguely positive. If I had to describe his reaction in one word however, it would be…disdainful.

He proceeded to make a comment about one of my siblings to the effect that he “Really makes the most of his time and leads a very full life“. His subsequent comment involved something to the effect of: “It’s important not to sacrifice today for tomorrow”. I was a little surprised, and, I must admit, a little hurt. Surely the fact that I have only been contributing to a pension (investing) for a third of my entire working career to date, and the fact that I am now focused on taking very reasonable steps to boost the pension coffers is a positive (and indeed necessary) step. My Dad proceeded to express regret that investing was necessary and that he felt the state should take care of people in retirement, or they should have a workplace pension. This is consistent with his socialist views to which I also subscribe to the extent that I believe that there is a base line below which no one should be allowed to fall. I made the point that, given the ageing population in Ireland it is questionable whether the state pension will be able to support my generation in our later years. In addition – it is currently € 243 per week, so it seems sensible that people may plan to supplement this.

Is the inference that I should be out there living in the moment, and worrying about the consequences later? Didn’t I life that type of life for far too long already? I do not feel like I am sacrificing today for tomorrow. At least, no more than anyone else who is location-dependent due to work. I feel that in fact I am simply making conscious decisions and choices and following through on these.

Maintaining a hearty disregard for saving and investing seems to be quite common in Ireland, as is living in the moment, and feeling that we should show generosity and spend freely. I can only imagine that it holds people back on many levels. Typical Irish traits would be to want to buy a round of drinks, or to fight to be the one to pay the bill when meeting a friend for lunch. I can even remember hearing about young Irish men who had gone to Britain to work and whose pride would not allow them to return until they could afford to buy a drink for everyone in their village. Being “tight” or “stingy” is considered one of the worst things to be. I had also been infected with this attitude and was privately disdainful of others who did not appear to be spending “generously”.

Needless to say I now hold a very different view on this. Perhaps this line of thinking could have been where my Dad was coming from, or perhaps he just doesn’t agree with my choices, which I must just accept. On the other hand, why would a parent hold up one child as an example in this manner when the second has done nothing but make some mildly sensible choices after many years of financial blindness? I wasn’t looking for a medal, but I could have done without the disdain. Let’s look at some of these points more closely:

The sibling comparison – Single versus couple:

It goes without saying that a technically detailed comparison is not possible without having the full financial picture for both parties, so I will stick with what is known to me.

Mortgages: I got my mortgage on my own while my brother and his wife got theirs together. We both bought our houses around the same time, and both make similar monthly repayments. By this I mean, my monthly repayment is similar to theirs, ie. I have to find the same amount of money every month as they do between them.

Even without bringing any other factors into the equation, this already has a significant impact on our situations. It means that I have ultimately to be more careful in making provision for the unexpected, since I only have myself to rely on. It means I do need to make choices between going on frequent trips and stashing aside some money to cover the unexpected. Prior to getting my current job I was unemployed for 9 months. During this time my savings funded my mortgage and the majority of my expenses. This is the second time I have been without employment in recent years. As such, I have personally experienced the need to rely on my emergency fund on 2 occasions in recent years for a period exceeding 6 months on each occasion.

As such, I feel it is quite natural that I have been focused on building my savings back up again since my return to the workforce. When you are part of a couple, and living together, you can (hopefully) rely on each other – when one of you loses your job, the other hopefully doesn’t. As such, the case for an emergency fund is all the more important for the single person.

The bottom line is that as a single person mortgage and related expenses represent over 50% of all of my expenses. Granted, I have been able to offset some of this expense by renting a room out in my home and splitting my bills with my lodger. Nevertheless, I have found that it is a simply matter of making choices based on priorities. At the moment I personally feel that building some financial security gives me greater peace of mind than shopping, eating out or taking frequent trips would give me. I did all of the latter for quite a long time, with no regard for where I was going in my life. I’m all about conscious living these days!

Sacrificing today for tomorrow?

I think that this statement is worth considering further, from a couple of perspectives:

Over the past 2 years I have been 1) working less 2) eating better than in the past, and  working out 2-3 times every week (which I never did in the past). I have a nice home, a job that I actually enjoy. I still manage to get a couple of trips in every year and treat friends and family, and on top of all that am saving and investing at a rate I never was before. It is hard to see the sacrifice there. My social life could do with being a bit fuller, but that is in fact unrelated to my savings and investing choices.

I think it is more a matter of perspective. My Dad may feel I am depriving myself because he hears me saying things about how I haven’t been clothes shopping in a year, or I bring my lunch to work every day. Perhaps he thinks that I am depriving myself of going out at night or buying lunch or more holidays.

It’s hard to understand because I feel that I have greatly improved my quality of life over the past few years since discovering the FI community and living more consciously and planning things out better. Perhaps looking from the outside in it may appear that I am overly focused on investing for the future, and on monitoring expenses, to the detriment of my life now.  Tracking ones expenses is yet another un-Irish activity which may be construed as some kind of extreme action I suppose.

Conclusions:

Priorities, personal circumstances, and taking a sensible approach to personal finance:

It’s all about priorities. While one person may be very happy to continue to work indefinitely, another may wish to give themselves the option to work less, or not at all. My own view would be that, circumstances beyond our control (such as a health related issue) may render us unable to work at any time, so it makes sense to have some kind of contingency. Assuming that you believe you will live beyond age 50, it makes sense to put some money in to a workplace pension, for the tax break alone if for no other reason.

It’s also about personal circumstance. All else being equal, a single person with a mortgage will need to devote a larger percentage of their disposable income to it than a couple who share the same size mortgage. Houses come with all kinds of unexpected expenses. Just last week end, I spent € 240 on plumbers and was additionally made aware of a structural repair to my home which may cost a couple of thousand Euro. Having money saved to cover these very real expenses when they arise is important, and the result is that you don’t experience panic or anxiety when a trades person comes to your house and announces that you can expect this expense at some time in the near future as happened to me just last week end.

The simple path to wealth -3 simple steps you can take today to automate your finances and secure your financial future that do not require sacrificing today for tomorrow:

To take a Jim Collins-like approach to keeping it simple, I appreciate that not everyone wants to spend all of their free time reading blogs about how to make meals for a dollar, or indeed writing such blogs. Not everyone sets themselves the goal of early retirement or financial independence, and indeed, to those outside of the community some of the stories and experiences emanating from within the community seem extreme. Most people (myself included) prefer not to go to extremes, or to sacrifice their today for their tomorrow.

However, assuming that most people do not work for the state and expect a defined benefit pension plan at the a set period of stable employment, the following seem to me to be sensible, moderate actions to take for peace of mind if nothing else:

1. Invest in your workplace pension – My company will pay 5% of my salary into their pension plan, but only if I pay 6%. With tax relief, paying in 6% actually only costs me between 3.6% and 4.8%, depending on which bracket I am in. Effectively, this means that 11% of my salary is invested in various pension funds to grow tax free, and has cost me a maximum of 4.8%. Of course, depending on your age group you can top this up further with tax free contributions up to the following percentage of your salary dependent on your age:

  • under 30: 15%
  • Age 30-39: 20%
  • Age 40-49: 25%
  • Age 50-54: 30%
  • Age 55-59: 35%
  • Age 60 or over: 40%.

