Sooner than I’d like to think about, I’ll be 50-years-old.
Yikes. I was in my mid-30s when I wrote my first post on Monevator.
Unlike many people, I’ve always been very aware of the passing over time. This is not something that has snuck up on me.
“38 fucking years old…”
Only 13 years to go until I’d sound as broken as him!
Better get a move on.
Now here I am 25 years later and I’m not sure I really did.
But I can’t complain. Things have worked out okay.
Well, how did I get here?
Something that becomes apparent after you’ve lived for a few decades is that few of us methodically follow a plan to get where we want to go.
There’s no set directions. It’s not like a computer program. It’s barely like following the pictures in an IKEA leaflet.
Well, maybe some of the good bits are like the pictures. But not the rest.
This means that any life story – grand or otherwise – can only be told in retrospect.
Big picture, we never really know what’s going to happen.
The days go slow and the years go fast.
Still, we get on. We do things every day. And we don’t do other things that we said we were going to do.
It all accumulates. We shape our habits, consciously or otherwise, and afterwards they shape us.
These habits – reflexes, even – determine a lot of what we say, do, and achieve.
The work we put in. The breakfast we eat. How we sign off our emails. Whether we leave our friends happier than we found them.
The chances we turn down or back fearfully away from. Opportunities we seize too greedily. The ones we grasp just right.
Whether people think that we’re kind. Or greedy. Whether people forget us.
The stuff they talk about at funerals.
How do I work this?
Our lives are mostly our habits developed from birth and repeated for as long as we’re lucky to live for.
With interventions, of course. Whether from the outside world or – better – from within ourselves.
Your parents potty train you and stop you throwing your baby food on the floor.
You learn not to blurt out your feelings. If you’re lucky you develop a habit of reading books.
You take up weightlifting, or yoga. Try to make amends.
But there’s also a sort of entropy to habits. The ones we don’t care much about, or that we find too difficult – they fall into disrepair and disuse.
Your friendship circle shrinks because you didn’t pay attention. Your kids stop asking you questions after yet another brush off.
“Not now, I’m busy.”
If you wrote down the most important things in your life you’d say it was your family and friends.
But maybe your habits say otherwise.
Same as it ever was
Between the intentional habits we cultivate and the bad habits that find a home regardless, there’s always other habits coming into being.
Often they’re manifested by laziness – another birthright endowed to every one of us.
Nature is efficient, and seeks shortcuts. This shows up most obviously in your body.
If your arm is often reaching forward and your hand is usually sat upon a mouse, it’ll stop feeling awkward soon enough.
The weird posture will feel natural.
A child would fidget but an office worker might stay that way for hours.
Give it two decades and the cartilage in your arm adapts. Your shoulders are now permanently rolled forward. You’ve told your body to sit this way day after day, week after week. Your body listened.
Getting religion about stretching for a week every January won’t undo the damage.
One day you’re nearly 50 and people say you look good for your age but you know you’re an omni-shambles of impinged joints, slack abdominals, buggered knees, and eyestrain.
Some of this is inevitable. Ageing. But some of it you ordered up with your habitual choices, day after day.
You can try to undo it but it’s a slog. You’ll need to reprogram instructions hardwired by decades of repetition.
A lot of effort just to get back to the clean slate you began with.
Better to have had better habits. Better to have started fixing them years ago.
Otherwise better start now.
Am I right or am I wrong?
Money habits show up in our lives like the physical ones shape our bodies.
We start life without savings, debts, or much idea about what money is beyond the barter system.
Circumstances, upbringing, natural proclivities, and dumb luck begin to bring financial habits into our lives like freshly dug soil invites flowers and weeds.
Maybe as a kid you got a paper round. You were up every morning at 6am to earn a few quid each week. Perhaps the sheer heft of it made you value money. You saved most of what you earned. If you were really fortunate you saw it grow.
Your family was frugal and non-materialistic. They applauded your attitude.
