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FIRE – Financial Independence, Retire Early is a Bad Idea

By in Links, Retirement | 17 comments

FIRE is popular among millennial’s – and older adults too.

Inspired by the classic book, “Your Money or Your Life,” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, FIRE is an acronym – Financial Independence, Retire Early. Thousands of diligent workers are striving to live with less to retire young. But, to what end?

I read the book when it first came out in 1992 and I like the living with less idea. It’s smart for the economy, the environment and a lot of other reasons. Living below your means, relieves money stress! In fact, I was raised with fiscally conservative parents and adopted that mindset. 

It’s not hard for us to live beneath our means, because my family has engaged in this practice forever. We splurge on what matters, while cutting back in other areas. 

Don’t get me wrong, reaching financial independence is great, as it relieves a big life stress, that of not having enough money.

But, what is the allure of early retirement?

I don’t get it. 

We could have retired a long time ago. But, early retirement isn’t a goal. Even now, in the last third of my life, I don’t want to retire. I enjoy life, and working. But, I’m also fortunate that my husband and I have fulfilling work that makes a difference to us. I’m sympathetic to those who aren’t that lucky and working jobs that they dislike.

I think FIRE – financial independence, retire early is silly. What are you going to do with the next 55 years of your life if you retire at age 30 or 40? Work gives structure to life and provides fulfillment.

It’s important to create wealth for a satisfying life, but I don’t understand the goal of 55 years without working. 

An alternative would be to find work that you enjoy. 

The freedom to save and invest so that you can do work you enjoy – regardless of the pay, makes sense. But it seems selfish to retire early to indulge yourself.

Warren Buffett, Martha Stewart, Barbara Corcoran, John Bogle and other wealthy entrepreneurs working past their 70’s are inspiring. They’re contributing to society.

fire-financial-independence-retire-early

More Thoughts about FIRE –  Financial Independence, Retire Early

Finding the Good Life” by Mr. Tako Escapes

The good life.  It’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot.  We all want to have a “good life”, but have you ever really thought about what it takes to live “the good life”?

Is “the good life” about traveling to sun soaked locations in private jets, eating lobster, and sipping drinks by the beach?

If your tastes tend toward the simpler, perhaps “the good life” is a simple homestead in Alaska… miles from the nearest town.  On that homestead you might raise all your own food, powered only by solar panels.  A completely low-impact “green” life…..

“Why I Don’t Want to be [More] Rich” by Ask Allea

I grew up a thousand miles from the Corporate Ladder.

Living in the same house since I was born, my hometown has a population of 118 people in rural Nebraska.

We shopped at garage sales, frequented second-hand stores, rarely ate out. We were a family of 7 (that’s so many). When we vacationed, we went to Kansas, Colorado or Missouri.

While some kids grew up going on vacations to the beach, getting new cars when they turned 16 or shopping at Gap, I was not that kid.

And I’m okay with that.

Vacations aren’t cheap. Feeding five kids isn’t easy. Pretty sure my mom heartily laughed in the face of the Joneses.

I grew up on clearance shoes and simple contentment……

How to Become Financially Independent in 5 Years” by Anna Bahney at Money.CNN

Done with the job? Ready to do your own thing?

Those who are on track to be “financially independent and retiring early” — or “FIRE” — are.

You’d need to be fired up to sock away enough money to quit your job and retire in just five years. But it’s not impossible.

Some people, like Claudia and Garrett Pennington take extreme measures like saving 67% of their income and making big lifestyle choices. They almost never eat out, have no cable subscriptions and even dramatically downsized their home.

While that’s probably too much sacrifice for most people, see if you’re on track to make it to financial freedom in 10, 15 or 20 years.

This couple is on track to retire — before they turn 40

Being financially independent means that income from your investments alone is enough to cover all your expenses.

So how do you get there?…..

Money Articles for Those of Us Happy With Working (and Some of My Work)

Stealth Wealth – Why the Best Wealth is Left Hidden” by Jim Wang of WalletHacks

When I read The Millionaire Next Door by William Stanley, I was amazed at how many millionaires lived in plain sight.

If you think about popular exposure to wealth – it’s pretty flashy. We’re trained, by television and social media, to think that millionaires live a life of excess. Big mansions, expensive cars, lots of jewelry, and partying non-stop. The reality is far more nuanced.

