The FIRE Movement: How it is flawed (and what we should be calling it instead)
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
This week, I’m going to talk about this interesting little movement, called the FIRE movement.
Have you ever thought this to yourself?
"I hope I don't work until I'm 75... and I wish I could retire in my 30s or 40s or 50s instead."
I know, by now most people are very familiar with what FIRE is, but still, it deserves a place in my blog here because it is a near and dear concept to what I believe money should drive us towards.
But keep reading, since I think the concept of FIRE is flawed.
"it just doesn’t compute to me to strive for a goal to which I can forever abandon work productivity, stop contributing to society, and survive on as little as possible, and not pass anything on to my children."
Bottom Line Up Front
For those of you who don’t know, FIRE is an acronym. It stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. The FIRE movement is really a way of living that attempts to achieve retiring as early as possible by leveraging living as frugally as possible, and savings as much as possible.
How do people achieve FIRE?
FIRE is achieved by people living a frugal lifestyle to some extent. Essentially, if you can learn to live on as little as possible, say, $25,000 a year, then that is all you need to plan to retire on for the rest of your life, per year.
Also, if you only spend $25,000 a year while you are working, you are going to be able to save everything on top of that and put it into savings or investment vehicles to help grow your retirement savings even faster.
The basic math is this: If your savings rate is 10%, it will take 9 years of work to save 1 years-worth of retirement savings. However, if your savings rate is 50%, it will take you 1 year of work to save 1 years-worth of retirement.
Even more than this, if your savings rate is 75%, it will take a third of a year to save for 1 year worth of retirement. At first glance, this all looks spectacular, but if you think about the implications, it isn’t that spectacular. More on this in a bit.
Specific types of FIRE
Unbelievably, the FIRE movement has… sub-movements. Essentially, there are several types of FIRE. Aside from “Traditional FIRE”, which I broke down already, here are the most notable ones.
1. Lean FIRE – This is pretty much what I described as Traditional FIRE, except that you must specifically live a minimalist lifestyle. Annual expenses are sub $40,000. So yes, this will require you to live in smaller, cheaper housing, etc.
2. Fat FIRE – This is a type of FIRE where people don’t want to live so minimally. I will say that it seems this is primarily only attainable through being a high earner, or else… I am not certain how one can save for a $100,000 (give or take) annual retirement spending range starting in your 30s and sustain that for the rest of your life.
3. Barista FIRE – This version of FIRE is being able to save enough to be able to sustain part-time work. Your retirement savings essentially augments part-time or… low-paying work that you find enjoyable. So, it isn’t true retirement but allows you the freedom to potentially seek out other work on your own terms.
I know there are other variants out there, but those are the most notable to me.
Is it worth doing?
No. Read on.
A Better Approach
How did you like my last answer? It’s my opinion, and I’m entitled to it. Now let me explain.
There is certainly a better approach to FIRE. First, if you are a regular earner, like me, you can pretty much count out Fat FIRE. Why? Well, if you save up 75% of $80,000 a year, you can put away $60,000 a year into savings or investment vehicles. But what does this imply?
Obviously, it implies that you must live off $20,000 a year while you are trying to save. So, it becomes quite apparent that Fat FIRE is not going to be achievable, and you have just spent decades of your life living under Lean FIRE.
People change. Situations change. People will end up having children. Medical expenses will arise as we get older. We may total our cars in an accident. A hurricane or earthquake can destroy our house. A major recession can happen, and we are out of work, experiencing the funemployment movement of 2009-2010 all over again.
Retirement is the Wrong Goal
Retirement is the wrong goal. I don’t think that any of us actually want retirement. Instead, we should be looking for settled work.
The problem is many people (including myself) have no idea what our settled work is or should be.
For some, they learn at an early age, Mike Trout always knew he wanted to play professional baseball. Look at him now. He’s on track to be the greatest of all-time in baseball, and if you say otherwise, please… just let me be a fanboy. But his settled work is pretty much guaranteed to surround baseball in some shape or form.
For most of us, however, we are constantly changing as people. Our thoughts are frequently fleeting, and we have no semblance of our overarching purpose or meaning, and what that would be to make us fulfilled. And herein lies the key.
The key to life: Life isn’t about happiness. It is about meaning. Ask Jordan Peterson. So, if we are to pursue meaning, how can we do so if we spend our entire working life focusing on achieving retirement?
Change our focus. Find settled work. Find the meaning that brings fulfillment to us. Maybe achieving financial independence can allow us to finally pursue becoming that business owner we always wanted to be. Maybe we will pursue the arts. Who knows? But we need to find settled work, not retirement.
FIRE Sacrifices Critical Years
Our 20s and 30s are our best years, at least physically. They are highly formative and so are a valuable time to discover who we are as individuals and I think that extreme deprivation (and I know… there are people who call it “liberation” from consumerism) is not the answer. So yes, there is a truism to liberating ourselves from consumerism.
However, in the end, all people want “stuff”. Whether it is traveling the world, eating delicious foods from a vast variety of cultures, collecting cars like Jay Leno, or living in a nice neighborhood in a good school district, it is all “stuff” in the end. There is simply no way of avoiding this desire for “stuff”.
I think the key here isn’t to “liberate” us from consumerism or live in extreme frugality or deprivation. I think we need to identify what it is that we truly want to do with our money, making it work as hard as possible for us to increase our fulfillment.
In my posts about tracking net worth and the 7 ways to save $10,000 a year, I spoke about selling my Toyota Tacoma and trading it in for a used Nissan Sentra. I am genuinely just as fulfilled with my Sentra, but that’s because I don’t feel any more fulfilled if I am driving a vehicle that brings a certain status symbol. That isn’t something that I personally care about in life, and it only took me until I was in my 30s to realize that I didn’t care about that.
Focus your money on fulfillment return. This is highly individualized, and it will take years. Start a soup kitchen someday. Build low-income housing. Adopt a child. Collect valuable vinyl records and write about it or podcast about it. Author a book. Become a professional gamer like my brother Kabby on Mixer.
Do you know what we should call it instead of FIRE? Settled Work, Finding Fulfillment (SWFF). That’s the best I could produce. Get it? Like.. the word swift? I tried.
What about a legacy for our children?
What I mean by this question is that FIRE does not pursue, or directly pursue, generational wealth.
Generational wealth is basically that wealth that can be passed onto our future generations. I don’t want my children or future grandchildren to just have a freebie. That isn’t it at all.
As it turns out, most successful people were self-starters and self-made. However, I would like to think that I can pass on excellent financial literacy and discipline. Once the kids harness that, then that’s when they’ve earned their generational wealth.
FIRE seems immensely popular since the whole departure from excess… I mean, you have TV shows about tiny houses. Tiny smart cars are acceptable in America now. Our younger generations don’t value belongings as much like the Baby Boomer generation did and does.
That’s why millennials prefer to rent their house versus being held down by a giant mortgage if they were to own it. It has fewer strings attached.
I am a millennial, so I get it. But I still have a good head on my shoulders, with an adequate financial understanding and an acceptable drive for success… So, it just doesn’t compute to me to strive for a goal to which I can forever abandon work productivity, stop contributing to society, and survive on as little as possible, and not pass anything on to my children.
It is strange to me but hey… I shouldn’t judge, because consumers make the capitalist world go ‘round.
The Woke Hack
Please think about your legacy because you are writing it every day. —Gary Vaynerchuk
Time to Pay it Forward
Comment down below of ideas on passive income that you personally have. Let me know of any other topics that you want me to do research on and write about!
If you can think of a better name than SWFF, comment down below. Or just comment down below with your thoughts in general.
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