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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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