The FIRE movement has its share of haters.
And honestly, I don’t get it. (Much.)
Sure, the biggest objections are understandable:
- People don’t want to retire early and sit on their rear doing nothing.
- It can seem out of reach for many people.
- People don’t want to live waaaaay below their means and never do anything fun.
So let’s tackle those things one at a time. Doing so will help explain why right this very moment — with all the economic upheaval and ongoing problems — might be the exact right time to join the FIRE movement.
But first, if you hate the idea of retiring early…
It’s that simple.
You can embrace the principles behind the movement and still keep your job as long as possible, if you want.
FIRE is a catchy name, but the RE (retire early) part is not a requirement.
The important part is actually the FI (financial independence).
So let me say it one more time: If you hate whatever your vision of retiring early or retiring at all looks like, don’t do that thing.
But do take the time to consider joining the FIRE movement instead of getting caught up in a debate about two words that can look different for each person.
Call it the FI movement instead if it helps.
Because “retire early” can mean whatever you want it to.
Sure, if you’re in the U.S., then technically retiring early means leaving your main job before what Social Security considers the “full retirement age” of 67 for people born after 1959.
But in the context of FIRE, it can mean being able to quit working if you want, but continuing to work at your same job anyway because you like it. (Just without the fear of layoffs or feeling forced to say yes to things you’d really hate to do.)
It can mean volunteering full time, part time, or not at all.
It can mean working part time. Changing full time jobs. Staying home with the kids. Going into business for yourself and choosing exactly which 80 hours a week you get to work. Focusing on hobbies, a few paid side hustles, or what have you.
It can mean traveling the world, visiting relatives, or not traveling at all.
Or yes, it can even mean spending your days doing nothing but sitting in a rocking chair. (Does anyone really do that though, if they are physically able to get out and about? I doubt that choice is high on anyone’s list.)
But YOU get to decide. Because when you are FI, you have options.
And that is the point of the FIRE movement. Being able to use your time for the things you find valuable, and not being stuck doing things you don’t.
As a bonus, when you work toward FI, you aren’t as dependent on outside factors.
When you are financially independent (the FI part of FIRE) outside factors like losing your job matter less.
When the world is going to hell in a handbasket, of course it’s still stressful. No one wants that or feels good about it.
But it’s not quite as stressful as dealing with all that and also wondering how on earth you’re going to pay for things if you lose your job. Or having to put your health at risk to go to work when it’s not safe.
Yes, the stock market may drop. You may lose a bunch of money. Your plans could be derailed. Your sources of income could dry up. You may need to get creative, or do things you don’t like. You could lose your home to a disaster, or have unexpected medical bills.
But you know what?
All those of things can ALSO happen to people who aren’t pursuing FIRE.
People who may be pushed into retirement against their will. (Ageism in the workplace is real.)
People who may have no savings. No investments or assets. No emergency fund to tide them over.
People who are truly hurting, like hundreds of millions around the world.
There’s no good time to be in that position, and it can happen to anyone. If it’s happening to you now, all you can do is get through it and then do your best to prepare if it happens again.
Which is why I agree with Ty Roberts, who said “Not everyone should pursue an early retirement, but everyone should pursue financial independence.”
Most change takes a catalyst. This could be yours.
If you decide to join the FIRE movement and are talking about it, it’s ok to say FIRE for short.
Remember, there are no FIRE police. (Only people who pretend to be on the internet.) No one is going to follow you around and force you to leave the workforce and do nothing productive with your life.
But if you pursue financial independence, you can improve your life. You can build up a little bit of a safety net. You can find it easier to give to others.
Even if you don’t retire in your 30s. Or ever. It’s still ok to work toward becoming financially independent.
But what if FIRE seems like a pipe dream?
This one is harder. It’s true that FIRE can seem out of reach for many people. (And sometimes it really IS out of reach.)
But it may not be as out of reach as you might imagine. You do not have to be a programmer who lives on 50% of a massive income and retire extremely early. That’s just the kind of story that gets headlines.
You could be a regular person.
For example, there’s Jillian Johnsrud, a mom of 6 who grew up below the poverty line. She and her husband had $55,000 in debt, and rarely made more than $50-$60k as a couple. But she became FI at 32.
Or there’s me, who started down the road to FI after going through nearly 4 years of unemployment and living way below the poverty line. I started my journey as a single mom with a hugely negative net worth, a part time temporary job, and a pile of debt. But things changed. Eventually my husband (who also had a negative net worth) and I paid off over $147,000 and then became lean FI. Our incomes varied wildly during the process. (You can see exactly how much we made here.)
We aren’t the only ones.
That said, FIRE may actually be out of reach for many people right now, or very hard for some people even in good times. (For example, those who are dealing with generational poverty. It is HARD to escape!)
Even if you’re “just” staring at a pile of debt (and maybe have just lost your job too) it can seem laughably out of reach.
How on EARTH could you retire early when you’ve got all that debt hanging over your head? You just want to get through this week.
And I get it.
I’ve been there. I really have. I know the feelings of hopelessness. Of regret over past decisions. Of wishing you could go back and do a few things differently, and beating yourself up.
I remember that horrible feeling when you don’t know where to turn or how you’re going to pay for the things you so desperately need. (Let alone the things you want, or what sounds like some pipe dream.)
And if you’re feeling that way now, that is exactly why now might be the time to join the FIRE movement.
Because I’m betting you hate how it feels. The dread, the sleepless nights, the ball of anxiety in the pit of your stomach.
And while you may not be able to — or want to — just blithely start socking away 50% of your income, you CAN vow never to be here again.
You can start to change your life.
When you get through this moment in time, and things start to get better, you can do things that will help the next time shit hits the fan.
Things like tracking your spending, building an emergency fund, and increasing investments.
For now, you can think about what really matters to you.
What would you like your life to be like in the future? How might you get there? What could you cut out, change, or add?
The FIRE movement has a reputation for extreme frugality, but you don’t have to go that route. Like everything else, it’s your choice.
Slow FI is a thing. (It’s how my husband and I got here.)
Poke around with some of the FIRE calculators and see what kind of pace you might want to set.
Because after all, it’s your life. FIRE is about being in good financial shape so you can do the things that matter to you. And you don’t have to wait for that.