There are very wealthy folks who live lavishly. They get a lot of the publicity because it’s interesting.

There are far more wealthy folks who aren’t flashy at all. For every Kardashian, there are hundreds of wealthy people who live modest livesA billionaire lives here. $80+ billion net worth.

At the risk of holding up one extreme example to prove a point, I point to one of the richest men in the world – Mr. Warren Buffet. He is north of eighty billion dollars and lives in a modest house. His only vice is drinking full-calorie Coca-Cola.

We know about Warren Buffet’s wealth not because of his flashy lifestyle but because his company, Berkshire Hathaway, is a publicly traded company…..

13 Quick and Helpful Reasons to Buy Term Life Insurance Online” by Simply Insurance

When it comes to buying term life insurance, I’m sure you’ll agree that it seems like a daunting task and you probably haven’t fit it into your budget or have been procrastinating about buying it. 

Today I am going to explain why you should buy term life insurance online and how much more of a simple process it is.

This simple list will be a kick in the butt to your procrastination and show you how to apply for life insurance online today…..

“Retirement Planning Questions You Need to Ask” by David Waldrop of The Astute Investor

Retirement planning is a process, not an event. Asking yourself these questions will help you stay on track. Now that our taxes are done, it’s a great time to do some personal finance spring cleaning. Before we know it, we’ll be off on summer trips with our finances far in the back of our minds. Take this time to clean house!

Have you left any retirement funds behind?

Whether you recently changed jobs or have left your retirement funds at an old employer for years, it’s time to consider a rollover. Rolling over your 401(k) to your own Individual Retirement Account, will give you more control and likely allow for more investment choices. However, proceed with caution. If you anticipate needing to take withdrawals and you are between the ages of 55 and 59 1/2, it may be a mistake to rollover….

Simplify Your Investing Life” by Barbara Friedberg of US News and World Report

Baby boomers average approximately 12 jobs in their lifetimes, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. Tack on several bank and brokerage accounts to 401(k) money left behind at one or more of those dozen employers and older adults can easily rack up far more investment accounts than necessary.

Having too many investment accounts “makes efficient management almost impossible and also increases costs,” says Lawrence Solomon, director of investments and financial planning at OptiFour Integrated Wealth Management in McLean, Virginia.

Of course, it’s impractical, even impossible, to combine all your investment accounts into one. Tax-advantaged and taxable accounts, for example, will always need to remain separate as those dollars cannot be mingled. The same is true for individual retirement accounts that are funded with pre-tax or after-tax contributions…..

“The Major Problem With Dividend Investing” by Barbara Friedberg of InvestorPlace

A quick search for stocks with growing dividends returns over 1.5 million Google results. The popularity of dividend investing suggests that it is a perfect stock investment strategy. Buy a stock with a growing dividend or a high dividend fund and you’re assured future cash flow.

Then there’s the retirement wisdom that instructs you to spend interest and dividend income and leave capital gains income alone.

But, dividend investing isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. There might be more “mental accounting” in a dividend investing approach than rational behavior…..

FIRE Wrap Up

So, whether your looking financial independence to retire early or just to be a good steward of your money. Live and spend with intent. You’ll enjoy your life and appreciate what you have.

 

 

Disclosure: Please note that this article may contain affiliate links which means that – at zero cost to you – I might earn a commission if you sign up or buy through the affiliate link. That said, I never recommend anything I don’t  believe is valuable.

    17 Comments

  1. Thanks for the mention Barbara! There’s many ways to contribute to the world in a positive way without a paycheck!

    Mr. Tako

    May 22, 2018

  2. Mr. Tako, Of course there are! Tell me more about how you and the Mrs. are making a difference. Of course, raising children is no small feat in and of itself.

    Barbara Friedberg

    May 22, 2018

    • Yeah, I’m starting off with raising responsible kids that don’t feel the need to shoot up a public place and murder innocent people.

      Maybe I’m setting the bar low, but that feels pretty damn important to get right.

      Mr. Tako

      May 23, 2018

      • Hey Mr. Tako, Raising kids is probably the most important work there is! Yes- it’s really important to get it right! Why not start with small goals? 🙂

        Barbara Friedberg

        May 23, 2018

  3. I think people want to be completely financially independent. And that’s a good thing. My guess is that after people reach early retirement, they’ll find work that they truly enjoy.

