{ in·deed·a·bly }

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


Roughly six years ago, I started a blog. Roughly six months ago, I semi-abandoned it.

It garnered a little attention. Attracted a small following. Won the occasional award.

In retrospect, this blog’s overarching theme was the self-indulgent musings of one man’s search for meaning. Exploring the influence and impact of the twinned behavioural sciences of economics and psychology, when viewed through a blinkered personal finance lens.

Initially, statistical hopes and spreadsheet dreams.

Later, happiness and contentment.

More recently, focussing on outcomes and value.

Turgid stuff! Until you liven up the narrative with brutal honesty about harsh realities of life. Complicated family. Marriage dumpster fire. The evil machinations of the Lockdown Kitten.

Six years ago, I was forty-something. A serial migrant. Husband. Father of two young children.

Renting in a high-cost-of-living locale. Plying my trade in a lucrative niche. Studying for fun.

Comfortable I had “enough”.

Financially independent, or thereabouts. In most parts of the world. But not where I lived.

Experimenting with a seasonal employment pattern. Winters working, bounded by blissfully idle summers invested in spending time with my kids while they still want to spend time with me. My alternative to early retirement, in the influencer clickbait hyperbole sense of the term.

Working on my own business, as opposed to working in a business owned by someone else. Convinced that if I was going to prostitute myself, selling off my life a day at a time, my efforts might as well enrich me rather than enriching others.

Objectively successful by most measures. I had coupled off. Reproduced. Owned a home. Seen the world. I was better educated, higher earning, and wealthier than any of my ancestors.

My family were comfortably fed, clothed, safe, and warm.

Our needs met.

Most wants satisfied. Well, most of the reasonable wants, that is!

And yet I felt hollow on the inside. Painted on smiles. Playing the part. Going through the motions. Was this all there is? I was like the proverbial racing greyhound who caught the lure. What do I do now that I’ve seen through the game?

Six years on, some things remain the same.

I am still forty-something.

Still a migrant, though re-evaluating that lifestyle choice. Ghosts and demons I had once sought to escape have been either slain or outgrown. Mirages and grass-is-greener fantasies I had once run towards have been dispelled or exposed. Happiness is a lifestyle choice, not a location.

Still the father of two kids, who are growing up far too fast. One preparing to fly the nest. The other commencing high school.

School drop-offs. Childcare fees. Christmas concerts. Sports carnivals. After fifteen years of daily lived experience, these things are suddenly fading memories.

Replaced by the luxury of free time. A feeling fondly remembered, yet rarely experienced, since the days before parenthood.

Six years on, some things have changed.

Still living in that high-cost-of-living locale, but now owning rather than renting.

One-third the outgoings, for a similar house in the same neighbourhood. A clear cashflow win.

However, on an inflation-adjusted basis, local property values have fallen by 25% over the last decade. Nominal prices may not have dropped much since my purchase, but they haven’t gone up either. A certain opportunity cost loss, and probably an uncrystallised capital loss too.

How does that look from a total return perspective? There is a reason that owner-occupied housing is sometimes considered an asset. Rarely an investment. Always a money pit!

One thing that makes personal finance hard is we don’t like asking uncomfortable questions.

In no small part because we instinctively suspect we probably won’t like their answers.

Without them, we don’t know what changes to make. Ignorance may be blissful, but it also ensures we perpetuate errant behaviours rather than correcting them.

Still plying my trade in a high-paying niche. Domestically.

That qualifier is an important one. I am acutely aware that domestic market is lagging behind much of the world on an after-tax, inflation-adjusted, purchasing-power-equivalised basis.

Not due to a dramatic market crash, nor Trussonomics style economic handbrake turn that the everyman would notice. Rather a slow compounding exsanguination from a thousand paper cuts.

Austerity. Hollowing out of vital services to society. Education and healthcare.

Bracket creep. Reducing purchasing power by passively increasing taxation via inflation.

Delaying and deferring infrastructure maintenance. Bridges. Dams. The Thames Barrier.

Underinvestment in things that matter. The things that make the future better than the past.

Outcomes only noticeable by comparison. Only experienced by those who travel or escape.

