Financial Independence, Retire Early: The Right Way

The FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early) has picked up a lot of speed in the last few years. The basic idea is to save as much money as you can in order to retire from your job early. While I find myself agreeing with most of the FIRE movement teachings, there are a few I believe can be done better.

The Math of Financial Independence, Retire Early

I’m not sure what happened in the last few years, but people began to realize that working really sucks, and they’d like to do it for as little time as possible. Maybe people just got lazier… damn millennials (said the millennial).

Or maybe people are starting to realize that there’s more purpose to life than working your entire life. Society expects us to start working after college when we’re 22, retire when we’re 65, and then die at 80. Basically, the timeline looks like this:

There are two people in this world: people who would hate to be a kid again, and people who can’t remember what being a kid is like. I can’t imagine having to raise my hand to go to the bathroom again. And if you hated high school as much as I did, those 4 years can be dismissed. College is the only bright spot in the “pre-employee” stage of your life, so enjoy it while it lasts–if you’re fortunate enough to go.

Then for the next 43 years, you’ll be working 9-5 and sleeping from 10-6. With an 8 hour work day, a 1 hour commute on those work days, and 8 hours of sleep every day, that leaves you 67 hours a week to do what you want. If you take into account getting ready, doing chores, cooking, eating, and exercising, it’s probably closer to 50 hours a week, maybe less.

With 50 hours a week of free time, working for 43 years, you end up with around 12.75 years of free time in total. After the working years are done, you’ll get an average of 15 years before you kick the bucket.

So, let’s sum up the good times: 4 years of young adulthood, 12.75 years of adulthood, and 15 years of elderly freedom adds up to equal 31.75 (32 years to be generous). Society’s plan is for you to live for 80 years on this planet and enjoy 32 of those years. How crazy does that sound??

A Different Way

If you haven’t gotten too depressed by now, there’s good news. You don’t have to live this way.

The FIRE movement is about rejecting these “norms” that our society has put in place and suggests a different way to live. The way I see it, there are 3 basic tenets of the “financial independence, retire early” mindset:

  1. Minimizing your expenses
  2. Maximizing your income
  3. Investing the surplus
  4. Quitting your day job

Pretty simple, right? That’s the beauty of #FIRE. Do the first three steps and wash, rinse, repeat until you hit your savings goal. According to Mr. Money Mustache, one of the most prominent heads of the FIRE movement, you’ll be able to retire when your net worth is 25 times your yearly expenses. He calls this the 4% Rule.

My Little Twists

Value of Joy vs Value of Money

Generally, I find myself agreeing with the basic idea of FIRE. If I could not have a job and still live like I do, I’d do it in a heart beat.

To me, the key part of the previous phrase is “still live like I do.” I like to drink scotch. Really nice and expensive scotch sometimes. Most of the time, this hobby (not habit :)) costs me around $100 a month. On the months I really splurge, I will spend upwards of $300. As far as scotch drinkers go, I’d say this is low to mid-range on the monthly expenses.

But it is a lot. And you don’t even have to ask: yes, I’ve done the math to calculate the how much I would have if I invested that money instead. I don’t care. Of course, I’d be much better off financially if I quit buying scotch, but I don’t want to give it up.

Life is about balance and moderation. This includes moderation in your financial goals. You shouldn’t be discarding the items that give you joy just to hit a financial goal. That’s not freedom, that’s servitude. Keep the things that add value to your life. If it takes me 5 years longer to hit my financial goal, but I get to keep my scotch, I’m cool with that.

Investing in Stocks vs Index Funds

Stocks have somehow become vilified in the FIRE community. The vast majority of financial independence, retire early enthusiasts tout index funds as the only investment needed. If one of the key tenets of FIRE is to maximize income, active investing and trying to beat the market should be included in that.

Caveat: investing in individual stocks takes work. If you want to beat the market, you have to do your own research and learn how to do it correctly.

On the bright side, Warren Buffett has laid out his strategy for investing in the stock market, and he’s been beating the market for over 60 years. From 1965 – 2019, his company has averaged a 20.3% yearly return. You can learn to do this, too.

If you aren’t willing or able to put in the time and do your own research in stocks, index funds may be for you. It’s still a great investment that returns an average of 8% per year.

Conclusion

Discovering the FIRE community has changed my life. Implementing the practices they preach has drastically improved my finances, and I have the FIRE movement to thank for that.

For anyone reading this, I encourage you to give FIRE a chance. I also implore you to think for yourself. No one–including me–is right about everything. You can listen to everyone’s advice, but in the end, you are the one that has to live your life. Don’t be afraid to be different than the crowd.

Featured photo source: Jp Valery on Unsplash

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