40 years later and you’re writing a blog about investing. Financially free thanks to habits you barely knew you were cultivating.
Or maybe your family is very well-off. Your parents saw their parents strive and want to spare you the graft. You go to boarding school and are sent a generous allowance. It’s more than most of the other kids get – which makes you feel proud, so you show off – but it’s less than some – which makes you insecure.
40 years later you have a middle-sized house with a lot of front and a super-sized mortgage, three cars, and a spendthrift spouse. And no savings.
My god, what have I done?
Too convenient? Absolutely.
You grow up in a frugal, non-materialistic household. Get a paper round. Hoard your pennies. Truth be told you’re a bit of a tightwad. You equate work with money, and subconsciously think of net worth as self-worth. You save everything and scrounge pints off your friends. You have a boring job in a sector you don’t care much for because it pays well and there’s a solid pension plan.
40 years later you’re still renting because houses always look too expensive. You never married because you fear a costly divorce. You’re constantly frightened of losing your savings to a bear market and so you keep 80% of your money in cash.
Or… your family is rich. Your parents tell you there’s more to life than money. They saw their parents ground down by scrimping and saving. They send you a generous allowance while you’re away at school but they encourage you to invest half of it in the stock market. “Money is the key to making money” they tell you.
You watch them sell their small family business and re-invest the proceeds into property and shares. They’ve never been richer.
40 years later and you’re on your second start-up, having sold the first for a few million. It was touch-and-go, but your team never saw you wobble. Nor does your partner who loves your generosity of spirit as much as your financial firepower.
That said, your daughter reads a lot of FIRE1 blogs and tuts when you buy a holiday home in Ibiza…
Letting the days go by
There are a lot of ways to get from A to B in the game of life.
Quick. Roundabout. Some downright deadly.
We’re not all offered the same routes. But one thing we can all try to do is to cultivate the habits we want to take with us on the journey.
These habits will make us the people we want to be – or not. Regardless of whether we ever get to our destination.
If you want to be solvent, start saving any small amount of money. Develop the habit. Go from there.
Blowing the budget is your big bugbear? Start by thinking about the cost of every single little thing you buy.
You’re wary of risks and the stock market terrifies you. Don’t put 90% of your money into shares just because you read that’s appropriate for your age. Put in 10% and develop a feel for the market’s ups and downs. Find your sea legs. You can invest more when you forget why you were so frightened.
Worried you’re too stingy? Your shoulders are hunching and your arms are stuffed in your pockets. Your back is up, and turned away from your mates. Surprise everyone by paying for dinner. Tell them you got a bonus at work. Or your premium bonds came in. Who cares, brush it off. Or give £20 to the homeless guy outside M&S who – yes – looks like he could get a job. Or buy him lunch and give it to him on the way out.
Start somewhere. Change direction.
You won’t remember most of what you do out of habit. But they will be the ‘reps’ that build your financial posture, just as bicep curls give you guns.
It takes time.
Then one day someone will say you’re good with money. Ask your advice about investing. Buy you dinner as a thank you for something you didn’t even notice you did for them.
Because you did it out of habit.
Once in a lifetime
Sure you’ll remember the make-or-break moments when you look back on life.
That time you said yes to the weird person asking for your number. You married them! The job you agonized about leaving, only to land the opportunity of your dreams. Your first night in your first own home. Your baby smiling up at you. Antarctica. A lottery win.
But these are near-random escapades on a long road where mostly nothing much different happens.
Just maybe your good habits put you in the right place at the right time. But most of life is simply getting up every day and walking.
Why not stand tall, practically and metaphorically? Don’t shuffle and look at your feet and complain when you’re old that you can’t turn your neck.
Don’t do the wrong thing every day and wonder where your life took a wrong turn.
Try to do lots of little things right. Whatever right means for you.
Save a bit. Invest a bit. Give a bit.
It all adds up.
Financial Independence Retire Early.
Just like your approach to your body, your financial posture can be lean, mean, bloated, or self-abusive. Choose wisely!
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