Mar 222015
 

I guess the most exciting tales originate from people on the extremes. Sailing a Volvo Open 60 in the Southern Ocean, a tiny minimalist off-grid cabin in the Texas desert, cycling alone across Africa. The reason why we enjoy reading and watching these adventures is, I guess, because they stir a chord within us, awaken a deep inner need to do something similar. And yet not all of us can or even wish for such extremes.

In the next stage of making the future happen we’ve decided it may be wise to start the next big project. If there’s one thing that we have in common it’s building stuff and it’s a super way of future-proofing our lives as well so we’re diving in head first even though we have only a rudimentary sketch plan, some cool ideas and a vague schedule.

So off-grid living is a very cool sounding concept, something I could have a go at and so, that’s the plan for Cottage-253. However, I’m under no illusions. While I’m happy to cook on charcoal and propane I quite like my automatic dishwasher. While I’m happy to hang clothes out to dry I actually do want the automatic clothes washer to do the drudge-work.

So, what we are really after I suppose, could be called a semi-off grid cottage with backup to the existing municipal utilities but to a much reduced scale. The plan is to have umbilical connections to power, water mains and sewerage but only for minimal usage and backup. All cooking and water heating [bath and shower] will be by propane. Heating via wood-burning stove/heater. Solar panels will provide for the majority of lighting and small power needs with only the washers hooked up to mains. Water collection will be from roof runoff but with a supplementary feed from the municipal water main. And so the plan is and continues to evolve…….

At the end of the day we’ll not be immune to prices hikes and tariff increases but the effects will be greatly reduced. We’re not looking for extreme total isolation but rather a sensible mix of both worlds.

Mar 012015
 

While the rest of the world are rushing out and “investing” in generators for fear of how bad the rolling power outages may become we’ve taken a different tack.

For everything you acquire in life there is some logic in applying a return-on-investment thought process. Is it really worth the spend? Will one really use it? Is it worth the x hours of life I needed to spend shackled to the desk to earn the cash to buy it?

For that reason I’ve never got my head around the generator panic-purchase thing. It’s a fear-driven response to something, that while inconvenient, has never really effected me that badly. Sure, there have been the odd evenings when the power has gone just as we’ve fired up the oven, but they haven’t been so frequent as to prompt me to part with upwards of R8000 for a decently sized personal generation plant.

As Danger Dave once said “South Africans braai. We’re born ready for power cuts“.

Problem is the classic open-coal fire, while good for searing steaks, is pretty limited and very fuel-inefficient. One typically needs half a bag of charcoal briquettes to merely braai the chops for a family of 4. Do that every night and the charcoal costs start to approach the sticker price of a generator.

Enter a superb South African invention – The Cobb! Last night we grilled a 1.5kg beef roast on only 10 charcoal briquettes. Superb meal, totally off-grid and super fuel efficient. It’s small and portable and so, for us, doubles as a camping cooker as well as an easily portable oven for the yacht which, in winter, will double as a cabin heater. Money well spent.

Put your desired number of briquettes in the fire basket

Put your desired number of briquettes in the fire basket

cobb2

Once the coals are well alight pop in the roast and close the lid. Crack a good bottle of red and relax!

cobb3

After 2 hours of slow roasting we have a superbly done beef roast. Bon appetit.

 

 

Jul 142014
 

It’s hard sometimes to not fall for the “compare yourself to the world” yardstick. It’s hard to ride through the kind of sustained universal wobbly that we’ve had the last 2 weeks.

When I look at a peer, someone who basically started out same time as myself, who has amassed a rental portfolio of 10 properties already, its hard to think that I haven’t but one and even that is on the verge of closure.

I mean, how can he be so “successful” in that arena while I struggle so much?

I’m reminded of the need to not compare oneself to another, especially when there is no real understanding of all the factors that make up the person’s life. The rental portfolio is but one aspect of life, an isolated feature that doesn’t make any sense out of context with the rest of that person’s stuff. In addition, how much freedom has this person given up? How much debt is there lurking in the background?

The expensive life-style, private schools etc. The bigger the burn, the more income is necessary. The corporate politicking, the daily grind, travel away from home etc etc. Do I want that in my life?

Right here, right now – A well lit, cosy home. Food in my belly. Enough financial buffer to know I’m OK even if we should choose not to chase more.

