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{ in·deed·a·bly }

adverb: to competently express interest, surprise, disbelief, or contempt

Haruspex

This week marks the third birthday of { in·deed·a·bly }. A surprising milestone in many ways.

When I started pouring my thoughts out onto the keyboard, I suspected it would be a short-lived endeavour. A three-way game of chicken. I would either run out of ideas. Lose interest in sharing them. Or life happens events would steal away my attention.

I stand by the predicted outcome, but was wrong about the timing.

In the moment, being early or late is indistinguishable from being wrong!

Around the time I wrote my first story, I remember listening to an interview given by the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Zweig. He confessed that over a career spanning three decades, he recycled the same handful of ideas dozens of times every year, hopefully in a way that neither his editors nor readers noticed.

I smiled at that. Personal Finance was indeed a shallow niche. There isn’t much to it, maybe a half dozen distinct lessons to learn, which if applied consistently will lead to eventual success. It isn’t clever. Quick. Saleable. Nor sexy. But it works.

Thinking about it, that observation is true of most writers, not just those writing about personal finance. By the time any blogger reaches their 10th post, they have inevitably started to repeat themselves. The longer their writing career, the greater the repetition. It is little wonder that few blogs survive beyond the six-month mark!

This is comforting in a way. You know what you’re going to get, even before reading their newest post.

It is true for the bloggers I follow today.

It was equally true for those I once enjoyed, then outgrew.

After a moment’s reflection, I concluded it was true of my writing as well.

With that in mind, I decided to do something different to the traditional anniversary post talking about writing far too many words, read by more generous readers than I deserve, visiting from all but a few countries around the world.

Instead, today I will explore some of the things I have changed my mind about over those three years. Given how change-averse I am by nature, what follows represents a gradual evolution in my thinking. There is little evidence to suggest my current beliefs will prove any more persistent than my previous ones, so these too are likely to change over time.

The role of money

I used to think of money as a maturity curve.

When you haven’t got much, having any money becomes the goal.

Indelibly linked to survival. Worrying about where your next meal will come from. How to pay the rent.

Any meagre savings that you manage to set aside are simply deferred spending. Hard-won experience informing the perspective that when you least expect it, life will trip you over and empty your wallet. Two steps forward, one step back.

Decision making is framed by scarcity. Your time isn’t worth much, but it is all you have to sell. And sell it you do.

First one minimum wage job.

Then a second.

Maybe add a third, or some side hustles.

Throwing yourself at the problem, brute force style. Working hard rather than smart. An approach that doesn’t scale. Appearing to succeed only until bad luck, exhaustion, illness, or injury inevitably occur. Sending you back to the starting line, worrying once more where the next meal will come from.

At some point many of us realise that it isn’t the volume of time we work, but the value of that time.

Everyone has the exact same number of hours in their day. An hour of the hard-working kid stocking shelves at your local grocery store is worth £4.62. Meanwhile, that same hour of Jeff Bezos’ time is worth tens of millions of dollars. Which would you rather be?

Boosting the value of your time requires the acquisition of skills and experience. Investing in yourself.

A difficult ask when you have bills to pay. Yet that knowledge is not going to acquire itself.

Studying.

Training.

Learning on the job.

Recognising opportunities when they arise and grabbing them with both hands.

Putting yourself in a position where those opportunities can occur in the first place.

Easier said than done when you are grafting away, living hand to mouth. Having a sponsor helps a lot. A benevolent parent. Scholarship. Spouse. Or workplace.

As the value of your skills increases, money ceases to be the goal itself. It evolves into an enabler for achieving goals. Little more than a tool that, when used correctly, helps get the job done.

If the fates are smiling, and you manage to resist the twin siren songs of hedonism and inferiority, then before long your income will exceed your spending. Providing a margin of safety. Gradually becoming a contingency fund. Then the seeds of an investment portfolio, that may one day grow into magic money trees. Shares. Rental properties. Perhaps a business you own.

