Why FIRE is no mental health panacea

It’s widely appreciated that financial woes negatively impact the mind, not just the bank balance.

“It is difficult to disentangle the inter-relationship between debt and mental health, but the links are clear” (Mind)

Causality may be murky, but the association is not. Financial turmoil is stressful, detrimental to one’s mental health and indeed even fatal. Take the suicide of an American teenager, who mistakenly believed he was over half a million pounds in debt, as an example. The global financial crisis is further evidence of the lethality of financial stress, leaving a ~5% increase in suicides across European and American countries in its wake1.

The mechanism through which finance is injurious to mental health is crystal clear; debt is firmly in the driving seat2, 3. The more debt, the worse the effect on health4. Those with debt are more likely to suffer mental distress and people with mental health disorders are more likely to be in debt5. It’s a vicious downwards spiral, a negative vortex. It is all too clear how debt can act as a lead weight around the ankles, a heavy burden on shoulders and mind.

It’s no wonder that the task of clearing debt is near the top of every personal finance guide, flowchart or how-to.

Silver bullet

When I first started learning about optimising one’s personal finance, it was readily clear how beneficial it could be for people’s mental health, not just their net worth. As debt is the major player, taking it out of the game would have positive consequences. The stress of debt would be eliminated, replaced by the psychological enrichment of seeing your bank balance in the black. Releasing the mental shackles imposed by debt could also have a synergistic effect on wellbeing beyond the purely financial.

Further down the road from ‘mere’ optimisation of your personal finances, debt clearance, saving money etc., lies financial independence, an end-of-the-spectrum modus operandi that could be an even greater boost for one’s mental health. You’re achieving a financial nirvana. An income optional, ‘set for life’ state. Debt and money worries can be off the table entirely. To double down on the monetary benefits from FI(RE), the absolution from a working life could take away a whole other sphere of psychiatric detriment.

Yes, when I first started reading about the FI(RE) movement I was convinced that both the journey to, and arrival at, financial independence would be a significant shot in the arm for one’s psychology.

The scales have tipped too far

Contrary to my hypothesis, I started to notice a theme amongst the FI literature. There in plain sight was a veritable DSM-5 of negative cognition about finance. Anxiety, low mood, depression, addiction, fear, guilt, neurosis.

The perhaps appropriately named blog Fretful Finance was one of the first to open up. In their post entitled “Do you have a grey dog?” they described their depressive episodes. Although their site is now down, from recollection it appeared that FI(RE) was neither protective against nor curative of their dysthymic periods. It may have even been contributory.

Following this came the Ninja, with a frank piece of introspection in which he self-diagnoses an ‘allergy’ to spending money. The disagreeableness of expenditure ran deeper than mere hypersensitivity, however, as he described a slew of negative emotional states associated with (not) spending money. Envy. Anxiety. Hatred. Fear.

Perhaps most worrying was the transition from the psychological to the physical:

“When experiencing this allergy to spending, it’s not just a preference that I prefer to choose. It’s actually a feeling deep down in my gut, I feel physically sick. “

‘Not buying things’ was heroin. Without it, there was physical withdrawal.

HITG describes a similar array of psychological issues associated with being too work-focussed on the path to FI. Sleepless nights, feeling overwhelmed, obsessing and a degree of self-neglect were all present before she made changes.

GFF joined the conversation, with the astute observation that strict command of the purse strings mimicked symptoms of that disease of control: anorexia. I won’t re-hash his analysis of under-spending/over-frugality, save to copy the most poignant quote: “It’s no way to live your life!”

In the dark corner

Blogging heavyweight The Accumulator entered the ring with their broader view of the mental health pitfalls on the FI(RE) ‘slog’. They describe the mental health punches you can expect the ‘financial demons’ to throw during the twelve rounds to FI, and how one might avoid them.

Acknowledging the indelible marks left by their own journey to financial independence via ‘personal hell’, TA proposes techniques to duck the uppercut of the bottle, swerve the jab of drugs, and counter the haymaker of anhedonia.

Yet victory by knockout and claiming the FI(RE) belt is no guarantee that the mental health issues are behind you. The listless lethargy of purposelessness can be just as psychologically detrimental as the overbearing pressure of work, as this recent post demonstrates. I’m sure that even with activity abound there are significant sources of stress post-FI; worrying that your investments will lose value, that your maths is wrong, that you’ll run out of money, that the unexpected will happen, that the unknown unknowns will sabotage your plans.

What to do?

It’s become clear to me, both from my own FI(RE) journey to date and learning from others, that aiming for financial independence is no mental health panacea. Although it is perhaps not as malignant as indebtedness, FI is certainly not psychiatrically benign. What’s the best way forward then?

I won’t pretend to have the perfect answer for everyone nor even myself. As the prophet Brian preaches: “You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals”.

What I am aiming for is a middle ground. A balance between stringent asceticism and indulgent profligacy. What my grandparents might describe as “everything in moderation, including moderation itself”. The Buddhist middle way.

Enough saving to keep the journey to FI(RE) on track. Enough to keep alight the flame of early retirement, which is certainly psychologically protective against the darker moments of working life. Eschewing ‘kept-up-with-Jones-ism’, seeking value and quality.

Yet also enough spending to enjoy life, to promote my wellbeing, happiness and joy. A burger and a beer with my friends, for example. Or the immeasurable benefit of ad-free music. Simple gifts, as it were.

I’m still finding that balance. I doubt there’ll ever be a concrete number that lies at the inflection of the too-much vs. too-little curve. I suspect my spending/saving will indefinitely oscillate around some ideal value. I do know that 2020/21’s 60%+ savings rate was too much, so I’m resolved to spend more this year (yes, you read such heresy on a FI blog).

Whatever you choose to do, remember to look after yourself.

