The 3 Essential UK Dividend Stocks For Any Retirement Portfolio

You guys know we spend a lot of time searching for the perfect investment portfolio that will get us to retirement, but also keep us there. There’s only space for quality here – all killer, no filler.

We want the best index funds, the best properties, and… the best individual stocks. This article is looking at the stocks that we think are suitable for holding from today right through to retirement, whenever that might be for you.

These stocks need to be evergreen – they need to be companies with strong roots and staying power. But they also need to be powerful dividend stocks for the stability and cash flow they provide – UK dividend stocks specifically so we can avoid nasty foreign dividend withholding taxes.

And ideally, they’ll be in essential industries – even better, near monopolies with impenetrable barriers to entry for potential competitors.

We think we’ve found 3 such stocks that fit the bill. Let’s check it out…

Much of the research for this article was made possible due to our subscription to Stockopedia, the premium stock picking research and analysis tool for investors. Try Stockopedia for yourself with a free 14-day trial at the special offer link here, which also gives you a 25% discount off your membership if you decide it’s for you.

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Essential Retirement Stock #1 – British American Tobacco (BATS)

Tobacco, you say? No way! That’s a dead industry! Hear us out.

This company is one of the best we’ve seen in a long time and has been top of our list for a while now. Its finances are killer, and we’ll get to those in a bit. Spoiler alert: it has a sustainable 8% dividend!

But its current finances mean nothing if it’s not going to be around for your retirement. Let’s address those concerns first.

At the start of this piece we hinted at 4 criteria for any retirement stock. These are:

  1. Essential Industry;
  2. Barriers To Entry and an Economic Moat;
  3. Strong Roots – a large cap stock with staying power;
  4. and Kick-Ass Dividends!

Ideally the stock will be reasonably priced too, but that’s not so much of a concern if you’re holding it forever and it pays a good dividend.

So does BAT tick all the criteria boxes? The first one was Essential Industry, and it is indeed essential to the many tobacco addicts around the world! Its customers are physically compelled to keep buying its products.

There is a reasonable worry for shareholders that the number of smokers is declining globally.

This chart from the World Health Organisation shows that more countries are in the “declining usage” side at the top of the chart, than the “increasing usage” side at the bottom. Note that these are percentages of adults in each nation, but population sizes are forever expanding which will offset this decline to some degree.

They are already diversified as one of the world’s leading vaping and e-cigarettes producers as an alternative to tobacco, which is maybe the future of the company long-term. There also exist opportunities to expand into cannabis in the countries which it becomes legal in, which we expect will be a fair few over the coming decades. BAT have indeed just acquired a £126m stake in Canadian cannabis firm OrganiGram.

As for Barriers To Entry, who else could possibly compete with BAT? It’s illegal or difficult to advertise smoking products in most of the big markets BAT sells in including the UK, USA, Europe, Australia and NZ and much of Asia, which means this already established giant can exist unopposed by new entrants to the market.

BAT doesn’t need to advertise anyway – their brands are well established in their markets and saving all that money on marketing means they can pay out a bigger dividend. They rake in money, and they pay it straight out to you.

It has Strong Roots, present in 180 markets with 150 million daily consumer interactions from a dedicated pool of customers providing steady cashflow. BAT has been around since 1902 and has a market cap of £61bn.

Looking more closely at its finances now, its dividend yield is around 8% and forecast to grow, but we can see that this is not an anomaly – it’s actually at a sustainable level.

That’s because its dividend cover is consistently over 1 – anything over 1 means it can easily afford the dividend, and is the case for at least each of the past 6 years, with this forecast to continue.

The dividend yield looks overly inflated because the shares look oversold, which we’ll take a look at in a sec.

In 2017, it bought out the second largest tobacco company in the US, Reynolds American, a major landgrab invasion to grab an even higher stake of the American market. BAT have taken what is theirs, as global tobacco kings.

This left them a load of debt – but they are committed to paying this down a bit every year and have been doing so. Their revenue and profits are massively up since the acquisition.

BATs finances look so solid it appears they haven’t even realised that there’s a pandemic going on – profits just keep on growing!

Despite all this positivity, the price of BAT is ridiculously cheap. Its 12-month future forecast PE ratio is 7.8, Stockopedia showing us that this compares very favourably with the industry and with the wider market.

The EV to EBITDA, which is a slightly more accurate indicator of price as it factors in debt, is 9.6 – still very cheap. BAT is clearly under-priced when you add in the sustainable dividend.

The market has decided it doesn’t like BAT – its share price has plummeted over the last 5 years – probably due to overdone fears haunting the tobacco industry. Despite these fears, 21 institutional analysts are saying it’s a Buy.

We think this jewel of the British crown has been overlooked in favour of trendy new socially responsible stocks and green technologies. But don’t write tobacco off if you want to earn big, long-term dividends.

Essential Retirement Stock #2 – BAE Systems (BA.)

OK, we’ve invested in lung cancer with a tobacco company, now let’s buy some guns and bombs…

Seriously we didn’t plan it like this, but it seems to be that the so-called Sin Stocks are the ones to buy for long-term dividend success.

If we’re talking morality though, we like to remind ourselves that smoking tobacco is a personal choice, and without a well provisioned military to defend us we’d all be speaking German.

BAE Systems is one of the UK’s main arms, security, and aerospace companies, but it’s reach is much bigger than Britain. It has a global presence, being the largest defence contractor in Europe and ranked third-largest in the world based on 2017 revenues.

When China starts raining fire down on the West, we’ll be glad that BAE is there to have our backs.

BAE’s customers are national governments, supplying the essential bits and bobs for their armies, navies and airforce.

They’re also heavily involved in cyber defence for nations, which is going to be a growing problem for the world to deal with as advances like quantum computing come into play.

They have a big Barrier To Entry in they are practically a monopoly provider for some of the world’s richest countries. Let’s look at their finances to see if they have staying power.

