One of the amazing things about writing a blog about financial independence has been the variety of people I’ve met in that place offline called “The Real World”.
You may remember Chloë who wrote the excellent Get Rich With Other People (Part 2). Of my several thousand close personal friends (ahem), Chloë is my favourite left wing, lesbian vegan. Some of the others can get a bit earnest at times to be honest 😉
But not Chloë, who is super-smart, sassy and generally awesome. Chloë has something called a “sense of humour”. For those of you unfamiliar with this concept, a “sense of humour” can make your life a lot more enjoyable. You should really try it.
My friendship with Chloë also reminds me that surface level differences are much less important than shared values…values like what she calls The Magic Ingredient of Not Being Shit.
Here’s Chloë’s guest post. Enjoy!
One thing that wise FIRE blogs talk about is how important it is not to shut down your life while you focus on achieving FIRE: don’t lose sight of the things you love while you’re planning your escape.
The more your life is aligned with achieving FIRE, the sooner you’ll reach your goal. Increase your income(s), get your transport right (BMX good, BMW bad), jack up your savings rate and the rest will follow.
What I haven’t seen so much is that focus applied to hobbies. So let’s focus on the free in free time!
You are due a gold star if your hobby actually makes you money. Hang on, would that be cheating?
Firstly, other than The Internet Retirement Police, who even cares? Secondly if that grey area is also a green area, so much the better. For a start, you might be able to make money from your existing hobbies. If you get a real kick out of writing your niche but weirdly interesting blog, you may well be able to find a way to monetise it without too much extra work.
This could be as simple as adding a Paypal link or a digital tip jar. Your blog might be niche, like really niche, like recording every sneeze you have (including time, kind of sneeze and consistency), but you only need 1,000 True Fans who really like you (and are willing to pay for your content) to do well.
For other hobbies, a little ingenuity, persistence (together with The Magic Ingredient of Not Being Shit) can result in income. For example, I’ve recently been doing some stand up comedy, working my way up from 5 minute sets at open mic nights and towards a paid booking.
For fun, free and creative effort, I get the ego-boost of a good set, free drinks for performers and a good crowd of people. Eventually I hope to add a nice headliners fee and a full 15 minutes to share eye-gougingly bad puns and “Trump, eh? Am I right?”.
There’s a whole other branch of hobbies that follow a mysterious path of buying the ingredients, swearing at manuals, googling frantically and end in a product of some kind. There are so many ‘luxury’ goods that you can make pretty easily yourself. From fancy jams, marmalades and preserves to soap (beware of caustic soda burns and otherwise you’re grand) and body scrubs.
Why not make extra and sell them…or give them in place of bought gifts? Last year, I made some spiced hot chocolate jars for a bunch of friends; it came to about £0.60 per jar, while the equivalent (but for significantly less drinking powder) from various high street shops came to at least £5.
The real win here isn’t saving a few quid on gifts, excellent marginal gains though they are, it’s the confidence and general awesomeness you build from researching, planning and then putting a new skill into action. Suddenly you can make something new, experiment with it and hone your craft over time. Brewing and winemaking is my favourite example:
Admittedly, the stuff from the early days wouldn’t be fit for teenagers to drink down the park, but now we’re putting out some nice vintages that wouldn’t disgrace the fine name of the Tesco Everyday Value Range.
These will wait a full year before they’re enjoyed, a valuable lesson about delayed gratification: put in the work now, enjoy the payoff later. They’re getting better and better: the thing about bad homemade wine is each glass makes it more palatable.
From saving money, my drunken dabbling has gone on to make some money. After auctioning off some special infused gin for fundraising, I got requests to sell them directly. £15 for a 250ml bottle that cost me £4? That’s not a bad margin, eh?
We sometimes make homebrewing even more frugal by foraging the berries and plants. Now, it sounds far-fetched to me in my London flat, but I’ve heard that some people even have something called “gardens” where they can grow their own food, create a beautiful outside area to relax in and watch their cat poop on their plants.
Sounds like a perfect FIRE friendly hobby to me. They say that you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time around. If that’s true, the day I get my own garden I’m liable to end up part-woman, part-shed and part garden gnome.
If we’re not trying to directly make money from our hobbies, we can at least consider interests that are close to free or provide great value. For instance… running, weight lifting, hiking.
TEA readers will already know the inestimable advantages of lifting weights, and while this can be optimised with or without a gym, ultimately the value you get from getting out in lycra, getting sweaty and achy and accomplishing something hard is worth most local authority gym membership fees.
It’s worth the cost because looking after your body improves everything else you do.
As for other sports like running or hiking, it’s pretty much true that all you really, really need is a good pair of shoes…
Sports of many kinds don’t require extra equipment or club fees and you can still get all the benefits of exercise without the extra overheads. Hell, you’ve already got a bike, having sidelined that money incineration unit (also known as a car) years ago, right?
Just as an addiction to the latest must-have smartphone and flash car can slow down your progress, so you can be hobbled by hobbies. So don’t be one of those people with a hobby with all the gear, no idea.
[TEA note: I regret to inform you that there is an equation amongst some cyclists where the optimal number of bikes to be owned is given by N+1…where N = the current number of bikes owned 🙂 ]
I hope I’m not breaking any trade secrets by pointing out that your bike can take you fun places too – set off, get sweaty and satisfied, enjoy nature and cycle back with a well earned sense of accomplishment.
Here’s another overlooked hobby: volunteering. Yes, you too can feel truly justified in your own smug superiority while you pick up your locally sourced, free range, gluten free copy of The Grauniad, all for the amount of time it takes to serve soup to local rough sleepers.
In all honesty, it’s good for the soul/spirit/character to do your part to make the world a little less harsh, plus you’ve got an instant defence the next time someone calls you a fascist for being featured in the Daily Mail *
You could bankrupt yourself giving money to different causes, or you could find your own comfortable limit that works with your FIRE budget, and give them your time instead. The Escape Artist wrote recently about the excellent benefits of hard work when young on your character development and the same goes for volunteering. You can even view it through the lens of stoicism: encounters with hardship will make you appreciate what you have that much more.
Before you annoint me Saint Chloë of Camden, let’s look at purely selfish enjoyment. For entertainment, it’s hard to beat video games for value for money. By which I mean, the number of hours of entertainment per pound spent.
As an avid cinema buff, I paid £21 in London to see Mockingjay Part II. Even if they’d thrown in a complimentary line of the BBC’s white powder answer to Red Bull, we’d have still felt ripped off. On the other hand, years ago I paid £45 for a copy of Skyrim, which I played for around 200 hours. Much more frugal.
But it doesn’t stop there – we can go deeper. Many FIRE blogs have taught you that you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses with your car, suit, house etc – well, that works with video games as well. You only have to be three years out of date and you might only be paying 10% (or less) of the original cost.
I literally do this. Skyrim can now be picked up for £3. My girlfriend has been reliving her childhood trying to get a 100% completion rate on low resolution classic: Spyro The Dragon. Of course there’s an XKCD on this. (https://xkcd.com/606/)
As TEA has taught us, you decide how much you’d like to pay: you can buy that book new in hardback now for £19.99 or wait a few months for the library to hook you up for free.
Look, you can do what you want – that’s why it’s called free time. We’re all pursuing financial independence so we can live the life that we want, and that’s going to come down to individual choice. But take a look at the ways you can harness The Aggregation Of Marginal Gains by reviewing your hobbies and seeing if there’s room to finesse them a little.
Every little helps.
*TEA note: Chloë I thought I told you that was a serious matter and not something to be made fun of??