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Dr FIRE – Financial Independence after a PhD – #ukpersonalfinance

Ms ZiYou UK PF Bloggers

I am so happy to introduce to you a new series here on Ms ZiYou, Let’s meet UK Personal Finance Bloggers. This week please welcome Dr FIRE.

He writes from an academic perspective on money, striving for financial independence and more.  I’m really keen to hear what he has to say about the education system and his views on society and the media.

 

Handing over to Dr FIRE – About You & Your Blog

Please introduce yourself and your blog

Hello! I’m going by the pseudonym of Dr FIRE. I recently started a blog of the same name over at drfire.co.uk. I wanted a name that was somewhat memorable, that made it obvious what the blog was about (financial independence) and that was also personal (I’m coming at this from an academic/university professional background, which I think is fairly unique within the FI blogosphere). When I chose the name, I was thinking of Dr Doom. Make of that what you will!

What sort of finance blog do you write?

The blog is still very young, so I haven’t found a niche yet. Or even necessarily want to find a niche. I’ve enjoyed writing about a range of topics so far, including general personal finance, my progress towards financial independence, attempts at making money from ways outside of my 9-5 job, and will continue to write about whatever interests me at the time. I started it mostly as a way to meet and connect with other FI bloggers.

How would you describe your current stage of life?

I’ve just turned 30, so I’m still pretty early on in both my career and on the road to FI.

What are your personal values?

This is something that I honestly haven’t given much thought to, so was pretty difficult to answer. After a lot of thinking and researching online, I came up with the following:

1 – Logic. This might sound strange, but I am known amongst my friends for being very logical in my approach to most things. Sometimes too logical, if you were to ask my girlfriend!

2 – Calm. When things are getting too hectic, whether at work or in my personal life, I find it’s much easier to just take a step back from the situation, relax and ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen? I’m fortunate that the worst thing is usually not that bad. It’s much easier to make the best decision when I’m not angry or stressed.

3 – Intelligence/Growth. In my career, I’m surrounded by people far more intelligent and successful than I am. This inspires me to work harder than I might otherwise, and to keep learning and trying new things in order to keep up.

4 – Enthusiasm. Arguably the opposite to the first two values, this is something that I really struggle with most of the time. Even when I am extremely enthusiastic about something, I often find it difficult to show it. But then, some of my best friends and favourite people have a visible passion and enthusiasm for life that makes them fun and inspiring to be around. I’m trying to learn to exhibit this more freely, but it’s easier said than done!

5 – Happiness. Life is long and difficult. But you only get one shot at it. If nothing else, I want to enjoy and make the most of the time I have, and not waste time or effort on things that don’t ultimately bring me some form of happiness.

Tell us about the challenges you have overcome

I’m very lucky to have been born and raised in a very middle-class family in the UK. As a result, most of the challenges I’ve faced have been pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. The first thing that pops into my mind is my PhD; that was probably the most difficult thing I’ve done. You spend four years banging your head against the same brick wall, with huge highs when your research is successful and crushing lows when all seems to be going wrong. Luckily, I made a great group of friends that helped me get through the whole experience, and now I feel as though I can do anything I put my mind to. The second that comes to mind is, immediately after I finished my PhD, I started a job in Asia and worked there for two years. It wasn’t anything like my PhD; certainly not as soul-destroying! But every day was a new, unique experience and taught me a lot about being independent.

What are your dreams and plans for the future?

To be comfortable, to be able to help provide for my immediate family and to enjoy life! I want to continue working towards financial independence; not to retire early, but because it instils a certain frame of mind that tries to make the most of the resources you have available, and to strive for more, whether that’s thinking about starting a side-business, or trying something different like starting a blog!

How do you keep fit?

During my previous job I had a gym membership and went twice a week, and would alternate running on the machine or lifting some weights. Prior to that I tried a variety of bodyweight exercises, like squats, push-ups, etc. I might look to join another gym once I start my next job in a few weeks. I also really like walking everywhere. It’s usually when I get most of my best ideas!

Tell us your favourite drink?

I’m pretty boring in this respect. 99% of the time, I just drink water! I only tend to drink alcohol when eating out or meeting friends, so usually around 2-3 times a month. Favourite alcoholic drinks are either gin and tonic, red wine, or an ale. The only name that comes to mind right now is Doom Bar, I’ve had that a lot the last few times we’ve been out, especially in London.

UK Society & Media

How do you get your news?

I tend to get my news mostly from Reddit, and occasionally from the BBC (TV and online), the Guardian (online) and whatever Google Chrome decides to show me on my phone. Having said that, I definitely don’t pay as much attention to the news as I used to, and I feel much happier for it. However, my girlfriend has been reminding me that this is a luxury only afforded to people that are in a comfortable position in life, so I should start taking a more active interest again and do what I can to engage and help.

What do you think about education and university nowadays?