Stockopedia was red-flagging a potential liquidity risk for us to research further. On inspection, it’s because its debt has shot up in the last couple of years.

This is fine because we know that its revenue comes from governments, most of which are able to magic money out of thin air from their central banks. They won’t be defaulting on their contracts. Total debt is only 2x annual profits – not high by any standard.

BAE has been supplying governments with weapons since 1902, surviving much worse than a bit of covid related liquidity worries.

Their revenue is growing consistently, as is net profit. As are dividends, and dividend cover. A yield of 4% and forecast to grow is good, and it is sustainable. This is company that’s not going anywhere, other than up.

And like BAT, they have an incredible Stock Rank in the 90s (of 100), cheap PE ratio for their industry and a cheap EV to EDIBTA ratio. In fact, BAE is more cheaply valued than all but one of its international peers in the defence sector.

Essential Retirement Stock #3 – National Grid (NG.)

National Grid is the definition of a stock with an Economic Moat. How could it have any competitors? It owns pretty much all of the electricity delivery networks in the UK.

Its cables, pipes and pylons criss-cross across the country, an essential part of the system that delivers power to all our houses and businesses: from power source, to lightbulb.

National Grid enables our economy to function. We’d go so far as to say that without the assets it owns, there is no economy. That’s a big tick for Essential Industry.

Its cables do not discriminate between green power and dirty power either – it is transporting electricity, which makes your TV work the same no matter the source. This means dependable revenue and stability for its share price.

That said, work is constantly ongoing to keep the network fit for purpose in a cleaner energy future, and to keep expanding the grid. It’s selling off its gas pipelines and buying up more electricity assets in recognition of the move away from fossil fuels.

Projects include 24 miles of new tunnels deep under London to ensure reliable electricity supplies for the next 120 years; it’s also just finished a new 3-mile tunnel under the River Humber to transport 25% of Britain’s remaining gas needs.

They’re also building the world’s longest undersea electricity cable to connect the UK to clean hydro power direct from Norway’s fjords, and a boat load of new revenue for its shareholders.

It has operations in the US too in New York and New England to diversify its income streams – in fact 45% of its operating profits came from its US operations in the year to March 2021.

On the face of it, National Grid has ridiculous levels of debt, at 18x its net profits. But it’s not a normal business model – its revenue is completely steady and predictable, and the company’s services will be required for many decades, even centuries to come. It has no liquidity problems as a result of its debt, with average current and quick ratios and a decent interest cover.

Dividend yield is rock solid at over 5% and forecast to grow, with dividend per share creeping up and forecast dividend cover expected to be comfortable.

It’s probably not a great time historically to buy into this stock, with an average PE ratio, and a really bad EV to EBITDA ratio relative to its industry.

But can we really compare National Grid to any other company? It’s got a monopoly in the UK – and there’s nothing else quite like it.

Frankly, this is one of those times when the price shouldn’t really matter too much, as long as the dividend yield is acceptable to you, which at 5%+ it likely will be. This stock is one to hold forever and grow fat on the dividends.

Who Wants More Stocks?

If you liked this post and want even more stocks, then let us know down in the comments here or over on YouTube. There were too many stocks to cover here and give proper justice to them all.

Or, filter for the best stocks using the tools on Stockopedia. If you want to expand your portfolio of UK dividend stocks, go grab yourself a Stockopedia subscription and start digging. Remember, the first 14-days are free with our special link and it’s 25%-off thereafter.

What do think are the best stocks to retire on and why? Join the conversation in the comments below!

Written by Ben


Featured image credit: Matt Gibson/

Also check out the MoneyUnshackled YouTube channel, with new videos released every Wednesday and Saturday:

Should You Just Live In A Caravan? | Extreme Financial Freedom Now?

When you’re several years or even decades away from your financial freedom goals, your mind turns to crazy ideas to speed up the process. Could you just sell up the house, ditch the mortgage, buy a caravan, and declare yourself financially free? Thoughts like this have surely crossed your mind if you’re pursuing financial independence but are still years away from retirement.

After all, a holiday home at a beautiful caravan park by the sea might cost £60,000 to buy – that’s a damn sight cheaper than any house made of bricks, other than in the most deprived of areas.

You wouldn’t want to live in a cheap, run-down 1-bed flat in a horrible area for the rest of your days. But maybe a static caravan in a gated community wouldn’t be such a bad way to live, for the same upfront price.

Or maybe you’d like to tour the world in a mobile home? Is that much cheaper than owning a house?

If you could drive down the most significant cost of living – housing – while still enjoying life, that would be a great way to reach retirement earlier.

In this article we’re looking at the real costs of doing exactly this; whether it’s a feasible early-retirement solution; and how many years it can knock off your working career. By the end you’ll know whether this early-retirement strategy lifestyle is right for you.

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The Dream

The dream for many in the financial independence community is to retire young, or at the least, earlier than the state pension age.

The dream will usually involve travel, or spending your days on the beach, or just escaping the hustle and bustle of city life. Why not do that right now by buying a cliff-top static caravan overlooking the sea, or a motor home to drive around Europe in?

If it means you’re not having to pay a big mortgage each month and you get to see more of the world, it sounds on paper like an exciting (if radical) route to financial freedom.

Stated in financial independence language, it feels like it should allow you to reduce your required retirement pot size, and hence the number of years until you can retire – perhaps right down to today.

Retiring Earlier

We’ve built a handy early retirement, or FIRE calculator, here, that you can use to work out how many years away you are from retirement; and crucially, how big your investments need to be to get you there.

That’s how big in £s your retirement portfolio needs to be to allow you to live fully off the income that those investments provide.

To kick start your own investment journey, check out the deals on the Offers page which include a free £50 cash bonus when you open an investment account with InvestEngine or Loanpad, or free stocks when you open accounts with Freetrade or Trading212, plus a bunch of other stuff. Our investment guides will help you to choose the right platform or pension provider for you.

