What caught my eye this week.
I was stood up last night. Well, my dinner date didn’t make it. There were reasons. But my Google Alert for the Zombie Apocalypse didn’t trigger, so no excuses.
(Obviously in practice I’ve bumbled out Hugh Grant-esque assurances that I understand and it’s no problem and really another time, because I do and it isn’t and maybe. But Hugh doesn’t have to write dramatic blog openers.)
Anyway, as I sat enjoying my slow-cooked Mallorcan lamb for two by myself, I found myself admiring my pretty dining table, the natural grain of the wood, the way it’s lit by the fancy pendants above.
Quite the scene, especially if your tastes run to Edward Hopper and lonesome bachelors set off any interior scheme for you.
Two times table
It isn’t a particularly expensive table – it was one of my carefully sniped online bargains secured during my materialism mania last year.
One of the good things about dithering for decades before finally buying your own place though is you’ve got a bit more cash spare to indulge William Morris’ famous dictat:
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.
(Present company excepted, of course.)
But there were some unfortunate aspects to my delaying, too.
Specifically: Life moved on.
Much as I like my table, it doesn’t extend. I thought this would be a big deal when I bought it, and agonized as it only really fits six people comfortably. But the truth is I’ve only overflowed off the table twice since moving in.
There were periods – years ago now – when I’d have 8-12 people over for some sort of food and drink gathering every month or so. Even more often when I was in a relationship. But most of my old friends long ago went off to have kids in the provinces (i.e. beyond Zone 6) if they haven’t left the country altogether.
And while I pounce on young people like Keifer Sutherland in The Lost Boys – yes, an ancient reference, chosen for effect – much of the cast of Series Two: The Didactic Years has moved on now, too.
So it’s mostly just a couple having dinner with me on my table these days, or perhaps one or two older and similarly loner-ish diehard chums, or maybe a rare married London friend returning from that strange confinement of being responsible for children under five, still nervously watching her six-year old threaten to topple my tree fern out in the garden even as she starts to remember how to rant about politicians and rave about mini-breaks again like the old days.
Does it matter that I had most of my big social gatherings in rented places shared with friends – where many times the conversation turned to when was I finally going to buy somewhere of my own – and that now I do own somewhere, most nights I potter around it alone like someone from a Philip Larkin poem?
No no, don’t be silly. Time and place and all that.
Besides, I remember Douglas Coupland saying something in Generation X about how you lose your ability to make new friends the day you buy your first piece of non-disposable (/IKEA) furniture, so maybe my extended property serfdom garnered me a wider social circle than my scary Myers-Briggs statistics should warrant.
On the other hand, it’d have been nice to have had my own place, and all my own bits and bobs, and to have enjoyed then the theater of playing the host in my own curated home. I saw friends relish it, and thought I would, too.
None of this may be striking a chord with you, but something similar will. Because these are the sort of trade-offs we all make all the time when we save and invest for the future.
Of course you try to make the best of today in the meantime. You tell yourself it doesn’t matter that you’re not going abroad with your friends this summer. Press-ups and a pair of dumbbells are just as good as their gym membership. You can live like a billionaire on a supersavers’ budget.
But you can’t actually have it all, not in one lifetime. You can’t go back, travel like you could, run like you could, be as silly as you could. You might say you can, but you know you can’t. You can’t get your 20s back, and those glorious reckless days of being young.
Now I happen to believe that being young is such a natural state of grace that you really are best off saving your money for when you’re not young anymore. But that doesn’t change the mathematics of time’s arrow, and the consequences.
I often think about that scene in The Godfather, when Michael Corleone has a flashback to the raucous family table from years before he became a cold-blooded mafioso kingpin. Somewhere on the way to the latter, the former died. Perhaps he killed it, or perhaps it was going to die anyway.
There was a moment in my very early 30s when I’d decided not to buy a flat (too expensive) but I hadn’t yet fully caught the investing mania that went on to define me (too nervous). For a while I considered using the deposit I’d saved on moving to the mountains, or traveling. There was even a silly five-minutes when fed up with chasing property prices I considered throwing my frugal image to the wind and buying a sports car. (Especially silly considering I don’t have a driving license.)
What I did instead was learn to invest, get addicted to it, put all my house savings into the market, even started a website about it – and life went on regardless of my previous plans.