I have seen a lot of discussion and analysis on various brokerage funds, which ETFs to invest in, and the tax treatment thereof. In the interest of keeping it simple, I am happy to use the workplace pension as opposed to opening an account with a broker where I need to track my own trades and organise to pay my own taxes. There is no need for any of this with a company pension plan, and remember, if you are in the 40% tax bracket, every € 60 invested will buy you € 100 worth of pension assets. Finally, if your company does not offer a pension plan, you can ask them to set up a PRSA (Personalised Retirement Savings Account). Employers are required to do this by law in Ireland, so make sure to ask for it!

2. Overpay your mortgage – Banks in Ireland are now offering longer mortgage terms in anticipation of later retirement ages in future. I am almost 3 years in to a 29 year mortgage. Overpaying it by a couple of hundred Euro per month (the cost of a couple of nights out in Dublin) wipes 7 years off that mortgage term and reduces the overall interest I need to pay over the life of the mortgage by € 20 000. It has never been easier to get this information thanks to the mortgage overpayment calculators that the banks themselves are making available on their websites. The overpayment I am making can be cancelled at any point in time with no penalty to me. This is a very worthwhile “investment” for anyone with a spare couple of hundred Euro left in the budget, since can save you much more in the long term, and of course get you debt free sooner!

3. Build up an Emergency fund – There have been many blog posts out there on the appropriate amount to keep in an emergency fund. From my own experience to date, I would say 1 years’ worth of expenses is a good rule of thumb. Maybe others feel comfortable with more, or with less. An emergency fund can cover living expenses in the event of a job loss for example, or can simply cover household emergencies as they arise. Just last week end a plumber came to my home and advised me that I can expect to make a structural repair that he expects will cost me € 1,000 – € 1,500. This is exactly the type of thing that an emergency fund is designed to cover in my opinion. My recommendation would be to set up an automated monthly contribution. When you own an apartment in an apartment block in Dublin, typically part of your annual management fee goes into a sinking fund to cover precisely these types of emergencies. When you own your own house (not in a development), it is up to you how you manage this. Enter the emergency fund.

That’s it! 3 simple things that you you can dial up or dial down depending on your circumstances. Automation on these 3 items is preferable. You don’t need to have any particular skill or knowledge to do these 3 things, and you can go a long way towards securing your financial future by putting these things in place, and then simply leaving them in place and getting on with your life!

 

How to travel without it costing the earth: Holidaying in Hungary

Should I even be spending money on travel when I am trying to save for financial independence?

For the past two years or so I have been very much prioritising building financial stability over travelling. I was of the view that I have been extremely fortunate in my life so far to have had so many opportunities to experience life in different parts of the world. However, for most of my working life I have lacked financial awareness, and as a result I have had relatively little to show for the number of years I have worked. For the past 2 years or so since my financial awakening, I have been prioritising getting my financial act together over travelling for travel’s sake, possibly on some level attempting to overcompensate for the years of financial blindness.

Then, in June I took a few days out to go to Financial Independence Week Europe in Timișoara, Romania. This experience changed my view on this somewhat. I noticed how refreshed I was on my return, how having had the opportunity to see a place that was new to me, (even if only for a few days) was refreshing and inspiring. Furthermore, meeting and hanging out with a group of like-minded people for a few days was a very positive experience. Finally, I noticed that it had not cost me very much at all! For more on the expense breakdown for this particular trip, see this blog post. https://financialindependenceireland.wordpress.com/2018/07/15/financial-independence-week-europe

So, when the opportunity to spend a few days in Hungary hanging out with some of the friends that I made at Financial Independence Week Europe arose, I grabbed it with both hands. I knew that travelling anywhere in August was likely to be more expensive than at other times of the year, what with it being the school holidays across Europe. However, having realised that our need for friendship and a sense of connection is also important – (Mazlow would not have put it on his hierarchy of needs otherwise) – I went ahead and made my arrangements.

The trip

I flew direct to Budapest. Due to a shortage of Hungarian forints in Ireland I had not had the opportunity to acquire any before I left. On arrival at the airport I used my Visa Debit card to pay the cost of the airport bus in to Budapest. Doing so allowed me to avoid the airport exchange rate of Huf 253 per Euro, and instead to get about Huf 318 per Euro by exchanging in the city. I then booked my Metro and train ticket to Lake Balaton. The infrastructure is fantastic, not too expensive and easy to navigate.

Lake Balaton:

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Lake Balaton

On arrival at my hotel there was some confusion with my host maintaining that he had received a message from booking.com telling him that I had cancelled my booking. We soon sorted it out though as he had a room available for me in any case.

I arrived a day before my friends, and spent the day exploring the resort, walking the waterfront, and generally getting oriented. The lake was a popular destination for tourism behind the iron curtain, as well as being a popular spot for formerly West German tourists. Even now, I could hear a lot of German being spoken, along with what appeared to be a number of different Slavic languages.

By the time my friends arrived I was very familiar with the area and was easily able to find my way to join them at the beach. Other than a ferry trip across the lake followed by a gentle hike one of the days, the time was spent pretty much chilling on the beach, swimming, chatting and playing with the kids in the lake. Evenings for me were filled with going back to my hotel for my dinner (which, along with my breakfast was included in the cost of €55 per night). After dinner I would swing by the supermarket for some beverages or snacks, and take a leisurely stroll down to my friends’ apartment to hang out.

After 5 days spent on the lake relaxing, it was back to Budapest via train for 2 nights/ days. I had booked a studio in a fairly central location through booking.com. Subsequent to receiving confirmation, I got a message from the owner saying that the apartment was unavailable. While in Hungary I raised this with booking.com, who recommended an alternative at twice the price and agreed to pay the difference. This was a good start.

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Interior Courtyard in the building where I stayed in Budapest

Budapest:

I always try to avail of a free walking tour when I visit a city, and, after dropping my bags off at my apartment, I immediately departed again to join a Communist walking tour. Having first visited Hungary prior to the fall of Communism, I was keen to see what had changed and what remained. In a nutshell there was very little evidence remaining of Hungary’s 40 years under communism. The tour guide was probably too young to remember it first hand, but told some amusing anecdotes. There was a nuclear bunker which was declassified in 2002, and reference was made to an underground hospital/ bunker which I would like to have explored further had I had more time.

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Communist Walking Tour: Entrance to the underground nuclear bunker which was declassified in 2002.

Continuing with the same theme, I visited the House of Terror Museum which is housed in a building which was both the home of the state police under communism and also to the Nazi leadership in World War II. Unsurprisingly, this ominous building had a heavy story to tell, and I emerged after 3 hours emotionally and physically drained. For this tour, it is worth spending the additional money to get the audio guide which talks through each of the rooms. Hungary’s story during this time period (end of World War II to 1990) is told by means of Soviet-era propaganda films from the time period as well as interviews with individuals who lived through the 2 regimes. This would be of interest to anyone who is interested in learning about life in a Communist state. Most of the statues from the Communist period were gathered up and put together in a park known as Memento Park, which I unfortunately did not have time to visit.

