Fulfilled and frugal with a 80% savings rate

What does it take to feel happy and fulfilled? Do you need to be able to spend extravagantly, or it is possible with a frugal budget? After my post on income, I want to consider expenses, the other factor in determining your savings rate.


When it comes to spending, the guiding rule I follow is:

Does my spending match my values?

Simply if the items I spend money on mean a lot to me, I will be satisfied. Even if to others my expenses are frivolous, non value adding and not frugal. I have my indulgences, my tracking has categories lots of people don’t spend money on.  Some of these are travel, theatre, running, language learning; all items I personally consider enriching and hence worthwhile homes for my hard earned cash. I do approach most spending in a frugal way. For example, my Chinese teacher is in China as it’s better value and real Mandarin.  Theatre tickets are more of the budget variety than top price seats.

On the other hand, lots of line items on other peoples budgets don’t appear on mine at all. Activities such as eating out, drinks out, sports matches, concerts, TV and just shopping for pleasure don’t appeal to me. They add no value to my life, so I try to avoid them as much as possible. These are the simple approaches which I consider frugal.

My savings rate

Over the last few years I’ve had a bit of a campaign to trim my expenses. I was running at £29.5k in 2015/2016 tax year, where I tracked, but did not actively challenge myself to be frugal. I started paying more attention after the incident (more details below). Then I went down to £21.5k for 2016/2017, and this year will be £20k give or take.

£20k feels like a good frugal budget for a single person, (plus cat and chickens) especially since £9k is a mortgage. I’m aiming to keep my savings rate above 80%, and I’m easily exceeding the goal this year.

FIRE in 3 years

I am aiming to retire early in three years times at the age of 40. How is this possible? By saving and investing enough cash to be financially independent. I’m frugal enough to have a high savings rate, and privileged enough to have a decent income to make this possible. To unpack these, I have earned a high income for five years, and have been ramping up my savings rates during these times.

As with all lifestyle changes, there was a major incident that caused me to re-evaluate my life. A colleague had big problems, and they led to him being so stressed and doing such a bad thing he is now in prison. The main driver behind his actions was a lack of money – he was making very good money, his was a spending problem, not an income problem. It was a wake-up call to me to save as much as possible, to avoid getting myself into such a situation in the future.

So the decent income is possible working in London, in IT. Yes it’s hard work, you have to be always on and adding value all the time, however the work is generally interesting and can be quite creative in it’s own way. I do quite enjoy going to work, hence have never quite understood those that dread going to work or spend Sunday’s stressed. So with the income and spending both under control, life is free to be enjoyed while I work towards FIRE. I’m never one for idleness, I have tons of hobbies and ways to spend time. Most of these are frugal, some more so than others.

Hobbies and other interests

I find getting outside and getting fresh air invaluable, and running is how I usually get my dose of real daylight. To say it politely, I’m not a fast runner, or really a good runner, but I have grit, determination and keep on going. Hence I am a long distance runner, marathons are my thing – aiming for two marathons a year. I look at running as free therapy in both the physical and mental ways.

Yoga is my complement to running; again I am not a natural yogi and am the opposite of flexible. Yet I really enjoy yoga, stretching out any tightness due to running, and if I practise regularly I find *shock* my flexibility does actually increase.

Again I’m lucky enough to have a good sized garden, which I mainly use to grow fruit and veg, and keep chickens. I can get great harvests of random items, one year it was cucumbers galore, many potatoes and courgette gluts are a real headache – when you are tired of chocolate courgette cake life is bad! Like most things in life, I garden in a minimal effort, maximum reward type way, I love doing the fun bits, less so the drudgery – weeds are a fact of life, rather than something to be excluded at all costs.

One of my more challenging hobbies is language orientated. Learning Mandarin, the language spoken by the most people in the world. I have to say I’m really enjoying this process. It’s hard, strange and sometimes bewildering. But when I manage to make a breakthrough, or when I realise I can answer simple questions the pride is immense. It feels good to be able to converse in a foreign language. And moreover, it makes me realise how UK centric my life is. Why do we always assume our way is the best? Latin alphabet vs Chinese Hanzi? Cutlery vs Chopsticks? It has opened my mind to my inbuilt assumptions and biases. This has resulted in making me think more about the lenses through which I view the world.

The greater meaning

So yes, I am on a journey to FIRE in three years, and ensure that my life has a purpose and is personally fulfilling. The most important part of any journey is working out a purpose, the why. For me, myself freedom (Zi You) is the ultimate goal. I’m aiming to be free from trading my time for money on a fixed schedule, and looking forward to more flexibility. Most thoughts on religion and spiritual beliefs will be covered in a later post. In brief, I’m a rationalist atheist, but I support your right to believe in any religion of your choice.