We shape our buildings, and afterwards they shape us
– Winston Churchill
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow
For more on this theme, check out this short new podcast on Abnormal Returns. It’s about balancing your today with what the guest Jeremy Walter calls ‘Tomorrowland’. I also touched on it in Buffett’s Folly if you want more.
This post sounds a bit maudlin, reading it back, but that’s just the wine talking. (And maybe the empty place at the table. Tiny violins. Don’t worry, this site is unknown to her. Our secret!)
I had my reasons for not buying a property sooner. My friends would have had kids and left anyway. I’ve got options today from the delay that I’m not sure I’d trade for a hodgepodge of fading memories.
So no regrets. Just a little shiver of reality.
Don’t be scared by a share split – Monevator
From the archive-ator: Staycation holidays – Monevator
Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1
Sterling takes a pounding [Search result] – FT
Adding more tariffs on Chinese goods could torpedo the US economy. Why is Trump doing it? – Slate
Late Rooms and Super Break collapse hits holidaymakers – Guardian
Suspended Woodford fund breaches unquoted limit after Guernsey stocks de-list – CityWire
Young Britons believe dream of owning home is over, survey says – Guardian
Sequencing risk and portfolio retirement rates – Fat-tailed and Happy
Products and services
The Lifetime ISA: Three ways to invest [Search result] – FT
How to sell only part of a paper-based shareholding – ThisIsMoney
Revolut launches commission-free share trading in US [Europe/UK to follow] – Prolific London
Virgin launches 15-year fixed-rate mortgage charging 2.55% – ThisIsMoney
Ratesetter will pay you £100 [and me a cash bonus] if you invest £1,000 for a year – Ratesetter
How to claim PPI compensation (for free!) before the 29th August deadline – MoneySavingExpert
US lawmakers are realizing they can’t ban Bitcoin – Forbes
Homes for sale in gatehouses [Gallery] – Guardian
Comment and opinion
Five portfolio lessons from target-date funds [US but relevant] – Morningstar
Woodford exposes flawed cog in the machine [On Authorised Corporate Directors, search result] – FT
Investing a million from the sale of a business – A Wealth of Common Sense
Retirement – Indeedably
Richard Thaler: “If you want people to do something, make it easy” [Search result] – FT
Just 1.3% of companies account for all the market gains of past three decades – Bloomberg
Wade Pfau makes the case for (simple) annuities over bonds in retirement – Yahoo
Best and worst value experiences in spending money – Valididea
A guide to investing money for children [PDF] – EQ Investors
Simon Lambert: High stamp duty is putting people off moving home – ThisIsMoney
The [contentious] case against traditional rebalancing strategies – Mark Hulbert
Angel investing: 10 tips for a virgin – Fire V London
Offered options by a start-up? Here’s a guide to valuing them – Matt Cooper via Medium
Alternative fee structures to realign the active fund management business – Clearing the Fog
What is quality investing? [PDF] – Andrew Latto
Government finds the magic money tree and shakes out £2.1bn extra for no-deal Brexit – BBC
“We can find no evidence that Dominic Raab warned of a no-deal Brexit” – Channel 4 / FactCheck
UK voters only began Googling no-deal explanations in mid-2018 [Graphic] – Mike Butcher via Twitter
“No room” for excess meat in a no-deal Brexit – BBC
Edinburgh festival performers refuse to be paid in sterling [Search result] – FT
Tory rebels threaten Boris Johnson as majority cut to one – Guardian
The Unite to Remain Alliance that won Brecon can take down a no-deal Brexit – Julian Dunkerton
Kindle book bargains
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics by Richard Thaler – £1.99 on Kindle
The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean – £1.99 on Kindle
The Four: The hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google by Scott Galloway – £0.99 on Kindle
The Miracle Morning: The 6 Habits that Will Transform your Life before 8AM by Hal Elrod – £0.99 on Kindle
Off our beat
Hanging out is essential to our health – Raptitude
Britain isn’t even in the top 10 of the world’s most innovative economies [Graphic] – Visual Capitalist
Walking is a superpower that makes us happier and healthier – Guardian
Brazil sacks top scientist who revealed extent of Amazon deforestation – Guardian
A New York Times‘-backed project using Bitcoin to authenticate/fight ‘deep fake’ images – New Provenance Project
“There can be only one” [Short video] – via Twitter
“Ownership is not limited to material things. It can also apply to points of view. Once we take ownership of an idea — whether it’s about politics or sports — what do we do? We love it perhaps more than we should. We prize it more than it is worth. And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss.”
– Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational
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