That’s key. How much is enough? Time to branch out and live life differently. Time to live, rather than work. Time to throw caution to the wind and take a calculated step toward a future we both keenly desire.

You can never tell anything from the man’s car, his outward visible-to-the-world lifestyle. The only thing you can tell from these is how much he spends. And even then you cannot tell whether he’s spending his own money or is up to his eyeballs in life-sucking debt.

No matter what our status in life, no matter what our financial worth, we all have been allocated a finite amount of time on this planet. Time that once gone we never get back, no matter how much cash we have in the bank. So when he’s at the office every day until 7pm, in Europe on business for 2 weeks at a time, I’ll still prefer being home to watch the sun set, spending my weekends on the yacht, working toward the plan, even if my plan is much more modest than his.

Is he happier than I? Don’t know. Don’t actually care.

What has he achieved? Nothing that grabs my heartstrings. What does he do and experience in the world that doesn’t take wealth and spending? Nothing that I can see.

So besides that, maybe his rental investment strategy bears study. Not because he is the best, but certainly because he seems to be functioning better in this specific arena than I am (and because I feel the need to diversify our income streams for ER)

I’ll be keeping the current cars, even if they require time and money. Until the spreadsheet proves otherwise it’s cheaper to repair and maintain than buy again (and it’s really greener as well)

Apr 172014
 
The unseen costs of your 9-5 job

The unseen costs of your 9-5 job

Sure, owning a car is expensive and if you want it to last it needs maintenance. But there are more cost effective ways of doing it than relying on the official agents. I think that will be the last visit to the dealer for routine maintenance. In future it will be either my own labour or that of a trusted independent workshop.Isuzu 195000km

One of the keys to validating the ER-Plan is a proper understanding of which expenses are a necessity for your chosen lifestyle and which are really just there because of the way life is at present.

That brings me to a niggling thought that  just won’t leave me lately. The Isuzu, while filling a future ER dream of 4×4 touring off the beaten path, is currently not put to that use and is expensive overkill for the present home-to-office commute. Expensive to maintain, expensive to fuel up. In a sense this is tantamount to ‘pre-purchasing the RV or the golf club membership’ prior to retirement. Maybe not the way to go, especially with a machine that has a very good chance of wearing out / failing before there’s ever the time to realise that travel goal ? Yet, now that it’s done, does it make sense to sell it and get something else? I’m not so sure.

Gut-feel tells me it’s always cheaper to keep and maintain the vehicle you currently own rather than giving in to the temptation to get something different. Besides, I still hold to the belief that an old 70’s gas guzzler is greener than a new hybrid because the hole for the former has already bee dug in the earth. I’ll need to follow this up with a detailed xls calc [such an engineer I’m told], but I think I know what the outcome will be. Deep down it’s just this irrational emotional urge to buy a ‘new’ car and it’s the tricky bits looking for rationalisations to justify this.

Our present life and future vision is what it is, what we’ve chosen it to be. Take the yacht as a similar example, or even Glencairn. It’s also ‘pre-paying the future’ dream. Is it the wisest strategy? In terms of some of the ER-thought out there it’s ridiculous. Rather used the value in the boat to bring your ER-date closer. On the other hand, I am me if I’m making any sense here. I’m human and just like all humans everywhere, I have irrational personal quirks when viewed against the popular ‘science’ of ER’ing.

The yacht is a big part of me, my lifestyle, the way I want to live. For me, what purpose is served to spend the next 5 years without Ocean Blue in my life? It’s not a sacrifice I choose to make and I believe that where I am now is the best balance for me between my interests and my need to pump the stash to step off. When I do step off then I want no debt on Glencairn and so we’re compelled to get it behind us now, using the space in the current mortgage facility to access ‘cheap’ money.

Easily rationalised for the sweet little boat and the dream pad by the sea but requiring a bit more mental gymnastics to apply to the Isuzu me’thinks.

Anyhow, in terms of road transport, my current philosophy is “if it aint broke then don’t fix it”. While it’s reliable and not emotionally draining I’ll stick with and be happy with what I have – ‘Suzi and ZR7 – here’s to many more miles together.