As an example, the required portfolio size for my family to retire early is £900,000, which should allow us to withdraw an income of £36,000 a year using a 4% withdrawal rate.

But that’s based on the assumption that we’ll continue to live in a house worth £300k at today’s value of money in our early retirement. If we could make a trade-off of living space for a reduction in living cost, maybe that retirement pot size could be a lot smaller, and we could start living our best lives sooner.

Static Caravans

Let’s kick off with the actual costs involved in rebooting your life in a static caravan overlooking the sea in the UK. This involves living at a holiday park in a holiday home like this one, with on-site facilities typically including a shop, a pub and kids’ clubs, in a community of like-minded people.

Is it cheaper than running the average UK home? You’d better hope so, since you’ve got just a tiny fraction of the floorspace!

Yes, it IS cheaper, but not by as much as you might expect:

Let’s kick off with the actual costs involved in rebooting your life in a static caravan overlooking the sea in the UK. This involves living at a holiday park in a holiday home like this one, with on-site facilities typically including a shop, a pub and kids’ clubs, in a community of like-minded people.

Is it cheaper than running the average UK home? You’d better hope so, since you’ve got just a tiny fraction of the floorspace!

Yes, it IS cheaper, but not by as much as you might expect:

Fig.1: Static Caravan Annual Costs vs Average House

The standalone costs of running a £250k average house are around £8,400 a year by our estimates – this excludes ever-present costs like internet, which you’ll be buying regardless of where you’re based. The saving you’d make by moving to a static caravan might just be a couple of grand a year.

If you look at the split of the costs, the big ones are caravan depreciation, and site fees. A big problem is that caravans have a life of around 20 years, before they depreciate down to nothing.

They are made of plastic, wood and sheet-metal, and are not built to last forever like a house is.

Surprisingly, there’s not a great deal of difference between buying new or buying second hand – an average second hand one might cost £30k and last you 10 years, while an average new one might cost £60k and last you 20 years – either way, it costs you about the same, as a yearly average.

The site fees really sting you, with even a mid-range site costing £2,500 a year. You could cut these fees to £1,000 a year if you were happy to pretty much live in a field with no facilities other than your gas, electricity, and water.

If you went down the static caravan route to retire faster, you might shave up to £83k off your required portfolio size.

Not exactly life-changing, but – (a) you do get to retire a little sooner, and (b) if you wanted to live like you were on a permanent holiday now, this ticks that box.

The Max and Paddy Option

Statics are expensive, no doubt. But motor homes and campervans ought to be a lot cheaper, as they’re smaller and your standard of living is far less luxurious.

But as this is a life on the road, it may only appeal to a certain brand of financial freedom fighter who pictures their early retirement being one of travel and exploring the world.

Here’s a couple of options – a decent 4-Berth tourer, and a little 2-Berth campervan, both making use of campsites around Europe:

Fig.2: Campervan Annual Costs vs Average House

This lifestyle would fit someone who was able to work remotely from their laptop.

The tourer works out as a more expensive lifestyle than the static caravans, and just a little cheaper than owning an average house. The little campervan saves you the most money, reducing your required retirement pot size by £92k.

What’s obvious from these numbers so far is that taking the radical step of selling your home to live a cheap life in a caravan isn’t all that realistic financially.

It’s not the extreme early retirement shortcut that we had hoped it would be.

It CAN Be Done Cheaper

The site fees are the real killer, and could be avoided if you really wanted to make this lifestyle change work.

In the UK, campervans are allowed to park at the side of most roads overnight, and you’re allowed to sleep in them. If you’re travelling in England and Wales, there are still places that you can go wild camping, such as the Lake District and parts of Dartmoor. You’d have to source your own gas, and presumably use public washrooms.

But this could shave nearly £150k off your required retirement pot size (3rd column):

Fig.3: Doing It Cheap

If this was the lifestyle you wanted to live in retirement, you might only need £300k or less in total to draw a very basic income, so this saving is significant.

You could also go really cheap and live in a knackered old caravan in the wilderness or even on an old canal boat for just a couple of grand upfront cost, with no site fees.

For the static caravan enthusiasts, make sure you pick a site that allows you to rent your caravan out to tourists. You could make back a few grand a year by renting it out while you go on your holidays elsewhere.

Other Things To Consider

While you own a house, you’re on the property ladder, and your property is likely going up in value. Not only that, but if you have a mortgage, you’re getting leveraged growth on your equity due to the mortgage debt.

If you have a 10% deposit in the house and a 90% mortgage, and if property prices go up by 10% one year, your equity just went up 100% (which is the 10% rise in house prices divided by the 10% deposit).

If you own a caravan instead, your money has likely been either (a) used to buy the caravan, (b) sat pointlessly in a bank account, or (c) invested without leverage in somewhere like the stock market.

You could of course keep your property and rent it out to someone else to cover all the bills, while you move into a caravan. This could be the best of both worlds.

You should also consider that the cost of saving up to buy replacement caravans never stops, while at some point the mortgage interest payments would stop on a house, once your mortgage is paid off.

These advantages of property are difficult to quantify and depend on your own circumstances. But this next point is pretty universal: UK winters suck!

If you really wanted to go down the caravan route, just remember how cold it can get in January, sat in a glorified shed on a cliff top.

A Nice Holiday… But A Retirement Hack?

Having a second home at a caravan park is a nice way to spend the summer if you can afford it – but it’s probably not worth having one as your main residence as an early-retirement hack.

That said, if you’re up for this lifestyle one day in the future when you’re actually retired, it’s good to know that it is a slightly cheaper way to live and you can still factor this annual living expense reduction into your retirement plans.

Or if you’re at the point now that you could declare yourself financially free with a caravan, then the benefits of staying on the property ladder might no longer interest you – you’re free, so it’s mission accomplished.

