The Great Escape

Where are you and where are you going?
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Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Sat Apr 16, 2016 5:42 am

I've been a regular visitor to the ERE boards for the past couple of years. Now I feel compelled to start a journal, principally for my own sanity. I've definitely made some wrong turns over the years and have zero sage advice to give to the financially smart and savvy people on here!

I’m in my late thirties. My ambition is to pull the plug on the rat race in approx. two years, around when I hit 40. This is primarily due to the increasingly toxic nature of my job, and my desire to spend more time with my family (I've young children). This journal will primarily be an attempt to stiffen my resolve for when quit time comes around!

My situation is a bit different to the norm perhaps. I've kept things deliberately vague, but the important financial and personal info is included below.

Income:
I graduated in June 2000 and have been working ever since, aside from a brief stint back at uni to complete a Masters (which I don’t regret, despite the c. EUR 15,000 tuition fees + living costs for one-year!).

For approx. 8 years I have been working abroad in developing countries (what used to be called in pre-politically correct days the "3rd World"). I'm a salaried employee. Following several pay rises I’m now earning EUR 100k p.a. net after tax on an expat package where my accommodation is also paid for. There is a performance bonus element to my pay on top of the EUR 100k, which can be up to 20% of net salary. But for the last couple of years, it’s been like getting blood from a stone, with bonuses paid up to 18 months late by the firm (unfortunately I joke not…).

In my industry (I'm not a Wall Street investment banker or silicon valley software engineer) I'm approaching the ceiling of what I could reasonably expect to earn. However, it's not such a sweet deal when I consider the stress, travel and number of hours I do. Evening & weekend working, while travelling up to 50% of my time away from the family is all unfortunately 'normal' these days. I also have a lot of autonomy and responsibility. I'm left to my own devices by head office to run the business in my region, hire and fire, deal with clients, etc. The result is I can never totally switch off, even on holidays. I am simultaneously a 'technician' (involved in client delivery) and a 'manager' (dealing with HR, finance, marketing, support functions, etc.), a combination I often find exhausting… I feel sometimes that I have all the stress of being a small business owner, but with few of the benefits as I am still an employee, and all the net profits from the business flow to the firm. Unsurprisingly, I have no time for side-income opportunities at present. There are barely any hours left once work, sleep, family-time and a bare minimum of sports for health are discounted.

The good news on the job front is that, given that head office has essentially outsourced (read: disowned) all responsibility to me, many clients think of me rather than the firm when they need services, which bodes well for future consulting opportunities.

Expenses:
In a word, low.

I do not track the household expenses, as this is really my wife’s domain. However, if I look back to my contributions to the joint household account over the past 2 years, I think EUR 10-12k per annum for my half easily covers it. This is because our children are still small and – for the moment – inexpensive, while my employer currently covers housing.

We do not record all our expenses, but my wife – while heartily sceptical of my early retirement dreams – is naturally frugal, coming predominantly from an anti-consumerist / environmental as opposed to a ‘retire-early’ perspective.

On my side I simply refuse to buy new stuff unless 110% necessary. Unfortunately I have to have a degree of respectability when it comes to my work ‘uniform’ (suits and ties). But aside from this my other clothes are all old and worn. I detest non-food shopping, love to cook, and could not give a cr*p about the latest must-have car / gadget / toy. My one extravagance in the past has been travel, but this too has been curbed in the last couple of years, through a combination of work, kids and discovery of ERE / MMM. Also, the one silver lining of so much work-related travel is that my per diem more than covers expenses when away on business.

N.B. I do not include here capital expenditure on improvements to our owned house (see “fixed assets” below).

Liquid Assets:
Here’s where things get embarrassing…
- EUR 145k cash: yep that's not a typo, just money sitting in a low interest savings account, not working…
- EUR 90k investments: in a high fee investment fund I took up with my bank. It's a conservative stocks and bonds tracker with anaemic growth - due in large part to the 1.2% p.a. annual charge and 1.2% p.a. 'establishment fee' (over the first 5 years of the investment's life) the bank takes. Unfortunately I took out this investment exactly a year before I became (*slightly*) more clued up on personal finance and the evils of high fees. I need to wait another 2 years before I can cash this investment, if I want to avoid further early withdrawal penalties!
- c. EUR 9k in a couple of current accounts, which equates to my share of our household spending for the next 9 months or so, so I'm not really counting this.

