Money Mage plans for 2020

This time of year is Burns night in Scotland, where we celebrate the bard with a sacrificial haggis and a wee dram.

‘To a Mouse’ always reminds me to plan. Without fail. It’s become a bit of a habit.

I am a software engineering leader. A manager of technical and creative people. In software we plan. We plan a lot. We design a lot.

But we know that the design - the plan - is not the point. It’s the act of planning and designing that is worthwhile. Not the artefact.

It’s all about getting the creative juices flowing.

The Cardboard Programmer

You probably haven’t heard of the term, but it’s apt. The cardboard programmer. A metaphorical cardboard cutout of a colleague.

As a software engineer, you can quite often get stuck. Code and systems quite often pan out as you expect. Components have to evolve and change. Certainly not to a fixed ‘plan’.

You can get in a bit of a rut that might take an hour or two to get out of. Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees.

If I am stuck, I will often stand up and ask for a ‘cardboard’.

Someone to come and sit at my desk. Pretend to be a cardboard cutout. A literal sounding board. They sit and listen. They don’t speak. I talk through what I was doing. Importantly, I talk through what I was planning on doing.

That act of just thinking, talking, and planning is often enough to unblock your thought process.

If I’m stuck I’ll ask the cardboard to come to life and help. But more often than not, they’ll leave without speaking.

There is no artefact. There is no document. It’s just the thought process.

So I plan. I plan a lot. I design a lot. But the plan itself - the artefact - is not worth much.

To that end, here is my review of 2019 and sounding board for 2020!

Thank you for being my cardboard today!

2019 in Review

Health & Wellbeing

This time last year I was 86kg. I was stressing over hell-work & working 50-60 weeks. I was spending too many brain cycles worrying about what others’ thought. I wasn’t doing well.

I needed to change.

I spent the second half of 2019 focussing on me.

I took a new job, and it’s been the biggest improvement in my state of mind.

This year after Christmas I am 81kg, I didn’t quite hit my 2019 target but got down to 77kg. My weight has been pretty stable all year, which is great.

It’s great to lose weight and save money at the same time

My alcohol intake is way, way down. I’m not quite teetotal and have the odd blowout, but it’s now once a quarter rather than once a week. I now don’t like the smell of beer!

Running has been OK, but could be better. Something to work on through 2020.

One area of stress has been looking after an elderly relative at a distance. This looked quite bleak earlier in the year. As the summer progressed the situation improved. With some gentle nudging and a couple of visits. If anyone is in the same situation, happy to talk through!

Hours Worked

The first half of last year was terrible.

Hell-work was truly hell work. I was being treated terribly by the owners of the business, bullied, backed into a corner.

It was clear they were done with me, despite strong performance. I was bringing in millions of dollars of work - and overseeing the development & delivery of those contracts.

The new owners didn’t like how I worked. I was too blunt. I was too people-centric. I was too bottom-up. I didn’t fit into their do-as-you-are-told model.

And I didn’t like them.

I resigned at the end of April.

They say people quit their boss and not their job, and this is so true.

I loved my old job. Too much. I was one of the first employees, I felt the company was part of me, and I was part of the company. I helped build the place.

The company changed owners and the new Chairman was a nasty, nasty piece of work.

I did everything in my control to work with him, to find a way to make the situation work. But he wanted me out the way.

It was the end of the road.

Rather than fight - mentally, verbally, or even legally, I decided to deal with the situation positively.

Many would have said to have taken them to court. Claim constructive dismissal. I contemplated it, but I decided instead to spend my positive energy to get to a better place.

I found another job within 60 days. For the same take home but none of the responsibility. I resigned as soon as I received the signed contact.

This was the best move I have ever made. I love my new place of work for several reasons.

I have the same motivation but none of the irrational attachment, it’s not ‘mine’. I’m surrounded by super-intelligent colleagues. The work is challenging. I still get to deal with customers. I still get to travel.

I have more time.

I wish I’d done it earlier.


We hit our four holidays in 2019, and we plan to do the same through 2020. One overseas to Rome. One stay-cation in the beautiful Scottish borders. One awesome Christmas with the other-MM. And one at-home staycation. We’ll carry on with one holiday per quarter, it seems to be working well.

Sounds like a lot. But two are staycations. The other two are about £500 a pop, although we did spend a little more in Rome this year. Renovation

I had a couple of weeks gap between jobs earlier this year, so we renovated the hallway.

This cost next to nothing. I did the work apart from laying a carpet. The inside of Castle Money Mage is now complete after 6 years chipping away. Major renovation work is paid for with 0% finance, with the bathroom due to be paid off next year.

This is the only debt we have. The debt is 1.5% of our net worth, so tiny.

Savings Rate

We had a goal of 60% savings rate last year.

Smashed it.

2019 savings rate averaged at 68.33%. In the last quarter, it was up to 75%.

One month hit a whopping 91.82%!

The lowest was 35% due to renovation spend and booking flights & hotel for Rome.

We are now completely mortgage-free. This means we can save and invest even more. I know this is privileged, but we’ve worked at it. We started jobless, with nothing in the other-MM Mom’s council house. Financial Independence is for everyone.

Net Worth

Net Worth increased a respectable 22.5% in 2019.

This was helped by clearing the mortgage, a bonus from my old job, and salary sacrificing into my pension for tax relief.

We could be financially independent in 4.6 years taking into account all of our assets. This would give us a near-infinite £17K a year to live off.

