Here lies a list of blogs now deceased, moved on to fairer lands…
On life support (>6 months since last post)
Early Retirement Guy – First post 2014, most recent was the 18th of January 2020, with an annual net worth update from Guy after an eventful year
Big Blue Money – Formerly Big Blue Money, now renamed to Coffee Money, posting intermittently
Finance Your Fire – Marc participated in lots of the FIRE blogging scenes Thought Experiments etc, but last posted in August 2019
Mess and Marigolds – Last posted on October the 15th 2019, their blog (mainly about cleaning with a bit of saving) started in September 2016.
Ready Steady Retire – Posted for about two months, from November 7th 2019 to December 21st 2019.
Little Miss Fire – We’ve been here before, and sad to see. LMF changed sites last year, and the new one appears to have been left while their spirits company takes the focus. First post sometime in 2018 I think? Last post 17th December 2019.
FIDdom – Bec started posting way back in November 2017, with her last post on the 17th of November 2019.
Bangkok 2 Blighty – Another big name, they started posting in April 2018, last post in October 2019.
Fretful Finance – Blogged from December 2nd 2018, with the most recent update on January 25th 2020.
3652 Days – Fairly infrequently updated, but going since December 2015, so I suspect their post from January the 19th 2020 won’t be their last.
Unprecedented events create new experiences. What fun, misadventure, or positive discoveries have you encountered while locked down?
Life in the FS household hasn’t actually changed that much with lockdown. Both MrsFireShrink and I are key workers, we’re still full time (me slightly more) in work, we commute, we have our weekly veg deliveries and top up shops. The big hole has been in socialising. Not going to the pub or out for dinner. No weekends away with friends. No casual pints/ coffees after work.
We have changed our behaviour patterns. When I clocked the first viral reports and read the data we started to prepare, advised family to put things aside, ready themselves. We anticipated the wave, along with many in the medical line. Still, it was hard to imagine.
Come March, the spread to Italy and Europe, the world clocked onto what this could be. Media hysteria reached unprecedented levels. Social channels fuelled disinformation and speculation. A world that was used to it’s pattern and routine suddenly changed.
“Johnson: many more people will lose loved ones to coronavirus”
There was an air of apocalypse, the four horses were riding, plague stalked the land and soon the last few survivors would be wandering a wasteland, trading loo-rolls for daughters. How would life go on?
Image credit: Wikipedia
Life has always gone on.
The analogies between humans and cockroaches are not just because of our spread. We’re adaptable. We survive and endure.
Countless wars, famines, natural disasters and, yes, plagues, have come and gone. We have short memories and biases.
The world is not going to end. We will all still love, eat, shit and sleep. It’s just different.
We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easily we’ve shifted gear. MrsShrink and I share many interests, and have always been able to spend days in each others company; reading, playing games, or watching shit TV.
Some things have gone and probably won’t return. My council gym membership. Many work face-to-face meetings.
Some of the things we used to do have altered. Zoom yoga and classes.
Some new things have been added. Video-call D&D with friends.
Most of all there’s time to do things I enjoyed but rarely had enough time for. Gardening (4). Working on my cars. DIY. Finishing those books. Writing on here.
The world got a bit slower and that’s no bad thing.
One of the reasons I started learning about personal finance was to try and make sense of the NHS Pension Scheme. Many of my colleagues pay in and assume they’ll be sorted in the end. That sort of goodwill makes you an easy target for cheeky governments. So if you’re an NHS employee or just interested, here’s a one-pager on basics of the NHS Pension Scheme. The headline:
The NHS Pension is an unfunded defined benefit career-average revalued earnings (CARE) pension.
Wading through that finance-speak.
When you come to take the pension you receive a set amount yearly/monthly, a defined benefit (DB).
Defined benefit pensions come in many forms, from the old style final salary (where you continue to receive your final salary yearly as your retirement income), to the CARE schemes as explained below. Most public sector jobs retain defined benefit schemes (civil service, teachers pension etc) and some corporations hold it for their top brass.
Private companies have largely moved to defined contribution (DC) pension schemes. Here the amount you pay in is set, and what you receive depends on how much you have saved at the end. These used to managed in investment funds by selected providers, but since the pension freedoms legal changes people have lots more options (SIPPs etc). DB schemes are unlikely to allow you to make such changes without transferring your money out (1).
