Later this month it will be my twenty year anniversary with work. I honestly don’t know how that happened. I moved to Scotland around the Easter time and had already sorted out a job as a sales rep selling advertising for one of the free newspapers. I lasted all of three months in that job and realised that it wasn’t really for me. It was certainly an eye opener. Driving around various small towns in Fife and calling into small businesses. I used to have to go back to the office and ask what certain words meant. Divided by a common language doesn’t just apply to Britain and the States.
That was a really exciting time for me. I was moving up to live with the now ex husband. We’d met the year before and had a bit of a whirlwind romance. We met on a two week residential training course for BT, so effectively we had a holiday romance whilst getting paid to learn how to sell phone systems. We both fell pretty hard and pretty fast, so by the Christmas we were talking about whether he would move down to England or I would move up to Scotland. To be fair there wasn’t much of a discussion. After a fairly recent divorce I was ready for a fresh start. I’d always loved Scotland, and having devoured the Outlander books as a teenager I had a bit of a thing for all things Scottish and men in kilts! Also there’s a lot more job opportunities up in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas than there ever would be in Newcastle.
That was a fairly interesting year that I had. I did pretty much every stressful thing that you can think of. I got divorced, fell in love, learned to drive, moved countries, started four new jobs, moved house four times and got married. Oh, and turned thirty too, which at the time felt incredibly significant and a sign that I needed to sort my life, but with hindsight was me still being incredibly young and with most of my life still ahead of me. The funny thing is though that it didn’t feel stressful at all. It was one of the happiest times of my life. The world seemed full of possibilities. And because I hadn’t had kids with hubby number one the divorce felt incredibly freeing, although of course really sad too.
I had a flat in Newcastle that was on the market, but took a little bit of time to sell. I bought a flat a couple of miles from Newcastle city centre for £32k. I sold it three years later for more or less what I’d bought it for. I had one of the infamous Northern Rock 120% mortgages, but luckily I’d been very restrained and hadn’t borrowed any more than was absolutely necessary. The real reason I went for that type of mortgage was that it offered the opportunity to have a guarantor. I needed this as I was working through an agency and was sadly lacking a permanent contract. My dad duly stepped up and with him on the mortgage I was able to borrow what I needed for my first flat. The folks lent me the money for a deposit as well, so that I didn’t need to go anywhere near the amount Northern Rock were looking to throw at me. Maybe I wasn’t quite so disastrous with my money back in the day as I thought I was. Over the next two years I worked overtime whenever I could, regularly working extra at the start and end of my shift and every Saturday too. Within two years I’d saved up enough for pay back the money for the deposit. Very Sassenach Saving of me!
Although my now ex ex husband lived there with me it was me that bought the property. He was an absolute nightmare with money, and even way back then I knew it was a good idea to keep my finances to myself. I loved that flat. There’s something really magical about the first place you actually buy. It was so handy for town too, that I could just hop on a bus to get into Newcastle, but a lot of the time I’d just walk in. I was sad to sell it when I moved to Scotland. I did think about renting it out, and I guess my finances could look quite a bit different if I’d done that. I took out a twenty five year mortgage, as everybody did back then. That would have been all paid up next year, so if I’d kept it on a repayment basis then I would be about to be mortgage free on a two bedroom flat within walking distance of Newcastle city centre.
On a side note, it’s a really bad idea to go online and see what properties you’ve previously owned have subsequently sold for. I did this last year, and discovered that the person I’d sold it to for £32,000 had sold it about four years later for more than double what I’d got for it. And when you see that same flat is worth over £100k now it’s somewhat annoying. Oh well. I did sell as I thought it would be a hassle trying to manage things remotely.
I quickly realised that filling the paper week in and week out with ads for car garages, furniture shops and various tiny businesses was a thankless task that would quickly become dull. The most exciting thing about that job was the day’s training in Edinburgh in The Scotsman building. It was pretty exciting being in there and seeing the hustle and bustle of a large newspaper. Sadly the regional office where I worked was nothing like that.
I started to look around for other opportunities. Back then that’s what I used to do. I didn’t feel weighed down by responsibilities. I didn’t have kids, I certainly didn’t worry about pensions, investing or any of that stuff. The two of us were having a grand old time. Initially we were living on the outskirts of Edinburgh, so would have plenty of nights out in the city centre. We also made the most of nearby cycling opportunities, heading out on the bikes after work in the summer. We were having a grand old time being young(ish), in love and generally having a lovely time going out for meals, drinking and buying whatever we fancied.
That’s when we started building up credit card debt. Not horrendous in the grand scheme of things, but certainly not very Sassenach Saving of me. Neither of us was on great money, but we should most definitely have been able to manage if we hadn’t been going out so much and buying random things. That went on for a couple of years and then we had a word with ourselves. We started paying a set amount off each month and stopped spending more than we were earning. We were married by this stage and talking about starting a family a few years down the line. I think we both felt that a solid financial base would be better than racking up yet more credit card debt. I remember being very focussed on paying off that debt, and delighted when it was finally cleared. At that point we started overpaying the mortgage, so things were most definitely going in the right direction.
Although the internet was most definitely a thing back then, it wasn’t such an everyday part of people’s lives. You certainly weren’t going online with a phone, it was a big box in the corner of the room. Maybe if we were online more we would have discovered the whole FIRE thing. I remember obsessively reading a book about people changing their lives by downshifting. It was really something I was keen to pursue, but it was very short on practical advice. There was lots of talk of people getting big redundancy payouts and wafting around teaching yoga and the like. No real advice though for how to come up with a plan to get you to financial independence without a payout from work or a rich husband. Over the years I kept coming back to that book, but I could never figure out how to get to the place I wanted to be. Not until many years later anyway.
I can’t even remember how I discovered FIRE. I stumbled on The Minimalists by seeing their film on Netflix. From there I think I started seeing links for financial sites and I must have found FIRE from that. Who knows really. What I can’t believe is how long it took me, considering this movement is exactly what I am all about. I’ve long believed that money is a tool to buy you options. I’ve always known that stuff isn’t important to me and that I would rather have more time than more money. I might have lost my way slightly at times, but I’ve always been searching for a way to live my life without being consumed by work.
I might have come to my FIRE journey late, but I’m certainly committed now. My FIRE journey most definitely isn’t the most conventional. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, and am continuing to make choices that are right for me, but most definitely not the most efficient or perhaps even the most sensible. I guess that’s one of the things I love so much about this FIRE movement. Everybody’s journey is different, and that’s ok. We are all aiming for slightly different destinations, and will get there in a multitude of fashions. We’re not all the same, and I think we should embrace that. We can learn from each other, whilst accepting that’s what right for you might feel completely wrong to me. As long as we end up where we want to be and enjoy the ride then it’s all good.