What is the FIRE movement, in one thousand words or less? Although there’s plenty of information on the internet about the financial independence/retire early movement, it can be confusing to figure out where to start. Here I’ll aim to define FIRE as I came to understand it, sharing a few resources in the process.
What is Financial Independence?
Financial independence is the idea that if you lost your job tomorrow, you would have other streams of income that you could survive on. The “retire early” part of FIRE is not something everyone aspires to, but it’s good to have options. Although I love my job, I’ve seen colleagues who experienced unexpected health issues, and despite having disability insurance, they went from a successful career to abject poverty rapidly. Another reason for FIRE is that life is short. We spend most of our waking hours working, and the older you get, the faster the years seem to speed up. What if you didn’t have to go to work every day? Does working to buy more stuff really make us happy? One of the original books to ponder questions like these is Mr. Money Mustache. There are multiple tactics that involve saving and investing, increasing your income, pursuing side hustles, etc. The goal is to invest enough money to support you until your actual retirement kicks in, at age 59.5 or later.
I discovered the FIRE movement through a real estate site called Bigger Pockets. Bigger Pockets was my gateway to FI, as many people who have income generating properties are also FIRE aspirants. Bigger Pockets is a great resource for learning more about real estate investing, particularly the podcasts. Many of the podcasts can seem a little intimidating and unrealistic, with titles like “How I went from high school drop-out to 200 doors in 2 years” (hint: it involves a lot of debt), but my favorites (such as Episode 238, about acquiring real estate on a teacher’s salary), are about normal people who figured out how to achieve financial independence through real estate.
Most of us bury our heads in the sand where retirement funds are concerned, but the FIRE movement advises maxing out your 401K contributions, contributing to a Roth IRA, and also investing in low cost index funds. These were terms that generally made my eyes glaze over for years, until I figured out that they weren’t as complicated as they sounded. Index funds are groups of stocks you can buy shares in through companies like Vanguard or Fidelity, and they track a group of stocks representing a wide range of companies across the stock market, with the idea being that even if one company in that group is doing poorly, others will rise over time, even figuring in major market losses. Here, the tome everyone recommends for understanding investing and index funds is JL Collins Journey to Launch is one of my favorites. As for healthcare, many early retirees buy insurance through the Affordable Care Act, or through geo-arbitrage, i.e. moving overseas to places where healthcare doesn’t cost quite so much.
Because I like instruction manuals, a few additional resources that have been useful to me have been blogs like Our Next Life, whose author, Tanja Hester, has also written an excellent book, Work Optional: Retire Early the Non Penny-Pinching Way. Another one of my favorite FIRE books, which is well written and a great introduction to FIRE through frugality, is Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living, by Elizabeth Willard Thames. She also has a wonderful blog.
Living More Deliberately: The “Why”
To me, the FIRE movement questions whether the way we live in the world today is healthy or sustainable. Our culture teaches us that having more toys makes us happier, and that we should strive to make more money so we can consume more. But buying things is almost like a drug, and after the initial high wears off, you need to repeat the cycle to get the rush again. Escaping that cycle and considering my own relationship with stuff has been eye opening for me. The minimalist movement is a related aspect of this.
Getting caught up in a culture of material consumption prevents us from seeing what’s around us, and meanwhile life passes in a blur. When I started thinking about my own list of what made me happy, it was relatively simple. More time with family. Slow food, prepared with care and savored, rather than shoveled down at the end of a long day of work. Travel. A great workout. Time to write and reflect. Making a positive difference in other people’s lives. And finally, not being dependent on income from a job in case something bad happens, or if we decide we want to live someplace where active shooter drills aren’t the norm for our kids at school.
Even if we never leave, having the freedom to escape someday is what motivates me. So those are the reasons behind my FI. What does financial independence mean to you?
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