Here be (financial) monsters

So here I am, surveying the financial wreckage after a wedding and a honeymoon. I had been dreading and looking forward to totalling up the total wedding costs in equal measure.

For someone seeking Financial Independence it sure feels like an abhorrent amount of money was sucked out from Mr Zombie Limited.

Seeing the total cost in plain Calibri font in Excel is a painful affirmation of the cost of a wedding, even if we came in at under the national average (or is the average here?).  I’m not going to disclose the total cost of our wedding, but it was enough to make my crusty undead eyes emit a picolitre of moisture.

To any auditors of the financial statements, the wedding and honeymoon costs will be clearly marked up as ‘one off extraordinary items’.

“Hey, ignore those chunky costs, don’t worry, be happy.  From here on out it will be clear sailing towards the serene islands of financial independence.  I promise.

Yours in earnest,

Mr Zombie, CEO”

That’s rarely the case though. As Ermine pointed out so eloquently, the journey is far from a linear one.

Life is not some model in Excel, add a few assumptions, hit F9 and watch the projected wealth streak forth in a near linear fashion to a pre determined goal.  Any financial models we build are just (extremely) simplified versions of reality, designed to help us plan at a very high level.

The beautiful chaos of life inevitably has its way with you and your finances.  As you batter down one road of possibility, one probability out of an infinite number of choices, so your wealth follows.

You can make choices that positively influence your wealth, but trying to maintain complete control is too tiring.  And possibly negative, many of the paths will lead in broadly the same direction anyway.

With that in mind, there are some things that are worth preparing for.  A journey as long and treacherous as the one towards Financial Independence is sure to be peppered with beasts.

Financial monsters

Here be monsters

“Here be monsters” would be a good warning to anyone preparing to start the quest, a warning that should be included in the “Guide to FI” pamphlet as you start the journey.

Some of the monsters are ones that we can expect, or choose, to meet.  So we should really do some training and be prepared for the upcoming battles.  “Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation” and all that.

The first is the Beast of Purchasing a House.  You build up a nice chunk of savings only to ‘lose’ it all to a deposit on a house.  It can feel like a step backwards, to apparently lose all that wealth.

It’s not lost really, rather it has been transferred from cash savings into bricks and mortar.  It’s a question of asset class and the loss of liquidity, really.

Buying a House Monster

The Beast of Purchasing a House is creepy. And always watching

To buy or not to buy, is a simple yet horribly complicated question.  Either, you are paying rent (and bowing to the whimsical powers of inflation and landlords) or paying a mortgage and upkeep (and bowing to the powers of interest rates and market values).

Buy a house and once it is paid off you are rent free for life, with only upkeep costs to pay.  Don’t buy a house and you need extra funds stashed away to provide enough return to cover your rental costs.

Many hopelessly underestimate the costs of owning a house, money spent on repairs/upgrades and the time cost of doing any DIY work yourself.  Statements like I bought my house for X and sold it for Y and so made (Y – X) profit are so very misleading.

A property on my street costs about £250k.  Drop that on a house and you could live rent free for the rest of your days.  But you’d need to have a fund to pay for upkeep, say 1% of the house value a year.  Let’s say you cover this using the 4% rule, that’s £2,500 / 0.04 = £62,500. £62,500 that you would need to hold and invest to theoretically cover your upkeep costs.

Or you could use the £250k and the £62,500 to cover renting a property.  At 4% this would cover a monthly rent of £1,042.  Zoopla estimates the rent of a property on my street at around £850 – £1,000.  Fairly similar, if you have the capital.




Either way you need a place to live.  The Finance Zombie believes that much of the difference between buying and renting would come out in the wash in the long run, sadly there’s no way of knowing with any certainty which is the right choice upfront.

Perhaps the Beast of Purchasing a House is a false one, as we all need a roof over our heads.

The second beast is the cost of a wedding.  A one-off (hopefully) shock to your financial system.  If you wanted to be cheesy you might say it is the cost of investing in you and your partner’s future together.  But Mr Zombie isn’t the sentimental type.

The wedding day is one to be treasured, that’s for sure, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose your shit in a sea of emotion and a flurry of financial fuck-ups.

Therefore, pass me the Spotlight of Reason and let’s look at this under the cold hard light of rationality.

A wedding is a hefty one-off cost.  A one-off cost that is going to be a drain on your growing savings.

wedding-monster

So what can you do?  Plan and save.  Remember that it is going to be an expensive day that you will do once, so there’s not learning from it for the next time round (again, hopefully).  So do your learning up front.

