Interview: Ewan Duffy – Extreme Frugality!

**WARNING – Extreme Frugality here ***


In this unique FIRE interview I speak to Ewan Duffy, a treasury accountant currently living in Dublin, Ireland. Ewan shares with us his ‘extreme frugality’ mentality which has allowed him to navigate the changing climate we call ‘life’ over the years and it is clear Ewan is very intentional about every spend.

Frugality is an important element of the FIRE journey and I have included the bonus section with a full breakdown of Ewan’s 2020 spend which totals only €9,993!

So in the usual fashion I asked the exact same 3 key interview questions to Ewan and the full Q & A is here, enjoy and I hope there are a few golden nuggets in there for you:

Who are you and how did you discover fire?

I am Ewan Duffy, a 47 year old treasury accountant living and working in Dublin. I entered the profession through the less common method of working in business and not practice – in fact, I have never worked for an accountancy firm, only ever for companies. These have been as diverse as a bank, golf club, government agency and charity before I accidentally fell into Treasury Accounting in 2007, a niche area I remain employed in today.

My net pay is c.€42k – however, my job comes with no benefits (no pension or health insurance unfortunately) so I have to pay for both myself. I have two previous occupational pensions that have deferred benefits accrued – the first from my time in a government agency which will see a small DB pension kick in at 60 (only 13 years away now) and the other a DC scheme from a job I was unfortunately made redundant from 5 years ago* (an excellent scheme where the employer contributed 12% and 6% from me, making 18% of my total pay being salted away). These provide a reasonable base for retirement, along with the OAP (if it still exists by then) and a PRSA I contribute to based on my current job.

Other factors in my favour are that I own my own house in Dublin outright and am single with no dependents. My first house was in Mullingar (closest to Dublin I could afford at the time and had to be on the train line to the golf club I was working in then). My next house was in Celbridge (sold up in Mullingar) – initially bought with my sister as the Celtic Tiger was in full swing then and I bought her out in 2007. The crash came in 2008 and I was stuck in a 4 bed house in Celbridge which quickly went into negative equity. I managed to sell up and downsize in 2018 and bought an ex council house in Ballyfermot. This also meant having no mortgage and I got rid of my car at the same time as my primary journeys were either travel to work or for shopping. As a qualification, my parents added me onto their insurance as a named driver, for which I reimburse them €100/year.

I don’t see Ballyfermot as my “forever” home and am now considering either trading up in terms of location (not size) with about €100k to add into pot along with the equity in the house or, buying a 1 bed apartment in Dublin and a house in rural Ireland, to which I would eventually retire. In this regard I am looking for something specific.

Outside of the day job, I have an interest in industrial heritage and I would like to buy a property with an industrial heritage connection (e.g. railway cottage, mill building/worker’s house). The idea would be that upon retirement, I would sell up in Dublin and move there, releasing the capital from the Dublin property. COVID19 has stalled this process as property viewing is impossible at the moment.

What is the backbone of your fire strategy?

My own interest in FIRE stems more from learning from the experiences of others in how to invest/generate passive income as I always felt that my control on the expenditure side was hard to beat – I’d reckon that there are monks who are more financially profligate than I am!

Everyone focuses on the income side of achieving FIRE – very few look at the other side of the equation – outgoings. I will admit that as an accountant, I tend to look at both, seeing them as equally relevant if that mythical early retirement is to be reached.

Based on my limited outgoings, I reckon that if I worked for three more years fulltime and then part time to earn enough to just come in below tax thresholds (about €17k/year), I would have enough saved to keep me going until my various pensions starting kicking in. Whether or not I would quit work at that point, I don’t know!

What do you plan to do once you reach FI?

I haven’t thought about that. The accountant in me would probably want to keep doing some work to avoid future financial difficulties. However, with my interest in industrial heritage, there are plenty of (unpaid) research opportunities that I could spend my time on.

2020 Expenditure Analysis

At the end of 2020, my analysis revealed that I spent the grand total of €9,993 in the year – the table below outlines the categories I recorded this under and notes explaining certain items.

2020 was a unique year due to COVID19. Whilst I live like a monk, I do go on holidays and every year would usually take a long trip (USA generally) and a couple of shorter trips to Europe. I was scheduled to go on an organised trip to see the industrial heritage of Poland but this was obviously cancelled. The €94 on holidays is a flight from Dublin to Germany I was due to take as the first leg of this – I could have asked Aer Lingus for a refund but haven’t bothered. I got refunded the other flights booked and the main tour cost.

On the other side, I ended up with two one off house improvement jobs. The first was a roof repair costing €2,300. The house I bought is a 1950s property and this is one of those 30/40 year jobs that needed doing. The other was installing attic insulation to bring the house up to modern standards. Absent COVID, I would easily have spent that money on holidays so 2021 should be similar in expenditure, barring more work on the house.

The next biggest item was groceries – no surprise there. I am sensible in my shopping, don’t overbuy so I don’t have to throw food out but will happily stock up on non perishables that are on special offer.

As part of my interest in industrial heritage, I have a lot of books on the subject and during the year, a significant number of issues of an historic journal series came up for sale on a second hand book site. This accounts for 50% of this spend – i.e., one off in nature as I won’t need to buy these again.

Insurance is probably understated due to timing. I renewed my health insurance in December 2019 so this missed being included in 2020. As I am in reasonable health, every year, I take advantage of the 13 week uninsured period before you become “not previously insured” for community rating loading purposes. As such, my health insurance will be renewed in early2021 for another year which will be c.€700. I go for a basic package solely to maintain an unloaded premium into the future. The amount was also reduced by the refund that Laya issued in the year. The rest of the insurance is for the house and the €100 for being a named driver on my parents’ car insurance.

Other items of expenditure such as electricity and telecoms are low, due to living frugally. I use for phone and internet and am vicious about turning off lights etc to save electricity.

For waste disposal, I borrow the parent’s car periodically and take my waste to Ballymount Civic Amenity site (5 * €15 in the year). This is significantly cheaper than a bin collection service.

I also have no TV so no TV licence nor cable TV subscription.

A few years ago, I took part in the anonymous “How I spend my money” series and wrote an article detailing my expenditure for a week. The comments on the article were vicious with many accusing me of making it up and expressing concern for my wellbeing!

Click here to read the article

I live the life I am happy with (although a girlfriend would be a welcome addition) and this includes not spending money unnecessarily.*Also meant getting a redundancy package. Thank you Ewan, and I hope you all enjoyed this blog post interview with Ewan Duffy.

Skip to Ewan’s Expenditure 2021 follow up Interview click here

Check out my other unique Interviews | FIRE Dave

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Alex

    You probably should spend more money. What’s the point in saving it all for retirement? You could get run over by a bus and not get to spend it all.

  2. Ewan Duffy

    True but what is the point in spending money just for the sake of spending money?

    1. Alex

      Its fun. Get yourself over to Vegas and splash out on some hookers and coke. Let me know if you didn’t have a good time.

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