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI


References

  1. Impact of 2008 global economic crisis on suicide: time trend study in 54 countries. Chang, S-S et al. BMJ (2013); 347
  2. Debt, income and mental disorder in the general population. Jenkins, R et al. Psychological Medicine (2008); 38, 10: 1458-1493
  3. The relationship between personal debt and mental health: a systematic review. Fitch, C et al. Mental Health Review Journal (2011); 16(4), 153-166.
  4. The relationship between personal unsecured debt and mental and physical health: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Richardson, T et al. Clin Psychol Rev. (2013); Sep 10;33(8): 1148-1162.
  5. The Social and Economic Circumstances of Adults with Mental Disorders, Stationary Office, London (2002)

Doughnuts and dollars

Doughnuts are hardly allegorical, though perhaps at a push you could conjure up some vague symbolism.

The ring-shaped doughnut could represent the circular nature of life and death, the inexorable march of time in the universe, the futility but majesty of it all. The jam-filled doughnut is perhaps a lesson in not judging books by their cover.

When I think of doughnuts, I think of the age-old challenge of not licking your lips whilst eating them. What profound philosophical concept is this supposed to embody? Why, the human condition of course.

Distinctly average

With a full set of sweet teeth, the juvenile Master MedFI was no match for said doughnut lip-licking challenge. The adult version is hardly better. Why can neither past nor present me channel the willpower to resist?

It irks me slightly, as I think of myself as someone with a higher-than-normal degree of self-control, who can readily rise to a challenge, or engage in delayed gratification. Therein lies the error.

It’s easy to Dunning-Kruger yourself into thinking you’re supra-normal, whether that’s at refraining from lip-licking or managing money. The latter is especially true in FI circles, where people may overestimate their investing ability due to their greater-than-average understanding of financial affairs. The truth is that we are all subject to the same foibles of human nature.

Being led into temptation

In the world of personal finance, recent times have been awash with individuals raking in profits with seeming wanton abandon. Cryptocurrency, meme stocks, non-fungible tokens or even just the general market rise will have filled the coffers of a fair few.

As wave after wave of fast-rising price graphs filled my newsfeed, I found it difficult to resist jumping on the rapidly ascending bandwagon(s). FOMO rose and rose, filling my brain with temptation like a running tap fills a bath. Resist I did, however, and there’s not a GME share, NFT or Dogecoin anywhere to be seen in my portfolio.

There’s a hindsight-heavy argument that I was erroneous for not getting stuck in; many have profited generously from these ‘investments’. There’s probably an alternate version of me somewhere who bought into the hype and made a killing. There’s also probably a version of that guy who got stung and lost a truckload. I’m content enough with having been largely unaffected by the whole set of affairs.

Resilience or randomness?

How did I withstand the gnawing temptation to ride the cash cow? With dollar signs in my eyes, how did I see straight? How did I refrain from licking my metaphorical sugar-laced lips?

All truth be told, I can’t claim it was down (purely) to steely resolve. Or a long-established investing philosophy that I wouldn’t deviate from. Nor any sort of foresight or deep economic understanding.

There’s probably a sprig of petulance in the mix, not wanting to be part of the crowd. There’s undoubtedly the advice of many other financial commentators rolling around my subconscious, warding me off rash, under-researched or ‘too good to be true’ investments. There’s the sheer lack of cognitive bandwidth as I navigated a series of work-related hurdles over recent months. In other words, it was nothing and everything. It was luck.

Regardless of the reasons, very little has changed with regards to my investing over the past six or so months. I’m intrigued by that temptation though. Who’s to say that I would be able to resist similarly tantalising bait in the future? How can I protect my future self from being lured into making spur-of-the-moment investment decisions?

Empirical itch-scratching

Having some sort of personal investing manifesto is often billed as a key component of a successful strategy. I agree. It should also shield you from errant investing behaviour, though I have my doubts about its utility in the face of significant temptation.

Even if your investing policy is an exquisitely crafted magnum opus that perfectly reflects your financial philosophy, an enticing enough prospect could lead you to betray it. You’d have to be a character with significant self-control to resist the weekly, daily or even hourly news of the latest fad making millionaires from thin air. As doughnuts have shown us most people, myself included, lack that level of discipline.

I thought of other methods that you could employ to try and stop oneself buying into fad investments. Checklists that must be completed before buying a product. Investing budgets that are totally automated, leaving no room for individual whim. Other more elaborate ones too.

Yet there are powerful motivators that I think would overcome any of these conceptual fail-safes. The thrill of the chase in plumping for that fast-rising stock. The same excitement that comes from buying a lottery ticket; the ‘what if’, the daydreams of winning. The fear of missing out making you yearn for that new, niche or fad asset.

Counter-intuitive

Instead of trying to put methods in place to stop making investment choices in the heat of the moment, I wonder whether I could assuage temptation by doing almost the opposite. Rather than being cajoled by the dopamine-craving parts of the brain into buying the latest ‘big thing’, I could make investments now that had greater aforethought behind them but still scratched the cerebral itch. That is, in place of attempting to refrain from licking sugar-coated lips, why not just lick them from the off and remove the desire altogether?

To put this into practice I would buy small amounts of some assets, e.g. cryptocurrency or commodities or what have you, and then use them as a cognitive shield against further rash investments at the time of booming values.

Tempted to buy the newest, bestest, sure-to-make-you-rich cryptocurrency? Ah I’ve already got exposure to that market so it’s less thrilling, less enticing.
Inflation is on the up, how about some gold? Well I already own some so I’m satisfied I won’t miss out too much.
What about this fast-rising share that’s going supernova because Taylor Swift mentioned it in a song? Eh, I already have money that I’ve actively invested in some individual stocks so this latest one is less seductive.

It’s sort of like a series of satellite investments, but with a different rationale. Perhaps a more perverse one. I wouldn’t necessarily be aiming to “minimise costs, tax liability, and volatility while providing an opportunity to outperform the broad stock market as a whole.” I would be playing with fire now, but with oven mitts on, to avoid getting my fingers burnt in the future.

I’m not certain about whether I’ll implement this protective strategy. Knowing how I fare with sugar on my lips, I wouldn’t bet on being able to resist temptation next time around. It’s certainly food for thought; it’s dollars to doughnuts that I’ll feel a similar urge to invest in such a manner again.