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Entrance to House of Terror Museum: Documenting Hungary’s history under Naziism and Communism

An evening at one of the thermal underwater pools seemed to be the best way to wind down and mull over the many peoples’ stories that I had heard in the Terror Museum. Széchenyi was the spa recommended to me. Once again, the seamless transport system in the form of the Metro made it easy for me. I arrived at about 7:30 pm and stayed until they closed at 10 pm. This consists of many pools of different temperatures, as well as a few regular swimming pools, including a pool within a pool where you are propelled around and around in a circle, which was great fun!

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Caption on a segment of the Berlin Wall on display outside the House of Terror museum

This is what my expenses looked like for a week in Hungary:

Expense Breakdown

Flights

€ 547.82
Hotel Lake 5 nights, incl. breakfast & dinner € 282.50
Apartment Budapest: 2 nights € 70.00
Bus + Train + Taxi € 52.87
Food + grocery + gifts € 74.84
Entry fees / tourist attractions € 35.85
 Total Cost €1,063.88

Having analysed my expenses for this trip, I was surprised to find that it cost as much as it did. Looking at things another way though, I see the flights alone accounted for 51% of all costs, and flights and accommodation together represented 85% of all costs. Actual spending for the week excluding the flights and accommodation was just under €164, easily the cost of a night out in Dublin!

Hungary was good value for money, with a beer costing about a € 1 in the supermarket. A corn on the cob on the beach cost about €3. As you can see, this level of accommodation, food and transport costs makes Budapest an excellent choice for a city break for anyone travelling from Ireland. The infrastructure and the rich availability of things to see and do make it an excellent spot. The price of this trip could have been optimised further by 1) booking flights in advance and 2) either making sure to travel home on a day when there are direct flights to Dublin to avoid additional costs.

Conclusions

In general, things were more affordable in Hungary than they tend to be in Ireland. It seems that it is possible to practice some geographic arbitrage without leaving Europe!

Rather than just avoiding taking any holidays until I get my financial act together, there is no reason why I should not take planned trips where it is possible to do so without majorly impacting saving and investment goals. In fact, travel brings inspiration, and life could otherwise get a little dull!

When travelling, just like when staying at home, I have found that it is possible to proactively manage costs by just a little bit of forward planning. To use the example of my trip to Hungary, during my 2 day whistle-stop tour of Budapest where I was travelling alone, I saw limited value in taking myself out for dinner. In fact, given that I was travelling alone, I was more than happy to return to my modern, fully-equipped studio apartment to have a beer and a bite to eat in the evenings, watch some cable TV or browse the internet using the Wi-Fi where I could relax and feel secure after a long day of walking around the city. I discovered that I can get enjoyment without spending money all the time. I was quite happy to pick up a few groceries when passing an Aldi, and a pizza slice on my way home from the spa. At the same time I was more than happy to pay entry fees for attractions that are important to me.

Having the opportunity to hang out with some new friends in a beautiful lakeside resort in Hungary is something I was delighted that I did. These type of get togethers of like-minded friends are where ideas are hatched and inspiration is born! From this trip, a potential volunteering opportunity arose for me for next year, as well as a number of potential presentation ideas for future financial independence conferences…Watch this space!

Final Thoughts

The trip was a great combination of chilling with friends and exploring a city. I would recommend Budapest to anyone looking for an affordable city break, but suggest flying on days when direct flights are available if going with Ryanair from Dublin to avoid potential additional costs. On this occasion I found the best accommodation options for me on Booking.com. Airbnb also had plenty of options. I would recommend changing money in one of the kiosks in Budapest rather than Ireland, since these places were offering better rates than the Irish banks. Booking an apartment is a great way to go, since there are supermarkets all around in Budapest – (CBA is the local supermarket chain I used a lot). I think 3 or 4 days in Budapest would be preferable to the 2 I spent, particularly for anyone who has not been before, to take tome of the pressure off the travel itinerary and allow sufficient time to do more (like spending a full day in the thermal spa for only slightly more than it cost for the evening, or taking time to see the statues in Memento Park, or explore the nuclear bunker that was used as a hospital in WWII).

Great for healthy travellers who are open to doing a lot of walking. The height of summer may not be the best time to go for a city break, since walking around can be extra tiring in the heat. Also worth checking whether accommodation has air conditioning, and, if not, mosquito nets on windows, to avoid getting bitten at night when leaving windows open.

Budapest is a great city, easy to navigate and foot and by public transport. I found that the information being provided by Google maps was spot on for both Budapest and Lake Balaton. The lake is quite a nice train journey from Budapest (1.5 hrs.), and is basically a nice, holiday resort setup. I was happy with what I paid for accommodation in both places – my hotel in Balaton was € 55 and included both lunch and dinner, while the studio in Budapest was € 35 per night, in a very central location. Since I booked at short notice, my flights were more expensive.

I am considering returning at some stage next year, and will definitely book well in advance to secure a flight deal. I plan to spend at least a few days, and will definitely spend a full day in the thermal baths and and also take a trip to Memento Park next time.

Financial Independence Week Europe

fiwe2018-exp

I recently attended a conference on financial independence in Timișoara, Romania. This post covers my experience there.

I had heard about “Chataqua” – a week-long event attended by all of the big names in the global Financial Independence community. The cost to attend this this year is €2,000. As much as I liked the idea, I felt that it was too expensive, so back in February I posted on a couple of Facebook groups to see if anyone knew of anything similar but less expensive. I was promptly contacted by Mrs. White with details of this conference. Entrance fee – €15! Mrs. W. explained that, to keep the conference small, she and her husband (the organisers) run an application process, the first step of which required that I make a short video of myself discussing how I discovered FI, where I am in my journey, and life after financial independence looks like for me.

I prepared a brief selfie video as requested and a few weeks later on March 9th I heard back that my application had been successful. The conference organisers Mr. & Mrs. W. suggested a Skype call to introduce themselves and to answer any questions I may have.

I did some basic due diligence by checking that the hotel had a website and looked legit. I booked some flights, and, before I knew it, the time had come and I was on my way. I arrived on the Thursday night, June 7th, connecting through Bucharest with enough time to enjoy an Italian-style lemon ice cream and a good coffee between flights.

Mr & Mrs. W. had arranged for a taxi for me from airport to hotel. It was early evening by the time I arrived, and, after checking with the hotel owners that the city was safe to walk around at night, I headed out in search of some food and a currency exchange. The rate was 4.62 Romanian Lei to Euro. For convenience I initially just exchanged € 100. As it turned out, this was sufficient spending money for my entire stay (from Thursday night to Monday morning). I walked around the main streets of the town, and did a bit of shopping for water and snacks, then picked up a takeaway pizza and headed back to the hotel.

On Friday morning I met some of the other conference participants at breakfast. Since the group wasn’t meeting officially until Friday night, I had planned to spend Friday exploring the city by myself. As it happened, I bumped into some of the other participants leaving the hotel with the same intention, and we ended up spending the day together.

On Friday evening I met the rest of the conference participants when we headed out for dinner. We had a nice relaxed dinner followed by a trip to an ice cream parlour. The organisers had deliberately kept the conference small at approx. 25 participants.

We all had breakfast in the hotel courtyard on Saturday morning, before taking ourselves to the conference venue at the back of the premises.

The conference ran from 9:30 – 4:45 on Saturday and Sunday, and consisted of 10 * 45 minute presentations over the 2 days. All conference participants had been given the option to propose a topic that they would like to present on. Participants then had the opportunity to vote on their choice of topics.

