RESET : How one family changed their life

financial independence

Until recently, I’d not come across a UK book about financial independence.

That changed a few weeks ago when David Sawyer got in touch and sent me a copy of his book RESET.

I get a lot of emails from people wanting to do guest posts…I turn 99% of these down. But Dave caught my interest when he mentioned his journey from couch to 2hr 40m marathon aged 44. That is some hard shit, right there.

Dave describes himself as a 46-year-old PR man and FIRE advocate who lives in Glasgow, Scotland with his wife, Rachel (a social work manager), primary-school age kids Zak and Jude and pet hamster.

I asked Dave to tell us his story…

The Escape Artist


David S and wifeI’m not financially independent yet, but I’m on the path.

I knew no one in the UK FIRE movement until three months ago. I didn’t even know there was a FIRE movement until about 4 years ago.

So how did I, a just-turned 46-year-old in Glasgow, start playing with FIRE, and what prompted me to write RESET, a FIRE manual specifically for Brits?

Are you sitting comfortably?

It all began on a trip to Center Parcs when I was 39.

We were there with friends. One wanted to go jogging. I said I’d join her if we ran slowly. As we chatted, we discussed exercise and she asked why I didn’t run. “I don’t have time” I said, “what with the job and bringing up the kids. Plus I don’t like doing anything if I can’t do it properly…and the last time I ran I came towards the back of the 100 metres on school sports day.”

A few weeks later, out of the blue my brother rang and asked me to do a marathon with him, before we both turned 40. Then one of my team challenged me to a game of squash, and though I was a match for him in skill and competitive spirit, my fitness let me down. He walloped me.

It was a combination of these three unrelated occurrences within a month that set me on a six-year journey that has transformed my life.

My back story

I grew up in the hedgerow-bounded suburban Cheshire villages south of Manchester. Mine was a happy childhood and I enjoyed all the freedom, support and educational opportunities one would expect in a house where BBC Radio Four was played continuously.

After sixth form in Durham and four years at university in Scotland (during which time I met Rachel, my wife) we eventually settled in Dundee. Having trained and worked as a journalist (before deciding it wasn’t for me), I crossed over into public relations and took to it like a duck to water.

Aged 28, I joined the Glasgow office of a global PR firm. I worked hard and became skilled at my job. My increased specialisation (mostly media relations) was recognised with awards, promotions / salary increases and acclaim from my peers. I remember one night at the Scottish PR awards, the Glasgow office I was now in charge of winning six of the 18 available gongs (four of the campaigns were ones I was leading on).

And our personal lives? While we were never (that) extravagant, our habits were typical of many young professional couples who want to enjoy life. Meals out two or three times a week, multiple foreign holidays / mini-breaks a year…we could have written the book on small exclusive hotels in out-of-the-way places in Scotland. And activities like mountaineering and mountain biking meant there was no shortage of things to spend money on.

Then kids came along. Disposable income diminished. Free time evaporated, never mind “me time”. Hobbies fell by the wayside and work time became more focussed on hitting the numbers, managing my team and keeping clients happy, rather than developing my skills as a PR practitioner. As I turned 39, I was starting to wonder “is this it?”

Run and become

A few days after that squash defeat, I decided it was time to get fit and started wheezing jogging round the block, self-consciously exiting via the back gate and barely lasting 10 minutes. (By then, a few years of house-renovation-then-small-child-induced inactivity had seen me put on two stone and smoke more than the occasional cigarette.)

Running (something you can do with no travel or planning) was a godsend, and although I didn’t enjoy it at first, I carried on. I joined a running club, re-instilled the values of persistence, hard work and experimentation and saw what could be achieved if I put my mind to something.

Late last year, aged nearly 45, I recorded my marathon PB (personal best) in Berlin, posting 2:40:36. For those who do parkruns on a Saturday morning, that’s the equivalent of running eight-plus back-to-back sub-19-minute 5ks.

Berlin.jpg

Did I have any idea where that run at Center Parcs would take me? No, but it was definitely a turning point that I look back on with gratitude.