Speaking as someone who went to university in the last 10 years to get an undergraduate degree and a PhD, I think we’ve gone from one extreme to the other. When my parents were 18, very few people went to university and it was almost exclusively for the upper class. Nowadays, it’s seen as weird if you don’t go to university. That generational gap is interesting to see and experience – my parents and grandparents think I’m set for life because I went to university, doubly so because I have a PhD. However, when over 50% of people my age have a degree, it starts to feel pointless. I think there needs to be a balance – education can be a great way out of poverty, but that education doesn’t have to be a degree; taking an apprenticeship could be the right route for some people.

Having said that, I think it’s a shame that teenagers nowadays might be put off going to university because of the high cost – it’s not unusual anymore to graduate with £40,000 in debt, which is far more than just a few years ago. It’s not all bad though, as the loans are income-based and will get forgiven 30 years after graduation. I actually posted recently showing why repaying your loans early doesn’t always make sense, and why I personally am only paying the minimum each month.

And the UK housing market – what are your thoughts?

I wish it was all much cheaper! It’s annoying that the housing market is so distorted by location. If you go anywhere near London it’s ridiculous and crazy expensive, but if you move north then everything is much more affordable. But of course, job prospects in the north are typically not as great as in the south.

Please share your top 10 blogs you follow with us.

In no particular order:

On reflection having a look at the list above, do you have any thoughts?

I think most of them are male… Perhaps I need to expand my horizons a little bit. I also tend to follow UK bloggers, as this list indicates; I think all bar two are based in the UK. These are all blogs that I either found about 6 months ago when I first started taking an interest in FIRE blogs, or about 4-6 weeks ago, when I first started my own blog and started looking for newer blogs to follow.

How do you feel about privilege in the UK?

I can’t say that I have noticed if I’ve ever received better treatment or opportunities because of privilege… But then, I suppose that’s the point! As I mentioned above, I’m very lucky to have been born into a middle-class family in the UK. That alone makes me amongst the richest, luckiest people in the world. According to this website, my salary of £30,000 puts me well within the top 1% of richest people worldwide by income, which is crazy to me.

I certainly have a large degree of privilege in not ever worrying about my safety. I was pretty shocked when reading Ms ZiYou’s 100th post on feminism and saw the tactics that woman take to avoid sexual assault vs those that men take. And, whilst I can’t think of specific instances of privilege at work, I think it manifests itself in just being taken seriously, all the time, and not having to prove myself.

Money Advice

What questions would you ask people to understand their priorities?

1 – What are your goals?

2 – What do you want out of life?

3 –  What makes you happy?

Do you have a financial tip for someone interested in learning about money?

Track your income and outgoings for 1-3 months. Every penny. Only then will you know where your money is going and how to start cutting some expenses in order to save more.

How much do you talk about money in real life?

For the most part, very little. Unless someone else brings it up, then I unleash everything I’ve learned over the last few years, and they learn to never bring it up again. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I started the blog; I needed an outlet! I was quite shocked when I was speaking to my old manager about pensions and the recent university strikes, and she couldn’t tell me exactly what the strikes were for, or what the new or old pension schemes were.

What advice would you give to people about investing?

There is a non-zero chance that you will lose all your money. So only invest if you are willing to take that risk, and if you are willing to play the long game. There’s a very good chance that £10,000 invested today will be worth far more in 30 years’ time, especially if history is anything to go by, but there will be lots of downturns in those intervening years!

Parting Words

What is one awesome thing in your life now?

My awesome girlfriend.

Anything else you’d like to say?

First of all, thank you Ms ZiYou for running such a great series and for featuring me! And sorry if I’ve written so much, but there were a lot of good questions to get through.

How can people connect with you?

I can be found on drfire.co.uk or on twitter, @DrFIREUK

Ms ZiYou Back Here

Thanks for sharing Dr FIRE – I loved reading your answers and was kinda surprised that Reddit is used for news! But I am so refreshed to hear your take on privilege and understanding women’s lived experiences.

If you blog about money in the UK and would like to be featured on Let’s meet UK Personal Finance Bloggers – please get in contact.

And as always, it’s over to you – what are your thoughts after hearing from Dr FIRE?


Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.

18 comments on “Dr FIRE – Financial Independence after a PhD – #ukpersonalfinance

  1. Interesting interview, Dr FIRE – great to read about all the different walks of life on the road to FIRE and interesting to read your thoughts about education from an academia point of view.

    Always good to see another UK blog and look forward to reading more about your journey.

  2. Good to find out a bit more about you Dr Fire. Please tell me that you were also thinking of LivingaFI when you thought Dr Doom? He was/is the FI blogger that has inspired me most. He hasn’t blogged for two years now (but basically stopped three years ago when he hit FI – I actually gave an air punch when he put up the post that he had quit his job.

    Anyway back to you! I think that the impact/benefits/privilege of growing up middle class in the west areunderrated by the FI community. The underpinning of soft skills, ambition and education that gave us is, I think, a key factor in what gives us the confidence to go on this singular journey. Do you think that it might have helped give you the confidence to work in Asia for two years? That’s not the sort of thing that the vast majority of the people in the UK will do.

