Is FIRE worth the effort? Sometimes I wonder if chasing after FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is really what I want and whether it’s a movement I should enthusiastically encourage. I ask myself if maybe I’ve just been sucked into the hype, running after something I don’t really understand or appreciate?
Don’t get me wrong – it would be great to have the freedom to decide how I live my life and how I choose to spend my time and money. But is it worth the effort to chase after FIRE if I don’t have plans to retire early? More importantly, is it worth pursuing if I’ve joined the FIRE movement too late to retire early?
As a 30-something year old, I understand that time may still be on my side. I’m no spring chicken, but I’m also not staring retirement in the face. I’m in that awkward in-between phase. And this possibly makes me one of the lucky ones.
But what about my family, friends and colleagues who don’t have the same luxury? Should they be discouraged from chasing after FIRE, simply because the movement was birthed too late for them?
FIRE is More Than a Number
As someone who is turning 31 this year, it’s hard not to get discouraged when I read stories of people just a few years older than me that achieve FIRE at the age of 35 or 40. While their testimonies are truly inspiring, they can be somewhat unrelatable for an audience that is nearing their age, or is already older than them.
But I’ve had to take a step back and remind myself what the FIRE movement truly represents. Sometimes we get so caught up in the numbers and forget that FIRE is a unique financial fingerprint.
If I can draw some physical parallels, no “FIRE” is built the same. While they all require similar starting materials and produce a similar amount of heat, they don’t necessarily produce the same result or outcome.
In some cases, FIRE will mean you’re able to leave your monotonous job and embrace a lifestyle of travel. But in others, it will mean you’re able to guiltlessly work part-time so that you can spend more afternoons with your grandchildren. Sometimes, if you love your career more than the idea of putting it on the shelf, it will mean that job security doesn’t come from your employer, but rather from your passion (which is unending).
Whether it’s the year you achieve FIRE or the amount you have stashed away in your bank account, FIRE is more than a number. It’s a decision. A decision that is driven by a passion. And, quite honestly, that passion should be the ignition that starts your FIRE.
FIRE is Freedom from Obligation, Not Freedom from Earning
In my experience, so many people focus on “retire early” rather than “financial independence”.
I get it. It’s way sexier. Retiring early comes with many attractive connotations – lazy walks on the beach, the stunning silence of zero early-morning alarms and the ability to be in complete control of how you live your life.
But, honestly, which is the better of the two? Which gives you the most freedom?
Sure – retirement is brag-worthy. You get to do what you want, when you want. You’re not bound by a contract or required to report to anyone.
FIRE allows you to embrace and enjoy the scarce resource of time. But if you’re living from paycheck to paycheck during those years of “freedom”, would you still believe that chasing FIRE was worth it?
I truly believe that financial independence should be our focus and an early retirement should be the by-product.
Not everyone should pursue an early retirement, but everyone should pursue financial independence.
— Camp FIRE Finance 🔥 (@CampFIREfinance) June 1, 2018
If you’re chasing FIRE, it should be a race to release yourself from obligation, not necessarily of an income-earning career.
Financial Independence, Realizing Emergencies (A Unique Perspective)
One of the biggest reasons I would encourage anyone to chase FIRE (no matter their age) is for the independence it gives when unexpected emergencies make a stealthy appearance.
It pays to save your money as if you’re retiring early, even if the reality is that you might not. To be quite honest, you don’t need to retire early to be rewarded with the benefits of saving as if you were.
Why? Because Murphy has a way of showing up when you least expect it. And a single unannounced financial catastrophe can be enough to completely derail your retirement goals.
We’ve all heard similar stories. A loved one is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Your spouse loses their job during hard economic times. Or a stock market crash makes an appearance right before you’re planning on emigrating to pretty islands amongst the palm trees.
We have zero control over any of these situations. The only thing we do have control over is our ability to prepare for it. And embracing FIRE is the perfect platform to do this.
Is FIRE worth the effort?
FIRE is absolutely worth the effort! If you chase FIRE, let it be for security over comfort. Let it be because it’s the only thing you have control over.
JD Roth once said: “Financial independence occurs when you’ve saved enough to support your current spending habits for the rest of your life without the need to earn more money. You might choose to work for other reasons – such as passion or purpose – but you no longer need a job to fund your lifestyle.”
Let passion and purpose inspire you. But let financial security ground you. And realize that it’s never too late to chase FIRE. Worst-case scenario, it will provide a soft landing for when times are tough.
Dr. Kyle O’Hagan is a scientist by day and a personal finance blogger by night at The Saving Scientist, trying to save the world of human and financial disease. He understands that not all heroes wear lab coats – some wear their PJ’s while writing blog posts. He is based in Cape Town, South Africa, which he claims is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.