Can you become a millionaire on a fireman’s salary?

financial independence

I met The Fireman at a recent FI London meet up.  He’s a really good guy with a fascinating back story which he agreed to share.

The Escape Artist is always on the lookout for interesting reader case studies where people achieve what looks at first glance to be impossible.  How about creating a multi-million pound property and share portfolio from a fireman’s salary plus leverage, risk-taking, good luck and hard work?

Not bad huh? So enjoy this case study from The Fireman…

TEA


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The early days

My parents encouraged independence and early on I felt a need to be self-reliant.

Most of what I’ve done from age 20 has been directed towards that. My parents were from the post war rationing era, and we had to ‘make do and mend’ so I had frugality drilled into me from a young age.

We lived in a house in the Kent countryside on an acre of land. We were a mile away from the nearest bus stop, and I biked everywhere until I was 17 and bought a motorbike.

Relationships with other people

Conflict was hardly ever seen in my childhood, and was never discussed further than my dad explaining that everyone should do as he says because he is clever and always right.

I wasn’t well prepared for dealing with people, and never seemed to have friends in the same way as everyone else. I still don’t. I struggled with maintaining relationships and felt like an alien sent to study humans.

I’ve worked hard at getting better with people: taking an interest, putting people at ease, asking open questions etc. It’s just that I’m not interested in TV soap operas, football or any of that crap. Maybe its something to do with my values (building invisible wealth rather than splashing the cash) that doesn’t resonate with the rest of the herd.

I know that support networks are a major factor in life’s good stuff, but I still feel that other people are chalk and I’m cheese. One difficulty of my shift system as a fireman is that it works on an 8-day cycle. This means that regular weekly social events are impossible. I know these are self-limiting beliefs, but they are based on real difficulties.

The lightbulb moment

lightbulb

Maybe a lonely childhood working out figures ended up for the best?

My financial epiphany came when I was about 20, unemployed and living in a shared flat watching the fleas on my carpet (yes really). I’d always been good with numbers, and worked out that with four people sharing a 2-bed flat (there was a couple in the living room) the combined rent was over £10k per year.

At the time the flat was worth about £24k. I did the maths (£10k income on £24k investment = ~42% per year) and realised my future lay in property investment.

I needed money to get started so I looked for the highest paid job I could get, which was accountant. I knew the skills would help, so I did a degree and started training.

The 80:20 rule

I’m a great believer that in most fields of human endeavour, 20% of the work gets you 80% of the results. So if I concentrate very hard on the important 20%, I can sit back for 80% of the time taking it easy, and still be ahead. The property investment decision is an example of this. A short time working very hard setting it up, and then sit back and let it tick over day and night.

My working life supports this view. While on my three year holiday doing my degree I worked weekends for a prolific landlord in north London helping out his full-time maintenance guys. He had hundreds of houses, and with hindsight I should have beaten his door down begging for a full-time ‘apprentice’ job. I also worked for accountancy firms each summer back in Kent.

Getting a job

After graduating, I sent out 168 CV’s and got 2 interviews, 2 job offers, and went to work in the big city. I wanted to work in London where my intended property investments were.

In 1989 with £1,200 to my name I used my new-found cashflow skills and agreed with a like-minded friend to buy a house 50:50 for £81k. My take-home pay was £525/month, and my half of the mortgage was £495. We divided up the rooms and squeezed five students in with us, paying a term up front, and saved like mad. House prices crashed, and a year later the house was worth about £50k.

I tell people there’s never a wrong time to buy property, only a wrong time to sell (e.g. when you are a forced seller). Me and my business partner bought three more houses over the next few years, still working 7 days a week (and nights), and saving like mad. Our investment focus was based on two criteria, (1) lowest house prices and (2) highest unemployment rate (due to my epiphany moment).

I was failing my accountancy exams (they’re hard!), so I applied to join the London Fire Brigade. This occupation had never occurred to me, but my business partner was mad keen and was already in. The work was fun, pay was good, prospects were good, we had lots of time off and the pension was brilliant. I applied to join, and very next day I was let go from my floundering accountancy career.

It took a year to get into the Brigade, so I had a year of relative leisure, concentrating on the houses and got married during that time. After starting with the Fire Brigade, we bought three more houses in quick succession. We ended up buying 20 houses/flats some of which we sold, the others we kept. The original £81k house sold for £150k, which helped pay off my own mortgage before I was 40.

One highlight I’m proud of is buying a house at auction for £45k, spending £5k on refurb, then getting it valued at £80k and raising a 75% (£60k) mortgage on it. The house had effectively cost us nothing, left cash in our pockets and we still had the property tenanted, making a profit every month. We still own it, and it’s worth about £350k.

During all this, we had children. If you’re going to have children, you should know how hard it can be.

Our first child had a medical issue which seemed to disappear during pregnancy, but was taken into acute care immediately after birth. He was and remains a difficult child. The second child was stillborn at 25 weeks. This was devastating, and remains so still. We had a third child who was lifeless and resuscitated immediately he was born, and suffered from epilepsy into his teens, and continues to have language issues. Despite this, he is taking a degree and seems to be doing well. Due to all three pregnancies being bumpy rides, I had the snip shortly afterwards.

The Fire Brigade

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I have a frontline role in the Fire Brigade and still ride the firetruck every day I’m on shift.

Most of our calls are rubbish fires, people stuck in lifts, false alarms and road traffic accidents but we still get real house fires and face real danger in temperatures up to 900 degrees centigrade.

I’m in charge of my watch (me + 6 others), and get to be in charge of up to 4-pump incidents (up to 26 people). I know my guys very well, but have to work closely with strangers in life threatening situations from time to time.

A fireman has the awesome legal power in an emergency to do “anything they consider necessary”. We have to think ‘outside the box’, e.g. speeding, driving on the wrong side of the road, forcing entry into peoples private property without their permission. I think the same lateral thinking also helps you get to FI. You have to do whatever it takes. Anything is possible when you’re not restricted in any way, unlike people stuck on the hamster wheel.