Six years on, I am working full-time in someone else’s business. Selling my time to make them rich. I do have an equity stake, but not a founder equity stake. Seasonal work patterns and financial independence sacrificed on the altar of home ownership and vanity renovations.

Six years ago, I had been a long-term portfolio landlord. A collection of doors both near and far, diversified across currencies, lending facilities, and regulatory regimes.

My properties weren’t my pension, but their free cashflows funded my seasonal sabbaticals.

Six years on, the cashflow numbers no longer add up on domestic residential real estate. Buy-in prices too high. Yields too low. Tax regime too predatory, for well-located residential property.

Further afield, the pendulum of regulatory balance has swung in favour of the tenant. Rent controls. Landlord licensing. Fossil fuel phase-outs. Mandatory insulation standards. The specifics vary by location. But the direction of travel is consistent: solve perceived housing supply shortages by squeezing out independent private landlords. Policies that can’t achieve their stated aims, but sound plausible enough to be blindly accepted by the unthinking masses.   

I sometimes wonder at what point does a long-term trend become a structural change? Recognisable while it is being lived in the moment, or only perceivable in hindsight?

Six years on, money has ceased to be “free”. Interest rates inevitably reverted to their historical norms, making the use of leverage to turbocharge investment returns a riskier proposition.

Higher costs, combined with sceptical lenders asking those aged 45 and over how they plan to service or repay loans once they are retired from the workforce, change the rules of the game.

Ageing not only produces grey hairs, wrinkles, and middle-aged spread. It also reduces potential loan durations, which in turn increase financing costs. A cautionary tale to those trusting souls who naïvely assume they can endlessly refinance to the latest headline honeymoon rates. Eventually, computer says no!

Six years on, the notion of early retirement has lost some of its allure.

Designing my life around my kids might have made sense while my kids were around and welcomed my company. A medium-term lifestyle choice, that is approaching its used-by date.

Parenting done right produces independent children capable of independent thought, applied problem-solving, and research skills. As parents, we should strive to make ourselves redundant, while being good enough people that our children want to be our friends as adults.

Not our dependents as adults.

Failure to launch” might be an ironic meme, but it still suggests a failure at parenting.

Six years on, I never did find meaning. A purpose. My “why”.

After investing a lot of time, energy, and introspection attempting to find the answer to those big questions, I eventually concluded that there isn’t one. Occam’s razor suggests the simplest answer is usually the right one.

A tree doesn’t appear to have a “why”.

Ants don’t appear to have a purpose. They do mysterious ant things, for mysterious ant reasons.

The Lockdown Kitten doesn’t yearn for meaning. A selfish creature, he seeks only food and sunbeams.

Once I made my peace with that absence of something more, I stopped worrying about it.

I’m no happier nor more fulfilled than I had been. The hollow feeling persists, but I no longer believe it to be an aberration or glitch in the matrix. Rather, I suspect it is just another aspect of real life that doesn’t make it into fairy tales, influencer posts, or movie scripts. Much like bad sex, gift giving out of obligation, morning breath, and going to the toilet.

The typical human response to inconvenient voids include activity, addiction, religion, and self-harm. All forms of escape. Seeking solace in exercise, narcotics, surrendering personal agency to a higher power, or burying yourself in work.

Choose your medicine, then bury your head in the sand.

The alternative is to deal with it. Get over it. Move on. Easy to say. Harder to do. But possible.

Long ago, I learned (at the cost of a tooth) that running forwards while looking backwards is unproductive and more likely than not to end in tears. While we can’t change the past, it directly informs the future. There is a lot of truth to the claim that demography is destiny.

Equally, focussing too much on the dim distant horizon is just as unproductive, and potentially just as dangerous. We are likely to trip over obstacles located immediately in front of us.

The certainty of prediction is we’ll be wrong. Possibly wrong with confidence. But wrong just the same.

The best we can reasonably hope for is to be thematically correct if temporally wrong.

Life will happen.

Priorities will change.

Hedonic adaptation will ensure we forever prioritise novelty over contentment. Newer. Better. Different. More.

But predict we shall.

In six years’ time, I will no longer be forty-something.

One son should have graduated university and be charting his own course in life. The other will be enduring the ridiculous theatre of the university admission process.

