Part 129

Hello and welcome back to Mortgage Advisor on FIRE. This week I discuss some bizarre interactions with Amazon’s customer service agents. Also, a look at the way student loans transfer wealth. There are some more BTL updates, and all the usual financial information.

Quote of the Week

“Butternut crinkle fries.”

~ Michelle, Amazon Agent.

Despite knowing that Amazon is an awful business in many ways, it’s just so convenient to order from them.  They have a logistical chain unmatched by any other retailer.  The vast majority of orders I receive are fine, but every so often something happens that prompts me to contact their customer service and I usually come away from those interactions feeling dumber than when I started.

We had ordered a small storage box that comes flat packed, and you just unfold it and pop the lid on.  It’s a useful thing to have in our apartment, as it doubles as storage space and another place for our cat to sleep.  The packaging that this box came in was far too big and would have fit six or more of the item we ordered.  Instead, we had the one we ordered and then a huge amount of packing paper.  It was ridiculous, and annoying, as the packaging was so large it wouldn’t fit through the doors of our apartment building without twisting it to a specific angle.  It’s not just the environmental concern of using so much packing material for this type of item, but it’s the added work of gathering all the material and then taking it all the way down to the refuse store and stuffing the card and paper into the recycling bins.  

I figured I’d chat with Amazon and explain why we were frustrated with this.  It didn’t go well, as you will see from the screenshots below. 

I wasn’t after anything in particular, but I wanted to make sure they understood what I was unhappy about.  I’m still not convinced they understood.  For most items ordered from Amazon, it could even be argued that extra packaging is not needed.  Most things come in a plastic wrap once you’ve opened the box.  Just print a sticker and slap it on the item.  For items that need the extra packaging, so be it.  

The problem is that Amazon is so vast that they can afford to waste money on using packaging that’s too big.  When you get so big, you don’t have to get everything right and to a high standard, every time.  All you have to do is get most things done to an acceptable standard most of the time.  Once you make your sales process quick and easy, you have a customer who will put up with some inconveniences because it’s still more convenient than going to a store and bringing the item home yourself.  

It’s difficult to predict if anything will supplant Amazon as the king of retail.  The only thing I can think of is if a business can scale up 3D printing of things we need, and then have them delivered within hours or minutes.  This would cut down on warehouse space needed, and allow for items to never run out of stock so long as you have the raw material to run the printers.

Weekly Update

I’m just coming off the back of my late week, where I work until 8pm on Monday through Thursday.  It always leaves me drained, but I like the long weekend I get.  Obviously, this weekend is Easter, and that means Monday is also a bank holiday which means an even longer weekend.

One of the best things to come out of this blog is the people I’ve met and the relationships I’ve forged.  The FIRE community is, for the most part, supportive and happy to share knowledge and experience.  One of my fellow bloggers at Quietly Saving has just celebrated eight years of writing about FIRE.  Another person I met through this blog has resigned from his job and is starting his own business.  For all the abuse our generation receives for being “lazy” or “unmotivated”, one just needs to look at those working towards FIRE to see their dedication and ambition.  

I was going to meet up with my Dad on Friday but we had to push that back, and he will be coming over on Monday.  On Saturday we had a friend over for food and a catch-up.  She is a lady we met on our trip to India back in 2020.  We got chatting and discovered we live close by in the UK.  So, she brought us over a lovely lemon cake and we made a Greek-inspired lunch, with grilled chicken, a Greek salad, flatbread, lemon and rosemary potatoes, and some tzatziki.  It was delicious.  

Next week I have my formal autism assessment, and later that same day I have a diabetes eye test.  The autism assessment can take several hours, and people I know who’ve had the assessment report that it’s emotionally and mentally exhausting.  The forms I received state I should be prepared for at least a three-hour appointment.

I’m expecting to be identified as autistic.  It’s not something that will bother me, and assuming my suspicions are confirmed it will be a relief.  For a long time I’ve felt alienated, and like I don’t quite fit.  Finally knowing why I feel like this will be a huge weight off my shoulders.  Much like the FIRE community, the autistic community are supportive and I know that my family and friends will have my back when I need it. 