Mental health

I’m not sure if the Brigade attracts mad people or if it makes them that way.

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I’ve known enough people in the brigade to know they have a much higher than average ‘screw loose’ factor, and that makes them an interesting bunch.

Ex-paras talking about bayonetting ‘Argies’ in the trenches, sex addicts, armed robbers, drug dealers, professional poker player, stalkers, ex-corrupt police officers, and lots of people with businesses on the side. Lots of marriage breakups, and more suicides than you would expect. We see mortality up close and it strikes unexpectedly.

When our children were aged 3 and 6, I was unhappy at home. I left my wife. I became suicidal and was diagnosed with depression. It was the worst time of our lives.

I rented for a while, then bought a flat and filed for divorce. After intervention from the NHS, I slowly came to my senses and we rekindled our relationship. I am extremely grateful for finding my perfect woman not once, but twice. I consider myself extremely lucky in that regard.

What do I do to maintain my mental health now? I enjoy walking our dogs on the local heath, watching the seasons change, appreciating nature. Every now and then you read a news article about the amazing fitness effects of walking. I’m like Duuuhh, get a German Shepherd!

I’ve read about mindfulness, but it seems to be something that I’ve always leaned towards before even knowing it existed. Mental health is becoming much more mainstream, and I try to talk openly about it whenever I have the opportunity. Having had depression and not seen the signs at the time, I feel much better now recognising when dark clouds are gathering and being able to deal with it.

‘Dealing with it’ means thoughts taking control of my emotions, rather than the other way around. I also consciously try not to care too much about the bureaucratic aspects of the Brigade which would otherwise be very frustrating.

I started to focus on what was meaningful in our lives and fulfil a lifelong ambition to get my Private Pilot’s Licence, but when he was 17, our eldest son needed a month in drug rehab for £10k, that put an end to my flying. He’s been arrested twice for violence towards me in our home.

We had family therapy sessions at a Harley Street clinic in relation to my son’s drug rehab, but didn’t find it much use. We stopped when they wanted me to pay while they discussed my relationship with my mother (it’s very good).

My son now holds down a full-time job, and has moved into a rental with his girlfriend. He still smokes weed and suffers from depression. We are very worried about him and wish there was more we could do to help.

Investments

The property investments were hard work, and around 2005 my business partner and I took a conscious decision not to continue expanding indefinitely. We wanted to spend more quality time with our families.

I also wanted to balance my property investments with some stock market exposure, so was maxing out my ISA from income and property sales. Further promotion would mean much more time spent at work, so I was happy to remain where I was and enjoy the ride.

I enjoy the process of managing our investments, and spend a little time each weekend updating a spreadsheet and planning. I invest in the stockmarket (a mix of stockpicking and index funds) because I realised that being 100% in property was a risk (mostly from the Government).

I don’t try to time either the stock market or the property market. I don’t think Brexit will have a significant effect on the property market. All our European friends won’t disappear overnight. My only prediction is that something has to change eventually.

I’m aware that by fluke I seem to have ‘timed the property market’ just right. With so much property porn on TV and the Government whipping landlords, maybe the best days are over? This is a major reason why I’m siphoning money into the stock market, despite the properties remaining extremely profitable.

Frugality

I’m naturally frugal. Here’s just a couple of quick examples:

Example 1 : I drive a VW Golf Bluemotion which is very economical. I bought it used for £7k. Its now done 225,000 miles and is still going strong.

Example 2. I cut my own hair.

Any man who says they can’t save should buy some clippers (for less than the price of a single haircut). Every time you cut your hair afterwards, put £12 into savings. In terms of % return, clippers may be my best investment ever.

My wife gets her hair done at Toni & Guy for a small fortune every now and then (I’m OK with because she values it so much).

For ladies: bear in mind that women with curly hair get straighteners, women with straight hair get curlers, women with dark get bleached blonde, and women with blonde hair buy dye, so my advice to them is be happy with what you have, because someone out there is paying good money to have hair just like yours. You’re already perfect just as you are.

Passive income

These days my earnings from the fire brigade are outweighed by the earnings from property. I earn £35k basic per year from the fire brigade plus overtime. The partnership properties produce about £120k net profit, of which my share is half (£60k). The partnership properties are worth about £6m with under £2m mortgages. Plus our family house which has no mortgage. My wife and I also have ISA’s, SIPP’s and other shares worth about £650k.

What does the future hold?

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The photo opposite is me being awarded a medal for 20 years of good conduct in the Brigade.

I can retire from the Brigade now, but to get the max pension I have to do another 5 years. I put in about £500/month, and the Brigade puts in about £850/month. I still enjoy it, but not the commute.

I’ve essentially been doing 2 jobs for the last 30 years with a view to building passive income, so I’m quite looking forward to cutting down to just one job. Having said that, the houses don’t take up anything like so much time as they used to, and I joke about the Brigade being semi-retirement.

I’ve squeezed 55 years of career into the last 30 years, so I feel justified in sitting back, enjoying the sunshine and a cool beer. Past dreams included building a kit car, kit plane, sail around the Med, build my own house. Who knows… I can do anything I want, but I can’t do everything. Most likely a bit of gardening, a bit of golf, carrying on investing, trying to teach life lessons to my kids who don’t want to be taught…

What would I do differently if I had my time again? Not much. The Fire Brigade has been a laugh, and the property business has been a rollercoaster ride at times. I’ve made lots of stupid mistakes in all aspects of my life, but they’ve all helped make me the person I am.


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Further reading:

  1. Top Cars for smart people
  2. Financial coaching

63 comments

  1. What a fascinating story, thanks for sharing so openly with us.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Ms Zi You,
      I think it’s better when people are more open and honest, especially on the topic of mental health. Just like every other kind of health, we all kid ourselves that we’re a bit healthier than we really are. Not being fit enough to run a marathon doesn’t make you a failure, and less than 100% mental health is fine too. Thanks for taking an interest.

