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FIRE-side chat: Retiring early to travel the world in a motorhome

Image of a roaring wood fire

Today we’re kicking off our monthly interviews with Monevator readers who’ve achieved financial independence and/or early retirement (aka FIRE). In this debut episode, Mark Greene explains how a pretty conventional work-life and a lot of saving and investing unlocked an early and unusual retirement for himself and his wife. We hope it inspires you.

Also, I want to give a quick shout out to ESI Money, whose interviews with US millionaires inspired this series. Do check them out!

Okay, let’s get this show on the road – appropriately enough, as you’ll see…

A place by the FIRE

Hello Mark, thanks for sharing your life story with Monevator. To start with the basics, how old are you and yours?

I’m 51 and my wife is 57. We’ve been married for 28 years.

Do you have any dependents?

We never had children, and each have one surviving parent – mid-70s and mid-90s. Both are living independently at present and are not hugely reliant on us. Long may that last!

Whereabouts do you live and what’s it like there?

Since early 2020 we’ve been traveling. Most of the time we have been in our own motorhome. At present I am near the beach in the south of France, and it is very pleasant!

Did you have any second thoughts about FIRE – or traveling – given a global pandemic kicked off right at the same time?

If we had known the pandemic – and particularly the travel restrictions – were coming, it’s probable we would have delayed stopping work. That said, it suited both of us to have missed the ‘pivot the way you work’ that everyone else went through in the spring of 2020.

I’ve never had second thoughts about not working, but retiring early to travel was the main motivator for stopping work for my wife. She found the first few months under lockdown hard.

Now though, no regrets on either side!

When do you consider you achieved Financial Independence?

We retired in early 2020. I was 48 and my wife was 55. So I guess that was when we consider we reached financial independence. Whether our pot could have been considered ‘enough’ before there could be a point for discussion, but we worked to a particular date, rather than a particular amount – which we hope is more than enough.

My wife has done some very limited freelance work since, mainly to stimulate the brain than for the money.

I haven’t worked since. We have been filling our time with traveling, when allowed to do so through the pandemic.

Assets: only a little bit racy

What is your net worth?

We currently have about £1.1 million in investments, plus our house which is valued at about £600,000.

What are the assets that make up your net worth? Any mortgages or other debts?

In general terms, our main assets are:

  • One SIPP (invested in a range of stock and bond funds) £330,000
  • Three ISAs (invested in funds and many individual stocks) £635,000
  • Peer-to-peer lending (Funding Circle, Crowdstacker) £30,000
  • Property Investment Vehicle (Propertypartner) £55,000
  • Premium Bonds/cash £40,000
  • House £600,000
  • Total £1,690,000

One of us also has a small government pension due at 60. It’s worth a few thousand a year.

We have no mortgage or debts, other than current month credit card bills. These are paid off every month.

What was thinking behind the peer-to-peer investing?

Peer-to-peer was a way to diversify my asset allocation, chase a bit of a higher return, and to experiment with something new.

Tell me more…

Initially it was Funding Circle, which I was a big fan of until about three or four years ago. They diversified the loans automatically to spread risk, it was automated, and it provided good returns.

Funding Circle has switched off retail investors though, and now I’m just running down the balances as loans get repaid.

Crowdstacker was less liquid and very hard to diversify. A couple of loans defaulted and whilst supposedly asset-backed, the platform has had some real struggles realising value from the assets. Credit to Crowdstacker, I think they have managed it brilliantly, but I don’t expect to see much of those loans back.

My other loans with Crowdstacker have performed perfectly well though. I achieved rates of about 7% when the banks’ rates were under 1%.

Property Partner is another innovative finance platform. My investments are made into numerous companies that hold property and take capital gains and rental income, distributing dividends along the way. I really like the platform, and it affords me exposure to property (other than our former home) in a diversified way.

The property market has suffered through the pandemic. But again I’m very happy with how the management of the platform have handled it.

So much for digital property holdings – what about your main bricks-and-mortar residence?

Our former home is an Edwardian three-bed semi in a somewhat rural location in the Home Counties, near a commuter rail station. We own it and it is currently rented to a tenant while we travel.

Do you consider your home an asset, an investment, or something else?

While we are not living in it, we consider it an asset as the rent provides some of our income. Once we return to living in it, I would consider it part asset – as it has value – and part liability – because it costs money to live in.

Earning: doing it the traditional way

Tell us more about your old job…

I was in business consultancy and my wife was in training – of adults for professional exams.

Before this we both worked in local government jobs for a few years. That said, we had both done our last jobs for around 20 years when we retired.

…and your annual income?

Mine varied according to the success of my consultancy – I was self-employed – but probably averaged to about £60,000 of annual salary if it were a normal job. My wife was on a salary, which was about £80,000 at the end.

We have no formal income now. We live off our assets!

How did your career and salary progress over the years – and to what extent was pursuing financial independence (FI) part of your career plans?

We both switched careers and then progressed in earnings terms, though neither of our jobs had a traditional career ladder involving promotions and so on. For a few years my wife reduced her working hours slightly – and sacrificed salary – for a better work-life balance.

Other than seeking to maximise earnings in order to grow our assets, pursuing financial independence didn’t directly influence our plans.

Did you learn anything about building your career and growing income that you wished you’d known earlier?

We realised part way along the journey that it was better to work and earn less but stay sane, rather than go all out for a big income and suffer stress and other effects.

We delayed our FI date by a few years so that we could temper our workload – and spend a bit more on holidays – on the way.