Alternative Early-Retirement Living Arrangements

Let’s face it, the reason you might be even considering living in a caravan is because housing is so damn expensive in the UK! Here’s a few other ways we can think of that get a similar result in terms of speeding up your early retirement date:

#1 – Move Abroad

If you’re willing to live in a caravan, then you’re probably willing to do just about anything to retire early. So why not move abroad to somewhere super cheap?

Places like Thailand and Spain are great places to stretch your money to the max. Obvious hurdles to overcome are the language barrier, and being far away from family and friends.

This lifestyle is suited to someone who can work remotely from anywhere, which as this last year or two has shown, is perfectly possible for most office jobs.

If you can work for your company from your bedroom during lockdown whilst getting paid in British pounds, you can also do the same work from a cocktail bar in Thailand and be paid in British pounds. With the cost-of-living difference, you could live like a king.

#2 – Co-Habit

This one is all about getting someone else to pay towards your mortgage, or splitting the cost of a place that you rent with friends. You could rent out a room in a house you own, or you could group together with friends to buy or rent a house together.

You could even convert a house that you buy into a duplex – two entirely separated homes within one building. This should add enormous value to the property, and means you can rent out half the building to a tenant for a regular income.

#3– Just Downsize A Little

It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You could downsize your home a little, or maybe move to a cheaper city.

If you can save even a few hundred extra pounds a month on your mortgage and bills, that could go a long way towards reaching your early retirement goals faster.

Is downsizing to a nice static caravan or mobile home something you’d ever consider, or something you’ve already thought about? Join the conversation in the comments below!

Written by Ben


Featured image credit: Duncan Cuthbertson/

Static Caravan image credit: gbellphotos/

Campervan image credit: Andrey Armyagov/

Also check out the MoneyUnshackled YouTube channel, with new videos released every Wednesday and Saturday:

The Early Retirement Danger Zone | Hack The 4% Rule & Hold Onto Your Money Forever

Followers of the FIRE lifestyle will have heard of the 4% safe withdrawal rate and will be aiming to build an investment pot using this rule that’s large enough to provide them an income when they’ve retired.

The problem with the 4% rule is that it lulls us freedom fighters into the false sense of security that following a simple formula will guarantee us a set level of income in retirement.

But because your freedom fund contains a range of investments, the value of your pot will be volatile. What is worth £500,000 today could be worth £400,000 tomorrow. Or £600,000. You just don’t know.

The first 5 years of your FIRE retirement are what we call the Early Retirement Danger Zone. You have no state pension to fall back on because you’re too young, so you need your investments to perform.

But what if they don’t? What if there’s a market downturn? Using the S&P 500 Index as a measure, there have been 16 bear markets since 1926, averaging once every six years.

Today we’re going to tell you how to hack the 4% rule, force it to work for you, and make sure you can safely retire early while holding onto your money forever!

Special offer: New users to Genuine Impact will receive 1 month’s PREMIUM access for free when you sign up via this link. Genuine Impact is research and analysis app that provides insights for investors. Be sure to check them out!

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The 4% Rule And The Problem Of Retiring Early

As a brief recap, the 4% rule says you can withdraw 4% per year of the value of your retirement pot on retirement day, adjusted each year thereafter for inflation.

The origins of the 4% rule started with the famous Trinity study, which backtested the performance of retirement portfolios built from a range of different stock and bond mixes and withdrawal rates covering the period from 1925 to 1995.

The stock market studied was America’s S&P 500, and it was determined that portfolios built from 100% stocks or a 75/25 stocks to bonds split had around a 95% chance of surviving for 30 years.

The study was set up to provide answers for people retiring in their 60s, hence why a 30-year portfolio survival period was chosen.

Unfortunately, this implies that those retiring earlier are at risk of running out of money during their retirements.

With a 95% success rate, this means 5% of people should expect their freedom funds to run down to zero within 30 years of their FIRE date, based on the history.

Here’s a chart that shows the results of a 100% stocks portfolio with starting dates in each of the years from 1871 to 1989:

6 out of 119 tests resulted in going bust. But even if you DON’T run out of money after 30 years, you still might easily end up in the 24% of people whose portfolios’ values were down – people who wouldn’t be able to keep withdrawing enough to live on without eventually depleting their investment pot.

In almost all cases, the damage was done in the initial years, and whether a pot survived its owner or not came down to the events immediately following the retirement date.

Sequence Risk

The greatest risk to your portfolio comes in the first 5 years or so after retirement.

This is because if the stock market were to fall in those early years, it would likely reduce your pot to below the level at which you could safely continue to draw from it at the same rate. Even when the stock market recovery eventually comes, your pot may be too far gone to recover while also sustaining your withdrawals.

While for example, if your first stock market crash came a decade after retirement, you would have built up a 10-year buffer of growth that could happily be eaten up by a future bear market without your withdrawals being affected.

This risk is known as Sequence Risk, and it is the risk of the good times and the bad times happening in the wrong order, or the wrong “sequence”.

According to AJ Bell, the average time it takes for the stock market to recover based on the last 10 bear markets prior to covid was 648 days – nearly 2 years.

The shortest recovery in history was the covid crash, which lasted only 4 months.

While the longest was 1,529 days – just over 4 years – following the 2008 financial crisis.

If you can set a plan in place to protect yourself for the first 5 years of retirement without needing to eat into your pot, this would nip the sequence risk in the bud.

You’d be covered for repeats of the historic worst-case scenarios, plus a bit extra. Get past this opening phase of your retirement, and you should be into clear waters.

Your FIRE Number

First, you need to know your FIRE number. This is calculated as your required living expenses in retirement divided by 4%, if you are using the standard safe withdrawal rate.

You can calculate this easily and get more information including the years until you can retire by using our free FIRE Calculator.