  2. donaldtramp1 · · Reply

    Thanks for sharing so openly. What an interesting story

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Thanks Donald. I’m not average, but that hasn’t always been in a good way. I think it’s been essential for me to look at people around me, taking particular notice of who seems genuinely happy in a deep way rather than superficial, and learn what I can. If anyone else finds this brief account if my life so far interesting, then I’ll be very happy to have provoked some thought on issues that can sometimes be more important than just money. You reap as you sow, and I’m very happy to share some honesty and love.

      1. donaldtramp1 · ·

        Me too. Ive got a few buy to lets on the go now. Its not been easy at times as well.There is a lot of graft involved.
        I also think same as you. I don’t care about having flashy showy off nonsense such as cars. I watch some of my mates accept job postings in horrible parts of russia for a salary multiple, selling their lifes (and potentially their marriages) to own more trinkets such as flash watches/cars that I simply don’t care about.
        There is definately more to life than money. I’m doing the rental properties and saving so that at I can choose to live my life on my terms.
        It would seem we are part of a small subset of society.
        My impression of pretty much everyone else around me is that they want to borrow money to buy things they cant afford to show off to people they don’t know.
        Seems a crazy way to structure your life!

  3. Great Story, I can relate to a lonely childhood and feeling different. Everything work out ok for me in the end, I found joining my local running club was great for the mind as well as the body, I often talk with new members who are lonely and suffer with depression and they normally find joining the club makes the world of different’s for them.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Gary. I’m glad things worked out for you too, and very pleased that you’re able to be open about depression with those around you. It’s so much more prevalent than most people think. I certainly didn’t recognise depression in me until it was too obvious to ignore. Exercise definitely helps, and there is a running club near me. I’ve thought of joining, but im still busy with my two jobs, and walk a lot with our dogs. Maybe when i finally retire I’ll be able to commit to going every week…

  4. What an inspiring case study. A must read for all those who whine that FI is impossible because “life’s hard”.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Ian. Life sure ain’t easy, and you only get out what you put in. There are lots of people who are happy expending all their energy on what (to me) has little significance. There are hard things they overcome, rather than important things. For example I see colleagues spending hours and hours in the gym, then moaning about having no money. I’ve spent decades trying to get the balance right, and I’m still working on it…

  5. An inspirational story!

    With £4m equity in the properties, so £2m to the Fireman, but only £60k each in free cashflow, I’d be tempted to get out of the BTL game and pivot toward equities and other asset classes. This is especially so if the portfolio is weighted toward London and its commuter belt, where prices feel soft.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Great minds Mark…
      We don’t ‘sweat’ the assets like we used to when our solvency depended on it month to month. We used to do all the conversion work, repairs and maintenance ourselves, and manage up to 50 tenancies at a time, but now we pay other people to do that stuff. You’re right about the income, but there’s also the capital gains to consider. We’ve made as much as £245k gains each in a good year. Gains ebb and flow just like the stock market, and I always try and take the long-term view (25 years) rather than thinking about whether the market is having a good or bad time at the moment. Either way, I’m at a position in my life where minimising hassle is more important than maximising returns. This points towards unwinding some property and loading up in the stock market. Maximising returns may or may not also point that way depending on the vagaries of the market at the time. Either way, that’s the direction I’m headed. I don’t want to be still ‘working’ in property in my 80’s and 90’s…

      1. markb · ·

        Thanks. Have you considered spending a few years, once retired, living somewhere like Cyprus where you might be able to unwind the portfolio of BTLs without incurring CGT (you’d need to get advice of course)?

        Equities too can give healthy capital gains, though with a lot less work. Personally I admire you for building and maintaining such a large BTL empire while holding down a stressful paid job.

      2. The Fireman · ·

        Yes, I’ve read a bit about this tactic. If I have about £½M CGT to pay, and avoid it by living abroad for 5 years, that’s £200k saving per year!

        On the other hand, the UK has been good to me, and tax needs to be collected. Think of it as a present from me to you…. Unless I change my mind!

      3. The Fireman · ·

        Typo – £100k saving not £200k

        You can see why I failed my accountancy exams!

  6. Jane in London · · Reply

    An amazing story, told in a very honest and relatable way – thank you, Fireman. Hard work, focus and a willingness to take a risk has paid off well for you and good on you.

    It’s no longer possible for normal people starting without significant capital to replicate this sort of property portfolio growth in the London area, but it’s certainly do-able in other parts of the country (and people often forget that you don’t *have* to buy your rental properties in the same area as you live…).

    I particularly liked your comment that “I can do anything I want, but I can’t do everything”. Ah, the conundrum of having choices – I’m recently retired and find this aspect quite difficult. But it’s a very good problem to have!

    Jane

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Jane. Thanks for the compliments. Calculated risks is the thing. And time…

      I disagree that it’s not possible to build a property portfolio in London without ‘significant starting capital’. It would be more difficult now, but not impossible. There are still cheaper properties in London, and 95% (residential) mortgages are still available. You have to put yourself in a different mindset where there are no constraints. To quote Andy McNab of SAS fame: “you can get away with anything, as long as you can get away with it”. I can’t recommend breaking any rules, but I do recommend thinking about what you would do if there were no rules.

      For those who have retired and/or achieved FI, we have the question: what now? There is so much focus on attaining FI like we’re expecting to ride a beam of light up to a higher plane, but in reality we just get up in the morning and wonder what to do. At this point the money doesn’t really mean so much. It’s been an interesting journey, but it’s not like we’ve arrived at our destination and can stop. There is still life to be lived. All of us have to consciously decide on what that life is going to be. So many people identify with their job and can’t see any other existence. Finding purpose doesn’t necessarily mean finding a new job. It can be as simple as tending a garden and watching the flowers grow. You write your own rules now.

  7. Wonderful story and I can relate to the part about having a hard time relating to people. As a kid I spent most of my time in my bedroom listening to music. Goes to show that you can become FI and make it on a fireman’s salary, and that’s likely true here in America too!