Did you have any sources of income besides your main job?

No, we didn’t. We’ve had no significant sources of money other than our work – no side hustles and no inheritances.

Did pursuing FIRE get in the way of your career?

No, never. In fact the mental discipline required to plan for financial independence, and then execute on the plan every month, proved beneficial when applied to our professional careers too.

Saving: starting with an awesome budget

What is your annual spending? How has this changed over time?

Our baseline budget is just under £40,000. This goes up if we are on a major travel trip, but it’s all planned for in our mother-of-all-spreadsheets.

Do you stick to a budget or otherwise structure your spending?

Since we met 34 years ago, my wife has operated an awe-inspiring level of structure in our spending, so we have always budgeted and have always stuck to it. We allocate so much a month to various buckets of spending – food, drink, going out, bills, and so on – which smooth out big bills over the years and has allowed us to ensure we don’t spend on things we don’t really need, whilst still enjoying life.

What percentage of your gross income did you save over the years?

I have to say, I don’t know. It was lower when we started out as we earnt less and had a mortgage, but we never recorded what it was.

This was way before the days of the FIRE movement and an understanding of such numbers. We just saved as much as possible after we had funded the basic budget mentioned earlier. This meant any bonus, pay rise or a bumper year for my consultancy went into the FI pot – not on vanity purchases.

What’s the secret to saving more money?

My first ever financial advisor told us to find a level of life we were comfortable at, and then stick to that budget even if we earnt more, and to save the rest. That was arguably the best advice I have ever been given. In life and business we strove to spend less than we earned and to use the rest to grow an asset base.

I have also tracked our net worth for well over 20 years. Seeing it gradually increase as we paid down the mortgage and grew our investments was a good motivator to keep going.

Do you have any hints about spending less?

The game changed for us when we decoupled from the materialistic societal norms we are all surrounded by. The less we watched TV, read weekend newspapers or monthly magazines, the less we were exposed to ads telling us we would be happier if we only spent on X, Y, or Z.

Whilst all our peers were buying bigger houses, more cars or funding expensive hobbies, we were focusing on what we valued, which didn’t cost money – time together, simple hobbies, and so on.

Oh, and don’t have kids! That turned out to be a significant factor in our story.

Do you have any passions, hobbies, or vices that eat up your income?

Illustrative image of a motorhome: Retiring early to travel was a big motivation for this couple.
Retiring early to travel in a motorhome like this was a big motivation.

Our one guilty pleasure has been travel, which we have spent a lot on over the years. That said, we tend to travel cheaply – not backpacking, but definitely not five-star hotels and big meals out – so we can have a lot of experiences for what we spend.

We have banked some unbelievable memories from that spending.

Investing: starting outside a pension for early access later

What kind of investor are you?

My financial education started with the original Motley Fool in the mid-1990s, and then was influenced by Warren Buffet. So I have been primarily a buy-and-hold investor.

I started with managed funds, then moved into trackers as they became available and online trading became a thing.

For many years I did choose my own stocks. I’d buy in chunks of about £2,000 and try to build a diverse portfolio – although all were in the UK. Some were stars, and many were dogs…

Over the last ten years, as I learnt more and as the products developed, I have sought to consolidate into passive tracker funds. I’m a big fan now of Vanguard’s LifeStrategy funds.

What was your best investment?

In terms of headline percentage return from specific buys, Games Workshop, Novo Nordisk, and Unite Group have been big winners. But the actual return has hardly been life-changing.

Arguably my best investment decision was made firstly at 22 when I decided not to have a pension and invest in funds instead – so that I could access it early – and then a few years later deciding to manage it myself rather than through an adviser. That has made a huge difference in terms of that compounded percentage return over two decades of investing.

Can you tell us more about that decision not to invest in a pension?

When my decision not to have a pension was made in the mid-90s, SIPPs were never raised – even though they existed – and I’m not sure I knew enough to manage it all then. They were also not accessible at 55 at that time. And I knew I wanted the option to retire early, because of the age difference with my wife.

Once I had embarked on the ISA path, I just stuck with it for me – even when we were putting a lot into my wife’s SIPP.

Did you make any big mistakes on your investing journey?

If I had my time again, I would buy tracker funds from the off, not individual stocks. It was interesting to do, and made it partly a hobby. But for every tenfold grower like Games Workshop, there’s a total wipeout like Carillion or Laura Ashley.

As I mentioned earlier I also made some peer-to-peer loans that were in theory asset-backed, but were not immune to alleged illegal practice by company directors. I’ve mentally written off the loan, but court proceedings are continuing.

That bit where they say “you may not get your capital back” is there for a reason!

What has been your overall return?

My best guess would be an annual return of 4%, though I think it is probably a bit more. This includes keeping a reasonable amount in cash – over 20% of the portfolio – when interest rates were almost negligible, because we were approaching retirement. We wanted the security of knowing we were safe from sequence-of-returns risk in the first few years. It was also kind of handy when Covid broke the month we retired and the markets dropped 20%!

Listening to my own answer it strikes me that 4% doesn’t sound too great… But I have another rough calculation that suggests we more than doubled what we put in, partly through pension tax relief but mostly through compounding, because we’ve been doing this for over 20 years.

How much did you fill of your ISA and pension allowances?

Until we retired we filled our ISA contributions every year for most of the years. That – and compounding – is how we have amassed over £600,000 in ISAs.

