Sunday, 29 November 2020

Property or Shares

Obviously blogs are about personal opinion / experience, this one is especially just my view. No doubt others differ. I am not a financial advisor, especially not your financial advisor, blah, blah, blah. This advice is worth what you paid for it.

Quick Summary:

- property and shares are both what economists call "real" assets, which are generally good investment candidates

- everyone understands property, and using a mortgage can amplify gains

- buying your own property is cheaper than renting privately. Landlords do it for profit, not to be nice!

- you need a big deposit to buy your first property, but you can start buying shares with £50 / month or less

- it's hard to buy lots of different properties unless you're really rich, a share fund automatically buy lots of different companies

- shares are easier / cheaper, but many people don't know much about them, so are wary

- buying the ftse 100 index now is a much better idea than in 1999/2000

My conclusion; if you're saving money for a decent length of time (several years+) then buying shares with monthly buys of a tracker fund is a great idea. Buy your own property if at all possible (location, location, location!) and then use shares for extra investment.

Some useful links:


Halifax Sharebuilder

iShares (ISF)

Vanguard (VUKE)

Property and Shares are "Real Assets"

Real assets pay an income and also mostly go up in value with earnings / inflation which makes them good investments. You get the income from rent / not paying rent / dividends, plus the growth in value over the years. Of course this is a generalisation, property in a declining town or shares in a declining industry might not be so good. Or buying shares in your employer might not work out too well if they go bust, you lose your job and your investment.

Buy to  Let  Live In

It's corny, but the three most important things for property really are "location, location, location" - wherever possible go for a good location rather than a bigger / nicer place. It pays off as time goes on. If your budget only gets you a small place, then buy the small place, pay the mortgage down and then move to a bigger place when you can. The property is likely to be easier to sell, and the value more reliable if you own in a better location. 

Most people understand property, and using a mortgage can amplify gains since you can buy with "only" 5% or 10% down. But with modern property prices 5% or 10% can still be quite a lot of money :-( Still, buying your own property is almost always cheaper than renting privately. Landlords do it for profit, not to be nice! If you don't have rich relatives / friends who can help you with a deposit, then it can be tricky nowadays, but save what you can, maybe join up with others for your first purchase. Maybe a relative will buy 10% with you and you can pay them rent on that bit? Be creative - once you own, you can start paying the mortgage down and hopefully over time the property value goes up. Once the mortgage is under 90% or 80% of the property value, your mortgage options get better and the payments get cheaper. Remember, location, location, location! 

Invest in Shares

But for investment purposes, I'm not so keen on property. I worked with a foreign guy once, and he was like "back home everyone owns property to rent out". I kept quiet, but my thought was, "well, some poor buggers must be doing the renting so it's not everyone!". It doesn't feel quite right to me, buying up properties that other people could be owning and living in. There is risk as well, each property costs a lot of money (unless you're really rich), so you don't get much diversification. If you make a bad choice, you can be stuck with a bad result. Also, maybe you really can't afford to buy your own property, or you don't want to because your job has you moving around. Well, that's where shares come in ... 

As you can guess, I'm more keen on shares. When I was a kid I went to a state school in a provincial city, and no-one knew much about shares. There was no Economics class, we didn't have that option at our school. (I'm old, so this was the early 80's and Thatcher's government was still new. Everything seems much more money oriented nowadays so I expect things have changed since then.) But I was lucky with work, earning decent money (and investing some of it badly) and then the internet came along and ordinary people could learn about shares. Nowadays there are cheap (almost free) dealing services* and loads of information out there. I'm a bit out-of-date now, but Monevator is one place to start learning about this stuff. 

One view I like is that it's good to own all the big boring companies that you deal with all the time. If the company's going to fleece their employees and you and other customers at least you gain something if you own the shares (could be your bank, bookmakers, brewery, electric / phone / pharmaceutical company, whoever). Essentially, it's insurance. Instead of being stuck on the side of employees and customers, you also get to be an owner (well, a tiny part-owner, at least).

The simplest and cheapest way to buy shares is to buy an index tracker. Generally these buy shares in the largest companies and just sit on them. This is very cheap and easy, and since the funds are huuuge (£billions) the low running costs are spread over many people. Richard Branson introduced this to the UK in the 90's but his fund charged a greedy 1% a year. Modern choices like ISF from iShares or VUKE from Vanguard charge less than a tenth of that. You'd need an account with someone like or Halifax Sharebuilder to buy those ETFs, or you can use someone like Legal and General who provide the tracker and account all in one. 