Is running for everyone? No, exercise is really important, but the point about running for me was to find something in my life where I was in control, where I got out what I put in, where I was doing something just for me.

The past six years

Over the past six years, I’ve:

  • Left my corporate job and set up my own company, a public relations consultancy.
  • Retrained as a digital PR adviser, discovering new skills such as website-building, search engine optimisation and wider digital marketing.
  • Run four sub-2:45 marathons, plus placed 2nd and 7th in my first two ultra-marathons.
  • Discovered (and converted to) financial independence.
  • Cut my spending and discovered efficiency.
  • Learned how to invest effectively via index trackers.
  • Written what I believe is the first comprehensive UK book on financial independence.

Did he say Financial Independence?

Now we’re talking! Here’s what led me to discover FIRE in 2015. From mid-2012 it went something like this:

“Run for fun, begin reading about digital marketing, start ‘running’ blog, leave job and set up on my own, embark on crash course in digital media/running a business, discover self-improvement books, then stumble across two bloggers 1) Wait But Why’s Tim Urban and 2) Mr Money Mustache.

Finding Mr Money Mustache is where financial independence began for me. The first two years were an American inspired learning journey as I gorged on blogs, books, videos and podcasts.

Having experienced the FI lightbulb moment, here’s how we slashed our monthly family spending:

  1. Discovering Lidl, Aldi and Home Bargains – £300 per month saving
  2. Reducing bollocks purchases (e.g. lattes, meals at the health club, work lunches, other miscellaneous) – £200 pm
  3. Ditching childcare (while both working full time hours) – £150 pm
  4. Ditching the cleaner (easy after the physical declutter) – £80 pm
  5. Reducing utility bills (switching provider, smart meter) – £35 pm
  6. Reducing phone bills (mobiles plus landline) – £40 pm
  7. Using less petrol (reduced commuting, more biking) – £25 pm
  8. Renegotiating life insurance (with increased cover) – £5 pm
  9. Giving up shared office (while retaining office facility) – £65 pm

It’s amazing how addictive this efficiency and cost saving becomes once you get started. The more you save, the more you invest, the quicker you get to financial independence.

Decluttering

We also embarked on a major decluttering exercise.  It may seem strange that de-cluttering your home can have a profound impact on your life – but it did for me and it could for you.

Clutter is wasteful, stressful and expensive. It’s sentimental and makes you live in the past. It’s a sign that you’re overly attached to material stuff.

How did we do it? We went through every room…first discarding, then tidying. Everything leaving the house went in one of 5 piles:

  1. Sell on eBay / Gumtree local FB page pile
  2. Give to friends pile
  3. Give to charity shop pile
  4. Recycling pile
  5. Rubbish dump pile

If you undertake this one-off herculean task, you’ll have more time, more money and less stress.  It will help you reconnect with your values and find your purpose. De-cluttering makes you feel like you’re taking back control.

The physical declutter was complemented by a mental and digital declutter, freeing my mind to think more clearly.

The book

So I was working away, building up my business, getting a nice wedge of money in the bank, working out what we wanted to do with our lives, doing the great de-clutter, sorting the investments. And all the while mulling over a book I’d had in my head for a few years.

The vast majority of the financial independence thinking was taking place stateside. And while a lot of the teaching was universal, the tax, investing (particularly the investing) and cultural differences were at times a challenge to translate. I felt that no one else could be spending the amount of time and effort I was in translating all this stuff and that few had even heard of financial independence in the UK.

I’m not sure exactly what compelled me to write RESET. But rooted in its heart is my desire to help midlife professionals see that there is another way (the financial independence way) and give them the practical tools and way of seeing the world to achieve their goals, whatever they may be.

In October 2017 I downed tools on my business and started the book. I researched it full time from October to December 2017, started writing in March 2018 and published in August this year.

What next?

Well, I’d love to see RESET go stratospheric. I’d love it to play a part in bringing the amazing, life-enhancing properties of the financial independence movement to a wider audience here in the UK. And if I only reach a few thousand (sales to-date are about 2,000) well, that’s a good start. If you buy a copy having read this post, please highlight it, action it and tell your friends.