I don’t have a pension at all so I never benefited from pension allowances. My wife has a SIPP. In the last few years of her working we maximized the contributions (including backdating) using cash we had accumulated.

That immediate uplift as a higher-rate tax payer is the best return we have ever had!

To what extent did tax incentives and shelters influence your strategy?

The tax rebate on the SIPP definitely influenced our decision to pour money in there in the last few years of working. Although the SIPP is just a wrapper, and the money would have been invested in the same thing in an ISA or in the pension.

How often do you check or tweak your portfolio or other investments?

Overall, I do a full evaluation every month, and have done for 30 years. This enables me to report our position to my wife, and to ensure I have an eye on the performance of individual investments.

In addition, I have a reasonable amount of our portfolio that I use to day trade on the ups and downs of the FTSE 100. This is my non-passive guilty secret!

Because of this part of the strategy, I am prone to checking the FTSE more than once a day. But I only ever do this around what we are already doing for the day.

Sometimes we will be off-grid and I don’t check for a week or more.

Wealth management: making it last

We know how you made your money, but what about keeping it?

The meeting of the two systems used by my wife and I enabled us to keep it.

My long-term spreadsheet and the plan to grow from nothing to our nominal £1 million retirement pot, coupled with her monthly budget and accessing only money available for planned spending meant we overcame the temptation to splurge or to fritter it away.

I was passionate about becoming financially independent and retiring early. That drove our behaviour every month, every week, and every day.

Which is more important, saving or investing?

Well, that depends what you mean by both terms. I see saving as money in the bank, investing as more risky options like funds or stocks. Saving is the essential first discipline, but bank interest rates will not grow enough to retire early. You need to take more risk and therefore invest.

When did you think you’d achieve financial freedom – and was it a goal with a timeline?

I thought it would be in my 50s. But then as the plan developed it became clear that with a fair wind it would be possible before that. The main driver was my wife’s age (she’s older), but I am proud to have got there in my 40s.

For the last ten years or so – once it was a clear goal with a very clear timeline – I told a LOT of people about. We really committed ourselves to it.

Did anything unexpected get in your way?

I’ve invested through three big recessions and crashes, though arguably that was expected – if unwanted – over a 25-year period.

Our life wasn’t without challenges, but from an investing sense nothing really got in the way.

Are you still growing your pot?

As we don’t have kids, our spreadsheet allows us to de-accumulate. But that could stretch out over a 50-year time frame or longer, so I am currently trying to maintain the pot.

With our spending heavily front-loaded so that we can make the most of retiring early – and with the tough market conditions since 2020 – that hasn’t always been easy. But we’re not too far off plan!

Do you have any further financial goals?

Ensuring the pot lasts long enough to pay the funeral bills, and not a moment longer. Who knows how far in the future that will be, so in the meantime I seek to do as well as I can with the assets we have accumulated. The targets are in my spreadsheet!

What would you say to Monevator readers pursuing financial freedom?

I genuinely wish Monevator had existed when I was in my 20s. There is so much more information available now, and it is so much easier to do with online platforms. My investing journey started before the internet.

A danger is though that one can spend too much time reading and learning, and not getting started.

Compounding is our greatest friend so, however small, start straight away and keep learning. Read and absorb and improve your strategy as you go.

Learning: starting young, headed to 100

When did you first start thinking seriously about money and investing?

At 22, when I took my first job and had to decide whether to have the company pension or not.

Did any particular individuals inspire you to become financially free?

My father was terrible with money and I didn’t want to be like him. I wanted the security of knowing I need never work again and I could live. That has always been my driver – because life is too short to waste working, even if you enjoy it.

Can you recommend your favourite resources for anyone chasing the FIRE dream?

Genuinely, Monevator! I think it is excellent and strikes exactly the right tone

If your only source of information – other than detailed personal tax and pension advice – was Monevator, you’d probably do well.

I am also now a massive fan of the Vanguard Life Strategy funds – inexpensive, easy to manage, and they take away the risk of paralysis by analysis. Rather than wasting hours optimizing the perfect asset allocation, trust Vanguard and spend the time earning more, learning more, or just enjoying your family.

Based on my own experience, I would work with a quality business or life coach to understand and plan what you really want from life and how you want to make it happen. The clarity that coaching gave me, on many occasions, changed my life.

What is your attitude towards charity and inheritance?

Being charitable is not just financial. I am intensely aware of our good fortune, and we have a budget (of course!) to make donations that help others.

We also now have the luxury of giving our time – either to support people we know, or to help organisations that have a broader impact. My life plan includes some form of major charitable service after we’ve finished traveling too.

Like everyone should we have also written our wills and they provide for charitable donations and inheritances for people we know who would benefit. We don’t have kids, so I guess we have less societal conditioning about who we leave our wealth to.

What will your finances ideally look like towards the end of your life?

Our plan allows for the money to last past our 100th birthdays. But the one thing I know for sure is that life never perfectly follows your plan.

We intend to enjoy the next 20 or 30 years as much as possible, and then anticipate a slowdown, but with enough funds to still enjoy life. If we go early and our beneficiaries gain, then so be it.

My dislike of the fees charged within the financial sector means we will probably avoid any managed products like annuities – but never say never. I enjoy learning about money and managing our finances, and I hope I have the acuity to do so for a very long time.

I guess the dream remains to have a wonderful life (which we do) without diminishing the pot.

So there you have it readers! FI by 50 and retiring early to travel and enjoy life on the road with his wife while they’re both young enough to make the best of it. Questions and reflections – on the concept of these FIRE-side interviews generally or on Mark’s journey specifically – are welcome below. But please do remember Mark is not a hardened Internet warrior like me and he is just sharing his story to inspire others, not to feed the trolls. Of course you can disagree constructively, but please keep that in mind. Thanks!

{ 49 comments… add one }
  • 1 Mic January 12, 2023, 12:33 pm

    Hi Mark and Monevator,

    Really grateful for Mark for sharing his experiences and advice in specific details. Count that as a very valuable charitable work that you have just done! I picked up a few gems (eg find a level of living you are comfortable with and just maintain it, active investing is hard to make a life-changing difference to the returns without undue risks – I’m doing active investing and can see how hard it is to beat the market). I love travelling too and it is inspiring to see that how Mark and his wife achieve their goals.

    Mark, happy travelling and enjoy your post-working life. Look forward to more interviews from Monevators.

  • 2 Mike January 12, 2023, 12:36 pm

    Brilliant read. That’s a hell of a pot for one of the FIRE crowd! Very jealous of that ISA

  • 3 Alan January 12, 2023, 1:37 pm

    Great article – thanks for putting it together and to Mark for sharing his story. It reads as a very calm and logical way to retire early. Really nice to hear that retirement=lots of travel which is my plan too. In common with Mark and his wife my partner and I have no children too which clearly can have a huge impact on financial plans around retirement. Thanks again and I look forward to the next interview!

  • 4 Ralph January 12, 2023, 1:51 pm

    Great post. Thanks for that Mark (&TI). Whilst not being in exactly the same situation as you, I am in a similar one. I’m also traveling but still have to work as my portfolio isn’t quite big enough to support the family just yet. Luckily I can do everything from my laptop so it’s not a massive issue. And like you I’m also a massive fan of Lifestrategy, but as I’m not classed as UK resident I can’t find anywhere that will let me invest in the UK versions. As a result I was thinking about going for the European versions as they come in ETF format so available just about everywhere. The problem is the bond section of the portfolio seems to be heavily concentrated in Euros so I can’t bring myself to take the plunge because I’m worried about the pound strengthening against the euro. Presently, I pair a global tracker with a UK bond fund and try to maintain an 80/20 allocation but I really really struggle with it. I always find an excuse not to add to the bond fund. I almost feel like it’s worth taking the currency risk with a European Lifestrategy ETF to make sure I have enough bonds/cash. Is this a problem you’ve faced and if so how did you deal with it?

  • 5 Mike January 12, 2023, 1:51 pm

    Just to say thank you to Mark and to Monevator for this interview – really enjoyed it and the transparency was especially useful, and different from other pieces I’ve seen. When you’re working towards something but it still feels a distant prospect, stories like this are an encouragement to keep going! More please.

  • 6 AfroLatino January 12, 2023, 2:23 pm

    Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks Monevator for the idea and Mark for sharing.

  • 7 David January 12, 2023, 2:25 pm

    I really enjoyed this. Thank you to both of you.
    Nice set of questions TI. I would be really interested to hear how people have approached the question of “Do I have enough?” – which tools and approaches they used and how they got comfortable with the answer psychologically. It would also be interesting to understand people’s asset allocation (eg % of asset categories within SIPP’s and ISA’s) and how they have changed that allocation in the run up to retirement. Looking forward to other interviews in the series. Thanks!

  • 8 Bellabeck January 12, 2023, 2:28 pm

    Really interesting article, thanks Mark for your candour. One thing I am curious about is how you take income from your Vanguard Life Strategy funds. do you sell down units to equal approximately 4% return? I have Vanguard Life Strategy funds in my Sipp but this remains uncrystallised so for the time being it is compounding.

  • 9 Dave Martin January 12, 2023, 3:09 pm

    That was an excellent article. Gives me real hope that my journey is going in the correct direction! Glad to see that I am not the only person that keeps track of my net worth in a spreadsheet.

  • 10 G January 12, 2023, 3:11 pm

    Great story. I too took away the “find a level of life you are comfortable with and stick to it” idea. I’m also struck by how collaborative the two spouses were on the financial front – that must have helped a lot.

    Obviously a tidy FIRE pot – and while the careers may have been conventional, the salaries certainly weren’t which could risk bringing out the naysayers. But overall, more of these FIRE-side chats.

  • 11 The Investor January 12, 2023, 3:26 pm

    @all — Great to hear our first Q&A has largely hit the spot it seems. Thanks for all the comments so far. I’m hopeful Mark will be able to come in and provide some answers over the next day or two.

    Re: the naysayers, well I understand when people have a problem with a TikTok video saying “I achieved FIRE on $13,000 in five years, and you can too!” But that isn’t what this article (or this site) is about. It’s about choosing how and where you earn, save, invest and deploy your money and to what purpose.

    Here we have a couple of fairly high earners who decided to save a lot and invest with the goal of retiring pretty early. That was their choice, and this was how they achieved it. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. 🙂

  • 12 Mark January 12, 2023, 4:05 pm

    Thanks everyone for the kind comments – I was nervous about putting out all of our story!

    @Ralph – although we have travelled, we are UK residents so have not had any restrictions. I empathise with the uncertainty over committing to foreign currency risk as I have some priced in dollars and a couple in euros. Not buying in carries a “missing out” risk too. One thing we can both be sure of – we can’t perfectly time the market, except by luck!

