Full English Accompaniment – Is financial independence achievable by anyone?

What’s piqued my interest this week?

The above question appears to be a recurring theme in our little niche of the financial blogging community. High-profile, mainstream public-facing blogs like MMM and the Frugalwoods argue that anyone and everyone can potentially be financially independent and retire early, if they take the right steps (1). It’s great for selling the story and motivating potential readers, but to me it’s selling an impossible dream.

To explain let’s draw up some basic sums. The amount most people can save towards an early retirement can be defined as:

Amount saved = (Defined pension + take-home Earnings) – (Basic living + lifestyle Costs)

A = (D+E) – (B+C)

For the sake of simplicity we’ll ignore tax rebates, dividend payments, inheritance etc. I’m not even going to bother running this on a minimum wage. Instead we’ll start at the UK Living Wage, currently £9.00/hr (2). This is built on the Minimum Income Standard, which calculates the cost of the average basket of goods required for a household to afford an acceptable standard of living (3).

A 23 year old working a 37.5hr week on £9/hr that will see a yearly salary of £17,550. Plug that into a salary calculator, incorporating 8% pension contribution with an 8% employer match. That’s D and E. The Living Wage is based upon a minimum acceptable standard of lifestyle, so we’ll use that figure again for B, with £0 lifestyle inflation cost and we get (4):

A = ((£76.79 X 2)+£1214.81) – (£1214.81+£0)

How does that lifestyle cost compare? Well the average UK 1 bed flat costs £600, but that’s skewed by London’s ridiculous prices (5). Say instead you’re sharing or living in an area with cheaper housing, it’s more likely to be £400/month, this represents ~30% of your earnings and so if a fairly accurate representation given the UK average is 25% of earnings spent on accommodation (6). If you get can by on another £600/month for all other expenses then well done, you can save £215. Add in your generous pension contributions and you’re up to £365/month put aside for the future, or £4,380 annually. Run that number through a rough early retirement calculator and we get that you can retire in 33 years. So that’s early retirement at 56 for a lifetime spent in a one bed flat and minimum acceptable standard of living.

Not realistic? Lets work another example. Example 2:

30 year old earning median UK disposable household income (2017) of £27,300 (7). Same sums, same aggressive pension match, £1715.31 take home. This time our 30 year old has got bored of living in digs, and is instead renting a two bed new build in a LCOL area. £750/month for rent gets you access to homes in 67% of the UK, so compared to Example 1 you’ll pay £350 more/month (8). Your lifestyle has inflated a bit, but not much, just a few beers now and then, a better phone, a decent tv and slightly better food. Say £100/month? So, let’s punch that into our equations and calculators:

A = ((£141.79 X 2)+£1715.31) – (£1214.81+£450)

A = £334

Retire in 44 years

Ouch. That lifestyle inflation has hit hard. Your early retirement age is now 74. So what do you do? Cut back on the house size or go back to shared accommodation? Stop drinking and eat 7p basics noodles? We know that actually, due to the benefits from our taxation system and social support services, a moderate increase in income in the lower quartiles makes little difference to disposable income (available for savings). Lifestyle inflation at this end quickly gobbles up the extra earnings as you are now comfortable, not just-about-managing. Do you make yourself uncomfortable to retire early? That requires a special type of motivation (9, 10, 11).

You have to be a high earner to achieve the % savings rates required for early retirement without living uncomfortably in some way. Ignoring this fact is dreaming. Most people will not achieve early retirement without either lifestyle discomfort or a serious increase in their earning power. That’s FIREs dirty little secret (11). To say otherwise is to sell a dream.

I don’t think this is a bad thing.

Because the world is driven by soundbites and nicely packaged information, easily digestible and understandable. The majority of the FI blogs pitched to the mainstream do just that, make it easily digestible, understandable and relate-able. A cynic would argue it funds their early retirement through a customer-facing monetised website (12). But I’m not that cynic, this is a good thing, more people should be thinking about their money matters. The UK household savings ratio is currently stuck around 4%, and has been for several years (13):

capture

The financial choices required for early retirement are for everyone. 

The’ye just a good idea. Just by thinking about your finances you’re ahead of those ignoring their accounts. To crib my fellow medical colleague, the female money doc (14):

  • Know your numbers
  • Build assets
  • Get out of debt
  • Buffer it
  • Consider extra income streams

Anyone could achieve financial independence, but not everyone can. The effort can only be a good thing. No shame in trying!

Have a great week,

The Shrink

Side Orders

Other News

Opinion/ blogs:

The kitchen garden:

What I’m reading (now affiliate links):

Tombland – C.J. Sansom – I love the Shardlake series, detective novels set in the Tudor period with a crippled lead character. Beautifully written.