In the meantime, it’s back to the day job for me: I can’t wait to apply my digital PR, writing, and marketing skills to new challenges in 2019.

What worked for me?

Having spent the last four years immersed in the principles of FIRE and the past year writing a book about it, I firmly believe that anyone can follow the FIRE path.

Yes, It’ll come quicker if you’re on a high wage, but the principles, habits and actions outlined in RESET, if applied, will make a big difference to everyone. That’s because FIRE is ultimately about fulfilment, not money.

There are 5 things that have given me a head start on my FIRE journey:

#1 Endurance

You’ve got to be able to see things through. This takes determination and a certain stubbornness, a trait found in many long-distance runners. And perhaps the reason many take up running is because their lives were too comfortable?

In The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg calls exercise a “keystone habit” where a change in one area of life has positive effects in others. Keystone habits change our sense of what is possible.  Running has changed my life. There’s no substitute for consistent effort, day after day. Good thoughts lead to good habits lead to good outcomes. Since starting running, I feel like I’ve fulfilled my true potential.

#2 Being different

You have to have the confidence to plough your own furrow. FIRE can be a lonely pursuit. Luckily, keeping up with the Joneses has never been a concern of mine or my wife’s. Normal is over-rated. Often it’s different people who create something new and special.

Although ploughing your own furrow is undoubtedly a good thing, I’m certainly benefitting now from meeting like-minded fellow FIers. No man is an island and all that.

#3 Upbringing

I was brought up to believe anything is possible. Mum and Dad raised me not to be too concerned about what others think about me, to focus on working hard, reading and listening to make sense of the world, experimenting and doing the right (not the easy) thing.

#4 Obsession

Obsession is seen as bad.

I disagree. Why start something if you’re not going to give it your heart and soul, to be the best you can be? To pursue FIRE, it helps to be single-minded…this helps when tracking your spending, or working towards your next promotion.

For example, I don’t just read good books, I write in the margins as I go, underlining key passages and making notes at the end of every chapter. I also look at the footnotes, sources and bibliography. Two weeks later I return to the book and write what I’ve learnt on index cards.

Sound obsessive? It is. It helps me develop my worldview and RESET wouldn’t exist without it.

#5 Teamwork

My wife gets it. What helped in all of this was many a long evening discussing what we wanted out of life and how we wanted to get there.

It helps hugely to have a clear vision, that you can see, hear and taste. Ours involves one of those beautiful white towns in the hills of Andalusia, Spain, with blue sky and red wine.

vision

But what about the kids? At the moment, Jude and Zak are eight and 10. They are happy children who like playing sport, spending time with their friends and adventures with their dad in the mountains.

However, young ones do bring challenges. It’s hard for them at first to understand that efficiency underpins all aspects of FIRE. Call me Scrooge, but I believe overpriced ice-creams from cafes or vans are the devil’s work. I see a Magnum priced £2.50 in a café and shiver. My mind is thinking, I can get six of these from Lidl for £1.99…daylight robbery.

My wife’s pretty much on the same page as me, but sometimes, very occasionally, the kids wear her down. In these situations, the only option remaining is to take a principled one-man stand, which I do.

And finally…

Not all spending is “bad”.

I’ve seen a few close friends lose loved ones over the past year, and seen people my age, who I was once very close to, shuffle off this mortal coil. I reckon it’ll take me another 10 years to get to FIRE and, although we holiday for six weeks a year and don’t want for anything materially, I sometimes wonder whether our spending on experiences (e.g. the theatre) could be upped a little. After all, as I’ve heard FIRE-detractors say many times, we could get run over by a bus tomorrow.

Financial independence is both a way of life and a way of thinking. It values independent thought, doing your research and, despite conventional wisdom, making your own mind up and acting accordingly.

This breeds confidence in your own abilities, as important and unconventional life decisions are made and implemented on you and your family’s behalf, often to the mild consternation of friends and relatives.

These traits are what keeps us FIRE devotees going when others are questioning our decisions…but there is such a thing as taking it too far. So I won’t just be living off pasta and chick peas.

Remember to enjoy the journey!


RESET : How to Restart Your Life and Get F. U Money (The Unconventional Early Retirement Plan for Midlife Careerists Who Want to Be Happy) 

 

 


Further reading:

fin-coaching-widget

  1. I’m better than me
  2. Financial Coaching

 

21 comments

  1. Wowzers. As a runner I’m more than impressed, 2:40 is blazing. Kudos to you for that and for turning things around with money too. I also think that life optimization starts with exercise and being fit, but I’m biased.

    1. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

      V. interesting blog; I’ve signed up. We share a lot of interests. A fellow Dave, too, everyone needs one: https://www.thedailymash.co.uk/news/society/you-are-never-more-than-six-feet-away-from-a-dave-20180224144909

  2. Hi Dave

    Excellent story telling and important life hacks you’ve set out above. Your point about upbringing is so so important. Only lately have I grown to appreciate my upbringing after much reflection on how it has helped me to date. This very point keeps me actively aware of what upbringing we’re giving our children and how things might well turn out for them.

    I thoroughly appreciated the tips you gave me about your journey to RESET and I’m really enjoying your book and will write about it in the very near future.

    All the best, man! Hope to hang out with you soon.

    1. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

      Cheers, Ken, yes I read your piece on this site and enjoyed it, particularly the bits relating to your parents. Inspiring. I’ve seen a few parenting books recommended on Barney’s “recommended reads” page, which I’m going to check out. Another excellent one is The Artist’s Way for Parents. Really excited to hear and read what you make of it, Ken. Yes, you/me too (re: your last comment)!

  3. Fantastic, thank you for sharing. I identified with 90% of this article (minus the running / award winning career). I’m off to check out RESET. Is it weird I read this with a glasgow accent in my head?

    1. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

      Ha, I imagine if you read my book in a Glasgow accent it’s a whole different experience. Mine’s more a guttural, wry, northern English drawl. Like a cross between Christopher Ecclestone and a well-mannered Geoffrey Boycott.

  4. donaldtramp1 · · Reply

    Ive read the book and its great. Highly recommended. Nice to know there are others out there like us!

    1. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

      Thanks, I really appreciate this. Do consider leaving an Amazon review if you haven’t already.

      1. donaldtramp1 · · Reply

        Already have David. Left you a good un! I felt the comment you said about folk you know thinking you were weird. It’s great to appreciate that there are quite a few of us weirdos out here now!

  5. sowhendidyoufinish · · Reply

    Brilliant work! Added to my holiday reading list.

    Can relate to growing up in Manchester Suburbs. Living in Scotland has let me see the ‘Glasgow effect’ in action.

    As is often in life a catalyst is needed. Parkrun was the gateway drug for me. Thankfully reached 100 last week. Its all about turning up and maximising ‘dead time’ in these cold December days and nights.

    That said I spoke to a ultra marathon runner which put me back in the box.

    I just hope TEA can reach more people and shine the light. As Nick Loper says ‘get out there and make it happen!’

  6. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

    parkruns are superb, albeit I’ve only done 50, not 100 like you (kids’s classes usually on Saturdays nowadays). Yes, catalysts are so important, these Sliding Doors moments where our lives, in retrospect, take a different turn. Back to running, and talking about December, I’m doing Marcothon at the moment: 5k every day in December. People tend to ditch good habits in the year’s twelfth month, and it’s a great way of keeping the running going as the nights draw in and the social commitments expand in line with the waistline.

    1. sowhendidyoufinish · · Reply

      Nice one David. I wish I could buy shares in everyone who turned up the the 45mph sand blasting at the beach today! See you in the 100 club soon!

  7. Really enjoying your book Dave. Although I achieved FIRE a couple years back (age 47) I still enjoy how others express the wake-up moment while providing excellent advice to others. Like you, I self publish too but I write for children and also visit schools – I try and instil much of the FIRE principles/life values in my books. Drop me a pm and I’ll send you some signed freebie books for your kids for xmas – could a Scot resist a freebie?! Cheers…Andrew

    1. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

      What an excellent idea re: content of your books for children. Would you be able to drop me an email, easily findable on my “zudepr” website? Thank you so much, always looking for new books for the kids. Best, Dave

  8. There is a FIRE author in the Weeg! Book ordered using my allowed impulse buy of the month.

    1. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

      There certainly is, Jock. Honoured I’ve made it on to your impulse-buy-of-the-month list, especially in December. Now don’t go saving it until Christmas Day:O).

