April 2021 – Political Realignment and Class

A very late Financial Dashboard this month, and a bit of a crossover post. For the last couple of years I’ve used the Financial Dashboard posts to track my budget, bills and set myself goals. I feel I’m fairly well into my financial planning now, and as such posting and sharing my goals each month doesn’t make particularly interesting reading. I’ve not had time to write the Full English posts since the start of COVID, and it’s unlikely to make a return any time soon. To an extent it’s also been superseded, by Indeedably’s fabulous Sovereign Quest featuring automated daily/weekly curation (1), and Dr Fire’s Wednesday Reads (2) (as well as Monevator of course). Instead for the future the musings which used to occupy the Full English will sometimes appear here.

Some time ago Indeedably suggested I read Slate Star Codex, now Astral Codex Ten, a US-based blog about… well… most things (3). SSC/ACT has had a huge impact on my thinking (mostly for codifying some underlying cognitive trends), and I truly appreciate the recommendation. Before going any further, I would recommend reading the Book Review: Fussell on Class, and their post A Modest Proposal For Republicans: Use The Word “Class” (4, 5). In it Scott Alexander suggests the US Republican party should start using the word “class”. Here in the UK we’re already obsessed with class, so that’s less of an issue, but do the old class boundaries still apply?

The upper class is still (probably) distinct, though oil oligarchs, millionaire footballers and bitcoin influencers are blurring the view from below. For an interesting take on this, read this Reddit post (6). The middle class has allegedly been hollowed out, but I feel the old definitions of white-collar, moderately wealthy, moderately educated middle class has expanded. University educations are widespread, home ownership has been driven to the core of our political ideologies, and most people expect a few holidays a year, a modern car, and all the accoutrements of modern living. Where are the working class? With the disappearance of the industrial manufacturing sector from the UK’s landscape, the loss of DB pensions and general move away from the honourable lifetime spent working at the same company, cared for and honest, the old-working class definition no longer seems to apply. Plenty of builders, plumbers, electricians earn more than the average HR manager. Skilled manufacturing operators also earn more than the office temp.

Assuming that the old definition of the working class is kaput set me wondering how you could now classify groups, with an eye on the political spectrum. Historically the upper classes voted Tory, the working classes voted Labour. The Tories supported the upper class economic moat, whilst Labour were the voices of unions and the working class. Labour still markets itself as the voice of the working man, yet culture has moved as evidenced by the loss of the ‘red wall’ and traditionally safe Labour seats. How do we now divide up the voting public? The Republicans, and more specifically Trump through populism, has appealed to and cemented a base in the working class in America. This may be a harbinger of a political realignment – the theory that sharp changes in party ideology, power base, demographic base etc result in shifts in establish political parties on a roughly generational basis leading to entirely new power structures (7). Other authors have suggested populism, Brexit and Trump are symptoms of this event (8). The last major realignment we experienced here in the UK was in the 1970s, with Thatcher and the interventions industry and home ownership that have ultimately resulted in neoliberalism.

Working with a realignment hypothesis, I set to trying to identify for my own purposes where the new divides fell. The US working class isn’t so clear in the UK, so who are the populists appealing to? Farage and Boris Johnson are opportunistic (I won’t call them smart) enough to hitch themselves to a bandwagon towards a specific voter. That voter is typically older, less well-educated, and less-liberal. They were less likely to be working. They were more likely to either own their own home, or be in council or housing association rental (9). Odd dichotomy that.

Brexit vote by demographic, from lordashcroftpolls.com (9)

Leave voters were also more likely to perceive external and internal threats to their quality of life and standard of living. They were more likely to think life would be worse in the future, and better in the past.

Social attitudes of Brexit voters, again from lordashcroftpolls.com (9)

My conclusion was that the new system of class is based not on qualification or income, but on quality of life and financial security. The upper class remain the upper class, generationally wealthy and able to cross borders and financial rules without issue; they are the financially invulnerable. The old middle class are now the financially secure with minimal risk to their future quality of life and lifestyle; liberal, well educated or trained, in secure employment fields where they are able to look beyond their current situation to the experiences of others and wider society. The new financially insecure class are the populist target. Underemployed or not working altogether, in temporary or insecure work, looking to try and build security in their employment, home and personal environment. Boris Johnson appeals to this insecure class, offering rhetoric of job, border and house security. He’s been quick to drag the Tories to a new working-class heartland. This new financial security class system is actually by-product of neoliberalism; right-to-buy, defined contribution pensions and raids on existing pension schemes, creeping privatisation, and changes to the broader societal contract. The ‘what does society do for me’ mentality.

That working class heartland, now hollowed out into an insecure class, has shifted from Labour to the Tories. How do Labour adapt? They continue to sell themselves as the party of a working class that no longer exists, even as they split apart as the old unions collide with the socialist-leaning environmentally conscious members in their midst. Can they shift to be a party of the middle, financially secure class? It will mean shedding their old image and tag-lines, and maybe too many of the old guard remain. Certainly I have family members who self-define as working-class Labour-supporting people, and aren’t too sure about being defined as a liberal intelligentsia.

And finally, does this make FIRE a class-rebellion? The ultimate social-climb scene? Forget the ambassador’s parties young fellows, get thee to the FI Chautauqua.

We live, as always, in interesting times.

Goals

The goals for April were:

  • Simplify and improve flexibility of online investment tracker
  • 16/8 fasting
  • Set up new ISA
  • Final repainting and touches to downstairs rooms

Checking the assets and liabilities:

Assets and Liabilities for April 2021

These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. I saved around 30% of my salary, which isn’t bad considering it was a surprisingly expensive month. My net worth took a 4.5% jump as we had our property revalued for a new mortgage. New invested money went into a Vanguard account, and where it has gone into my old favourite, the FTSE Developed World ex-UK Acc Fund.

If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).

Goals:

Goal failed: Simplify and improve flexibility of online investment tracker 

Just didn’t get the time to do this, and am unlikely to in the short term.

Goal passed: 16/8 fasting

I did this for about a week, and it worked fairly well but was a struggle around some of my work/ life commitments. Planning to use it flexibly for the future, aiming to not eat between 8pm and the following midday.