    I live in California and work during stock market hours. I wake up at 4:30AM most days, but I love it.
    I would keep doing it long after I am beyond wealthy.

    To each his own.

    Interesting perspective Barbara 👍

    The Frugal Prof

    May 22, 2018

    • Hi Frugal, Financial independence is awesome! There’s no denying that! It relieves a lot of stress (although not all). My take is that not working seems like a silly goal! I’m glad that you enjoy your work – it’s unfortunate for those of us in finance on the west coast, that market hours aren’t a bit later.

      Barbara Friedberg

      May 23, 2018

  4. I’m not sure that many of the bloggers I read who are aiming for or achieved FIRE view retirement as just sitting around doing nothing not working. Mr. Money Mustache has a great take on that with his pieces about the internet “retirement police.” I think the point of FIRE for most of the people talking about it is to get out of the rat race and start pursuing their dreams and the things that they love to do – and many if not all of them find ways to create income from doing those things! But of course if they’d told their parents that they wanted to skip college and becoming a travel blogger back when they were 18 they’d have been laughed off the planet. You may even find people who want to achieve FIRE so that they can go back to college to take humanities programs that everyone told them would be a waste of money – I could see myself doing that. FIRE isn’t about “retirement” the way you imagine a 70 year old retiring. It’s about having freedom to contribute to the world without worrying about how your bills are getting paid. Nobody thinks they’re going to be living on a beach for 60 years straight.

    Jessica

    June 6, 2018

    • YES! What Jessica said.

      dru

      June 6, 2018

    • Hi Jessica and Dru,

      Thanks so much for taking the time to weigh in. That clarification adds a bit more context to the FIRE concept. I believe that making a contribution to society is very important – in whichever way one chooses. And sitting around on the beach for 50+ years seems quite indulgent. But, if you’re seeking early retirement to further your education or create another project – that is more fulfilling – well, that makes a bit more sense! Barbara

      Barbara Friedberg

      June 6, 2018

    • Jessica you did a wonderful job of summing it up.

      To be frank I found this article to be poorly written with little understanding of why most people are looking to be frugal and get ahead. Telling people what makes sense for them seems a little silly for me. It’s good that you like working Barbara, but many people would prefer to potentially take on jobs that don’t pay in dollars but instead pay through helping others. To do that you require financial independence, many people use the term retirement, but that doesn’t have to mean sitting on a beach.

      Josh

      June 8, 2018

      • Hi Josh,

        Actually retirement is defined as: “withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life”.

        Yet, clearly the FIRE movement is taking a looser definition of retirement, than the typical one.

        Obviously, people can do whatever they want.

        And I am a champion of living sensibly and building up your net worth!

        Yet, I take issue with those who selfishly build up their own resources, or live with privilege, without a concern for others. And, I understand that many FIRE advocates are not selfish or self indulgent.

        But, don’t forget that many of us have been blessed with circumstances that allow us to build wealth more easily, ie higher socio econonomic status, highly educated parents, greater education or higher intelligence etc.

        But a society works best if we all do our part in giving back in whatever way we can. My point is not to forget others, less fortunate than you, when forging your own path.

        Barbara Friedberg

        June 8, 2018

  5. The appeal of FIRE for us is to allow us to focus on things we’re more passionate about or interested in. While we’re fairly competent in our jobs, I wouldn’t necessarily say they are fulfilling in terms of the top levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I can’t see us changing jobs because they have become a bit of a trap in that they provide us with a very comfortable lifestyle.
    However, we’ve been roughly financially independent in terms of roughly being able to replicate our our current lifestyle since our early 40’s. It’s an enjoyable lifestyle that allows us to travel internationally (appreciating different societies versus just sitting by the pool) about 5-6 weeks per year. We’ll be working to 50 to build up a large enough nest egg to fulfill our goals in retirement, which does not exclude working on productive activities, just ones that interest us. And it’s not necessarily about sacrificing the present to achieve FIRE but instead about focusing your limited resources (ie dollars) on meaningful or useful or productive things instead of mindlessly wasting your dollars.