This is unrealistic, as it includes our house and pensions we cannot access accessible for another 19 years. This means there is more to work on!

Money Mage

I started Money Mage exactly 12 months ago. Starting with How to be mortgage free and retiring early.

It turned out we delayed clearing the mortgage as Nationwide was going to charge us an Early Repayment Charge despite agreeing to not charge us. So we delayed until August.

Money Mage has been growing steadily, and thank you for reading. If you are not already subscribed, please do so!

You can also find me on Twitter, Facebook and Medium.

I’m not looking to boil the ocean, as with everything good in life, incremental steps forming a long term habit will lead to success!


In the early part of 2019, my reading habit had died off.

I had a lot going on. I was dealing with hell-stress at hell-work, finding a new job, and an ill elderly relative.

I needed reading. I use it to chill in the late evening just before bed.

Devices off. Read.

I wasn’t doing it.

Happily, I’m back into reading in the evenings. Currently, I am reading a science fiction series, Peter Hamilton’s Confederation Universe Series. Starting with The Reality Dysfunction*. I am a fan of Hamilton’s work.

Plans for 2020

Health & Wellbeing

I am aiming to increase my running habit. I expect I’ll sign up for a 10K or half marathon in the second half of the year as forcing-function. My weight seems pretty stable. Through 2020 I am planning on maintaining the stability around 77-80kg.

I have some Christmas pounds to shed, but don’t we all!

Savings Rate & Net Worth

The journey the other-MM and I have been on with our joint finances for the past 18 years will continue into 2020.

I am so lucky to have a like-minded partner and will be eternally grateful for it.

Our path to Financial Independence is on track.

I plan to open a SIPP with Vanguard as soon as it opens, to kick off non-company pension contributions.

I am aiming to get as close to the £40K Pension limit and £20K ISA limit this year, but my income means it’s probably not going to happen. I’d need a pretty big bonus or bump at work, or a significant increase in other income!

Savings Ninja is on track to achieve this feat this financial year, which is a massive achievement. The closest I have been to the pension allowance was £36K back in 2018, due to an unexpected bonus at old hell-work.

Early Retirement Planning

With our finances on track and 19 years until I can drawdown my pension, I am going to work with with the other-MM to figure out an early retirement plan.

I see this a as rolling wave:

My FI number predicts N at 17.6 years. Which is close to Pension Drawdown age!

This is because a lot of our Net Worth is tied up with our house and pensions. So for 2020, I’m going to work through a plan of getting 17.6 years down.

You can keep track of progress in the Savings Report series. You can keep track on the Best of Money Mage


We plan on continuing the trend of four main holidays per year. Once a quarter as a break. This year will also have a bonus small 5th staycation at the end of January as both the other-MM and I had some left to spend days.

We already have the time booked for our first holiday-let getaway at the end of March. We just need to book.

We also need to decide upon another European capital. Brexit may mean it’s on the fine island of Great Britain. Sad. Face.

The other-MM struggles with travel and Rome was a bit of a push. We might do something a little closer this time.


With the inside of Castle Money Mage now complete, we are turning our attention to the outside.

Our house was a bit of a wrecked student let, and it needed work. Which we’ve been chipping away at over the past 6 years.

When we bought the outside of the house was in OK condition but not great.

I did some immediate repairs after we bought: to guttering & flashing boards to reduce water damage. I also painted the windows. They are old wooden windows, sigh. We also have a crappy wooden balcony. The balcony is an utter pain as it needs painting every two years. Some of the rendering is cracking and flaking off due to water damage under the balcony.

This year I need to get outside and deal with some of the water damage before it starts getting worse.

The windows will need replacing at some point over the next 5 years. I am hoping another sanding, filling, and a coat of paint will make them last a wee bit longer. I’m going to try and sort the balcony out with some roofing, drainage and bitumen.

Money Mage

This year I am planning on continuing to tick Money Mage along, it’s growth is where I want it. I’m going to continue doing more of the same!

I expect you’ll see some of the content aligning to my own goals - around growing additional income streams. I also plan on expanding the ‘What Is’ financial information series, as financial education is really weak. I hope it helps!

I expect I’ll do a series on batch cooking recipies, and also touch on debt this year.

2019 was an awesome year, and I hope you enjoy Money Mage into 2020 and beyond!


I started contributing a regular amount to a Stocks & Shares ISA with Vanguard for low fees. Investing in Vanguard LifeStrategy 80 and a small holding in Vanguard’s FTSE All-World High Dividend Yield $VHYL.

I expect to continue this and not tinker.

The other-MM and I tend to have quite large cash savings which is not ideal. I plan on talking through with the other-MM other investment opportunities this year.

Income Streams

To diversify income, I am looking at additional income streams through 2020. One action has been to make money when spending with sites like TopCashback* and my BA AMEX. This basically is an inflation beating trick. I plan to beat my 2019 of a few hundred quid.

I have a couple of other product developments on the go which may or may not work! I am also looking at building up investment income from dividends within an ISA wrapper.

The odd bits of ‘beer money’ help as well. Here is one bit of beer money for you right now: A free share worth up to £100 if you sign up to Trading212* Happy New Year!

I am hoping 2020 goes as well as 2019. 2019 was an awesome year for our household, and I hope it was for you. What are your plans? Do you have anything big coming up?

I wish you the very best health & wealth throughout 2020.

Subscribe now, follow me on Twitter @moneymagery, stick by your principles and you’ll be mortgage-free in no time.

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