Goal passed: Set up new ISA

Cheated a bit by going back to Vanguard, but it’s nice and easy to just add into a new ISA there. Easy to visualise, track and minimal faff.

Goal passed: Finish repainting and touches to downstairs rooms

As part of a big reshuffle ahead of an impending arrival, the downstairs rooms of our house have been touched up, and my office is in the process of moving downstairs. Said impending arrival also incurring some expenses with new furniture.

Budgets:

  • Groceries – Budget £200, spent £243.91, last month £274.70 – Same rules apply as last month, too much excitement in the middle of Lidl
  • Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £100, last month £127.98
  • Transport – Budget £250, spent £233.97, last month £294.80
  • Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £0
  • Personal – £100/ £246.48/ £54.62
  • Loans/ Credit – £50/ £250/ £200
  • Misc – £50/ £191.14/ £325.34
  • Fees – £300 /£476.77/ £103.62 – GMC/ RCPsych, various others

In the garden:

Everything has been bloody slow with the cold, and I’m very glad for our greenhouse. Various cucumber/ squashes seeds have been sown under cover. Companion plants, beans and next round of leafy veg coming along nicely. Potatoes sown. Everything else just ticking over, but we avoided any frosts, so no death.

Happy May everyone!

The Shrink

References:

  1. https://sovereignquest.com/#curation
  2. https://drfire.co.uk/
  3. https://astralcodexten.substack.com/
  4. https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/book-review-fussell-on-class
  5. https://astralcodexten.substack.com/p/a-modest-proposal-for-republicans
  6. https://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/2s9u0s/what_do_insanely_wealthy_people_buy_that_ordinary/cnnmca8/
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_realignment
  8. https://www.cato-unbound.org/2018/12/10/stephen-davies/great-realignment-understanding-politics-today
  9. https://lordashcroftpolls.com/2019/03/a-reminder-of-how-britain-voted-in-the-eu-referendum-and-why/

Quarterly Returns – Q1 2021

Quarterly return posts supplement my monthly Financial Dashboard, covering investments in detail and looking at my yearly targets. Here I track purchases and sales, document progress against my (in progress) investment strategy, and discuss re-balancing and changes over time.

Time seems to be passing so quickly at the moment. I’m sure COVID and restrictions have removed our mental ability to signpost time with activities and events. Through this blur we’re into Q2 of 2021, which means a bit of a financial update…

2021 Net Worth

Q1 Returns:

  • Cash Accounts £12,100 (+£100)
  • Investments £9,650 (+£1,700)
  • Property £49,000 (-£700)
  • Cars £2000 (no changes)

This quarter has mainly been steady-as-she-goes from a financial point of view. I reduced the property valuation for our home to something more conservative, which has resulted in a nominal paper loss. We’re actually up in equity, and moving to a new 5-year fixed rate at 1.69%. Slow and steady has seen my net worth rise by about £3k so far this year, a few percent. Not sure if I’ll match last years 20% rise maintaining this rate.

Investments:

I’m not going to review my goals each quarter this year other than to say I have somehow managed a mean 41.5% savings rate so far (target 35%), I’ve knocked £1.1k off my credit card (£3k to go), and I’m enjoying spending more time pottering with hobbies. Instead the Quarterly Returns will focus more on what I’m doing with investments. I’ve continued to put away £250 in cash/month, building the emergency fund further in the Principality Thank You Saver, which is a 1.4% regular saving offering for NHS workers in South Wales (1).

Rough Global Asset Allocation
Cash-Equity Split in Portfolio
Passive Core vs Active Satellite Ratio

Core/ Satellite Passive/ Active Split

Been busy in my Freetrade account this quarter (fancy a free share? Sign up to Freetrade using this link, and we both get one). January just saw further purchases into iShares MSCI EM and Vanguard FTSE All World. February was much more active. I added to previous holdings of Unilever, whom I am mainly buying as a solid, dividend paying consumer staple. I do not see Unilever going anywhere any time soon (see Warren Buffet school of thought – buying something you can forget about for 10 years and expect to still exist), and they have a very strong corporate sustainability goals which I approve of. I also bought a small amount of IQE, a South Wales computer chip firm. Their share price is volatile (++) and I’m currently down about 15% on the beer money that went in there. This was a bit of a home market bias purchase, but also a potential future growth buy as they’re in the 5G game and chip manufacturers are currently struggling to keep up with demand. There’s also massive investment into S Wales computer chip foundries by Welsh Gov, so thought I’d get some skin in.

Towards the end of Feb I sold out of DS Smith (held for about a year) at a 45% profit. That money got put back into further Vanguard FTSE All World. Around this time I was nosing around r/wallstreetbets, and jumped on the AMC/GME bandwagon, riding these meme stocks up for a 65% return. I bought a small amount of Palantir, another meme stock, again beer money. This one is at a fairly daft PE ratio, but as I dabble more in big data through work I can see the difference this will make to retail/ government/ industry in the future, and this small holding is a gamble towards that. I sold out of GME at the end of March, buying further Vanguard FTSE All World with the stake and profit. GME continues to be a casino, waiting for that lift off to the moon that may never come.

The final note is to say that this portfolio calculation does not include my CrowdCube gambles/investments. I recently had an email to say that Freetrade are offering a share sale opportunity as an institutional investor buys in. The share valuation from that sale puts my holding up about 80%. I’ll continue to hold that to see where it goes.

Happy spring everyone,

The Shrink

References:

  1. https://www.principality.co.uk/savings-accounts/everyday-savings-accounts/thank-you-online-saver

The Financial Dashboard – March 2021

The goals for March were:

  • Update online investment tracker and calculate rebalancing required
  • Make a few hours each week to enjoy hobbies without pressure
  • ?Modified paleo

Checking the assets and liabilities:

March Assets and Liabilities

These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. March has been a long and busy month, days getting longer and lighter. Lots of DIY in the house and gardening, sowing the seeds for the summer. Looking forward to things opening up, going to the gym, getting in the pub with friends. I saved just under 25% of my salary, a slightly disappointing result, however my net worth continued it’s 2.5%/month climb. New investment money went into my Freetrade account, and where it has gone in a mixture of active positions which I’ll cover in my quarterly investment update.

If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).