Support Mortgage Advisor on FIRE

I love writing this blog, and I’ve met some great people because of it.  Maintaining a website costs money though, and if you want to say thanks for the content I publish, consider a donation to my virtual tip jar on the link below:

https://www.buymeacoffee.com/davidscothern

2022 Goals – to be achieved by 31/12/2022

1 – Reduce weight to 90kg.  (Current weight 120.6kg).

2 – Complete 10 “classic” books.

  1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866)
  2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
  3. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  4. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  5. The Iliad by Homer (8th century BC)
  6. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844) ✅
  7. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1867)
  8. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
  9. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862)
  10. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605)

3 – Read 10 authors I’ve not read before (1/10)

  1. John Birmingham ✅

A slight increase in weight this week, but when I work late shifts I tend to snack more.  It’s the only thing that keeps me going on those long shifts.  A typical workday for me is 8 hours.  A late shift is almost 10 hours.  There will be ups and downs, but so long as the general trend is down, I’ll be happy.

What Am I Doing?

What I’m reading: The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz. 

What I’m listening to: Final Impact by John Birmingham.

What I’m watching: MasterChef on BBC iPlayer.  Elite on Netflix.

I’m still making progress with my Newitz book, but when I’m working these shifts it’s difficult to pick up a book and read.  I’m hoping to have the book finished by next week though.

I’m on the final book in the Axis of Time trilogy by John Birmingham.  The narration is not grating on me quite as much now I’m used to it, but it’s still objectively awful.  The author also has no idea how British people talk in real life.  The series was written in 2007(ish), but the setting is 2021, at least initially.  The funniest thing about the story is how Prince Harry is a main character, and a badass SAS soldier at that.  It’s completely batshit crazy, but it’s good fun.  

I’ve been very disappointed with this season of Elite.  For a show that had relatable characters going through believable struggles, it’s become a parody of itself.  I’m only watching it because season five is only eight episodes long, and there are still a couple of original characters I’m invested in.  I’m not sure I’ll return for season six.

Financial Update

Assets

Premium Bonds: £8,000.00 (no change from last update).

Stocks and Shares ISA: £42,393.49 (up £204.66 from last update).

Fuck It Fund: £4,200.00 (no change from last update). 

Pensions: £51,926.94 (down £381.29 from last update).

Residential Property Value: £218,291.00 (up £4,391.00 from last update).

Buy-to-Let Property Value: £140,863.00 (up £2,833.00 from last update).

Total Assets: £465,674.43 (up £7,047.37 from last update). 

Debts

Credit Card: £1,468.55 (up £264.27 from last update).

Residential Mortgage: £164,465.27 (no change from last update).

Buy-to-Let Mortgage: £92,885.26 (no change from last update). 

Total Debts: £258,819.08 (up £264.27 from last update).

Total Wealth: £206,855.35 (up £6,783.10 from last update).

Investment Income in 2022: £525.28 (target £6,000).

The valuations held by our mortgage lender for our properties were updated this week.  Both values increased by just over 2%.  Following the increase in our BTL equity, we have applied for a further advance to release some funds.  This will go towards our next property.  The application should go through next week, with the funds in our account by the next part of this blog.  

In a few months, we will probably look to release equity from our home.  Our apartment is in an area of Sheffield that is in huge demand.  Properties will be sold way above the asking price within days of being listed.  Agents are constantly mailing us to ask if we are interested in selling.  We had originally thought we might sell the apartment when we move, but we keep going back and forth on whether to sell or rent.  

We haven’t made any significant progress on another BTL.  We’ve identified potential properties but some vendors have unrealistic expectations, and some agents are just useless.  I can understand why some people have their heads in the clouds when it comes to a realistic price for their homes.  What I can’t understand is how so many agents make it so difficult to view a property, and so difficult to just find information about a property.  

Student Loans

The university industry makes a lot of people very wealthy.  Tuition fees have increased beyond reason and accommodation has become much more expensive.  There’s also the issue of textbooks being insanely expensive with some lecturers saying you have to buy the latest edition, when it turns out older editions are perfectly fine.  It’s a machine to print money.  This money has to come from somewhere though, and if students had to pay their way we would see a fraction of the young people going to university who currently attend.  

There are roughly 2.5 million students studying at UK universities.  Depending on who you ask, tuition fees vary across the UK.  Universities can charge what they want, up to a maximum of £9,250 p/a.  If I’m being generous and assume that the average fee charged is half that amount, then tuition fees in the UK amount to over £11.5 billion p/a.  Some people are getting very, very rich from higher education.

This money doesn’t just come from anywhere though.  A huge amount comes from student loans.  It’s estimated that the UK student loan debt will total over half a trillion pounds within a couple of decades.  Half a trillion looks like this; £500,000,000,000.00.

The thing is, student loans are not always paid back.  After enough time has passed, they are written off.  So, how is that money accounted for?  It doesn’t just disappear into the void.  That’s where the taxpayer comes in.  The whole student loan system works to transfer wealth from the taxpayer, to the wealthy, and it’s a disgrace.  It’s also absurd that children can apply for a debt that will potentially hang around their neck for thirty years until it’s forgiven.  It is far too easy to get a student loan.

The student loan system would not be as bad if a university education had not been devalued so much.  There are lots of students at university who lack the basic skills to study at a higher level, yet are allowed to attend university because of the insane amount of money they generate for the institution.  

It’s my opinion that university should be free for students at the point of use.  Universities should not be run for profit.  Instead, these institutions should be paid for by the taxpayer as an investment in the future of the country.  However, the eligibility criteria for university should be made more difficult with a greater emphasis on ability, potential, and work ethic.  Money and social status should have nothing to do with it.  Part of this reform would see other forms of education opened up for those who either don’t get into university or choose not to apply.  I’m thinking of a more structured form of apprenticeships where young adults can learn not just practical skills like plumbing, but also skills like coding, app design, cooking, with added options where they can brush up on the skills needed to get into university further down the line.  Everyone has a unique set of skills and potential.  Not all people are suited to education in a formal classroom setting.  Like the saying goes, you don’t judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree.

I have two student loans; an undergraduate loan, and a postgraduate loan.  I’m paying approximately £150 each month towards them.  I don’t class it as a debt for my FIRE plan, because it’s just there in the background, and I might fall under the earnings threshold for payments when I give up work.  My girlfriend has a postgraduate loan that was taken a few years ago for £10,000.  She has been making payments to it directly from her salary.  Somehow, in the five years or so since she took the loan, the balance is now over £12,500.  This is because the interest is more than the required payment which is based on income thresholds.  It’s a money-making scheme, and if we knew then what we know now, there is no chance we would have taken student loans out.

Biolink and other links

You can now find all my social media pages by checking out my Biolink:

bio.link/davidscothern.

Also, check out Darren Scothern’s blog which talks about autism, being autistic, and general mental health:

http://www.darrenscothern.com

2 thoughts on “Part 129

  1. I would have just mentioned the overpacking when I gave the feedback they ask for, I wouldn’t have wasted time engaging in a chat!

    Anyway, thanks for the shout out on the 8 years – doesn’t feel that long at all! I’ve just realised that I hadn’t added your blog to my blogroll so maybe you’ll get a few more new readers as I’ve just updated my list.

    The student loans needs a complete overhaul – fine that interest was linked to inflation when inflation was low; see how wrong it’s all gone with rising inflation (but that was always the risk) – there should have been a cap but then no one believed things would escalate so quickly.

    I had a very small loan after I graduated, my year was the first year to be offered loans (I was of the ‘grants not loans’ generation). Tuition was still free for us so I can’t even contemplate the debt which the current and future bunch of students have to face.

    Soon, university will be for only the rich again.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: