My backstory

More about me and what I learned about money along the way.

Find my basic bio here, which explains my overall goals and why I started this blog.

Here, I’ll focus on my back story. Tbh, I’ve been a bit reluctant to give you my backstory maybe because it isn’t the story of most FIers ‘on the back of’ the FIRE movement. I’m one of those who was probably always seeking financial independence before it had a name.

Growing up in a northern English town, my parents worked long hours. We had no new toys to take in on the last day of school nor annual family holidays, but unlike some friends, we had a home phone and didn’t have free school meals.

A money-related memory from my formative years was having a Griffin Savers Bank Account at school, with 10% interest! I learned the pleasure of saving and of the power of compound interest. The money was really my parents’ though so we couldn’t withdraw whenever we wanted, but that didn’t matter. First lesson: Interest ON interest – mind blown!

I helped at my parents’ shop 20+ hours a week firstly at 50p per hour. By the time I was 13, I’d had my first ever raise to £1 then £2 an hour, amounting to £30-56 per week. Dissatisfied with interest rates, I moved account. At 16, I had a Tessa (ISA predecessor)! My passbook reached four figures, while my sister was asking for her ‘pay’ 3 weeks in advance. Second lesson: Little and often grows.

At 17, we got a leaflet shoved through our door announcing the floating of British Telecom (BT) on the stockmarket. Wow. I bought my first shares (£500). They were addressed ‘in care of’ my parents! This was my first lesson in jittery fingers. (No internet back then but I checked prices on Teletext or Financial Times in the cornershop, lol!!) Result? Break even if you count dividends. Third lesson: Shares are risky if you feel you’ve saved so hard!

Off to University at 18. I chose my Uni in part based on accommodation costs. I went on to a part-time Masters degree. As Uni staff could get half price tuition and I found myself working at the Uni library, I sought to get and got half my fees refunded!

For my lack of study at uni, I made up for it in my Masters. People ask if a Masters is worth it. Well, I got a distinction (and published my research) so it is a vehicle in which you can flourish. It’s not something you just ‘buy’. Anyway, I started to believe in myself.

I won a bursary to do a PhD mainly covering tuition, worked 18 hours a week, and – anxious that I hadn’t started a pension – I put £50 a month away in a high interest regular saver. I was living on about 9k a year at the time. Fourth lesson: There’s (nearly) always a way to save.

During my PhD, I nearly bought a £40,000 house. I got a bank managers’ handshake offering a mortgage in principle. My plan was to rent out 2 rooms to other students, but in the end, I thought it was too risky. These ex-council houses are now worth £200k. This is the One that Got Away.

In 1999, I bought my first equity funds: European, technology etc. All trendy at the time. Studying full-time, each pound still meant a lot. I saw my funds rise and rise (put more in!) then fall, fall, and then some. I was ringing up the automated service everyday to check the prices. I sold most at a loss or break even. Also, I had been too preoccupied with it all. Fifth lesson: Don’t be too greedy!

My first full-time job at 27 saw my income whoosh up from £9-10k to £29k pa! I resisted moving home. I put away £800-£1k a month. After all, I was behind everyone else who’d bought pre housing boom! Having saved £26k deposit, I asked my parents if they’d like to lend me £40k (they’d sold their business). I’d pay interest lower than my mortgage rate but higher than their account. A win-win! They agreed. Sixth lesson: Avoid lifestyle inflation like the plague!

I celebrated a combined flatwarming and 30th birthday, having bought at a peak (for £178k) in the housing market. Happy birthday, me, here’s your 30-year mortgage! 😛 I paid my parents back in 6.5 years instead of the agreed 10. No penalty. 🙂

In 2015, I convinced Mr Firelite to get married (total cost including rings: £4k). We bought a 3-bed semi. Made a loss on the flat (bought pre-2008 crash), but when I combined with how much I’d have been paying in rent, then it was a break even (these kinds of calculations do make you feel better and that’s okay!) The sale of my flat minus costs gave me £99,775! Which went toward our new £225k house.

Excitedly, we found out that we could pay off the mortgage in 2.5 years by paying around £3k a month. Hard to believe, but we did it! The offset facility was fantastic. The common goal kept us buoyed, even with the sudden extra costs associated with Little Firelite coming into our lives. While some choose to invest instead of paying off the mortgage quickly, for me it was worth it and the sense of never paying rent or mortgage again is empowering!

After this, I was at a bit of a financial ‘loose end’ despite wanting to get my savings up again! In early 2019, I happened upon the US FIRE movement, probably from reading personal finance books, which led me to Early Retirement Extreme and then MMM’s website, then I sought UK equivalents.

Unlike many who find the FI path, I was already quite frugal and resourceful, valued saving and had some previous experience of investing. What I struggled with more, having spent so many years (decades) focused on working hard and accumulation (like a good girl), was working out what I really wanted. How I best supercharge my finances now to give me the freedom to do what I want.

Plus, I’d led a whole life of finance as a largely secret one! This ‘movement’ was an outlet where it was socially acceptable to revel and wallow in financial stuff!

While my story may be discouraging to those who’ve not been saving all along, do note that:

  • I have never been a higher tax payer
  • I started earning a ‘grown up’ salary at 27, missing the bulk of my 20’s for income / growth
  • My parents knew little about finances; I sought information myself in the pre-internet age
  • I did a lot of proactive financial choices even for marginal gains as I wanted to make my pound work harder for me in the background! It’s easier than ever for you to do this too
  • I made mistakes: I bought at a high in 3 instances mentioned above and sold at a low after. I also missed opportunities: the 40k house. FIRE has enabled me to consolidate this learning!
  • During all this, I managed to travel a lot too. I’ve now reached around 70 countries. I don’t regret spending on this. Okay, I did miss a flight once and paid £3k to jump on the next!
  • My sister also eventually sorted herself out financially, and this year even mentioned FIRE to me!! Shock! She didn’t go to uni but she made a success of her own business

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