Presentations:

Not surprisingly, there was plenty of discussion around the hard metrics of the financial independence – The 4% rule, savings rates, safe withdrawal rates, knowing when you have enough, but also on the softer aspects, such as the question of what people will choose to do with the free time which they have gifted themselves, and whether they will use it to make the world a better place.

One participant gave a presentation on how to turn problems into websites offering solutions and generating revenue. The idea works by creating useful content to assist readers with a particular problem (i.e. how to extend wifi coverage in your apartment), and included links to recommended products, which generate affiliate revenue for the website owner.

Another gave a presentation on his side hustle story – Building extensions for online marketplaces. Once again I observed how many ways there are to make money for individuals with these specific types of skills!

A young couple living in Vienna,Austria presented on their luxuriously frugal live in Vienna, Austria, their philosophy of minimalism and how they are not waiting to be financially independent to embrace life and pursue their passions, such as developing their You Tube channels. They have managed to keep their expenses low by living in an affordably priced apartment courtesy of an Austrian government scheme.

We then had a presentation from Mr RIP, an Italian guy who lives in Switzerland and earns a ridiculous amount of money working at a major company which he calls Hooli on his blog. He is currently pondering whether he should work 1 or 3 more years at Hooli before retiring at the ripe old age of 40 something!

We heard from a German software engineer who has been saving 75% of his income for some time already and is also considering when to pull the retirement trigger. The presenter shared details of his expenses and there was some discussion around the emotional aspects of ending one’s career and what the next chapter would entail.

The organisers Mr. & Mrs. W. presented on their efforts to reduce waste and to encourage re-use. Mr. W. left his high powered career in Germany behind, and, much to puzzlement of his friends and neighbours, can now be found picking up litter on the streets near where he lives in Romania. He found a company which pays people for their rubbish, and even an app. which matches rubbish buyers with sellers. Mrs. W. has developed a pack containing a knife, fork and spoon as an alternative to using disposable ones. Mr. & Mrs. have found plenty of areas to add value to their local community in Romania.

We had a presentation on the 4% rule. The sustainable “safe” withdrawal rate for a long retirement period is a hotly-debated topic in the FI community, and those individuals within the group who have already saved a lot are particularly eager to get comfort on this! We settled on 3.1415″PI” as a safe number, since it sounds good and is less than 4!

Lastly, we had a presentation from a Slovakian ex-pat living with his young family in Vienna on the feedback from his interviews with conference participants which he had been conducting throughout the week end. The following trends were observed:

Most of the group was investing in ETFs. Most (present company excepted) had avoided home ownership. A few were tech guys who had been saving most of their income for most of their lives, and were more or less ready to leave the workforce at approximately  age 40. Some had already retired through the power of geographic arbitrage: 1 couple currently living in Romania and another in Croatia in a town where houses can be purchased from € 10K.

Logistics:

Restaurants within walking distance had been booked for us for lunch and dinner, and starters had been pre-ordered for the tables by the organisers which we paid for separately afterwards. We each ordered what we wanted to eat and drink at dinner and split the bill accordingly. Things were so well organised that the only thing we had to do was to socialise and get to know each other.

Everything was within walking distance, and we moved about as a group, with our hosts making sure to lead us past good ice cream parlors and supermarkets as we passed, to allow people to pick up drinks and snacks as desired along the way. The situation was very condusive to a good bonding session for a group of individuals already united by their pursuit of a common goal, and most of us stayed up chatting late into the night.

Takeaways:

There is no one right way to do this. While some are focusing on saving/investing a million plus through having well paid jobs in high income sectors/countries and saving 70% plus of their incomes, others have bought investment properties and live off the surplus cash flow, yet others build product websites to generate passive income. Most invest in ETFs and some in P2P lending. As noted, most have tended to avoid home ownership, and manage to rent for € 400 -500 per month, something that is not an option for most of us living in Dublin unfortunately!

As a travel experience, I would recommend this type of trip to anyone who is relatively low-maintenance, in good health and enjoys exploring new places at an affordable cost. I got to see some of Romania – we even had a walking tour of the town courtesy of our host. My cash expenses from Thursday evening until my departure on Monday morning were € 100. In total the trip cost just under € 400 (full breakdown below). Neither the organisers nor any of the speakers took a fee for their work on this. The hotel charged € 28 per night for a single room. The hotel owners were very obliging, delivering what appeared to be a brand new fan to my room shortly after I requested one, and even preparing 2 breakfast rolls for me to take with me when I left early Monday morning.

I had a refreshing city break where everything was organised for me, and met a great group of like-minded people from across Europe, several of whom I would hope to stay in touch with. In the comfort of the conference facility within the hotel grounds I could relax and focus on the topics of conversation. Hearing what other people are doing to get themselves to financial independence was refreshing and inspiring. After more than 2 years of following countless blogs and even creating my own, I finally met the real people behind some of the stories. It felt good to know this stuff exists in reality, as well as in cyberspace! Getting away from my own day-to-day was a great way to think and return with renewed focus. The conference is in its second year, and is intended to be an annual event, and may be of interest to anyone who is interested in making connections and learning about what others across Europe are doing.

Quite a few of the speakers and participants have told their stories on their own blogs, which I have linked to below. Roll on FIWE 2019!

Expense Breakdown:

Flights €151.62
Hotel 4 nights €112.00
Conference €15.00
Cash Spending €100.00
Tips/Other €20.00
 Total Cost €398.62

Links:

http://whatlifecouldbe.eu/    –    Mr & Mrs. W. tell their story!

https://www.superhostcampus.com/ – Blog in German providing tips on how to be a great AIRBNB host!

http://retireinprogress.com/ – Mr. RIP’s story

http://www.hippiesdelandrover.com/ – Blog in Spanish (translation option available) – Erik and Sofia Flores talk about their journey

https://frugalisten.de/ – Blog in German (translation option available)

https://www.p2p-banking.com/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCEjZJchPQlnLWANGntwSyuQ

 

 

 

 

 

The terrible twos! – Fear and loathing two years in to the journey to Financial Independence!

Recently Word press informed me that it had been 2 years since I set up this blog! It all began with the incidental discovery of an interview with Jeremy Jacobson, better known through his blog Go Curry Cracker. Jeremy and his wife managed to retire in their 30s after 10 years of frugal living and investing over 70% of their income, and now travel the world. Having finally managed to purchase my own home after many ups and downs, I recognise now that I was on some level looking for my next goal to work towards. Stumbling on Jeremy’s story was a joyous discovery for me because I had never realised that this was even a possible goal for ordinary people. I quickly discovered a number of other similar stories and realised that there was even a movement of people who had set themselves the goal of financial independence. This was exciting news, and I began to look for a local community of people in Ireland striving for similar. In an effort to find the community, I set up this blog.