Eventually, money concerns fade into the background. For a fortunate few, ceasing to be a factor in their thinking or decision making entirely.

To those lower down the maturity curve looking upwards, at this stage you’ve won the game.

Except when you arrive, you realise you’ve only reached base camp on a much longer journey. It was never about the money, the quest was always about something greater.

Happiness.

Contentment.

Purpose.

Fulfilment.

Subjective things all. Every single one of them is a moving target. Luxuries those back at the starting line, living hand to mouth, can little afford to contemplate as they struggle to make ends meet.

But here is the thing. None of those things magically appears on a bank or brokerage account statement. In fact, money won’t buy any of them, though it can eliminate some obstacles to their discovery.

It wasn’t the folks with the big salaries or well-padded bank accounts who had won the game. It was the people who had already deciphered the riddle. Progress along that maturity curve didn’t advance with net worth, but with self-awareness.

A realisation that has led to my beliefs and relationship with money changing.

The role of housing

I used to think Financial Freedom was a reliable cash flow.

Capable of sustainably covering needs, housing, investing expenses, taxes, and wants.

Property was simply an investment class. A potentially great way to build and create wealth.

Leveraged property was even better. Using other people’s money to tax effectively generate capital gains.

In many Western countries, homeownership is a key element of the standard life script.

Part enforced savings. For many, along with a workplace pension, mortgage capital repayments are their only form of saving.

Part status symbol. It doesn’t get much more tribal than “where do you live?”. One simple answer revealing a great deal about the person being asked. Approximate net worth. Socio-economic status. Likely future prospects for their children.

At one end of the spectrum lies the poverty trap. A self-perpetuating spiral that becomes a family tradition.

At the other end lies what woke young culture warriors like to call “privilege”. Another self-perpetuating spiral, this time one of money making money.

Part financial talisman. A person’s home is their castle, initially granting a sense of safety, as long as the homeowner keeps up with their mortgage payments.

Then later, a sense of security, as the mortgage gets paid off and their largest financial outgoing significantly reduces. Making surviving on a pension that pays a mere fraction of their former full-time earnings a potentially viable possibility. Though not always a comfortable one.

Philandering politicians do all in their power to ensure property prices climb ever upwards. Persisting the illusion that homeowners are getting richer and feeling more prosperous, when the truth is they are merely treading water as surrounding property values increase at much the same rate.

The rent versus buy question was largely irrelevant. As long as that cashflow stream covered the accommodation costs, it didn’t really matter. A lifestyle choice rather than a financial one.

My thinking on property has changed somewhat.

The concept of “home” is an emotive choice, not a financial one. It isn’t a physical building so much as a sense of belonging and community. The friends, neighbours, and loved ones we choose to surround ourselves with. Familiar haunts and stomping grounds. Favourite parks. Restaurants. Shops.

The big difference between owning and renting is that sense of security. Renters risk being priced out of the local market as neighbourhoods gentrify and prices rise faster than wages. Which in turn can have huge knock-on effects. Changing neighbourhoods may mean changing schools, support networks, and potentially starting over. Again and again.

Many people score huge financial own goals by choosing to make their home in the wrong location.

A neighbourhood that is too expensive, both in terms of property prices and lifestyle expectations. Creating mortgage stress and a lifetime inferiority complex, as the whole family struggles to keep up with the local Joneses. Owning the worst house on the best street might be a smart property move, but being the poorest kid in class is a tough path to follow.

A neighbourhood that is too cheap. Backing onto a motorway. Beside a train line. Below an airport flight path. Beneath a high voltage power line or mobile phone tower.  Poor access to services and healthcare. Terrible schools. Unhealthy commuting distances. Hanging out with the local Joneses, who are more likely to help provide a criminal record than a graduate placement. Living in the nicest home in struggle town might look like a smart property move, but being the richest kid in a resource-starved failing school closes many doors while opening few.