Probably still a migrant. While it seems likely we each only get one life, disrupting my younger son’s schooling to indulge a personal whim feels like a selfish indulgence with more cost than benefit. That said, I’ve booked a trip for later this year to explore potential locales for future me.

In six years’ time, the last of my family ties worth keeping to my country of origin will be tied no more. The medical profession can only perform so many miracles before cancer or old age inevitably win the game.

That outcome raises some uncomfortable questions about possible future inheritances.

There are vast and systemic disconnects between earnings versus property prices. Student loans versus future earning potential. Domestic living costs versus the global skills marketplace.

Those fortunate enough to enjoy access to dynastic wealth stand a fighting chance of enjoying standards of living comparable to those experienced by my generation and those before it.

Those without such access are destined to do it the hard way. Demography is destiny once more.

Should there be anything left to inherit, after high aged care and healthcare costs, that money would make far more of a difference to my children than it would to me.

The Bank of Mum and Dad is a financial device often used to exert parental control and influence. A gift, or worse a loan, that comes with many strings and obligations attached.

I suspect the world would be a better place if that passed down Boomer wealth simply skipped a generation.

Egos might be bruised. Feathers ruffled. Senses of entitlement offended.

But ask yourself this: does an inheritance do more good helping a young person at the start of their journey, when they are likely struggling to finance childcare costs and mortgage payments from low early career wages further reduced by student loan payments?

Or funding a new car, kitchen renovation, or globetrotting holiday for a fifty-something approaching retirement. Someone who has already raised their children. Someone who has already made their fortune if they were ever going to?

The answer seems obvious to me, but your mileage may vary. Families are complicated!

In six years’ time, I’ll be able to see retirement on the horizon.

Not the variety of “early retirement” discussed at the shallow end of the FIRE movement. Featuring pretentious twenty-somethings gloating shamelessly from a developing nation tropical beach, as they cavort with umbrella drinks and celebrate living their best life just above the poverty line. When it is true, it is a commendable achievement.

No, this would be the more traditional version of “early” retirement, where under current rules private pensions become accessible, and the state pension remains a decade away.

In six years’ time, the only thing I’m certain of is that I’ll want different things, have different priorities, and imagine a different future to what I do today. That has been the case over all my previous six-year intervals. My values tend to remain relatively constant, but their manifestation evolves with age and experience.

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  1. Peter 9 June 2024

    Saint Augustine writes in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”

    I don’t think he was burying his head in the sand. It’s a journey worth exploring!

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 9 June 2024 — Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Peter.

      I’m no expert, so not qualified to offer much on the theology front. Observing from the outside, some folks appear to do the thinking, consciously choose their path, and take great solace in the notion that their deity of choice has a master plan and is guiding their actions.

      But I’ve also observed a greater number of folks using that idea of a deity as an excuse to not do the thinking and not hold themselves accountable for making things happen. “God willing” or “Inshallah” or “B’karov etzlecha” is a common thread running through the Abrahamic religions.

      There was an entertaining sci-fi series called Devs that I watched recently that explored that concept of destiny versus agency in a novel way.

      My point in that part of the post was that religion, just like exercise or work, can be healthy when be taken in moderation but can also be overdone to the point of being self-harming. It’s not for me, but providing acting on belief and faith alone makes people happy and is not hurting anyone else, then have at it.

  2. Bernie 9 June 2024

    Been following your musings the last 4 years. They’ve been insightful and have provided a form of ‘mentorship’ for me. Thank you for that! Sounds like I’m a decade behind you, it’s nice to have an unfiltered outlook on life’s journey. Look forward to the next 6 years of your thoughts.

  3. Vader 9 June 2024

    Just when I was hoping you were figure out the secret and tell us all you go and throw in the towel.

    The search for the meaning of life seems to get larger as you get older until you put it down and move on.

    Maybe this 6 years of reflection has taught you what most don’t learn until their 60s

    Hope you find the blog pulling you again someday as you might not find the secret but sharing the stories on the path are helpful for all of us

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 9 June 2024 — Post author

      Thanks Vader. I write when the words flow and I feel like I have something to say. Doesn’t happen as often as it used to, as my interests have evolved.

      You might be onto something there, a possible reason for that right hand upwards arc on the infamous U-bend of life U shaped happiness by age line chart.

      U-bend of life. Image source: The Economist.

      That said, there appears to be some debate about the veracity of the U-bend theory, some saying it is the result of sampling bias, making the conclusion wishful thinking pop-psychology. The sort of thing we want to be true, even though the science behind it isn’t that strong. A bit like walking 10000 steps per day, technical analysis to predict stock performance, or tin-foil hats will stop the CIA from being able to read your thoughts.

      As with any academic debate, the home team quickly doubled down and returned fire to stand behind their original findings.

      The truth is usually somewhere in the middle!

      • Vader 9 June 2024

        I hav e always thought that study is hard to normalize or be valid. It’s almost like keeping up with Jones in some strange way. People say or answer with what they think you want to hear.

        We expect older people to be more carefree once they have less responsibilities. So in some way that is what they say otherwise they would be admitting they have failed at it

  4. Lee Briggs 9 June 2024

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading your self-reflection.

    If I may, I would like to bank your (paraphrased) “independent thought, problem-solving and research skills” line?



    • {in·deed·a·bly} 9 June 2024 — Post author

      Thanks for the kind words, Lee.

      Those three life skills are real life super powers. When I interview candidates for jobs they are the things I look for. If you possess them, you can learn to do pretty much anything. If you don’t, no amount of training and mentorship is going to get you where I need to you be.

      Alas, like super powers in the comic books, finding someone who possesses them is are rare and special thing indeed!

  5. Full Time Finance 9 June 2024

    Great to hear from you given how long it’s been. Your post reminds me of the one thing I’ve learned. What you think life will be like in five (or six) years is never what you predict.

    Case in point some time this year I passed my fire number as I planned at the start of my blog. Due to inflation/kids/etc it s nolonger actually the amount I need nor am I as motivated to get to the new number. Other goals and approaches have changed as well. It all makes me wonder where I’ll be after the next set.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 June 2024 — Post author

      Congratulations on hitting your original magic number, Full Time Finance. An achievement worth celebrating, even if the goalposts have subsequently moved, or even if you’re no longer playing the same game

  6. AndrewfromAus 9 June 2024

    A welcome return to a read. Much missed. Your turn of phrase is a pleasure to read in this day and age of short form content.
    I am resolving similarly having reached a birthday milestone recently. We are not on this earth for long, and the reason is unidentifiable.
    Completely concur with the inheritance at younger ages.
    Perhaps there is another degree/studying/ research in your future – in another country.. ? Seems like there are small elements of that sprinkled through your musings – or perhaps my own glasses colour my interpretations.

    Thank you again, have followed you for many years originally via monevator and now x (trying hard to continuously curate the feed to avoid the trash)

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 June 2024 — Post author

      Thanks AndrewfromAus, glad you enjoyed it.

      Perhaps there is another degree/studying/ research in your future – in another country.. ?

      I’m not sure I’d line up for tertiary study again. My curiosity tends to be broad but shallow, so the cost benefit of the tuition fees and time investment simply isn’t there any longer. My last university got in touch recently to try and talk me into flipping one of my a postgraduate diplomas into a masters, their thinking was there is a clock running somewhere that will eventually time out.

      I must admit the idea of writing a dissertation left me a little cold. I also figure that everything is negotiable if you’re motivated enough, and given universities don’t care which student is occupying a chair providing the tuition fees are being paid, I could probably talk my way should the urge ever arise.

      My past postgraduate studies left me feel bad for academics and professional students, as their livelihoods in part depend upon successfully defending their existing opinions rather than being open to new ideas. Which perhaps in part explains why innovation and change are glacial, the misaligned financial incentives mean new academic ideas have to swim against a tide of “no“.

      The other country part of your question is a definite maybe. There are a bunch of places I’d love to explore. No longer in the backpacking sense of my younger days, but setting up a base for a few months before moving on. Where my journey led after that would be informed by the experience. The nationality of me passports determine the default options, my wealth and age influencing the viability of alternatives. It’ll be a fun puzzle to solve, but not until my younger son has finished school.