Try playing with it to see the effect of tweaking the rate of return on your investments, or by cutting your expenses a little, or adopting a higher or lower withdrawal rate. The difference will likely shave years off your working life.

The FIRE number is the size that your savings and investments need to be before you can retire. The usual assumption amongst those seeking early retirement is that this number, once reached, is set in stone.

But what if the stock market falls the day after you reach your number and quit your job, and what was once a £1m pot is suddenly worth only £700,000?

You’ve stopped working to start living. Do you have to change your plans and forget about retirement? Stop living and start working?

Protecting Your Nest Egg

The 4% rule can be adapted to protect your financial freedom fund in those first years of retirement, in case the market goes south right after you’ve told your boss that they’re fired.

We just need to add on one or two extra rules into the mix.

Both of these rules are fairly common sense, but the first time we saw them named and singled out for discussion was in Kristy Shen’s book “Quit Like A Millionaire”, so due credit to her.

Rule #1 – The Cash Cushion

The very worst thing you can do in a stock market crash is sell. And yet, as a retiree living off your investments, you may have little choice but to do exactly this.

This is where the cash cushion comes in.

Say your FIRE number is £1,000,000 – the amount you’d need to retire, covering your outgoings of £40,000 a year at the 4% rule.

You need to be able to avoid selling investments for up to 5 years.

To cover your outgoings during this time, having a cash cushion of £200,000 would mean you could eat this up first without ever having to touch your investments.

£200,000 sounds like a lot of extra cash to have to build up. But hold up. A balanced portfolio might already include cash in the region of 10%, so you can splurge on opportunities, but also to cover you in scary situations exactly like this.

So, a £1,000,000 freedom fund might already contain £100,000 of cash, meaning you need to find just another £100,000 to cushion you in your early retirement years.

As a counterpoint, it’s worth noting that if you did save up an extra £100k before you retired, you could invest it instead, and it would reduce your required withdrawal rate from 4% to a safer 3.6%. But it’s not clear that this would be safe enough if you were making withdrawals during an initial market crash.

In any case, while you’re building your pot, it probably makes sense to keep that extra money invested in the stock market so it can grow, rather than being held as cash, and convert it into your cash cushion just before you retire.

Rule #2 – The Yield Shield

Still, having to increase a freedom fund by £100,000 seems like a lot of extra hardship. We can get this number down significantly if we build a yield shield.

The yield shield brings in dividend stocks to your portfolio to give you extra protection in the first 5 danger years, after which point you can switch back to your preferred allocations.

Stock market returns are a combination of capital growth plus dividends. Stocks which are likely to provide decent capital growth but little dividends are called growth stocks. Stocks which provide little capital growth but good dividends are called dividend stocks.

The theory is that dividend stocks can better hold their value during a downturn due to being stable, established companies, and in most cases should continue to provide a dividend to you regardless of what is going on with the share price.

Normally we prefer growth stocks, as their total returns tend to be better and they avoid all dividend taxes (including the nasty foreign dividend withholding tax). But during the early danger phase of your retirement, less volatile, cash flowing dividend stocks may help you to better hold onto your money.

The yield shield works by switching out your portfolio on retirement day to a portfolio that keeps a similar geographic mix to what you already have, but focusing on high-yielding dividend stocks.

After the first 5 years, you’d switch back.

In practise it could work like this. If you’re currently tracking a global stocks index with a fund like the Vanguard All-World ETF (VWRL), you could temporarily swap it out for the SPDR® S&P® Global Dividend Aristocrats ETF (GBDV).

This ETF tracks an index of top-quality dividend payers, with a weighted average yield of 4.85%, while the Vanguard All-World ETF typically yields around just 2%.

In the event of a downturn, you would in theory be ok as the 4.85% yield covers your 4% withdrawal rate, although in practise some of the companies would stop paying dividends.

This specific Dividend Aristrocrats fund though only admits companies with a 10-year track record of payouts, so you’d hope this effect would be minimal given bear markets happen more often than that, roughly every 6 years.

The yield shield means you don’t need nearly as big of a cash cushion – in theory, none at all, though we still think it’s sensible for diversification and risk reasons to hold 10% of your pot in cash regardless.

This is therefore a good alternative solution which allows you to retire on your FIRE date with your standard FIRE number and with peace of mind.

The 3% Rule

Much of the stress around retiring early could be resolved by adopting the 3% rule instead of the 4% rule.

A recent continuation study into the safe withdrawal rate extended the Trinity study period to 2017, and here’s the results:

The 4% rule for a 100% stocks portfolio still has around a 95% success rate after 30 years, now down slightly to 94%, and tails off over the decades.

But the success rate of a 3% withdrawal rate does not tail off – even after 40 years, it remains at 100%, meaning that EVERY portfolio tracking the S&P 500 since 1926 would have survived for at least 40 years.

But for us, we don’t want to be running to the safety blanket of the 3% rule.

This is because, using the MU Fire Calculator, a £1m required FIRE number becomes a £1.33m target by moving the withdrawal rate slider. And for this particular example, the years until FIRE move from 14 years at 4% to 18 years at 3%.

Could you be bothered to work an extra 4 years and build up an extra £333k if there was a smart alternative such as the cash cushion or yield shield, which meant you could retire today?

What’s your FIRE number and are you relying on the 4% rule? Check out the calculator, and join the conversation below!

Written by Ben


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Want To Retire Early? Pick Your FIRE Strategy (FAT/LEAN/COAST/BARISTA)

The Financial Independence and Retire Early movement is not very old but it has gained a lot of traction in the investing community.

If you’re a financial freedom enthusiast, you’ll have probably heard of FIRE. But have you heard of Lean FIRE, or Fat FIRE, or the other types?

We can all focus too hard on retirement and forget that the journey is supposed to be enjoyable too.

The method of FIRE you apply will require sacrifices, whether that be in time, effort or luxuries, so it’s good to know that a number of options are available for you to choose from which all arrive at some variation of the same end destination – financial freedom.

