If you’re a pro at FIRE, then welcome. If your new to hearing this word in a non-burning context, also welcome…welcome to the wide world of nontraditional living. From minimalism to passive income to early retirement, there are multiple paths to whichever ending you’d prefer, and FIRE is one of them. Today, I’m talking about why I’m rejecting one of these more popular goals in the personal finance world – FIRE specifically. Let’s get lit! (Sorry, I had to)
FIRE – It’s an Acronym!
FIRE is a term that refers to Financial Independence and Retiring Early. While these two might seem awfully similar, they are a little bit different.
Financial Independence (FI) essentially means that you have enough money (usually through passive income..maybe a trust fund if you’re lucky) that you can stop working. Put another way: the money you’ve invested and/or saved is capable of replacing the money you earn through traditional means (like a paycheck). Money earned in FI is typically from passive income sources, such as the interest on investments, dividends, or simply withdrawing a certain amount from your savings each month.
Early retirement, while similar, takes an ode to its traditional retirement counterpart. It generally means that you retire early and stop working. But instead of retiring at 65, or later, you may retire at 40 or 50. In general, people that want to retire early want to enjoy the traditional benefits of retirement, just at an earlier age.
Spend little, save a lot, achieve financial independence and retire early. It’s dream of many to be able to exit the traditional nine to five workforce and spend the rest of their days living a life of leisure…while still young enough to want to do lots of fun, cool things. I see the appeal of FIRE, and I can definitely get behind the financial independence part. Most of the people who are reaching for FIRE simply want more time to spend with their families and travel, and they want to do those things before they are too old to be able to do them. It’s admirable and certainly a cool idea, not to mention you’d seem pretty baller if you could go to your 30-year high school reunion already retired. For some reason, I think of FIRE devotees as the cross-fitters of personal finance.
How do people reach FIRE?
The ideas behind financial independence and retiring early are nontraditional (I’d say retiring 20 years “early” is nontraditional). Because of that, you can assume the people reaching FIRE aren’t doing the standard 10%-of-their-income-into-a-retirement-fund thing like the rest of us. FIRE peeps are way more badass than that, and from what I’ve read, tend to save between 40-75% of their incomes each month. Crazy, awesome, or crazy-awesome?
If you can continue to grow your income and keep your expenses low, you can reach financial independence. The golden rule of FIRE is to save up 25 times your annual expenses. Once you reach FIRE, you then live off 4% of that amount per year, and apparently the math works out that the 25x number is roughly what you would need to make that happen.
Why I’m not reaching for FIRE
Alright, so I’ve talked all about how great FIRE is and how people are achieving it for themselves, so why don’t I want to do it myself? Several reasons, but the first is probably the most important:
#1: I love my job.
I know, I’m totally weird for saying that, but it’s true. I’m one of the lucky ones – I knew back in middle school that I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney, specifically a Public Defender. That dream never changed, and so that’s what I became. I’m happy to report back that my dream job is just as lovely and dreamy in real life as I had hoped, and I have every intention of retiring (at a normal 65-ish age range) from the exact same office I am in now.
I also worked super hard to get to this job, and if I’m going to pay student loans for ten years (don’t worry – I’m on the public interest loan forgiveness track), then I’d like to get my money’s worth out of this law degree. I’m going to be armchair lawyering in my nursing home and attempting to defend people till the day I die. I like being a lawyer, I love practicing law, and my degree was very stressful and expensive…I’m not quitting it anytime soon.
#2: I’m just not willing to scrimp and save through my 30’s.
I realize I might change my mind on this in a few years (I’m currently 25), but with the aggressive paying down of debt that I’ve got going on right now, I’d really like to enjoy my hard work once it’s gone. Just like Chelsea Fagan over at The Financial Diet, I just don’t want to give up certain things in order for future me to maybe be happier. Future me and present me are still me, so I’m going to please them both.
I want to see all that money earmarked for debt payments free up and be discretionary spending. Knowing me, I’ll just continue saving it, but if I want to splurge on my first-ever vacation, then I’m going to! The FIRE lifestyle is just not what I’m into, and that’s totally okay. I want to be debt-free and comfortable in retirement, but I also want to spend the money I make while I’m making it. For me, that means choosing an older retirement age then what might otherwise be possible.
#3: I have no idea what I’d do if I retired.
Most of the FIRE people that I love to read about tend to have some really specific and exciting ways in which they plan to spend their time upon retiring early. Many have young children they want to stay home with, others want to travel the country in their RV. I, for one, have no such plans. I like being busy and having things to do and people to see and places to be. I thrive off constantly running around and doing things.
Most of these things are related to my job and several job-related groups I’m in (i.e. bar associations). If I wasn’t working, I’d have a minimum of nine hours a day where I would have no plans. Sure, I could make plans with friends or something, but I’m not the type of person who can subsist off a few luncheons. It’s probably telling how much I am not that person given I just used the word “subsist” to describe that lifestyle.
I’ve never wanted to be a stay-at-home mom (sorry future kids!), and quite honestly, I’ve never really wanted to retire either. I like working and walking around downtown every day. It makes me happy. Without that, I have literally no clue what I would do other than take way too many naps and probably develop an expensive hobby (knowing my tastes). It’s also hard to imagine how much money I would need in retirement given the fact that I would probably want to do things that I don’t normally pay for now…another thing to figure out.
Sweeping Away the Ashes
Many people feel trapped by their day job, and set a goal to live frugal lives to allow them to retire early and do what they really want to do. I’m lucky enough to have a career where I’m doing exactly what I want to do. It’s okay to work forever and retire at a traditional age. It’s okay to work super hard and retire way earlier. Either way, you can be financially responsible, prepare for the future, and have a lot of fun. It’s kind of great how we really can be whatever we want, isn’t it?
So tell me: are you reaching for FIRE, going the traditional route, or wanting something else entirely (like living off one person’s income or being work-at-home peeps)?