Our journey to Financial Independence

Tag: investments

origin stories matter on old typewriter

My Financial Origin Story: Cent by Cent

First I’ve got to clear the air this article was inspired by the Monevator’s article “What’s your financial origin story?” The challenge has been taken up by Sovereign Quest and was an amazing opportunity for some self-reflection.

This introspection is definitely welcome as a thought experiment. Why have I fallen head over heels for personal finance? What motivates me to stick with it and more importantly what was the deciding factor?

Who am I?

My financial Origin Story starts here

At the time of writing this, I’m a 24-year-old Swiss expat based in London. I won’t divulge my exact net worth but I’m 2 years into my personal finance journey and loving it! By day, I strategize and grow revenue for hotels across Europe as a Cluster Revenue Manager and by night I work on Cent by Cent.

 Now that we know where I am, how about we discover how I got here?

My financial origin story starts in Lausanne Switzerland. Where I grew up in a blue-collar family. My paternal grandfather had started his butchery from scratch in his 30s. My father took over the shop early in my childhood and has been running it ever since.

Lightning struck twice as entrepreneurship ran on both sides of the family. With my maternal grandfather traveling to East Africa and setting up a company there.

white and brown cow near mountain during daytime
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Being raised in not only a multicultural but business-minded environment meant I was exposed to “shop talk” from an early age. As a curious-minded kid, I would butt it and give my very “thoughtful” advice. At least I used to think it was… 

Money was never taboo at our table. My family would discuss investments, financial upswing, and downfalls alike. This candor and openness gave me the bug for good deals. To such an extent that some could see it as cheap. I see it as thrifty.

Every cent has a purpose

From my 11th birthday, the Christmas holidays were spent helping around the shop. The frenzy would go crescendo until the 24th of December. It was complete pandemonium and hard work. 

mother giving her daughter her allowance
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Although, some parents would have expected the help and given nothing in return. Mine saw it differently. In their eyes, any job deserves a reward. They taught my sister and me, that every franc had to be earned. Whether it was through chores, work at the shop, or in general.

Your work won’t always pay off but you need to learn the value of each cent.

My father

Growing up I would, of course, spend my money on silly impulses from video games to sodas. Yet all these “blows” to my net worth were a learning step.

I might have spent a little too much money on Steam… But the hours of joy follow me to this day. Say what you will but managing an in-game economy in MMORPGs had a lot to do with my origin story as well.

As I got the university… I was able to find side jobs as a waiter, bar manager, or simply event staff. It was relatively well paid and allowed me to fund my backpacking trips.

man with backpack standing on stone near lake in highland
Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

My aim was to discover the world on a budget and on my dime. It led me to 3 continents and unforgettable experiences. When I say budget I mean it… I spent a month in Indonesia for a total cost of $1200 flights included.

Of course, I could have started investing earlier or saving aggressively. But the worthwhile investment in my eyes was to expand my mind and grow my knowledge of the world.

Money isn’t happiness

As I was graduating in 2018, I decided I wanted to leave Switzerland. Although, the cushy salaries were attractive – I could always come back. No departure is definitive but the risk of being locked in a golden prison was too high. I discuss this more in my article “Should I live Abroad? To Leave or Not To Leave”.

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My dream was to work in a strategic role of some capacity. The opportunity to join a brand new graduate program in Revenue Management was perfect. So I packed my bags and flew out to London. On the way there I waved goodbye to Swiss Salaries. 

It was the financial kick in the butt… I was breaking even monthly sometimes saving as much as 10%. But always looking over my shoulder raised a red flag. It was time for a change in my financial philosophy. Down the rabbit hole of Personal Finance, I went. 

It started with Graham Stephan on YouTube, which led a couple of years later to starting Cent by Cent. 

light inside library
Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

Throughout the first 18 months of my contract, I managed to settle my savings at 10% monthly. My Net Worth wasn’t going leaps and bounds but at least, I built my Emergency Fund. A safety net of 4.5 months of expenses saved up in case hard times hit! 

2020 the game changer

And oh boy did they… As 2020 came around I was promoted and saw a salary increase of 50%. A game-changer I would be able to save and invest almost 50% of my salary! 

man with fireworks
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The only problem? My flatmate left leaving with a full rent to pay. I could have found a replacement right? Well… COVID-19 hit and no one was going anywhere. I quickly found myself on furlough and having my income match my expenses. 

For almost 6 months, my current account would show £100 before needing to reach into my emergency fund. I can’t tell you how happy I was to have my emergency fund. On the other hand, it was an amazing opportunity to review my expenses and learn to live a more frugal lifestyle. 