Goals:

Goal passed: Update online investment tracker and calculate rebalancing required

I’m terrible at keeping my tracker up to date (now done), and I really need to get into the habit of updating it when I do my budget spreadsheet. Recently I’ve been selling some positions, and it’s shown that my current tracker is not built to handle such active antics. Probably a goal for next month.

Goal passed: Make a few hours each week to enjoy hobbies without pressure

This was a really simple and nice thing to do for myself. I’ve got a lot more done on projects and hobbies, and felt more relaxed without the internal cognitive pressure and subsequent procrastination. Fewer goals and more downtime.

Goal failed: ?Modified paleo

A bit of an odd goal. A few years ago I went paleo for a couple of months, but having dug into the evidence base wasn’t convinced by the literature or the theory. I also tried 5:2, where the evidence of the benefits of fasting on hormone response (particularly insulin and the steroid-aldosterone pathways) and cell senescence is much more solid. That stalled when I struggled with brain fog and general hanger – it was a serious challenge on night shifts! Over the past few months I’ve been reading a variety of books about nutrition, particularly ‘The Warrior Diet’ (reasonable concept, shit scientific background and execution) and stuff on 16/8 fasting. I’ve changed some of my diet, but need to take this a bit further.

Budgets:

  • Groceries – Budget £200, spent £274.70, last month £187.75 – Not really groceries, just lots of stuff from the middle of Lidl/Aldi
  • Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £127.98, last month £117.88 – Since the new COVID changes in Wales we’ve been doing lots of garden/park coffees and takeaways (fish and chips FTW) with friends. Whoops!
  • Transport – Budget £250, spent £294.80, last month £123 – Given this includes a full years insurance I’m pretty happy with a slight overspend
  • Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £0
  • Personal – £100/ £54.62/ £210.55
  • Loans/ Credit – £50/ £200/ £250
  • Misc – £50/ £325.34/ £65 – Bits for the house
  • Fees – £300 /£103.62/ £144

In the garden:

Finishing digging over soil, and first outdoor peas gone in (potentially a bit early given the recent snow). Raked over the lawn and re-sown. Mulched flower beds. Greenhouse glass cleaned, and it’s now packed with germinating seeds.

Goals for next month:

  • Simplify and improve flexibility of online investment tracker
  • 16/8 fasting
  • Set up new ISA
  • Final repainting and touches to downstairs rooms

Happy April everyone!

The Shrink

The Financial Dashboard – February 2021

The goals for February were:

  • Make a few hours each week to enjoy hobbies without pressure
  • Test intermittent fasting
  • Organise remortgage

Checking the assets and liabilities:

February’s Assets and Liabilities

These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. February started pretty miserable, the cold weather and lockdown leaving me in a proper funk, little motivation to do anything. Reading blogs like Weenie’s, it sounds like I wasn’t the only one (1). I’m not one to spend my way out of a malaise, so it was actually a pretty frugal month. I saved over 40% of my salary, and I’ve been making some overpayments on my credit card plan from overtime money. New investment money went into my Freetrade account, where it’s sat while I work out where it needs to go based on my rebalancing act/plan.

If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).

Goals:

Goal passed: Make a few hours each week to enjoy hobbies without pressure

This is something I would recommend for everyone. I’m a very goal driven person, and I motivate myself by setting goals and internal deadlines. This can lead me to get stressed over my ‘made up’ deadlines for doing essentially irrelevant things; repainting a wall, repotting daffodils. By making a few hours a week to just do things if/ when I feel like it, a lot of things which felt like chores I now enjoy again. It’s theoretically a ‘mindful’ process, focusing on the moment rather than wider requirements and activities, but mindfulness has definitely got overblown.

Goal passed: Test intermittent fasting

This wasn’t particularly to lose weight, but because I’ve been reading lots about cell senescence recently, and the cardiovascular and glucose-metabolism benefits of periods of fasting. I tried this month, and it definitely doesn’t work for me. In the past I’ve tried 5:2 fasting on a friends recommendation, but found I get indescribably hangry, and lose all ability to concentrate. This time I tried a 16 hour fast four days a week, going 8pm to 12 noon. I didn’t get hangry, but I did lose all productivity. I also found I was ravenous by noon, and tended to eat twice what I would normally for lunch/dinner. I don’t think this is a good thing for me; it seems to suggest I’m highly dependent on dietary intake to maintain my blood sugar for functioning, but in the absence of a couple of weeks off to fast without productivity consequences I’m a bit stuck. I went through a period of eating a diet which could best be described as ‘modified paleo’ a few years back, so I might go back to that drawing board and do some further reading.

Goal passed: Organise remortgage

For various administrative reasons we have been on a split pot mortgage since we moved into our current property. This meant two different interest rates, fixed for two different periods, with different charges. One came out of it’s fixed rate offer last year, and the other (the larger) is due to revert to standard tracker rate in June. It’s therefore time to change. We had a look through the usual price comparison sites, and then spoke to a specialist financial advice company for medical types, who put us on to their broker. Who were London & Country (2). Who seem to be the people pretty much everyone use. Either way, we’re moving from the combo of 4.09% (small pot)/ 1.68% (big pot) to a combined 1.65% mortgage, fixed for five years, which will start from the day our old deal ends (fingers crossed). Wholly satisfactory result.

Budgets:

  • Groceries – Budget £200, spent £187.75, last month £181.70
  • Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £117.88, last month £100
  • Transport – Budget £250, spent £123, last month £123 – remarkable consistency given it’s mostly odd eBay parts
  • Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £0
  • Personal – £100/ £210.55/ £78 – Gifts for friends
  • Loans/ Credit – £50/ £250/ £255
  • Misc – £50/ £65/ £96
  • Fees – £300 /£144/ £302

In the garden:

Continued tidying ahead of spring, but also started to germinate my first lettuces and other early crops. The bluebells and daffodils are starting to come up, and everything feels a little bit more alive.

Goals for next month:

  • Update online investment tracker and calculate rebalancing required
  • Make a few hours each week to enjoy hobbies without pressure
  • ?Modified paleo

Happy March everyone!