By the time you’ve read this post, you will know what kind of FIRE plan is right for you.

Commission-free trading platform Stake are giving away a free US stock worth up to $100 to everyone who signs up via the link on the Money Unshackled Offers page, so be sure to check that out!

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Many Routes – Same Dream

Freedom means different things to different people. For some it is the freedom to leave a high stress career in favour of doing something you’d enjoy, but which doesn’t necessarily pay well.

For others it means nothing less than the jet-set celebrity lifestyle starting ASAP, and never having to do a day’s work again.

Others still crave the end of employment but don’t need the fancy car or the big house and can find happiness on a campsite or on the road.

There’s a FIRE solution for each and every one of them. So, what are the main broad paths you can take to financial freedom?

#1 – Barista FIRE

Barista FIRE is FIRE at its most basic – it doesn’t even necessarily end in you leaving the rat race.

All it buys you is semi-retirement, but it is much more achievable because of that.

The idea is simple. You accumulate your freedom fund to cover some of your expenses, but not all.

This might involve setting a target retirement fund size of say £250,000 to pay you a £10,000 a year income in retirement at the 4% safe withdrawal rate. And you make up the difference between your investment income and your outgoings with part-time or enjoyable work.

For many, nothing short of full financial freedom will be good enough. But for those who don’t hate work, Barista FIRE offers a sensible half-way-house approach to freedom that’s doable for everyone.

In practise, it would work like this – any money you invested during your life up until the age of, say, 50, would be working for you and paying you out a small income thereafter.

If you need £20,000 to survive on in your early retirement, and your investments are giving you an income of £10,000, you only need to earn a further £10,000 from employment once you leave your main career behind you.

The effect this could have on your lifestyle is massive – the difference in happiness between a high powered corporate career and a £10k job can be worlds apart.

A job that brings in just £10k might involve 3 days a week doing something less pressured, or even enjoyable.

Or for those of you making the big bucks, making up a £10k shortfall might involve putting on that business suit for just a few weeks in the year as a contractor, and living the retired lifestyle for the rest of the year.

The second way to Barista FIRE is to let your spouse continue working while you put your feet up, though it would take a special kind of partner to tolerate that set-up!

But as long as SOME money is trickling in from employment to supplement your small investment income, you would technically be doing Barista FIRE.

And FYI: the name “Barista FIRE” comes from Starbucks – one of the original US companies to offer part-time workers health insurance, which makes this strategy possible in America!

#2 – Coast FIRE

Coast FIRE is best described as investing enough money at a young enough age so that you can stop contributions mid-career, live affluently for the second half of your working life, and still achieve financial independence sometime in the future just by “coasting” along.

The goal behind Coast FIRE is to massively increase your savings rate early on in your investing journey by piling money into your portfolio.

There is a mathematical tipping point where the money invested is enough to grow with compounding returns to an amount big enough for early retirement without needing any additional contributions.

If you start early enough, and are in no great rush, you don’t need that much invested because you have decades worth of time for it to grow without further effort on your part.

For instance, both of us at Money Unshackled could switch to Coast FIRE fairly soon and it would be job-done.

Our existing portfolios are almost big enough that they would grow over the next 20 or 30 years so that we would be able to retire with a basic lifestyle.

Someone aged 20 could spend 10 years squirrelling away £150k and then stop worrying about investing – 25 years later they could be retiring in their mid-50s with the equivalent of £500k at today’s value of money, factoring in inflation.

By choosing Coast FIRE, they could then massively increase their standard of living in their 30s and 40s by not needing to invest further.

So, Coast FIRE is for investors who are happy to buckle down and scrimp-and-save hard in their 20s, and then forget about their investment pot and live life to the max while remaining in work.

In a way, it’s the middle-class dream, but without the poverty in retirement that comes from spending all your wages on conservatories and BMWs and forgetting to invest. And all it costs you is a few years of initial financial responsibility.

#3 – Lean FIRE

Lean FIRE is for people who prioritize leaving the workplace over a comfortable retirement. You want to retire in full, asap, and are prepared to live a minimalist lifestyle in retirement as a consequence.

For this kind of FIRE you probably need a pot of around £300k – what is probably the baseline to survive in retirement, which provides a small income but with practically zero home comforts.

For investors on the Lean FIRE path, the baseline is also their finish line.

The principles remain the same as other FIRE types. You save enough money to cover your expenses in your retirement using the 4% safe withdrawal rate.

The main difference is that you have to save much less than people on other forms of FIRE who are going for full early retirement with a good standard of living after the magical retirement day.

The defining characteristic of the Lean FIRE approach is frugality. People that reach for Lean FIRE tend to get there by being very careful with their outgoings and by pinching pennies.

Achieving Lean FIRE is generally well within the means of people with medium incomes.

A 20-year-old Lean FIRE investor aiming to retire at 50 would only need to regularly invest 36% of their required retirement income over the 30-year time frame to reach their goals.

That would be £600 a month for a £20,000 required retirement income, using average stock market compounded returns.

But there are also people with very high incomes that seek to achieve this goal who can be happy with a basic lifestyle in retirement. For them, it might be a case of saving 50%+ of their salaries and FIREing in just a decade or less.

Other solutions involve driving your required early retirement income down by planning to move somewhere cheap, like a Northern town or even another country.

Or sack off the main cost of living – housing – entirely, and live life on the road in a campervan, Scooby-Doo style.

However, for most people, Lean FIRE probably means sacrificing too many things. Is it possible to retire early and not live on the breadline?

#4 – Fat FIRE

If Lean FIRE is the frugal path, then Fat FIRE is the polar opposite. This is the plan you should be following if you plan on being a big spender in retirement.

Fat FIRE allows you to live in the most expensive cities in the world, retire with a big house, give your kids and grandkids lavish private educations, travel when and where you want to, drive a nice car, dine out at nice restaurants, and support your parents or your kids if they ever need help. In short: proper, fulfilling retirement.

Once again, the basic FIRE principles apply – the difference being that you will need a much bigger net worth to be able to retire.

If you’re planning on spending £100,000 a year or more in retirement and living a full and activity packed life, you’d need at least £2.5m stashed away to be able to retire on the 4% safe withdrawal rate. That is a lot of money you’d need to accumulate.

If you feel you need a lavish retirement, you’re probably not the type to penny-pinch and clip coupons for 30 years in order to get there.

For this reason – coupled with the fact that spending cuts can only go so deep before hitting bone – you will need to focus on growing your income instead.

To get there fast, a normal job isn’t going to cut it – for Fat FIRE, you’d need to be a highly paid professional or business owner (or have several lucrative side hustles).

As for how much of your income you’d need to set aside to Fat FIRE: to live a lifestyle based around your current income level, investing around 30-40 percent of your current income over 30 years, or 70 percent over 20 years, should be enough as a general rule of thumb. These are big numbers – if you want to live more lavishly in retirement than your current income would allow (if you stopped saving), you’re probably being unrealistic!

You can get to Fat FIRE faster if your business or side hustles will continue to make you money after you’ve retired.

It might be that you don’t need to bother with investing at all – just focusing all efforts on building up a successful business to be your legacy might be a faster (if riskier) solution.

Alternatively, you can get to Fat FIRE the slow way by first getting to Lean FIRE, and then continuing to work and invest for another couple of decades.

Say that Lean FIRE to you is £500k, and Fat FIRE is £1.5m. The first £500k will be by far the hardest part of the journey.

Money breeds money and turning £500k into £1.5m CAN be done, for those willing to wait.

By this point, your monthly contributions will likely pale in comparison to the huge, compounded returns you’re getting from the invested funds, and you may decide to stop making contributions at this point and just let the market take care of your pot’s growth, Coast FIRE style.

£500k turns into £1.5m in just over 20 years at an 8% annual rate of return, assuming inflation of 3%.

Maybe you aim for Lean FIRE, but keep open the option to switch to Coast FIRE mode and enjoy a semi-retirement with a more laid-back part-time role for 20 years before retiring in full Fat FIRE glory.

#5 – The Middle Ground – Regular FIRE

We’re aiming for a middle ground – regular FIRE, somewhere between Lean and Fat. We aint living like paupers in retirement, but nor do we feel the need to work our butts off to get to multimillionaire status.

Though if Fat FIRE were to come within our reach, we may decide to go grab it.

For now, we’re aiming for the middle ground by first securing that Lean FIRE baseline and then building from there for a few more years to make our early retirements comfortable and fun.

FIRE to us is full retirement before 50 at the latest, so Barista and Coast FIRE are not ideal for us.

We want our freedoms ASAP, but we’re willing to work a little longer to get a freedom that involves a few home comforts!

Which FIRE route are you taking? Join the conversation in the comments below!


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What Percent Of Your Income Should You Invest For Financial Freedom? | Planning For FIRE

What percentage of your income are you saving or investing each month? If you’re like most Brits, it won’t be anywhere near enough.

We know this because the average Brit retires at age 64. If they were saving properly for retirement, we’re betting FEW would willingly choose to limp on into their mid-60s.

But how much of your income do you need to be saving each month to reach your goals?

In this article we’ll assume that your goals are a comfortable retirement, on your terms, starting sometime in your 40s or 50s.

We’ll look at what the financial gurus recommend, we’ll look at what most normal people are doing, and finally what you need to do to set yourself apart from the slow-laners who follow the mainstream media narrative.

It might even be that the whole notion of saving a percentage of your income is flawed. Maybe there’s a better way?

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What Percent Of Their Income Do Other People Set Aside?

The average UK citizen saved just £2,292 in 2020, according to Charter Savings Bank.

The average salary in 2020 was just under £26k, so from this we can calculate that the average person saves around 11% of their job income, after taxes and other pay-slip deductions.

We also know that the average person retires at 64 – the average retirement age is expected to keep climbing, and will probably be well into the 70s by the time our generation gets to retire.

If we know the average person currently retires at 64 and the average person saves 11% of their income, it seems that saving 11% is not going to be good enough for you.

For you to reach financial freedom before your 70s, you’re going to need to be putting aside more than the average Joe.

Though to be fair, the majority of these savings will not be invested in wealth building assets – instead, they will have been left to fester in a low interest bank savings account.

But as we’ll soon calculate, even when properly invested, 11% is still far too low.

We’re also very sceptical of these savings statistics – far too often, what people describe as their “savings” are really “delayed spendings”.

What they count as savings today goes on fixing the car tomorrow. Our definition of saving is putting that money aside and never touching it again until retirement.

Savings % By Age

You’d think that when you’re younger it would be harder to save or invest a high percentage of your income, because you probably don’t have much of it. Any money you bring IN goes straight OUT again on rent.

There’s some truth in that – but people in their 20s actually save above the national average, probably because they don’t have families to pay for:

Savings % By Age (Sources: ONS, & Charter Savings Bank)

People in their 30s are able to save the most, as most people are established in their careers by this point and raking in the big bucks.

For whatever reason, saving tails off once people pass the age of 50 – perhaps they are putting money into pension accounts as well that is not reported in this data. But still, these numbers are very low.

Is Anyone Investing Their Savings?

Of course, to get anywhere in this world, you need to be INVESTING your savings, not stashing them in a bank account.

Cash accounts earn less than nothing due to inflation and low interest rates. The stock market on the other hand is widely quoted as having an average return of 8% since records began.

A person who saves 10% of their after-tax income in a Cash ISA will fare FAR worse over time than a person who invests 10% each month into a Stocks & Shares ISA.

But the most recent data tells us that for the tax year ending April 2019, just 22% of ISA subscriptions were Stocks & Shares ISAs, compared to 76% for Cash ISAs.

What Do The Financial Gurus Say?

JL Collins, author of The Simple Path To Wealth, recommends you aim to save or invest a full 50% of your income.

While he admits that he hasn’t always been able to do this himself, he credits the setting of this target as having been essential with helping him to become financially independent while still young.

Andrew Craig, author of Live on Less Invest The Rest, suggests people should invest 10% of their income as a minimum, and anything over and beyond that will also be beneficial.

We find this a bit unambitious personally, though we do respect most of what this guy says. 10% is simply no good for retiring before your 60s. But it’s better than nothing.

Most commentators agree that the answer lies somewhere between 10 and 50 percent. Some in the FIRE community take it to the extremes and invest over 70 percent of their incomes.

Some are doing this by living like tramps, while others are able to set aside so much by pursuing a higher income. Let’s now look at how hard it is to increase your savings percentage.

Is Saving X% Really So Hard?

The average UK citizen who earns £26k is in the top 3%, richer than 97% of the people on Earth. So in theory, saving money really shouldn’t be that hard.

The reason you may not feel this well-off is though is because you are used to a certain lifestyle and standard of living.

You choose to live in expensive accommodation. You choose to have the big TV, ten monthly subscriptions and a new car on finance.

We’re not saying any of this is a bad thing – we’re just pointing out that in this country, saving for our futures is often a choice that comes second place behind our lifestyle priorities.

Saving a higher percentage gets far, far easier the higher your income is. This is because the range of money that most people need to live on is quite similar, while incomes can vary wildly.

You probably only need around £20,000 after tax income to live a moderate lifestyle in most cities – anything earned over this could in theory go straight into your early retirement fund.

You’d probably find that moving from saving 10% of your income to 20% is easily done if you were to get a promotion or move jobs.

Assuming these numbers are all after tax: 10% of a £25,000 income is £2,500. 20% of a £30,000 income is £6,000.

If you’d just moved up the career ladder from £25k to £30k, your salary would be up by £5,000k. But your savings per month only need to go up by £3,500 to double your percentage of income saved.

You just got an extra £5k of income, so doubling your savings rate in this scenario is EASILY achieved. So long as you don’t succumb to too much lifestyle inflation!

But if you are not able to increase your income, the only option left to you if you want to increase your savings percentage is to cut back.

But to reach anything like 50%+ and join the top ranks of the FIRE community by only cutting your outgoings, you’d have to make some radical lifestyle changes.

But let’s assume you don’t want to live on rice and beans for the rest of your working life. What’s a more realistic amount to be saving each month?

How Much We Think You Should Invest Each Month

The correct answer is, you need to work backwards from your target wealth goal, choose a timeframe that you can stomach, and aim to save and invest at least the percentage that this calculation tells you to.

For both of us, the goal is a minimum £500,000 per person in a household.

This would bring in an annual income per person of £20,000, using the famous 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate rule – what we think is enough for one person to live a basic lifestyle.

Say you start investing at age 25 and your salary is £30,000 after tax.

Let’s further assume that the absolute maximum you’re willing to tolerate slaving away for would be 15 years, gaining financial independence at age 40:

Example Scenario: Required Savings % To Retire Either 15 Or 25 Years From Now

You would have to invest 57% of your income over this timeframe to reach this goal, with compounded average stock market returns.

While the same person allowing themselves an extra decade to reach their goal, with a target freedom date at age 50, need only save 21% of their income.

Alternatively, the correct answer is as simple as; “if your goal is financial freedom, you need to save as much as you possibly can, because freedom ain’t cheap”.

As a footnote to this rule, you may believe you are already saving and investing as much as you possibly can. But are you really? Or are you in fact just investing as much as your lifestyle allows you to?

The Slow Lane Mindset

Unfortunately, the rot of “the 10% savings rule” has spread widely across the mainstream media.

Next time you see a financial expert on the BBC they’ll likely quote this number like it’s some kind of gospel truth.

This doesn’t help anyone though and is just a form of talking down to the audience.

Quite a number of other outlets including Experian are now citing the 50/30/20 rule, which is an improvement.

It suggests spending 50% of after-tax income on essentials, 30% on non-essentials, and leaving 20% aside for your savings pot.

But to us this still lacks aspiration. Especially while you are in the first half of your investment journey, how much you can save each month is far more important than your return on investment.

And yet we see investors worrying about the difference between an 8% and an 8.5% return, who are only depositing a few quid a month.

As we showed before, investing around 20% of your after-tax income is probably OK if you want to retire in 25 years’ time.

But who wants to be forced to work for 25 years?

25 years is long time. Every percentage that you can edge that savings rate higher will shave years off your career.

Switch To The Fast Lane Now

Also common in the mainstream media is a total disregard for investing.

Newspaper articles about home finances will only quote the latest Cash ISA interest rates; the BBC’s coverage of individual investors paints us all as uninformed chancers who jump onto bandwagons like GameStop and Crypto.

But most of the viewers of these shows and readers of these magazines are stuck in the slow lane of cash savings – the media are just talking to their audience.

You need to switch into the fast lane of investing, and we’re not talking about some scary Wild West where you gamble your savings on a single stock or the latest fad.

A “Do-It-For-Me” investing platform like InvestEngine invests into diversified funds FOR you. It’s as simple as answering a few questions about your risk tolerance and target time period, and hey presto – you’re delivered a portfolio of diversified funds covering stocks from around the world, both big and small, with some precious metals for protection against downturns. And the total fees are tiny at just 0.25%!

Find your way to InvestEngine via the link on the Offers Page and they’ll give you a £50 bonus upfront!

What percentage of your income do you set aside for early retirement? Join the conversation in the comments below!


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Also check out the MoneyUnshackled YouTube channel, with new videos released every Wednesday and Saturday: