Today we have a guest post from a reader who I’ve called The Dragon Queen.
The Dragon Queen hails from Scotland, did a 15-year stint in London and now lives and works in Singapore. Her partner lives in Australia, so Financial Independence will mean they can finally live on the same continent(!).
I first met The Dragon Queen via Skype when she reached out to me for financial coaching. Since then, I’ve been struck by two things.
Firstly, The Dragon Queen does what she says she’s going to do. She follows through. Over the years, I’ve come to realise what a rare but beautiful quality this is in people. Secondly, after she sent me her guest post, I quickly saw that it contained The Magic Ingredient of Not Being Shit.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
My sister in law bought me the Ancestry.com DNA kit for Christmas a couple of years ago. It was pretty exciting to find out that I was 50% Scandinavian! My ancestor was a Viking marauder!
You can imagine my disappointment when I received an update from Ancestry recently, breaking the news that, now their database is more accurate, I am in fact 100% Scottish.
Over the centuries, many of us Scots have done an excellent job of leaving the rain, wind and generally dour deep-fried wilds of Caledonia to start a new life elsewhere. Recently however, I’ve realised that my birth location has offered me the amazing opportunity to be financially independent one day.
I’m from a middle class but not rich family – both parents working in the public sector. I left Scotland when I was 21, straight out of university, hot on the heels of my flatmate who told tales of jobs paying double digit thousands, and the bright lights and damp walls of basement flats in South East London.
I got my head down and worked hard. I saved a bit and spent a lot. All the usual nonsense – expensive dinners and drinks, nicely appointed rental flats, wardrobes full of designer shoes, bags and clothes….and suddenly 15 years had passed. I managed to buy a tiny flat in a fairly central location and I had followed my Dad’s one and only piece of financial advice – since the day I started working I’d been putting 10% of whatever I earned into a retirement savings plan.
Then in 2014 I was offered the opportunity to transfer with my company to Singapore. While I considered myself well-travelled, I definitely under-estimated the culture shock of moving on my own nearly 7,000 miles away from family and friends. But here I am four years on, living on the equator, constantly reminded by my energy bill for air con that I’m definitely 100% Scottish.
It was in Singapore that I learned that Financial Independence was a ‘thing’ via Tim Ferriss’ interview with Mr Money Mustache. After nearly 20 years with nose to grindstone in a busy and stressful job, I quickly grasped FI’s life-freeing properties. I booked some coaching with TEA and since then have spent many hours in dusty corners of the internet soaking up all the information I could on the topic.
As part of this journey, I’ve realised that, by being born in Britain, I’ve been provided with amazing opportunities which offered me a huge leg up to achieving Financial independence.
Don’t get me wrong – I realise I currently live in a country where the top rate of tax is 20% so Singapore is a fantastic place to aim to build wealth if you have a well-paid job, and stay off Orchard Road and out of Gucci.
Its just that living in a different part of the world has given me perspective…its opened my eyes to the amazing opportunities and financial safety net I’ve benefited from…just by accident of my birth on a damp set of rocks in the North Atlantic.
I went to state primary and secondary school, and a Scottish university. When I went to Uni some of my friends were still getting full grants to cover their living expenses. I didn’t pay any fees, and my fellow Scots still don’t. I left with about £3,000 in debt, only because I chose to go overseas for some ‘life experience’ rather than get a summer job the last two years. I experienced free education as a right not a privilege.
Every day for the 17 years of my educational journey I turned up to a safe, clean, disease free place and learned some stuff and hung out with my friends. I was taught in my mother tongue, which happens to be the global language of business. I was educated in a country seen, correctly or not, as offering the gold standard of education to which other countries aspire.
Turns out my experience of education is not mirrored across the world however. Outside of the richest nations, it might be that you can’t go to school all the time because you have to support your family by working on your farmland in rural Myanmar, or that you live under a flyover in Mumbai, don’t speak English and have no way of accessing the education system.
My friend has a degree in Nuclear Physics. Why is he not working at CERN? Because his degree is from the University of Battambang in Cambodia, and visas for Cambodians are pretty difficult to come by never mind earning enough in Cambodia to get you to Switzerland.
Yet education in Cambodia, India, Nepal and may other developing nations is seen as a HUGE privilege. Why? Because in living memory it was not a right or was available only to the most financially privileged. People all over the world will go to great lengths to gain access to the privilege of learning because they recognise it can propel you to financial security, freedom and choice.
In many countries you have to pay for education – whether you actually put cash down or accept the opportunity cost of not being able to contribute to your family during your educational years. For 17 years I pootled along to school / college and my family was no worse off as a result. There’s a good chance that many of you had a similar experience.
My career opportunities
After university, I wrote down some stuff that I’d done during those years of education on a bit of paper called “a CV”. I sent it out to a few places. Some people then paid me thousands of pounds each year to come and sit in a nice office and phone and fax some other people and type shit into their computer for them.
Here I am 20 years later having been lucky enough to have built a career which pays a good bit more than that first salary, and could make working optional one day if I can just calm things down on the holidays front.
Is this because I’m an amazingly talented and very stable genius?
