Just in case you were wondering, The Escape Artist does not claim to be unbiased. So let me declare some of my biases upfront.
Firstly, I’m biased in favour of financial independence and spreading its ideas to a wide a range of people as possible. Did I mention that Financial Independence is for Everyone? Yes, I think I did.
Secondly, I’m biased in favour of my coaching, which clients have described as life-changing.
Thirdly, I’m shamelessly biased in favour of my coaching clients and make absolutely no apology for that. Once you are on the team, I will find ways to help you.
With that out the way, let’s check out this post from Louise, a reader of the site, one of my coaching clients and a successful escapee.
The Escape Artist
Prisoner Report Number : 212/A/315
Date of Escape : 31 October 2017
Age : 45
July 2015: I am driving home at 9.30pm after a 14 hour day at work and my heart is heavy. It was another day where I have missed all of the summer sun, only seeing it out of a window but that is not the reason for my sadness. Today was my son’s final music recital at University and I wasn’t there.
“Work commitments”, these two words now make me shudder and will always remind me of that evening watching my beautiful and talented son on a video recording taken by my husband. I cried throughout the whole performance and I knew that I couldn’t last much longer giving away all of my precious moment and sunny days to someone else.
Working for 17 years in teaching had really begun to take its toll on my mind and body. The hours I dedicated to my job, both in and out of the classroom, had seeped into every part of my life, regularly checking emails at 3am when sleep was eluding me or marking and preparing lessons until midnight. Weekends were a slight relief but I could never escape the mental to-do list that was constantly with me or the aching knotted muscles in my neck.
I loved teaching, that was the enjoyable part. My subject was accountancy and finance and I worked with some fabulous colleagues and wonderful, dedicated, bright students. Living in the North East of England, lots of my students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and several were asylum seekers coming to my class for a chance to escape their own personal challenges and carve a brighter future for themselves and their families.
My job was rewarding and had many highs, the days when a struggling student is informed that they had past the exam with flying colours, seeing their confidence rise, light bulbs turn on in brains and witnessing people turning their life around. I could say that I loved (a lot of) my job, it just didn’t love me back.
In the past I was never really good with money, fifteen years ago my debt had spiralled out of control and I transferred a chunk of credit card debt onto my mortgage and had a further £15,000 over six different cards.
My husband and I felt trapped in a prison of our own creation and I knew that the only way to turn the tide was to totally change both our mindsets towards money and spending. With two young children to care for and a relatively modest family income (I then worked as a part time lecturer, my husband as a middle manager in manufacturing) we set off on a mission to clear the debt.
Clearing the debt wasn’t easy and I had to get creative to pay it off as quickly as possible. I became a frugal demon and completely transformed our attitude to spending, saving and earning.
I introduced myself to budgeting. It’s embarrassing to admit that I didn’t ever consider that was a thing that might be useful! Weekly meals were planned ahead and I cut our grocery bill in half. The family started to eat healthier and I learned to cook properly. I found the money and time saving benefits of batch cooking and invested in a Remoska cooker which uses a quarter of the electricity of a regular oven.
Items that were completely worn out or broken beyond repair were replaced only if needed and sourced from charity shops or car boot sales. To this day most of my clothes, toiletries, furniture and electrical items are second hand. When I say second hand, quite often I find new and unopened toiletries, make-up, perfume and items that can be given as gifts. To be honest I can’t remember the last time I bought something new or visited a shop apart from supermarkets (to clarify, underwear is bought new in case you are worried).
My home has a multi fuel burning stove which runs from free firewood sourced from local factory offcuts. While this does take some effort, it saves £500 plus a year as the only other alternative (living in a rural location) is bottled gas which is hideously expensive.
To make extra money, I carried out mystery shopping assignments which had the added advantage of free meals out or free groceries along with the payment. Using my skills as an accountant I did extra book keeping and accountancy services for local businesses which fitted around my part time teaching hours.
I took advantage of bank account switch incentives and made £100’s in the process. Cashback site rewards were pillaged for sign up deals from anything to credit card applications to dating websites [TEA note : whilst married!…I love this out of the box thinking]. I also dabbled in matched betting and was astonished how much free money was out there once I got my head around it.
Once the debt was gone I kept the foot on the accelerator and started to invest more than 50% of our income in an index fund (subsequently switched to Vanguard Life-Strategy and high dividend yield funds) but it wasn’t until I came across the Mr Money Mustache blog that I had my lightbulb moment! I didn’t even know that FIRE was a thing back then and like many that discover his blog for the first time I lost about 3 days of my life consuming everything that he had written.
I did the same when I found The Escape Artist and then chose to invest in a financial coaching session with Barney in 2016. Having decided that both me and my husband wanted to “retire” early, there were still unanswered questions and things that needed clarification. The session was so valuable: I learned so much and developed a clear plan and timescale to escape.
Initially the plan was for my husband to retire in 2017 and for me to take a 1 year sabbatical with the option to return to my job if I felt like I needed to, perhaps on reduced hours or for a short stint just to top up our cash.
This didn’t work out as I became ill in January 2017 with total burnout. It sort of crept up on me, slowly eating away at my mental health, my confidence, my identity. Anxiety started to manifest and I would have feelings of panic at the slightest thing, that feeling you get when you are just out of your depth when swimming and try to stand up only to find that your foot no longer reaches the bottom of the pool, your heart skips a beat and you feel out of control.
I was offered comfort from well meaning friends and colleagues whose advice was to not let things “get on top of me” but the truth was I was having some kind of breakdown and needed to heal and remove myself from the situation. I received counselling and support from my GP and the decision was made that I would hand in my notice in October 2017. Thankfully the future was much brighter.
It’s at this point that I feel a bit of a cheat in financial independence terms and hope that the Internet Retirement Police don’t come and get me! Yes, we have a decent investment portfolio and have pensions ready and waiting but it is not 25 x our living expenses so there is a bit of a shortfall.
What we do have is a household expenditure that is so low that we can easily cover the financial gap at least until one of the private pension pots can be accessed in 2020 with a few part time side hustles that are fun, enjoyable and fit around our lives.
I loved teaching (that was the rewarding bit of working) so I swapped teaching accountancy lessons in a college for teaching Yoga lessons in the local community. I also plan to offer Yoga & meditation to stressed out professionals in the workplace and online (the irony!).
Alongside this, we buy things to resell; it’s so much fun! Our Ebay store is My Little Shop of Needful Things where we sell good quality electrical items, soft furnishings, clothing, toys and lots of wonderfully quirky items. We love spending Sundays pottering around car boot sales and week days around charity shops looking for unloved items which can be re homed and given a purpose again.
Both of our sons (aged 23 and 25) have benefited from following this philosophy too. My youngest is doing a job that he loves and performs music all over the world. With zero debt and low expenses he is squeezing every drop out of life. The oldest son is set to reach FIRE by the age of 30.
As children they were taught about bank accounts, debt and the benefits of saving. Both earned money from side hustles, my eldest son read Rich Dad, Poor Dad at 14 and has recently moved to London to maximise his FI journey. Neither of them own cars or have any debt and both reuse and recycle. They have furnished their homes with second hand furniture and are able to carry out their own repairs. I am so proud of them and know that their financial futures will be much better than mine was at their age.
Today is one of my favourite type of days, a day pottering. I might go out for lunch as our local Italian restaurant does a £4.95 3 course Mon-Fri lunch special. Maybe I will go out for a walk in the local woods or along the coast, tonight I will be teaching Yoga to a wonderful group of people.
The skies may be grey today but I take great pleasure and comfort knowing that when they return I will never have to miss a single sunny day again. After all, we only get so many.