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.
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
I’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.
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:
- Discovering Lidl, Aldi and Home Bargains – £300 per month saving
- Reducing bollocks purchases (e.g. lattes, meals at the health club, work lunches, other miscellaneous) – £200 pm
- Ditching childcare (while both working full time hours) – £150 pm
- Ditching the cleaner (easy after the physical declutter) – £80 pm
- Reducing utility bills (switching provider, smart meter) – £35 pm
- Reducing phone bills (mobiles plus landline) – £40 pm
- Using less petrol (reduced commuting, more biking) – £25 pm
- Renegotiating life insurance (with increased cover) – £5 pm
- 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.
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:
- Sell on eBay / Gumtree local FB page pile
- Give to friends pile
- Give to charity shop pile
- Recycling pile
- 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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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