The Shrink

References:

  1. https://quietlysaving.co.uk/2021/03/02/february-2021-plus-other-updates/#more-5951#
  2. https://www.landc.co.uk/

A Shrink’s Financial Origin Story

Inspired by an amazing post by The Accumulator from December 2020, Indeedably has challenged finance bloggers to pen their financial origin, and the course that led them to blogging about finance (mostly FIRE if we’re honest) (1, 2). You can find the other contributors at his latest venture, the excellent Sovereign Quest (2).

The mix of people’s experiences seems to be split into different camps – exemplified by The Accumulator and The Investor. Some bloggers ended up here because they’re wired to save, they always have, and it feels natural (e.g. Dr Fire, TI) (3, 4). Some have experienced the full-fat lifestyle and found it wanting (e.g. FatBritAbroad, Saving Ninja) (5, 6). Money is not the route to fulfillment. Others have learnt from personal or family experience, bumping against the limits of financial constraint and vowing never again (e.g. Weenie, Cashflow Cop) (7, 8). Or a combination of the above.

My story is possibly a combination of the latter two, but I’ll let the reader decide. I suspect it is certainly different.

Personal motivators

I was brought up in an averagely wealthy family, in an expensive part of the UK. Neither of my parents went to university; one a teacher, the other a tradesperson. I have vague memories of the impacts of economic recessions in my childhood, but my parents never let it effect us. Money was spent when there was some, and the belt tightened when there wasn’t; e.g. holidays camping in Cornwall one year, then a villa in Tuscany the next. Both were enjoyable to me as a child, and I knew no different. My parents have lived fairly financially uneventful lives. They never had a desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses’, but we always had good quality stuff, usually second hand.

When a grandparent died while I was in my teens, my parents used the inheritance from the resultant house sale to pull me out of the very poor local comprehensive, and put me through private school. The cost of this was not hidden, and my parents framed it as an investment. I was not as fish-out-of-water as I could have been, for reasons soon explained. I progressed academically, and went off to study medicine.

Throughout my childhood I was taught the value of money. This went from 50p pocket money on sweets in the village shop, to paper rounds, to pub work in my later teens. My parents fell in that awkward bracket where you don’t receive a student bursary, and the student’s living costs are expected to be supplemented by the parents. Mine didn’t, so I worked to pay my way. I also partied hard (medic, obvs), so had to always keep a rough budget and worked in cash. Despite the budget, when I graduated I had around £2k in a student overdraft and £2k in credit card debt. I paid it off sharpish, and then wondered where to go next with my money. So far so normal…

Family motivators

My family is not wealthy. My extended family is not wealthy. My ancestors were eye-wateringly wealthy. Family crest, motto, estates… the works. My parents are the first in many generations in those family lines not to go to university. One of my grandparents (from the wealthiest ancestral line) used to talk about what they would get the servants for Christmas, and hunting over the estates. Two hundred years ago, on both my mother’s and my father’s sides, my family would have been in the Times Rich List of the day. One side through inherited very old money. The other through banking and investing during the industrial revolution.

It’s now all gone.

My parents’ cousins were the last ones with inherited wealth, the male heirs holding the last farms. Now sold to pay for their retirement.

Those parts of the family didn’t work. The family had never worked. Not in generations. The estates provided for the lavish lifestyle.

When death dues came knocking a few fields were sold off. Then the Caravaggio. When the bills for the 70 room manor got too high they downsized, buying a few farms, one for each offspring. My great-uncle sold off the last of the London estates in the 1960s to pay farming bills.

Multiply this down the generations and there’s nothing left to live off, and no work ethic to acquire more.

Our family get-togethers would involve reminiscing on faded glory. I was brought up on an odd diet of old money opinion; the nouveau riche were to be looked down upon, anyone who needed to flaunt wealth had no class, quality was everything. There was a reason we didn’t keep up with the Joneses. That was for the proletariat.

It cast long shadows on Joe Bloggs arriving at private school in daddy’s Porsche, then skiving the day off to smoke and shag behind the bikesheds. Earning loads of dosh, flashing it about, building a nest egg, multigenerational wealth plans, it all didn’t matter if your kids or grandkids frittered it away. Common sense and financial literacy mattered more than millions in the bank.

I grew up very conscious of all that had led to where we were. As I started earning I set goals to not drain from the family coffers, but to stand financially independent. The wealth of past generations may be gone, but I could acquire more.

And maybe, one day, I might buy back the family silver.

The Shrink

Other posts (also collated at Sovereign Quest):

References/ Links:

  1. https://monevator.com/financial-origin-story/
  2. https://sovereignquest.com/
  3. https://drfire.co.uk/wednesday-reads-financial-origin-story/
  4. https://monevator.com/financial-origin-story/#comment-1232471
  5. https://sovereignquest.com/fatbritabroad-the-financial-origin-story
  6. https://www.1500days.com/guest-post-fi-by-any-means-necessary/
  7. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2014/04/17/intro/
  8. https://cashflowcop.com/financial-origin/
  9. https://indeedably.com/origin/
  10. https://medfiblog.wordpress.com/2021/02/16/evolution/
  11. https://fireandwide.com/playing-the-cards/
  12. https://centbycent.co.uk/financial-origin-story
  13. https://fireplant.net/origins/
  14. https://mortgagefreebythesea.com/a-life-less-ordinary/
  15. https://achatwithkat.com/financial-origins-always-a-saver-new-to-investing/
  16. https://myquietfi.com/my-money-story-part-i-a-prologue-to-the-preamble/

The Financial Dashboard – January 2021

The goals for January were:

  • Cut down on takeaway spend
  • Make plan for clearing credit card debt
  • Exercise five days/ week
  • Revisit emergency fund allocation

Checking the assets and liabilities:

January’s Assets and Liabilities

These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. Wales continues in lockdown (six weeks and counting), so there’s no frivolous spending on dining out or trips away. I managed to save just under 30% of my salary, as much went to recoup some ‘float’ funds which were spent over Christmas (I don’t count this as saving). I’ve opened a new regular savings account, but for this month my money went to paydown my 0% interest credit card. New investment money in the Freetrade S&S ISA went to increase previous holdings.

If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).

