Reader case study : An Indie Chick Escapes

financial independence

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.

Enjoy

The Escape Artist


Prisoner Report Number : 212/A/315

Date of Escape : 31 October 2017

Age : 45

Lou1

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!).

Lou2.jpg

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.

Lou3.jpg

You can find Louise as Indie Chick Escapes on Instaglam and find her online shop here


meetup

Ken from The Humble Penny and I are having another meet-up for anyone interested in financial independence. Come along and have a drink and chat with other financial freedom seekers.

The venue is The Marylebone Pub, 93 Marylebone High St, London, W1U 4RE. You can find directions here. Drop in for drinks from 6 – 11pm on Friday 29 March to celebrate the impending start of British Summer Time.

Hope to see you there 🙂


Further reading:

fin-coaching-widget

  1. Guest post  : Our Gap Year for Grown Ups
  2. Financial Coaching

 

18 comments

  1. Great uplifting story. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I am really glad that you found my story uplifting, thank you for your kind words.

  2. Catherine · · Reply

    Wow that was a lovely story and really inspirational. Its really made me think about getting my spending in order so I can enjoy more ‘pottering’ days as Louise put it, my favorite kind of day!

    1. Getting to grips with spending was something I struggled with at first, I was a bit of a spender and had the debts to show for it. It helped to think of the hours that I had to work to pay for stuff. Eating out didn’t seem quite so appealing when I realised that I had to work for half a day to pay for it. Instead I told myself that I had now bought myself half a day (more once invested) of freedom by choosing to eat at home, It seems silly but I used every mind trick I could think of in the early days until I built momentum.

  3. FI Warrior · · Reply

    What a cruel irony, people of exactly this character are the ideal teachers who should be teaching exactly this to the kids before they have even fledged, let alone left the nest. It speaks volumes on broken britain that they are burned out instead of valued by being used (in a fair way only) to the greatest effect for all. Until ordinary people agitate for change, things will continue to get worse, the first step is realising that it doesn’t have to be this way, that’s a political choice; an immediate action that can be taken is spreading the FI message via these sites and directly through word of mouth to loved ones. They may start off thinking we’re mad, but the best way to convince is by example, people will copy you if they see it working.

  4. Its funny you should say this as one of the programmes that I used to deliver was personal finance to 16-19 year olds. The lack of basic knowledge was staggering in the students I had. Most didn’t know the difference between a debit or credit card and some were already using payday loans to pay for nights out! I hope that some of what I taught them “stuck” in their heads.

    1. FI Warrior · · Reply

      Wow, that’s surprisingly self-destructive for a population sample with such access to free education, how representative of the country as a whole was their demographic though?

      The only comparably counter-intuitive behaviour I can think of was in third-world countries where in development projects I was involved in, you saw people acting as if they didn’t care what happened to them tomorrow. But when I got to know them personally and quizzed them on this, instead of seeing it as stupid, it made sense; they explained that their lives were so tough (we’d call it really bad) that death was no deterrent, so they just lived for the day. I wonder if it is the same on council estates here in the UK where people born powerless quickly work out that they have no chance at a decent life, so the key to their resulting behaviour is all about the degree of hopelessness they feel.

  5. Very inspirational story Louise and demonstrates what is achieveable with focus and determination.

    Am I reading the article correctly that you did all of this and trained as a yoga instructor in just over 2 years?

    Amazing!

    1. It took me 1 year to train as a Yoga teacher but the FI journey took 14 years (from 2003) including paying off the debt. In 2016 I fine tuned everything after receiving Financial Coaching from Barney. Thankfully my husband started contributing to a private pension in his early 20’s which is an important pillar of our FI structure.

  6. well done. it took us about 15 years too and we never felt like we sacrificed too much of our middle class incomes. we’ve been a one income family for 2 years now and it’s great. so is ebay as we have over 100 items listed most of the time. good luck.

    1. It did “hurt” a bit when I was clearing debt but once on the road to FI we did ease off a little. I am sure that we could have gained FI sooner but it was all about finding a balance that we could all live with, especially as the boys were still at home. Good luck with Ebay, there a wonderful reseller community on Insta where knowledge is shared freely that I would recommend joining.

  7. So enjoyed this post. Timely for me too being I am having physical issues from the stress of my job and pondering my future. She sounds delightful.

  8. mattman · · Reply

    Really well done!
    I also was a teacher (Physics) but the stress was getting to me too so I FIRE’d two and a half years ago after saving for 5 years. The thing that saved me is having a defined benefit pension at 60 which is like a super index linked bond. I put a lot of money into SIPP which I can access this year, taking the money out tax free (12.5K per annum) until I reach 60.

    I spent 3 months last year cycle camping in the sunshine around europe. Wonderful.

    I went back for 3 weeks last January to cover a Paternity leave. It was lovely to see everyone, the teaching was fun – the associated bureaucratic silliness had just got worse. It was sooooo stressful.

    As for financial education – yes it is woefully lacking in schools. Ultimately it is seen as a parental responsibility.

    I’m glad FIRE has worked out for you. I found it does tke some time to get used to.

    Best wishes

    Matt

    1. Thanks for your comment Matt, always nice to hear from a fellow teacher who has escaped. I’m not sure I will ever dip my toe back in the water though although I do regularly teach Yoga at one of my old employers which felt a bit weird when I walked into the building again . The 3 months cycle camping sounds wonderful.

  9. Mr JAMES M JONES · · Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this, just shows that getting to FIRE is a matter of a little ability
    and a lot of effort, i.e a long journey begins with one short step.

  10. This is really inspirational, thanks for sharing your story.

    Miss Way teaches and has suffered similar problems, despite a love for the profession. The statistics around mental health issues within teaching are really worrying. Glad you managed to plot an escape!

  11. […] Case examine: An indie chick escapes – The Escape Artist […]

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