Most pension schemes are ‘Funded’. This means the scheme holds assets from contributions against future liabilities (future pension payments). On an individual level, this would mean an individuals’ (and their employers’) contributions are invested so to pay out the future pension of that person. DB pension scheme liabilities are valued on an actuarial basis. That is, some very smart math geeks add up lots of numbers on life expectancy to value the cost of paying future pensions.
In an Unfunded scheme, the contributions are used to pay current pensioners. There is no ‘float’. In the case of the NHS Pension Scheme, the Treasury guarantees the scheme liabilities. There is no pot of assets lying about. They effectively work on a ‘pay as you go’ basis. Cynics argued that the 2015 scheme came about because they realised the old scheme was too expensive with people living longer.
Career-Average Revalued Earnings (CARE)
CARE schemes are the modern DB scheme set-up, argued to be fairer (cheaper). You receive a pension based upon a fraction of your pensionable earnings, revalued yearly for inflation. For each year you pay into your NHS pension, you add 1/54th of your earnings for that year to the pot. To account for inflation each your pot is ‘revalued’ and increased by inflation (Treasury Order, currently 1.7% as the CPI) plus 1.5% (2).
Caveat; this only covers the 2015 scheme. The 1995 and 2008 sections are final salary with different calculations. Frustrating for those of us migrated over.
So that’s the description, what about the nuts and bolts?
The pension contribution line on your payslip should have a little percentage next to it. That percentage is defined by your earnings, rising if you earn more because we live in a fair and equitable society. This amount has no impact on the amount in your pot – better to think of it as a ‘membership fee’. The percentage of your salary you pay as a ‘membership fee’ is defined by the table below (2):
Your local NHS employer also pays in 20.68%. This, while seeming generous, also has no benefit on what you receive other than being their contribution to your ‘membership fee’.
You receive your pension at state retirement age (although this does vary for a minority, check your own eligibility). You receive 1/54th of the earnings of each year you contributed, revalued yearly by inflation +1.5% up until the point you retire. You receive this like a continued salary or annuity. Remember those? Currently out of fashion, but previously annuity schemes you bought at retirement were where you paid a lump sum to receive a yearly amount back in the future. The NHS pension does similar.
Because it’s a guaranteed yearly amount from retirement (practically age 68 for most), and it’s revalued for inflation it’s a pretty sweet deal. It’s possible to build up pensions which would be worth millions if you were buying them as an annuity or DC equivalent. Hence the issues with the Tapered Annual Allowance.
In almost all circumstances joining and remaining a member of the NHS Pension Scheme is a good idea. Even if you’re joining close to retirement (3).
Actually working out how much you will receive is a bit of a nightmare – hence further issues with the Tapered Annual Allowance. This is because you don’t know your contributions until the end of the tax year, you don’t know your current revaluation, and you have to guesstimate future revaluation.
You can formally request an estimate here (4). Expect in 3-6 working months.
It’s also worth noting that on your death a nominated partner can receive a lump sum, adult dependent’s can receive a pension, and children under 23 can also receive a pension.
You can’t transfer out
Since April 2015 members of unfunded public sector pension schemes cannot transfer out to Defined Contribution schemes (1). It’s unfunded; there’s no pot of money to take your contributions from. In effect, this means many are ‘trapped’ in the NHS Pension Scheme.
It’s an opt-in or opt-out deal. You can’t change providers if they don’t offer what you want, you can’t select a different DC pension. You can’t move your pension around the stock market. You pays your money, many thanks for your blood, sweat and tears, here’s your reward guv.
The Tapered Annual Allowance
To HMRC your pension pot is 20x your annual defined benefit at the end. Unlike with a private Defined Contribution scheme, you can’t cut contributions if you think they’ll breach the Annual Allowance. Those contributions and revaluations which rely on some fiendish calculations and professional intuition (guesswork). This is leading to effective tax rates of 100+%, and tax bills running into six figures (1). Likewise, there is little to no ability to negotiate alternative compensation arrangements in lieu of employer pension contributions if it looks like they will breach the Tapered Annual Allowance. I’ve ranted about it before(7). The changes announced in the recent (March 2020) Budget upped the threshold to £200k, which should solve this problem for the majority (8).
It’s low hanging fruit for HM hungry Treasury
“Rich doctors are already compensated way more than us in the private sector” etc…
The unfunded nature makes it an expensive ongoing concern. Weighing that liability against pissing off NHS employees is a mighty headache.
