Late Starter to FI series #23 – Retire Early with a Low Income

Welcome to the Late Starter to FI series!

I am a Late Starter – I did not discover FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) concept until I was 47. This was way later, I thought than others who seem to have it all together in their 20s and 30s.

Since I started to write about my own journey, I have discovered there are many more Late Starters like me, yay! It is such a relief knowing I am not alone. 

I want to share our stories, our unique perspectives and show that it is absolutely not too late for us.

So in this series, I particularly highlight those of us who start our FI journeys in our 40s, 50s and 60s. And explore questions such as ‘where do we start’, ‘can we still retire early(ish)’, ‘what are the specific challenges for us late starters’. We look at our past, not to castigate ourselves but so that you can learn from us.

Please join in the conversation in the comments below. I encourage you to share your story if you fit the profile of a late starter. You absolutely don’t have to be a blogger or podcaster to share your story. 

Please email me at info@latestarterfire.com or connect with me on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram.

And if you’ve missed any of the previous stories, you can catch up here – Late Starter to FI series

Retire Early on a Low Income
Photo by Connor Mollison on Unsplash

Today’s late starter is Sassenach Saving from Scotland, UK.

She writes about her late starter journey towards FIRE on her blog, Sassenach Saving. And can also be found on Twitter.

 

I just love that there are late starters to FIRE from all over the world – while our pension funds may have different names, we essentially share the same struggles and come to the same realisations that FIRE is possible, even after a late start.
 
Here is Sassenach Saving in her own words:

A little about me

I’m Sassenach Saving. I’m English but I’ve lived in Scotland for twenty years, hence the Sassenach part of my name. (Sassenach is a term used by the Gaelic inhabitants of the British Isles to refer to the English inhabitants)
 
I’m a Mortgage Advisor and have worked for the same company as long as I’ve been north of the border.
 
I just turned 50, so I’m definitely taking my time to reach FIRE.
 
I’m a single parent to two teenage boys. It’s just been the three of us since they were two and three, so we’re a pretty tight unit. They like to mock me for my FIRE aspirations, but when I hear them talking about how they’ll manage their finances, I know they’ve been paying a lot more attention than they’ve let on.
 
I love running, so you’ll quite often hear me banging on about how much fun it is. I often think the best part of my weekend is 9.30 on a Saturday morning when I’m toeing the line at a parkrun. I like to visit different parkruns around the country. Before lockdown, I hit the magical number of twenty different locations, which makes me officially a parkrun tourist. Sadly no parkrunning just now, but I still manage to meet up with friends for some socially distanced running.
 

Lightbulb moment(s)

I’ve  been interested in keeping an eye on my finances for a long time now, but didn’t discover the whole FIRE movement until much later. I read a book when I was 27 called Getting A Life, The Downshifter’s Guide to Happier Simpler Living by Polly Ghazi and Judy Jones. Well I say I read it - really devoured it would be a more accurate description.

That was my moment where I should have discovered FIRE. If the internet had been a thing then I could have gone online and found out about all these other people doing what I wanted to do. I would have got cracking and working for a living could have been a dim and distant memory for me by now.

Instead it took me another twenty years to actually discover some strategies to get to where I wanted to be. The book was very inspirational, but it seemed to be predicated on the idea that you would receive a nice big redundancy payout or have a rich partner who could support your dreams.

I had neither, and the book was very short on practical advice. If it had just said you need to spend less than you earn and invest in index trackers then that would at least have got me started.

Sadly though, it took me until I was 47 to discover FIRE. I'm still not entirely sure how this happened. I watched The Minimalists film on Netflix, got into their podcast and one of them was about managing your finances. That piqued my interest and I fell down some sort of Personal Finance online rabbit hole which eventually led me to FIRE.

It felt like something I'd been searching for my whole life. I was a bit sceptical at first, as I didn't really seem to fit the profile of a FIRE person. But I quickly realised that there isn't just one route to FIRE, and in fact it can even mean different things to different people. For me, FIRE is a way for me to try to reclaim my time. I don't hate my job (always!) but I don't love it either.