  9. Gary Grand · · Reply

    This is a great book, I am half way through it for the second time. The question’s you have at ask yourself really make you think. I wrote them down, took some quiet time and wrote the answer’s down and was surprised and energized with my answers. Not everything in the book is for me, the de-cluttering was too hard core to tackle at the moment but I do keep nibbling away at it – its amazing what you can sell on all the different platforms.

    It’s strange how a lot of people who are into FIRE are also into exercise, I enjoy the mental strength needed to see things through. Have ran 2 marathons this year. Edinburgh in May and Valencia on the 2nd December with more planned next year.

    1. David Sawyer @zudepr · · Reply

      Cheers Gary, do leave an Amazon review if you haven’t already? Yes, I could have structured the book in any order, I guess, but I wanted to get the most important stuff nailed first. That’s the “part”, Part I, you’re referring to, yeah? What Matters to Me? The decluttering is difficult to do piecemeal (works best if you take a holiday to do it, or between jobs). But it’s so important. She’s right, is Marie, decluttering can be life-changing. Yes, Barney and I were chatting about that, the endurance enthusiast thing, and how FIRE seems to attract them. I’ve done Edinburgh a couple of times but don’t like the route that much. Valencia, I’ve heard, is fantastic. You can tell someone who’s into their marathons when they do two a year around spring and autumn (or late autumn in your case). Keep in touch. Best, Dave

      1. Gary Grand · · Reply

        Hi Dave, Just left an Amazon review, it might take a few days before it comes up. 68 5* and 1 1* you always get one loser!! As I said love the book, reading it again, I didn’t know what my family stood for – I do now thanks to you “For all the family to be content and happy by realizing their abilities and fulfilling their ambitions” I have put down on paper my values “Honesty, Compassion & Integrity” I am 56 years old, 2 stone lighter and hitting my running times from 20 years ago, loving life, never felt as fit as I do now, finding the FIRE community as well as your book as been a life changer, will let you now when I start my blog as any feedback would be appreciated.

        Agree the Edinburgh marathon was OK but the course was mostly out of the city so lack of spectator support. Valencia – wow – what a marathon you need to do this one. Flat course, all in the city, well organized, blue sky’s, no wind and the crowds were amazing. The whole city is there supporting 200,000 they said, about 30 bands, people in fancy dress and the Spanish are not quiet, In the last 2km it reminded me on the mountains in the Tour de France where the spectators crowd in on you cheering you on – Inspiring, my last mile was my quickest!! 3.26.23 was 10 min quicker then Edinburgh, not up to your standard, but I was happy with that. With family, work, running and trying to start a side hustle, I will be doing some half marathon’s in the first 6 months of the year, and then I will be running the Amsterdam marathon in October as it coincide with the school half term holiday’s so we can make a family trip of it and fly from Norwich. Cheers Gary

        1. David Sawyer @zudepr · ·

          Cheers for the review, Gary. Compassion, like that, being kind is important, eh? Lovely to hear RESET has been useful to you, it is these comments that are so special as someone who’s poured his heart and soul into a book. I do fancy Valencia. It’s a nice part of the world and the temp would be ok at that time of year. Sounds like London in the last mile or two, a wall of noise. Ref. last mile quickest, that’s the way to run a marathon, albeit a negative split usually means you could have gone a little bit faster (heartening for next time). 3:26 is a good time and I’m sure saw you up there in your age category. Amsterdam is a great one, and the celebration will be a good one afterwards:O). All my best, and keep in touch, Dave (If you haven’t already, you may want to sign up to my newsletter on the Zude PR site? Tends to be the best way of keeping in touch and am sure you’ll like some of the thinking I share every week.)

  10. […] went to my first FIRE meet-up in Edinburgh six weeks back with Barney, The Escape Artist. That was fun. I also met The Mad […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: