The run up to Financial Independence (part 2)

By Slow Dad - May 27, 2017

Imagine discovering you were mortal. How would your priorities and time usage change? If money ceased to be a blocker what would you do differently?
Last time I set the scene for my Financial Independence epiphany.

It turns out that when you’re cooped up in a hospital ward during a doctor’s strike there isn’t a whole lot to do, particularly once the battery on your iPhone goes flat (curse your time stealing, battery draining addictiveness Candy Crush!).

Hospitals are scary places

Hospitals are scary places at the best of times, nightmare flashbacks expiring elderly relatives, emergency caesarean sections, and the lasting childhood memory of an egotistical emergency room doctor not bothering to wait for an x-ray before attempting the reduction manoeuvre used to fix dislocated elbows on my arm which was actually broken in 5 places! Seldom has a person more thoroughly deserved a punch in the face.

"Seldom has a person more thoroughly deserved a punch in the face."

Hospitals are scary (and as it turns out, dangerous) places!

Hospitals running on a skeleton staff are especially scary.

There weren’t many patients, as everyone who wouldn’t be killed by doing so had been sent home or turned away.

That meant there wasn’t much for the nurses to do, so as a cost saving measure most of them had been sent home too.

And the catering staff.

And so on.

All that meant the usual constant bustle and stream of distractions was significantly muted.

During the first couple of days those guys in the ward who were up to it held wheelchair races up and down the corridors, which was great fun yet ridiculously competitive. Things very quickly came to resemble a game of “murder ball” (if you’ve never seen a game one watch the video below, the players are without question the hardest of any footballing code), until a Turkish guy named Muhammod was declared the champion.

Eventually Nurse Kiwi Steve had to put a stop to it. He didn’t have too much of a problem with the couple of broken fingers that occurred (boys will be boys), but there tends to be a lot of blood spilt when guys are playing rough while wearing cannulas!

By the third day I wasn’t up to getting into too much trouble, the combination of the bug and the side effects from all the different treatments the doctors had tried caught up with me.

Which left me with a lot of time on my hands.

Celebrate the small (and big) wins

After the doctor had told me there was a better chance of my leaving the hospital in a box than on my feet, I reflected on the life I’d led up until that point.

I had certainly won more than I’d lost.

I’d followed a pretty girl half way around the world, and eventually married her.

I had two great kids.

I had run a successful business, in multiple countries, and made a pile of money.

I had travelled to more than 30 countries.

I had migrated to live in another country... 5 times! (Word to the wise: don’t do this!)

Other times life kicks you squarely in the balls

However life hadn’t all been unicorns and rainbows.

I’d spent 16 consecutive years living under various forms of visa restrictions that constrained where I could live, where I could work, how much I could travel, the amount I got paid and the composition of my remuneration package.

This had significant financial implications also, both through opportunity cost and inefficient tax strategies required to meet silly and ill-considered visa requirements.

Burning money

More than £100,000 had been taxed into oblivion rather than heading for tax advantaged investment accounts or mitigated by prudent tax minimisation arrangements.

On top of that there was a regular need to show bank balances containing significant sums of cash over extended periods of time… so that I could evidence that I could support myself and my family without needing any assistant from the social security safety net to which I was contributing considerable sums via my taxes.

Running ever faster just to remain in place

Professionally I’d had to seek out highly remunerated niches rather than focussing on pursuits that I necessarily found enjoyable or rewarding.

Part of this was visa driven, with minimum earnings requirements increasing markedly whenever the job marketed tightened.

Or (more often) whenever some ambitious politician wanted to improve their standing with the tabloid reading, right wing leaning, nationalistic voters who were ever fond of blaming their woes on those troublesome foreigners who were apparently “taking their jobs and stealing their women”. It appears to have worked for them too, one is now the Prime Minister while the rest have profited handsomely from Brexit.

Part was down to the high cost of housing and childcare in a high cost city.

Part was down to lifestyle inflation, in my case not so much a taste for more expensive consumer goods, but rather the need for things like an after-school nanny while both parents worked, holiday care to cover the 10+ weeks of school holidays that kids get each year.

Travel had long been a big part of my life. As any parent of school age children can tell 4 plane tickets during school holidays cost a hell of a lot more than 2 plane tickets outside school holidays used to! Similarly renting kid friendly holiday house in high season, or a hotel suite that can sleep 4, tends to be significantly more expensive than staying in a youth hostel or bed and breakfast once may have.

What do you do next once you've achieved your goals?

I thought about my goals and ambitions.

When I was a kid my ambition was to be a millionaire.

I’d ticked that box by the time I was 30, and felt pretty good about it.

I set my next financial goal as the doubling of my net worth.

I’d ticket that box before I was 40, and must sheepishly confess I didn’t notice until several months after it had occurred.

By then I’d seen through the illusion that money equals happiness. It certainly helps, but it is at best an enabler. It sounds like fortune cookie wisdom, but happiness comes from within and not from an arbitrary bank balance number.

I briefly considered setting another financial wealth goal, but realised I would just be going through the motions by picking an arbitrary number for the sake of it.

It had been a long time since the addition of an extra £1 to my net worth made any tangible difference to my day to day lifestyle. Aiming for a bigger bank balance wouldn’t make me a better person.

Instead I set my goal to being happy and content, which turns out to be a moving target. Contentment today can easily lead to boredom or restlessness tomorrow!

Happy and content

Focus on the happy

That brought me around to thinking about the happy.

On reflection I realised that I wasn’t, and hadn’t been for quite some time.

I was certainly fortunate, and very grateful for how my life had so far turned out.

However I had been struggling for a long time with a sense of frustration and feeling unfulfilled. Like most people with full time jobs, I was selling my life off a day at a time on the sleep/commute/work/commute/sleep hamster wheel. Increasingly I was questioning the value of doing so.

I worked in a high paying niche in well paying industry.

I chose to live a short commute from where the majority of my clients are based, so that I would be able to spend some time with my kids each night before they went to bed.

Typically a shorter the commute comes at a higher cost of housing.

Which in turn meant I needed to earn a lot to pay for it, hence the high paying niche in a well paying industry.

Vicious circle, no? Around and around goes the hamster wheel, as life gets a day shorter with each rotation!

Life in the rat race

It turns out that I may in fact not be immortal

Then all of a sudden I found myself in a hospital bed, no longer immortal, and as such unable to take it for granted any longer that there would always be time for living and enjoying. Instead a scary, yet brutally honest, question uncomfortably arose: “if not now, then when?

"if not now, then when?"
If I wasn’t getting a warm fuzzy feeling of achievement most days then what the hell was I doing it for?

If I wasn’t feeling content, or at least happy, with how I was choosing to spend my days, then didn’t mean my priorities were questionable? I mean I could be taking my kids to the park, or going for a walk along the river... but instead I was sitting through some bullshit project status update meeting or handholding some indecisive executive who was more afraid of being held accountable for doing something (make that doing anything) than the long term impact of continuing to do nothing.

If my time really was up, was I content that I’d spent it on pursuits I enjoyed or found rewarding?

These were all good questions for which I didn’t have good answers.

So what?

Something needed to change. At the time I had never heard the phrase Financial Independence, but the concept it represents is certainly what I was looking for. Next time I will talk about how that came to pass.

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  1. You've got me hanging, don't wait too long before releasing the next installment!

  2. A bit quiet over here. Hope you are well! Have been in your neck of the woods for a few days. Checked some estate agent windows... FI really does mean something else in SW London... sheesh!

  3. Thanks Cameron. I agree, the cost of housing is well into silly money territory. Good thing I make so much money blogging!*

    * not a real fact