Shares do go up and down in value, so there is some risk, but they generally go up in the long run. Buying the ftse 100 index now seems like a much better idea than in 1999/2000, the underlying value will have gone up noticeably in that time (nearly double?) whereas the index itself is below where it was in Jan 2000. In other words what you get has gone up in value, but what you pay has stayed level. Most of the companies in the FTSE100 are big global outfits, so they're not only influenced by the UK economy, your investment will reflect the global economy as well.

My conclusion; buy both if you can! Use shares for extra investment as soon as you can - buying a tracker fund every month for a long period of time is the most reliable way to invest in shares. Buy your own property if at all possible, pay the mortgage down to get a better deal on rates, and then invest more in shares.


* Most of my IT career has been in the banking sector, working on the background systems that have increasingly automated the processing of share buys and sells. Processing of share buys and sells used to be a mainly manual process, with lots of people and paperwork involved, resulting in high fees that meant you needed to be pretty rich to even consider the idea. Nowadays anyone can afford to invest in shares and it's nice to think that I did a little bit to help that. Working in "the city" wasn't much help for my knowledge of investing though, most of my investing knowledge has come from discussions at and

Friday, 18 September 2020

Some ways I try to avoid being fat in my fifties

Quick Summary:

  • eat fewer carbs, especially sweets and sugary drinks
  • eat less veggie oil (i.e. chips or other fast food that's been fried, mayo made with veggie oil, etc)
  • eat more saturated fat and eggs, these are good for avoiding liver problems (e.g. if you drink alcohol)
  • use up and down days, hardly anyone can stick to a diet every day
  • eat less often, 2 meals a day is enough
  • long gaps between meals, i.e. no/few snacks

Getting fatter is all about more calories going into your fat cells and less calories coming back out, these measures all aim to improve that balance.

Fewer Carbs

Eating carbohydrates increases the amount of glucose in your blood, which increases the amount of insulin in your blood, which tells your fat cells to store food. (High insulin levels probably aren't good for your arteries or for cancer either.) One potato or a small amount of rice is probably no big deal, but I try to avoid sweet drinks, large sweet puddings, or eating lots of fruit.

Protein intake doesn't give a lot of calories, so that means I try to eat plenty of fat. I do that by using fatty sources of protein, and I try to use added fat with any carbs I eat - I think of it as a bit like the French approach; not too much bread, but with plenty of butter :)

Less Veggie Oil

Unsaturated fats help keep you sensitive to insulin. This means your fat cells keep storing food, which means you get fatter. In the long run, this is bad for your health. (Veggie oils tend to contain lots of omega-6 fatty acids too, which are also very unhealthy.) I suspect the widespread use of veggie oils in packaged food, fast food and restaurant food is one of the biggest problems with our modern diet (and in medical use).

More Eggs and Saturated Fat

These used to be thought to be bad for you, but views are gradually changing nowadays as the science is understood better and old thoughts are discredited. Eggs and saturated fat are good for your liver, which is important if you're fat, in your 50s and like a drink. Or if you just like a drink (I mean alcohol here). Some good sources of saturated fat are beef, lamb, full fat dairy, and coconut oil (an exception to the veggie oil suggestion above). They're also very filling, which is useful if you're trying to eat less.

Up and Down Days

Hardly anyone can stick to a diet every day, it's just not realistic. So I aim to eat more on some days and less on others. This might be up/down every other day, or just 2 really low "fast" days a week, or 2 big "cheat" days at the weekend. Whatever seems convenient at the time.

The point is, it is ok to miss a meal occasionally, in fact it's probably good for you. Eating twice your normal daily amount probably isn't good for you, especially if you do it every week, but eating a little more because ... you want to! ... is ok as long as you're eating a bit less on other days.

So I don't try to stay deadly accurate with my daily calorie intake, that way lies madness. I figure it's ok to eat say 1000 calories one day and then 3000 the next, if I'm aiming for a 2000 average. 1000 calories or less doesn't sound like much, but it's only one day.

Two Meals a Day

Insulin levels in your bloodstream rise after nearly every meal, which stops most fat-burning that might have been happening. If you only eat 2 meals a day, there is more chance of burning some fat between meals. I don't think the timing matters too much, you either get a nice long fast overnight, or two shorter gaps, one after each meal. Even eating just one meal in a day can be ok, particularly if it's a "down" day when you're trying to eat fewer calories.

Fewer/No Snacks Between Meals

Like meals, snacks will tend to raise insulin levels, stopping most fat burning. I try and keep any snacks to between my two meals (I generally eat breakfast quite late), so I still get the benefit of a long overnight fast. If I do snack I just view it as a smaller version of what I used to eat as a 3rd meal.


Extra thoughts; wherever possible, eat "real food", not something from a packet with a huge ingredients list. And doing some kind of mild exercise, even just a 10 minute walk, sometime in the first hour or so after a meal is good for reducing glucose and insulin levels in your blood.


Of course, this is just my understanding, which could easily be wrong, and is a simplified view roughly describing what I aim for personally. We're all different in our genes / history / goals / priorities, so some of these ideas may not be useful to you. But hopefully some of them are :)

Edit: Minor changes for clarity

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Health - HbA1c: THE blood test

Summary: Get your HbA1c tested! Values of 30 mmol/mol (4.9%) and above indicate increased glucose in your bloodstream giving a higher chance of heart disease as well as diabetes and a whole list of other undesirable possibilities like eye/nerve/kidney problems that go with it. The safest values may be as low as the 25 - 29 mmol/mol (4.4% - 4.8%) range. The easiest way to lower your hba1c result is to eat fewer carbs.

The HbA1c test indicates how much glucose has been in your bloodstream over the last 2 or 3 months. Higher numbers indicate increased risk of various nasties including heart/circulation problems (and other conditions) as well as the more obvious glucose/diabetes problems it is usually used for.

A value of 48 mmol/mol (6.5%) or above is used as a diagnosis of diabetes, and a value of 42 mmol/mol (6.0%) or above indicates that you're probably heading towards it (they call this "prediabetes"). If you're at 40 or so, your doctor will probably say you're OK, but lower values are better as you can see below ...

Heart/circulation problems
The ARIC study monitored a group of US patients from 1987 onwards. In 2005 this analysis looked at whether Hba1c was an important factor.

A is the non-diabetic group and B is the diabetics. The grey dotted lines connect the average values for each fifth of the group and the black lines are trend lines estimated in the study. (I would have been tempted to use a curve for the trend in B, but maybe they had a reason not to do that?)

You can see that in general the risk of heart problems goes up as HbA1c rises, although there is maybe a slight rise at very low values for the non-diabetics. Whether you're a diagnosed diabetic or not, the safest area seems to be right near the low end, at values under 5.0%. The authors estimate the lowest risk for non-diabetics indicated by these results is around 4.4% - 4.8% (24.7 - 29.1 mmol/mol), so well below the 42 mmol/mol level where your doctor might start telling you to worry about diabetes. If you can get it down to this kind of level from just below 6.0%, this study suggests you might reduce your chances of heart disease by half or even two thirds!

Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and other neurological problems
This study title days it all:
"Elevated HbA1c is associated with increased risk of incident dementia in primary care patients."
Just to clarify:
"The T2DM diagnosis per se did not increase the risk of either ACD or AD. Higher levels of HbA1c are associated with increased risk of ACD and AD in an elderly population."

Cancer (except prostate):
Does cancer risk increase with HbA1c, independent of diabetes?
The data reveal that chronic hyperglycaemia correlates with increased cancer risk for a number of cancers, except prostate cancer. Evidence is also provided that risk is already increased in the pre-diabetic and normal ranges for several cancers."

You can see that high hba1c values are related to a whole list of unpleasant health outcomes. 🙁

What to do
See your doctor to get the hba1c test. If it's higher than you want, e.g. 30+ mmol/mol, eat fewer carbs. When you do eat them, have some fat or vinegar as well to slow down their absorption.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Winter (recession) is coming

I suspect the UK will get another recession before long, let's say in the next year or two. I'll mention 2 reasons for thinking this; timing and consumer spending/saving.

Recessions seem to come round roughly every 9 or 10 years; say 1991, 2000, 2009 ... will the next recession be in 2018? OK, this is a very simplistic approach and the gap between recessions can vary quite a bit. Still it does look like we're approaching the time.

People are overspending
The economy is made of 3 main parts; people, companies and government. For this discussion we're mostly interested in people. A recession happens when people spend less for 6 months or more. This makes companies spend less and employ fewer people and the whole economy gets weaker for a while.

Earlier this year the news came out that the savings ratio was at it's lowest level in over 50 years:

You can see how people have been saving even less than in 2000 and 2007. At some point soon people will decide they can't afford some of those luxuries and they need to save a bit more. And winter will be here again.

One more thing:

General Election
OK, this is maybe a bit cynical, but hey, it involves politicians so I think that's allowed. 

In a few days we're going to have a general election. Now there are various theories about why the Tories have decided to call this election just now ... my guess is they realise another recession is on the way and it's better to get the election out of the way before it instead of after.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017