Personal finance can be made simple

The 10 point list below may not cover everything you need to know to reach financial independence…

…but it’s not a bad place to start.

Makes you wonder why this isn’t taught in school or by the media?

1. Get a job…

…preferably in a growth industry & a role doing something hard where you can’t easily be replaced by a robot and where knowledge and value accrues to you the individual (not just to the employer).

Want some examples? How about software development, cyber-security, data science, tech sales (actually any high value sales), management consulting, engineering, quantity surveying, teaching / tuition, plumber, electrician, dentistry, medicine etc etc. There are lots of others.

Rome was not built in a day and nor was my CV. My first job was packing tomatoes in a warehouse for £1.07 per hour. That was before I landed my entry level grunt job working in accountancy for £12,500 per year. Good times, good times.

2. Clear your expensive debt

This is an emergency. Your debt is killing you and compounding is running in reverse for every £ of debt you owe.

Clear your overdraft (~40% APR) and credit card balances (~25% APR). Until then you need to stay in Monk Mode.

Don’t lease new cars, buy used for cash. For other consumer nonsense (TVs, gaming consoles, soft furnishings etc) well, if you need finance, that’s God’s way of telling you that you can’t afford it.

3. Emergency fund

Shit happens. So Dig a Well Before You Are Thirsty.

Have an emergency fund of six months’ expenses in a bank account. Do not over-complicate this.

4. Work hard…

…and aim to get promoted (or else move company) every few years.

Make yourself more valuable and build your personal career capital. Later you can trade that for more freedom and autonomy (e.g. be self-employed or a startup founder).

5. Use pensions and tax shelters

Contribute enough to your company pension to maximise any matching employer contributions.

Use your ISA allowance (and that of your spouse) every year (it’s use it or lose it). Shelter equities in pensions / ISAs first. Cash ISAs are useless…no point in using scarce tax-sheltering capacity on cash with near zero interest rates.

6. Be a minimalist

Be a minimalist. Love people not stuff (as they say). Most stuff is over-rated and it’s cluttering up your life and your headspace.

Consumerism is a scam and The Joneses are dying on the inside. Don’t get played. It’s just stuff. Shop around for the stuff you do buy. Use price comparison websites etc.

You can ease off the frugality and buy a Lambo later…after you’ve really made it.

7. Buy a house

…if you want…but only if you know where you want to be for >5 years.

You can stretch yourself and use leverage when you’re getting started. When you are in debt, inflation is your friend…as long as you can keep making the payments.

It makes sense to dial up your repayments if interest rates keep rising (or at least have the option). So I like mortgages that allow flexibility and over-payments without penalty.

Buy fixer-uppers not show homes. Look for potential to add usable living space (houses are priced by # of rooms and floor area). Loft and basement conversions, extensions and garden offices are investments with low risk, high ROI.

8. Pay yourself first

Don’t wait until the end of the month. Pay yourself first and transfer money out of your current account and send to your investment account (aka freedom fund) as soon as you get paid. This technique works because most people spend up or down to what is left.

Your % savings rate is the most important number. I’m talking about the proportion of your post-tax income that you save and invest.

10% would be a start. 50+% would be seriously impressive.

9. Invest in a low cost global equities index fund.

You want your surplus working for you inside a compounding machine…24/7/365.

You can do this yourself via an online investing platform. It’s as easy to do this as use an online banking app.

I like low cost global equities ETFs like VWRL or open ended funds such as VRXXB. There are lots of other good choices.

Equities are not the only game in town but over the long term they’re generally the best game in town.

10. Keep calm and carry on

Volatility is the entry price to the best games in town.

Keep on dollar cost averaging through the bear markets (these are a gift).

I learned the hard way to never ever sell in panic or be a forced seller of any risk asset.

I did not say that this is easy.

Building wealth may be simple but it is not easy. Most people will fail to do the above.  Most people will not end up wealthy. The world is not fair and humans are prone to self-sabotage.

Reading the above, most people will nod as if they already knew that – but if they don’t consistently do it, then they don’t really *get it*. The gap between what people know and what they do is The Behavior Gap.

People say they want to be millionaires when what they mean is that they want to spend a million (or whatever). That ain’t the same thing at all.

Getting rich is a process of long term behaviour change. We have to think long term to build wealth. That means breaking the cycle of debt and living paycheck to paycheck. It’s about trade offs. I chose financial freedom over stuff, conformity and short term status games.

Along the way there are a million different pitfalls, traps and ways to fuck everything up.

No one (other than Charlie Munger who is old enough not to care) will tell you that if you are a guy, disaster can be brought upon yourself via the 3 L’s (ladies, liquor and leverage). Alcohol is fun but poison, divorce is expensive and being an incel is not winning the game. This list of L’s is not exhaustive. If you are female, well…you may have noticed that most guys are not exactly prize winning material either.

Who will help you on this journey? Not The Media which runs on hype, hypocrisy and doom-mongering …whilst being funded by advertising. Not your employer who prefers you “hungry” and compliant. Not most people around you who either won’t understand the path or want you to succeed.

If you can do all of the above yourself (consistently over decades) then please do so. I wish you the best of luck with your personal journey. Just know that it’s always going to be bumpy and feel difficult along the way. Some things were not meant to be easy.

If you want help, or have gotten stuck or have something special going on (e.g. HNW, expat, own company, windfall) you could hire a fee-based financial planner (not someone who charges you fees that are a percentage of your portfolio). Even small sounding % fees, absolutely murder your returns.

For smart people who want to make their own decisions but want a sounding board to discuss things with, financial coaching is a great alternative (yes, I’m biased but I’m also right).

I don’t give regulated investment, tax or legal advice. I don’t give product recommendations and I don’t take your money away to invest. You have to make your own decisions. In short, it’s about helping people learn to “fish” rather than selling them fish.

I do not claim there is nothing else to learn…just that the above 10 points cover most of what most people need to know and do. What if you want more and want to go deeper?

Fine, if you want to marinade yourself in the best behavioural finance and personal finance guidance in The Known Universe (I can’t speak for the rest of it), it’s on The Escape Manual.

I operate The Escape Manual on The Principle of Continuous Improvement. It started off as a Minimum Viable Product but now has more content than The Escape Artist. Every week I add either a new post or upgrade some part of one of the existing posts. So every week it gets a little bit more awesome.

I write a new article each week that goes out by email (most won’t appear here on the blog) so the best way to get new content is to sign up to my email list:

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  1. Hi.

    I’ve been following your blog for over a 2 years.

    I’m sure you wrote an article about why there is no point in following the news. That it doesnt matter what is happening in the news, and something about people asking if youd heard the current news about this or that.

    Anyway that article really helped me keep my head when the crap is hitting the fan.

    I’m a fan of DCA.

    In your current article about financial independence you’ve wrote about about investing in a pension. I wonder if you have any comments or were going to write an article about the current state of the pension investments or the current events.

    Or as your previous article put it, keep your head down and continue to DCA and ride out the turbulence?

  2. Great post, this is all so true. One thing I’d add is, that Employers pay their employees just enough so they wont quit, and employees work just hard enough so they don’t get fired. If people would follow these ‘rules’ we’d have a much more productive and happy society

  3. Hi Escape Artist, love this post. Especially the meme with Khalessi.. 😉 I am also DCAing into my All-Weather Portfolio (now at $600,000 generating approx. $24,000 in dividends, see link). I use a slightly modified version of DCAing though – I don’t blindly invest the same amount in the same stock every month, but the same amount in the stock I feel provides the most value.. if e.g. $BUD came down by 20% because of an earning’s miss or such, I use my fixed amount to buy just $BUD. In September, I allocated $72,000 US in my best buy-and-hold-forever stocks (in my above-mentioned portfolio). Keep up the great work, I am a regular visitor! Cheers from Singapore, Noah

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