The NHS Pension scheme remains a significant carrot for workers in the NHS who spend a working lifetime being beaten with sticks. It’s clunky, inflexible and beats most DC schemes in terms of return – it’s guaranteed!
There’s still plenty of caveats. If you’re struggling MedFi has a five-part series with worked examples (9). They also cover factors to consider if you want to retire early (10), how to top up and buy out for early retirement (11), and what happens if you’re on extended leave or you’ve buggered off elsewhere (12). I’ve avoided all of this for sake of brevity and sanity. I’d also recommend Junior Doctor Finance for an explanatory page, plus a quick calculator (13).
The NHS Pension Scheme turns out to be like the NHS itself… monolithic, byzantine, effective. Hope this was useful, would welcome any comments below,
N.B. I am indebted to the Young FI Guy for some of his original post text relating to the NHS Pension and the Tapered Annual Allowance.
A return to the Property Renovation series, picking up from where I left off in part II considering internal fabric and structure. Here I’ll look at room specific construction, layout and furnishings.
I am using this as a catch-all for lounge/ living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, offices, corridors… basically any room that doesn’t involve plumbing beyond central heating radiators.
The vast majority of fittings and furnishings in these rooms will be cheap to fix and replace. I’ve covered the walls and floors themselves in part II, but what about the added features. There’s a brief ‘Bluffers Guide’ to period features available here, which I’ll expand on in part (1).
Is the wood panelling surrounding doors, windows and cupboards, which covers where plaster would crack over time through repeated movement. Fancier houses have fancier architrave. Cheap modern renovations or late 20th century houses often have very simplistic architrave. There’s actually very few styles and most have been around since the Victorian era, so it’s easy enough to replace and match. At worst, you can have a specialist company make a pattern and mill you some to match.
Image Credit: Pinterest
Generally seen in older properties, ceiling roses first started appearing in the 1600s in affluent plastered homes as a ceiling decoration for chandeliers (2). They spread through the 18th and 19th centuries, gradually evolving in design such that you can use design elements to date a room if you’re a proper nerd. By the 1850s developments in plaster meant that a ceiling rose did not have to be sculpted by hand, but could be cast in a workshop and sold in large volumes. These days you can get them in polystyrene (why?), plaster or metal (even more why?) in various styles off the shelf. Ceiling roses only really suit a room (IMO) with a 12-foot plus ceiling, but can be a good way to add period features back in quickly.
Image Credit: Victorian Cornice Company
In a similar vein, corbels were originally simple projections from walls which held up structures above. The Victorians took inspiration from medieval builders in designing patterned corbels, which became more decorative (3). They reached a point of being entirely decorative, often non-weightbearing and made of plaster. They can also be found on fireplaces and shelving.
Image Credit: Pinterest
Cornicing and Coving (and Friezes)
Cornicing is the decorative moulding found at the junction of wall and ceiling. Technically cornicing is actually any form of horizontal decorative element that tops a building feature, the word cornice coming from the italian for ledge, and so external decorative moulding is also cornicing (4). We use cornicing interchangeably due to classical description of internal cornice over a frieze, with an architrave below. Cornicing tends to therefore refer to more intricately patterned mouldings, whilst coving is simpler. Cornicing and coving both come in plaster, polystyrene (and GRP/ other plastics) and wooden forms. Repairing damaged plaster cornicing can be pretty difficult, so always worth checking the state of all rooms. In really smart houses, echoing their classical roots, you may find plaster friezes below the cornicing and above the picture rail. Again from the 1850s onwards these could be cast in complete lengths and then fitted on site. Many of these skills have now been lost, and heavy successive coats of paint can hide detail, so finding such features in good condition is a treat.
Image credit: The Victorian Emporium
Dado rails and picture rails
A dado rail sits at around 90cm from the floor, and was originally used in the Georgian period to protect the wall from chair backs during formal dances (5, 6). They fell out of fashion but then returned as a separator for friezes or anaglyptas.
Picture rails have been around since the 15th century, but again we have the Victorians to thank for their widespread use as the lowly proletariat added them to their parlours as a fashionable way of hanging pictures (7). That is still what they’re for. If you have picture rails, please use them, don’t then stick a nail in the bloody wall. As ceilings got lower so did picture rails. As such, there is no correct height, picture rails can be placed anywhere between coving to architrave, but are generally placed 30 to 50cm (12 to 20in) below the ceiling. Picture rails are a great feature for a period home, and painting above in a lighter colour can add to the feeling of height as well as lightening up otherwise imposing rooms (8).