What does freedom look like

To be able to dedicate more time to causes I believe in, to travel the world and to explore my interests deeper. Maybe I’ll hit up a running camp for a few months to train for a PB. Or take a month long yoga retreat. I also fancy some long distance hiking, could I do a  thru-hike of the PCT or AT? Should I spend a year in China to improve my Mandarin? Perhaps it will be time to begin my own start up? Or a non-profit? It’s that sort of freedom I am working towards.

Disease Called Debt

Sharing this post as part of Financially Savvy Saturdays ##finsavsat

22 comments on “Fulfilled and frugal with a 80% savings rate

  1. Well the only real response I have to your blog so far is… wow.

    You sound like you’ve pretty much nailed life 🙂

    Be interesting to see what you’ve done over the years with the monthly surplus, how you invested it and how you’ve adapted that strategy over time.

    Also, the idea of working in London – I’m assuming pretty central – and also keeping chickens is brilliant!! I also work in London and live out in a village… though we’ve not got a small farmstead just yet 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for your so kind comments Brian!

      Not sure I’ve nailed life, more like I’m leading with the things I’m good at, whilst still figuring out the other stuff.

      I’m planning a post on my investment ‘strategy’ which seems a bit of a formal word, more like my approach. It can be summed up a few words, lazy and cost focussed.

      Lots of outer London is very green, and where I am is suburban with big gardens. I think everyone should consider chickens, they are such great pets.

  2. Hello Ms. ZiYou

    Wow, 80% savings rate is fantastic!! And FI in three years is awesome as well!

    I’m glad to hear that you enjoy your job. I think you already have FI the fact that your net worth is looking healthy and the fact you enjoy your job!

    The most important part is just being happy. It’s also nice knowing that you’ll have the choice to stay a bit longer if you can tolerate and like your work. 😊

  3. Love the focus on freedom rather than retirement. Freedom allows you to labor at work you love as opposed to just being done. I think that’s what I see more FIRE bloggers actually working towards, but not always acknowledging.

    That’s clever with your Chinese tutor! I’m studying Japanese right now and it is the most challenging language I’ve learned yet. They use a lot of Kanji characters, so I’m getting am extremely indirect glance into a little bit of Chinese, too. 🙂

    1. It’s fabulous to have tempted you femmefrugality to visit my humble blog. I agree, FIRE is really working towards freedom rather a traditional, non working retirement for me; and I expect for the majority of other FIRE bloggers as well. We’ve all got something to retire to, rather than retiring to a life of leisure.

      Learning Kanji sounds awesome, I’m finding the characters much easier to learn than the sounds. I love how Chinese & Japanese are linked in a way, so I can read a bit of Japanese!

    1. Hi Gary, thanks for stopping by. I am happy I’ve managed to get the savings thing figured out over the last few years to get to that holy grail 80%, while still enjoying myself. I also ponder what would have happened if I discovered things earlier as well.

  4. At the risk of being unoriginal, ‘wow’!

    An incredible (and most impressive) effort in not succumbing to lifestyle inflation while living what sounds like a good life in London. They need people like you teaching this kind of stuff in schools!

    1. Hi Weenie…..yes I also love using the phrase wow…it conjures up the perfect amount of impressedness and postivity in a superhero type way, using only three characters. I may overuse it a lot.

      Actually, I do sometimes wonder what they teach kids nowadays about money. I don’t remember any amazing lessons or actually anything even really useful in my school. So everyone only had their parents and social groups as educators and role models. Which does really tend to breed inequality.

      1. Sadly, even good role models (eg my parents) can go unheeded – if I’d followed their example instead of getting into stupid debt for much of my adult life, I’d probably be early retired by now. Still, better late than never!

  5. I really like your thinking. It seems you think things through very well. You make you decisions based on rational thinking, and that is a positive way to go. I can’t say that about most other people.

    So congratulations on you “new” blog. I hope to read more. 保重!

  6. Quick q. on the savings rate, are you managing a steady 80% or do you find the rate oscillating a bit month to month?

    I tend to fluctuate between a 70% and 100% savings rate depending on what time of the year it is / which bills are due. I find that 70% – 75% is comfortable but when I start to approach 80% savings (when it’s one of the ‘expensive’ months of the year) I begin to feel a bit like I’m depriving myself.


    1. Hi Hustle Hawk, thanks for visiting and commenting.

      That’s a good question, I don’t measure my savings rate monthly, only on a rolling annual basis. Mainly as I don’t get paid monthly, so it would be all over the place from negatives some months to massive another month. And as you state, I’ve got a few annual bills etc that would really skew it.

      I’m not one for feeling deprived, if I really want something I try to work out a cost effective way to do it, and almost gamify the savings process.

What do you think?