Goals:

Goal passed: Cut down on takeaway spend

Bit of a simple one this, and passed easily, partly by ordering cheaper takeaway (swap that indian for a fish and chips), and partly by reducing the number. We’ve had a lot of vouchers come through from JustEat and Deliveroo, but that is a very slippery slope.

Goal passed: Make a plan for clearing credit card debt

As of the end of January my credit card debt stands at £3,431. This was one transaction – buying new windows for our house – and is on a 0% interest card with 20 months interest free left to run. With this in mind I’ve decided to pay it down over minimum twelve months. I will pay £100 a month direct into the account, and a further £250 into a Principality Thank You savings account (1). This is an online regular savings account available to NHS staff in South Wales with a 1.40% interest rate. I’ll stooze the interest rate, and at the end of the year pay off the credit card (2). I’m also working a fair bit of overtime here and there, so that will go direct into the credit card (currently about £100-300/month after tax).

Goal passed: Exercise five days/ week

I’ve now got a routine where I exercise before work every day, and I feel fresher and healthier for it. It also makes weekend lie-ins a proper treat.

Goal passed: Revisit emergency fund allocation

I last looked at how my cash savings and emergency funds were flowing back in November 2019. Since then I’ve moved my accounts around, the savings landscape has changed (3% interest rate on my old Monmouthshire account!) and I’m close to hitting my emergency fund goal. With that in mind, I’ve redrawn my cash flow and how I’m going to structure my emergency funds.

Cash flow. Amazing what you can do in Powerpoint.

This gives a rough idea of where my money flows. I use two main bank accounts to distribute my expenses and provide a predictable and trackable flow. Bills and investments are paid first. I use ‘pots’ for predictable future expenses; saving cash for things like MOT and car servicing, professional bills etc. I also run a £500 float ‘pot’ in my secondary account, which acts like an overdraft of just-in-case money each month. Beyond that my emergency funds are split into instant access, <24 hours to receipt and 3-5 days to receipt accounts (i.e. the money arriving in my main bank account). I ultimately want to have a division of £500 float, £5,500 <24 hours, £6,000 three-five days. From where I’m currently sat I’ll need a further £1,500 premium bonds and £1,300 in cash savings accounts. A goal for this year as part of my annual plan.

Budgets:

  • Groceries – Budget £200, spent £181.70, last month £331.35 – Back on track
  • Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £100, last month £70
  • Transport – Budget £250, spent £123, last month £455.11
  • Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £0
  • Personal – £100/ £78/ £359
  • Loans/ Credit – £50/ £255/ £89
  • Misc – £50/ £96/ £50
  • Fees – £300 /£302/ £304

In the garden:

Working over raised beds with new compost (and removing a lot of general rubbish) where they got thrown together with anything I could get my hands on previously. General mooching.

Goals for next month:

  • Make a few hours each week to enjoy hobbies without pressure
  • Test intermittent fasting
  • Organise remortgage

Happy February everyone!

The Shrink

References:

  1. https://www.principality.co.uk/savings-accounts/everyday-savings-accounts/thank-you-online-saver
  2. https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/credit-cards/stooze-cash-credit-cards/

Quarterly Returns – Q4 and 2020 in review

Quarterly return posts supplement my monthly Financial Dashboard, covering investments in detail and looking at my yearly targets. Here I track purchases and sales, document progress against my (in progress) investment strategy, and discuss re-balancing and changes over time.

So that’s 2020 done and dusted, a global annus horribilis. For some it’s seen mounting debt, for others an opportunity to save. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting. Here’s the update.

Q4 Returns:

Net worth excluding my DB pension & student loan
  • Cash Accounts £12,000 (-£1,300)
  • Investments £7,950 (+£1,850)
  • Property £49,700 (+£1,100)
  • Cars £2000 (no changes)

This quarter we finished some major house renovations, had a tiny UK-based holiday, and spent the rest of the time locked down and hermit-like at home gorging on fancy food. House renovations sucked up some saved cash, but my net worth was boosted by my continued investment and the stock market bounce back.

As a result of the above my net worth now sits at ~£67,500. This has continued the rough progression of £20k/year increases; my end of 2018 net worth was ~£28,500, and end of 2019 was ~£49,700. Unlike previous years this increase hasn’t been smooth, and has seen decreases in some months (renovation spending, stock market falls). I’ve mean averaged a monthly net worth increase of 1.7%, combining to a year total of ~20%.

Yearly Targets:

Goal 1: Build an emergency fund

My first 2019/20 goal was to build an emergency fund, as per the r/UKpersonalfinance flow chart (1). My goal emergency fund is three months total household expenses (£6k) in my name, plus a further three months (£6k) held jointly.

I currently hold £12k in cash accounts, so by rights this goal should count as complete. I’ve learnt over the course of the year that holding cash in our joint current account is not sensible, as it tends to evaporate purchasing nice things for our house/ life. Lifestyle creep I suppose. £8,800 of my emergency fund is in my name, split about 50% premium bonds, 40% cash saver, and 10% Starling ‘pot’. The Starling emergency pot is the instant access option, with the cash saver available in 24-48 hours, and the premium bonds <5 days.

For 2021 £12k remains my emergency fund target. Our stripped back monthly household expenses run around £1,800-2,000, so £12k allows a six month buffer. I plan to make my emergency fund (almost) entirely separate from the rest of my cash accounts. This means upping a few pots to be about £6k premium bonds and £4.5k cash saver, with the rest in my Starling pot and our joint current account. I also need to get my unsecured debts back to £0. So for 2021, the goal is: Finalise emergency fund structure and pay off credit card.

Goal 2: Save 30% of my income

I calculate my savings rate using this formula:

Savings rate as % = ((Income – spend) + Cash savings + Investments + Pension contributions) / (Income + Pension contributions)

2020 Savings Rate

Despite the wobbles thanks to (a) NHS payroll and (b) house renovations, I’ve smashed my savings rate goal with an end year mean average of 34.7%. This is way above previous years (2018 15%, 2019 23.5%). I blame lockdown. In line with my plan for incremental goals, 2021 will be: Save 35% of my income.

Goal 3: Calculate savings made by growing my own food

This goal proved to be harder than expected for two main reasons. First, it’s kind of hard to work out how much you’re actually savings; it requires tabulating all your produce and then cost comparisons with supermarkets. It’s a level of spreadsheeting that I couldn’t bring myself to. My little gardening notebook goes bare when the renovations took over my time, but I kept a rough tally. I spent ~£50 on seeds (yes, a lot) over the course of the year, and grew about ~£80 worth of veggies. Second, my own apathy as a result of the first.

I’ve learnt something important from this goal. Making targets, goals and objectives for hobbies can make them a chore. Gardening, cars and blogging are all hobbies I enjoy. They’re supposed to be relaxing. If I’m trying to reach a target then it stops being something to enjoy. The Mad Fientist covered this well in his recent post “A Better Alternative to Resolutions and Goals(2). Instead I need to just make time for the process, and let outcomes result as they will. Goal 3: Make goalless time every month for hobbies.

Goal 4: Make changes to reduce carbon footprint

It feels like lockdown has enforced this on so many people. We have not flown or been abroad for holidays. My commute is a fraction of what it was. We continue to eat local produce, and we use Splosh for our household cleaning (3). If you want to give them a go use referral code YQL240THX1 to get 15% off. We use Bulb for our energy. We rarely buy new clothes, and if we do they are organic sustainable cotton or wool. We’ve been buying gifts and household items from the local zero-waste shop. Our veg/ fruit comes from either the local organic co-operative, or if from a supermarket we only buy seasonal UK stuff. Our meat comes from a fantastic butcher who only sources local, high welfare animals. We’ve reduced our meat consumption so it’s a treat, roughly now three veg, two fish, two meat/ week. Next steps will be switching to milk bottle delivery, and getting our fish delivered by the local fishmonger from UK catch. Overall, I feel like we’ve made quite a few low-hanging lifestyle changes.

From here, it’s thinking about bigger impact changes we can make. Switching to an electric car is tempting, but probably not meaningful given the tiny amount of driving we do in efficient, older cars. Installing solar panels/ ground source heat pumps etc are probably not economical until we have a larger home. Suggestions welcome.

Goal 5: Automate investments and savings

Another success from this year, automating things so I pay my Freetrade account first. My regular savers have come to an end, and as noted above, I’m pretty close to my emergency fund target. I’ve recently found out about the Principality Thank You Saver, which is a 1.4% regular saving offering for NHS workers in South Wales (4). Lovely stuff. I’ll be using that to top off my emergency funds. In my investments, I’ve mixed adding new funds/ stocks and topping up existing holdings.

Rough Global Asset Allocation
Asset Allocation in Investment Portfolios
Core to Satellite Ratio

Core/ Satellite Passive/ Active Split

I’ve basically spent this quarter topping up my iShares EM ETF and Vanguard FTSE All World holdings (fancy a free share? Sign up to Freetrade using this link, and we both get one). The YTD time-weighted rate of return is 13.44% in my Freetrade ISA, whilst my Vanguard ISA has a 23.15% absolute return. The graphics in my Freetrade account suggest my time-weighted rate of return is a couple of percentage points above VWRL, whilst maintaining a smoother progression thanks to holdings in TRIG, UKW and a couple of consumer staples. I really need to benchmark my investment spreadsheet to properly calculate this.

I continue holding some cash as a buffer. I’ve gradually realised I am actually more risk averse that I thought. I idealise that I am gung ho, and willing to YOLO on individual stonks. My behaviour pattern is quite the opposite, as although I’m holding lots of equities and DIDN’T SELL!!1!!111!, I didn’t buy cheap tech stocks, instead purchasing counter-cyclical holdings. Hindsight is 2020.

Plans for 2021:

Some changes here. I’ve been reading a lot of Slate Star Codex, and in that vein I am going to start assigning goals predictions on whether I will achieve them. I’ll also make some rough predictions with conviction percentages for the next year. I already do this in as part of my Investment Strategy Statement and in a paper diary about my personal life, so I might as well move it here, with passages redacted. This is essentially an experiment analyse my underlying bullish/ bearish traits at future predictions. Therefore, targeted goals:

  • Finalise emergency fund structure and pay off credit card – 80%
  • Save 35% of my income – 40%
  • Make goalless time every month for hobbies – 60%

Predictions.

  1. UK vaccination will be completed before the July – 75%
  2. Greater than 200,000 UK COVID deaths – 30%
  3. UK has worst death rate as percentage of the population in the world – 60%
  4. Under-reporting in developing nations hides significant pandemic effects – 90%
  5. The UK tier system is still in use in December 2021 – 60%
  6. The UK experiences another ‘lockdown’ in winter 2021/2 – 75%
  7. COVID-19 mutates into a form immune to the current vaccine – 40%
  8. I am personally working in office >80% of the time again at some point in 2021 – 10%
  9. Someone I am close to will die of COVID-19 – 25%
  10. Endemic COVID-19 circulates in the population with lockdown easing and shops re-opening – 80%
  11. … and self-isolation becomes normalised – 80%
  12. … and higher death rates tolerated among the over 50s with consistent effect on life expectancy by end 2021 – 75%
  13. Boris resigns – 60%
  14. Keir Starmer above BoJo in the opinion polls – 80%
  15. Inflation above 2% – 75%
  16. … due to Brexit-resultant shipping and food cost rises – 60%
  17. There are resultant food shortages – 10%
  18. Homeless rate rises – 95%
  19. Foodbank usage rises – 95%
  20. House prices continue to increase – 75%
  21. FTSE100 above 7,000 – 60%
  22. FTSE100 remains above 6,500 – 80%
  23. FTSE100 hits 7,500 – 20%
  24. FTSE250 hits 22,000 – 60%
  25. S&P500 hits 4,000 – 75%
  26. S&P500 hits 2,500 – 30%
  27. £ hits $1.40 – 50%
  28. We have £100k in equity – 95%
  29. We start to overpay our mortgage – 30%
  30. I have £15k invested – 30%
  31. I am saving £1k/month – 30%
  32. We have [redacted] – 90%
  33. MrsShrink [redacted] – 75%
  34. We replace one of our cars – 50%
  35. The project car gets repainted – 25%
  36. The project car gets sold – 10%
  37. We have a holiday – 80%
  38. Outside of the UK – 20%
  39. I learn another language – 30%
  40. I continue to exercise at least three times/ week for the whole year – 75%
  41. I can do a pull-up again – 40%
  42. I can do a hand-stand press up again – 20%
  43. I return to [redacted] – 10%
  44. I complete [redacted] – 25%
  45. My ongoing work has not conformed to anticipated plans – 90%
  46. I publish [redacted] – 90%
  47. I publish [redacted] – 25%
  48. I publish on average four posts/ month – 40%
  49. Most page views ever this year – 30%
  50. This blog gets abandoned – 10%

Let’s see how this bit of fun plays out.