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Accident (!),
      If I had an Xbox and the internet as a teenager I probably wouldn’t have left my room either!

      Whatever salary you’re on, it’s possible to save SOMETHING, and the biggest oaks grow from the smallest acorns… The hard part is deciding to save the first £/$/€…

  8. Wow….inspiring life story, thank you so much for being so open about your mental health issues. It is great that more people are talking about this often taboo subject. I love the bit where you fall in love with your wife again 😄

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Thanks Gilda,

      Falling in love again was definitely the best bit!

      I’m really pleased that mental health isn’t so taboo, and is being discussed more openly. Like it or not, it affects us all so some extent. If it’s not you, it could be a family member, a friend, colleague or loved one. You never know, taking the time to notice and care could save someone’s life.

  9. Karen · · Reply

    Loved your story. What an interesting journey.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Thanks Karen. I think many people have an interesting story to tell if only you dig deep enough to find it.

      For example, next time you see someone collecting for charity, ask them why they’re doing it.

  10. good story with great balance of the strikes and the gutters. for a long time i worked rotating shifts and missed a lot of social affairs too. now the schedule is freed up and i still say no to most of them. walking around with a dog is a tremendous gift to both person and dog.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Freddy,

      I’m glad you found your freedom at last. Working shifts certainly takes its toll, and walking with dogs is wonderful indeed. Waggly tails!

  11. Survivor · · Reply

    Hi, I have a school report from age 7 that says ‘Doesn’t suffer fools gladly’ ……& my mother told me she was sad that I spent most of the free time with the animals on the farm there instead of learning to socialise with my own species. But I still find animals easier to understand & peaceful.

    Most of my career was spent in a corporate which was the standard cauldron of humans reduced to their most vile behaviour, so admitting you were struggling [in any way] would have been like bleeding while swimming in a full shark tank at feeding time. In that unforgiving atmosphere, even for the successful stars, it was only a matter of time before they flew too close to the sun. So admitting a human frailty like any mental issue, would have gotten you managed out asap – it was capitalism with canines …..& I really doubt its improved in this new era of zero-hour contracts.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Survivor,

      I’m glad you escaped that bear pit. There are easier and healthier ways to become a multi-millionaire, and you can have fun while doing it (see above).

      One of the things I really like about the Brigade is meeting such a wide range of people including quite a few ex military. The coolest, calmest and most collected was ex SBS. No macho posturing from him – no need. He was the real deal. Very professional. Very polite. Very effective.

      It’s sad that there are still workplaces with a lions den mentality, rather than being professional and effective. Not good for people or business. Knowing what I know now, I’d be out of there like a shot.

  12. Thank you sharing – particularly the your personal ups and downs. A valuable reminder that behind every set of numbers is a person. Behind every person is a story.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Thanks FI guy. Yes the numbers are only half the story. I think people seem to only publicise the ‘ups’ and cover up their ‘downs’, as if letting anyone know their life isn’t 100% perfection 100% of the time would make their world cave in.

      For me, FI is all about getting your priorities in order, and the financial bit is just one part of a bigger picture. Physical health, mental health, economic health, and relationship/social health (if there is such a thing). Giving yourself 10 out of 10 for one of those metrics while neglecting the others is leaving yourself shortchanged.

      I’m also glad that you’ve found the FI movement while still apparently young.

  13. As others have said, I found this a really fascinating and inspiring story (and it made me realise what a slacker I’ve been, relatively speaking! 😉 )

    As you may know there’s been quite a lot of discussion recently in the online Personal Finance world about whether to quit work / how much is enough, and your perspective is one I think I can relate to. (Not quitting just because passive income exceeded your salary, still enjoying your work, etc).

    So many people declare they’d be out if they got say £500K in liquid assets relatively early in life, but few of the people who say that seem to be the kind of driven people who can do it…

    Hope your boys sort themselves out as best they can.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Investor,

      Slacking 80% of the time is fine IF you still focus (like a nuclear powered laser beam) on the important 20% like I said above. Just as having the ‘drive’ to succeed is essential, so (in my mind) is the right amount of slacking in order to have a balanced life. I’m enjoying the fruits of my labour, but the labour came first…

      I spent the early years working all hours. For example, I would work at the Fire Station on Saturday and Sunday, then work on the houses on Monday, work my 1st night shift, then work on the houses again between my nights (Tuesday), then do my 2nd night, then work on the houses after that (Wednesday) before going home, so I was regularly away from home for days at a time. For many years I generally worked every weekday that I wasn’t in the Fire Station. I did have the flexibility to be there for school plays and sports days etc which was good. We didn’t take a single penny out of the business for at least 4 years. It was a long hard grind for me, and my wife at home playing single mother with the kids much of the time. Some would say I got the balance wrong. This graft, and the financial risks we took is why it annoys me when people complain about BTL landlords being so lucky and making easy money off the backs of the poor.

      Like most workplaces (I assume), the idea of winning £1M on the lottery comes up regularly at the Fire Station. Most say they would like to give up work and buy a bigger home, a new car and a couple of nice holidays. Of course I tell them that £1M would not produce enough income/interest to support their spending, but they don’t equate money in the bank with having an income stream. It’s for spending! Interestingly, the conversation extended (once) to becoming bored, and considering what job to do if you didn’t need the money. Our consensus was…………………. The Fire Brigade! (we’re biased, of course).

      So who is right, the spenders or the savers? Are they the crazy ones or is it us FI’ers? Only time will tell, but I think I’ll die happy after an imperfect but fulfilled life.

      Thanks too for thinking of my boys. They are my biggest challenge so far.

  14. SurreyBoy · · Reply

    What an interesting and inspiring post. A touching blend of the property maths and the personal story, sharing some of the highs and lows of real life that we all go through. I admire the honesty re mental health, and am so glad that in the world its becoming more OK to talk about it – though the workplace has a long way to go.