Food Of The Gods: The Search for the Original Tree of Knowledge: A Radical History of Plants, Drugs and Human Evolution – Terence McKenna – An ethnobotanist explores humanity’s’ fascination with hallucinogenics, and the role of altered states of consciousness on the development of human society.

Enchiridion by Epictetus – Bedside reading for a bad day

References:

  1. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2018/mar/08/how-to-retire-early-frugal-spending
  2. https://www.livingwage.org.uk/calculation
  3. https://www.lboro.ac.uk/research/crsp/mis/
  4. https://www.thesalarycalculator.co.uk/salary.php
  5. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46072509
  6. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-44046392
  7. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/bulletins/householddisposableincomeandinequality/financialyearending2017
  8. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-23234033
  9. https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-4110482/How-rich-Work-income-wealth-sits-UK.html
  10. https://www.financialsamurai.com/the-average-savings-rates-by-income-wealth-class/
  11. http://www.flannelguyroi.com/dirty-little-secret-early-retirement/
  12. https://theoutline.com/post/3840/frugalwoods-frugality-millennials?zd=2&zi=kjpt6k5u
  13. https://tradingeconomics.com/united-kingdom/personal-savings
  14. https://thefemalemoneydoctor.com/reach-financial-freedom/
  15. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/guid/FC86FC66-19DD-11E9-84BA-7B8C470F8CAB
  16. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2019/jan/17/uk-house-prices-fall-at-fastest-rate-in-six-years-on-back-of-brexit-rics
  17. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-house-price-index-for-november-2018
  18. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/markets/article-6578873/Renewable-power-provider-Bulb-Energy-slumps-24m-loss-amid-squeeze-small-suppliers.html
  19. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46900918
  20. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/nils-pratley-on-finance/2019/jan/17/government-isnt-quite-ready-drop-obsession-with-nuclear-greg-clark-business-secretary
  21. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/12/subprime-timebomb-back-companies-lighting-the-fuse/
  22. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/comment/metro-bank-profit-warning-new-branches-mortgages-challenger-banks-santander-uk-branch-closures-a8742301.html
  23. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/jan/15/immediate-fossil-fuel-phaseout-could-arrest-climate-change-study
  24. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-46865204
  25. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/16/marks-spencer-selling-loose-fruit-veg-plastic-waste/
  26. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46793506
  27. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20181217-the-best-time-of-year-to-x
  28. https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jan/17/breached-data-largest-collection-ever-seen-email-password-hacking
  29. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46958560
  30. https://landlords.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/tenant-fees-bill-provisions-come-effect-june-2019
  31. https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/cars/1076669/kia-e-niro-car-of-the-year-electric-vehicle/
  32. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jan/15/junior-doctors-working-past-shift-end-nhs-data-england/
  33. https://monevator.com/weekend-reading-the-house-that-jack-built/
  34. https://monevator.com/venture-capital-investing/
  35. http://www.frugalwoods.com/2019/01/18/this-month-on-the-homestead-burning-brush-and-the-life-and-times-of-firewood/
  36. http://www.frugalwoods.com/2019/01/25/hacked-sodastream-seltzer-reload-and-other-december-2018-expenditures/
  37. https://ournextlife.com/2019/01/14/one-year-adventures/
  38. http://www.retirementinvestingtoday.com/2019/01/2018-in-review-let-decompression.html
  39. https://monevator.com/the-pension-protection-fund-ppf/
  40. https://youngfiguy.com/patisserie-valerie-what-happens-now/
  41. https://youngfiguy.com/mrs-yfg-why-i-stay/
  42. https://youngfiguy.com/podcasts-like-buses/
  43. https://firevlondon.com/2019/01/20/avoiding-tax-in-the-uk/
  44. https://www.msziyou.com/2018-review/
  45. https://www.msziyou.com/2019-goals/
  46. https://ditchthecave.com/prioritisation/
  47. https://ditchthecave.com/marginal-gains/
  48. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/01/why-i-sold-glaxo-dividend-yield.html/
  49. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/01/thin-profit-margins-bad-investments.html/
  50. https://www.ukvalueinvestor.com/2019/01/capital-employed-growth-instead-of-earnings-growth.html/
  51. http://thefirestarter.co.uk/damp-squib-december-income-expenses-report/
  52. http://thefirestarter.co.uk/2018-review-plus-2019-goals-the-year-of-keeping-calm-and-carrying-on/
  53. https://theescapeartist.me/2019/01/17/what-to-expect-when-youre-expecting/
  54. https://thesavingninja.com/how-to-work-in-the-city-on-a-budget/
  55. http://quietlysaving.co.uk/2019/01/17/changes-afoot/
  56. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2019/01/one-million-pageviews-for-blog.html
  57. http://diyinvestoruk.blogspot.com/2019/01/aberforth-smaller-final-results.html
  58. https://gentlemansfamilyfinances.wordpress.com/2019/01/18/geoarbitrage-how-to-survive-in-london-with-less-than-a-million-quid-in-the-bank/
  59. https://littlemissfire.com/side-hustles-report-december-2018/
  60. https://littlemissfire.com/paying-off-the-mortgage-jan-2019/
  61. https://littlemissfire.com/how-to-heat-your-home-for-free-with-a-wood-burner/
  62. https://pursuefire.com/the-power-of-compounding-the-rule-of-72/
  63. https://pursuefire.com/monthly-net-worth-report-7-december/
  64. http://www.thefinancezombie.com/2019/01/prime-your-mind.html
  65. https://indeedably.com/left-behind/
  66. https://lifeatno27.com/2019/01/23/winter-cool-calm-and-collected/
  67. http://twothirstygardeners.co.uk/2019/01/how-to-make-rhubarb-and-ginger-shrub-easy-alcohol-free-cocktail-recipe/
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8 thoughts on “Full English Accompaniment – Is financial independence achievable by anyone?