My thoughts on Financial Freedom have evolved. It is achieved when a person has that sustainably reliable cash flow AND a fully paid off home. Owning a home outright (should) lower recurring outgoings, allowing that cash flow stream to be smaller in size.

However, this means the value of home equity does not belong in a net worth figure nor a withdrawal rate calculation. Instead, it more closely resembles things like home furnishings, a non-collectable car, or a prepaid annual insurance premium: a sunk cost. Potentially convertible into cash, but generally not while continuing to enjoy their ongoing usage.

Getting that home location right is one of the most important financial decisions we will make. Much like the ovarian lottery, it has a huge influence on what is realistically possible and what is merely a pipe dream.

The role of market experts

I used to believe that little of the commentary written about investing in the markets had much value.

Articles. Blogs. Journals. Newsletters. Whether penned by the amateur or the professional.

Now I believe none of it does. Humans are irrational. Data rarely supports popular narratives. The psychology of herds drives behaviour. Lemmings blindly oscillating between greed and panic.

Meanwhile, talking heads make a name for themselves playing the modern-day haruspex. Espousing wisdom after divining meaning from excrement and offal. Correlation and causation are so easily confused, yet rarely does anyone ever go back to validate the performance of past assertions.

How many of those experts actually “beat the street”? A difficult task at the best of times, made even more so by the practical realities of transaction costs and taxes. And if they aren’t, then why do we listen to them?

I’m not sure whether I grew out of it or lost interest, but for me the magic and wonder of competing in the markets has waned.

Thanks for reading

I wrap up this post, and this year of blogging, with a heartfelt thank you to all those who read, comment, share, and hopefully enjoy my ramblings.

If you told me three years ago that I would be writing this today, I would have laughed delightedly.

If you’d told me a year ago where I would find myself today, I would have gawped in disbelief.

It turns out the “boring middle part” of personal finance occasionally gets livened up by unpredictable “life happens” events. There may still only be a handful of core lessons, yet a whole world of fresh perspectives informed by hard-won experience and occasional wisdom awaits.


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30 Comments

  1. Dr FIRE 23 June 2021

    Haruspex… Looks like I learned a new word today! Certainly would make the stock market news more interesting…

    Happy bloggiversary, Indeedably. Thanks for sharing your ramblings over the past three years and for your contributions to the UK FI blogging community in particular. I look forward to continuing to follow your blog for as long as you keep it up!

  2. Impersonal Finances 23 June 2021

    Wow–congrats! I have a one year blog birthday tomorrow and am surprised I made it that far haha. Though I can’t say I post with any sort of scheduled regularity!

    It’s interesting how our views about money change over time, but also largely stay the same. I’ve taken a bend but don’t break approach on most bigger picture ideas, tweaking certain approaches but largely staying consistent in my goals.

  3. Bernie 23 June 2021

    I value your thoughts and perspective on life’s conundrums. Happy blog anniversary and I hope the coming year brings positive life happens events for you.

  4. todthedog 24 June 2021

    Congratulations.
    I look forward to reading your thoughts long may you continue!

  5. FI-FireFighter 24 June 2021

    Another great post, the ‘role of money’ particularly resonated with my own thoughts and conclusion through the years. I think my wife is getting tired of me saying ‘I wish I new this 30 years ago!’
    Happy Anniversary/ Blog Birthday. Lets hope its at least 3 more! (no pressure 🙂
    ) All the best.

  6. John Smith 24 June 2021

    Congratulations on the resilience of 3 years of bloging!!!
    A post like this (about money, housing, market “experts”) resonated well with me (ageing slowly and not belonging to any tribe).