    Im relieved that the anti BTL brigade have not swept onto this post. Perhaps they have been edited away. What is instructive is that some risk taking, grafting, sweating out the tough times and holding fast for years can turn into a lot of money. Then there is the acknowledgment that FI isnt paradise but it is freedom to enjoy life. Great stuff.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Surrey Boy,

      The numbers don’t lie!

      All my tales of woe don’t mean that I think I’m the only one with problems. No ‘poor little me’. Again, the wide array of tenants, people in the Brigade, and all the people we come into contact with during our work has given me a very broad view of life, people, and the problems they contend with. I’m very lucky to have been born to parents with a great work/save ethic, and to have been born into a great country at what I think is a golden era, possibly never to be repeated. I’m also very lucky to have working arms, legs and brain. I’m very aware that not everyone has the same possibilities as me. I encourage everyone to have the courage to discuss mental health openly. You, and everyone around you will be better off for having that discussion.

      Anti BTL brigade:
      Every now and then I get in a Facebook tirade on this. Here’s a couple of examples…

      BBC Radio 4 facebook post: “Do landlords hold all the power?”
      When one party to a transaction gives money to the other party, it is usually the one handing over the cash who is regarded as having the power.

      If you really believe that landlords have all the power, try buying a house you don’t need and renting it out to someone who can’t afford it themselves. Then you can exert your power by evicting them, losing rent, paying for repairs and then keep paying the mortgage while you wait for your next victim… And paying capital gains tax when you sell…

      …there lies the problem. The Government that has been voted in has abdicated the issue of housing and left it to people like me. If you don’t like that there are 3 things you can do:-
      1) vote for a different government.
      2) buy your own house and rent it out in whatever way you think IS a free and fair exchange.
      3) take the view that private landlords are the will of the people and anyone who speaks against them is a traitorous mutineer!

      Personally, I think the only practical option is (2). Come on Greg, show me how it’s done, but don’t criticize me for doing something instead of doing nothing.

      Other example:-

      Housing costs are subject to the same forces of supply and demand as everything else since money was invented. Unless Buy to Let landlords are actually building homes, there are still the same number of families chasing the same number of homes, ie zero effect on supply or demand. And therefore zero effect on prices.

      Anyone who bemoans parasitic landlords making huge profits from tenants is free to spend money they haven’t got on a home they don’t need for a family they don’t know, comply with licensing requirements, health & safety requirements, management standards and tax obligations. And to do all the above for minimal cost.

      This is the UK Govt plan to avoid you, the taxpayer from paying for it yourselves.

      Rant over.

      No, achieving FI doesn’t mean you’re handed the keys to paradise. Would you like to have so much money that you never need to work again? “YES!” And what would you do then? Er…. Er…..” Anyone reading this had better think about it because you’re headed there right now.

  15. SurreyBoy · · Reply

    Hi The Fireman

    Your point about “what do you do then” resonates with me more and more. Im mid forties and for years have been grinding away at work (well paid TBH) and paying the large mortgage down. Always paid high contributions into workplace DC pensions, without really thinking much about it other than “one day i will be old”.

    Having got into investing in the last few years, the bull market and a bit of sensible frugality makes the magic spreadsheet tell me that we could cash out and downsize and live free out in the countryside etc etc. Im hesitant to declare myself FI because im paranoid the pot could be wiped out by the market tomorrow etc, but i guess i kind of am.

    We wont bale out just yet because moving to a cheaper part of the country doesn’t work with kids at school etc, but that is quite a handy excuse. The truth is i cant think of what id do all day. Its a first rate, first world problem, but im really struggling with what the heck i would do to occupy the day in a way that i would find meaningful. If the options all involve being moderately bored some or most of the time, i may as well carry on working. Then the problem becomes – do i do this forever then?

    So your post is quite reassuring that im not alone in thinking “freedom” is not the same thing as bliss. Plenty for me to think on here, and thanks for your story.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hello again SurreyBoy,

      Well done on your frugality and investing. It’s never a bad thing to have made provision for the future.

      Just about all FI stuff you read is about getting there, but very little about what to do when you have ‘arrived’. There’s always the temptation to work ‘just one more year’ to make your financial position a bit safer – I’m in that position too, but it’s a trap. Pressing the ‘eject’ button can be scary, but it won’t kill you, and there is more to life than working until you die. If the worst comes to the worst (eg 50% stock market fall) we are resourceful people and we can always… get a job.

      Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard calls it the dizziness of decision. You have the fear of (1) wasting years of your life for no reason vs (2) retiring too soon and running out of money. You are free to choose and the result is entirely up to you, hence the dizziness of decision. This is why people can approach FI with anxiety rather than serenity. In my view, as you get older you realise more and more clearly that the most precious resource you have is time, not money.

      It’s common practice to live and work in London early in a career, only to move further and further out as time goes by. Moving to an area with a lower cost of living is a great option in theory, but when you have lived in one area for decades and built ties there, it could be a painful move, especially if children are in their formative years. If you’re making good money, then staying where you are might be best, until you decide how you want to spend the rest of your life. Personally, I MUCH prefer the countryside.

      Examples of post-retirement activities from people I have known, and some of my own ideas:-
      Start a business.
      Learn to play an instrument.
      Join a band.
      Get better and better at golf.
      Voluntary work – my Dad did a stint at the Citizens Advice Bureau.
      Lose weight / get fit.
      Paint (artist, not decorating).
      Write a book.
      Learn to cook (properly).
      Learn a new language.

      1. ladyaurora · ·

        I understand that feeling dizziness of decision. Im FI in 4 months. Have i got enough? Ive concluded that im going to chop my work load in half , still do my hairdressing but alot more manageable pace , part time . Yes i could carry on grafting and keep saving but im early 50s and these years are more important to savor now and look after my health abit more and my aging father. Can’t go from working insanely to nothing. I need a gradual come down. As what to do next i dont know ? Maybe i should look for mr right ?