Happy 2021 everyone. Let’s hope for a better year,

The Shrink

References:

  1. https://flowchart.ukpersonal.finance/
  2. https://www.madfientist.com/mastery-over-goals/
  3. https://www.splosh.com/how-it-works
  4. https://www.principality.co.uk/savings-accounts/everyday-savings-accounts/thank-you-online-saver

The Fire Cemetery (January 2021 Edition)

Here lies a list of blogs now deceased, moved on to fairer lands…

On life support (>6 months since last post)

  • Big Blue Money – Formerly Big Blue Money, now renamed to Coffee Money, posting intermittently
  • Rockstar Finance – Was back under new management, but with a very barren site. Doesn’t seem to have added any posts for some time.
  • Frugal Student – Posting from August 2016 to March 2020, mainly about investing.
  • Left FI – Blogged from May to August 2019, with a bit of a hiatus before a further flurry back in May 2020.
  • The Canny Contractor – Started posting about their dividend growth portfolio in Q3 2016, with their most recent post in April 2020 covering Q4 2019.
  • The English Investor – Last post in July 2020 titled “The English Investor is back”
  • The Saving Journey – Starting in October 2017, with frequent monthly updates, their blogging peters out up to May 2020.
  • Want Less – Started blogging way back in June 2015, but blogging has slowed in the last two years, with the last post in July 2020.
  • Fire Fans – Posted seven times, five in Dec 2019, one in Jan 2020, and a final one in Feb 2020.
  • Financial Anvil – Also started in Dec 2019, lasted one month longer, March 2020.
  • Psyfitec – A potential competitor, blogging on psychology and finance. They started in Feb 2009, and have had a few short hiatuses along the way, so I suspect their March 2020 post won’t be the last.
  • Baldrick’s Early Retirement UK – First post 5th March 2020, last post 23rd April 2020.
  • Financing Freedom – First post 4th April 2020, last post 25th July 2020.
  • Money by choice – First post 17th April 2020, last post 10th July 2020.
  • Plan on Fire – Started posting 15th June 2020, last post 28th July 2020.
  • Prudent Programmer – Pages comes up with safety warnings, but is accessible. First post September 2019, last post August 2020.

In the morgue (dormant for >1 year)

  • Finance Your Fire – Marc participated in lots of the FIRE blogging scenes Thought Experiments etc, but last posted in August 2019
  • Fire in London – First post in Nov 2016, last in December 2018
  • Deliberate Living UK – First post 2017, last from Wephway was in January 2019
  • Sex Health Money Death – Jim first posted in August 2015, and the last post was August 2018. At that point he was close to retiring, so he may well have blogged his last.
  • Under The Money Tree – One of the original few, now dormant since December 2017
  • UK Girl on Fire – First post April 14th 2019, last on July 31st 2019. A fair amount of indeedably inspired work on their site.
  • The Finance Zombie – Last post in February 2019, infrequent prior but had been going since the 25th of September 2014.
  • Bangkok 2 Blighty – Another big name, they started posting in April 2018, last post in October 2019.
  • Your Freedom Pot – Started blogging in Feb 2018, with monthly updates to July 2018, then nada.
  • Girl vs Money – Another short blog, with a few personal finance posts from July to September 2018.

Dead and buried

  • Mr Squirrel – Another titan, sorely missed
  • The Fire Engine – About a month of posting
  • Some Things Don’t Change – Been gone some time sadly
  • Financially Free by 40 – the latest addition, Huw’s last post was in mid-2018. The domain is now up for grabs.
  • Grizgal on Fire – Last posted on the 8th of October 2019, their website is now dead.
  • Liberate Life – Last posted on 11th September 2019, before deleting their website
  • Chuffed 2 bits – Last posted in November 2019, the disappeared from this plane of existence. Now redirects to a completely unassociated blog.
  • Next Chapter FI – My records show they last posted on the 2nd of January 2020, before puffing into void.
  • MsZiYou – Feminist FIRE fan, who at one point was podcasting as well as blogging. Close to FIRE and changes in life circumstances led her to close her blog.
  • Mess and Marigolds – Last posted on October the 15th 2019, their blog (mainly about cleaning with a bit of saving) started in September 2016. Domain now dead.
  • Ready Steady Retire – Posted for about two months, from November 7th 2019 to December 21st 2019. Another dead domain.
  • FIDdom – Bec started posting way back in November 2017, with her last post on the 17th of November 2019. 18 months to two years seems to be about average for survival time.
  • Fretful Finance – Blogged from December 2nd 2018, with the most recent update on January 25th 2020. Also now deceased.
  • Formerly Skint – Weekly money diaries started in January 2018 and dried up in January 2019. Now ‘parked’.
  • Make Save Invest Money – Leon was posting from December 2017 to January 2019, and then appears to run out of steam. Now another dead link.
  • Money Doesn’t Talk – Wasn’t blogging long, maybe six months?
  • Liberate Life – Blogging for about a year, now dropped off my radar and with a dead site. Last post September 2019

Crossed the finishing line:

These bloggers finished their FIRE journey or completed goals, and signed off with distinction:

  • Young FI Guy – One of my favourites, a titan, gone but not forgotten
  • Fire the 9 to 5 – A fairly big poster, first post February 28th 2018. They had retired early, and posted a sign off blog entry in November 2020. Hope they’re enjoying their time.
  • Pursue Fire – Dan started in July 2018, last post in January 2020 winding up the blog.

The Lazarus circuit

These are bloggers who have returned from the edge, touched the void, etc:

  • Sparklebee – After a six month hiatus returned to posting with the news they quit their job and were truly on countdown to FIRE!
  • Early Retirement Guy – Now redirects to MatchedBettingGuy, where he continues to blog.
  • Little Miss Fire – LMF changed sites in 2019 and blogging was patchy after the swap. First post sometime in 2018 I think. As of October to December 2020 is back posting regularly.
  • 3652 Days – Fairly infrequently updated, but going since December 2015, so often dips into the three-six month warning zone.
  • Middle Class Hustlers – Holy smokes! Blogged for about a month in 2018/9, then back with three posts in two days in January 2021.

If you can think of any more please leave a comment below, and I’ll periodically return to update.

I am indebted to /u/reckless-saving over on /r/FIREUK, who makes this post so much easier by producing a similar weekly curated post.

The Financial Dashboard – December 2020

The goals for December were:

  • Clear the garage and store the project car
  • Read a book three evenings a week
  • Cut down on takeaway spend

Checking the assets and liabilities:

These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. December was predictably expensive. Here in Wales we’ve been under full lockdown since before Christmas. I appear to have made up for my inability to go out or visit friends in purchasing gifts and wine. Despite this I managed a 26% savings rate, with a paltry 1.12% increase in my net worth. This month also sees me top my all time max net worth, previously set in September prior to lots of DIY spending. My Monmouthshire regular saver has now matured, and instead I’ll probably direct that cash to pay off the new 0% credit card. I chose to pay for new windows on a 0% card rather than raiding emergency savings so it would preserve my buffer. New investment money in the Freetrade S&S ISA went to increase previous holdings.

If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).

Goals:

Goal passed: Clear the garage and store the project car

We had been using the garage as a dumping ground for materials and waste while we continued renovations. With the house work done the state of the garage was making my skin crawl. This was compounded by a call from a family member to evacuate a 6ft by 6ft by 4ft family heirloom for storage. Clearing the garage took the full week between Christmas and New Year, and two trips to the dump (thank God they were open). I get anxious that the garage-queen project car will dissolve at the sight of road salt, so now she’s safely tucked up with the trickle-charger hooked up, surrounded by properly sorted tools. Bliss.

Goal passed: Read a book thee evenings a week

Continued to read Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets, which is taking a while given it’s an absolute monster of a book. I’ve really enjoyed making this wind-down time in the evening, and feel better for it. Need to include more positive goals like this.

Goal failed: Cut down on takeaway spend

Not a chance. Welsh national lockdown prompted us into another round of takeaways ‘as a treat’. There’s not much else to do to mark the passing of the weeks or have as a little treat. Will have to keep attacking this.

Budgets:

  • Groceries – Budget £200, spent £331.35, last month £218.11 – Christmas exuberance
  • Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £70, last month £74.50 
  • Transport – Budget £250, spent £455.11, last month £470.33 – Van hire to rescue the heirloom
  • Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £0
  • Personal – £100/ £359.05/ £108.46 – Presents, presents for everyone!
  • Loans/ Credit – £50/ £89/ £98
  • Misc – £50/ £47/ £442.05
  • Fees – £300 /£303.99/ £131.98 – A GMC Christmas present

In the garden:

Built a new log shed! And generally turning over the soil and tidying. Put up bird netting to separate the wild birds from our fowl. Planning for the spring.

Goals for next month:

  • Cut down on takeaway spend
  • Make plan for clearing credit card debt
  • Exercise five days/ week
  • Revisit emergency fund allocation

Happy January everyone!

The Shrink

The Financial Dashboard – November 2020

The goals for November were:

  • Fix the bits on the cars I’ve already bought parts for
  • Sell five things
  • Read a book thee evenings a week
  • Cut down on takeaway spend

Checking the assets and liabilities:

These are taken, as always, from my Beast Budget spreadsheet. A bit of ship steadying after the wobbles since the change of employer. My salary appears to have stabilised, and most of our home improvements are now done and paid for (or on a 0% credit card). I managed a 30% savings rate, with a 2.47% increase in my net worth. My previously smooth curve on my net worth graph has had a jagged section, but I’m back to all time highs. The usual cash regular savers were topped up, although my 3% regular saver with the Monmouthshire is due to end next month, and new money in the Freetrade S&S ISA went to increase previous holdings.

If you fancy a free share, sign up to Freetrade with this link (I also get one).

Goals:

Goal passed: Fix the bits on the cars I’ve already bought parts for

Success, I actually got round to doing these things in time for the MOT. The old daily will continue to soldier on, as it flew through with only a couple of minor points, and I’ve worked out I’ve done 1,500 miles in the six months since the job change. I’m rewarding it by ordering yet more parts (which hopefully won’t sit in the garage for months). Next goal is to get the garage cleared for the project car to return to hibernation.

Goal failed: Sell five things

I’m giving up on this for the time being, as all I’m doing at the moment is monthly dump runs.

Goal passed: Read a book thee evenings a week

I’ve been reading Dan Jones’ The Plantagenets, which is a bit of a beast and not my usual fare; I don’t generally read non-fiction unless it’s for a purpose. It’s interesting stuff, and making the time in the evenings has been relaxing. I want to keep this up, so I’m going to roll this goal over.

Goal failed(ish): Cut down on takeaway spend

We got into a bad habit in October of ordering takeaway every time we saw friends. Prior to the event we would usually go out for food once a week with various people. With that off the table we’re using takeaway instead, and actually I should just make the food. In September we spent about £180 on takeaway(!), and this has came down a bit to £130 for October, but it’s still superfluous spending, and the further £80 we spent in November is too much.

Budgets:

  • Groceries – Budget £200, spent £218.11, last month £216.97
  • Entertainment – Budget £100, spent £74.50, last month £65 
  • Transport – Budget £250, spent £470.33, last month £129.54 – MOT time!
  • Holiday – £150, spent £0, last month £17.63
  • Personal – £100/ £2108.46/ £280.50
  • Loans/ Credit – £50/ £98/ £43.70
  • Misc – £50/ £442.02/ £705.75 – The sooner these end the better
  • Fees – £300 /£131.98/ £629.75

In the garden:

Just ticking over now. Planning to dig over the raised beds and add compost over the Christmas break.

Goals for next month:

  • Clear the garage and store the project car
  • Read a book three evenings a week
  • Cut down on takeaway spend

Happy December everyone!

The Shrink