I realized that I miss very little. The opportunity to fly home once in a while, pay rent now that I moved in with my lovely girlfriend, and put food on the table. Those are the true essentials! Thankfully since October, I’ve returned to full-time employment. Since then I can proudly say that I’ve consistently been saving 40+% of my income. 

Where am I now?

I’ll be turning 25 in June… and although Financial Independence is a long way. The journey has been thrilling so far. Most of my investments sit with Vanguard in different ETFs and grow monthly. As I look to the future, I draw inspiration from practical guides and build my plans accordingly

It might take me more than 10 years to achieve Financial Independence but articles like “How To Become Financially Independent in 10 Years” are a source of practical inspiration.

Cent by Cent is yet to generate revenue but allows me to share what I’ve learnt so far. My net worth grows more every month and keeps me focused on my goal! Personal Finance might be personal but it’s a team effort. By working together and sharing our tips and tricks we all move forward. 

What is your Personal Finance Story? How far along of the journey are you?

light bulb with success definitions

Are You Successful? 7 Definitions of Success

How do top performers define success?

Are you going to be a success? I wish I could guarantee it. The problem begins when I ask you, how you define success.

By the way… How do you define success?

I’ll be honest, I have no clue. Curious as I am — I couldn’t leave this question unanswered. From Personal Finance to life, in general, it’s an essential question. We measure ourselves comparably to the success of others. Although, ultimately it doesn’t matter we cannot stop ourselves. 

So to be sure I had the best insight I had to look at the best for feedback. At the end of the day, we measure our own success. Yet finding pride from within can be challenging. I’m sure that whatever you believe is a success you will find yourself below!

1. If you're engaged it's a success

When asked about success Richard Branson answers

“My definition of success? The more you’re actively and practically engaged, the more successful you will feel.”

Mr Branson makes no mention of performance. In his eyes, success is a feeling – an emotional reaction. Although this quote might be difficult to apply to investing. It’s perfect when it comes to chasing Financial Independence. As we achieve FI the chase of success becomes an easy one. You have the time to throw yourself into engaging work, despite lower potential returns.

The book “Finding My Virginity” , an autobiography by Richard Branson, was eye-opening for me. Although, he has failed dozens of times and gotten back up. He started with nothing and has built the Virgin Empire by pursuing passion projects. 

We can put it down to luck. But it opens the question: had business been less profitable would he have the same definition of success? 

I feel close to this definition as motivation always runs high when I’m passionate. It certainly explains why “pro-bono” work feels rewarding.

2. Sacrifice is necessary

I didn’t expect to find “it’s easy” among the answers. Yet the way the Dalai Lama puts the value of success in perspective is mind-opening. It’s also a quote that is perfectly at its place on a FI/RE and Personal Finance blog.

“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”

If you strive for Financial Freedom – you know the importance of lowering expenses and growing income. Achieving your yearly saving rate is a success in itself as it requires you to sacrifice some comfort.

I talk about the challenge of moving abroad in my article “Should I Live Abroad?”. My move abroad although at the cost of higher pay is in my eyes a success. Sacrificing the comfort from home for personal growth was the right call!

Take time to reflect on what you’ve given up on to reach your current position.

3. Success to the unyielding

How Bad do you want success?

Striking gold is tough. The likelihood of it being on the first throw is minuscule. You will fail. Not once probably, many times. How do you keep your drive? More importantly, how do you find your strength in failure?

Winston Churchill defines “Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

I’ll be honest here… If I had given up blogging at my first hiccup. There would be no article. What keeps me relentlessly motivated and wanting more is passion. And maybe, more importantly, the conviction that Cent by Cent will go somewhere. 

Similarly when it comes to investing, “holding” is the only true strategy. Of course, rebalancing occasionally is important. But to reach the coveted million dollars the best tactic is consistent investing. Whether the market drops or rises you stay in the market. The technical term is Dollar Cost Averaging.

Keep your heart and hope high, success will accompany you. Do not let yourself be shot down and keep growing no matter what.

4. Eyes on the Prize

As an ambitious person, I tend to go from idea to idea. I get excited by many different projects, which end up leading to nothing. Expecting dumb luck or some kind of innate talent. Not realizing that concentrating my energy was the answer. Bruce Lee put it best when he said:

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”

When it comes to investing, set your end goal and thrive for that. When saving feels pointless this month remember that you do it for tomorrow. Keeping a clear goal in mind and focusing all your efforts on it.