    @Bellabeck – we currently only draw a nominal pension from the SIPP – we had cash reserves built up for the first few years to avoid sequence of returns risk early on. As yet, we haven’t had to sell anything to fund our lifestyle – we’ve lived on cash reserves, income from investments, and income from the house rental. When the time comes, yes I would expect to sell units to fund the income – probably trying to do so when/if market is at a local high and then having a year or more of run rate in cash.

    @G – we were certainly lucky enough to finish our careers on higher earnings, but that wasn’t always the case. Like growing the net worth, we had thirty years of steady increases (most years) – and it all builds up!

  • 13 TomS January 12, 2023, 5:24 pm

    Great story, Mark. You are living the dream for sure. We retired in mid-22 after a two-year COVID-induced delay kept my British wife working a couple more years because we couldn’t travel anyways.
    We love travel, and love Europe (we’re in US – I’m a Yank). Have considered RV’ing, but have always been hesitant. Reading your story is inspiring, and making me feel like we should “just do it.”

    From your interview, it sounds like you don’t stay in your RV every night – sometimes get a hotel room? How do you balance that out? How do you find the overall experience of being full-time on the road? Do you stay put for long periods at a time? Have you evolved any type of seasonal cycle, where you like one place for a certain time of the year, and then move on to the next one for the next period? Keep on travelin’!!

  • 14 Hak January 12, 2023, 5:52 pm

    Wow, 40k spending per year is considered frugal. Wow.

  • 15 Hak January 12, 2023, 5:55 pm

    The salaries are also way out of the range for most normal folk. 80k per year when the average person outside London (center of the universe according to most round here) is 3 or 4 times what mormal foll earn. FIRE is a objective for the higher earners. I say this as someone that hit FI at 29 but has still not retired because they enjoy their job.

  • 16 The Rhino January 12, 2023, 6:42 pm

    Great story, really inspiring. I’m wondering whether there are any stories that include kids in the pipeline? They bring additional FI challenges, not just in terms of cold numbers but also in the guilt associated with potential future liability unknowns. Interesting to know if anyone has conquered those demons somehow on their FI journey?
    Re: @Hak there is enormous variation on spending across the spectrum here, I was re-reading this -> https://firevlondon.com/2020/02/23/how-much-is-enough/ recently for perspective. I personally spend approx same (possibly tiny bit less) but thats to cover a family of four. I wouldn’t say 40k is outrageous, and I don’t think any frugal claim was made?
    Also, salaries don’t seem too crazy either, 2 to 2.5 x median salary isn’t shooting the lights out at the right-most end of the salary distribution? Agreed, it helps massively if you’re *both* earning that and not getting hit by the double whammy of kids plus loss of one salary..

  • 17 The Investor January 12, 2023, 6:47 pm

    @Rhino @Hak — Hak has successfully raised the straw man I mentioned just a few comments above. There was no claim from Mark that they achieved this on a lifelong low income. There was no claim that their life now is frugal, so why bring it up?

    I am leaving @Hak’s comments up to represent that view, but if anyone else wants to raise this sort of thing then please do it in a much more thoughtful and relevant way — otherwise I’ll just be deleting as off-topic and presumably deliberately unpleasant for no purpose.

  • 18 xxd09 January 12, 2023, 8:08 pm

    Mark-great story-brave to put the details out there -but it’s how others learn!
    Americans do this a lot Brits rather less so -so good to see it here in a U.K. blog
    Rhino -I fired at 57 having raised 3 kids -so it can be done
    Not as brave as Mark re going into exact financial details but to all intents and purposes trod much the same path albeit with the extra child costs involved
    (If you have to have kids have them as early as possible, have them close together and no more than 3-my credo anyway!)
    It’s always interesting to know what motivates investors to undertake certain lifestyle choices ie FIRE -that require great effort and that have a successful outcome

  • 19 WCTL Flashheart January 12, 2023, 9:53 pm

    What a fab article, Mark and TI. Thank you. I was particularly drawn to your comment “If I had my time again, I would buy tracker funds from the off”. This is exactly the point I’ve now reached on the journey to ‘my time’.

    I’m lucky enough to earn a good salary but I’ve worked my arse off to get it. From shift work to working overseas to extra responsibilities throughout my career… For the past few years I’ve put in as much as I can. I have loads of NSDs (No Spending Days) throughout the month. I pack my own lunch. You name it. I just cut out the needless spending. But I don’t bat an eyelid when opening the wallet to have fun.

    Inspirational. It can be achieved. I’m looking forward to it!

  • 20 Passive Investor January 12, 2023, 10:00 pm

    Thanks @mark. I liked that you mentioned spending less than you earn. I know quite a few very well earning people who don’t which always amazes me. My first investment was £25 a month into the M&G recovery fund c 1989. It felt like a fortune at the time but set me off on the right path and I found ‘trackers’ (ie index funds) in the mid-90s The thing that no one has mentioned is divorce. I’ve seen so many colleagues have their financial plans ruined in their 50s. There’s some luck involved there for sure but the middle-aged man can be prone to creating his own bad luck too!

  • 21 Mark January 12, 2023, 10:24 pm

    @TomS – this probably isn’t the blog to go into too much detail on full time living in a motorhome, but to briefly answer your question, our “normal” is to stay in the motorhome. VERY occasionally we stay in a friend’s house for a night or so. We haven’t felt the need to stay in hotels when we’re travelling – yet.
    @Passive Investor. – staying married (so far!) is probably the smartest financial decision I ever made…

    Thanks again for the responses – even the challenges – it is interesting to see how people react to the story.

