Where Is the Snowball?

It’s lovely outside. Unseasonably warm for mid-October and sunny. 700,000 people in London are marching against Brexit. I’m in bed with a nasty cold, my new love interest is in France having fun without me, and I’m in a crabby mood. If you started reading this post today looking for some cheer, you needn’t read any further. Honestly.

As for the rest of you…. read on.

When one finds oneself spending a day in bed because of two zillion common cold virus particles lodged rent free in one’s respiratory tract, the usual pastime is to mess about with net worth spreadsheets, with a view of drawing some new cool graphs. So that’s what I’ve been doing today.

The results are, frankly, discouraging.

No snowball

I thought it would be nice to see where I’m at in my FI journey. Y’know, escaping the camp, breaking free, telling The Man to engage in sexual self-gratification, aka gaining financial independence and retiring. Below are two of the graphs I made. The first shows how I’m tracking in each category of wealth that I need to accumulate before I pull the plug on work. It doesn’t look too bad, right? I’m a bit behind with my FIRE Fund, but Pension and Mortgage Repayment are approaching the midway milestone, ya?

Then I thought I’d do one of those total progress graphs I’ve seen on other people’s blogs, and … what the fuck, I’m not even halfway there??!!

What bullshit is this? This can’t be right.

But I’ve looked at the numbers, and it is right. Ok, so far I’ve only spent 3.5 years actively trying to become financially independent through a combination of saving and investing, I did plan for the whole process to take me about 10 years in total – hence the 3652 days – but somehow I thought I’d be way ahead of the plan at this point. And here’s why being 40% there is not good enough: because I didn’t start at zero! I only gained 25% – a quarter of the way! – in 3.5 years, which implies that, all things being equal, I’m more than 8 years away from my goal.

A young Apollo, golden-haired,
Stands dreaming on the verge of strife.
Magnificently unprepared
For the long littleness of life.

Although Brooke didn’t have the FI crowd in mind when he wrote this, it fits us perfectly. The road to financial freedom is – by far – not a victory march, but a long wearing trudge up a seemingly never-ending hill.

And there is no snowball, ok? Produce evidence, you say? My pleasure:

3q18-investing-saving

We’ve all seen calculations that demonstrate how in a regular investment scenario where returns are re-invested, each year income from investments contributes an increasing proportion of portfolio growth. Well, let’s just say this hasn’t been my experience. My total net worth is growing because I’m chucking everything I have at it. The markets… not so much.

If you’re investing steadily for 25 years into a market that’s producing a fairly constant return, it might work – on the average. But real markets don’t produce constant returns, market bull runs last longer than bear slumps, and if I wait 25 years for the markets to do their magic, then I’ll be retiring at 65! That’s not what I’d call early.

Fookin’ taxes

I should’ve mentioned at the start: one of the reasons for my crabby mood is that I paid my tax today. Could’ve waited until January. Really, I should’ve waited until January, but I hate owing money. It puts me on edge – must be one of the shit money “values” I got from my financially illiterate upbringing.

We all have unconscious value-based money beliefs, and they’re like herpes: once you’ve got them, it’s for life[1]. Logically, I know very well that it’s stupid to not take the opportunity to borrow from the Tax Man interest-free for 4 months whilst paying interest on the mortgage, but the little crappy part of my reptilian brain that’s been infused with shitty financial dogmas by my mother (no, I don’t want to talk about that right now) immediately starts nagging me about it being dishonourable, immoral even, to not pay a debt as soon as may be.

And I’m like, “Are you fucking serious? It’s the fucking HMRC we’re talking about! They’ve been borrowing interest-free from me for years. And remember that one time when I owed them money because they forgot to tell me to do the SA tax return when my income hit the threshold? They made me pay interest on the tax I owed, even though the entire mess was due to their oversight, and they tried to fine me, made me go through a stupid appeals process before waiving the fine sans an apology!” And my reptilian brain is like, “You should always pay your debts.” Then I start to lose it: “Who do you think I am, you dipshit, a fucking Lannister?”

But the reptilian part of my brain just carries on, “You should pay your debts. You know it.” And then I just can’t cope with it anymore, and think, fuck it, if paying £400 a few months earlier than I have to buys me some peace, then it’s a good investment. And then I pay it.

As you might’ve guessed, I’m not one for stoozing, either 😉 .

 

Notes:

  1. Somehow, weirdly, at this point I feel compelled to clarify that I do not have herpes. 🙂
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12 thoughts on “Where Is the Snowball?”

