As far as the numbers go, 2021 was a productive year, so let’s deal with the data first.
The freedom fund grew by 22% or £221,482 during the year. I know this is not a sustainable growth rate long term, but I’m happy to enjoy it while it lasts. I haven’t calculated exactly, but less than £30k of this came from new contributions. The first 4 months of the year I worked full time, and continued to save around 50% of my salary, and all of my bonus. Since May, my reduced salary has covered our expenses, but not allowed for much in the way of additional accumulation. My occupational pension continues, albeit at a reduced level.
Income is just one side of the FIRE equation, the other side is outgoings, so how did our spending compare with previous years?
|Groceries & Household||3524||4917||5050|
|Home & Garden||9923||976||875|
|Other / Misc||660||1210||2764|
Spending in 2021 represented 2.7% of the freedom fund value at the end of the year, coming in at £29,165. We actually saw our overall spending drop compared with the last 2 years, but that isn’t really the full story. Costs increased in many categories, it is just that we did not have a single big outlay like we did in 2019 with home improvements and in 2020 with the van purchase.
We saw increases in utilities and groceries, as may be expected year on year, and you probably won’t be surprised to see that we spent more on entertainment in 2021 than 2020. The ‘misc’ line shows a considerable increase, but when you factor in that this is where I have categorised the costs of the van conversion project, this doesn’t look too excessive.
Travel increased, but despite spending much more time travelling last year, the availability of the van and the fact we did not venture outside the UK, meant we were still not back up to 2019 levels. While UK campervan holidays are clearly a cheaper proposition than foreign trips, but with google reminding ‘where you were 5 years ago’ throughout Dec, we are starting to think about planning something a little further afield. We spent 4 weeks in Dec 2016 in Australia, with stop overs in Hong Kong, and daily reminders of sunnier climes and more varied wildlife seemed very appealing……
I didn’t really start this blog to talk about numbers though. The freedom fund is the enabler, so it is important to monitor, but the real story for me is the journey to finding what ‘enough’ looks like for us. When having a job and having to actively earn money is no longer a limiting factor, how do we want to spend our time? 2021 was the start of that journey.
For the last 8 months, I have only spent half of my time working for an employer (semi-retirement at 43). With continuing working from home, working days have felt fairly similar to the cartoon depicting work at the top of this post. The working weeks have been just as full on as when I was working full time, but the extra ‘non-working’ time, has allowed us to fit in a lot more of what we want to do as well. I decided not to completely stop working for several reasons. Part of the decision was a desire to retain the comfort of a regular income for a while longer, but I was also aware that we all need a purpose in life and I wasn’t sure how much of my purpose was tied up with my profession. Would other projects outside of paid work feel as meaningful?
Not only did reduced working allow me to take a step back and see how that made me feel, but the intermittent nature of my new schedule allowed me to regularly make the kind of contrast that previously I could only make once or twice a year on annual leave. So what have I learned so far?
- I am happier when I spend more time outdoors in nature
- I derive a lot of satisfaction from creative projects
- My paid work still causes stress – this is easier to identify when you have regular contrast
- I have no interest in furthering ‘a career’. I think I have nothing left to prove to myself, and feel no need to proving anything to others.
- I enjoy the camaraderie of working with others to solve problems.
- I find it hard to do the bare minimum to get a job done, if that means knowingly not doing something to the best of my ability.
I still intend to give this working schedule a year before I make any big decisions, and honestly, my feelings about giving up my job altogether, still fluctuate. At the end of last year, I couldn’t imagine wanting to carry on much longer even part time, but at the time of writing this, I feel a bit more positive. The Christmas break is always proper downtime as everyone is off at the same time, so there was no need to have one eye on my work phone. In 2021, I worked a total of 22 hours during ‘non-working’ weeks. That doesn’t include additional hours over and above the contracted 37.5 during a ‘working’ week, but I always accepted the latter as part of the deal in a senior role. I don’t think this is too bad, spread across 8 months, but it does represent almost 3 working days of unpaid work. Part of this time can be put down to not wanting leave my team in a difficult position, or a desire to support hard-working colleagues, and part of it is down to my ingrained philosophy of ‘if a job’s worth doing it is worth doing well’.
I am not sure exactly what 2022 holds in store for us, but I think it will bring further change. It is always difficult to follow a different path from the crowd, so I am mindful of continuing to evaluate what I really want. That is one the reasons I started writing this blog – to hold myself accountable. I recently read this article from The Guardian describing what they call a burnout epidemic , and I can see symptoms of this in people around me. It would be very easy to fall back into bad habits, just because it is the norm for so many. Most of my colleagues think me a little strange to voluntarily spend time manually converting a van to a camper, painting my own kitchen or repairing my own toilet, rather than just paying someone else to do it. They are too polite to say it, but I know my desired lifestyle is very different from anything they can comprehend. If they found out that I willingly spent a few days last year providing manual labour for Mr.W’s small business and earning a fraction if what I could have earned in the office, they would think me insane. I rather enjoyed it. I suspect it may be time to surround myself with different people.
I have finished 2021 11Kg lighter than I started it, and that is entirely down to spending time walking and doing, rather than sitting and talking / typing. Even the few days I have spent physically in the office have resulted in a higher daily step count than a home working day. Working from home is definitely no good for my waistline.
I have had no trouble at all filling my non-working time. I had planned to write at least 2 posts a month on this blog, but that hasn’t happened, and I still haven’t finished writing about the final stages of the van conversion project and it’s first adventure. I am sure there still wouldn’t be enough time to fit everything in if I were 100% ‘retired’, but that needs to be the case to keep looking forwards. The day I run out of projects on the to-do list is the day life becomes rather meaningless.
I hope your 2021 was fruitful, and that 2022 has started the right way. What will you do that scares you this year?
I will leave you with a few moments from 2021, not many of them involved spending much money. I often find that during the month, I will appreciate a moment, take a photo and make a mental note to share it in my monthly update – and then forget about it entirely by the end of the month. This prompted me to finally create an Instagram account (I know, I’m only about a decade behind everyone else). If you are interested, you can find my profile as findingenoughuk