      2. The Fireman · ·

        “these years are more important to savour…” One of the driving forces behind retiring before being absolutely sure you have enough is when I look at my dad. He’ll be 90 this year and for the last 15 years or so he can hardly walk. I look at him and think that could be me before long. This makes me think I should definitely savour what years I still have while I can. As I’ve suggested elsewhere, you can always go back to work if you feel like you want to, or need a bit more money.
        Winding down by going part time seems like a good way to dip your toe in the waters of retirement. You never know, you might like it!
        If you find your perfect partner, hold tight and don’t let go!

      3. The Fireman · ·

        LadyAurora,

        A good way to cut your work down is to put your prices up until your work reduces to the level you want. Just saying….

      4. ladyaurora · ·

        Thankyou. Something i have considered. I know which clients won’t like that and ones that won’t mind. So ill dump the tight ones !!!! He he nice position!!

      5. ladyaurora · ·

        Criteria for client selection…
        Do they appreciate me?
        Do they tip me and buy me a xmas pressy
        Do i enjoy going or does it feel like work?
        Small jobs
        Distance nearer the better
        Evening work ??? Want to finish at a reasonable time.

  16. The Vintage Doc In the Tardis · · Reply

    Hi The Fireman,

    Great post, thanks for sharing your story! I also often feel that other people are chalk and I’m cheese. I share most of your life philosophy and opinions. Your story is inspiring for someone like me who is a lot further behind you along the path to FI.

    Nice to know that there are some like minds out there.

    Best wishes,

    the Doc

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Doc,
      What great life philosophy and opinions you have!
      Sometimes it feels a bit like I’m in the film “Invasion of the bodysnatchers” (old version), where finding those kindred spirits is nigh on impossible. It was great to be at the FI meetup in London a while back and speak with fellow FIers face to face. I recommend going to one if you can.
      Keep plugging away at achieving FI. My story will tell you that it doesn’t come quick or easy, but it is simple: cut spending and keep investing every month. Any avoid those aliens with the spending addiction!

  17. tuppennysfireplace · · Reply

    I am really grateful that you felt able to share the personal side of your story. Having a daughter with mental health issues myself, I know that beneath what you have shared is a whole world of difficulty, frustration, pain and anguish. That you have achieved what you have both professionally and financially in addition to dealing with your own mental health issues and your children’s difficulties speaks volumes for the strength of your commitment and determination.

    Thanks for being so honest about all aspects of your life.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Tuppeny Fireplace,

      What great names people have on here!

      Yes, its certainly been a rocky road. I think I got the commitment and determination in part from my parents, but those attributes are double-edged swords. When I had so much to do, professionally, financially and domestically, I found it easy to be very hard on myself, demanding the best at all times. Putting too much pressure on myself wasn’t always good for me, and sometimes I expected too much from those around me, adding more pressure which wasn’t good for them either.

      One reason I’m happy to share my difficulties on here is so that others affected by similar issues might recognise the signs before its too late, and also to know they’re not alone, and that help is available.

      Best wishes for you and your daughter, and thanks for reading.

  18. ladyaurora · · Reply

    Hi fireman
    I suffer depression and have done for 25 years. Ive been on tablets and still am and they have given me great relief. Anxiety is the other side of the coin and this has been terrible to live with but as i said the tablets have helped calm this down. Its probably the reason i was driven to save and get to FI to quiet the fear of no money or taking a job i didn’t want just to pay bills. As for your hair advice. I do agree. Im a hairdresser and I’ve always said im changing everyones hair into what others already have. But im glad otherwise I’d have had no business! We are lucky we live at a time where medication and help is avaliable for depression but strangely most sufferers won’t go and get the help they need. Its almost part of the illness , it stops you going to get help!
    Thanks for sharing and all the best going forward.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi LadyAurora,

      Thanks for opening up too. Millions of years of evolution have pre-programmed us all to be sensitive to any perceived threat, and be fearful of it, even when we don’t need to be. Example: fear of flying. Its the car ride to the airport that kills you.

      The tablets definitely help get your body chemistry back in balance, and I’m glad they’re working for you. I was on them for a while, but many people need them for years. I would recommend reading self-help books on depression/anxiety/mental health, and also exercise. Both are cheap and effective. They may or may not work for you, but everything I’ve read says you should give them a go if you haven’t already.

      I’m also relieved that a female hair professional likes my hair advice for women. When I re-read it I thought it might come across as a bit patronising – it wasn’t meant to be!

      Best wishes for the future

  19. The Fireman · · Reply

    Big thanks to the Escape Artist for giving me a platform to speak. It’s been quite cathartic.

    More thanks for everyone who has taken the time to read, and still more for those who have made comments and for your kind words of support.

    I hope to see some of you in person at an FI meet up soon….

  20. Metro · · Reply

    I liked this interesting life story.

    I wonder if SIPPs are better than Shares ISAs to build wealth for early retirement.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Metro,

      I’m glad you liked my story.

      SIPPS can be better, especially when you get tax relief at a higher rate when making contributions in versus paying a lower tax rate when drawing money out. You should be aware that if you want to retire early (ie before you can take anything out of a SIPP), then a SIPP will only be part of the solution.

      There is a lot more to it than this, and a good place to get questions answered are the Facebook groups: Financial Independence London and/or Choose FI London.

  21. “Only Software developers and those working in finance can be FI”.

    This wonderful story just goes to show what is possible when thinking in financial independence terms. I keep telling peole that it’s the mentality that needs change not the salary aspect.

    Thanks for sharing fireman and TEA!

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Foxy Michael,
      I realise that I’ve broken holy FI law here…
      My bad!

  22. Inspiring! Thanks for sharing your story. As someone who’s often “down” from an emotional perspective (not sure if I’m depressed, never saw a doctor about it), I really appreciated you sharing this very personal aspect of your journey.

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Stockbeard,

      EVERYBODY’s brain is wired that way to a greater or lesser extent. There is so much pressure on everyone to demonstrate living a ‘perfect’ life, usually evidenced by having all the trappings (pun intended). It’s no wonder we all feel like we’re failures when we live REAL lives with all the compromises that go with being human.

      As mentioned previously, I recommend reading self-help books, and exercise. Keep aware of your own feelings, and remember theres no shame in getting medical help if you think it MIGHT be needed.

  23. Thanks for being so honest and sharing your life story on such a public platform!

    I think the main takeaway here is not really that you’ve made it to (early I presume?) FI but that you’ve absolutely knocked it out of the park. You have worked your absolute butt off to get to where you are, and that’s not for everyone (including me!), but if most people only put in half the effort they’d be far better than they currently are and likely also hit early FI as well, whilst not extremely early.

    Obviously there are a lot of parameters at play in any given persons starting point and life but if you concentrate on the ones you can actually control yourself, then you are in charge of your own destiny.

    It honestly amazes me that you are still bothering working with all of that equity and passive income, but you are enjoying life more than ever right now by the sounds of it, so you get to decide, I guess that’s the whole point isn’t it? Maybe when I get to FIRE I will want to try my hand at being a Fireman as well 🙂

    I echo others statements that I hope your two sons right their own ship as best they can and in short time

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Thanks for your kind words firestarter.
      I can’t stress strongly enough that you write your own rules. Don’t be restricted by anything.
      Concentrate on the important 20%, and a little effort will go a long, long way. Remember that your most productive hours are spent thinking about what that 20% is, and how you can focus on it.
      Remember that FI isn’t a game you win or lose. It’s like running away from a hungry bear… You don’t have to run faster than the bear, only faster than the muppets on the hamster wheel weighed down by all their spending habits.
      I am having the time of my life improving the non-financial things in my life. And thanks for wishing my boys the best.

  24. […] to write this post after reading “The Fireman’s” guest post on The Escape Artist (Can you become a millionaire on a fireman’s salary?). I found his candour as well as his sanguine reflections on a life of ups and downs very touching […]

  25. Thanks for sharing your story, I can relate to lots of it.

    I have 2 questions:
    – how did you deal with a controlling father as you got older?
    – did you think of retiring from the fire service earlier & did you carry out any calculations on this?

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Rosemary,

      Yes I love my retirement spreadsheet. If I retired much earlier my Brigade pension would be frozen until I reach 67. One possible option would have been to quit anyway and concentrate on property development, but that would have been hard work and risky. The way my pension works is that the final years count double, but if I stayed too long I still have to pay in but get nothing extra out. The guys on the new pension really get hammered though. They have to work an extra 10 years, pay more in, get less out and get screwed if they go early (up to 50% cut!). Luckily a few of us remain on the old scheme because we’re so near retirement.

      Also, if I retire too early (before 55) my tax free lump sum is restricted (£44k). If I wait until 55 then I should get £117k tax free. This would also mean my taxable pension would be lower (because a greater proportion is converted into the lump sum). That should reduce my tax bill for the rest of my life. I intend to put any lump sum into ISA’s (me, wife + 2 boys), so that should quickly be tax free, and pass some on.

      ISA and SIPP growth, and (relatively) low spending mean that whatever happens my income should keep going up.

      I’m also looking into MarkB’s suggestion of moving abroad for 5 years to avoid CGT.

      Father issues dealth with by moving out. We have different views on politics, economics and electricity generation (he worked in electricity distribution, has strong views and thinks everyone should accept his wisdom on all political, economic and electricity supply matters). Whenever I visited he would try and brow beat me (and anyone else) into agreeing with him. A while ago I had a ‘full and frank exchange of views’ (euphemism for stand up row) and things have been much better since then. It took so long because I didn’t want to have to spell out why his ‘mission’ to change the world has failed, especially at the time when all his faculties are leaving him.

      The difference is this: We both have strong views on certain things and both think we’re right, but I’m prepared to accept that I could turn out to be wrong.

      Reading list:-
      The Righteous Mind
      The Dictators Handbook
      Nukenomics (insomniacs only!)

      I wonder if my sons might feel that history is repeating itself. There is lots of advice I could give, but I cant force it down their throat. Everyone has to choose their own path, whether their parents like it or not.

  26. David Andrews · · Reply

    Really interesting article and thanks for sharing. It goes to show what hard work can achieve if somebody puts their mind to it. I achieved financial independence at 40 (5 years ago). Both mortgages paid off and enough in my pension to worry about breaching the LTA. I’m still working in IT but I’m not enjoying it much. Knowing I can quit at any time is very reassuring. I’m now planning my exit with the help of my trusty spreadsheet.

  27. I came to your story, Fireman, through a couple’s travel website, where the fellow was discussing how to finance long term motorhome travel while balancing the mental need to work or to accomplish things, even though he was FI.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading your story and everyone’s comments because it’s all very relevant to my life and I haven’t a group to discuss these issues with. I’m 61 and have been FI for a number of years now, the result of working many hours for many years for myself. I was in Chiropractic school and saw an opportunity in building portable treatment tables. I also learned of the value of licensing patents and created several other products to create further income streams. Though i got licensed, I never wound up going into practice because I had so much more fun designing products and just “making up” my life. A great benefit was that I got to create a business where I got to be the kind of boss I always wanted to be. I got to hire untrained retirees from all walks of life, show them how work with their hands, give them a key to the shop, no time clock, no fixed schedules, take whatever time off they needed so long as the work got done, and trust them to work together to get the job done. Funny how I had the most loyal, hardworking, trustworthy employees that would tell me this was the best job they ever had.

    When I was first out of college (before Chiropractic school), I had read about a survey given to retired CEOs where they were asked what would they do different if they had their careers to do over again. The most common response was they wished they could have done something with their hands. That while the money was good, corporate office life just wasn’t that fulfilling. That made a big impression on me. Without realizing it, I scratched that itch when I first got out of high school and went to a junior college where I decided to take courses in welding, auto mechanics and machining. I never felt I was going to go into these areas for a career, but that they were interesting and, if I didn’t take them then, when would I ever get to? Funny how once I started my chiropractic table business I got to use all those skills along with my professional knowledge.