  1. Haha… This was a good read and put a smile on my face. A rant of epic proportions.

    I too am sitting there every day thinking
    A). What if this investing shit doesn’t work? What if my investing time frame will be the one the future looks back on and reflect “investors between 2020 and 2045 saw a paltry 0.3% real return
    B). When is this compounding magic going to really kick in? I think this will really be felt when either, my portfolio value is double my contributions or my monthly growth is regularly exceeding my monthly contributions. In either of these cases, saving more isn’t going to bring this moment in time further forward as its a percentages game. In fact saving more aggressively as time goes on will send these two moments in time further away.

    Its easy to get disillusioned especially after the last fortnight of retraction, but you can’t cheat time, and you have to let time do its work.

    Stay the course.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a (small) pile from a lifetime of investing. As of today 26.37% of it is from investment gains and the balance is from contributions. Only now, as a supposed grown up, is the snowball starting to take real effect. It does happen.

    As for the journey, as an adult student, I did back to back degrees and I thought they’d never end. That and painting the house eventually do and so will the journey to FI. Lord – give me patience – right bloody now!

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  3. There is no snowball in 3.5 years. Even in theory, it is like all exponentials, all the action is at the end, and for most people that end in after 40 years of work, over which time compound interest at realistic rates roughly doubles their pot.

    Now if you can builed a stash, preferably starting in the teeth of a humdinger of a stock market crash, then you can do better. Something tells me your time will come soon enough, in which case you will be grateful you are in the first half of your journey 😉 A young fellow in the prime of their earning capacity will make hay being greedy when others are fearful…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. For once @ermine and I can agree about compound interest! 🙂 Just 3.5 years is too small for the snowball. You don’t have to wait for his 30-40 years, but you do have to wait for about 10 years. Then it almost starts to get scary when you have a good year and your portfolio earns more than you do. (Not an unfamiliar feeling to London property owners over the past decade or two, although of course they consider it The Natural Order of Things and the Way It Should Be.)

    I’m seriously thinking of doing a numbers post on my site as I am hearing too many downbeat voices these days. It’s not a miracle, it will take time, and it will work if you stick and it and stay globally diversified (so avoiding a Japan), presuming capitalist doesn’t go into full retreat.

    Otherwise — psychological. If I may be permitted a link:

    http://monevator.com/financial-goals-help/

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  5. That is totally crazy to pay HMRC early!

    I have a separate savings account set up which I have renamed “Tax Savings” in my Nationwide online account.

    If you just ignore it is then like you have already paid…

    Then again as a fellow taxpayer I thank you for your gift towards reducing the nation’s debt burden on our behalf…

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  6. I like those gloomy posts but we both know things are not so gloomy Mr 3652 days 🙂

    Especially if you can sustain your human capital, maintain your Saving Hard number and keep investing in those remaining years.

    I, like you, started investing ~4 years ago, enjoy a good salary in the City and have ~6 years left to hit my FI targets (thank you geo-arbitrage).

    “If you’re investing steadily for 25 years into a market that’s producing a fairly constant return, it might work” I hear you say. But, in fact, this is one of the worst scenarios that can happen to us.

    A bumpy ride is much better because it will allow us to buy a part of the journey at bargain prices. It can get even better. A 5-10 year poor-return environment (while economic factors such as productivity keep growing) is even more beneficial because the prices will eventually catch up to the fundamentals. Meanwhile, we will have accumulated a great part of our shares at cheap prices.

    I recently liked an expression, that ‘human capital’ – the ability for us to work and produce a steady income – is the best bond that can fuel our investments. If you Save Hard then Investing Wisely will follow 🙂

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  7. Hello

    The poem was not by Brooke. It was Frances Cornford, ‘On Rupert Brooke’.
    Although you are not in France do not despair but take heart from the first line of her ‘All Souls’ Night’, ”My love came back to me”

    John

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  8. A great post – amid all the hype and enthusiasm for FIRE the reality is that this journey is a marathon, not a glory sprint. Ermine offers a sensible reality check that compound interest will earn its dues at the end of the race, not the beginning.

    Love the poetry too – though the mesmerising stanza quoted was actually penned by a female poet – Frances Cornford – about Rupert Brooke rather than by him. She wrote some gems and is overdue a rediscovery!

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  9. I can testify that the snowball does arrive. In the last two years my SIPP has grown by £100k. Sadly in the last month £50k has been vaporized. Oh well. Some you win, some you lose…..

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