  • 22 Nimbus January 13, 2023, 12:05 am

    Bravo. A superb start to what I hope is a long line of interesting interviews. I was a bit sceptical when the idea was first mooted, fearing a series of willy waving FIRE side chats but I needn’t have worried. It would be interesting to hear from people whose FIRE plans didn’t exactly go to plan, as we can all learn from those as well. We fired a couple of years ago, different circumstances and with a tighter budget but absolutely no regrets. The only thing we really miss is ‘feeling useful’ but a few days charity work here and there certainly helps us both.

  • 23 Dips January 13, 2023, 1:08 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. Wishing you all the best for the life ahead.

  • 24 britinkiwi January 13, 2023, 4:00 am

    Great article – thanks to Mark and TI for hosting.

    Very motivational for everyone’s unique and individual journey.

    One of my less than great investing decisions was to get the prospectus when Games Workshop was going public and then not buy the shares – and I say this as someone who has a fair few small plastic painted miniatures around the house….

  • 25 mr_jetlag January 13, 2023, 5:15 am

    Awesome story. Thank you Mark and Monevator. If this isn’t already part of the upcoming book, seriously consider putting one out with stories like these.

    @Mark, your journey so perfectly encapsulates everything I love about financial independence. We decided to have kids and have accepted the compromises that made to FI for us. Right now is probably the peak of our child related expenses but in 5-7 years we will be ready for that campervan / Eurail pass / rtw ticket!

    @Hak, FI is not for high earners only. Am sure you’re aware of the LeanFIRE and BaristaFire movements. Everyone should try to maximise income and live within their means. Kudos to Mark for putting real numbers to his retirement – I do think that’s “frugal” given his love of travel and new experiences. On a 1m pot that’s bang on 4%, not sure what the problem is there…

  • 26 Mark January 13, 2023, 7:33 am

    @Hak – it would be great to hear your story in one of these articles. To hit FI at 29 is impressive, and it’s great that you still want to work. I am sure we could all learn from your experience.

  • 27 AsianFire January 13, 2023, 9:10 am

    Thank you for sharing Mark. I’m currently temporary firing with my wife and son in Asia. Son is preschool age so we are doing it until we have to pick a place to settle for his schooling. (The opposite of @mr_jetlag)

    For all those who might struggle to get a £1.7M portfolio together, three of us are living pretty comfortably off one worth less than half of that. In fact, I would go so far as to say we are living better than we ever did in the UK. Basically, because the price of living over here is so much lower.

    @Mark – I hope I’m not being rude when I ask this, but I wondered if you had an idea why you’ve only returned 4%? It seems like you did everything right and the average during your investing period would be more like 9 or 10%. Perhaps a bit less if you had 20% of your money in cash. (At the end of the day you didn’t need higher returns anyway!)

    @Ralph – You’ve asked a question we’ve been thinking about. We haven’t decided if we are going back to the UK or not. We may not but we have all our money in the EU Lifestrategy ETFs you mentioned for pretty much the same reason. The other option we’ve looked at is the iShares versions, but these are actively managed & ESG. Neither of which I’m comfortable with. Whenever I’ve researched it currency fluctuations seem to be a short term affair so if you are investing for the long term some Euro bias shouldn’t be too much of a problem. There was also an article on here a few months ago by Finumus who said the £ was a risk on currency anyway. (so Euro’s might just be better than £s when the next big crash occurs.) I’d be interested to hear what the Investor thinks about this.

    @TI – Do you think investing in EU Lifestrategy ETFs with their euro bias (on the bond side) is a big risk when investing over the long term?

    @David – We used the 4% rule (which has been written about on this site a few times) to decide how much we needed and that seems to be working out just fine so far. In reverse – how much money do you need to live off in a year? £30K. Multiply by 25 to tells you how much you need. In this case £750K. People argue about the fine details of this all the time but in my opinion it provides a good enough ball park figure to work with.

  • 28 Nathan January 13, 2023, 10:51 am

    Thanks Mark, well done. I really enjoyed your story, no drama, heroics or ego. A dare I say very textbook FIRE story that feels like it could have been me or any of the cohort of people that I went to university with, if we’d got our act together.
    Just shows what a long-term plan, shared goals and no self sabotage can achieve.
    I think the unusual aspects of the story are as you hint, the purposeful budgeting and investment 30 years ago.
    IRL I’ve never met anyone that budgets and invests even though the information has been freely available for the last 15 or so years. 30 years ago there really was nothing, well done!
    I’m somewhat curious about the role life coaching played in your story, as again I think it’s one of those things you were ahead of the curve on, I wasn’t even aware such a thing existed until a couple of years ago.

  • 29 Chris January 13, 2023, 11:17 am

    Thank you for sharing Mark. Very interesting and informative. My greatest expense and joy was three children so it took me till I was 59!

  • 30 Seeking Fire January 13, 2023, 11:48 am

    Very interesting article.

    Your withdrawal amounts seem fairly safe – 2% WR for now although as and when you decide to give up being in a motor home you would be back up to roughly 4%.

    Presumably you are both due to be able to withdraw a state pension at 67 which combined will be another £20k (?) that given your spending is another substantial cushion? Or did I miss something?

    I’ve gotta say the interviews seem much more real when there’s actual numbers put against it.

    Congrats for getting out there and pulling the pin!