Hhhmmmm…to be fair, I am known as a grafter and I’m pretty career motivated…but the reality is that I was lucky to be born in Britain. In addition to free education and social mobility, our little island happens through an accident of history and timezone to have a Global city sprawling across a good chunk of its South Eastern land mass.
Whether you love or hate London, whether you feel pissed off that it feels like one rule for Londoners and another for the rest of Britain, as a country we benefit from the tax collected, the intellect attracted, the innovation nurtured, and the world-class career opportunities afforded to those who can and choose to take advantage of all it has to offer.
I ended up with an above average income in part because of where I happened to be born and then employed. That London experience and the country on the front of my passport has taken me to Singapore, another tiny but globally-minded island.
A supportive society
I used to whinge about the National Health Service (NHS). My doctors surgery had one of those odd appointment booking systems where you had to call at 8am for an appointment two days later and sit on hold for 20 minutes. I waited in Accident & Emergency (ER) for four hours to be seen for a non-life-threatening injury once. Then I moved to a country where free at point of access healthcare is not a thing. Suffice to say I now think the NHS is amazing.
For those of you who follow US FI bloggers you will know that healthcare is one of worries that people in the US have full stop, aiming for FI or otherwise.
In the UK we just don’t need to give it a thought. Yes, you might decide to treat yourself to private healthcare so you can skip the queue or because you need to manage difficult health circumstances more proactively, but you don’t have to consider that a cell mutation or a car accident that wasn’t your fault could bankrupt you and torpedo your well laid FI plans.
The US is perhaps an extreme example, but most countries in the world operate healthcare along commercial lines. Just reading through the exclusions, claim procedures and policy limits of my medical insurance makes me feel ill!
My Mum has had cancer three times. If you had asked me to pay for her treatment I would have done so until I didn’t have a penny to my name, and then I would have borrowed to keep going. Instead she was treated for free by the NHS. Her treatment costs must have run to hundreds of thousands of pounds but we’ve never seen a bill, filled in a claim form, or been told we have reached the financial limit of treatments they can cover.
My baby boomer parents are not rich by UK / Western standards. However, they have the NHS and the welfare state. They receive public sector retirement pensions, as well as the state pension. My Dad took his own advice and saved into a private retirement account. They paid off their mortgage and own their house outright.
The supportive society my parents live in leaves me free to pursue my dreams. Many of my friends from other counties have to make financial decisions taking into account how they will support their families. They are often financially responsible for their parents who do not have sufficient retirement savings to support themselves, or the money for expensive healthcare for age related illnesses.
UK: A safe, stable financial system filled with incentives
ISA’s / Pensions / VCT’s / EIS’s / Help to Buy / Financial Services Protection Scheme…..
….you name it in the UK all these elements exist to offer opportunities to make building wealth tax-efficient, safe and well regulated.
Yes you might think the various mis-selling scandals were terrible, that interest rates are rubbish, and that Brexit has been such a disaster for the pound that your summer holiday was way more pricey this year…but spare a thought for Turkey, Indonesia, Zimbabwe or Argentina.
There are many countries in the world where the financial system genuinely can’t be trusted. Not in a “sell you a policy you don’t really need” type way, but in an “all your savings might disappear overnight due to corruption / coup / hyper-inflation / war” type way.
I’ve heard Singapore described as a tax haven, but I would put the UK into this bracket too. There are few other countries in the world that offer the myriad of tax incentives to save that we do in the UK.
The fact that well off intentioned folks in the UK are up in arms about the fact that they might have to pay extra tax if their pension gets to be a bit over a million quid…. Come on people…! Having a tax efficient, employer matched, well-regulated, protected, already tax advantaged massive pot of cash you might have to pay a few extra quid on if you really fill it to the brim… that is a nice problem to have!
So back to Financial Independence….
I don’t want this post to sound preachy. Most of TEA’s readers probably already appreciate their fortunate lot in life. When you read Ken’s post a couple of weeks back on how he moved to the UK and saw the amazing opportunities it offered you probably thought “yep – we are damn lucky here”.
I guess I was inspired to write this post because that realisation has been a journey for me. Firstly to realise that I could stop working at some point rather than just graft for The Man forever.
Secondly – just as mind blowing – to realise how crazily fortunate I have been that so many obstacles to achieving FI either never existed for me or have been removed by my circumstances.
I’m not sure if I really need to or want to make work totally optional.
I just want to leave behind the imposter syndrome related stress that has dogged me throughout my 20-year career – that expectation that one day The Man will tap me on the shoulder, point out I have no idea what I’m doing, then ask me to leave, which I will do quietly with a feeling of relief that I don’t have to pretend any more.
Having an escape fund would mean this wouldn’t be the catastrophe it once seemed.
On the flip side I’m not sure if I can really tighten my belt sufficiently to pull the plug on work and be happy that I can’t go for a three quid coffee any time I choose. Fortunately, the shoes and handbags are no longer an issue…that shaves years off my working life!
Whatever I end up doing, there is one thing I have realised in my journey of discovery down the amazing rabbit hole of FI. It is that I, and probably you, have the most fabulous set of opportunities and choices available.
They say that happiness and contentment come from being able to practice gratitude. In a world of 7 billion people, there are many for whom FI is out of reach. I feel truly grateful for what I have and for the choices I am free to make.