Of course, blind loyalty even to yourself is a Damocles sword. With strong focus comes emotional attachment. Sometimes accepting to take a loss is the best decision you can make. The high focus tends to make that difficult. As we saw with Winston Churchill accepting a failure can define your success! 

I dive into this idea in my article “2020 Retrospective: 10 Important Lessons

I’m not special but if I stay concentrated. I might just become successful.

5. Will it even matter?

“Try not to become a person of success, but rather try to become a person of value.”

This quote by Albert Einstein caught me by surprise. I was tunneling on success.

Society has taught me success is all that matters. 

Yet, does it matter if I must betray my beliefs? 

When making a big decision I always come back to this quote. I ask “what is the cost of this success?”.

From investing to lifestyle decisions, realize your values are what define you. Without them you are but a dragon hoarding money and accolades. Working aimlessly towards growth is an illusion.

The only true measure of your success is how much you grow towards your values. As a way to stay true to my values, I read the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling weekly.  Alternatively, I explore the idea of setting goals in line with my values in my article “Financial Goals: Why I was Wrong”.

6. Where to start?

Whether it comes to storytelling, launching a company, or buying a house. We all get started with an idea. Pablo Picasso tells us to take a step back:

“You have to have an idea of what you are going to do, but it should be a vague idea.”

This resonates strongly with me. Of course, having objectives is important. On the other hand, being too specific can feel limiting. When I set off to write a new article I decide on a general topic and let it take me. The more free reign I give myself the more creative I get. 

Similarly when it comes to investments having rigid targets is taxing. I personally am aiming to save 5 digits this year. But I refuse to give myself an objective on returns. No one can control the market and when you are in it in the long run… one year’s returns is a drop in the ocean.

7. Success is accepting imperfection

Success won’t come easy. That’s a given. Success eludes many as they define it as reaching perfection. Perfectly mastering a skill, a perfect recipe or creation are but dreams. 

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.

Salvador Dali

I find this quote relaxing. It reminds me that although quality is important – perfection is fiction. When I started Cent by Cent, I would refuse to publish an article if it wasn’t perfect. It took me a month to understand I’ll always find flaws in my work. It’s better to publish and grow than to stagnate and wait for perfection.

The same goes with Personal Finance, I’ve accepted I’ll never rid myself of all unnecessary expenses. It’s impossible simply because sometimes “treating” yourself is a necessity. I try to keep my mistakes to a minimum but accept that I can’t completely avoid them.

So What is success?

No Idea…

Really None.. but isn’t that the beauty of it? 

You are able to create your own definition of success. One thing that seems to be in common is to never back down. Whether it’s in life or in finance, hold your positions and give yourself the time to grow. 

The biggest cause of failure is giving up. On the other hand, I try to remember to not be stubborn. Sometimes, giving up is the best thing you can do. As long as you grow from every endeavour whether it ends in success or failure doesn’t matter.

We must strive to create our own measure of success and to live according to our values!

I would love to hear what you define success as and how you apply it to your everyday life.

Investments around the world

How To Start Investing With Vanguard in 2020

What’s Vanguard and Why should you care?

Vanguard is the investment firm I use for my Stocks & Share ISA. They offer low fee trading via a selection of funds owned by the company. This ensures you benefit from the full return of your portfolio. 

Vanguard started trading in the US 45 years ago and reached the UK in 2009. I’ll dive deeper into exactly what they offer within the article. You can invest in most funds via most trading platforms or use Vanguard’s Investor directly

The biggest selling point is you don’t need to be an expert to trade with Vanguard. It has many options and a clear explanation for each. By going through their funds you get to pick by risk profile, historical returns, and cost. Whether you are starting your journey with investing or are looking for a new placement. They have something for you.

Why do you recommend Vanguard funds?

I’m a big adept of the Dollar Cost Averaging approach of investing. It isn’t possible to time the market. Studies have shown that by investing consistently or by investing a lump sum at once in-market tracking funds such as VUSA (S&P 500 tracker) you will always outperform the market. 

If you want to understand the math behind DCA, I recommend this article by Investopedia. This theory is what led me to set up a direct debit for the first of each month. On that date, 20% of my salary is automatically invested.

Vanguard has a successful track record with market tracking funds over the last 45 years. Investing a fix-sum into the S&P while not guaranteeing returns makes them very likely in the long-term. If you are in the US the fund is VOO and additionally holds a dividend yield of 1.2%. On the other hand, if you are investing with Vanguard’s platform in the UK you will have access to VUSA. They are both represented in the pictures below.

As you can see over the last decade both have grown consistently even with hiccups such as the April 2020 Crash. You also have a large array of fixed income funds from Bonds (gits in the UK) to High Dividends. 

Don't worry you have other options

If all of this feels too overwhelming and you would rather have simpler, more straightforward solutions… You are covered with Vanguard’s blended funds. They are my favorite as you will see below. The Lifestrategy funds give you the opportunity based on your risk aversion and targets to decide on the percentage of equity vs bonds you hold. They go from LifeStrategy 20 (20% equity & 80% bonds) to LifeStrategy 100. 

Not only will you be invested in both equity and bonds they will be internationally spread to minimize the impact of local crashes. The way you should pick such funds is based on your age and risk profile. Low equity means low risk at the expense of high profitability. On the other hand, the high equity is “High Risk, High Reward”.

In case you are looking to retire soon, focus on low equity funds. Whereas with long-term goals (10+ years) you can look at higher risks as Dollar Cost Averaging is on your side.

Vanguard Investors different accounts (UK)

If you aren’t from the UK but want to see my portfolio skip this part! And if you are here we go. 

Vanguard offers 4 different types of accounts in the UK:

If you are unfamiliar with ISAs, I go in-depth in “What Is An ISA (Individual Savings Account)?”. The short version is that you can save up to £20’000 p/an in ISAs. Any gain whether from interest, capital, or dividends made on this allowance will be tax-free. Maxing out your ISA should be your priority.

Well, a pension account is straight forward. Your allowance is £40’000 p/a. This money will only be accessible once you reach retirement and will be growing till then. Maxing out your pension allowance should be your priority once you maxed out your ISA.

You should only use General Accounts once both others have been maxed out. As your earnings will be subjected to HMRC’s law. As far as Vanguard is concerned this account functions in the same capacity as any other account. You can freely buy and sell Vanguard funds. If you want to open a General Account I recommend using a third-party app such as Trading 212 as you have access to a higher amount of funds. (Use my referral link and get a free stock valued up to £100/$100).

A junior ISA is just that, an ISA account for Minors. They will not have access to it until they reach 18 and it only holds an allowance of £9,000.

Vanguard’s 3 types of funds

Welcome back to everyone lucky enough not to live in the UK. It’s time to look into vanguard’s 3 types of funds. 

Let’s start with Equity funds. There are 36 of them and are accessible through both Vanguard’s platform or third-party apps such as Trading 212. (follow the link to get 1 free stock worth up to £100/$100). As said earlier they are riskier investments but will have higher returns in the long run. You can find the list here with their tickers available when you click on them. The funds are spread out per category:

  1. European 
  2. Global 
  3. UK
  4. Emerging Markets
  5. Asian Pacific
  6. USA

Each of them with their own characteristics. I personally invest monthly in VUSA as I strongly believe in the S&P 500.

Secondly, you have a Fixed Income. This category regroups all BONDS. Once again you have the choice of your investment platform. These funds typically hold a lower fee and return a coupon quarterly which goes from 0.5% to 5%. Your coupon will depend on your risk profile once more. Government bonds are safer than Corporate but yield lower payments. Holding bonds is a true form of passive income as they will payout until maturity.

Vanguard splits them into the same categories as Equity and they total 24.

Finally, you have blended funds. As explained earlier they are only accessible from Vanguard’s platform. As a blend of equity and bonds, they lead to quick diversification of your portfolio.

What does my portfolio look like?

I started investing with Vanguard at the start of the Financial Year. And so far I have seen a rate of return of 16.6%. With 4.5% coming in the last 3 months. I invest 20% of my income by direct debit monthly. It ensures a stable growth of my portfolio whilst practicing DCA.

Vanguard offers a clear insight tab which makes it easy to see in which markets you are invested and how your portfolio is structured. Mine looks like this:

Vanguard portfolio fund

As you can see I am heavily invested in the European and American markets. I tend to invest most of my direct debit directly into the LifeStrategy 80% which has seen the highest returns so far. The rest is split between VUSA and UK/American government bonds. This ensures I receive a 2.5% coupon quarterly on these investments.

As far as funds and Sectors themselves my portfolio looks like this:

Vanguard Funds breakdown

With a high amount of diversification, I am mostly covered by the tides of the market. With this screen, I’m also able to quickly review if I am satisfied with where my money is allocated. I then make modifications ahead of next month’s investments.

Final thoughts

As far as investors go Vanguard is a safe option. With a proven track record, a straight-forward website, and a high diversity it is difficult not to recommend. Whether you are a starter or an experienced trader Vanguard will have something for you. 