Fixed Assets:
I think I read on one journal that 'sentimentality can be costly'. That's definitely true in the case of our house. My wife and I bought our house for EUR 300k in cash with no mortgage five years ago. We each put in 50% equity. The thinking at the time, in the deep depths of the last recession, was that we wanted to put our savings into something tangible in case the banks in which our savings were held failed (not a completely fantastical proposition in 2009-10).

Since then we've added another c. EUR 50-60k in improvements. It's a picturesque country farmhouse (4 bed, lots of land, some outbuildings that could be converted into more accommodation if we wanted), in a beautiful but low-cost part of Europe. As we currently live outside Europe for work, we’ve not been residing in the house full-time. But we enjoy holidaying there every year and also spent almost 24 months combined there when my wife (who also works) took maternity leave for our two children. I managed to swing things with my job to work from the house during this time while flying off as required to see clients and keep the business going.

The local housing market is flat, so if we sold we’d be lucky to get back what we’ve paid. BUT, I’ve never viewed the house as an investment. I guess it’s a non-rational, emotional thing. For me the house is part of 'The Great Escape'. My vision – perhaps a sentimental one - is essentially to stop my current itinerant lifestyle, slow down, and plant some firm roots for the children in the countryside during their formative years. Grow our own veg., build a tree house, that sort of thing!

We have a couple of cars, one at the house, one where we live. Both are old with minimal resale value, and not worth fixing a price on. From the beginning I’ve always been a keen cyclist, and continue to cycle most of the time leaving the car for my wife (although motorists are a little less respectful of cyclists where we’re currently based than is the case in N. America or Europe!).

Debts:
Zero


Vision:
I’m adamant that I need to quit by 40. Otherwise I’m going to be yet another one of those tired, sad-looking Dads who mention in passing that they wished they’d worked less when their grown-up kids were younger. I’m also not sure that my industry is the best fit for me personality wise. As an aside, according to David Kersey, I'm an "Idealist" (Counsellor / Champion), but I reckon most of my colleagues are guardian / rationalist types. I look forward to having the time to explore other work avenues, preferably things involving real human interaction over tapping cr*p into a keyboard while gazing at a computer screen.

Plan:
I’m aiming to amass between EUR 400 – EUR450k between now and pulling the plug. This will not set my family up for life, but it will give me breathing space to figure out more sustainable working avenues, while perhaps consulting part-time. I’m only around halfway there though...

Investment opportunities where I am tax-resident are limited and high risk. I’m a complete luddite when it comes to investment strategy, and as I want to pull the plug in around two years, there’s not really much time for investments to compound in any case.

My gut tells me that if I’m going to achieve my target net worth by 40, I’m going to need to double-down on work while hopefully saving 80%+ of my take home salary and bonuses. I'll be updating every month or so to track progress.

Apologies for the monster post. Comments are very welcome!

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FBeyer
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Re: The Great Escape

Post by FBeyer » Sat Apr 16, 2016 6:50 am

Long posts are the best posts. Usually they're a sign that someone actually has something worthwhile to say (witness my 200 one-liners on this forum...).
I'm flabbergasted at 100K euros AFTER tax? I could retire in two years starting from scratch with that income!!!
If you're already frugal then FI will happen. I don't know if you're reading the Mister Money Mustache forums, but they have a separate subforum for people who are post-FI. They have a lot of discussions about the whole identity panic and decompression phase after becoming FI. Since money is not an issue for you, I wager that those people can help you with a lot of the psychological issues (as well as those around here can, I just wanted to let you know there are several avenues for that particular problem).

You should probably start reading up on portfolio construction and how to actually build one when you already have enough money to build a significant portfolio. Have you looked into value averaging and/or dollar cost averaging? Both seem to be much preferred strategies over lump-sum investing as one might be tempted to with so much cash lying around.

As someone who is 34 and earning 21000 Eur /year with a debt of 23K I'm just envious like all h***.

Welcome!

Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Sat Apr 16, 2016 7:28 am

Hey FBeyer,

Thanks for the warm welcome!

It definitely wasn't my intention to gloat about my salary - I guess it's just necessary to provide these details to paint the complete financial picture of where I'm at.

It's true that I'm in the top few percentile of earners when compared to per capita income in my home country, while the salary becomes obscene when compared to the average in the developing country where I now live. Your post reminds me to be grateful of my good fortune in many ways.

I should probably mention that I used to live in a high cost city, where these sorts of salaries were not uncommon in my industry. I've since moved to a low cost country, while managing to first maintain and then increase my salary through hard work and results.

Still, everything is relative, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence… I'm going to have to work 4-5 hours today (Saturday) and tomorrow to meet client deadlines. So I guess while the per annum salary is nice, my rate per hour is not so impressive!

Portfolio construction and management is in my 'inbox'. I don't want to rush though, as last time I did that I selected a dud tracker-fund that I'm now stuck with for another 2 years... I also have FX rate risks to consider too in my case.

As for adjusting to post-FI life, I don't doubt for a minute there's some issues to contend with. One of my favourite early retirement bloggers, "Living a FI" covers these issues well. But lets just say I look forward to meeting these challenges head on in a couple of years...

George the original one
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Re: The Great Escape

Post by George the original one » Sat Apr 16, 2016 10:37 am

> some outbuildings that could be converted into more accommodation if we wanted

This strikes me as the most obvious route to FI without requiring "investment knowledge". Set up the outbuildings as income-generating rentals.

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FBeyer
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Re: The Great Escape

Post by FBeyer » Sat Apr 16, 2016 12:57 pm

Pucheou wrote:...It definitely wasn't my intention to gloat about my salary -...
Given the aforementioned flabbergast one would expect an irrational reaction from me, wouldn't one? :D

I did not take it as gloating by any means. T'would be irrational to gloat about excessively high income on an FI forum. I wager any boasting would be reciprocated with a swift question regarding NOT being financially independent already :twisted:

I'm just slightly jealous, that's all. It'll pass in a few seconds.

Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Sun Apr 17, 2016 1:35 am

Hey George, thanks for dropping by.

My wife and I had this exact same conversation on renting the other day. The farmhouse is mostly sitting empty apart from when family or friends come to stay. We actually pay someone to maintain the garden when we're not there, which is not very frugal and in keeping with the DIY ethos, but there's just no way around it. Otherwise nature takes over in a short period of time and the place is a jungle when we get back.

We agreed that we need to consider renting it out while we're not around. The house is quite isolated, and I don't think there's any take up for a year-round rental. But, we could I think successfully rent it out as a holiday let during the summer, and there are companies that provide this sort of service in the area. We'll be doing some more research this year with a view to renting it from 2017.

I was thinking also of potentially converting the barn into a small house, as accommodation for guests (paying or non-paying). I think I would prefer to do this once I'm FI and have quit the job though. It would be a good project to get fully involved in rather than contracting out 100%. Still, while a fun thing to do, I'd need to see how renting the main house goes first, to judge whether it would present an acceptable ROI.

Hankaroundtheworld
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Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 4:50 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Hankaroundtheworld » Sun Apr 17, 2016 1:11 pm

@Pucheou I like your story, probably because I have a lot in common, only I have no children, and I am 50, but when I was 40, I had the same feelings and ideas when I was on the road (now 17 years, of which 11 years with expat packages like you described). My wife and I also selected a farmhouse in low-cost part of Europe (in this case Hungary), but I am surprised on the high amount of 300k that you paid (must be a really beautiful farmhouse). Other than that, with those high savings and high income, you should be doing fine reaching a good foundation for ERE. I must say, I do recognize the stress that expat life can bring (especially in some countries that you were hinting at), people do not always see that, they might see the nice pictures of the places that you visit, but not what it takes to create a life. My wife and I always saw it as an adventure and we learned a lot from it. Your perspective on life and humans change, most of the time in a good way, but you also lose some "innocence" that you might have kept staying in your home country. Nevertheless, you are in a great position to work towards ERE, and starting a life in a country where there is still fresh water, fresh air, nice communities, good farming land, etc..it is a great outlook, so enjoy these last years towards that future, it feels good to know where you would like to be.

Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Fri Apr 29, 2016 3:33 pm

April Update

Savings account: EUR 175,487.20
Investments: EUR 90,233.84
Total: EUR 265,721.04
*I have some cash in current accounts to meet my expenses for c.3 months, so I am not counting this.

A good month financially. I finally got some overdue bonuses paid, accounting for the big jump in savings. Not every month will be like this one...

I essentially told my boss I would have to consider resigning unless I got my due bonuses paid soon, this following over nine months of waiting and being strung along. He seemed to be a bit fazed at first but, sure enough, the money was in the bank a couple of weeks later. I think this is a good example of leveraging financial independence. Perhaps I wouldn't have been quite so bullish if I didn't have several years' worth of living expenses already saved up.

My investments are still flat, but I've bought a couple of beginner investment books with the aim of being confident enough to get a coherent, low risk (and low fees) investment plan together before the end of this year.

On the work front, things remain very hectic. I've been pulling some long hours and also made a couple of quite intense business trips in April. I missed the family a lot while away, which reaffirmed my desire to be done in a couple of years. I'm hoping to get a few days' down-time over the next month, to relax and recharge.

I've confided to my wife my 'retire by 40' plans. She remains deeply sceptical, but has also been impressing upon me the need to enjoy the present and not wish it away for some future retirement date, as yet unconfirmed. Of course she's right. I'm reminded of a quote I recently read, attributed to Hemmingway: "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end".

K60
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Joined: Tue Sep 09, 2014 5:59 pm

Re: The Great Escape

Post by K60 » Sun May 01, 2016 9:09 am

Hi Pucheo, Great story and great work getting those bonuses. Regarding investing, have you seen this? http://jlcollinsnh.com/stock-series/
It's US-focused but you can do follow his advice from afar. Good Luck!

Hankaroundtheworld
Posts: 470
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 4:50 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Hankaroundtheworld » Tue May 03, 2016 6:58 am

Pucheou wrote: I've confided to my wife my 'retire by 40' plans. She remains deeply sceptical, but has also been impressing upon me the need to enjoy the present and not wish it away for some future retirement date, as yet unconfirmed. Of course she's right. I'm reminded of a quote I recently read, attributed to Hemmingway: "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end".
Typical a women's comment and also wise: "you live now, and you should enjoy the moment, in the end, you only have *now*, the future and past only lives in your mind"

Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Tue May 31, 2016 9:14 am

May Update

Savings: €181,820.53
Investments: €90,589.09
Net worth (excluding my fully owned house): €272,409.62

Well another month has rushed on by. More refunded business travel plus no non-food, non-essential purchases and cycling everywhere means I've banked most of my salary for this month.

While I'm no frugal ninja like some on this forum, the saving part to the FI equation comes relatively naturally these days. Where I need to concentrate is on the investment side and getting some growth to boost my net worth.

Thanks K60 for the link - I read through the posts. Clearly passive investing via a low cost index tracker, split between stocks, bonds and potentially REITs is the way to go. Mr Collins is a big fan of Vanguard, as are most personal finance bloggers it seems. I am a UK national, and although I left the country many years ago, am non-resident and paid in euros, I think it will probably be easiest to invest with a UK, sterling denominated investment vehicle. I already have a brokerage account with a large UK bank, where my current investments sit. Another variable and semi-excuse for my current inactivity is the UK's in-out referendum on the EU, which may do funny things to the EUR - GBP exchange rate this month. If it goes above £0.80 - €1, I'll be exchanging a chunk of euros into pounds. In any event, I definitely need to convert some of this cash pile into another low fee tracker fund before the year is out.

In a similar vein, following discussions with my wife, we're going to aim to let out the house from next summer as a holiday home. I'll be lining up a few meetings with lettings agencies in the area this summer, while we'll probably also need to do a few works and improvements around the house, to get it into rentable condition. This may mean my savings rate goes south a little in the second half of this year, but it would be pleasing to see this asset finally working for us, as opposed to just draining our cash.

On an emotional side, I'm still plodding on, working like crazy. Getting over the hump of €300k net worth in liquid assets will be good, but I catch myself thinking (or more likely daydreaming) about early retirement most days. I'm not sure this is healthy - while the habit tends to make my days as a wage slave drag by even more slowly. Easier said then done, but I need to try to focus on the here and now and enjoy it (in a frugal manner!) rather than wishing the next couple of years of life to pass quickly so I can reach an arbitrary FIRE figure.

Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Fri Sep 30, 2016 3:42 pm

September update

Time flies when you've two kids under five plus a busy job I've come to realise! Four months have flown by since my last entry. The good news is that my net worth - excluding home equity - has now nudged north of EUR 300k. I'm still a tightwad when it comes to spending - although I've treated my long-suffering wife to a couple of expensive gifts which was great. Also I've benefited from the Brexit madness by moving some money into my Sterling accounts at a very interesting rate of exchange.

On the down side, I'm still yet to invest in a low cost tracker… I'm fully signed up in theory to the passive investing Vanguard strategy. But there always seems to be a good reason to delay. My latest self-justification for inactivity is the US elections and the real possibility of The Donald getting his tiny orange hands on the Oval Office, with the shock this would trigger on the markets. I guess I'm resigned to waiting this out, but the truth is probably more likely that I'm just too loss averse, even though hoarding cash is even more irrational.

Had some nice time off at our holiday home in August. But for the first time I found myself questioning my strategy of quitting at 40 and then living there (in the south of France) full-time. I love the house and the region, but… I started having doubts if it was really me. It's a remote, big farmhouse with lots of land. I was a bit shocked to see how nature was threatening to overrun the place - this despite hiring a gardener to pass by twice a month at no small expense. Anyway, I am now erring on the side of selling the house in the next year or two, once we've finished fitting a new kitchen (to help with the resale) and had a couple more holidays there. I still like the quitting-the-job-at-40 idea, but I think we should then rent until we find a place to settle with less upkeep. I would love my kids to have roots put down in their formative years, because at the moment we're living a quite itinerant lifestyle. In the meantime I am going to try to find a house sitter as an inexpensive way of keeping the place maintained. The other option of paying guests would involve additional costs for a property management service - we couldn't do this from where we live for work, on another continent. Anyway, if anyone out there in the ERE community is interested in an open-ended invite to live in the south of France rent free next year, in a 4 bed, 2 bath quiet farmhouse (with pool, hot tub, gym, tennis court, wi-fi and heating!) please PM me...

On the work front, things are still busy - but re-reading my last post I think I got a little too wrapped up in it all in the first half of the year. I was working all the time, having no time off to decompress and was almost counting the days to an imaginary FIRE date two years hence. My new approach involves trying to slow down a touch, delegate as much as possible and generally 'carpe diem', without worrying unduly about year-end financials and bonuses. If I need to stick around for an extra year or two post 40 to hit my FIRE number, so be it. I'm really focused right now on building good strong teams under me, which has been a major challenge as I am a big proponent of 'if you want something done right, do it yourself'.

All the best on your journeys. I'll pop by again when I have something meaningful to add.

Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Sun Jun 04, 2017 9:46 am

May 2017 Update

Thought I would update this journal after a long absence. It's been an eventful time since my last entry... FIRE is now mostly on autopilot: the rough plan is to grow my net worth (investments and cash only, I do not count our paid-off house and other depreciating assets) by 100k EUR each calendar year. I'm on track to hit around 385k - 395k EUR at the end of this year. Would have been more but for the BIG news that my wife is expecting our third child in a couple of months! This surprising turn of events has necessitated a couple of significant expenses, including getting a bigger car (15k EUR). I loath cars and much prefer cycling, but our existing motor could not physically house three car seats while public transport where we live - in a third world country - is non-existent. With the new car we hope to go on lots of family camping trips and generally get out of the city much more.