Plan the day to be what you want, not what some whelp in a glossy magazine, that is paid by the very industry, expects.  Do things yourselves and try to avoid anything or anyone that is marketed as a wedding business, for they will only be a money grabbing parasite wearing a loosely fitting human suit hiding under a smokescreen of niceties.

Save for the day.  Don’t lose your shit just because it is a wedding.  Generally credit and loans should be used sparingly, if at all, and they certainly shouldn’t be used to fund a wedding.

The average cost of a wedding is somewhere between £20,000 and £30,000.  The average UK salary was £27,600 in 2015.  Absorb that for a second, then exhale through your teeth and feel sad about humanity.

It’s easy to sit back and scoff at the cost of weddings, I know, I did it.  Then promptly spent more than I expected to on my wedding day.  Who was I to know that it would cost more than £70?

Remember that cold hard light of rationality, it would have been useful here too.  I ended up pissed off quite a few times at the cost of the wedding and in truth started to resent the day at times, as the costs mounted.

How much!?  For a cocking dress!?

But that was my fault for not properly thinking, doing some research and more importantly speaking to my now wife openly about things.

Weddings are a tough one with all sorts of societal and family pressures trying to direct the event in some way.  Perhaps the hardest thing is to separate your own from ones you’ve been to in the past, it’s only too easy to compare.  No one wants to look ‘cheap’ do they?

The truth is, a wedding is going to be expensive (let’s say anything into 4 – figures is getting expensive) but it doesn’t have to be extortionate.  Catering and venue hire are generally the biggest costs.

If I was to do it again I would go self catered, buffet style, where each guest brings a big dish of something they made.  Everyone’s involved, it’s cheaper and food poison is a given.  What’s not to like?

The third monster that is ready to slow your progress to Financial Independence is the Terror of Having Kids.  Unlike a wedding, which is a shock-cost, having children is a slow burner, a long suckout.  Let’s use that Spotlight of Reason again, and try to remove some of the emotion.

To make matters worse there is the potential for the double whammy of reduced household income (as one of you leaves work to look after the Terror) and increased expenses (kids cost money).

Do kids have to cost that much?

The Terror wants your money

Yet, somehow, there is still hope.  There are folks out there, who are already Financially Independent.  With kids!  MMM and The Escape Artist for a start.

And there’s plenty more in the act of saving towards it, despite the cash draining powers of these monstrosities.  RITtheFIREstarter, J$ & UTMT to name a few.

From where I’m standing, it looks like a minefield of potential overspending.

In a viscous tangent of life style inflation, the more money that parents have the more money they feel they need to spend on their children.  I don’t have any kids myself yet, but my nephew seems as content with a new toy as he does spinning in a circle in the middle of the room with a tea towel in his hand and then saying the walls are tipping over.

The beast here isn’t really children themselves, you can spend as much or a little as you like.  Like The Incredible Hulk, the beast you need to control is actually within yourself.

I suppose it’s easy to think you are selfish if you are saving excess money and not spending it on your kid, be that on consumables, activities, sports or school fees.

It’s a balancing act, obviously.  Saving 70% of your income whilst your child charges about without a t-shirt to it’s name and Tesco shopping bags for nappies is getting it wrong.  But so is spending 100% of your income, just because you can, on toys, clubs, expensive schools and robotics kits.  Maybe the last one is allowed.

Unthinkingly spending more money on your kids doesn’t make you a better parent.  There’s a more healthy middle ground in there somewhere.

Blindly following the spending of your demographic isn’t necessarily going to lead you in a great direction.  Following your demographic could lead to fancy schools and an upgrade to a larger car, it’s safer in a crash, right?  At least be honest and drive an 18 wheeler, that way when you crash into the family in a Ford Ka at least you’ll be ok.

You’re allowed to continue to save for your own future if you have kids.  Make the mistake of talking to one of the Horde and they will convince you how expensive having a kid is.  Yet, somehow, parts of the FI community aren’t finding this.  Is it witch craft or a slightly contrarian approach?

Some might turn their nose up, “Stupid Mr Zombie, he doesn’t even have a kid.  He is not allowed to comment.”  Until (if) I have kids myself I won’t be able to comment on the exact cost of my own.

But I do know that kids in families that earn less than £100k do not perish.  Those children that go to state school don’t end up gibbering and grazing on grass.  Young ‘uns in push chairs that cost less than £100 don’t spontaneously burst into flame.  Similarly kids who have money thrown at them don’t always turn out to be upstanding members of society.

And perhaps I am in the perfect position to comment, before my brain is riddled with hormones sending me into an over protective purchasing fever.

Who knows, it’s an emotive subject.  Yet I can’t see that blindly throwing money at it is the ever going to be the best approach.  Even in education, is the private option really the best?

They generally get better results, but is that simply because of the students they attract or because of the money parents spend?  I know there has been studies that show that parental involvement is one of the biggest drivers of success at school, suggesting dropping thousands on private school could be akin to just burning money.  There’s far too much socio-economic going’s on for it to be a simple task to decide if private school is worth it.  It’s a topic for a different post.

We need to reign that in a bit, as we’re in danger of strolling into Off-Topic Forest, and we don’t have time for that today.  So having kids costs money, I think we all agree on that.  Seemingly the depressingly ever correct thing to do is ignore conventional wisdom and realise they don’t have to cost that much.  And they certainly won’t derail any plans for Financial Independence if you do a little bit of planning.

The fourth and final monster we shall see here today, is one I am in long term training to defeat.  Like Batman spending time training with the League of Shadows, I am having my ass kicked whilst learning the ropes and spending time saving towards Financial Independence.

The monster is of course The Retirement Beast, that greedy bastard who wants all your wealth as you stop working.  After battling the House Purchasing Beast, the Wedding Monster and the Terror that is having kids you arrive shattered and depleted, and still have another war to win.

As you are here reading a blog about my attempts to save enough to get Financially Independent, so that work becomes optional, you are probably thinking along the same lines yourself.  Saving for ‘retirement’ has quickly become second nature for me.

Retirement is a far and distant land for many, mystical and not yet completely formed by their expectations or reality.  It is almost an inevitability and still most ignore it, hoping everything will be OK or that the state will provide for them.

Along with buying a house, retirement is one of the most expensive events of your life, and somehow nearly 25% of the UK population are apparently saving nothing for it, according to Scottish Widows.

The average income those surveyed expect to retire on is nearly £25k and the average savings pot for retirement is £150k, which SW estimate would provide an annual income of £5.7k.  3.8%, if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

An additional £7k from the state pension brings us to around £13k of income a year.  On average the UK population is preparing for disappointment then, nice.  And expecting the state pension to be around in the same form as it is today is a huge assumption.

Many would be happy to have £150k saved for retirement, but perhaps surprised and slightly depressed by this providing an income of only £5.7k.

The trick is to get started early.  Start your learning early.  Start saving earlier and you can save less a month or retire earlier.  And for the contrarians among us it means saving a lot more than the norm and making work optional at the earliest opportunity.

Once savings become large enough then they can support the Beast of Retirement nibbling away, keeping him well fed and yourself Financially Independent.  Conversely if the savings are too small then the Beast of Retirement is too large to be supported by them, and will eventually chomp it’s way through.

Adequate savings for retirement

The Beast of Retirement is a puppy, if tamed with adequate savings

Keeping the Beast of Retirement well fed, with investment returns, is the corner stone of my plan in making paid work become optional.

With the Beast of Retirement happily nibbling away at retirement savings I can begin the transition from salaried work in it’s current form to doing what I want, whatever that may be.

The thing is, to build up enough to ‘Retire Early’ means saving a heck of a lot by conventional standards.  The other beasts pale into insignificance when we start assessing the cost of retiring early.

The ‘4% Rule’ might be riddled with dodgy assumptions and based on the economies of old, but it a useful yardstick for getting a feeling of just how much you need to retire.  To return to the Scottish Widows example earlier, the expected annual income in retirement is £25k.  Even if we take off the assumed £7k of state income, the 4% Rule would suggest a pot of £443k is needed to fund this kind of income.  £150k just isn’t going to cut it, pilgrim.

We’ve got our heads down, saving hard, yet it’s still going to have a time to destination of 7 – 15 years by my calculations.

All it takes is a slight attitude and lifestyle shift, to shift the balance from a net spender to a net saver.

We had a look at moving house to something bigger fairly recently, but realised we don’t need a bigger house, our two bed terrace is cosy enough for now, thanks.  We don’t need a new car every few years or to eat out at least once a week.

Perhaps the hardest thing for others to understand, or to initially adjust towards, is that Mrs Z and I choose to live in a smaller house than we could afford.  We drive older and cheaper cars than we could buy.  We buy clothes less often and less fancy than we can afford.  Just because you can afford something, doesn’t mean it’s the better or correct choice.

Hopefully our concious choices put us in good stead to defeat all the financial monsters above, with a clear margin.

Defeating all of the monsters above is painfully easy really, just save and invest.  But it is painfully hard to implement, unless we get our immediate Needs and Wants under control.

Mr Z

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17 thoughts on “Here be (financial) monsters

  1. Retirement Investing Today

    Hi Mr Z

    For once I’m going to stay away from the financial side of things and instead just congratulate you on your marriage. I hope it is both long (including a super long FIRE period) and prosperous.

    I’ve now been married quite a few years and I must say even though it’s been full of ups and downs it’s still one of the best things I’ve ever done.

    Cheers
    RIT

    Reply
    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Hi RIT,
      Thank you! It has been a grand first couple of months 🙂

      A super long FIRE period would be lovely!

      Mr Z

      Reply
    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Haha, thanks Weenie. Mrs Z was nowhere near that terrifying on the actual day 🙂

      Mr Z

      Reply
  2. ZJ Thorne

    Congrats on the wedding! I hope your marriage is wonderful.

    I like the idea of retirement as a beast you need to feed. A breathing, living thing with teeth. Keep it happy or suffer painful consequences. Like a lion or mastiff. If desperate, extra dangerous.

    Reply
    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Thank you ZJ! 🙂

      Haha yeah, but when you have enough to feed it, it becomes placid and friendly.
      Mr Z

      Reply
  3. ARBM

    Having just got married last summer, I know the wedding cost beast quite well… We added a honeymoon beast to it this year… Both were must larger beasts than first estimated, but worth every penny (or most of them anyway…) Now we are constantly battling the housing beast, and working towards a big retirement savings for the retirement beast to nibble on.

    Anyway, congratulations on your wedding!

    P.S. I love the monster analogies.

    Reply
    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Even though we tried to keep the costs down for both the honeymoon and the wedding, we ended up going over our estimates. But then we started lower than the national average 😉

      It’s a long road to saving for FIRE, especially when that’s the purpose (rather than just saving for savings sake).

      Thanks ARBM 🙂

      Mr Z

      Reply
  4. ermine

    Congratulations on getting married! And well-done on that it didn’t cost you £30k, that article is absolutely wild. The photography bill alone makes my eyes water, I mean exactly how many people do you know who narcissistically view their wedding albums frequently FFS. We got some pals to shoot the pictures and got enough keepers to do the job. The used the farm as a reception and got people to do the bring something to share. And focused the money we saved on having enough booze to get people hammered 😉

    I am child-free by choice, but I have seen many many people flog themselves into the ground for school fees. I went to a State grammar school FWIW, but I agree with you that better education in terms of the syllabus isn’t what you pay for in private schools.

    I came to the conclusion that what people are paying for is their children learning the confidence to lead, for the children being taught what the US military used to call command presence. It is notable in people that went to public school, along them having an awareness of how to lead which was never part fo my school experience. Mrs Ermine went to a public school – at 35 she had command presence I had to work hard at developing by 45, and I see the difference with her ex-schoolmates too. Having command presence in your 20s often gets you closer to roles that run the country and closer to the 1%, I guess, though not always – Mrs Ermine isn’t in such a role, though she can lead a work party far better than me for example. You don’t have to go to public school to have that – today I saw a 29-year old woman who grew up in modest circumstances run a company with more command presence that I have. But it’s much more common in people who have been to public school in my observation.

    Any prospective parent will observe that their child will grow up into a Britain that will be bitterly more unequal than it is now, which is already much more unequal than the country I grew up in, where the peculiarities of the post-war economy levelled the playing field up until the 1980s.

    So many forces are running in the direction of more inequality, and it is hard to see any countervailing elements. It would be rational to favour those soft skills in one’s offspring, even though it isn’t politically correct. Which is presumably why people are prepared to pay £200k per child on the project. so they have a better chance of earning a better living.

    I salute you on the two bed terrace. Mine was big enough for me as a single man, but I wanted more space when living with a partner. I can’t imagine living with children in a two bed terrace, though enough people do I guess 😉

    Reply
    1. Mr Zombie Post author

      Hi Ermine,

      Wedding photos are a strange one, to pay all that money to get some photos that you look at 3 times. Staged group shots do me in as well, much prefer something a bit more natural.

      ‘learning the confidence to lead’ – that does seem to be a large part of the outcome. Friends I made at University that went to public schools all seemed to be natural leaders…or groomed natural leaders I guess. I suppose the connections you make at a public school might be ‘beneficial’, if they all tend towards upper management as well then you have some powerful friends, if that’s your thing.

      I spent most of my school years abroad as an expat, in a private school. In my defence it was the only school that taught the English curriculum, so there wasn’t much choice in it!

      I’m not against state or public schools in anyway, I just don’t agree that paying more means better and on the other hand I don’t think State schools are better just because.

      ‘Any prospective parent will observe that their child will grow up into a Britain that will be bitterly more unequal than it is now, which is already much more unequal than the country I grew up in, where the peculiarities of the post-war economy levelled the playing field up until the 1980s’ – as I age, and get more and more bitter 😉 , I am more and more in favour of a very high IHT. It would be a start…

      Ahhh the two bed terrace. We’ve looked to move, but can’t currently justify the extra cost or the extra commute time a move would bring. In truth, I’d love some extra space, even if it was just a garage to tinker with my bikes and do a bit of woodwork. I can walk to work from where I am now, or cycle if feeling lazy. I could probably cycle a 10 mile commute, but that does start to take it’s toll on the body after a while. I genuinely think electric bikes will be the way to go once the prices start to drop, they’d eat up a 10 mile commute and you can park right outside work.

      Mr Z

      Reply
      1. weenie

        When I went to uni, I mixed for the first time with people who did not go to state/comprehensive school like myself. Posh accents aside, we were no different, we’d gotten the same grades to get onto the same course.

        The HUGE difference was definitely the leadership thing, how they were able to hold public debate, how they were able to confidently speak in formal public presentations, the latter of which still has me breaking out in a bit of a sweat! I’m a lot better but it’s taken me a long time!

        Reply
      2. ermine

        > I am more and more in favour of a very high IHT

        Me too, although I believe the higher geographical mobility and assortative mating as also drivers of increasing inequality, and it’s difficult to imagine decent ways to counter that.

        Even an idle bum like me was able to cycle a 7 mile (14 round-trip) commute, so a physical fitness aficionado fellow like you can do 10? Mind you I was doing this on the flat roads of East Anglia, it was the wind that was more of a challenge. I’m also tempted by an electric mod

        Reply
    2. FreedomSoul

      First of all, huge congratulations Mr Zombie on your nuptials. I hope it is a long and happy union. Uncharted waters for me, but I’m sure you have many adventures ahead!

      @ermine – your comment caught my eye, because as a serving British officer “command presence” is definitely still an oft-mentioned phrase over here. I am also grammar-educated and, coincidentally, command presence is one of my weaker areas (being relatively sound at hobnobbing and public speaking, but arguably lacking in assertiveness and force of character). That said, we have a mixture of public and private education in the officer ranks, and there is little to no correlation with command presence. Indeed we have plenty of comprehensive-educated non-graduates who have exactly the sort of self-assured, bullish confidence some people assume requires a public school education.

      Reply
      1. ermine

        I would imagine the school difference would show less in the Armed Forces than in Civvy street for the simple reason that it is required in the officer ranks so presumably there is some process of teaching it? Whereas in most civilian work you sort of pick/up refine these sort of soft skills as you go along, or not depending on what sort of job you gravitate to – you don’t have to shape up.

        I guess that this can be taught to adults of all backgrounds in the military shows at least this isn’t something you have to pick up at school age.

        Reply
  5. theFIREstarter

    Lot’s to cover here so will try to keep it to the point!

    Housing – I always thought buying housing was a winner over renting (depending on where you live obvs) but I never considered the whole upkeep cost and then doing the 4% rule on that. Very good point! However buying is still for me. I like knowing that I “own” the roof over my head and more importantly can do whatever I like to it without having to ask a landlord, it’s just less stress all round for me. I can appreciate it being completely the opposite for others though, especially if you have zero interesting in DIY.

    p.s. the housing beast picture really freaked me out. Please never use that in a post again!

    Weddings – You nailed most of the important points here! Any business with the name “wedding” will charge you about a 1000% premium for their services… what a joke that people pay this. We seriously considered starting up a side hustle to make wedding invites after getting a few quotes and then making a pretty good hash of it ourselves on the first attempt at about half the cost (even including buying a printer!!!)

    There are so many societal pressures both from tradition/relatives and now from the marketing men and friends trying to outdo each other (yawn!) that it is a total minefield. I would say we spent about 1/5th of our total yearly pretax income. Which is still a lot! Oh and then another 5 grand or so on the honeymoon… forgot about that 🙂 Bit it was totally worth it, OBVS!

    Kids: Thanks for including me on the list of wannabe FI’s with kids. I guess at least I fit the criteria 🙂
    So far she ain’t costing much at all but come back to me in a couple of years… the jurys out for a while!
    I agree I think it is totally down to you how much you spend and also if you start off spending loads on them when they are 1 year old then they will have that as a base line of what to expect. Which is just plain stupid if you ask me.

    Retirement savings… yep you just gotta save up for the long haul and stick with the plan!

    Finally congratulations!!! Hope you had a wicked day and an awesome honeymoon… off to find a post about that now as I missed it!

    Reply

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