About a year in, I began tracking my expenses in earnest, created an en-suite shower room in one of my bedrooms, and rented a room in my house out. At one point, I even had two rooms rented out. In the same period, I also managed to finally get a job (after 10 months of being unemployed). I joined a gym, started cooking my own food, and eliminated buying lunch out every day, instead bringing my lunch with me to work. Things were looking great, and I had the real feeling of being in control. My expenses were being closely tracked. I expanded my tracking to additionally include a savings rate and to monitor the balances in my various bank accounts and also pension savings accounts. Inspired by many of the blogs I follow, I began to question expenses as they arose. When I was invited to a friend’s hen night recently, I declined to spend €125 to share a room in a hotel, and instead booked myself into a nearby Airbnb for €39. When locally-resident family members expressed a desire to meet up, I would invite everyone around to my house and either cook or order in a bunch of pizzas from my favourite local pizzeria, and buy drink and desserts from the local supermarket, and have a nice relaxing night at my place rather than the pricier restaurant option.

Recently though, around year 2 I suddenly find myself questioning things. Am I alienating myself further from the people in my life by the type of actions I have described? Is it too much isolation? Is it healthy for a person to isolate themselves too much from the mainstream? Is the tracking becoming too much, and by this I mean, can there be such a thing as too much awareness of costs? Do we sometimes need to just let ourselves live in the moment? I am now one year into my “new” job. Conscious that I have very little by way of pension savings to show for the number of years that I have worked, I have taken the notion of “paying myself first” very much to heart, and had not been considering taking a holiday for the foreseeable future, at least until I work out my budget for home renovations and pension contributions for this year. However, I have recently begun to question whether this approach is healthy. Is this a step too far? What are the implications of me not taking a break for all this time? I fear I may have hit “the terrible twos”, self-doubt and angst appear to have crept in underneath my veneer of control and accomplishment.

I went through a volatile couple of weeks where I began to question many of the decisions I have made in recent years, (not least my decision to return to Ireland after a number of years of working abroad), my connection (or the possible lack thereof) to those around me, and many other things. Where does the pursuit of financial independence fit into all this? Does it serve to alienate me further from those around me? Can I sustain the intensity of my focus on this, given that I have a considerable journey left to travel along the path? How am I doing in the here and now? None of these are new questions for me in my life. My recent anxieties revolve around whether I am placing too much pressure on myself.

Then I decided to check my financials. One year exactly into my “new job”, I compared a snap shot of my current position to what it was one year ago. My savings in various pension accounts are up 30%! Approximately 90% of this increase was due to additional contributions. In even better news, my cash reserves have increased by 120%! Yes, more than doubled! In total, I managed to retain just over 40% of all of my net income earned over the past year! Not bad! So this is what a year of financial consciousness can achieve!

After a couple of weeks, my anxieties abated. Seeing my progress in numbers certainly helped. I can only conclude that all people must experience doubts about their past and present choices, and moments of crisis on any journey.

The conclusion I reached is that I will not be walking away from the pursuit of FI any time soon! In just one year of eschewing rampant consumerism I managed to retain 40% of my net income. I did not deprive myself during this year – in fact, I probably took better care of myself in this year than in any other year of my working life! I visited the gym 2-3 times most weeks, cooked my own food, and generally drank less alcohol and more water! The main difference was that I tended to plan things better – like my meals. I kept a bag of muesli in work for my breakfast and prepared my lunch a day in advance. I realised that I had more than enough (too much in fact) clothing, so did not do any clothes shopping.

In general I realised without necessarily taking things to extremes, just getting a couple of things right can make a huge difference over time, and does not necessarily involve self-deprivation! Here are 2 examples of things that do not require a lot of work or to set up, and can make a huge difference down the line without depriving us too much in the here and now:

  1. Workplace pension contributions: In Ireland, a person under 30 may contribute 15% of their gross income to a pension with tax relief at their highest rate of tax, a person in their 30s can contribute 20%, and a person in their 40s can contribute 25%, and so on. The higher rate of tax in Ireland is 40%. At this rate, €100 pension investment will cost only €60. This is a way of both reducing our overall tax, and investing at the same time. A surprising number of people whom I have spoken with at work do not avail of this – meaning that not only do they not invest some or all of % which they are allowed to invest tax free. They don’t even invest the minimum 6% required under our company’s pension plan to ensure the company contribution of 5%! Most companies operate similar pension plans, which require some minimum investment by the employee to secure an investment by the employer. As an absolute minimum, I would suggest that every employee should try to take advantage of this benefit.
  2. Mortgage Overpayment: When the fixed term on my mortgage expired in February of this year, I investigated the available rates, and discovered that I could fix in a lower rate for the next 5 years. The lower rate resulted in about €100 saving per month. As a result, by adding an additional €200 to the original amount which I had been paying, I am effectively overpaying by €300 per month. The result? If I continue to overpay at this rate, it will reduce the term of the mortgage by 7 years AND reduce the interest payable by €20,000! I was able to work all of this out very simply on an overpayment calculator which is publicly available on the bank’s website. If at any stage I can no longer afford the overpayment, I can stop this at any time without penalty. To put it in perspective, €200 is probably the equivalent to 2 nights out for many in Dublin!

It is not necessary to cut out all consumption, and to limit restrain ourselves beyond what we are comfortable with. Making a small overpayment on a mortgage and taking advantage of tax free workplace pension investing are just 2 things that don’t require a lot of time to set up, and which can have a massive impact both now and down the line. Arguably, these are actionable items for most working people.

Personally, I am happy to cut out trips to trips to expensive beauticians, fancy restaurants and overpriced hotels which I do not value, and instead to seek alternatives through the power of AIRBNB and Groupon deals when necessary! After my deliberations of the past few weeks, I have now booked 2 weeks off work over the Christmas period, and will most likely be jetting away on a holiday! By then it will have been over 2 years since my last holiday, and I will be looking forward to it!

 

How I almost bought a house for cash!

It was early 2012 – just over a year since my return to Ireland after a number of years of living and working overseas.

I was settling in to my job, having transferred back to Ireland with the same company that had hired me some years previously to work in one of their overseas offices.

I had also started into my first year of working towards my Masters part time, and was beginning to get settled in back in Ireland, and starting to look for my own place, when suddenly, in early March, the company laid off my whole department….

I had already begun the mortgage application process with the bank, but, given that the company was fully aware that it would be laying me and the rest of the department off imminently, they told me that they could not in good faith have filled out and signed the bank’s form indicating that I would remain in their employment for the foreseeable future.

Suddenly the possibility of getting a mortgage from a bank had been pulled out from underneath me, along with my job security, and right at the time when the housing market had reached its’ bottom point! I was well aware that this was the opportune time to buy, having been monitoring the Irish housing market remotely though the power of internet since 2008!

Unfortunately though I had not been much of a saver! Since a bank mortgage was no longer an option, I took a look on the property websites again, this time filtering my search by price, cheapest first, rather than by location. I came across a 2 bed duplex which was priced at € 70 K. I did a quick calculation in my head of the redundancy payment I had coming to me, along with my meagre savings, and the possibility of a small credit union loan, and thought I could just about do it.

The 2 bed duplexes are up the steps, and cover the first and second floors:

Canice's Court

I remember thinking at the time that I just wanted to know that I did not need to worry about paying mortgage or rent, and wanted to just be able to complete my Masters and enjoy the year without needing to go back into the world of work immediately. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I had stumbled on to my first piece of financial independence thinking. I went to view the apartment a North Dublin city suburb. I noticed some horses grazing freely on the green spaces nearby, and a pub that looked like it was possibly busy all day. Guys worked on their cars outside even though it was early afternoon. There seemed to be a lot of people about. The estate agent helpfully pointed out that a lot of people had lost their jobs, (this was not news to me), and that many of these were in North Dublin! It was tantalising at the time to think that there was this place that I could maybe buy, and just live in, and just do my Masters and enjoy it without having to go and look for a job right away again to be able to pay rent, or, worst case, work a couple of shifts somewhere just to earn enough to cover my basic costs.

