Mr YFG’s backstory

Once upon a time, what seems ages ago, I wrote a post about my story and my ‘numbers’. However, after a week or so I eventually decided to take it down. I had three reasons for doing so: (i) I felt the numbers overwhelmed the narrative (and as such, this blog will never be a ‘numbers’ blog); (ii) I worried that I had set things out in a way that would put-off, rather than encourage, people from aiming for Financial Independence; and (iii) I felt uncomfortable about putting so much information out into the public space.

I’m naturally introvert and very much do not enjoy talking about “me me me”. So my instinct throughout the blog has been to talk about what I think and not what I do (or what others think and do). It might also surprise you, but I’m not someone special. I don’t think the sun shines out of my bottom. So I’ve always felt ‘my story’ was a little dull. Certainly, that’s how I felt after reading Ken‘s inspirational story on The Escape Artist‘s blog a few weeks back.

I got talking to Ken a few days ago and he was curious to find out a bit more about me. And it wound up with me telling him my back story. Now, Ken is either very polite or there is a good story in there (or both). So I’ve plucked up the courage to give it a real go and set things out. Let’s give it a shot.

The Town

I’m from one of the most deprived council estates in one of the most deprived towns in the UK. Once upon a time, the Town was one of the most important in England. It was wealthy, busy and bustling. Like many other seaside towns, it has suffered tremendously in the post-war era. Particularly from the 80s onwards. Today, the Town is very much down and out (although there are some pockets of prosperity).

I grew up in the ‘standard’ 3-bed semi council house. I went to the very rough, very poor local state schools (though luckily my High school and College were rather good schools). That said, I still received a good education. My parents cared a great deal about my education and instilled in me a great desire to learn.

I didn’t enjoy school. Thankfully I wasn’t bullied too much.

That said, my father was Mediterranean and, in his own words, “the kind of guy they stop and search post-9/11”). I share his genetics (unfortunately, haha) and was singled-out at school for being ‘non-white’. Ironically, my surname is effectively made-up, it was adopted by my great-grandfather as it was his nickname – a kinda racial slur for a ‘dark-skinned person’. My teachers found this all highly amusing and would laugh at me when I reported the vile names my classmates would call me. I sincerely hope things have improved a bit since then.

Both my parents weren’t originally from that part of the world. As I mentioned above, my late father was from an immigrant family. My mum is from the East-End. Both with very interesting stories.

My Mum

My mum is an amazingly tough woman. She, unfortunately, has a genetic condition which means she is registered blind. From about the age of 14 she started losing her sight. It meant she had to leave school after her CSE’s because back then schools didn’t care if you couldn’t read the exam papers (seems a bit counter-productive…). Ironically, she was the only one of her family to even finish school. At age 18 she was made homeless after my grandparents kicked her and my uncle out of their family home and moved away. My mum slept on my aunt’s and friend’s sofas until she had enough money to rent somewhere (my uncle slept in his car).

Career options were very limited for women back then. Especially disabled women. She had always wanted to work in a bank. The ophthalmologists advised her to do something ‘less stressful on the eyes’ – she became a hairdresser. A job she worked from her school years up until she lost too much vision (and sadly, also her hearing). I fondly remember walking with my mum to her elderly customer’s houses after school. Roles-reversed, the child would be telling the mum when it was safe to cross the road.

My mum worked very hard and saved very hard. She bought our family home in the mid-80s. Paying something like a 20% mortgage. She couldn’t afford furniture. Her total possessions included a sofa, bed, a chair, a table and one electric heater. The house didn’t have central heating back then. Our Great Dane dog would hog the heater leaving my mum to shiver. Over time she slowly built up her savings pound by pound.

My Mum’s parents

My grandparents also had quite tough lives. Both grew up during the war and their neighbourhoods were destroyed in the blitz. My nan is a statistic in that she cannot read and write. She never finished school. She is in the less than 1% of the UK population who are illiterate.

My grandfather was a railway child and had a horrid childhood. One which he would never tell me or my sister about no matter how hard we pushed. As far as I can tell, he was abused a lot and had to run away from home. Over time he went from being homeless to building up a number of businesses. My grandparents were ‘self-made’ in a way that I don’t think anybody could be in today’s world.

My Dad’s parents

If it’s possible, my dad’s parents had arguably an even tougher journey.

My grandmother emigrated to the UK from her Home Country in her 20s as a single mother. The British soldier she had married, and had my uncle with, had divorced her and abandoned them. She started off as a seamstress in post-WWI North London. Eventually moving to my hometown. Later on, she opened two of the most successful restaurants in the Town back when it was a very busy tourist resort. Despite being only around 4 and a half-foot tall (and nearly as wide) she was a fierce businesswoman who was well-respected. She’d wear around half of the Royal Mint on her person. Telling me as a child: “They can’t take your gold if you’re wearing it”. Given her proficiency with kitchen knives, I’m willing to bet she was right.

My grandfather emigrated to the UK between the wars, just like many citizens of the ‘Empire’ he moved to the UK to avoid ethnic and civil strife and for the shot of a better life. Later on, most of his family and village followed suit as refugees as the country went through civil violence.

Back in his home country, he was the headteacher of the local school. Which meant when he moved to the UK he had to find a new job. As I understand (I never met my grandfather, though apparently, I’m a carbon copy of him in appearance and personality) he did whatever work he could find before moving to the Town. There he set up a restaurant with my grandmother. She would say her restaurants were better, but I suspect she was slightly biased. When he wasn’t working he would walk around Town giving walking school lessons to the bored kids (as well as homemade sweets, imagine a dark-skinned middle-aged man doing that today…) He was known affectionately in the Town as ‘Teacher’.

My father

My father grew up in between the Town and the Home Country. As the son of restaurateurs, he was expected to provide free (slave) labour to his parents in the restaurants. He finished school, went to college and then to uni. He found uni boring and dropped out. Instead, he opened a cafe in the Town. After a while, he thought he’d get a move on with his life and went to uni again. He worked a few ‘corporate’ jobs for a while before again jacking it in and running his cafe. Eventually, he finally grew up in his late 20s and trained as an accountant.

He joined the local factory as the junior accountant. Through years of hard work he eventually worked up to become the Managing Director in the UK. By the early 00s, he was working 6/7 day weeks and long hours. So I rarely saw my father as a child. Having been a man from modest means (like my mother), our family was frugal. He saved up enough money to semi-retire in his late 40s after the company forced him into redundancy.

I was immensely thankful he ‘retired early’ as I got to spend some time with him in my teens. We’d spend time bonding over sport, video games and spreadsheets – though I vowed I would never be a boring accountant like him.

When I was 16, my dad, then in his early 50s suddenly died. It was, of course, a shock. Despite being a ‘larger man’ (as I would call him) he was quite fit. He regularly went to the gym for over a decade. He left a huge hole in our family. Somehow, I got through it, taking my exams only a few weeks later.

Starting my journey

Losing my father was a huge blow. As a 16-year-old kid, I effectively became a father to my younger sister and a husband and carer for my disabled mother. When I was 18, shortly before I went to university, I inherited around £140,000. I vowed that rather than spending that money, I would save and invest it so that I too could ‘retire early’ in my 40s. That way I could spend time with my family and future kids (since then, I’ve changed my mind on the kids bit).

It was in my natural inclination anyway. From a young age, I had saved my pocket money, birthday and Christmas money and money from jobs. So I had saved up a bit of my own money. I think I had saved up about £20,000 by the time I was around 18. I kept that up through uni, working part-time jobs in the summer in between caring for my mother.

Learning to invest

When I first got that money, nobody sat down to give me any advice on investing. My mother told me about ISAs (and TESSAs). When my dad was alive he had started to explain to me how he invested (as an active, and successful, stockpicker). But I didn’t have a scooby. In around 2009 to 2010, bank rates plummeted and I had no idea what to do with my money. All I knew was 1% interest rates were not a good deal. So I googled something like: “how to invest money in the UK” – and I stumbled on the Monevator blog. From there I self-taught myself how to invest, and from the age of 19 or so, I was investing my money. Firstly in a mix of active and passive, and then (and to this day) passively.

Finding FI

Through Monevator I found blogs like Mr Money Mustache and Early Retirement Extreme. These blogs gave me the answer to the question I had looked for: how do I retire early?

Except, of course, I had previously been thinking in my 40s, not 30s!

In my final year at Uni, I started thinking about jobs – the ideal was something very high paying, I’d do for a short period that I could jack in at ‘young age’.

I became what I swore I would never become – an accountant. It was/is the perfect job for Financial Independence – good money, stepped salary progressions, guaranteed minimum income, highly in demand job, lots of transferable skills (also see why getting a profession is the best thing you can do). As long as I didn’t fall into the ‘lifestyle’ I’d found a great vehicle for FI.

The Journey

In uni I met a lovely lady who would later become Mrs YFG. When people say: “this is my better half” they kind-of half mean it. With Mrs YFG it is fully accurate. She was the top law graduate at uni. She had a magic circle job lined up before she graduated. During her LPC she was worried she’d get bored so took a job as a full-time paralegal (and thus finished her training contract early). So she is smarter and hard-working than me, plus she better-spoken, more outgoing, prettier, has a better booty and even a bigger cup size (which takes some going). Thankfully, she already knew that I was a tight-ass frugal so knew I was on ‘The Journey’.

The rest is kinda boring in some ways. I worked hard and earned good pay rises, on an already well-paid job. I saved as much money as I could and avoided the dreaded lifestyle inflation. I invested as much money as I could, for as long as I could. Together, these things slowly and steadily lifted me towards FI. In 2016 I quit my job, not because I was FI but because I wanted to a change in my life (see I’ve got a confession to make).

It just so happened that I had enough money to be FI and I’ve never gone back to full-time work. This is very handy for Mrs YFG, as I’m now her house-slave. Mrs YFG has, over time, been converted to the ways of FI and started on her own journey. Of course, she didn’t start, like me as a weirdo 5-year-old saver, so she needed to play catch-up, though she’ll soon overtake me.

The blog

In early 2018, after getting annoyed at me chattering away about savings rates and boring finance stuff Mrs YFG forced me to set up the blog. Mainly I think so I would stop boring her and she could instead play with the guinea pigs in peace. Here we are.

With all that said, I don’t have any real secrets to Financial Independence. My journey is so unconventional that I can’t say: “hey! do what I did“. I don’t have anything fancy to sell or grand plans for the world. Instead, all I can do is share my thoughts and hope that somehow, within my ramblings, there’s something that will help every reader on their way to FI or help with their finances (or say something mildly amusing or interesting). [Something about monkeys and typewriters].

So if you’re still with me now: 1. Why?! 2. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed finding a bit more about me and my background.

Thanks for reading.

All the best,

Young FI guy

21 thoughts on “Mr YFG’s backstory

  1. Thanks for the great read YoungFIGuy.

    You demonstrate a lot of self awareness and clear understanding of your past.

    Our family narrative and influence plays a huge part in determining our own identity, as well as framing many of our own hopes and dreams.

    Recognising and understanding that influence is an important step towards comprehending whether we are motivated to a course of action because of something, or in spite of something.

    It can take years to get that particular monkey off our backs!

    You paint a picture of some colourful and inspiring characters in your family tree. I suspect they would be proud of what you, and your lady wife, have achieved… particularly at such a young age.

    1. Hey Indeedably – I think self-awareness if an immensely valuable trait. I try very hard to be self-aware (with that added benefit that it helps me a great deal with my depression). Family is the most important thing to be, and it has clearly shaped my life but my ‘why of FI’ as well.

  2. Thanks for sharing Mr YFG! I’ve enjoyed following your blog since I discovered it a few months ago; your posts are always very detailed and informative, so it was great to read your backstory and see how you got to where you are today. Sounds like you’ve achieved an impressive amount in a short time!

  3. Lovely post, Mr YFG. Thanks for sharing.

    You remind me how little I know of my grandparents, particularly my grandfathers. I couldn’t write nearly as detailed a blogpost as you. My mother is an immigrant so I know the two respective countries but that is almost it.

    1. Hi FvL, hope you are doing well. I enjoy listening to people’s stories and my family have interesting pasts. I think it’s the same for most people. David Cain over at Raptitude wrote a thoughtful post about it recently: https://www.raptitude.com/2018/10/true-story/

      I imagine timeframe makes it a bit more difficult (I tentatively suspect I’m a little younger than you). Once things go ‘overseas’ it also becomes a bit more difficult to trace. On my dad’s side, I’ve got stuck at my grandfather, I think there’s a family member who had traced back to my great-grandfather and found his ‘real name’. It’s a bit easier with my grandmother, as I met more of the ‘family’. I believe my grandmother was one of eight (or something crazy) daughters, they lived in a two-bed house (that I’ve visited, the youngest of my great-aunts still lived there).

  4. Hi YoungFiGuy,

    What an interesting backstory! I’ve always been a great believer in the ‘American Dream’ and the power of hard work, and your grandparent’s tales are great examples! And through that same work ethic you’ve managed to achieve your goals too, so congrats!

    I’m on the FIRE path too. I’ve scrimped and saved £30,000 by age 21. I’m currently doing nightshifts in a warehouse, and I totally agree with you on the profession point also. Not just from a financial perspective, but also from a happiness one too. I don’t think extremely low-skilled work is good for soul, so to speak.

    To that end I’ve just studied (and completed, finally!) my Diploma for Financial Advice, and so I’m hoping to go down that route.

    Thanks for the blog :).

  5. Fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable story! Also the first non-US FI blog I’ve come across, making that part interesting in and of itself.
    I’m still fairly new to the whole FIRE movement, but it actually crystallizes notions I’ve had about saving and investing so as not to end up with nothing later in life.
    But while I’m well on my journey, none of my friends or family members are. How did Mrs YFG come to understand and adopt the FI mindset? Any tips for how to encourage others to give it a try?
    After all, when money gets involved, people tend to get emotional, and suggesting changes makes them feel as threatened (and often offended) as suggesting a chubby person should go on a diet. =)

    1. Hi Jenni, there are loads of great UK FI bloggers out there – we just tend to get drowned out by the sea of US bloggers!

      Mrs YFG was already sympathetic to the non-flashy life (which is a big reason why we got on so well many years ago). She wasn’t always on the FI path though. Over time she fell to my propaganda (haha). Well, more like she started to get a sense of what she wanted in life. And that was less based on career and status and more on family and community. Mrs YFG regularly posts on the blog, she’s a much better writer than I – have a look out for her posts!

  6. Hey YFG,
    This is a fantastic post. I’m similarly reclusive about my own personal details, yet you’ve managed to convey the personalities, characters and narrative of your family history so well.
    As others have said it displays such self-awareness, and acknowledgement of where we’ve come from and how that motivates us to where we’re going.
    It’s interesting the number of the FI community who are from historically immigrant families. I was reading some research recently that resilience can be inherited (though whether genetic or learned is unknown). It seems like resilience, initiative and a certain contrary attitude tie financial bloggers together, and maybe it’s something required to successfully migrate and integrate in a new country.
    Either way, great post (as always).
    The Shrink

    1. Hi FIRE Shrink, thank you. I guess I get my inspiration from my father, who always spoke out, talked back and never conformed! He wanted to be with his family and retired in his late forties, worked hard and never forgot his ancestry. I hope I can be like him (except less bald).

  7. Hey Man

    What a really well written account of your life journey. Your simplistic style of writing is pretty cool by the way.

    So pleased to see you FINALLY tell your story. I was blown away when you told me about it and still marvel at the massive challenges you’ve all had to get past.

    To have lost your father aged 16 is something I actually can’t imagine how you dealt with it.

    Taking on all that responsibility would have made you grow up super quickly. Around the same age, I was getting to know my dad again having been without him for 6 years. Interesting how we seem to grow up a lot when somehow forced to do so by nature.

    I also find the role that Mrs YFG has played in your life fascinating. I wonder if the fact that you’d seen lots of adversity made finding a wife a priority as you went through uni? I know for certain that my life would be massively worse off without my wife. I pretty much felt like I hit the jackpot the day I met her haha.

    Massive thanks for sharing your story. Really inspiring stuff.

    1. Hi Ken. Thanks for the lovely comment.

      It’s challenging to express how grateful I am for meeting Mrs YFG and then trapping her haha. Just like you, I know I’d be so much worse off without her. I know what you mean about finding a wife. Though I wouldn’t quite phrase it like that (because there were people at uni just looking to find a wagon to hitch themselves to!) I certainly wanted to find a companion and it’s in that respect I’m most grateful for Mrs YFG!

  8. Really interesting to hear your back story yfg. You do yourself a disservice I think it’s no less inspirational than kens just different

  9. What a wonderful backstory, YFG – thank you so much for sharing it.

    As @FBA says, it is very inspirational – the journey your family must have taken to come to the UK, the hardships they overcame and what you have achieved despite losing your dad at an early age. I felt all emotional reading this! Bravo!

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