    I wound up moving to a decent size community in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains where I built an industrial building for my business and purchased rental properties and stocks with my income. I haven’t married or had kids, but I built a wonderful home that friends and family love to visit, and now it’s time to semi-retire so I can get another dog and start traveling in my camper van that I’m almost done building.

    And if you think all of the above happened easily, boy have I got a bunch more stories I could tell you. Products can fail for so many unexpected reasons. Suppliers can create unbelievable headaches. Distributors can take your products overseas and destroy your customer base. Investment partners can cheat you. The government can stop your sales by changing a program. On and on. But I’m so lucky. I’ve got a brain, working limbs, a great country, many people willing to help me, and a sense of humor. I’ve also got a battery that’s just about dead, so time to go. Cheers to all who’ve read this and feel a bit inspired. Read the life of Jack London. He’s the one that really lit a fire in me. “I’d rather be a meteor than a sleeping planet. The purpose of man is to live – not to exist.”

    1. The Fireman · · Reply

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for responding, and I’d be interested to know the travel website…

      What a brilliant story! The results can be truly fulfilling when knowledge, skills and creativity are fuelled by a bit of motivation. Both interesting and inspiring, and TEA has asked for interesting case studies…. I especially like your approach to employees. You could teach the Brigade a thing or two.

      All the best for your camper van travels with your dogs!

      1. Tony Vogel · ·

        Thanks for your kind response, and for taking the time to answer everyone’s comments. That’s very generous of you.

        I start writing and I sometimes get on a roll, but I wanted to mention before that I appreciated your honesty and willingness to share the difficult elements of your life. Everyone has pieces of their lives that weren’t or aren’t easy to experience or share. For most of my youth, I, too, felt like an outsider, and it was hard to learn how to overcome that. It made me feel sorry for myself for a long time until one day when I was about 16 I just realized that no one was any better or brighter than I, so I just started interacting with people the way that made me feel good. So many people seem to be bored about everything and complain about so much. I find almost nothing boring. So I make stories about everything and make myself the butt of my humor. I learned that I really wasn’t afraid of anyone. And without fear I could see people for who they are, and I could reach into people’s hearts and share my secrets because they are the secrets we all have. I found that kindness and consideration make us all equal. That fairness is the true coin of the realm. And that with a little honesty and sympathy and attention, most people can be reached.

        One day in high school I walked away from the group that I had hung out with for two years because I realized I was really hiding when I was with them. I stepped across a threshold in my mind and waved to them as I started just walking around, talking to whoever crossed my path. I went from being an unknown kid in my high school to being voted Most Friendly my senior year. That meant a lot to me. Still does. They saw something in me that I still try to live up to it. It’s been a
        pretty powerful motivator ever since. It’s too bad most kids don’t get told something like that. A kind word can stay with someone their whole life. Just like a harsh one can.

        But on the other side of the coin of my personality. There’s a pot holder in my kitchen that says, “Be Reasonable. Do it My Way.” Unfortunately, that is the other side of me that grew as I gained confidence. My mother once observed that I’m doing some woman a favor by not marrying her. That’s how frustrating I can be. And I know it. I seem to challenge a lot of people in ways that they aren’t used to and can’t take for long. What’s funny is that I wound up with an abandoned dog that seemed to have a similar problem with most other dogs. He wasn’t mean, but other dogs just didn’t get him. He’d want to play and the other dogs (his size or bigger – little dogs weren’t an issue) would push him till he’d feel threatened and then he’d tell them to back off and leave him alone. Which they often wouldn’t. So I had to always stay nearby and keep a close eye on things. I felt bad for him because he could never play in a pack. I get that myself. I never cared for or followed team sports, or hunting, or the stuff that a lot of guys seem to care about. (I loved your “chalk and cheese” comment.) One on one, I can be friends with most anyone, but in a group of high testosterone guys, I don’t fit in. Plus I’m only 5′ 6″, so that doesn’t help. And, like my dog, I’ve never like being challenged, which happened, of course, a fair number of times growing up. Thank God a nun in the first grade got my head right about that. After a kid hit me in class for no reason and I started crying, the nun talked to me and asked me if I was a man or a mouse. When I said a man, she asked me what I wanted to do about the situation. I said I wanted to hit the kid back. So the nun told the kid to stand up and she looked at me and just nodded, like “off you go”. So I went to the kid and hit him, and he got to start crying while I sat down feeling good. I never took anything from anyone ever again. Funny, the lessons life teaches us.

        Which brings me, finally, to the website that linked to your story. It’s OurTour.co.UK and look for “How we fund our lifestyle – Retired at 43”. That’s all. Thanks for sticking around, if you did.

  28. The FIREman · · Reply

    I did stick around – how could I not with such a gripping read.

    Your story strikes a chord with me in a similar way that my story apparently has with others. This is proof that we are not alone, and a testament to the power of the internet in connecting people who are a bit ‘different’ in some way, like all us FI people are. I am humbled and honoured by the comments and kind words above from strangers taking the time to connect with me.

    I found the complete link to the article you mentioned here:-

    http://ourtour.co.uk/home/how-we-fund-our-lifestyle-retired-at-43/

    I think for me, part of the appeal of motorbikes, flying and sailing has been the urge to escape. I recall reading novels where the main character has a ‘go pack’ ready at all times (rucksack pre-packed with passport, money, clothes and essential survival bits and bobs etc). I could easily see the appeal of that, and can easily see why a motorhome could also satisfy that urge.

    If on your travels, you find yourself sitting alone in the sun with a beer in you hand, please raise a glass to ‘absent friends’, and I will do the same.

    1. Tony Vogel · · Reply

      Thanks. And I tell ya, I’m looking forward to seeing some sunsets – and sunrises! And I need some more new stories!

      Good chatting with you. You’re right — the internet is a special place to connect with like-minded folks. I raise my glass to you.

      >

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