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From 'never able to retire' to new goals

I am in a great position to have a final salary pension. Unfortunately whilst I was working part time and on a much lower grade job than I am now, they capped my salary in terms of my pensionable pay. So my pension is based on when I was working part time and only earning about £17k a year. I’m now earning in the low thirties, but that isn’t helping my pension figure.

When I discovered FIRE, I was pretty much resigned to the fact that I would almost never be able to retire. Three years later I am confident that I can definitely retire at 60. Not exactly retiring early, but much better than my previous situation.

I’m now working on being able to reduce the number of days a week that I work. My current goal is to try to figure out a way to be able to go part time when I’m 56. I’d love to stop altogether, but I can’t quite get the figures to add up for that. Not yet anyway.

Looking back ...

It’s taken me awhile to get to where I am now with my finances. Whilst I’ve never been a massive spender, I’ve also never earned a brilliant salary, so there’s never been all that much left over to save.

Even when I was married and so we had two salaries coming in, there never seemed to be all that much money around. Maybe I just wasn’t quite as good at managing the finances as I am now.

In the early years of being married, we built up a fair amount of credit card debt and then decided to do something about that. We spent a couple of years being pretty frugal and getting ourselves debt
free. We then moved on to tackle the mortgage with plenty of overpaying getting done.

We would have been doing pretty well, I think if we’d kept doing that.  We didn’t have masses of spare cash, and then add a couple of kids into the mix and there was even less money to go around. We were still doing pretty well though and throwing extra money at the mortgage every month.

Divorce is never great on the finances. And particularly so when you’ve got two tiny kids, it means you need to try and juggle working and child care. I had eight years of working part time and quite frankly I wasn’t making enough to cover what I was spending.

Luckily I’d made a chunk of cash when we’d sold the family home and the kids and I had moved into something a bit smaller. I had to keep dipping into my savings, so I was going backwards financially, but at least I kept our heads above water and I was able to spend time with the kids when they were little.

Although financially that was a disastrous time for me I wouldn’t change it for the world. The three of us are so close, and I’ve always been very open with the kids about money. They know that I work hard for my money and that it isn’t to be wasted.

I worked a completely soul sucking call centre job for eight years to work around child care needs. It nearly destroyed me, but it allowed me to be there to collect the kids from school and spend lots of time with them. For me it was the right decision, but in terms of reaching FIRE it has definitely made things tricky.

Read more of My Very Meandering Road to FIRE

First steps on the path to FI

I’ve overpaid my mortgage for a long time, even when I didn’t really have enough to live on. Every time the interest rate on my mortgage dropped, I would just keep paying what I had been previously. My view was that I’d been managing before, so why would I not just keep paying that. So that was happening even before I knew what FIRE was.

I always took advantage of share purchase schemes at work. That has most definitely been a mixed blessing as I work for a bank. The least said about that the better. It did however get me in the mindset of investing.

It’s only been in the last year that I’ve finally taken the plunge and got into index trackers. I honestly don’t know what took me so long. I could give myself a good hard shake for the time I’ve wasted. I can’t change the past though, only the future is (sort of) under my control. Onwards and upwards as I like to say.

Earlier this year I decided to change my financial strategy from overpaying my mortgage as much as I can to putting more into my AVC* (Additional Voluntary Contribution) fund. As I am lucky enough to have a staff base rate mortgage it seems ridiculous to be paying that off more quickly than I need to.

From a purely financial point of view my new plan makes perfect sense, but from a peace of mind point of view I’m not quite so sure. I’m still overpaying a little bit, but the money I’ve freed up from reducing my monthly mortgage payment is now going towards a nice tax free lump sum that I’ll take when I’m 60 and probably use to almost clear off my mortgage. That’s the plan anyway.