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI

Message in a bottle

If you could write a message in a bottle, one that would float down the river of life and be found by your future self, what would you write?

The River of Life, by William Blake. Who knows which direction it will take, how it will meander, or where it will end up.

In wonderland

As I wrangled with this latest cerebral provocation from SQ HQ, my initial thought was of how futuristic a self should I speak to. Tomorrow? Next year? Next decade? Death bed? With the passage of time stretched out in front of me, coming up with a succinct or even broadly applicable statement seemed implausible.

Before long I started down something of a philosophical rabbit hole. Am I even the same person when I wake up each morning? Is the me that’s me only me right now? Is tomorrow’s me a different me?

As is the way with these existential wrestling matches, my brain eventually distracted itself lest it implode.

What could I possibly achieve by typing into the void, sending soft whispers to my future self as vibrations on the intertwined web of alternate realities? Do I even need to be achieving something by doing so? Surely such an exercise is of benefit to the now, the present being, not necessarily the future one.

I began to think of historical cases where past actions were purposefully designed to influence (distant) future ones. I drew a blank. The complexity of life means that, butterfly effect or not, the ripples of today’s actions are often lost in the turmoil of life’s tempestuous lake.

Time capsules sprung to mind as an example of sorts, although I’ve always found the idea of them rather perplexing. The (ir)relevance of our present is dictated retrospectively by the future. Is it our place to assume what will be meaningful, poignant, lasting?

Eventually the amalgam of thoughts crystallised into two contrasting yet complimentary ideas.

Future me

I hope that things are different. Not because things are bad, but because life must be a changing, evolving process. Stagnation is damnation.

Potentially the scariest thought is that the Mr MedFI of 5, 10 or 20 years time is the same person as today. There will undoubtedly be some fundamental values, some core philosophies that don’t change. It would, however, be naïve to think that the accumulation of experience over the years won’t alter things.

How I think. How I feel. How I perceive. How I act. How I am.

If that weren’t the case I’d be concerned. Arriving in the future to find myself with the same schema as today would be shocking. Have I ignored all of the lessons of life, all the learning from others along the way? I expect a distaste for aubergine and a proclivity for making groan-worthy puns may remain. Otherwise the message in the bottle is clear: I hope that things are different.

Future money

I hope that things are the same. I’d admittedly be a bit nonplussed if I landed in the future to find my income was static, and indeed if my expenditure was too. I expect that the numbers will ebb and flow with time.

What I hope remains unchanged is my attitude, my ethos in monetary matters. I would expect that the future me will still see the value in simplicity and flexibility when it comes to financial affairs. To value not the quantity obtained, but the quality that this affords.

One might think that I’d love to arrive in the future and find myself to be financially independent. Yes and no. FI is an aspiration that I believe offers the best long-term, overall balance. It might be that future me holds a different viewpoint. There may come a revelation, a realisation, a renaissance of a more mainstream modality of financial living. Or a different one altogether.

Above all I hope that in the future I continue to recognise how truly wealthy I am, regardless of the number on the spreadsheet.

TTFN,

Mr MedFI

Twelve percent

The past year has given me, and I’m sure many others too, pause for thought about the way we live our lives. In more recent months I’ve engaged in some hefty type two thinking, reflecting on my financial past (its evolutionary nascency) and future (plans for the endgame, or lack thereof). I’ve dwelled on the ‘personal’ in personal finance, the early retirement aspects of FIRE.

It’s sometimes beneficial to ground oneself in the here and now, rather than staring abstractly at the big picture. What of the present? What of the raw, tangible, limbic system-massaging numbers? There will undoubtedly be reams of writing in the years to come on Covid and its impact on our lives. Thinking purely about the pecuniary side of things, how did I fare in the ‘Covid tax year’ of 20/21?

Outstripping

At the current juncture one of the most sensitive measures of my financial progress is my savings rate. I have a target of 50%, which I surpassed by a mighty 12%…

The difference between pre-Covid and Covid times is abundantly clear, as evidenced by the difference in mean savings rate historically (green line) vs. the last tax year (purple line). Indeed, my savings rate exceeded 60% in three-quarters of months last tax year.

One exception was February, where I forked out the better part of £1,000 for an exam*.

The other exceptions were September and October. Thanks to a snafu over at HMRC, my take-home pay was slashed significantly. Turns out they thought I was working as, and earning the salary of, two full-time doctors. Though it definitely feels like the former on occasion, the latter is sadly not the case. After ironing out the creases with the taxman, the remaining months of the year represented a significant savings boost.

In light of a quintessentially static income year-to-year, this increase in savings rate is all as a result of spending less.

I’m reticent to chalk all of the differences in spending up to Covid. Granted some reductions in expenditure are directly linked, for example those related to travelling (-86%), haircuts (-49%) or dining out (-24%). Others come through deliberate action, with less spent on car insurance (-28%), phone contracts (-13%) or the supermarket bill (-5%).

The things I spent more on poignantly reflect the year gone by; a 75% growth in spending on home entertainment and a many hundred-fold increase in money burned on professional expenses.

Consequences

In the immortal words of Austin Powers, “what does it all mean Basil?”

The 12% outstripping of my savings rate target led to a +25% change in net worth. I’m very much still in the phase where it is savings, not interest earned, that provides the biggest impact on net worth. With that in mind, such a dramatic change is no great surprise.

Did the 12% increase in saving come at the cost of a 12% decrease in quality of living? Yes, if not more. It’s impossible to tease apart how much of this effect was:
money-related i.e. not allocating appropriate funds to enjoy life rather than just be a savings machine
Covid-related i.e. life was more bland regardless of spending due to limitations on personal/social activities
employment-related i.e. life was less enjoyable because of increased pressure at work, both from Covid and the requirement to jump through various professional hoops this year e.g. exams, portfolio requirements.

Life in the tax year 21/22 will be (fingers-crossed) less impinged upon by these factors.

If I were to be able to consistently save at a 60% savings rate, it would cut my time-to-FI by a quarter. A tantalising prospect indeed.

A year unlike any other?

