Financial origin stories are the flavour of the month and I’ve enjoyed reading about the geneses of my blogging peers. Yet when it came to writing my own I’ll confess to a fair dose of self-doubt.
There are over seven billion individuals on this planet, we are but cosmic ants. Our stories may be unique but the themes are not. Everyone is but a product of their experiences to date. Would telling ‘the MedFI story’ be a self-indulgent ramble? A traipse through events that are only perceived to have been significant in retrospect? Would my odyssey be meaningful prose or banal wittering?
These doubts arose because my own pecuniary epic is indeed anything but. There’s no inspirational bolt from the blue. No Archimedean eureka. No sudden financial enlightenment. No Herculean effort to overcome improbable odds. No terrifying or exhilarating life event that sparked fiscal renaissance. No instinctive precautions taken against the woes of prior financial mishap, experienced first or second hand. It’s hardly captivating stuff.
I think the term best used to describe my personal finance journey to date is ‘evolution’. It’s a series of trifling steps, mere belay points as I climb the financial cliffs. Each one is imperceptible – none altered my economic schema to a significant degree. The accumulated effect is the knowledge, understanding, attitudes and behaviours of today.
Rather than narrating a turgid chronicle from cradle to present, I’ll share a few memories with financial motifs instead. They come as snippets. Little staging posts on the road. Gently guiding, yet never pushing.
From the elders
One grandparent I’ve mentioned before. That brief chat about collecting currency over 20 years ago was perhaps one of the first nudges on the financial voyage.
Another grandparent was a stockbroker by trade, although we never talked money. There is one financial pearl that I’ll credit him with though. At the height of the Global Financial Crisis I recall one of my parents seeming strangely calm about ‘the end of days’ (as it seemed then):
“These things go in cycles; that’s what grandpa has always said. It’ll all come and go again, probably many times in your life.”
I wouldn’t begin investing for more than a decade, but that core piece of knowledge has provided comfort and steely resolve against the ups and downs of the stock markets since.
Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves
Who knows when I first heard the phrase. Perhaps taking the adage a bit too literally, young Master MedFI looked after the pennies indeed. While others put theirs in car cup holders, or said “keep the change”, or lost them down the back of the sofa, I kept them. Every penny from every transaction. Others’ too if they weren’t inclined to waste their energies on the slender, copper-coloured discs.
I don’t recall how long I collected for, probably five or so years. There were jars of pennies bustling for space in my bedroom. I remember the metallic smell as I tipped them out all over the carpet, a small mountain of 1p and 2p coins, before organising them into neat stacks.
I’m unsure how valuable my penny collection was. It must have been in the region of £30 – a trivial amount in many respects. I suppose the process of saving, storing, counting, bagging, banking and then checking with glee the new cash in my account was formative to some degree.
I wanted an Xbox. I wanted it to be mine alone, not one to be shared with siblings. So I saved: pocket money, baby sitting, tutoring, Christmas and birthday gifts, jars of pennies. It all went towards my goal. All other spending halted as I held on to the ever-closer day when I could buy it. When it arrived, it was fantastic. My console, truly earned.
[Author’s note: re-reading this I fear I sound like some sort of gaming console Gollum. That’s probably a half-truth].
The end product of three years’ saving was far superior to one that had, say, come out of Santa’s knapsack. The console is long since retired, but that experience of saving towards a goal has foreshadowed my MO of today.
University: a day spent hungover as sin. Head pounding. Nauseous. Water down the hatch, water quickly back up the hatch. I’d check my phone to make sure I didn’t send any aberrant texts – no damage done there. Instead it was the debit card that took the hit. Who in the bar did I not buy a drink for?! A Saturday night roundhouse kick to the bank balance, on top of Friday’s. And Wednesday’s. And last week’s. Better control was needed. Time to go retro.
The debit card stayed at home. A £20 note accompanied me out. Sometimes there was enough money left for the night bus home. Sometimes I would have to walk for hours across the city. Overall I was less hungover. Fewer Jaeger bombs? Or more cooling off time as I sauntered through the streets in the small hours? Either way there was fun and finance in greater harmony; quality and quantity.
A big slice of humble pie
I was returning from abroad. A fourteen month Antipodean sojourn where work was work and life was life, rather than intermingled. Despite the ‘no holds barred’ approach to adventure I had managed to save a fair amount too. I could spend at will and still managed to save?! I was a financial genius! Sovereign of my fiscal kingdom, who could match my pecuniary prowess?
I did some research into how to get the money home in the most cost-efficient way. Incidental link clicking followed. Then some more… and down the personal finance rabbit hole I went. A brilliant expanse of knowledge, hitherto unexplored, began to open up. The realisation dawned that the king had no crown. A prince of saving perhaps, a pauper of financial knowledge for sure. There was no major coup de grace to the way I ran my finances, more of a satisfying re-jig of affairs.
This lesson, about the limitations of my own financial knowledge, is something that I come back to frequently. Sometimes it’s just a short mutter under my breath as I try and ground myself: “you don’t really know what you’re doing”. Other times it’s fuel on the curiosity fire, as I seek to push the boundaries of my understanding.
If I had been blinkered to much of the world of personal finance, others must surely be too. And so this blog was born. On the one hand MedFI was created, a vehicle and nom de plume through which I can share my opinions and research on all things financial. On the other hand it’s merely the latest step in an organic, inexorable growth. An evolution.