*Additional Voluntary Contributions “are contributions you make to your employer pension scheme to build up an additional retirement fund. When you retire, this AVC fund can be used to top up your employer pension benefits, within Revenue limits.” Contributions are taken from before tax salary.
 
Retire Early at 60 on a Low Income
Photo by Matthew Wheeler on Unsplash

On the way to FI

I’ve still got a long way to go until I reach FIRE.

My expenses are pretty low as I’ve been used to living on not very much for quite a long time. I live in a much bigger house than I really need, but as I love hanging out in our home, I feel it’s money well spent. My idea is that I’ll be able to downsize once the kids are making their way in the world and that will free up extra money for me. The house is my one big extravagance really. I’m sure there’s other areas where I could cut back, but for me this is about as frugal as I’m comfortable with.

I’m aiming to get £50k in my AVC fund and £125k in index trackers. Just now I’m sitting at £6k in AVC’s and £37k in a mixture of index trackers and work shares. Like I said, still quite a long way to go.

I’m putting £600 into index trackers each month and almost £500 a month to my AVC’s. I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to maintain that as my maintenance is dropping by £200 next month when my eldest goes off to university.

In theory my expenses should drop, but I have my doubts. And with terms only eight weeks long he’s going to be spending more than half the year at home, raking about the kitchen looking for something to eat.

The challenge of starting late

My main concern with starting late to FIRE is the lack of time to get to where I want to be. I’m impatient, and I want things to happen now.

I’ve already been working for nearly thirty years, and quite frankly I’m ready for a change. It’s frustrating to be committing so much of my salary to the future and yet still seem so far from achieving my goals.

I spend far too long looking at my spreadsheets and willing them to look more promising than they do. I don’t want to wish my life away, and I am more and more aware the older I get that we have a finite amount of time on this planet. I don’t want to waste more of it working than I need to, but at the same time I want to ensure that I savour my time now.

The future is not guaranteed to anyone. We need to make the most of now, whilst building a fantastic future for our future selves.

What's next?

I’m mostly happy with where I am on my journey towards FIRE. It would have been great if I’d discovered this twenty years ago, but I still think I would have prioritised time with the kids when they were younger over more money in investments.
 
So I’ll be older than I’d like to be when I can stop working, but I’m already in a much better position that I would have been if I hadn’t stumbled across FIRE. I have a plan and a vision of where I want to get to. Now I just need to keep putting the work in and enjoy myself on the way.

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you, Sassenach Saving for sharing your story.

I hear you on your impatience to just get to the destination of FIRE. I am too. And completely relate to you staring at spreadsheets and wishing that the numbers look different.

The age old question about paying off debt in full before investing – I say do both! I regretted not continuing to invest after I bought my house – I’m pretty sure I would be happily attached to my couch now if I had continued investing.

I am super impressed at your commitment to your boys and what you have been able to achieve on a low income. You have shown us that retiring early with a low income is possible. It is not easy but it is possible.

We look forward to following your journey and cheering you on 🙂

 

How do you balance between savouring your life now and saving for your future?

17 Replies to “Late Starter to FI series #23 – Retire Early with a Low Income”

  1. What a great story, Sassenach Saving! Your fortitude is impressive and well deserved. You are on the path to success and who knows how unexpected events may accelerate your FIRE plans. The point is you have a plan, its working, and your crushing it! Kudos to you!

    1. Thanks. It’s so true that sometimes events happen when least expected that can really help your plans. And if I can try and make something happen that’s going to get me to FIRE quicker, then so much the better. I’m impatient, so sooner rather than later works for me!

  2. Keep going … small bites of the elephant and eventually it will be gone. I’ve felt like quitting my 9 to 5 this week so instead booked some leave (another staycation) to recharge the batteries and keep moving forward. Excellent progress so far so keep on trucking!

    1. Thanks Vinnie. I love the whole small bites of the elephant idea, it’s the only way to go. I feel your pain on the 9 to 5. I thought about quitting a lot over the last few months, but I knew it would scupper my plans if I did. Luckily I’ve managed to talk myself down from the ledge and am enjoying my job a lot more! Some time off can work wonders for your state of mind. Hopefully it’s worked for you.

