First Rule of FI Club

You do not talk about FI club.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man with a plan to retire early needs to keep his mouth shut, especially at the office. Seriously. Don’t ever tell your coworkers: most will disbelieve you anyway, or think you naive, or in need of a refresher in basic algebra. If anyone takes you seriously, there’s a good chance they’ll envy you. Envy breeds resentment.

Nor should you try to educate anyone at work about passive investing and such. I once made that mistake. The outcome was a lot of hilarity at my expense, following which, for what felt like an age, the guy whom I had tried to enlighten kept asking me how much money I’d lost each time the papers reported a dip in FTSE 100. Because: the only investment one should aspire to is a buy-to-let, or, failing that, winnings from a National Lottery syndicate. It is Known.

Thou shalt never tell your boss

At least not until the day you are ready to quit.

Once The Day comes, assuming you can’t engineer your redundancy, then by all means, tell away. But if you can arrange to be made redundant, I’d say it’s best to keep quiet so as not to compromise your negotiating position.

Whichever way you choose to handle your exit, until that moment you ought to zip it. A failure to do so will have consequences:

  1. Being passed over for promotion. Because: the Firm is interested in promoting people who are interested in staying with the Firm until they die. Of old age.
  2. Smaller bonuses because of some bullshit excuse and/or difficult to measure criteria. Because: the Firm is interested in rewarding people who are interested in staying with the Firm until they die of old age.
  3. Resentment and envy from colleagues. Because: you’re not one of them.
  4. All crappy and/or politically difficult jobs nobody wants to do will land in your in-tray. Because: you’re not interest in staying with the Firm until you die of old age.

But what about friends?

I don’t mean the couple who have just bought a £3.9m home in Belsize Park and are now spending another hundred grand or so gutting it out, whose most recent money complaint was about the cost of their au pair’s business class flight on a family holiday[1]. That’s beyond help. They will work till they’re old – first for the house, the au pair, the au pair’s business class air travel, their two cars that they must have in London – yes, two, and in London – then school fees, uni fees…. Accumulating enough wealth to support that sort of lifestyle is a tall order.

I mean other friends, ones with normal jobs, normal salaries and no nannies, who may not think of an early retirement as a possibility, and yet both need and deserve a choice of not having to work for money… if there be gods above and gods be just, y’know.

Should I evangelise?

It’s a tougher call than may appear. Ranting about how much our jobs suck is one thing. Sharing an action plan that could potentially change that set-up is an entirely different proposition.

I don’t want my friends to envy me. Because: envy breeds resentment. I also don’t want them to treat me differently because they think I’m rich. I know that most wouldn’t, but what if some do? So far I’ve managed to restrain myself, but at times it feels like I’m leading a double life. Like I’m being dishonest.

My solution to date has been to direct those who (I think) might be helped to the Monevator site, with some lame explanation like “Hey, I’ve recently started reading this  guy’s blog about personal finance, and he seems to know what he’s talking about. I think there are some good posts about retirement planning / investing / personal finance / etc.” It’s a lie, but somehow that feels less dishonest than saying nothing.

And what if my investment strategy is wrong?

And what if I’m wrong about this entire passive investing lark? What if the folks who yammer on from under their tin foil hats about how indexing will end in tears are right? If I end up eating beans on toast throughout my golden years, that would be bad. Leading my friends to the same outcome would be worse.

Of course it’s a limiting belief. Civilisation was built on humans sharing their findings, ideas and suppositions. Ok, so some of them were shit, such as asbestos, or blaming the plague on cats and witches, but then again, some others have been quite awesome, like, y’know, crop rotation and antibiotics.

Relationships

I am reasonably competent at handling money, but I’m terrible at talking about it. It’s something that wasn’t done in my family. I don’t remember my parents ever explicitly saying that talking about money was vulgar, however, the implication was somehow there, and I grew up believing exactly that.

Whenever anyone asks me about my finances, I cringe.

It doesn’t help my love life that Londoners as a group are such a pragmatic bunch. I’ve been asked if I owned or rented my place on the very first date. Really? Honestly, sweetness, I’m sat here deciding if I want another drink before I make up my mind on whether or not I’d like to see you for a second date. At this point, the question as to who holds title deeds to my abode is entirely irrelevant.

I’ve never been in a relationship for any reason to do with money. Nor would I ever want to be in a relationship with anyone who likes me for any reason to do with money. I’m not a hopeless romantic. In financial terms, shacking up with a gold digger is an ineffective hedge.

The dirty little secret about high paying City jobs is the expiration date. Forget discrimination  based on race or social class. The worst discrimination is against people in late 40s looking for a job. The assumption is that by that age you should’ve made your money already. And if you haven’t, then you must be shit.

If you’re with someone for whom your wealth or income is a significant factor, well then what happens if it all goes? And it could go. Wealth is transient. The going joke in the City during the financial crisis was that the crisis was worse than divorce. Because: you lose half of your net worth, and you still have a wife. To paraphrase dear old Marilyn, he’s your guy when stock are high, but beware when they start to descend.

What to do?

I don’t know.

 

Notes:

  1. I still don’t get it why they didn’t just put her and the kids in the economy. She should be happy she’s being taken to the Galapagos for free, and the kids are too young to properly remember.
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10 thoughts on “First Rule of FI Club”

  1. I happily told my friends that I hated my job, and decided I had enough money to not work again. I don’t think its caused any bad feeling, but my friends have come through SF fandom, which has a wide range of incomes and lifestyles, and is more intellectual than material, though he who dies with the most books wins

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    1. My close friends wouldn’t treat me differently if they knew, I’m sure. However, I fear some more distant acquaintances might, and I hate awkward social situations…

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      1. They all have been given an indication and clues and as many additional details as they saught out. Hence they do not know the full plan, but will not be too surprised.

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  2. I used to joke that I maintained my ‘affluent graduate student lifestyle’ and rented a house with my best friend because it “kept away the gold diggers”. Having recently bought a flat and even more recently split up from my girlfriend, I need a new filter! 😉 (Tricky as I’d quite like to go out with someone who can talk about investing for a change…)

    Thanks for the referrals. (Your following sentence is ambiguous about what is a lie, but I’ll presume it’s not that we vaguely know what we’re talking about… 😉 )

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  3. Nicely written and very true to my own position, certainly in the past. I never usually offer unsolicited financial advice but as of late, I’ve taken at work a different stance. When a few (close) colleagues mention working till they are 70 or some similar drivel, I causally mention that it doesn’t need to be that way, and hint vaguely at my own check out date. When eyebrows are raised, I offer the option that they can take me out for lunch, and pick my brain it they so desire – and leave it at that. If this eventually gets to those higher up, so be it – if they are intelligent it should arouse curiosity rather than resentment – and if there is a financial element to higher posistions, may open doors. Choose your delivery wisely though – my Northern matter of factness helps – I think 😉 and obv. depends on how your workplace/manager operates.

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  4. Well, asbestos saved an awful lot of lives which might otherwise have been lost in fires. It is not an unmitigated evil.

    An “au pair” is supposed to be treated “au pair”, that is, as a peer to the family, not as a poorly-paid, lower-class-than-we-are servant.

    A dating man should not necessarily be surprised if a (tactless) woman asks directly about his wealth (and real estate is the commonest form of wealth amongst the unsophisticated) – women’s payoffs in relationships are generally different to men’s. It’s nice that you acknowledged Miss Austen’s excellent work on personal finances in your introduction, and it may still be relevant today.

    Otherwise, a wonderful article, and very thought-provoking – thank you!

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