How I found financial independence and started making the right choices

We all get asked as a kid what we want to be when we grow up. Astronaut, doctor, teacher….rich and famous. For me it was a teacher, right up until the point where I used my year 10 work experience to spend 2 weeks as a teaching assistant. Needless to say, my dreams were somewhat shattered at that point.

What was my next dream? I didn’t know really. I jumped from GCSEs to A-Levels to Undergrad. But then what? Well into my early twenties I stumbled through, with absolutely no clear financial plan for what to do with my life.

In the deep end

My life changed rather dramatically from the age of 23 when I was thrown into fatherhood. Barely out of university, and barely able to look after myself, I now had to look after another life.

Taking the first job I could find felt like my only option at the time; which meant starting in a call centre, as the sole earner. I was a young dad, on minimum wage, with no real aspirations or goals. I felt like I had been thrown in the deep end, with no swimming ability, no lifeguard and no edge in sight.

It was at this point that my focus started to narrow and I engrossed myself in being a Dad and my love for gadgets and computers. It would turn out to be a good combination. As I learnt at university, this was a positive feedback loop.

Useful loops

Learning more coding for fun started bleeding into my work life, allowing me to automate some of my work. The big cheeses noticed this and realised I was an asset to be utilised. This led to some small promotions and a slight bump in pay. In turn this led to me being able to provide more for my new family, which pushed me to learn more at work.

Doggy paddle

Suddenly I was growing into new roles, learning new skills and noticing that with better paying roles, more freedoms were becoming available. More flexible working hours, being treated with more respect and better pay were to name a few.

Working was starting to become fun, but it was still something that would be a necessity, at least until I was retired at 65. Not only that, I was falling into the law of induced demand. Every time I got a pay rise, I would increase my spending to match it, meaning I was still living month to month. I had no savings of any kind, no house to call my own and no fall back whatsoever if I were to lose my job.

Blessing in disguise

My Nan then died. I know, a blessing, really! And while I was grief stricken, I also wasn’t surprised, she was almost 80 and had Parkinsons. What I didn’t expect though was my uncle calling me up and telling me that she had left me some inheritance.

Initially I thought it might be a couple of hundred pounds at most. She didn’t throw cash around, and in true British fashion, nor did she talk about finances in any way. Needless to say, I was shocked when it turned out to be £20,000!

Using this I decided to put down a deposit on my first house, here in Sheffield. This was a big step towards gaining some financial freedom. Once paid off, I would own a house and wouldn’t have to worry about rent.

Finally swimming

Things were on the up and up. I had my own house that was going to be paid off, and an average paying job (£24,000 at the time), keeping me afloat. But I still had no savings to speak of, and on top of that I had taken out a credit card to fix the house to a livable standard. At this point, I’d been working in a bank for around 5 years. It was time for something new.

I suspected that the work I was doing and the skills I had developed were worth more than what I was being paid for. So under this assumption I applied elsewhere, looking for more official software development roles, closer to home, for more money.

Olympic swimmer

In the space of around 3 months, my life was thrown into overdrive. Two events occurred. I got a new job, and I found FIRE (or rather I was told about it).

Finding FIRE

One of the reasons I enjoyed my role in the bank was how awesome it was to be pushed to challenge myself and to learn new things at all times. My manager at the time then let slip his own secret plan.

Having handed my notice in, I noticed (pun intended) that he was talking a lot more about the idea of retiring in his 40s and making smart investing choices. I laughed it off as a joke of his, but when he continued talking about it, I became intrigued. What was his crazy method to pull this off. Winning the lottery? Robbing a bank? Nope, putting a large proportion of your monthly savings into a Stocks and Shares ISA, with a low annual cost. Repeat, and reap the rewards.

It seemed too good to be true, but the more I looked into it, the more it made sense. The fundamentals were so simple, yet groundbreaking. If I saved 40-50% of my net wages, I could retire in 20 years in my mid 40s. For someone who was already so reliant on my style of living, that was a hard saving rate.

Onward!

Then, the second event happened, I got a new job. Those years of crafting my coding skills had paid off, my net wage had almost doubled over night! Given how happy I was with my the wages I was on, I used this as an opportunity, and started putting all of the new wages into a low cost index fund. I felt like an Olympic swimmer, powering through the water and creating new records.

The end was in sight, and it wasn’t that far away.

Things are adapting and moving as time goes on, but this goal has been the only constant for years. Thanks for reading, and if you want to read some more on the fundamentals of FIRE, take a look at this Blog post.

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