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It ain’t what you do it’s what it does to you

“I am not obliged to do any more. No man is obliged to do as much as he can do. A man is to have part of his life to himself.”
Samuel Johnson

I assume the famous 18th Century Londoner and dictionary pioneer Samuel Johnson would include women if he were still issuing pithy soundbites today.

Because despite the headlines about high youth unemployment – or perhaps the cause of some of them – the bigger problem is that British men and women alike are working too many hours.

Since the recession pulled down productivity, we’re producing 21% less output per hour of wage slavery than the average G7 nation.

Real incomes have stagnated, too. The 1% are at least getting richer off of all this effort – and you can if you run your life like a capitalist – but many in the middle are in hock to a treadmill they bought on a payday loan from a late night TV shopping channel to keep up with their next door neighbour’s rat rotastak.

Sorry, I think I got up on the wrong side of bed.

Ratting out the rat race

As a nation we’ve worked hard for decades to get ever more deeply into debt.

And what for?

Even the simplest middle-class aspiration – a humble mortgage – looks all but beyond the next generation.

In the South East we’ve built too few homes, allowed too few to buy the ones we have built, and bid up house prices to a level where the Bank of England governor has just stepped in to stop first-time buyers in London (at least those who don’t work in the City or have a hotline to the Bank of Mum and Dad) from getting a house in the traditional pre-financial crisis way – enough optimistic bragging about their income to make an oligarch blush, if not outright fraud.

But maybe it’s all academic, anyway. Who can afford to buy a house after they’ve paid for university?


Instead of slaving away for 45 50 years and keeping your spirits going with stuff you don’t need, can’t afford, can’t digest, or that plays havoc with your marriage and/or your nasal passages, why not slave away (or work smarter) for merely 20-25 years, spend less, invest the spare, and retire early to a life of leisure, global exploration, study, money-making on your own terms, or a dream career that pays peanuts?

Or heck, even dossing at Ladbrokes as the only mug punter in credit if that’s what floats your boat.

The point is to find your own terms, as best you can, and live them. We live in a world full of money, wealth and opportunity, but it’s easy to squander the lot.

“Most people are too busy earning a living to make any money,” someone once said.

History doesn’t record if he said it hunched over a desk he didn’t want to be at aged 65.

Then again, perhaps the words weren’t bitter, but triumphant. Shouted into the wind from a chilly, gorgeous and empty British beach where he was walking his dog during rush hour, because he runs his business from home.

Live this moment

The title of today’s post was nicked from the British poet Simon Armitage’s wonderful Selected Poems.

The following two stanzas from his poem It Ain’t What You Do It’s What It Does To You sums it up for me – and I am partly writing this rant because I’ve drifted myself, and I need to get back on track.

I have not padded through the Taj Mahal
barefoot, listening to the space between
each footfall picking up and putting down
its print against the marble floor. But I

skimmed flat stones across Black Moss on a day
so still I could hear each set of ripples
as they crossed. I felt each stones’ inertia
spend itself against the water; then sink.

You’re a long time dead.

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{ 21 comments… add one }
  • 1 The Escape Artist June 27, 2014, 12:19 pm

    Cheer up, TI. The great news is that you will undoubtedly get back on track. You are far too smart not to. As the great Mr Money Mustache reminds us life is not harder than ever, quite the reverse. If we can cut our spending enough then everything becomes possible. And one day some company will buy this website and you will have £10m that you won’t know what to do with….which will be a nice problem to have

  • 2 The Investor June 27, 2014, 1:13 pm

    Hah! Yes, financially speaking I’ve never been more on track. Another year like last year and I’ll hit my initial target when I started investing, though I have since raised that target for various reasons (including inflation!) And the income is coming in from doing things that I like.

    But I have got a little bogged down again in “getting”, if not spending (to quote another poet, Wordsworth).

    I agree that our lives are potentially full of abundance. Every now and then you need to stop and re-calibrate to ensure you’re on the right side of the equation.

  • 3 Neverland June 27, 2014, 1:33 pm

    @Escape artist

    I think if you wanna make £10m of your blog Money Saving Supermarket, err…. Expert illustrates its vitally important to have:

    – a forum for other people to generate content for you for free
    – a best buy table to generate referral income (hmm….)
    – easily accessible emoticon buttons

    Any, investor, have this (I typed it myself):


    (two cute anime animals hugging apparently)

  • 4 The Investor June 27, 2014, 1:48 pm

    It’s true user generated content is tbe money spinner of this online era (think Facebook, Twitter…) but a modest forum is incredibly hard to monetize — they attract a hardcore who click on nothing, moan about everything, and consume moderation time.