    Anyway, good luck with the journey and I look forward to hearing more of it!

    1. LivingFI was also in my mind when Dr Doom was mentioned. I loved his series on his previous employers – actually loved is the wrong word, shocked and spell bound more likely.

      Really love this series and the different backgrounds of bloggers.

      Dr FIRE – it’s great you’ve found the FI movement so early – wish my 30 year old DD would listen to me and at least think about the financial independence aspect that FIRE offers. Sigh.

      1. Hi Tuppenny. I think no matter when you discover FI, you always wish it was earlier! If it’ discovered it when I was 20, I could have has an extra decade of compound growth! (I’m not sure what on, because I was a student for most of that, but still!)

        I agree though, even if you have no desire to retire early, I think the FI movement has something to offer everyone, even if it’s just the principles of saving for a rainy day. The benefits of having enough money to cover yourself if you have to leave work cannot be overstated!

    2. Hi Caveman – yeah Dr Doom hasn’t been around for ages……that brings back memories.

      And yes, privilege is real – especially in the safety net way that you are free to take risks and always have parents that can take you in if anything happens.

      1. As I said to Caveman, I fully agree that the safety net I’ve got means that I can take all kinds of risk, safe in the knowledge that I can just move in with my parents if I need to! A luxury that most people don’t have, and which I’m always grateful for.

    3. Thanks Caveman. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of LivingaFI before you mentioned it. Having just looked at his site, I can see that he’s already got Dr DOOM covered! I guess no idea is truly original anymore, haha.

      For sure, it would be disingenuous to not acknowledge the luck that I’ve had that has allowed me to reach this point in life and achieve what I have. Of course, there was some hard work involved, but I started in a pretty good position compared to most.

      You could be right, that my upbringing gave me the confidence to just move to Asia for 2 years. It never crossed my mind not to really. I knew that, worst case, I could just come back to the UK and live with my parents for a while. I’m lucky that I’ve always had that safety net to fall back on. As for Asia itself, I was pretty lucky to be a white man over there, as it meant that I was afforded a lot of respect from the beginning.

      Thanks, and same to you! Looking forward to reading future posts on your blog.

  3. Just wanted to say, thank you Ms ZiYou for agreeing to interview me! I’ve enjoyed following both this series and the financial feminists series, so it’s great to join in.

  4. “When things are getting too hectic, whether at work or in my personal life, I find it’s much easier to just take a step back from the situation, relax and ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen?” – I like that.

    It tends to become easier as you get more experienced. I’m talking about work mainly. If you’re new and green you think you have to say ‘yes’ to everything and know everything. It helps when you arrive at a point where you realize you will never know everything, you can admit you don’t know everything (or rather admit that there are many things you absolutely have no clue about) and have no problems with saying ‘no’ to your boss.

    Great interview/post by the way! And I love Dr FIRE’s blog. Have added it to my fav’s.

    1. It was that attitude that enabled me to move to Asia for a few years. I was confident enough that I could get through whatever might come my way, and knew that I could simply move back home if all went wrong!

      I agree that your confidence in general improves as you gain more experience. I reached the point of acknowledging that I will never know everything a long time ago, haha.

      Thank you very much for the kind words!!

  5. Great interview! I agree with Dr FIRE’s girlfriend on the point that it’s only those in privileged positions who can afford to avoid the news. But saying that, the news is so frustrating/depressing these days that it’s important to get away from it sometimes to remain sane!

    1. Thanks Mindy! That is pretty much how I feel; the news just moves from one disaster to the next, trying to prompt outrage amongst viewers/readers. Very rarely will they simply present the facts and allow you to make up your own mind, so I tend to avoid it and am generally happier; ignorance can be bliss! But I’m obviously pretty lucky in being able to do that.

  6. Really interesting interview, I look forward to following your progress Dr FIRE.
    As an academic and sometime university employee, I think we’re definitely in a privileged position. The USS remains a decent package despite it’s new watered down state.
    Do you think your PhD has impacted your income or earning power?

    1. Thanks! Yeah, as far as defined benefit pensions go, the USS isn’t as good as many others, but then having a DB pension at all is better than most defined contribution pensions!

      Good question about my PhD. I think it’s hard to say. On the one hand, I spent four years after my undergrad degree earning a stipend of around £13,500 per year (tax free) and a few thousand a year with teaching and marking. I probably could have earned more if I’d started a graduate program paying anywhere from £18-24K per year and with regular pay increases. But then immediately after my PhD, my salary jumped to around low-mid £30,000s, where I expect it will stay until I either make the jump to lecturer, or change careers. I think, overall, you shouldn’t do a PhD if your only consideration is to earn a lot of money. Completing a PhD will pretty much ensure that you earn above the median wage in the UK, and opens up a lot of opportunities for working abroad, but in hindsight I could have earned more, quicker, if I had followed a different path. Having said that, I don’t regret my decision at all. I learned a lot during my PhD, had the opportunity to work abroad for a few years and have met a lot of great people as a result (including my girlfriend!).

What do you think?