  7. Sas 10 June 2024

    Great to hear from you, I find the poetic nature of your blogs almost as enjoyable as the themes. I am a bit ahead of you and also have a recurring theme of seeking purpose – personal mission statement anyone! I now write a could do list of big things each year’ish and try to go back to it monthly to see how I am getting on. I don’t give myself a hard time when my actions show I am not committing to a goal just red pen it. From this I have recognised for me the overall theme of now wasting my life is permanent and important and guides me well.

    My sense is you will come back to thinking about purpose again but it in a different way in a few years My one tip is don’t waste too much time working without a clear reason for doing so (such as money or genuine enjoyment of its product). I see it as the ultimate soul destroyer and cause of so much physical illness. And of course find things to add to your life that bring you pleasure- you don’t say what has filled the space left by not blogging?

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 June 2024 — Post author

      Thanks Sas, that’s a fascinating comment.

      I like your “Could do” ToDo list idea, and that you don’t beat yourself up for crossing out rather than completing things.

      I see the challenge slightly differently.

      From the outside, some people yearning for purpose have trouble filling in their time. Bored retirees. Disillusioned professional students. Underutilised professional services peons. Their problem isn’t “if only I had the time” but rather “I’m bored” with the time I have.

      Others have trouble reconciling the way the invest their time (e.g. work, study, family) with the things they derive pleasure or reward or satisfaction from (e.g. nerding out on personal interests, hobbies, addictions, etc). Square pegs and round holes. This covers most people who need to pay the bills but don’t “love” what they do… don’t get me started on the “do what you love” perils of turning a hobby into a job. Cognitive dissonance that leads to stress and unhappiness. Often times they don’t have have a viable alternative or “Plan B“, they seek escape but have no idea what to run towards instead.

      In my case, I’m able to find enough trouble to get into that I keep entertained. But I have also seen through the game, recognising that the vast majority of what we do is busywork with limited value. Chores, meetings, 99% of the daily grind just doesn’t really matter. That doesn’t mean we don’t do them of course, only that if it wasn’t us who did them nobody would really care, they would just interchange our face for that of somebody else and the machine would grind on regardless.

      So the challenge wasn’t asking “there has to be more than this?“, it was learning that there probably isn’t. And if we accept that much of what we do is futile or meaningless, then how do we have fun and stay entertained while accepting that most of what keeps us busy simply doesn’t matter. The nice thing is this premise removes a lot of self-imposed stress… in much the same way that reaching financial independence removes a lot of stress because we have the option of saying “f*ck you” to employers/jobs/colleagues even if we choose not to exercise it.

  8. Rhino 10 June 2024

    Reminds me of the T.S. Elliot poem,

    We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 10 June 2024 — Post author

      Thanks Rhino, wise words. Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series did a good job of exploring that circular nature of life. Slightly less poetic perhaps, but gunslinging space cowboys and time travel!

  9. AoI 10 June 2024

    Good to read from you indeedably. Alas I don’t have a profound contribution to make on discovering meaning but mainly want to comment so you know there are those of us who still read your posts and are inspired by them.
    My humble experience involved naively pursuing a meat grinder of a city career for all the wrong reasons, years of peg:hole incompatibility and clueless what to do about it. A career pivot and expat life, a hard boozing lifestyle and easy-ish work a welcome change then it felt vacuous. A sponsored postgraduate degree, a comfortable bubble in which to wrestle my existential angst for a professionally pointless year. A new take on work, remote, low profile and limited scope for progression in the traditional sense but a favourable stress : income ratio. The gains in agency, autonomy and spare bandwidth outweighing the loss of a traditional ladder to climb. Not FI but far enough down the track to be mostly rid of the fear.
    Then marriage, children and now less tendency to engage in deep introspection or ask existential questions of myself. Whether I have found meaning or I am temporarily distracted from the search by the intensity of young children I’m not honestly sure. My children are by far the most meaningful thing I have experienced though.

    • {in·deed·a·bly} 11 June 2024 — Post author

      Thanks Aol. It seems we’ve followed similar arcs with similar outcomes, though in slightly different orders. Fantastic that raising your children is providing meaning, or a welcome distraction, or both.

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