How to retire at 40

How to retire at 40

Last year I was contacted through this site by a journalist who wanted to speak to me about potentially becoming involved in an upcoming pilot for a television program about early retirement. I agreed and we had a lengthy phone conversation where she discussed what the show was going to be about (People retiring by or in their 40s) and how they wanted to get a wide range of people trying different methods to reach this state. It all sounded good and I was honestly pleased to hear that finally something like early retirement discussion would hit mainstream media.

So she started with an opening interview and I think it’s safe to say things very quickly nose-dived from there. I know a few other bloggers who read this site were also contacted so I’m keen to hear your thoughts on it however I personally found the questions to be very leading in terms of content that they were trying to generate. Almost all of the questions seemed to be going along the lines of “How much have you had to sacrifice to do this?” “Have you missed out on any major life events due to being frugal?” “Have your friends stopped inviting you to stuff because you’re always saving money” etc. Basically a whole host of stereotype enforcing crap which continues to plague any mainstream discussions on personal finance and tries to paint anyone aiming for early retirement as a bored lonely shut-in who lives off of 9p noodle packs and never goes on holiday. She wasn’t interested in hearing about the side hustles we’ve started up or the changes we’ve made which have meant we could still live very active social lives without spending tonnes of money on the latest fads. The screener interview ended with her saying she would be in touch at a later date if the show was going to be made. She never did, ah well, and I was left with the feeling that the show was just going to be another entertainment piece which tried to focus on the extreme sacrifices people had to make to retire early.

 

It was with some surprise then that a few months ago I read on another UK finance blog that they actually did decide to go along with the show and had already begun filming for it. Finally we had opportunity for some mainstream media attention on early retirement! There’s lots of programs and articles dedicated towards saving money however I’d yet to see one which actually stated the aim of doing so as becoming financially independent or retiring early. Instead sites such as MoneySavingExpert and ThisIsMoney do a great job of saving people money when they are already spending it. They’ll save you 10% off a £10k holiday, but never really discuss not going on that holiday to begin with or what you should be doing with that money saved. I stopped reading the weekly MSE email once I realised 90% of it is actually just links to ‘bag a bargain’ or, as I see it, ‘buy something you wouldn’t have in the first place’.

As the big screening date came closer I was surprised and excited to hear that my friend and mentor Huw from Financially Free By Fourty casually dropped out that he was going to feature. I’ve known Huw for a couple of years now and greatly respect him as not only one of the very few UK finance bloggers.. but also someone who has actually made the leap from a 9-5 job into total financial independence through saving, investment and building up new income streams. Perhaps if he was going to feature then my fears of what I suspected the show would revolve around were misguided? Perhaps it was going to be a serious program and perhaps blueprint for others to follow in their lives which would guide them through the journey of cutting expenses (sensibly), investing the savings and building up passive income streams to support an independent lifestyle.

 

Nope

What a real shame and missed opportunity the whole program turned out to be. I watched the whole way through both hoping and waiting for them to sit down and explain the maths and concepts behind becoming financially independent, but they never did. Instead we got a clear entertainment piece which very briefly mentioned the 25 rule (but no explanation behind how or why it was that number) surrounded by 29 minutes of following a handful of people who were trying out various financial fads.

I’m not even sure why they needed to split the show into the 3 different methods of Saving, trend spotting (still not sure what this actually means) and taking a risk. Perhaps it’s because generally things become more exciting when there’s some element of competition involved and so these 3 options almost had to be shown as competing against each-other to determine which was the best route to take? Obviously it would be far too sensible and thus boring to just take the best elements from all 3 options and instead combine them into a simple yet efficient plan towards early retirement? Nope…. you must survive without food for 5 days a week.. or buy a house with a total stranger.. or start selling potatoes on the internet. Those are your only options I’m afraid. Early Retirement is extreme and so you need to follow one of these extreme routes if you’re ever going to reach it.

The presenters were completely useless as well if early retirement was their perceived aim. Take the guy trying to 5-2 spending plan.. ran out of food and loo roll on the 2nd day. I mean seriously, this was a grown adult with a professional occupation, does he honestly only buy 1 days worth of supplies at a time? Never-mind, it made the plan look suitably unsustainable and gave the program the money shot of the presenter looking cold, hungry and miserable.. exactly as early retirement would have us all look, no?

 

Really this entire show just highlighted the problem we have with talking about early retirement, especially here in the UK. All the programs and articles which discuss early retirement I’ve seen are really just there to provide entertainment. They’re not trying to actually help anyone achieve it or make meaningful changes to their lives for the better. The Daily Mail is going to get alot more clicks and comments by running an article on a couple living in a caravan and the resulting negative comments it generates than if they were to perhaps run a piece on the huge tax advantages of increasing your pension contributions or foregoing the daily Starbucks.