    Jeff

    June 7, 2018

    • Dear Jeff,

      Well put! Thanks for the elaboration on your particular situation. I think your point of highly compensated work, that might not be fulfilling is a mixed privilege. Living in the bay area offers a vast example of folks in their 20’s and 30’s making close to $200k.

      As you mentioned, high salaries affords one with the opportunity to save, invest, and travel as well as leave salaried employment earlier than many.

      You have a wonderful opportunity to plot a course to take advantage of your resources and lifestyle choices.

      Barbara Friedberg

      June 8, 2018

  6. I agree the notion of people in their 30’s and 40’s retiring early is silly…the personal growth and development arc hasn’t been fulfilled and ones contributions to whatever their profession will likely be far less than optimal. Their best contributions will not be realized, and the experiences from those contributions missed.
    That said, what defines early seems to have been stretched well beyond reasonable…age 55 has been a common early retirement benchmark in years past for example. So the discussion, from my perspective, has been altered for reasons that aren’t entirely clear. Is it a result of being tired of answering to the boss, of excess, laziness, being able to ‘get’ what we think we want too easily? I’m not at all sure but I find it a bit perplexing.
    I took early retirement at 53 and found my strong track record of results, experience and skills couldn’t overcome the more obvious factor that I was over 50. It took some time to adjust, as I felt I had lots of runway left. Once I came to grips with the feelings of rejection, I realized the considerable freedom that had accrued to me as a result. There are so many useful, productive and enjoyable pursuits available when our work comes to an end. It’s so not about sitting around with nothing to do, it’s the exact opposite in my experience.

    David

    June 7, 2018

  7. David, I really appreciate you sharing your personal journey. You are clearly not in the 30-40 year old FIRE camp and have worked for several decades.

    I concur that there are stresses whenever the status quo shifts, whether it means going from full employment or other. Finding your own path is what matters and it sounds as if you’ve filled the hours you previously spent working with activities that fit with your values and lifestyle.

    In what ways are you spending your time now?

    Barbara Friedberg

    June 10, 2018

  8. Hi Barbara,

    I think in regards to your definition of retirement in the comment above, it’s important to note that the definition “working life” is subjective.

    Based on your comments above I think you include many more activities in “working life” then other people may. For instance someone who FIREs to pursue a life of charity/volunteering probably counts for “working life” in your book correct? So if a person saves enough money to quit and work for no money then then can they use the word retired?

    I’ve been active in online FIRE communities for awhile now and I haven’t seen many people who talk about beaches/realaxing filling up most of their day. I think most of the activities FIRE people pursue would fall into your definition of “working life”. I think really there needs to be a new word to define this relatively new lifestyle.

    I think another grey area is when it comes to growing your own food, doing your own home/car maintenance, spending more time with kids etc. These don’t really count as work in most people book but I feel they contribute to society in the same way. It’s a lifestyle that requires less consumption and therefore less pollution etc. Also spending your time on tasks that aren’t convenient now that you’re retired is very rewarding to some people. Working with your hands and producing for yourself is something I believe is engrained in a lot of us. Showing your passion for this and leading by example is beneficial for society in my opinion.

    I think that if we really looked at FIRE folks at a closer level we’d probably see more of the 80/20 rule come into play where I bet 80% of the people are still doing your definition of “work” that helps society. But I also think they can use the word retire until we come up with a new one (or really accept what FIRE truly means for most.

    Sam

    June 13, 2018

  9. Dear Sam,

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive comment.

    In response to “Based on your comments above I think you include many more activities in “working life” then other people may. For instance someone who FIREs to pursue a life of charity/volunteering probably counts for “working life” in your book correct?” Yes, that’s correct.
    “I think really there needs to be a new word to define this relatively new lifestyle.” I couldn’t agree more. Retirement, by it’s definition is not working.” I agree with this too.
    Sam, from the comments I’ve received, it appears that many in the FIRE community are simply looking for a way to control their own destiny and have the financial resources to contribute to their family’s and themselves in a productive way. This is very different from the true definition of retirement.
    I agree that we need a new word for this type of lifestyle, because retirement does not fit in most cases.

    What about redesign? FIRE could mean “Financial Independence and Redesign Your Life”. Then, you could keep the same acronym.

    Barbara Friedberg

    June 22, 2018

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