Image Credit: VintagePropertyRestoration.co.uk
Serves the same function as architrave, masking the gaps between edges of plaster and floorboards which are likely to move. Skirting began to be used in the Georgian period, but again became popular in the Victorian era (9). The more grand or ornate the house, the taller and more intricate the skirting, before gradually becoming smaller again up to the 1980s. Much like architrave, skirting now comes in plastic, softwood or metal forms, and can be made to order to match previous designs. It’s worth pointing out the difference with wood panelling, traditionally in the UK called wainscot, a much older technique pre-dating plaster. This dates from when buildings were stone, and wood panels were added to reduce draughts and keep the room warmer. Later they became decorative. Out of fashion currently, and you’ll need a carpenter to repair (10).
Image Credit: Pinterest
All of the above furnishings and fittings can be added back in with care and attention to detail (8, 11). The ’70s has a lot to answer for in terms of removal of features, but equally the current pre-occupation with Victorian features may well go out of fashion. We’ve viewed our position as custodians, and tried not to remove features of our property as we’ve renovated, even if we don’t like them.
Fireplaces and chimneys
For as long as there have been dwellings, humans (great apes) have had fireplaces. These developed from central cooking fires, to hearths, to the inglenook. These were enclosed hearth areas off a main room, which incorporated a cooking area, a main fire, and sometimes bread ovens etc (12).
Image Credit: Wikimedia
These enclosed hearths were gradually incorporated into the room while retaining the grate or back. Cast iron firebacks were used to retain and radiate heat. Decorative surrounding were added in the Louix XIV, XV and XVI periods, extending into the Georgian period with more classical plaques or motifs (13). In the Victorian period developments in mass metalworking allowed for cast iron insets for fireplaces (14). These, and stylistic developments are most commonly seen today. Due to the gradual development of styles over time it’s possible to date most fireplaces to a rough decade, like the Victorian one below (13, 14). Reclamation yards usually have a good selection of styles, and reproductions are available.
Image Credit: FireplaceAntiques.co.uk
From the Edwardian era through the Art Deco period fireplaces were more commonly concrete and tile, and these can be harder to repair though replacements are available (15). The first electric fireplace came along in 1995 (just an overgrown electric radiation to me), and modern fireplaces are usually more about home interior design than serving as a traditional focal point. Make sure to match your new fireplace to the correct era.
Image Credit: c20fireplaces.co.uk
A significant caveat and kicker when looking at properties to purchase or for renovations is around chimney breasts. These are the (usually) brick structures surrounding the fire and flue up to the chimney. They support the weight of the chimney above, and are often integral to the structural design of the property (16). Where fireplaces and chimney breasts have been removed for design or space purposes always check this has been done to regulations and by someone who knows what they’re doing. Because of the weight carried above it would be usual to take the whole chimney out, not just a ground floor section. If this is the case then permanent support for the chimney above will need to be inserted, usually designed by a structural engineer (17). Beware the cowboy!
For some, the place to brush your teeth and shit, hopefully not at the same time. For others, a place of tranquil relaxation. Interior design styles with bathrooms seems to change yearly, so I’ll only briefly touch on things here. The Victorians, they obsessed with cleanliness, again kicked us off in the modern understanding of bathrooms once they mastered hot water, cast iron baths, plumbing and Mr Crapper added his flourish. Although I must admit, if I get the resources I’d go full caldarium/ frigidarium.
Image Credit: Hevac-Heritage.org
These spread after WW1, though your lowly commoner only really got indoor toilets and bathrooms post-WW2. Early versions had a water heater (often gas) next to the bath. During this period most fixtures were cast iron or ceramic, and decoration was often in the form of tiling. The claw foot freestanding bathtub began to disappear due to space constraints, and because they’re a pain to clean around (18). Matching sets became fashionable, and with the uptake of coloured plastics we reached the avocado bath era (see part 1). Finally, in the 90s and 00s everything went sanitary white, for that sterilised clinical slab look.
Image Credit: Norsk Folke Museum
Lightweight plastics and modern manufacturing methods mean there’s a smorgasbord of choice. Modern style appears to be going more slimline – low rise freestanding showers and built in toilets. Not my personal taste as they can be a pain to DIY repair. Lots of classical designs are also being re-used or updated (19). Even the bloody avocado bath (20). So don’t rip it out just yet, the design world is your oyster.
Tied in with the hearth and central room for most of history, the spread of kitchens to the masses also came with the Victorians. This time as they cleared people from shared living slums to their own private homes. This coincided with wood or coal-fired stoves, which were much more efficient and quicker than open fires (21). These were developed to run on gas (1826) and electric (1912). Victorian kitchens were utilitarian workspaces, often with a Belfast or butler sink in a separate scullery (for wet cleaning work) and foodstuff stored in a pantry. The late C19th and early C20th saw these spaces opened up and incorporated (you can’t fit a scullery in a miner’s terrace). They’ve gradually become cleaner, sleeker and with more accoutrements as time has gone on. From a renovation point of view kitchens can soak up money, and you largely get what you pay for. A quick repaint and re-tile may be a few hundred, a second hand or cheap kitchen may cost you £1-3k, decent high end kitchens run to tens of thousands. Buyers choice.
Image Credit: John Desmond/ Veterans United
How many thousands of articles are there on assessing renovation potential? Everyone wants the short cuts. So now you’ve read my rough guide to features here’s some tips:
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Most people (I think) will at some point want to make a stamp on the property they own. A lot of these stamps are highly personal taste. What you think is renovation, updating or beautifying may not be what a buyer or renter wants to see. Know your target: is this your forever home, a five-year stepping stone, or a BTL.
Know the local ceiling price
Leading on from the above, there’s no point buying a three-bed terrace and then throwing in a £30k kitchen, extension, basement and loft conversions if after all that it’s only worth £100k. (Caveat: does not apply if you consider it your forever home). Go on Zoopla or Rightmove and look at the sold house prices for a feel for maximum value (22). For BTLs there’s a good calculator at South St made by one of the r/UKPersonalFinance people (23).
The ugly work can add the most, but might add nothing
Before thinking about painting, that new bathroom, the six-burner rangemaster, do the shitwork. Make the house warm, dry, secure and free of damp. Structural defects may be hidden and can cost huge amounts to correct with no direct gain to property value. Central heating, rewiring and re-plastering are messy jobs, but will almost always add value. The jobs which need special skills and are the most difficult are often the ones that add the profit (22, 24, 25).
Know your limits
If you’ve never held a paintbrush then raising the roofline for extra head space in that loft conversion is probably a bit too much. Be prepared to leave stuff to professionals (26). One man with the right tools could do something in two days that would take you two weeks. Brickwork, structural work, roofing, plumbing, and electrics all require specialist skills and kit. Plastering, carpentry and painting are all better with experience.
Get it certificated
Linked to the above, tradesmen will be insured and appropriately qualified. Many property changes require certification. The sob pages of the tabloids are filled with stories about eejits wasting money (27, 28). Get multiple quotes. Get planning permission. Get it signed off and keep the certificate somewhere safe (29).
Here’s three take homes if you can’t be bothered remembering all that:
Know your worth – that overtime at your day job may be a better return on investment than DIY
Know the value – of the local property, and how long you’re willing to hold it for to calculate cost/ benefit/ return on investment
Get multiple quotes, use reputable traders, get the certificates
Following on from the reasons to be cheerful or fearful post rather than offer one solution, I’m going to offer four five thought experiments; ways in which world events might hit your finances. How would you feel if each played out, and how confident are you that it will or won’t?
Scenario 1:Deep Doom
Driven by cultural nostalgia for the 1920s, the world markets continue their growth into a new ‘roaring twenties’. After three further years fuelled by tech stocks and IPOs, consumer purchasing falters. The West stops buying new IPhones or leasing cars, as people attempt to control their debt. As global consumerism falls off, global economic output follows. Falls in Chinese production lead to an internal banking crisis, as companies are unable to service their debt and require huge bailots. Simultaneously, consecutive quarters of poor returns to the FAANG stocks leads their share price to collapse by 50%. Companies pull investment as they attempt to balance books, which leads to a spiral of decreased corporate spending, job losses, and decreased consumer spending. Over a period of a year global markets lose half their value. Central interest rates, already low, cannot provide stimulus. Reposessions lead to global property price falls. Bond prices collapse as once top-rated companies go under. Government tax receipts cannot cover half of spending, and radical steps are taken. In the UK, the pension is means-tested. The NHS is means-tested. Unemployment benefit is replaced by a ration system. Unemployment rises to 30%, homelessness to 10%. Shanty towns spring up across the country, and crime rates rise dramatically. The world experiences a new Great Depression.