  • 31 G January 13, 2023, 11:53 am

    FI can certainly be done on less (and I hope we’ll see stories of how others have managed it as part of this series), I managed it myself before the age of 50. It required some consider luck and frugality along the way – and point taken from Mark about their incomes not always being so high.

    A possible question for future interviewees: if you were starting from now, what might change for you? The opportunities/challenges/context are not the same now as they were back then.

  • 32 SemiPassive January 13, 2023, 1:12 pm

    Really great to hear these real life stories, and hope it becomes a regular thing. This couple are knocking it out of the park, so well done.
    The numbers seem to tie with my own thoughts that (if wanting to remain a UK resident) for a comfortable but not particularly lavish lifestyle your combined net worth will need to be in the ball park of £1 million investments plus whatever your house/home is worth.
    So owning a fancy UK pad and you will need a household net worth of closer to £2 million, or a modest abode in a cheap area then perhaps a little over £1 million.

    Touching upon Hak’s point, I guess it is all doable without extremely high earnings, but only if you start young.
    In contrast my net worth aged 30 was effectively zero (in fact at one point I had £10k in credit card debt and car loans, so it was negative!) I can only imagine where I’d be now if I’d focussed the same way Mark has.
    It has taken a significant jump in income from my late 30s onwards to be able to catch up with anything like where I should be, and having no kids certainly helps.
    So let’s not pretend FIRE is easy to do if you stay on the average UK wage for your entire working life. I’d say having a top 10% income for at least a significant chunk of your career would really assist greatly, and a top 20% income would be a minimum.

    As for peer to peer property backed lending, some relatives have faced total loss of thousands of pounds due to some of these charlatan-run schemes (see what happened to House Crowd for instance, and that happening in a property bull market).
    The risk/return ratio was appalling vs equities or the junkiest of junk bonds.
    The myth was that the loans were backed by physical property, or at the very least land and part builds. The reality is admininstrators and first tier corporate lenders hoover up everything and the Joe Public mugs lose the lot.
    Some of this crap was even packaged up as an ‘Innovative Finance’ ISA.

  • 33 BBBobbins January 13, 2023, 1:42 pm

    Thanks for the story. I’d be interested in the asset/liability end of the motorhome thing as well given it is one of my retirement plans (but at the moment seems a lot of capital to tie up). I think more stories of what people are practically drawing down will assist me in making decisions around trigger pulling.

  • 34 Boltt January 13, 2023, 2:04 pm


    We bought a tag axle 2 year old motorhome in 2013 for £44k, px’d it for £37k in 2019 for another 2 year old tag axle (£60k) – just sold in in November for £63k.

    Depreciation is usually more gentle on motorhomes than cars but the recent appreciation of vehicles due to covid/supply chains etc seems very strange, and may not continue.

    New motorhomes seem to have increased 40% over the last 3-4 years

    1- About £1k a year for insurance, servicing, habitation check, maintenance etc
    2- historically low depreciation ~ 5% but who knows starting from here
    3- damp is a real problem and can materially affect values
    4- build quality can be an issue
    5- it can be a lot of money tied up in a risky asset
    6- very freeing and fantastic for touring Europe especially with an ACSI card

    I’m half looking to buy another but will try a smaller van conversion this time and hopefully tie up less cash

    Good advice I never followed was hire a van a few time to see what layout you can live with


  • 35 Fage January 13, 2023, 2:44 pm

    @AsianFire. If Mark started investing in the late 90s then unitized returns would be typically lower than 10%. If you look in US dollar terms, the S&P has delivered only about 6.4% since 2000, US bonds 5%. FTSE All share around 4.8%. So all rather modest. Add in some fees, some drag from 20% cash as he mentions. It’s wasn’t all one way like it’s been over the last decade.

    Hits me that a 4% withdrawal rate is fairly high. He’s very vulnerable to stagnant real returns which seems easier to imagine now. I suppose he has the property to downsize, pensions to fall back and no children to support.

  • 36 BBBobbins January 13, 2023, 3:52 pm


    Yes the crazy antidepreciation is somewhat scary for someone entering the market. Fine if it were to sustain but a potential double whammy to be had in adjustment. Contemplating doing a van conversion myself (at least would know build quality and could pick the base vehicle) but would really want to winterize properly.

  • 37 SirRik January 13, 2023, 4:39 pm

    Bravo Mark! A clear and personal explanation, really nice to be read. Hope to see you here in Italy too, around Venice 😉
    Thanks to TI for this initiative too. As usual, a big “Ciao!” from Italy to you all.

  • 38 Mark January 13, 2023, 4:50 pm

    @AsianFire – Fage has given some of what I may have said to explain my apparent low returns. We also had more of our portfolio in “less risky” assets to reflect our combined toleration of risk, at a time when it was hard to get any real return from cash. I also didn’t keep good enough records in the early days to really get a complete idea. And, for me and maybe not for anyone else, I don’t really mind. I have enough, that was the key measure.
    @Chris – congrats on the three kids, sounds like it made FI worth the wait!
    @Seeking Fire – I think my pension will be at 68, but broadly yes, you’re right that will give us another injection of income/reducing the withdrawal rate when the time comes.

    Thanks again everyone for the comments – I feel very supported in the journey…

  • 39 ekanomikAL January 13, 2023, 8:40 pm

    Firstly huge congratulations to you and your wife Mark. Fantastic achievement and very inspirational as my wife and I have very similar aspirations. It is hugely helpful to see such detailed insights as most FI blogs tend to be US based so it has always made me question whether it is possible in the UK. My numbers tell me it is but articles like this provide intangible reassurance that it will be ok. Thanks to TI for hosting, look forward to more of these articles in the future.