I will say their website is quite dated especially on mobile and if you do not want to be pigeonholed into 1 investor. I recommend using a third-party trader.

In addition to Vanguard, I use Trading 212 which has no fees and the benefit of giving both of us a free share if you sign up with this link. It is quite straightforward and will allow you to open positions with other traders. I will do an in-depth review of it in a future article. 

Please share your thoughts on investments and how you prefer to do it below in the comments.

Disclaimer: The links for Trading 212 are affiliate links. I am not paid for my opinion and all opinions shared are my own.

grow your investments graphs going up

What Is An ISA (Individual Savings Account)?

ISA the UK's tax free saving account

What if I told you that you could open an account and never pay a cent on the interest and capital gained?

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Almost like it’s too good to be true. 

Well, that’s partially true… You are limited to £20’000 per financial year. This target might seem unreachable right now, but if you are in the right place to change that. 

2 years ago, I had just arrived in London – my eyes full of stars. No idea what to do with my money though… A new country meant a new system. Thankfully, many of my colleagues had come from abroad and could help. They told me about Individual Saving Accounts (ISA). 

Honestly, I couldn’t believe it existed and I come from Switzerland… the country of Banks. This sounded like a golden opportunity. 

As a result, I can’t have you missing out can I? Here, is what you need to know about the ISA system. You can deposit up to £20,000 per financial year  all earnings will be tax free. They come in 4 forms:

  1. Cash ISA
  2. Lifetime ISA
  3. Stocks & Shares ISA
  4. Inovative Finance ISA

Why should you care?

You might be thinking why does it even matter? I’m barely able to save £100 whether my interest is taxed or not won’t make a difference. You couldn’t be further from the truth.

If you were to save £100 a month for 20 years and keep it in cash you would have £24,000. Whereas if you were to invest it in a fund tracking the S&P 500 which annually returns 7% on average – you would have £52,638.21. If you save this money in an ISA you will have earned £28,638.21 tax-free. On the other hand, if you kept the investment in a general account you would be taxed on account of capital gains.  

S&P 500 ETF tracking fund

Although the tax-saving might seem minor today, in the long run, your ISA will work for you. Aiming to max-out your ISA should be a goal every year. 

As of now, I have gone from saving around £1000 annually to targeting a £6000 saving goal this year. If I were to pay taxes on my return this year I would go from a £150 interest accrued to around £100. ISAs are a blessing in disguise.

What are the different ISA?

At this point, you might be wondering what are my options? Also, How do they work? In this article, I will summarize each ISA. In effect, giving you an overview of what each account does.

  1. Cash ISA

This one is straight forward it’s a fixed interest saving account. Which is either instant access with a lower interest rate or fixed-term and will incur a penalty for early withdrawal.

  1. Innovative Finance ISA (IFISA)

As an IFISA holder, your investment is in the form of a peer to peer (P2P) loan. Based on how long you are willing to leave your money in the account you will receive interest from the loanee. It’s risky as default is a common occurrence. Withdrawal of funds is also extremely challenging.

  1. Lifetime ISA 

This Account is capped at £4000 p/a and can only be opened between 18 and 40. You can contribute until you are 50. During this time, the government will add a 25% bonus. This contribution can only be accessed when withdrawing for retirement or first-time property buyers.

  1. Stocks & Shares ISA (My favorite)

This Individual Savings Account allows you to invest in stocks, funds, ETFs, and bonds of your choosing via a brokerage platform. Although capital is at risk, it allows you to earn interest, dividends, and coupons tax-free.

I will be doing individual reviews for each type of ISA and giving you tips on how to set them up. If any questions come to mind ask away in the comments.

Join the newsletter or check here.

Which one did I go for?

So far I have held both a Cash and Stocks & Shares ISA. After seeing the interest rates plummet in March. I decided to close my Cash ISA. Since then, I have invested with both Vanguard and Moneybox. I will review both services in an upcoming blog post. 

Currently, I’m satisfied with my return as on average Vanguard has returned 14% and Moneybox hovers around 6%. As I look to get on the property ladder. The Lifetime ISA will most likely be the next stop in my ISA adventure.

I would love to hear your thoughts on ISAs, if you are not from the UK what does your country offer?

I’ll be writing individual articles for each type of ISA going in-depth on the pros and cons. Watch this space as I will backlink towards each post and include the articles in my Newsletter!


Feel free to share the article with your friends and if you know of anyone with the same question as you.

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