As tantalising as this was, I did not go ahead with this purchase. I took some time to go to visit the neighbourhood alone as well as with family members. I walked around and tested out the bus route that would take me in to town to work or to college. The duplex was on the end of a row and looked from the back into the back of a factory warehouse and out on to an open green (on the side). The conclusion that I drew from my visits to the area was that I would quite possibly not be safe coming and going from my home, or indeed in my home at night. This fundamental concern for my security led me to pass up on this opportunity and move on with other plans.

I stayed in my rented apartment, and after 6 blissful months of being a student immersed in my masters, making new friends and enjoying some related social activities while sending out the occasional job application and going to the occasional job interview, and generally not having to worry about going into a job every day, I took the first job offer I got. This job would lead to a lot of stress and anxiety over the next couple of years. Combined with the fact that I still had the Masters going on the side. I recommenced mortgage applications and started searching for houses once I became permanent in the new job. We were now into 2013 and house prices had started to rise steadily from their bottom point. At a certain point I realised I was juggling too many things and put the house search on hold until I could complete my Masters, eventually buying my own home in 2015 after the housing market had been consistently rising for about 4 years!

In some way I had reached out and latched on to the concept of financial independence, although I did not now this yet. I had briefly considered the possibility of buying a home in cash and taking a voluntary break from the working world. For a fleeting time, it appeared to be a possibility which I explored briefly. Interestingly, when I closed the door on this opportunity due to fundamental security concerns which I could not overlook, I did not pursue the thought process further, but seemed to return to the well-trodden path of seeking out more of the same type of employment and signing up to a 29 year mortgage.

Fortunately, this was not the end of the story for me! In 2015 I discovered the blog “Go Curry Cracker”, which led me into a world full of people who showed me that there are alternatives to working 30 0r 40 years! I discovered Jim Collins and the power of “F you money”. (Had I been conscious of this sooner, of course, I would have been saving my entire working life, and would have been ready to buy a house in a safer neighbourhood in cash in 2012 while the market was near its bottom point, or at the very least would have had a year’s savings accumulated in cash so that I could enjoy some time out to complete my Masters, to settle back in Ireland, and indeed to allow me to be more discerning about which job offers to accept.

I am sure that some will wonder whether I regret not having bought the duplex! The answer to this is that I do not! Along with shelter, security/ safety is one of the most fundamental of human needs. I had seen enough to know that my safety was in question here. When I doing my research for this article, I looked for the apartment online, and discovered that a murder had occurred in the pub around the corner shortly after I looked at the duplex! I do not regret my decision not to buy!

Pub shooting in the local pub near the duplex, and opposite the bus stop:

Pub shooting

I like to think however that I have learnt some lessons from my experience in 2012. As the housing market in Ireland (and in particular in Dublin) continues to soar, each day becomes a less opportune time to buy than the day before it! Due to a cessation of all building activities for about 10 years from the banking sector & housing market collapse in 2007/8, I believe it will take some time before the building supply catches up with demand. In the meantime, the cityscape is again covered with cranes, as building appears to try to catch up with demand. Some have begun to speak about signs of a new housing bubble appearing again, similar to what we saw here in 2007.

I believe it will be a while before we see a downturn in the housing market. I hope it will be a while before I encounter another redundancy. When that time comes, I intend to be ready for both! The next time, I would like to be ready to walk away from the working world for good if I choose to, and in a position to take advantage of the housing market collapse! Getting to a position of financial security which will allow me to take advantage of these and other opportunities as and when they arise is my focus now!

How I spent more money than I earned in 2017, and why I’m ok with that! 

This, and other things I learnt from an analysis of my expenses for 2017…

2017 was the first full year of expense tracking for me. It was probably March or April before I began to log all of my expenses in a spreadsheet, based on receipts that I had been collecting since the beginning of the year for this purpose, along with all transactions on my online bank account statement. I wrote in a previous post about how I procrastinated for some time before actually sitting down and doing this:  https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/110850157/posts/120 Even now, I can sometimes let more than a month pass before I sit down to update my tracker. When I analysed 2017’s expenses, I was more than a little surprised by how much it actually cost to keep my household and my life running for the year. Below are some highlights from what this exercise revealed!

I spent more money than I earned in 2017 – My savings rate was a negative 8%!

Considering that I had been unemployed for the first half of 2017 (and the last quarter of 2016), and that I had made some large non-recurring investments in my home during the year, I was pleasantly surprised to find that only 8% of the expenses came out my savings. The rest came from a combination of the Jobseekers Benefit which I received as an unemployed person during the first part of the year, the salary from my job in the second part of the year, along with some rental income received during the last few months of the year (more on this momentarily). When I re-ran the numbers excluding the large non-recurring investment in my home, I found that my savings rate would have been a more healthy 28% had I not made this investment!

PIC 2.pdf

Monthly average expense breakdown: 

1

• 44% of expenses were mortgage -related! This includes my mortgage, life and home insurance & TV licence. I don’t expect my expenses in this area to change much in 2018.

• 31% were household expenses: 87% of this category related to home renovation. Specifically, the creation of an en-suite, the complete renovation of the main bathroom, and attic insulation. I purchased my home almost 2 years ago, and took the advice of friends and colleagues who suggested that I live in the house for at least one year before deciding what home renovations to invest in. I tried to be strategic in what I invested in in this category. The conclusion that I reached was that an en-suite shower room attached to one of the bedrooms would be a good investment, since it would provide a perfect setup to rent a room in my home (and down the line, an additional toilet/ shower for the household). At the same time, I completely renovated my main bathroom and insulated the attic (another sound investment, in terms of reducing heading costs). Although I have been told that the cost of building the en-suite immediately added the equivalent value to my home, my purpose in building it was to add a passive income to offset some of my mortgage and utilities costs by taking in a lodger. The intention was to retain “the best of both worlds” as much as possible, by creating an independent bathroom facility for the lodger, and, of course to attract a higher rent through having the en-suite. Conversely, I retain the main bathroom as my own. Knowing that 1) we are in midst of a housing crisis here in Ireland and 2) I live next to a university meant that this was a good investment. The remaining expenses in this category included items of furniture, bedding, towels, etc. purchased for the lodger’s room.

Other Expenses:

Several other expenses, in particular entertainment and travel are much lower than I would expect to see in years to come. I took no holidays during the year, and minimised expensive entertainment, such as eating and drinking out outside the home, instead entertaining friends at home as much as possible. This was a particularly frugal year in this respect, because I was unemployed, and did not know how it would take me to find a job. As such, I was ruthlessly frugal in some areas, so that travel category typically represents things like the cost of getting the bus into town for a job interview, as opposed to going away for a holiday, or even a week end away!