Scenario 2: Local gloom
The UK population enjoys a period of honeymoon euphoria after Brexit occurs. The pound and FTSE100 rise to levels not seen since the mid-00s. People spend the cash they’ve hoarded. The government invests in building swathes on houses on the greenbelt and big infrastructure projects. The honeymoon cannot last, and the economic stimulus leads to inflation and increased government debt. Growth is not stimulated, and the Bank of England is forced to increase interest rates to reduce inflation. People, used to cheap loans and credit, struggle to pay their bills. Repossessions rise, and companies which were just about managing with their debt burden, go under. Tax receipts to the treasury fall, leading to swingeing cuts to the NHS, police and social services. The pension age rises to 70. Income tax goes up 5% across the board. The housing market is flooded with repossessed homes, leading to a 25% drop in prices and negative equity. Globally, markets experience a 20% correction, before continuing their march onwards fuelled by growth in tech and green technologies. The UK is unable to capitalise on this growth, and increasingly sidelined, only sees a return to stability by the end of the decade.
Scenario 3: Wiggle room
The UK population enjoys a period of honeymoon euphoria after Brexit occurs. The pound and FTSE100 rise to levels not seen since the mid-00s. This financial rebound coincides with a global slowdown, prompting the UK to become a counter-cyclical anomaly. Global companies, seeing it’s growth and position as a stepping stone to the EU without tight regulatory control, invest into the UK. UK companies on the back of a stronger pound, stretch abroad. Wages rise, whilst interest rates remain low, leading property to become more affordable. UK domestic stocks show strong growth over the decade – >10% a year, while global stocks hobble along <5%. UK bonds and property remain flat. Increased tax receipts enable the government to focus on reducing national debt.
Scenario 4: Global boom
Driven by cultural nostalgia for the 1920s, the world markets continue their growth into a new ‘roaring twenties’. Tech growth continues, and as new companies rise on the back of radical inventions, older established companies pivot their business models to capitalise on new areas of growth. Tobacco, oil, gas and pharmaceutical companies invest into clean energy and renewables. Mining companies see boosted returns as once-waste metals become sought after for manufacturing. The BRICS nations embrace the new green revolution, and increase their growth by spreading manufacturing into developing nations. Periodic <20% corrections do not dampen stock growth, with 10%+ yearly returns average, and some years seeing 20%. Interest rates gradually creep up, with global bonds achieving 5-10%. Strong wage growth also leads to increasing property prices, at least 5% a year. The world settles into a new normal, with a globally integrated industrial stream and international co-operation.
Late addition – Scenario 5: Wuhan Pandemic
The novel 2019 Coronavirus (one word people) continues it’s inexorable march across the globe. Following the Wuhan pattern, there is approximately a one month lag in each location before the true extent of spread is known, made up of incubation period and asymptomatic spread. By May 2020 the Wuhan virus has spread across the globe, and the numbers of infected in western counties is growing at an exponential rate. In June the number infected has crossed 100 million. The most severely affected are the old, weak and frail. 2% of those infected die. In the UK this numbers over half a million, mainly 1% of the UK population over 65 (18% of the general population). Nobody is spared. Everybody loses someone they know. The global economy staggers but continues, given that working aged people are predominantly spared. In the UK there is a glut of property put on the market, as empty homes are sold by bereaved relatives. Money concentrates into the hands of those left, reducing debt burden and leading to a surplus of cash. The government receives a windfall of inheritance tax receipts and reduced pension/ social care expenses. Society continues onwards, but never quite forgets the potential of a pandemic.
Around this time last year MrsShrink and I tied the knot. In honour of this, I felt I should do the romantic thing and work out how much it cost. The first thing to say is, like our friends Mr and Mrs YFG, we looked at the costs of the average wedding aghast (1). It was actually at one of these £30k+ weddings that MrYFG and I realised we had known each other in real life long before we began commenting on each others blogs. The average wedding in the UK now costs ~£32k, and it’s rising (2). I suspect this is a positively skewed mean, as averages reported elsewhere range from £17.5-30k (3, 4, 5). Either way, no small potatoes. We weren’t willing to hoik ourselves to the eyeballs with credit card debt.