    Martin got away with it because he achieved massive scale early, and he successfully parlayed “no ads” into acceptance of affiliate links.

  • 5 The Investor June 27, 2014, 1:53 pm

    Oops, pressed return too soon… Also Martins own self generated content was excellent.

    I’ve had a forum in beta in the wings for six months but am loath to switch it on because I suspect it will bring yet more complication to my life, which as alluded to above I could do without right now. I’m even paying for server resources for it!

    Certainly if I switch it on it will be for community benefit not money for the foreseeable. Plus perhaps some search engine benefits.

  • 6 Ben June 27, 2014, 2:14 pm

    Attaboy. Head up north or better still leave the UK.

    The whole outlook on life in the SE of the UK is wrong. Sod ’em.

  • 7 diy investor (uk) June 27, 2014, 2:33 pm

    Writing about financial matters day in day out can mean you lose focus of other important aspects. One of my favourite quotes is from Henry Thoreau –
    “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately
    I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life
    to put to rout all that was not life,
    and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived.”

  • 8 Jon June 27, 2014, 5:41 pm

    This is a very timely reflective post. I’ve been having lots of inner battles recently. Should I move back to the Midlands or stay in the SE. Should I buy a larger ridiculously overpriced Greater London house or extend my current place and/or buy a rental property. Should I move abroad (don’t really have the guts to do this) because I really fear a Milliband government, sorry for the politics TI. I’m coming up to the stage where I don’t really have to work because of my dividend/bonds passive income, although I work from home and my job is a breeze, I’m also suffering from “one more year” syndrome. I don’t really have any enthusiastic hobbies outside work apart from sitting in a street café Covent Garden on a beautiful hot summers day drinking red wine. Too many choices …. ignorance is so bliss.

  • 9 Grand85 June 27, 2014, 6:30 pm

    I’ve just been investing now for a year along side saving for a home in London without the bank of mum and dad and with a salary that’s a lot lower than 50k Pa. For those of you who walk the road as a monevator, has life become any easier or are you now faced with problems of a different kind that stress you just as equally as when you were caught up in the rat race?

  • 10 Rodent June 27, 2014, 9:11 pm

    If life seems jolly rotten
    There’s something you’ve forgotten
    And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing
    When you’re feeling in the dumps
    Don’t be silly chumps
    Just purse your lips and whistle
    – that’s the thing.
    And… Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life!

    We are all going to make it!!!!

  • 11 Cerridwen June 27, 2014, 11:25 pm

    Experiences do not need to be exotic or expensive in order to enrich our lives. That is key, I think. Money just buys us enough time to seek them out and the peace to notice them when they happen.

  • 12 dean June 28, 2014, 5:58 am

    It’s not only that you’re a long time dead but that you could be any time dead!

    “your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”
    Steve Jobs

    For “someone else” in this line from Jobs we could substitute:
    The Government
    My Great Grandfather
    Nelson Mandela
    The Man in the Moon
    My Boss
    ….I think you get my point!

  • 13 Jim June 28, 2014, 8:51 am

    As you’ve quoted more excellent poetry, I saw that Felix Dennis, publishing tycoon and poet, died this week. A multi-millionaire, he would have given it all to have one more year trying to find his muse. His book, How to be Rich, is very funny about the pursuit of money versus the pursuit of happiness.

  • 14 The Accumulator June 28, 2014, 8:54 am

    For me the key is to know where the finish line is. And to be sure you’re going to stop when you reach it. Not move it another few miles down the road. Or to realise you’ve run the wrong race and you’re not really where you wanted to be. That you don’t want to stop, because you don’t know how to.

    Once one goal is reached, we’ll need another one. I’m going to ease off some years before in order to create the space to work out what that is. That will take some effort and imagination. I have a feeling life is a relay race but we run every leg.

  • 15 Sara June 28, 2014, 12:31 pm

    Hey – don’t be so hard on yourself. We all fall off the wagon sometimes. I’ve spent too much money on chilled coffee and chocolate this week cos I was stuck in work and it’s really boring at the moment – bad for the finances and the waistline. But I’ll dust myself off and get back on next week and soon I have a holiday break.
    From Wales, London just looks like insanity. Great to visit but who’d want to live there?
    PS our neighbour is selling his house for £125,000 – a 2 bedroom terrace in a not very pretty part of Wales but close to seaside and motorway! Parking’s terrible though.

  • 16 Accrington Mike June 28, 2014, 1:15 pm

    Thank you TI for the timely call to action. I have been dithering on the verge of the one more year delusion. Enough! It’s time to confirm my original date with my employer and start living the life I have been planning and saving for while I am still well enough to enjoy it.

  • 17 SemiPassive June 29, 2014, 12:33 pm

    Sara, how much for a detached 3/4 bed house in a pretty part of Wales? Is there much anti-English sentiment to incomers these days?
    Every so often I think where could I cash in my chips and move to to live mortgage-free, should City work dry up or become too stressful/unrewarding relative to costs of living.
    A two or 3 speed property market (London/South East/rest of UK) could actually help achieve this, but still a way off for me yet.
    At the moment I’m tied to working in the capital to pay off a house in the south east.
    It will be a question of do we pay it off in full and live somewhere at least as good, or better, or lower our expectations of the “dream house” and sell up earlier.

  • 18 Monk June 29, 2014, 3:13 pm

    I vaguely remember that it was Joe Karbo who used that tag line extensively TI, of course that was way back to a time when a million didn’t simply equate to a two up two down in the lesser loved parts of London….

  • 19 The Investor July 1, 2014, 12:27 am

    @Ben — Yes, I usually think West but North has the advantage of much better connections, at the downside of slightly worse weather. I love Yorkshire, Northumbria, and so on. Most of my friends are in the South East, that’s the snag.

    @diy investor (UK) — I think you’re right. I used to be much more chilled out about money before I started blogging. But then I’ve been blogging for years now, so perhaps that’s conflated with a stage of life thing. And if I’d bought that London property at half the price a decade ago, maybe I wouldn’t feel (temporarily) inclined to questions of what it’s all been for.

    @Jon — I know what you mean. I came to London for the bright lights and opportunities, and half of what keeps me here now is just sitting and watching / walking around in the buzz. Still, if you have the property in London why not stay? You could easily buy too much house up North and get whacked about by bills, chores, etc!

    @Grand85 — One thing I can tell you is that in my case money has had zero correlation with happiness or satisfaction or stress. If I lost what I have now I’d (for a while) have neither of the first two and plenty of the latter, no doubt. But I’ve been happier with far less money and certainly less stressed.

    @Rodent — I’m more of a Black Knight man myself. 😉

    @Cerridwen — I agree. Most of what we experience we forget, anyway, or it becomes a grandstanding ‘memory’ that gets drained of meaning anyway. In theory better to cultivate a mindful attitude to keep living and noticing in the moment. But I find it really hard, I admit.

    @dean — And add friends, kids, parents, spouses, the media, the list goes on. On the other hand, as a dedicated seeker of personal freedom to follow my own way, I’m starting to understand the line “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” (I don’t mean that melodramatically. I just mean a rat-racer with kids to feed and a mortgage to pay off and a promotion to chase at least has clear way forward. Sometimes it’s tiring to always be feeling a way).

    @Jim — How to be Rich is one of my favourite of those sorts of books. I thought I’d reviewed it, but if I did I can’t find it. Highly recommend it too!

    @The Accumulator — I like the relay metaphor. But I suggest there’s no finish line in this race, or at least not until it’s too late… 😉

    @Sara — I love Wales! As I say above the issue for me is distance from hard won friends now.

    @Accrington Mike — Wow! Do come back and tell us how it goes when you’ve made the leap! 🙂

    @SemiPassive — Has to be the best time to move property equity out of London and into the provinces for several generations…

    @Monk — Don’t know Joe Karbo! Will investigate, thanks!

  • 20 Croydon - John Retired July 1, 2014, 4:55 pm

    If only I could have my time over again, it would be, spend more time with the children and doing things with the family. I now have Grandchildren and see so much of what I missed peddling the Corporate treadmill.

    My daughter has just moved to Cornwall to live life as it should be, happy kids and tired parents. I am sure they now have less income, less job security but on the other hand have an improved lifestyle and none of the stresses of living in the SE.

    A brave decision on their part and which should be part of financial planning, where does happiness, lifestyle figure in a financial portfolio.

    Although now retired the world is now a very different place and you are right to question is or will it all be worth it?

  • 21 The Investor July 2, 2014, 5:41 pm

    @Croydon Jon — Many thanks for your thoughts, which have extra weight coming from your experience and your obviously eyes wide opened perspective.

    I don’t have kids and have no plans to have them. They’ve never appealed, which is a worry given how much meaning I’ve seen them give to so many older people’s lives.

    So it’s not clear to me what my ‘end game’ status will/should look like, compared to many people’s, let alone my ‘getting there’ status.

    But lots of food for thought.

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