Other includes everything from driving lessons,  a driving test application, gifts, non-recurring medical expenses, bank charges, entertainment, hair & beauty, clothing, vet fees, etc. (Some of these got their own categories as the year progressed, and I tweaked my tracker spreadsheet). Utilities includes electricity, gas, phone and internet. See my earlier post on how to optimise these: https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/110850157/posts/91

Income:

During the second half of the year, things started happening for me. After countless job applications and interviews, I was at last successful in securing a new job, which I’m very happy with. Just when I was on the brink of deciding that I would need to start to think of other ways to cover my expenses (a combination of renting a room on AIRBNB and trying to get some lecturing work was one potential idea that I had), the job offer came through for me, and I began my new job in June.

Then in September, I got a lodger to occupy the room with the brand new en-suite. I rent this room under the Irish government’s rent-a-room scheme which allows me to earn up to €14,000 tax free!  https://www.revenue.ie/en/personal-tax-credits-reliefs-and-exemptions/land-and-property/rent-a-room-relief/what-conditions-must-be-met.aspx Frankly, I have not looked back! The only thing better than passive income is tax-free passive income in my opinion! I have compared how little effort I have to make to make this money, versus making the equivalent amount from job-based income, and I am hooked! I am and am even considering renting a second room in my home to further boost my savings rate.

Projections for 2018 savings rate: 

Here are my projections for my savings rate as a % of my net income in 2018. I have included a few scenarios – 1) savings rate assuming I do not rent out any rooms in my home 2) rate assuming that I rent out 1 room in my home (my current situation), and 3) projections for if I were to rent out a second room in my home (something which I am considering):

PIC 3

Currently, I have one lodger, so my projected savings rate for 2018 is 37% in my current situation!

Conclusions:

In all, it was a very frugal year. Since I started earning job-related income again in the latter part of the year, and also passive income through taking in a lodger, my focus now is to build up my cash reserves again, and also to try to manage my tax rate effectively by contributing as much as possible to my work place pension. Outside of this, I continue to explore options to shorten my path to financial independence. Having seen how little work is involved in renting a room in my home, I feel that the path my well end up being a mix of real estate and the tax deferred pension option. We are in the midst of a housing crisis in Ireland due to the lack of building over the past 10 years since the banking collapse, and there may be opportunities in this area for a good saver with an ability to demonstrate income-generating capability to the banks to acquire an investment property! With house prices starting to soar here again, I may however just decide to take this year to consolidate, and possibly just continue with the steady path which I have put in place this past 6 months, with the potential option to rent a second room in my home to boost my savings rate further.

I will continue to track expenses, because doing so has given me a deep awareness of my  financial situation which I had not had previously, (and which I believe most people lack).  I have been able to use the data to calculate my savings rate, and can now tweak various inputs to understand what has the biggest impact! Doing this analysis tends to lead me to thinking as I go about my life of ways to boost savings, or to reduce the time to financial independence. Seeing the analysis has been a powerful way of really understanding what is driving what, and in a way has led me to analyse my own life and movements a bit like a business.

I am also planning on taking a holiday in 2018, and socialising a bit more. While I would like to make smart money decisions, I also intend to loosen my grip where things like travel, entertainment, and even grocery shopping!

Tracking Expenses & other life changing habits I developed during an 8 month stint of being unemployed

Spending months going through countless job application processes without results can become disheartening. I decided to do what I could to remain upbeat, and to try to make the most of the time off work by forming some good habits that would hopefully stand me in good stead once I re-entered the workforce. Since finances were a concern, there was no more suitable time for me to begin getting a handle on my expenses. First step – to start tracking expenses:

1. Tracking my expenses:

This is possibly the most important routine that I formed while unemployed, and I intend to keep up the habit now that I am working again! I have lost track of the number of blog posts I have read which told me that that tracking my expenses and understanding where my money is going is a first and essential step towards financial independence. Yet, for some time I had resisted this. Since the beginning of 2017 though I have been saving my receipts in a in a chocolate box. Finally, some time in April I sat down one evening with my laptop and my box of receipts and began logging them all on a spreadsheet, month-by-month. I continue to collect my receipts, and sit down regularly to log them all into a spreadsheet, along with all debits from my online bank statement. Over the months I tweaked the data until I got it into a visual pie chart which gives me a high-level overview of my monthly expenses. I would recommend this as a good exercise for anyone, if only to enable them to answer questions like a) how much do you spend per month on groceries, electricity, etc.? Below is my little pie chart reflecting my June expenses.

Overview of June expenses:

IMAG6265

I have been living frugally, since I am coming out of the longest period of unemployment of my life. For this reason, discretionary expenses such as entertainment are at a minimum. Vet bills involved necessary vaccinations in order to keep a new pet healthy!

Tracking expenses heightens awareness, and influences behaviour. (“That which gets measured gets managed” etc.). For me the process of increased awareness and resulting changes in behaviour had already been developing slowly over the past year, since I randomly stumbled upon the FIRE community and began to realise the amount of waste involved in our first world consumerist lifestyles. Since for me the process of becoming aware had already begun, some behaviour modifications had also already begun to creep in. Tracking expenses crystallised this awareness for me. Ultimately, I would have to agree that we cannot know how much we need to live on unless we understand exactly what our annual expenses are! Doing this at a time when I had eliminated pretty much all discretionary spending was a bonus in that it showed  my costs at a fairly basic level – how much it costs per month just to keep the show on the road, and even if I never buy anything other than the bare essentials (groceries, power, insurance). This led me to make other positive changes as well, such as shopping around for a cheaper energy supplier, and getting a better deal from my existing mobile phone company, leading to reducing my expenses by €850. (For more information on this see this blog post – https://wordpress.com/post/financialindependenceireland.wordpress.com/9).  Ultimately, although a little frightening at first, this process is eventually empowering, because there is no longer a “great unknown”, and, armed with the raw data, we can make decisions about things we would like to change (or not). In addition to shopping around for the best deals on utility and health insurance, I began to cook more and eat out less (more on this under point 2. below). Most importantly, I realised that I could significantly reduce my expenses by renting out a room in my home!

Having made a number of positive changes, I will continue to track expenses to keep an eye on them, at least until the end of this year, but hopefully on an ongoing basis.  As a next step, I am now shifting my focus to tracking my net worth!

2. Meal planning/ Cooking more, eating out less:

Tracking expenses also led me to the realisation that I had been spending an average of €10 per day on food and coffee while working. Using this conservative estimate I was spending €50 per week, or a whopping €2,400 per year just on food and coffee during the workday! (Calculation based on a 48 week year, since I had about 4 weeks’ holiday per year). Some days I was so disorganised, that I would buy breakfast on the way to work, or forgo breakfast altogether if I was running late and didn’t have enough time to go to the shop. Additionally, I would buy 1 or 2 lattes per day at a cost of €2.85 each (later increased to €3, because according to the shop owner, the extra 15c would not make any difference to people – I beg to differ – I could probably buy a new pair of shoes each year with the difference! ). Then of course there was lunch, usually about €6.

Now my routine is very different. Since starting at the new job I have been bringing lunch with me. I cook at night and make enough for lunch the following day. I hindsight I realise that it is much more relaxing to actually know that I have my lunch with me, and not to have to spend half of my lunch break walking/ queuing for something to eat, not to mention the fact that I spent most of my working life eating white bread rolls which did nothing for me health wise! Add to that the fact that the company where I now work has a large, fully equipped lunch room, means that lunches are more relaxed, healthier and much less expensive. I even find time to take a walk and get some fresh air before going back to my desk. As for breakfast, I leave a big bag of muesli at the office, and start my day with getting in a bit early and having a coffee and muesli at work. I have now done 2 whole months at my new job, and with the exception of my first day, I have not spent any money on food or coffee during my working day. Other than the obvious cost saving, I am also saving time, and am eating healthier.

muesli__large

3. Getting regular exercise:

I had been walking regularly for most of the period I was unemployed. I then decided to up my game by joining the gym for a month, availing of a 1 month special offer available to the unemployed. Around the same time that I got my job offer, the gym had a special offer for the remainder of the year for about the price of 2 doctor’s visits, so I joined up! My routine now is to pack a gym bag 2 days a week, and go to a fitness class after work, and I try to go once at the week end too. I try to look at this as as much a part of my routine as going to work. I’ll allow myself some choice in which days I go, but I try to make sure it is 2 days during the work week. At first my only goal was to make it to the classes and participate to be best of my ability. Over the 2 months that I have been doing this I find that my flexibility has improved, and that I have more stamina. The classes are becoming less of a big deal to me as my fitness level improves.

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In summary:

All-in-all, the fact that it took 8 months to secure my new job forced me to adopt more frugal routines. Going through 1st, 2nd and even 3rd round job interviews, and sometimes not even hearing back was a humbling experience, to say the least. The result of this is that these days I take nothing for granted, and actually appreciate having a job! I feel like the routines that I adopted while unemployed are benefitting me greatly now that I am back in work. My health and my finances were both aspects of my life that I had ignored until now. In all, I have found that these routines put structure on my life, and I tend to organise my time better, knowing that I will be leaving the office to go to a gym class, or that I will be getting myself in there bright and early to have my breakfast and hit the ground running. Financially, I have stopped burying my head in the sand, and to my amazement have found that, through my new awareness, and with just a small amount of planning, I have eliminated quite a bit of waste, which has translated to more money in the bank at the end of the month, with no sense of sacrifice!

Next up – the interesting bit – how will I choose to invest the savings…

 

How to save € 850 tonight without leaving your couch!

Have you ever heard those ads on the radio or on TV offering you money off to switch your electricity supplier, your insurer or even your bank? Have you told yourself you must look into it some time, and never got around to it? The good news is that this takes very little effort, can be done from the comfort of your sofa and can save you thousands of Euro per year in expenses. I have more reasons than most for focusing on my expenses right now. I have been “between jobs” for the past number of months, so I am more “time rich and cash poor” than usual, and these savings translate to more money in the bank for me at this time where I am particularly budget-conscious.

Here’s a breakdown of how I reduced my expenses by € 850 this evening without leaving my couch, starting with the biggest savings!

  • Home Insurance: Saving of € 484 per year / (61% reduction)

In order to avail of a mortgage, the bank required that I take out home insurance. Like many people, I took a policy out with the bank that offered me the mortgage. I spent an hour or two one evening recently reviewing comparison websites and submitting enquiries, which resulted in a few call backs with quotes the following day. In the end, switching the policy reduced my yearly expense by 61%, or €484 per year in real terms. I made this saving by switching from the policy I had with the bank/ mortgage provider, and by reducing the amount of cover I had in the policy for rebuilding costs as well as contents, since the original policy included more cover than I actually needed. Over the course of a 29 year mortgage, this couple of hours one evening spent looking into alternatives would result in a saving of over € 14,000, and that’s without taking into consideration the effects of compounding (the interest which could be earned on the money saved over the time period). A simple Google search will produce many comparison websites. Below are a few which I used, which are specific to the Irish market:

www.bestinsurancequotes.ie ; www.insuremyhouse.ie www.paddycompare.ie www.quoteme.ie www.123.ie www.chill.ie www.quotedevil.ie

  • Gas and Electricity: Saving of € 261.76 per year (15% reduction)

I used the switching website www.bonkers.ie to search for the option with the biggest savings. Bonkers arranges the entire switch, and ensures that the process is seamless

  • Mobile Phone: Saving of € 60 per year (17% reduction)

My plan cost € 30 per month for 15 GB Data, unlimited calls and texts. I discovered that my provider was now offering the exact same deal for € 25 per month for 6 months, so I switched to this plan. A useful comparison website is:

http://www.moneyguideireland.com/irish-mobile-sim-only-plans-compared.html

  • Internet (mobile broadband): Saving of € 45 per year (20% reduction)

I was paying € 15 per month for 15 GB Data. While I didn’t find a cheaper offer with any other provider, I did notice that my existing provider currently had an online offer of 30 GB for € 15, so I switched to this deal and got double the data for the same price. This will save me, since I have gone over my data allowance in the past year to the tune of € 45. Since I have both mobile phone and internet from the same supplier, I was able to switch both with just one call.

Savings Breakdown:

Home Insurance: €484.00
Gas & Electric: €261.76
Mobile Phone: €60.00
Internet: €45.00
Total Savings: €850.76

Thoughts:

With a minimal amount of effort, I was able to reduce my expenses by € 850. I feel that it is well worth the effort, and plan on making this an annual exercise from now on! This is extremely easy to do thanks to the proliferation of comparison websites, some of which even arrange for the switch. It is also worthwhile since some utilities, such as gas and electricity, reward switchers as opposed to loyal customers. For these utilities in particular, it makes sense to review, and probably even to switch, on an annual basis. In the case of my phone and internet bills, it was simply a matter of looking on the provider’s website to see that they had reduced the rates for the particular package which I had. The next step was simply a matter of calling their loyalty team to kindly ask that they put me on the latest pricing for that package, which they did with no objection. In the case of life insurance, (another mandatory requirement to take out the mortgage), I discovered that my current policy is about the most competitive in the market, and it did not make sense to switch. In the case of health insurance, I purposefully held off on looking into this for the moment, since I am currently looking for a new job, and this is often provided by employers in Ireland as part of the benefits package. As such I will review this once I have secured a new job. By far the biggest saving for me came from switching my home insurance policy. This represented over half of my total saving from this exercise – €484. If you have time to look at one expense only, this would be the one I would recommend looking at, particularly for anyone who took the policy out with the bank who provided them with the mortgage, as I did. In some cases, banks have “oversold” in this area, leaving people paying for more insurance than they need. Also, the quotes which the banks themselves offer are often not the most competitive in the market. In my case, this exercise resulted in an € 850 saving for just a couple of hours of my time!

The websites I have referenced here are relevant to the options available in Ireland. A Google search should produce similar options for other countries.

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Why start this blog?

I decided to start this blog to talk about and share ideas on financial independence and early retirement with interested individuals living in Ireland. About a month ago I randomly stumbled on an article about a couple who had retired in their 30s, and my curiosity about how they did it led me to spend the past month or so researching the stories of several others who had achieved financial independence. Their stories and value systems struck a chord with me and led me to establish this as a goal for myself. Having just begun my own journey to financial independence – a journey which has no clearly-defined path as yet – I took a look online for others in Ireland pursuing similar goals, and could find no evidence of an online community. So, I’ve decided to document my own journey…