Apr 172014
 

It’s been excellent catching up with old friends and colleagues since starting the new gig. Great that, in spite of the Crusty Introvert Me, there has been an overwhelming “Welcome! Good to Have you back“. [Sort of cements the no-Woolley Masses approach to life doesn’t it?]

It’s hard to hide where my head is at with the ER-Dream [firstly I’m totally and passionately committed and secondly I’m putting myself out there to give myself some form of ‘public accountability’ to strengthen my resolve and ability to carry through with this] and so this has come up in several of the discussions quite easily and naturally because the obvious question is “Why are you back?

The answer is easy. “Because the stash needs to grow a little bigger“. But it always leads to [perhaps only internal and unvoiced] thoughts such as “Life is so expensive and out of control there will never be enough so why even try” or “What’s the point? I need more than I can ever hope to stash away so I might as well not stash anything” or “There’s no point in planning because nothing ever works out as planned” etc.

It’s abundantly obvious the grip this modern consumer lifestyle has on us all. I’m no exception. I like my luxuries and toys and continually strive to balance saving for tomorrow with enjoying my material wealth today. Just like the rest of the flock. I’ve been there myself, buying the BMW as a “reward” for the hard work and long hours, so I’d be a little hypocritical in judging anyone too harshly for doing the same. But, the bottom line is that this “spoiling” yourself today has very real consequences and impacts your ability to step off in the future should you want to. No doubts in my mind that had I taken my brother’s unsolicited but well-intended advice to heart back in my early twenties and ploughed every cent I ever spent on cars into building the stash, then my ER-Date would probably already have happened.

This is not about regrets or unhappiness at life in the present. It’s just fact. The past cannot be changed and the future is always there, in the future. Life is good today and the ER-Dream is a powerful and common goal for me and S, something we earnestly want and are willing to sacrifice for. Is there a little bit of regret about past decisions? Perhaps ‘Yes’ if I’m totally honest. but certainly not misery and unhappiness. It’s more just a quiet acknowledgement of the impact of past actions on the present reality. And I think that important in steering the present toward the desired future. After all, those who repeat the ‘mistakes’ of the past are doomed to re-live the same-old same-old in the future. Will the future turn out exactly as we hope, dream and plan for? Can’t say. Will we be happy in that future? Definitely and with certainty because happiness is a conscious choice determined neither by wealth, nor poverty nor circumstance.

And that is what I find so sad in many of the people around me, this belief that there is no use in planning for the future, no use in stashing away R150 rather than blowing it on some piece of cheap Chinese plastic. The unconscious negativity that silently and unknowingly limits a person’s quality of life today and into the future is so obvious in the comment “But R5.8M in 50 years time is worth nothing so why bother”.

I know I probably come across as judgemental but that’s the last thing I want to be. It’s not my business to change others nor give unsolicited advice. But, it is my business to fully understand myself and what makes me tick. Rehashing and journalling my impressions and thoughts on these interactions with people allows me to explore and understand myself better. We are all where we are today because of our decisions and actions taken in the past. Our future is predominantly created by our habits and actions taken in the present. So, unless we understand our past and how we got to our present, there is no sound reason to believe that we will be any different in our future.

I’m no “New Agey, positive thinking solves all” kind of person. Sure, you need the right attitude. But positive thoughts sitting on the couch with your hand in the potato chip packet are just not going to cut it. Positive thought requires positive action and any kind of improvement or change means hard work, pushing through the barriers of discomfort, pain and uncertainty and staying in the game long enough to eventually win.

No, I don’t know with any certainty what the end score will be. What I do know is that we will step off this treadmill a good decade or so earlier than the working masses not because we’re any better than them but because we’re totally committed to the additional freedom it will bring and are willing to make the sacrifices needed today to make that future happen.

Apr 022014
 

So today was the first day of the new job. I had high hopes of a wonderful experience where everything was ready and waiting for me, desk, laptop, fuel card …….

Yeah, ok. So I remain naive and stupid !

I’ve been allocated a filthy-looking desk right on the corridor entrance by the printer, in an open plan area. Lovely. There are no key’s for the drawers [which by the way are still filled with someone’s stuff] and the setting was just so awful I immediately suggested, and did, move to a smaller off-aisle hot-seat [but which has no phone].