On the work front I've continued slogging away. The first half of this year involved long hours and lots of travel. But the last month was relatively easy, and we've another holiday scheduled next month before all hell breaks loose with the birth! I've had some good chats with my bosses, who are recognising my contribution and that of my team. My boss's boss recently intimated that he would create a good position for me should I ever want to come back to company HQ (in London), but I have no desire to make such a move at present. I still do not see myself as building a career with my employer. But I've also found myself challenging lately the notion that I would be done by forty, in under two years, now that the third kid is a reality. I think I'll probably end up slogging on for a couple of years beyond this. Re-reading this sorry attempt at a journal, I was looking at tapping out once my net worth hit 400 - 450k, especially given that my wife has no plans to give up her career and will likely continue to contribute 50% to our household expenses through her paycheck. However, these calculations were based on a 3% SWR + a cash cushion, using our current household spending. While I continue to avoid lifestyle inflation like the plague, the third kid will come with costs that will inevitably alter my FIRE calculations.

I've also been reviewing the wisdom of my plan to retire to our farmhouse... We've had some bad luck with house-sitters and, while I deeply love the place, it makes little financial sense. Maintenance costs are high and renting potential is low. I've discussed my concerns with my wife and we'll look to offload it as soon as we receive a reasonable offer. I love the idea of downsizing to a more modest house in a small town with a manageable garden, once we know for sure roughly where we'll be putting down roots and sending our kids through school.

In short, the future seems to be quite uncertain and in flux. But I am not facing it with too much anxiety, largely thanks to the stash I've been steadily building up.

Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:52 pm

2017 End of Year Review

Time for another 6-monthly journal update. The good news first: I hit my financial target for the year. My net worth is now north of 400k EUR which equates to well over two decades of spending at current rates. My third-born arrived safely into the world in September, and I'm genuinely loving the dynamic of having three children. Secured another decent pay rise but have avoided life-style inflation: I'm still tight with money. I finally got around to opening a Vanguard account and my investments are now mostly in tax advantaged and low-cost index trackers.

In short, a good year financially. Even work is a little less hectic than usual. I managed a proper two-week vacation far away from an internet point over Christmas, which was quite a revelation.

The only fly in the ointment seems to be the tedium of the job coupled with a more general anxiety about life passing me by. I turn 40 this year and I have essentially been doing the same thing in the same industry for 17 years. I'm pretty much done. But the plan now is to grimly march on for another couple of years at least 'for extra security', as I keep reminding myself. It's more likely that I'm suffering from an acute case of 'one more year' syndrome.

Today was beautiful and sunny where I live. I wanted desperately to be outdoors, with my kids,in nature. Anywhere but sat in front of my computer...

suomalainen
Posts: 493
Joined: Sat Oct 18, 2014 12:49 pm

Re: The Great Escape

Post by suomalainen » Fri Jan 12, 2018 3:25 pm

Pucheou wrote:
Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:52 pm
The only fly in the ointment seems to be the tedium of the job coupled with a more general anxiety about life passing me by. I turn 40 this year and I have essentially been doing the same thing in the same industry for 17 years. I'm pretty much done. But the plan now is to grimly march on for another couple of years at least 'for extra security',
I feel that. Another fly in my ointment (other than much higher expenses than yours!) is health insurance for the kiddos. What is your plan for that if you did pull the plug? I'm assuming you are not a US citizen, so curious about non-US-expat situations.

Pucheou
Posts: 12
Joined: Wed Mar 04, 2015 4:40 am

Re: The Great Escape

Post by Pucheou » Thu Jan 25, 2018 3:22 pm

Hi Suomalainen.

Well, currently private health care is covered for both myself and the family as part of my employment package. I'm a Brit, but also own property in France. If and when I do pull the plug on employment, we would almost certainly be in France or the UK, where acceptable healthcare is either free or very affordable. As such, it's not really been a factor in my thinking on early retirement... although college educations for the kids has!

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