One Year of FIRE – What a Difference a Year Makes

I am writing this on a beach in the early morning. The sun is just rising, small boats sway gently on the water; the air is still and already warm – it’s going to be a beautiful day.

So said the first lines of the first post to this blog, when I could only dream of financial independence. And here I am now in that exact spot, looking out at the same idyllic scene. A few years older and a few years wiser, reflecting on the years in between – barely able to conceive where the time has gone.

This time, I don’t have to return to a job that drains me and a life arranged around a corporation that owns my time. I’ve been financially free for over a year and how different it feels to be here under these circumstances.

Yes, the clock is ticking to our return date and each day here feels more precious than the last. But there is so much to look forward to at home that the feeling is bittersweet rather than desperate; hopeful rather than hopeless.

Family

It’s been an eventful year. For anyone on the accumulation phase feeling guilty about the hours spent at work, I can tell you now that becoming a full time parent again is not a magic bullet and hasn’t fixed everything. Indeed, at age 15 my son has recently been diagnosed as mildly on the ASD spectrum.

Once the shock of this had passed, the diagnosis was enormously helpful. Knowing there’s a reason for his struggles takes away some of the guilt. It wasn’t my career and absence that caused his problems after all. They certainly added to his inability to cope at times but it is a relief and a burden lifted to realise the fault is not mine alone.

While not a cure for every issue, being available to my family full time in both body and mind is certainly a soothing balm for us all. I can’t tell you the hours I’ve spent at GP surgeries, hospital appointments, school meetings, therapy waiting rooms and the like. Not to mention the energy sapping hours spent on hold on the telephone, trying to get him the help he needs and the middle of the night heart to hearts that have become the norm.

And for those reading who don’t have children, you may one day face a similar situation when coping with ageing parents. It takes time and mental energy – and the luxury of being able to prioritise your loved ones over a salary is priceless.

My heart goes out to those families who are in similar situations without this luxury of financial independence. I thank my lucky stars every day for the twists and turns that led us here. There is no doubt in my mind that financial independence has saved all our sanity. I can’t imagine what the last year would have been like if I’d still been in a high pressure job.

I am learning that far from getting less dependent as the years pass, teenagers (with or without ASD) need you more even than they did as toddlers. A three year old can be content regardless of who it is that supervises the finger paints. An emotional teenager on the other hand needs an unconditional parental relationship to support them through some of their toughest years. Not to mention that the taxi service I thought would have ended with the decline of after school activities has just shifted to later hours – driving them to and from part-time evening jobs and parties.

I can be the person they need me to be because I have the time and the energy. I always have the luxury of a lie-in when I need one or whole days spent reading and relaxing whenever I choose.

What Do I Do All Day?

So now that the initial phase of smiling every morning when I realise I’m free has passed what do the days look like?

Just kidding – that never passes 😄! That feeling of waking up in full control of my own time – I will never ever take that feeling for granted. I am grateful every single day, good days and bad, that work is not the priority.

The decompression phase was quite long. I spent months doing little more than taking long walks with the dog, reading, cooking and doing jigsaw puzzles while listening to podcasts. It was a much needed and enjoyable recovery period and I loved it.

Then as my energy levels rose, I decorated parts of the house before venturing into the garden and finding a hidden passion for making a beautiful outdoor space.

Life Begins The Day You Start A Garden

– Chinese Proverb

Those Summer months were the happiest I can ever remember being. Long days spent clearing an overgrown jungle, planting shrubs and flowers that remarkably soon felt like a real creative achievement. And long evenings sitting outside with a glass of wine, enjoying the view.

Of course, new hobbies can be expensive, but old habits die hard and I was never going to blow a lot of money. Seeds are cheap and a few packets of annual flowers can transform a garden. Many plants need to be divided to contain their growth and sharing these around means lots of plants for free. I had time to visit garden centres whenever there was a special offer and was always looking out for a bargain. And as all gardeners will say – as exercise goes, it’s cheaper than a gym membership.

By the end of the Summer I was hooked, not to mention healthier and fitter than I’ve felt in years. In October 2019 I picked up the keys to my first allotment. The plot had been abandoned for some time and I was daunted at first with the amount of work that needed to be done. But being free whenever the weather is dry means I was able to put the hours in and as we move into Spring the groundwork is done and I’m raring to get going with planting some seeds. Coming in at a whopping £34 a year for the council rent, this may be the best money I’ve ever spent.

As Audrey Hepburn said, to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Never have I been more aware of the changing of seasons or looked forward with more hope to the coming months. I have always provided for my family by earning the money to buy what we needed. But there is something soul affirming about providing for your family by growing food and without being too sickening, my heart truly sings with the thought.

Making Money

For a while, I kept up the matched betting (or EW) that I’ve talked about here before. This was providing around £1k a month towards our expenses, but once I discovered the garden, that quickly fell by the wayside. I surprised myself by this as I’ve never been able to turn down a money making opportunity before. Finally, the drive I once had for increasing income has died, at least for the time being and I think that’s a good thing. For now at least, we are comfortable. If I continue to chase money at every opportunity then I’d have to ask myself, what was it all for? I still do a few hours a week of finance work for a friend’s business but I enjoy it and it’s as much about helping out a friend as it is earning a little pocket money.

The income comes as planned mostly from rental income, supplemented by a small income from the few hours work and some interest. I haven’t yet needed to draw down from my ISA and I’m not sure how I’ll feel when that happens – I’ll let you know!

Spending

Spending is under control without being under the microscope. I no longer rush to update my finances every month. I’m realising that the addiction to tracking and forecasting was borne from desperation; one that intensified the closer the goal became. Now I keep an eye out for any rogue transactions and update the overall picture infrequently or prior to a major purchase.  I have good habits and I’m not a spender at heart – I can trust myself enough that I don’t need to waste my hard won free time stuck in a spreadsheet. 

Time

Despite having so much of it, free time remains my most precious resource and far from ever being bored, it doesn’t feel like there’s much to spare. It’s more that it’s filled with activities I love rather than work tasks or projects, and people that I choose to spend time with rather than colleagues forced into collaboration.

I’ve made friends with neighbours and realised there exists a whole local community in my quiet cul-de-sac that I’d never known about. My old life would see me wave and nod occasionally; afraid to get into conversation for fear of losing a precious 15 minutes of time I needed elsewhere. Now I have time and it’s brought me a diverse group of friends and a whole support system – most importantly that I can contribute to as well as rely on.

A Dream of Financial Independence

When I wrote that first post, FIRE was a dream; one I desperately wanted to come true but that felt far far into the future.

It actually happened much earlier than expected – helped of course by drastically reducing the spending needs of my post FI lifestyle. 

Do I regret choosing the simpler life over the FIRE I originally planned? How could I possibly? I’m living the dream.

Disclaimer

I wrote this post back in February 2020 when the world seemed a very different place. Within a few short weeks of our return to the UK, the country was in lockdown, the mood sombre. It seemed entirely inappropriate to publish this post at a time when people were losing loved ones and friends.

Fast forward to now, late November 2020 and whilst we are still in the grip of the pandemic, news of the vaccines has given us all hope.

I am publishing now after finally listening to those friendly nudges – thanks for those 🙂

It’s now been two years since I FIRED, so this post is out of date already, but hey, better late than never.

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