Official statistics show that use of the word ‘unprecedented’ has reached an all time high**. Everyone is naturally and perhaps rightfully keen to wax lyrical about how different things have been. On the whole life has seen some significant disruption; certainly at the level of the individual there have been polarising effects on finance.

When it comes to my investments, I’m not convinced that things have been truly abnormal. Take a step back from the microscope to look at things in a broader context. Were the financial movements in 2020/21 significantly different to any other given year?

I made the diagram below using the S&P 500’s price over the past four years. Which one represents the ‘Covid tax year’ 2020/21? Which is 2017/18, where coronavirus was something only virologists might have heard of? Can you guess which graphs represent 2018/19 and 2019/20?

Performance of the S&P 500 index during four consecutive UK tax years (April-April). Graph from Yahoo Finance. NB scale left unadjusted.

If you’re someone who tracks the markets with enough vigour then perhaps you know the answers. To me they all share the same characteristics. General positive progression. Dips of differing degrees at varying points. With the exception of year A you’d have made a positive return on investment in years B, C or D, but suffered some volatility along the way. I appreciate that the performance of the S&P 500 is not the only marker of the state of the financial world, but it’s a nice way of demonstrating my point.

There will often be something unique and sensational happening in the (financial) world, driven in part by media furore and increasingly by the bandwagonism that is a natural consequence of increasing access to financial tools and material. For example the rise and rise of Bitcoin, or people flying to the moon on a GameStop rocket ship.

It’s easy to feel that current happenings carry a real significance going forward. If we look back at years gone by how many had (what appeared to be) noteworthy events that are now just minor blips along the inexorable march of progress? Will we see the events of 2020/21 as truly significant next year? In five years? In ten?

Answers
A – 2019/20, featuring a ~35% dip due to the ‘Covid crash’
B – 2018/19, featuring a ~20% dip due to the ‘cryptocurrency crash’ before recovering
C – 2020/21, featuring a ~50% rise in value; anyone could look like an investing deity by simply being in the game!
D – 2017/18, featuring a ~20% rise before a ~10% fall.

Keep the change

It’s not impossible that a similar trend in my savings rate would have emerged in the absence of a global pandemic, although perhaps not to quire the same extent.

Despite my skepticism about how truly different this year has been, I am treating it as an outlier i.e. not using it as the basis of any strong conclusions or changes in habit. I’ll keep my savings rate target at 50%. I’ll stick to a passive investing, equity-based plan. I’ll keep simply plodding along, Diplodocus-like, on the road to FI.

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI


*Insert much grumbling. At least I’ll see the VAT back.
**Statistics may be anecdotal and hyperbole applied.


Learning

Our lives are too short to be able to learn everything through our own experiences.

A degree of how we behave comes from lessons learned through the experiences of others. Assimilating these lessons into our own schema is a process; listening, reading, empathising, weighing, reflecting, adopting or rejecting. Second-hand experiential learning is an invaluable skill.

Don’t mistake my sentiment as an advert for blindly following what you read or hear. Due diligence is…well, due. But those who can hone said skill will be able to act synergistically by marrying together the auto- and allo- experienced.

Investor behaviour in a market dip is the perfect example. How should you behave when your numbers start falling for the first time? You have no personal experience to draw on. Those who are able to critically appraise and then follow the oft-repeated advice of not selling are likely to profit. Those who haven’t been able to glean this lesson from others may end up learning it themselves (which is no bad thing, though perhaps fiscally sub-optimal).

More than a number

This month I’ve been reading the decumulation blueprints on offer over at SQ HQ. What can I learn? Which parts of peoples’ plans resonate with me, reflect my values, match my ambitions? Which aspects, ideas or goals should I co-opt to adorn my minimal viable plan? This isn’t obsequious adulation or imitation of others. It’s integration.

At the time of writing there were posts by fourteen other authors. I admire their variety, ranging from meticulous intricacy to broad sweeps of the FI brush. The theme of these heterogenous plans is unsurprising; finance, money, assets, quantity. All-in I classify the majority of them as being mostly or entirely numbers-based.

What stood out, however, was how few described their non-financial intentions for the long, work-free, financially independent glide path. Where were peoples’ plans for their free time, for maintaining joie de vivre, for optimising life’s quality? Although by no means the only post symptomatic of this, FI UK Money encapsulated the notion perfectly:

“I don’t anticipate any problems on [the behavioural] front as we both work for ourselves and are self-sufficient in many respects. We don’t have any trouble filling our spare time out of work and we are looking forward to a less hectic existence.”

A Chat with Kat seems to lend suitable weight to this aspect of the endgame in her seedling plans, though undoubtedly the stand-out post is Living A FI‘s tour de force on his life since becoming financially independent. It’s rich in experiences we can all learn from.

Perhaps there’s an erroneous expectation on my behalf – articles on decumulation are naturally going to be finance-focused. Perhaps it reflects a difficulty or unwillingness to articulate the more personal, emotional or nebulous aspects of retirement plans. Perhaps focusing on the cold, hard numbers is easier than sharing desires, dreams or aspirations, or facing up to the reality that FI(RE) won’t quash all of life’s difficulties.

There appears to be this supposition that shedding the 9-5 will bring about an automatic, indefinite increase in quality of life. This seems a truly erroneous assumption to make…

FIRE burnt out?

2020 saw a ripple of discontent in the FI blogging sphere; a communal pause for thought. There was a slew of commentary on the merits and sustainability of a post-FIRE lifestyle.

I’ll refrain from too detailed a dissection of the issues that arose, but themes included redundancy, boredom, social isolation, purposelessness, status anxiety and the arrival fallacy.

Self-doubt…
GFF decides FIRE isn’t for him
• Indeedably ponders being stagnant, and short-sighted
The Accumulator expresses his FIRE fears
The Ermine thinks about working again
Finimus describes the slide from rejuvenation to ennui
Fire and Wide shares warnings of the post-FI reality

The timing of the early retirement reality hitting home seems variable. Blog-based evidence would suggest at three to five months things are still rosy, but a few years post-RE the symptoms of disaffection begin. This is no taboo or secret; other authors have provided insight on how it might be avoided.

When describing successful early retirees, Sassenach Saving summarises: “A common theme of each of these stories…[is that] most of them retired to something else. They didn’t simply quit a 50+ hour per week job with no plans for what comes next.”

Early retiree Bully the Bear reflects that “If we don’t have a meaningful outlet to pour our life’s best work in, we’ll never end up free, regardless of whether materially we are financially free or not.”

Lessons

What have I learned?

Articulating the post-FI(RE) ‘activity’ plan is difficult, but assuming everything will be better once the 9-5 shackles are off is folly. Nobody can predict life’s vicissitudes – the issue with financial independence is that you are predicating your plans on the notion that your future life mirrors your life of today. Returning to work, for reasons financial or otherwise, is not wrong or bad. If, however, avoiding undesired or unintentional changes in lifestyle post-FIRE is the aim, then one’s planning must incorporate a degree of malleability.

Driving at high speed and then slamming on the brakes risks setting off the airbags. Coasting to a stop seems like a better strategy. Tapering work, rather than sudden cessation, will facilitate adjusting. There’ll be a sweet spot between ‘all work’ and ‘no work’. A working-wean can help discover where that optimum balance lies. Evidence from the Blue Zones suggests that purposeful work contributes to longevity; a planned, meaningful pursuit will be both beneficial and necessary.

Early retirement discontentment is common and strikes after a couple of years. The initial satisfaction is derived from free time, a lack of work commitments, time spent with family/friends, exploration of other hobbies etc. Eventually this is replaced by frustration, ennui, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. At the point of reaching FI, a 1-2 year sabbatical could instigate the initial benefits. Returning to employment in a more limited capacity, followed by the aforementioned gradual reduction in workload, might mitigate the onset of the detrimental aspects of early retirement.

None of these lessons will grossly affect my MVP. Indeed, they are mostly in keeping with my existing philosophies – simplicity, flexibility, resilience and a focus on quality.

Overall the lesson remains clear: financial independence must be permissive, not definitive.

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI

The MVP

When I first decided to start investing there was an information overload. Which platform? Which funds? What asset allocation? How much to contribute? Pound cost average or lump sum?

The desire to make things ‘perfect’ from the off was overwhelming. Guaranteed decision fatigue. You may well have felt the same.

Eventually I decided that I didn’t need a perfectly crafted investment portfolio from the outset. What I required was an MVP – a minimum viable plan*.

I chose a platform and an equity fund. I invested an amount (probably ~1% of my net worth at the time) and got the ball rolling.

The goal way back then wasn’t to optimise returns or reach peak investment efficiency. It was to overcome the initial trepidation that comes with one’s first foray into investing. As someone naturally cautious, and taking heed of the many, many “capital at risk” warnings, greasing the cognitive wheels enough to overcome this initial friction was the most important factor.

My MVP at the time could have been called ‘Just. Start. Investing‘.

I didn’t have a plan that covered the next two weeks, let alone the months, years and decades ahead. Of course, since then I’ve tinkered as my knowledge has expanded and my goals have become clearer. The key, however, was simply taking that very first step.

FIREproof planning

It was a similar story when I discovered financial independence; there were a formidable array of considerations to take into account. FI numbers. Savings rates. Asset allocations (again). Finding the optimal strategy for that sweet, sweet early retirement. As before, trying to craft a bulletproof plan that would satisfy all these different factors would have been paralysing. Perfection from the get-go was equally fallacious this time around.

In perfection’s place was another MVP. Something along the lines of ‘widen the income-spending gap.

There was no £500,000 or £1,000,000 goal. No savings rate target. No stringent investment criteria. No seismic shift in behaviour.

Of all the factors that would influence if, when and how I could become financially independent the most apposite was (and to a large extent still is) how I much I saved each month.

There was the objective, the MVP. Increase the difference between what’s coming in to the bank account and what’s leaving it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 0.5%, 5% or 50% change. Just get the ball rolling.

As with my investment strategy, answers to some of those FI questions have crystallised over the course of time. I have a savings rate I hope to achieve. An asset allocation I stick to. A (very ballpark) FI number.

Crystal ball gazing

There are another set of questions to answer that pertain to the FI endgame, the decumulation phase. At what net worth can I pull the FI trigger? How should my asset allocation change once I reach that figure, if at all? What should my SWR be? How will I fill my time if not with employment? Will my expenses remain static indefinitely?

Answers to these questions are mired in the fog of the future. The paths I might take fan out from today like the tail feathers of a peacock, tendrils of future life spreading into the aether of spacetime. How can I predict what the Mr. MedFI of tomorrow will need, want, value or prioritise?

Can there be an MVP in the face of such uncertainty? ‘Masterful inactivity‘. That’s the MVP. That’s the current decumulation strategy; no real plan at all. Be aware of the need to plan, but leave the actual planning for the future. Don’t get distracted, delighted or dismayed by predictions that are based on (too) many instances of ‘if this then that‘, over timeframes spanning decades. Don’t straight-jacket the future me in the guise of the present me.

Perhaps my faith in this intentionally procrastinatory MVP is naive. Fail to plan, plan to fail? Should I keep my eyes on the FI prize or on the FI ball? I’d go cross-eyed trying to do both to a high degree. Perhaps the future Mr. MedFI will curse his past self’s lack of forethought. Perhaps it won’t make a blind bit of difference. Whether I drawdown using plan A, B or Z won’t affect my behaviour of today, so is there merit in having anything more than an MVP?

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI


*My own bastardised version of the term ‘minimum viable product‘, as applied to personal finance.

The Con Is On

Readers of a certain vintage may remember the BBC’s TV series ‘Hustle’. A team of con artists, led by affable frontman Mickey Bricks, channel their inner Robin Hood to steal from wealthy, immoral or otherwise unsavoury ‘marks’ …and keep the money for personal gain. I previously lamented my lack of income diversity. How best to address this? Merely through more hustling? I’ve jotted down some thoughts as I puzzle how best to diversify my cashflow.

Every day is hustlin’ day

People love the idea of a side hustle. A little bit more work for a little bit more money. Financial, if not also psychological, resilience against ‘the man’ and their 9-to-5 whip.

Some side hustles are the adult equivalent of a paper round. Others are fully fledged business ideas. A few are totally left field, such as GFF’s (tongue-in-cheek) buy-to-let pets. The financial forums are littered with posts about successful side hustles. Couldn’t I just pick one from the list, ‘do it’ and watch the bank balance burgeon?

For starters there’s a publication bias afoot. You less frequently hear about people’s calamitous failures at side hustling and the lost money, energy or time involved. ‘He who dares wins’ and all that jazz, but at the moment I needn’t risk being one of the losers.

Further doubt comes from the temporal aspects of a side hustle. If I think about the time I already spend keeping my professional plate spinning, it leaves little left to get a second one up and running. Perhaps these feelings will change in the future and I’ll pick up a suitable second source of income. For now, however, I think I’ll park the idea of putting significant resource into generating a consistent cashflow from a side hustle.

Something for nothing

If a well-working side hustle can be a cash cow, then passive income is more of a golden goose. I won’t debate the semantics of whether any income can ever truly be passive, but the idea of generating cashflow without any ongoing input is tantalising indeed. It definitely circumvents my concerns that a side-hustle would be too time consuming.

All I need do is come up with a suitable idea; haul the income-generating ball to the top of a hill, give it a little push and… voilà!

Perpetual motion? Perpetual income? Friction is a stickler and there’d undoubtedly be some bumps along the way that would require more time and energy. That, in addition to the initial ‘activation energy’ getting the ball rolling is enough to be off-putting at present.

Dividends

I read with fair interest about others’ dividend investing strategies. Some have managed to generate enough cashflow from dividends to cover the majority, if not all, of their living expenses. This is worthy of applause, but a strategy not without risk. For example, 2020 saw the hyperbolically named ‘dividend black hole’ appear, with hundreds of companies reducing or ceasing dividend payments.

Issues putting me off dividend investing:
• Time to find dividend-generating shares
• Cost of buying individual shares
• Risk of share underperformance vs. alternatives
• Potential CGT (if not in ISA)
• Increased complexity of tracking investments
• Cost of not re-investing dividends
• Fluctuating dividends due to economic environment

I wonder about the long-term cost/benefit trade off when it comes to dividend investing. Do dividend investors end up ahead at the end of the financial rat race? Who knows.

I certainly feel that it would require energy, add complexity and potentially reduce returns in a fashion that’s unnecessary for me.

Finance through finance

Monetising MedFI would be a potential money-spinner, but would definitely clash with my blogging values. I don’t want the aesthetic cluttered by invasive, garish adverts (the content of which I mightn’t be able to control). I don’t want the choice of topics, frequency of publication or other factors to be outside my sole control or swayed by the idea of making money. It’s an easy no at present.

‘If you’re good at something, never do it for free’ – Heath Ledger’s ‘The Joker’

What about turning my personal finance hobby into an income? I’d need to do some training, sit some exams (and by god do I have enough of these already) and earn some qualifications in order to be a bona fide ‘financioso‘. This won’t work right now for the same plate-spinning reasons as earlier. I’d also worry that the transition from hobby to profession would poison the interest I have in the field.

Shortcut?

The driving thought behind my quest for income diversity was that I risk a total cessation in cashflow if I’m unable to practice medicine. Re-examining this unlikely possibility, it seems that a drive towards income diversity necessitates using a chunk of my precious free time and energy:

“Give up free time now to do more work now to earn money via a different cashflow to protect against potential future calamity.”

It sounds imbalanced to me.

I think at present the con is on when it comes to income diversity. A deception. A distraction. Stealing time and energy away from other important facets of my life. An alternative way of increasing income diversity would be to abolish the need for an income entirely i.e. financial independence. Perhaps I should remain focussed on that, instead of being hoodwinked by engaging in cockamamie schemes to generate alternative cashflow.

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI

Evolution

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.

Delayed gratification

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.

Self-control

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.

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI

Am I Diversified Enough?

This question emerged from the milieu of my cognitive stew whilst in the shower. The knee-jerk part of my brain, the fast-thinking portion that doesn’t like to dwell spat out a “yes” and moved on. The more ponderous parts of my cerebrum latched onto the question, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since.

Diverse Investments

I would hazard that most readers are well-versed in the benefits of taking a diversified investment approach, the ‘only free lunch in investing’. At its core it’s whatever the opposite of having all your eggs in one basket is. Your future omelettes are spread between a multitude of wicker storage vehicles – if one of them is dropped you won’t end up with the contents all over your face.

From a geographical standpoint, I’m fairly well spread. A benefit derived from using a true global index tracker fund for the majority of my equity investments. When my total wealth is taken under consideration I’m perhaps a bit under-staked in ‘Muricah. Equally I’m probably carrying a bit more UK exposure through other cash holdings. Neither one a perilous situation to be in.

What about asset class diversification? You can find all sorts of funky portfolios online, that have spreads right through different asset classes. The overwhelming majority of my invested wealth is (shock horror) in equities. One could argue that I’m under-invested in equities – I know others are all-in on this asset class. The 100-age rule of thumb is much too conservative for my own appetite and a selection of my blogging peers approximated a 105-age rule.

My asset class diversity will remain low for the foreseeable future. Select equities, bonds, cash, commodities or cryptocurrencies could take the form of ‘satellite’ holdings at some point, but not at this juncture. Other sexier riskier asset classes are less likely to feature. For example, P2P remains in my bad books – its risk-reward balance is tipped the wrong way for my liking and I’m staying clear.

P2P lender Ratesetter was acquired by Metro Bank in 2020. Now, following a year of reduced interest to protect the provision fund, all loans will be purchased by Metro Bank. While investors will get their money back, the interest that was lost to prop up the provision fund will go to Metro Bank instead.