    1. Hey TEA,

      It’s interesting, your comment prompted me to re-read both of your posts. My takeaway was that we’re both coming at the same argument in slightly different ways. I think we’re both arguing that everyone can use the lessons required for financial independence to live a better life. I’ve now slightly edited that first sentence to clarify that.

      What I take from your articles is that a person on £12,500/year or similar won’t ever reach FI, but if they apply the lessons and strive to earn more they could. Even if they don’t they’ll still get richer. In your own words you are “trying to teach and inspire people here”. It’s your MO, and what makes your blog a must-read for motivation on an early retirement/ savings journey.

      I guess my MO, and the purpose of this blog, is to be a vent for my cynical opinions. To again quote your same post “who am I to tell other people what they can’t achieve?”
      I’m not interested in telling people what they can’t achieve. I’m not interested in using this blog to tell anybody what they can and can’t do. What I am saying in my own cynical and pessimistic way is that for a proportion of the population achieving any sort of savings rate that allows for early retirement is not going to be possible whilst maintaining an acceptable standard of living. That’s not to say they can’t achieve a level of financial independence, but sheer economics would argue that the sum required for financial independence is several deciles away from median/mean net worth. Nil points for inspiration.
      I’d argue I have more experience than most to form that opinion, given that many of my patients are in minimum wage jobs, with zero qualifications, and waiting on hold to citizen’s advice/ stepchange. I spend my working life giving individual optimistic advice to those individuals. Perhaps this is nothing more than a pessimistic cathartic vent.

      Ultimately, I’d summarise by saying anyone can achieve FI, but not everyone.

      Would welcome your opinion.

      The Shrink

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, your article still misrepresents my views. I don’t believe anyone can achieve financial independence.

        Let’s take an extreme case to illustrate. If I had been born with a crippling and incurable illness, I might be unable to work in any job, let alone as an accountant. If that had happened, I would not have been able to achieve financial independence.

        Please correct your article.

        TEA

        Like

  1. great reading.

    I think that the benefits that the post-war baby boomer generation will see will not be repeated.
    I was lucky enough to avoid the misery that those who started working after 2007 say – decimated pensions, huge housing costs, stagnant wages etc…
    The fact is that in general, there will be no retirement for millions at all – just old age benefits/poverty.

    This is especially true for those on the child tax credit gravy train – once those kids are of age you’ll be broke and working forever in shitty jobs – all the while still driving around in PCP cars and binging on credit cards.
    That’s the way of the world.

    Debt = Wealth

    Savings are invisible.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “8% pension contribution with an 8% employer match.”

    Gosh, if only this was my company pension! I for one am looking forward to the statutory minimum increase in April so I can squeeze an extra 1% from my employer!

    As for FI, I feel that everyone should aim for it but not everyone will be able to achieve it. You can only get so far without income being a factor. For most, it’s an impossible dream, although following the ethos should help everyone’s financial situation.

    Thanks as always for the shout out and for some links which I’d missed this past week.

    PS – one of my email addresses has been ‘pwned’, so a timely reminder to change the password, cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I did have 7% / 14% with my last employer (scaled up to 7% / 21% for age 50+), which was high for private sector. I miss those days! I guess 5% / 3% is better than nowt!

        Like

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