  7. Gnòtul 25 June 2021

    Only you could make the brilliant connections between Etrurian diviners and modern-day financial “experts”, Indeedably. As I wrote before I value your writing and perspectives on life immensely. Looking forward to many more such “pearls” and most importantly wish you success in your personal life’s endeavors and challenges. An Italian reader in the Netherlands, a few miles behind in the journey, hopefully learning something. 🙂

  8. Nick @ TotalBalance.blog 25 June 2021

    Congratulations on the (big) achievement 🙂

    And as always, you set the bar pretty high for the rest of us 😛

    I shall attempt to follow your example when it’s time for me to write my 3rd birthday post (September).
    I really enjoyed reading this, and loved your approach to the subject. I think we all grew and learned a great deal about ourselves, life, friends, family, hardship etc. during these past couple of years.

    I wonder how we’re going to look back on this period of history in 10-20 years from now. Will our kids remember how it felt being “locked down”? Will we? Did the world change for the better? For a while there I believed it did – now I’m not so sure…

    If I could maybe make a humble request? For your next post, could you maybe help us understand HOW to achieve these? 😛

    Happiness.

    Contentment.

    Purpose.

    Fulfilment.

    Thanks! 😀

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 25 June 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Nick, glad you enjoyed it. I look forward to continue following your journey also.

      If I could maybe make a humble request? For your next post, could you maybe help us understand HOW to achieve these? 😛

      That’s simple, doesn’t require a whole post to cover!

      Happiness = maintaining low expectations that are easily exceeded

      Contentment = focusing on the good things we’ve already got

      Purpose = do more of what feels like it matters

      Fulfilment = take conscious pleasure in how that purposeful activity benefits ourselves and/or others

      Alas, while these are all simple self-evident truths, they are not easy.

  9. The Investor 25 June 2021

    Has it really only been three years? Seems like *far* longer.

    Um, in a good way.

    Congratulations. You’ve a unique voice in a crowded space. Long may you be stuck in the middle! 😉

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 25 June 2021 — Post author

      Has it really only been three years? Seems like *far* longer.

      There’s that repetition I was writing about, it is finally getting to you! I guess I can fool some of the people some of the time, but looks like you’ve rumbled me 😉

      Seriously though, thanks TI, and thanks also for generously sharing my ramblings whenever they happen to be vaguely related to money. It is an honour, Monevator has become synonymous with personal finance done right (and terrible “Dad” jokes) in the UK.

  10. ryangibsonclever 25 June 2021

    My favourite website in the three years. Helped me so much with your subliminal advice. I’ve just cashed out of my primary business and like you are finding joy in some of the simplistic things.

    Please keep writing 🙂

  11. Pendle Witch 26 June 2021

    Congrats, Indeedably! But … sounds almost like a goodbye, which I hope it isn’t.

    I appreciate the way your posts and responses to comments are very clear-headed and thoughtful, and can sometimes be sobering for those of us who are a little shallow and/or flippant :-p.

    Best wishes!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 26 June 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Pendle Witch, a bit of shallow and/or flippant every now and again raises the spirits and lightens the mood!

      … your posts and responses to comments are very clear-headed and thoughtful, and can sometimes be sobering …

      I’ll continue the writing for as long as it serves its purpose, helping me to explore and work through my thoughts in a structured way.

      When this journey started I was in a comfortably complacent mindset of abundance. Things seemed good, and much of my exploration was theoretical in nature wondering why fulfilment and happiness were lacking when by any objective measure I had it all.

      By contrast, this last year has applied a blowtorch to much of that complacency. Exposing a house of cards built upon assumption… some of which proved erroneous or unfounded. It has forced a lot of inward reflection, together with reevaluation of goals and priorities. At least I can’t complain about life being boring!

      Where it will lead is anyone’s guess, uncertainty that is equal part exciting and terrifying. Reminds me in many ways of the bad old days of visa purgatory.

      • David Andrews 28 June 2021

        Sadly there are lots of events that are difficult to war-game. Even if you could it would probably drive you mad contemplating any and every outcome.

        “My thoughts on Financial Freedom have evolved. It is achieved when a person has that sustainably reliable cash flow AND a fully paid off home. Owning a home outright (should) lower recurring outgoings, allowing that cash flow stream to be smaller in size.”

        The above approach has worked for me and enabled a 90% savings rate over the past few years. Maintaining a reliable cash flow has become more challenging with low interest rates and a potentially awkward tenant in my rental property. The tenant recently received a rent increase and curiously isn’t keen. He knows it’s still a good deal but feels aggrieved that he has to hand over so much of his salary in rent, I’m equally aggrieved I have to pay so much of in tax but such is life…

        The pandemic has potentially increased tensions in many households which may have far reaching consequences.

        • {in·deed·a·bly} 28 June 2021 — Post author

          Thanks David.

          Sadly there are lots of events that are difficult to war-game

          Even those that aren’t can be difficult to predict with any accuracy, when they involve the erratic emotions and unpredictable whims of others!

          I think the lockdowns may have given many households a sneak peek into what retirement may look like for their own family, in terms of what lots of time spent with a spouse without a circuit breaker of socialising and or the escape to a workplace routine.

          Looking back on it, this is a recurring theme. One of the worst days of my grandmother’s life was the day my grandfather retired. She went from having 50-60 hours a week on her own to having no “me” time at all. Lockdown has provided a similar acid test for many of us.

  12. weenie 28 June 2021

    A great read, unique from the usual birthday posts – I might consider doing something different for my next anniversary one, instead of the usual copy and paste! Just need to be more organised.

    Interesting what you write about market experts and I think I’m similar – at the start of my journey, I was a novice investor and stressed while I tried to understand everything about what the ‘experts’ were saying about the markets – I tried to read as much as I could, to try to get some of that knowledge. These days, I still read what they say as a matter of interest but I don’t act on what they say, much in the same way I wouldn’t act on what some youngster on YouTube says. Ha, there appear to be lots of these haruspexes divining for stock markets, crypto and housing markets – the bloodbath is when it all comes crashing down!

    Anyway, happy 3rd anniversary, indeedably – I’ve been enjoying your quality posts all this time, long may they continue.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 28 June 2021 — Post author

      Thanks very much weenie.

      I must admit to tuning most of the “experts” out entirely. I do read a handful of economics writers, it is interesting to consider their takes on big picture stuff, but over time I’ve learned that how and where to apply that knowledge is something unique to the individual.

  13. Seluron 5 July 2021

    I’ve just been lurking but greatly enjoying your posts, so a quick thanks for putting in the work and putting yourself out there! – Seluron

  14. Q-FI 13 July 2021

    Congratulations on three years bud! I’m a little bit behind on my reading so playing a little catch-up but loved this one.

    As a fellow writer I agree, you recycle a lot and that plays into your style. The funny part is my memory is so bad, half the time I wonder as I’m writing, “did I already write about this?” Haha. I had someone go back through my archives and comment the other day, and I didn’t even remember writing the post. It was like reading another writer. And I’m only coming up on 2 years, you’ve probably got quite the archive yourself.

    All good thoughts here that I nod along to. I never understood why people put their house in their net worth calcs – put the debt in but not the equity. Maybe the bigger number fluffs their ego a little. Where you eventually live will matter, but it’s a tough decision to get right. I also look at a house more as an emotive decision based on lifestyle and compromise. I followed the path of beefing up my investments until they could be on auto-pilot prior to taking the plunge of owning (got a lot of shit over the years asking my I was a renter). I might have been a little late to the party in real estate, but it’s worked for me so far. There are many different paths and ways to get it right.

    My favorite line was about how you used to think market experts had a little value but now none. Hahaha. That had me cracking up.

    I always enjoy these posts when other writers talk about their subject matter and reflections. Cool post and keep up the great and entertaining thought fodder my man! I come for the witty humor and brutal honesty, and you never disappoint.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 13 July 2021 — Post author

      Thanks Q-FI.

      It is a relief to hear I’m not the only one who promptly forgets 95% of what they have written! That experience of reading my old stuff like it had been written by someone else is familiar.

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