The wants list
Although I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart, MrsShrink and I could never be called religious. MrsShrink would describe herself as a devout atheist. As such a church wedding was off the cards as to her it would be dishonest. So we sat down and tried to decide:
What is the point of a wedding?
What makes a good wedding?
What makes a wedding memorable and what leaves a sour memory?
We reasoned that the point of a wedding was to celebrate our relationship and commitment to each other. How do you celebrate something in most cultures around the world? Throw a F-off party. The ceremony has symbolic importance to family members and friends, so we planned to include those we love in events as much as we could without being too ceremonial. If we were going to celebrate it was going to be with those we wanted to celebrate with, our closest friends. We both come from large extended families which introduced massive stress and financial implications in deciding who came. How do we tell Uncle S we’re not inviting him because we saw Aunty T more recently? Where do you draw the line? We said brothers, sisters, parents and that was it. No cousin B, who you only see semi-annually when someone who shares partial DNA cops it.
What makes a good wedding? The same ingredients as a good party; good food, free-flowing booze, good music, good people. What leaves a sour memory? An absence of any of the above, and interpersonal grief. Supply the first. Only invite good friends and avoid familial beef for the latter.
What did we do and what did it cost?
We planned a three day long party with our closest family in friends in a remote pile in the country. Free-flowing booze, ample food and pumping basslines. Sandwiched in the middle was a wedding ceremony. We kept a running budget as we went along, and a rough target figure, so now the dust has settled down here’s the numbers it came out at.
The average venue hire is apparently £4-5k, with another £500 for a church on top (2, 5) . We set some criteria for what we wanted which reduced our range. Due to our background we have friends all over the country, and if we were inviting them down we figured most would need to stay; therefore onsite or nearbyaccommodation. A church was off the cards and we wanted something good for all weathers; a stately home or castle set-up. We’ve been to weddings where members of the public are traipsing about gawping; sole use of the venue. None of that comes cheap. Most established venues have set ‘menus’ of wedding options, or slick brochures advertising the ‘packages’ and offers. We wanted to do our own thing; slick wedding packages aren’t particularly individual (to our mind), and you’re paying for the convenience of not planning or thinking. After spending hours of googling the SEO optimised wedding material I had a brainwave. Venues have to be licensed for a wedding…
Check the licensing list.
I pulled up all of the local counties’ government websites and downloaded their lists of registered wedding venues. Among them I found a gem. Minimal online presence, set up to run corporate away-day events in a country house in the middle of nowhere, they had a wedding license and accommodated a few weddings a year. Entire run of the stately home, like a giant self-catering hotel. Sauna, pool, games rooms, en-suite bedrooms for 40+ people. Total cost: £6600 for four days. Blew the budget a bit, but got to love Wales as I think elsewhere in the UK it would have been double that.
Food & Booze
So we’ve got a smallish number of people (~50) for a chilled out, non-stuffy wedding. We opted for a local company using local ingredients, served in an unfussy buffet way. We deliberately over-catered so there would be leftovers. The caterers cost us £1,600, plus a further £250 for waiting staff for the whole day. Significantly less that the £4.5k average (2). We called in favours as chef friends cooked breakfasts and big communal meals on the non-wedding days (2, 6). A family friend made a spectacular cake. Another family friend who runs a brewery supplied beer at cost. We went to Majestic and made the most of their free glass hire and wine delivery service. Alcohol was ultimately paid for by a family member, at a total of around £1000, less than the £1500 average.
The average cost of a four piece band is £1000-1500 for a wedding, plus another £200-800 for a DJ (5). We could have tapped up friends who play in a wedding band, but felt then they couldn’t enjoy the event. We hired a musician to play during the ‘reception’ for a couple of hours for £250, and then a commercial PA/ light system for the evening for £200. I spent a few days putting a Spotify playlist together (14 hour runtime), then cross-fading and mixing transitions. Significant saving, and the music didn’t stop until 4am.
I had put aside £2,500 for an engagement ring (slightly less than the UK average) (2). There was never an intention to buy new, and MrsShrink likes art deco. After a year spent looking for the right ring, I bought an antique stopgap for 1/10th of the price. She fell in love with it. It’s personal, perfect to her taste, and she doesn’t worry about getting mugged for a massive stone. The wedding rings themselves came from a local jeweller and cost £1100.