Diverse Income

Multiple income streams are beneficial for similar reasons as having diverse investments is. I happen to be in one of the most secure professions there is. It’s been around for thousands of years. It’s universally necessary, especially so at the moment. My skills translate across countries and cultures. The security is a blessing for sure; I’ve been fortunate enough to not have given my income stream a second thought throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is only partially reassuring though, as I’m reliant on this one role for 100% of my income. If I was stopped from being able to practice medicine tomorrow, it would cut my cash flow to £0. That, to me, seems like a stark vulnerability. A gaping hole in my financial Death Star that a pesky X-wing could proton torpedo at any moment. Admittedly such an occurrence is unlikely, but even if the chance of lightning striking is rare it doesn’t mean we should waltz outside with a brolly in a rainstorm.

Occupations most likely to be automated in the near future. Medicine represents the least likely – the navy blue circle furthest left on the graph. Source: ONS.

Medical professionals are highly sought after, highly employable. For the time being. Mr. Bucket can attest to the unemployability created by the rise of the machine. Although medical practitioners are the group least at risk, the ONS still puts 18% of jobs at risk of automation. I rate the likelihood of my professional career being cut short by robotic intervention as ‘exceedingly low’, but definitely not ‘zero’.

What if there are significant changes in the way healthcare is delivered in the UK, which makes me less or un-employable? What if, in the future, I don’t want to be a doctor anymore? Overall I think my income diversity is poor. Definitely food for thought.

Diverse Retirement Funding

A lone strategy for retirement finances leaves one open to a single, critical, financial blow. For example, a box full of cash is an asinine choice for retirement funds as it’ll be decimated by inflation, moths, mould, floods, fire and the light-fingered. Those outwith FI circles are presumably relying on their workplace pensions ± state pension as their source of income in retirement. If the plan is FIRE, a more layered approach is usually required.

The NHS Pension remains a strong choice for the retirement finances of the NHS professional. I’ve made no secret, however, of my concerns about its future guise. Why should I be all-in on the NHS Pension? Why lay all my money on it and then bite my nails to the quick hoping it doesn’t succumb to some meddling politicos in the future? No, it makes no sense to strive for income and investment diversity only to bet it all on a single horse.

The four horsemen (of retirement finance). A blend of tools to finance my retirement will surely be resilient against most events. Perhaps not the apocalypse though.

My (early) retirement finance plan is by no means unique, complex or even that exciting. The usual four horseman appear – the NHS Pension, a SIPP, a LISA and a stocks & shares ISA. They provide temporal flexibility by being accessible at different ages. They provide resilience against extraneous interference – it would take sweeping changes in financial policy to bring them all to their knees. They provide diversity in how they grow – the NHS Pension’s accrual/revaluation vs. the different funds in the others. The others protect me from the actuarial reductions for taking the NHS Pension early. The NHS Pension protects me from the whims of the stock markets. Oh and there’s potentially the state pension donkey braying somewhere too.

I think that this is about as robust as I can make my retirement plans for the moment. It certainly feels a much stronger set up when I compare it to my singular income stream.

“Too much diversification can dilute what you’re trying to do by distracting you from the true purpose of your money which is to grow in as low-cost and low-tax environment as possible so as to meet your goals.” Pete Matthews of Meaningful Money.

Diverse Interests

There have been a handful of retirement U-turns in the FIRE community recently. The factors driving these about-faces is a story for another time. I’ve been thinking about how to avoid a similar fate. Not that returning to work post-FIRE is wrong, a failure, hypocritical or really negative at all. If that’s what I end up doing too then so be it. I’m simply keen to be intentional about my plans.

I’m fortunate that medicine is a diverse career. It’s possible that I can keep things fresh and engaging by following different branches as time marches on. It might be that a tapered working schedule helps me ease into retirement, or more of a FIWO approach than FIRE. Or a transition from clinical to non-clinical work. There are options for sure.

Do I have enough other interests to keep myself occupied? I think so. I won’t regale you with a full list of my other interests and hobbies. A recent ten day period stuck indoors yielded a small degree of ennui, though I was hamstrung by not being able to engage in any outdoor activity, see friends etc.

I can always learn new tricks too. If you’d have told the Mr. MedFI of five years ago that he’d be blogging, about personal finance no less, he’d probably have laughed out loud at the surreality of the idea. I don’t predict issues with a post-FIRE lifestyle, but I guess who ever does?

Verdict

Am I diversified enough? Not quite. I’m content with a diversely invested portfolio and a retirement plan that’s set on multiple pillars. There’s vulnerability though in a total reliance on one source of income. Overall I give myself a solid B. Not too shabby, but definitely room for improvement. For that, I’ll have to engage that slow-thinking brain a little bit more. In the meantime, are you diversified enough?

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI

The First 100,000

Milestones are an important part of making progress. They break up a task into more manageable psychological and material chunks. They’re motivating; you can celebrate when they’re reached even if the bigger victory isn’t yet won. Yes, milestones are generally a good thing, a marker on the road to where you’re going. There are conversely some waypoints that you never wish to pass.

Personal finance is, naturally, littered with numbers. Savings rates, FI numbers, net wealth etc. These targets will be variable according to the individual, though there is one pecuniary milestone that consistently crops up  – one hundred thousand.

$100,000

Charlie Munger supposedly quipped that “the first $100,000 is a bitch” back in the 1990’s. Attaining an invested wealth of $100,000 has since become a bit of a personal finance cliché. The idea is to do whatever it takes to get there ASAP, as once you’ve accrued that much things are a bit easier thereafter. There are blog posts aplenty describing how the author reached $100k; how they scrimped, saved, begged and borrowed to reach this milestone. They’re all of a similar vein – you simply follow all the usual personal finance/financial independence tropes as found in any listicle. Spend less, earn more and grow your invested assets consistently at 10%/year. Job done.

In equal abundance are articles describing the reasons why this “magical” number is of particular importance. The most frequently quoted reason is just window dressing for compound interest. One article asserts that $100k is special because:

“…it takes 7 – 8 years to save the first $100k no matter what annual interest rate your savings grows at. This is because the amount you save matters far more than your investment returns when you’re just starting out.”

Although I agree with the second half of their statement, the initial part is only true because they chose $10,000 as the annual investment amount. Perhaps deliberately, perhaps arbitrarily. If they had chosen $5,000, then the spread of duration would be 12 – 19yrs. For $25,000 annual investment then it’d be <4yrs regardless of interest rate.

The time taken to reach £100k milestones by saving £500/month at 5% interest rate. The time to reach successive £100k amounts is less each time; a demonstration of the power of compound interest.

Confuting the mystical properties of £100k

One argument is that by reaching this milestone you’ve established good financial habits, which are likely to continue. Therefore you’ll be financially successfully in the long run. Why this applies specifically to £100,000, but not £50,000 or £75,000, I’m not sure.

I do quite like Captain Vimes’ ‘boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness as applied to the £100k mark. Once you reach that level of wealth, you’re able to afford better quality products (e.g. higher quality boots) that, in the long run, save you money. Hence wealth begets wealth.

The ‘returns are more significant’ rationale for £100k being special is interesting. On the one hand, having £5,000 interest (5% on your £100k) is intuitively much more attractive than having £50 (5% on your £1,000). On the other, at the end of the day it’s the same 5% interest. Generating £10,000 in interest sounds even better though; why isn’t £200,000 the magic number?

Is £100k exalted because it’s a nice, round number that balances achievability with the sense of being ‘a lot of money’? About half the people in the UK have a net worth of >£100k although, given the UK’s penchant for property, I would hazard that those with £100k invested are far fewer in number. So perhaps that makes it a lot of money. Perhaps there’s a reason people dream of being millionaires instead though. If you take the average UK take home pay (~£2,000/month) and the average UK monthly savings rate (8.2%), it would take nearly 25 years to reach the £100k milestone at 5% interest. I guess that makes it broadly achievable too?

Just…because

I totally agree that having milestones, financial or otherwise, is an enjoyable and productive framework for your personal progress. I’m just not sold at all on the $100k fascination; it’s a fairly arbitrary number. Manipulatable as you see fit:

Munger is American, so actually here in Blighty you would only need £72,000 to have $100,000. Sorted.
But he made his remarks in the 1990’s…so you actually need closer to $200,000 in today’s money. Ah.
Although if we work in base 13 you’d only have to accrue £36,694 for the base 10 equivalent. Sweet.

Will I enjoy the day that I have £100k of invested wealth? Of course. But no more so than £50,000 or £200,000. Munger is a man of infinitely greater fiscal understanding and experience than me. But the idea that I should work myself into the ground to obtain $100k then, and only then, ‘take my foot off the gas’ seems silly. Why not try to find a level of expenditure that allows me a quality of life that feels right, and then be consistent in my save/spend balance thereafter? I might get to £100,000 of invested wealth more slowly, but I’ll enjoy the journey a bit more.

A milestone you never hope to reach

A similar milestone approaches, a most unwelcome one. At the time of writing the UK death toll from Covid-19 is nearing 100,000 people. Akin to filling all the seats in Wembley stadium, cramming another 10,000 people onto the pitch and then all of them dying. It’s the entire population of Bath dying. 150x more deaths in a single year on home soil than British military casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

200 vaccines a minute is fantastic, but there’s still an admission to a UK hospital with Covid every 30 seconds. There are not enough physical bed spaces to accommodate this tsunami of Covid positive patients. It’s led to patients being moved between hospitals all over the country, to hospitals reducing the amount of oxygen they give people because they’re simply running out. The military have had to be drafted in to help in some places. We don’t have the capacity to give everyone everything, so we have to select who gets what and who doesn’t.

In the hospital, we’re not dealing in gross statistics such as “a thousand deaths a day” or “100,000 dead from Covid-19”. We’re caring for individuals. It’s not “people aren’t getting the care they should”, it’s that person in front of you. A husband, a mother, a brother, a daughter. Your wife, your father, your sister, your son.

Staff are frustrated, helpless and overwhelmed. There’s the increasing frequency of having to make ethically difficult decisions; Sophie’s choices of a sort. There’s the horror of seeing people fighting for their life. Not just the elderly or infirm, but otherwise healthy young men and women – the average age on our intensive care unit is in the 40’s. A proportion will never leave the unit alive.

A single straw away

“I’m waiting for the headline that says: ‘Doctor takes own life because of the pandemic’. It is going to happen. If not today, it’ll be soon because they are on their knees – and they want people to know that.” From an interview on BBC News.

No wonder then that nearly half of surveyed intensive care staff met thresholds for mental health issues after the first wave of Covid-19. It’s not just “staff are suffering”. It’s your colleague telling you that she cries when she gets in the car to go home. Every day. It’s your friend acting out, being uncharacteristically aggressive and ill-tempered. Staff calling in sick because they can’t face coming to work. It’s people who are on the edge; their camel’s back one straw short of shattering.

I highly recommend reading this post written by a doctor about their Covid experiences. It makes for heart-breaking reading. Their experience is not unique; it’s all day and all night for staff up and down the country. Even with vaccines and lockdowns, these sorts of experiences for NHS staff are not going away anytime soon.

Lars Kroijer’s optimistic look at the Covid endgame belies the reality for the frontline individuals who are thoroughly spent. Their cognitive, emotional and compassionate reserve is sorely depleted. Yet soon they’ll be asked to pick up the slack again to tackle the backlog of work that Covid has merely delayed. All the while the future of the health service itself remains uncertain.

A step at a time

Never mind the first $100,000 being tough – Munger obviously wasn’t reading the Washington Post in the 1980’s, where a young lad wittily remarked that “life’s a bitch, then you die”. Set financial milestones sure, but be mindful of the arrival fallacy. Save money, but perhaps not at the cost of living a life with little quality. Aim to augment your wealth, but prioritise enriching your life.

All roads were once said to originate from the milliarium aureum, the golden milestone in Rome. Whether its investments or Covid, I’m not hanging my hat on arriving at a gilded final waypoint. I’ll settle for reaching the next marker on the road. I’m a fair way short of £100k, but I’ll get there eventually. Covid isn’t going away tomorrow, but some progress is enough for now.

TTFN,

Mr. MedFI