    A final point to remember for those not on the same income as the example above is that FI is all relative. Mark and his wife have clearly identified a level of income that make them happy in retirement and aimed for that as their goal. Whether that’s unachievable for some or most of the working age population in the UK is irrelevant as it is still possible to enjoy a very comfortable retirement on far far less than £40k per year in the UK. It all depends on what makes you happy, manage your expectations, and assidulously planning for current and future outgoings as Mark and his wife have expertly demonstrated over decades.

  • 40 JDW January 13, 2023, 9:05 pm

    So good to read this – living the dream @Mark! Thank you for sharing. Great inspiration for sure.

    I won’t go too deep into campervan ownership, but my partner and I got a secondhand converted Nissan NV200 with 6000 miles on the clock about six years ago for just over £20k, jacked in our jobs and hit the road for a year around Europe. Best thing I’ve ever done (with finding this blog not far behind), and it actually set me on the way to frugal living and increased savings.

    @Boltt’s posts on ownership are brilliant and on the money. It has been fairly economical to run, but has been a perfect little vehicle. I think in the next few years will look to p/x to upsize to an Auto Trail Expedition or similar, money permitted of course. Certainly my FI aim is to be able to go away whenever we feel, cheaply and longer – at least ten years away still I suspect.

    Thanks again.

  • 41 The Hare January 13, 2023, 10:07 pm

    Would really appreciate the template of Mrs FIRE Motorhome’s spreadsheets if she is okay sharing. Plus would love her to write a few posts for Monevator if she is up for it.

    Thanks so much both.

  • 42 LALILULELO January 16, 2023, 10:26 am

    Just wanted to echo the other comments in saying this was a fantastic post. Really enjoyed it and appreciated the detail. Every journey is so different and its helpful and encouraging to read all about them. Can’t wait for the next installment!
    Safe travels Mark, have a glass of something nice for us all!

  • 43 Cal January 17, 2023, 12:46 pm

    Great tale – thank-you Mark. Can you elaborate on life coaching, if possible, please: how did you source someone you could trust; did you approach it with specific goals or generally thought it could be of benefit; was the focus personal, professional or both?
    I’ve heard numerous times that people found significant value in doing this kind of thing but feel that sticking ‘Life coach’ in Google and going for a top pick is an almost certain way for some guru to swiftly extract money out of my FIRE plan. Thoughts appreciated.
    Cheers again.

  • 44 Mark January 17, 2023, 2:07 pm

    @Cal – I saw someone featured in the paper one weekend and went to her company. I have used several over the years, they generally offer a free session to get to know them and discuss what you are looking for. You could also seek personal recommendations from people you know, especially anyone running a small business who does business networking as they will probably have met a few.
    I have sometimes gone with a specific issue, and at other times just had a few months to work through particular plans or transitions. There are charlatans out there, but there are an awful lot of good, qualified, really useful coaches too. Good luck!

  • 45 weenie January 18, 2023, 12:28 pm

    What a great read and inspiring story – thanks very much for sharing, Mark (and TI, for asking great questions) and good luck for the rest of your retirement.

    Things are probably a little more challenging for me as I’m going it alone and don’t have a partner to contribute towards the pot or share the bills with.

    That said, “find a level of life you are comfortable with and stick to it” really resonates with me and is pretty much where I’m at, so I will continue to plug away towards my goal.

  • 46 Nicola January 18, 2023, 8:59 pm

    Great interview!!
    it would be nice if in the future you will delve a bit more into the retirement budget management side of things. I know it might be boring for a certain audience but the real juice should be there 😉 in this case, for example, they say that they front-load their expenses: it makes sense to spend more when you are younger but…how do they deal with the sequence of return risk? Aren’t they afraid that an early bear market will irreversibly compromise the portfolio ability to generate future returns if they spend more today?
    Anyway, it served me as an inspiration to write about the Safe Withdrawal Rate here: https://theitalianleathersofa.com/the-swr-is-dead-long-live-the-swr/

  • 47 Mark January 19, 2023, 8:53 am

    @Weenie – Thank you for your kind wishes – and best of luck with plugging away to your goal. I imagine it must be harder being on one income though it does me you can plough your own furrow and not be concerned about a partner’s spending or attitude to risk!

    @Nicola – I was aware of the issue of sequence of returns risk, so hedged as best I could by having some income from outside the portfolio (house rental) and a fair bit of cash – I currently think I can last into 2026 without having to sell shares to cover income. Time for a bear to come and go, perhaps!

  • 48 Nicola January 19, 2023, 9:48 am

    so a “glidepath like” solution (at least that’s how I would frame it in my head), cause I assume you were not running such a big cash balance while you were growing the pot. Make sense! Enjoy the trip!!!

  • 49 mwb January 22, 2023, 10:29 am

    Thanks very much Mark, Mrs Mark, and TI for sharing this; it’s great. I love hearing how people have really done it in details and numbers. Well done!
    Thanks also to others who have commenting, particularly Bollt for anyone hankering for campervan life.
 I hope we hear other popular retirement dream goals – such as living by the sea, moving to “the country”, opening a B&B, moving abroad to cheaper places, etc. Successful ones, less than successful, I am sure it would be interesting to your thoughtful and ears-open readers.

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