Anyway, whining aside, it was definitely ‘just another day in the office”, certainly not an exciting experience. The people you speak to seem to expect you to say “Wow. Awesome. What an exciting new beginning!”. They really, really do.! Strange beings these sheep.

Today got me thinking that the question that has to be asked by others is “Wow, he certainly seems to be going backwards in his career doesn’t he?” [well OK maybe it’s only occurred to me]. After all, many of the people who once worked under me in this organisation are now higher up the hierarchy than I am today.

The thing that directly and subversively supports this point of view is the modern corporate ‘Secrecy Act’ which compels each and every employee to jealously guard their financial deal with the organisation. Inside the corporate, without knowing what the other sheep earn, it’s impossible for the flock to judge each other’s progress other than to look at their position on the ladder. In a similar fashion, the world outside the job looks to things like spending on houses, cars and lifestyle to make an assessment on earnings. Both views are totally flawed.

I’m working on the tail-end of this career, this job, for the sole purpose of increasing the stash as fast and as soon as possible. We’ve pretty much determined what ‘enough’ is and when we hit that level of savings it wil be “Adios Amigos”. The salary that I’m earning is way higher than it would have been had I stayed and climbed the ladder. Before I left I was earning well and the company move, coupled with a good 14% increase in 2014, means I’m way ahead of the current pack, even with their promotions. There’s no guarantee that 2015 will be anything as rosy but that’s so far in the future as to be a non-issue at the moment.

So yes it’s definitely more of the same. But with a more concrete, finite time-frame plan that is keenly desired by both of us. I just have to suck this up for another 5 years or so, keep the spend down and the savings injection up and we’re in with a fighting chance. That knowledge on it’s own is a great motivator.

It’s the last push to more freedom. So bring on the new beginnings !!

 

Feb 162014
 

The key to planning a semi-retirement is realism. Be realistic on what you actually need, realistic on what you can earn.

And then there are a series of unknowns anyway. Life is a little complex. The pic doesn’t take into account all variables, all spends, all timeline changes.

Retirement Planning 1

 

How does one account for semi-earning semi-retirement years vs full-on retirement some years later? Bottom line is, no matter how much one plans and schemes, the future is ultimately unknown and unpredictable. The best guarantee is a frugal and simple lifestyle!

Best thing to do at this stage of life is to kill all debt and increase the RA’s as much as humanly possible – for as long as possible.

R2200 to put a rudder on the kayak. Is it really worth it? R4500 for a set of rims for the Isuzu. Seriously? Are you willing to take that amount out of annual retirement savings? A new ‘old’ car. You’ve got to be kidding me right?

The numbers don’t lie. If you want to step off you have to sacrifice a little more than you currently are !

Feb 162014
 

A new car. Doesn’t have to be a new ‘new’ car, a new ‘old’ car will do. Again and again I battle the urge. There’s an A4 cabriolet. I want it. There’s a Jimny. I want it. A drop-top mini. I want it.

Best thing to do is stay out of the kitchen because I can’t seem to handle the heat.

It’s too soon says Sands. She’s right. Another 2 years and we’ll find Caz something small, cool and reliable. But now, it’s too soon.

R120k. That can buy something cool. It can also bring the debt under the 1Bar level. It can also buy quite a few trips down to the beach, as well as a gazillion hamburgers. And when you don’t have the cash under the mattress and you have no absolute need other than ‘want it’,  it it is really stupid. I would rather live in my beach-house, walk, run, ride and sail and have the time to enjoy these all rather than have a new toy.

And yet the desire still burns strong!?? A constant battle. I hope I don’t WILL NOT give in.

The ultimate reason, the reason I will not cave is the non-negotiable need to finally break these golden handcuffs, this corporate crap. 2018 was a date penciled in, although that may be too optimistic. 55 [or 2024] is the dream date, the year to cash in the RA’s, provident funds and life-savings and finally make the move. It’s already a stretch and buying another expensive toy at this stage of the game is going to threaten that big time.

No, I’ll stick with the plan thank you. Kill the debt, pump the RA’s and savings, survive the next decade and live life well [be happy, exercise, eat healthily, minimise stress and conflict] while we do it!

Remember: Freedom, Integrity, Tranquility ! Never cave in to Wooly Masses thinking and pressure. Never.