    1. Thanks Frogdancer Jones. I’ll definitely keep going. It’s all about persistence, and I am most definitely stubborn as a mule! Congrats on your upcoming retirement. That’s amazing and definitely inspires me to stick in. I think that’s what so great about this series. You can learn and be inspired by others. There’s no point reinventing the wheel. If someone has done it before me I’m happy to use their ideas to work for me!

  3. So good to read stories that mirror my own situation.

    It feels like we are all on the same path and supporting each other on the way.

    Looking forward to reading about sassenach reaching FI abut the same time as me

    Shaun

    1. Thanks Shaun. You’re so right. That’s what I love about the FIRE community, you never feel like you’re on your own. I don’t know about you, but I went from feeling like I was pretty odd in my attitude to money, to realising that within the FIRE community I was surrounded by like minded people. That was a really lovely discovery. Good luck on your FIRE journey.

      1. I loved hearing this too. Finding blogs that are from single people who don’t have an engineering salary is difficult. Not that I can’t get something from everyone’s experience, but eating every meal at home looks a lot different when that meal is alone at the kitchen table rather than a family table. A higher entertainment budget is just something I had to accept- much like you accept so well that you did what you had to for your kids when they needed you.
        And I know… I get multiple “potluck” suggestions, but when you and your friends are all older, we just really want to get out and not sit at each other’s tables.

        1. Hi Ms B,

          I don’t think there is only one correct way to be on the FIRE path. We get to choose what is of value to us and therefore give ourselves permission to spend on those whereas we choose not to spend on things or experiences that don’t mean as much to us. Totally get a higher entertainment budget for us older singles 🙂

  4. I love this series Late Starter Fire, and thanks so much for including me. I’m really enjoying reading other people’s stories and working out what I can learn from them and apply to my own life. I had no idea there were so many other late starters out there. I’m definitely inspired to stick in and reach my FIRE numbers.

  5. Really enjoyed this read, thanks for sharing, Sassenach Saving!

    Bringing up two boys by yourself as a working mother cannot have been easy yet you’re in (what many would consider) the enviable position of being able plan a comfortable early retirement – a testiment to your own hard work, perserverance and focus.

    FIRE hits the headlines as there’s a lot of noise about those who wish to ‘retire’ in their 30s and 40s but I’d say there are many more like us, who started late (but it’s never too late!).

    Retiring early in my mind is retiring before the state pays your pension so 60 is still early! All the best with your goal!

    1. Thanks Weenie. Certainly bringing up my two boys by myself has had its challenges. It’s been a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. Seeing how well they’re turning out is a great reward for all those years of hard work. It’s brilliant to see how financially aware they are too. Maybe they can be one of the ones who reach FIRE early! For myself I definitely think anything before state retirement age is early, and 60 or even before I’ll definitely take! As you say, it’s never too late.

  6. Really loved this post. Like others who’ve commented it really resonates with my own situation, although minus the children. Those who achieve FIRE in their thirties or forties are the ones that hit the headlines, but retiring even just a few years early is an achievement. You’ve obviously worked really hard, which is particularly difficult when you’re on your own. Well done! I’ve signed up to your blog and look forward to following your journey. Best wishes, Sam

    1. Thanks Sam, I really appreciate that. It’s great that there’s so many of us out there in a similar situation. It’s far too easy to think that you’re the only one and that you can’t change your situation. We’re all proof that you can take control and improve your life at any stage. We just need to have belief in ourselves, and knowing that we’re not alone is so helpful for that.

  7. I loved this story. I recently discovered FIRE (I’m 46) and am so glad to see there are others out there who are also a bit late to the party! It’s also nice to hear from someone just over the border from me. Off to follow your blog 🙂

    1. Welcome aboard, Rachel! We don’t stand out in the FIRE community overall but there are many late starters here 🙂

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