The closest thing we have to a rockstar of personal finance this side of the pond would be MSE’s Martin Lewis who’s site does more to encourage savings on spending instead of just not spending at all. Personally I’d be crying out for a British media personality equivalent of MrMoneyMustache, however I’m just not sure anymore whether the British public would even appreciate the message when it doesn’t let them gawp at how sad and boring someone’s life must be to reach financial independence. That’s the entertainment they want to see on TV whilst sat in a mortgaged house looking forward to driving to work in a financed car at the age of 68.

 

 

14 thoughts on “How to retire at 40

    • I think what disappointed me the most was that it was such a missed opportunity. Even if they had just spent 5 minutes explaining the 25x rule and the investing behind it then perhaps it may have convinced a few people to go seek out more information. Instead people will have been entertained for 30 minutes but I doubt they’ll think anything more of it after the program had finished.

  1. Good to hear your thoughts on it Guy – nice rant!

    Having read about the leading questions they gave you on the phone it is no surprise to see how the final show turned out!

    Pretty sure they contacted me too but said no straight away as need/want to keep my ID secret due to work. I’m very glad I didn’t waste any time on it now.

    The guy doing the 5/2 budget was the worst. Obviously set himself up deliberately to fail (or more likely never even did it at all and was just actin up for the camera) but even if majority of people saw through that as a cheap stunt it just reduced any serious conversation about budgeting to a joke and would have quashed anyone taking the show and idea as a serious thing that might be achievable right then and there.

    Maybe one day we’ll get our British saving /investing superhero but it won’t be me for quite a while yet as no one is going to listen to someone who hasn’t even FIRE’d yet I don’t think :)

  2. Fair and frank summary Guy. I can only agree with your sentiments. Your reply to one of the comments above is spot on… What a wasted opportunity!

    Did you watch the series of ‘How to live Mortgage Free’ (or something like that) with Sarah Beenie? It’s another channel 4 show. Granted it was on for an hour, and they had half a dozen or so episodes, but they did a much better job of showing real possibilities and options to get to that end goal. They took the task more seriously. I was inspired by watching it, and I wonder what others made of the content in comparison.

    Thanks for the kind mention! I plan on creating some content for my blog that helps people get started on the path towards retiring early. I’ve had several people reach out to me in the last few weeks asking me how I did it and how they should start, so I know there’s an interest on the topic.

    As a FIRE blogger in the UK, I feel responsible for helping others work towards the same goal I’ve had. This TV show has made me more determined to improve the quality of information that’s out there on the topic!

    • I haven’t seen it, I’ll try and dig it up on 4od or other archives. I think a full hour show is needed to properly explain some of the concepts, it really didn’t help that they also tried to cram 3 completely different methods all into 1 single show.

      Looking forward to seeing what content you generate. You’re clearly no stranger to the camera so would be good to see more videos or podcasts, as always I’m more than happy to chat about my favorite side-hustle if you’re scraping the barrel for content ideas ;)

  3. Another +1 for missed opportunity – I was very disappointed with it but a little bit pleased that the topic got any airtime at all. I am however glad I didn’t ask any of my millennial friends to tune in, it would have been embarrassing!

    Agree that Martin Lewis has done loads with MSE to help people save money when buying stuff but when someone saves say £200 from switching utility bills, are they actually saving that £200 or just spending it on something else, in which case, they haven’t saved anything. Sometimes, I think the website might do more harm than good – people are deluded into thinking they are saving money but unless they actually tuck that money away, they’re just spending it.

    • I refer to MSE as Money Spending Expert.
      Like all TV on niche areas, viewing it from an expert’s perspective (as all you bloggers are expert at FIRE) it always comes across as dumbed down for the masses. It was awful and a waste of a valuable half hour of my life!

      • Glad to hear my MSE theory is supported by others ;)

        I hear what you’re saying about viewing it from an ‘expert’ perspective however this wasn’t dumbed down.. it was completely void of any useful information at all. Honestly; they could have at least shown that by saving say £50 a month and investing it in a very basic tracker fund you would have around Y amount by the age of XX and it would allow you to retire X years earlier. Even something like that may have sparked some interest in people who may then go and seek out further information.

  4. As someone who has achieved FI, albeit at the age of 55 (which was my target), i was thoroughly disappointed with the programme. Everything was Black & White; take one option or the other. The reality is that it is a combination of approaches that gets you there, one size does not normally fit all, most of us have lives to live as we strive to achieve the goal. I started out long before there were websites to help me and applied a level of commonsense to spending, enjoyed the things I wanted to, like taking 2 holidays a year, and invested in pensions & ISAs (PEPs), long before Trackers were the current Fad and did my Research. I made it, and yes with a bit of luck, but also some times that were not so good.

    This programme did nothing to advance the cause of people understanding that you need to spend less and invest to achieve at least a level of financial stability as the choices were too hard.

    • Congratulations on achieving ER. I totally agree; everything on that program was either do it 1 way OR 2 way OR 3 way, no combinations allowed! I’d say the program done worse that nothing, it may have actually put people off as the presenters gave the impression that those saving for FI were either weird or miserable.

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