Wedding Dress/ Outfit
MrsShrink frankly hated the idea of spending £1,000 on a dress to wear once (2). Many national charities run specialist bridal stores where they collect together donated dresses. MrsShrink won’t tell me what she spent, but she ultimately bought two dresses (she couldn’t decide) for (I think) 1/4 of the average above. I decided that my own suit and that of the groomsmen should be something we could wear again. Why spend £100 each hiring a morning-suit when you can buy something decent from M&S for £150? I spent £400 buying suits, ties and accessories for the chaps, and £550 on a tailor-made suit for myself. One of my groomsmen uses his suit for work. I’ve since worn my suit as best for several events and to interviews, and it fits like a glove.
Photography, flowers and decorations
We spent £1000 on this. The average is apparently £1100-1400 (2, 5). We opted out of engagement/ honeymoon shoots. We were happy with some of the photos but not all, and I do wonder if we shouldn’t have scrimped here. Ultimately we have enough lovely photos for an album, and how many do you need/ how often do you look at them? MrsShrink initially made the save the dates, but when we number-crunched it turned out to be just as cost effective to have the actual invites printed (~£100). Standard wedding flowers apparently start at £250 (5). MrsShrink has an aversion to cut flowers – ‘Why would you think something that’s dying is pretty?’ – instead we ordered dried seasonal flowers. Not only did this come in at £220 for bouquets, corsages, button holes and table decorations, but one year on they’re still looking just as pretty on our mantelpiece. Bunting was sown by family members and dried petal confetti was collected by friends.
The final bill
All told we came in around £14,000, of which £3,000 came from family as gifts. Roughly half the ‘average’. If I’m honest MrsShrink was the main source of budgeting success. I struggle to control my spending in the name of a party. The biggest frugal tips we have:
Make a list of what will make your day special to you
Use the council wedding licence list to find hidden venues
Truly think about who you want there. Does it need to be every cousin and their step-mother-in-law?
Posh, class and tradition does not have to mean stuffy or expensive
Call on friends talents
Second hand items and charity shops are your friend
Dried flowers are cheaper and last longer than fresh
You’re getting married to the most important person in your life. Who are you trying to impress?
I’m sure we could have been more frugal, but we had a great time, so did our mates, and it’s remembered by everyone as a proper knees-up.
I’ve not participated in the Saving Ninja’s ‘Thought Experiment’ series to date, so this is #1 for me. The premise is a stream of consciousness amble through your response to a hypothetical question. For this one:
“Life is good. You finally did it! You pulled the plug on your day job after reaching financial independence. You never have to work for money ever again. But, you’re bored. You need something to do… You need a project! You grab a piece of paper and a pen and start thinking. Now that you’re financially free, what projects do you want to complete? However ambitious, however small, you now have the time to pursue anything that you like, what will you accomplish?“
Not the epic sci-fi show now on Amazon Prime. I’m talking about the sudden expanse of time available to me for long awaited projects. Like many other FIRE bloggers, a lot of the things I want to do, the projects, are already started or integral to my current path. I’m not actually sure I’d even retire. I wear many hats in my day job, and some of them I enjoy sufficiently that they don’t feel like work. Even if I didn’t have to work for money I’d probably try and continue a few days a week out of intellectual curiosity.
Beyond the sphere of my work, I have a list of semi-started projects which bring me happiness or satisfaction that I could dedicate more time to. I would:
Learn how to and then practise welding and sheet metal working. To spend some of my time buying rotten classic cars and restoring them from the ground up. Maybe racing them, maybe selling for a profit, maybe just to drive. Do some sculpture work in metal.
Continue learning languages. But be able to dedicate more time to it, maybe evening classes.
Build a suitable vehicle and then go overlanding. Probably some sort of Kamaz or Bedford 6×6. Spend some time, as long as it took, driving the Silk Road, the Panamerican Highway. Maybe Aus and trans-Africa. Detours on the Trans-Siberian Railway and travelling the US and Canada by rail. No rush, no goals, just the road to see. Sate my wanderlust.
Return to the UK and complete some more property renovation projects. Working through phases and styles. Maybe convert some industrial buildings. Build an eco house working with a friends company; off mains electric and water, incorporating space for family and guests.
Grow, cook, bake and brew. More time on each, growing more food, keeping more animals, experimenting brewing, funding a friends micro-brewery (which doesn’t really need funding as it’s going from strength to strength).
Kids would change the approach but not the direction of travel. There’s other targets in my goals list which don’t feature here, perhaps they’d feature too, there would be no rush. Living for joy and contentment would be my project. Soppy bugger.