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Financial Independence Retire Early: Everything You Should Know About the FIRE Movement

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Early Retirement

Many employees fancy retiring as early as their thirties or forties. As a result, they keep their eyes glued to the clock wondering when the workday will be over. At times, they even fantasize during the workday about their next vacation when they get some days off. What about Sunday night? They toss and turn in dread of going back to the office the next day.

Such employees will be excited to learn about the FIRE Movement and you too will be happy to know how you can quit the rat race as early as possible and start enjoying a fulfilling life.

So then the article will review everything you need to know about the FIRE Movement.

What is the FIRE Movement?

FIRE Movement is a relatively new financial mindset that stands for financial independence retire early. The movement’s followers are interested gaining in financial freedom and reclaiming control of their life.

Financial freedom refers to a situation where you no longer rely on other people or depend on your full-time job to support your lifestyle.

In their book “Your Money or Your Life”, Vicky Robin and Joe Dominguez argued that individuals that work for hourly wage or salary, pay for whatever they buy with the hours of their life.

In view of that, if an employee that is paid $15 per hour spends $150 to purchase a dress then she has paid for the outfit with her 10 hours of her life because $150 / $15 = 10 hours.

While the book was published in 1992, revised in 2008 and 208, over a million copies have been sold, and the term FIRE has reported a significant growth since 2011.

Generally, famous entertainers. Athletes, entrepreneurs are considered retired early or financially free. Others are wealthy individuals and not ordinary working-class persons. The FIRE class falls between the two classes because although they don’t need to work the entire to live they are not ultra-wealthy.

Actually, the FIRE movement is not a business plan or get-rich-quick strategy to make people instant billionaires. It is a strategy that every person can achieve because it is built off pillars such as:

Saving: Persons that intend to retire at 35 as opposed to 65 should save between 50% and 75% of their income. They do this by finding additional ways to raise their income.

Living Frugally: Saving 70% of your income means you have to adapt to the mentality of living frugally or you have to find ways of keeping your expenses extremely low. FIRE enthusiasts believe in living frugally the same way fitness junkies believe in exercising and eating healthy. Such individuals make sacrifices in order to reach their long-term goals.

The ultimate goal of Financial Independence Retire Early is indeed to retire earlier than 65. Putting aside a smaller percentage of your income will cause you to retire at 65; however, those that follow the FIRE Movement want to retire earlier and so they save a huge percentage of their income. As a result, they cut their retirement lifeline by half.

However, early retirement should not be your end goal but financial independence can be a rather wide-reaching goal. It can mean a lot of things but not playing golf or sitting on the beach all the time. Instead, it means attaining a level where you don’t need to take a full-time job especially when you don’t want to survive. Rather you can scale down to a part-time job or entirely stop working.

What’s FIRE Goal?

Many people believe that FIRE adherents want to jump from the boardroom to retirement. However, the movement’s followers are seeking financial independence not because they are lazy or don’t want to work but because they are looking for a job aligned with their passion and that gives them a sense of fulfilment.

Actually, people are ready to make the necessary material sacrifice in order to gain financial freedom which eliminates constraints that hinders them from merging their talent with their values.

So the FIRE Movement defines a person’s relationship and attitude towards money as opposed to spending the second half of their lives walking anyhow on the beaches or puttering around the garage.

FIRE Movement is all about values and they define a person’s lifestyle when working and during retirement.

The majority of individuals that watched their folks struggle to pay their mortgage after an economic downturn that led to a high interest rate made significant changes when they joined the workforce. Some of them have been putting half of their income in a retirement savings account, reduced costs by embracing healthy lifestyles such as biking to work, eating healthy and more.

Such measures reduce their expenses, increases their savings and help them retire early.

How Did FIRE Come About?

The FIRE movement began in the 1990s and has grown throughout the decades. Many websites and bloggers present FIRE as a personal financial strategy and a simpler way of living with reduced consumption.

The FIRE Movement has an important formula that informs its investors of the amount of money they need to amass in order to generate adequate income for the rest of their lives.

The 4% rule teaches that if the average return on investment is 7% per annum and the inflation rate stands at 3% then the investor should only withdraw 4% of their investment a year. This formula is linked to the historic performance of stock markets. However, it’s not necessarily true that what worked in the past will also work in the future.

Further, asking savers to apply the 4% rule can be cumbersome unless they save at least 25 times of their current yearly expenses. Is this realistic?

Because of the financial crisis being experienced in recent years, millennial workers are left wondering whether they will be able to support their future. The only solution to this future insecurity is to focus on saving a bigger percentage of the income.

There are nearly 800,000 FIRE Movement followers on the FIRE reddit. Mr. Money Mustache is a key blogger in this movement and has recorded about 33 million unique page views so far.

Understanding FIRE and How it Works

The aim of the FIRE movement is to encourage its followers to commit nearly 70% of their income to savings in order to quit their jobs before the conventional retirement age of 65. That means a person will live solely off small withdrawals as they wait to hit 65.

Millennials are enthusiastic about FIRE Movement and have embraced an extreme-saving lifestyle in order to retire early. In other words, these workers save up to 70% of their annual income until it’s 30 times their yearly expenses or $1 million and then they retire from their day jobs.

To survive after early retirement, FIRE devotees withdraw 3%-4% of their savings every year. Whether the amount is enough or not depends on their desired lifestyle and their savings. So then, a person must diligently monitor their expenses and the growth of their investments.

The following are some variations in FIRE Movement that influence the lifestyle that its followers are willing and ready to maintain.

Barista FIRE: The individual doesn’t have a 9-5 job but uses their part-time work to pay for their health coverage and does not touch their retirement funds.

Fat FIRE: The individual prefers a traditional lifestyle and saves a lot more than an average worker.

Lean FIRE: The person has a restricted lifestyle hence their stringent adherence to extreme savings and minimalist living.

Coast FIRE: The person saves what they can and the compounding allows them to coast towards their retirement saving goal.

FIRE proponents aim to reject overconsumption and embrace a simpler lifestyle during their formal working years and in retirement.

Lessons from the FIRE Movement

The FIRE Movement stirs mixed feelings. However, the concept brings out the focus and intensity that FIRE Movement followers have towards reaching their retirement goal.

Here is what you can learn from it.

Plan for Retirement: FIRE Movement gets younger workers to dream and plan their retirement. It helps people define what their retirement should look like and plan how to get there.

Come up with ways of keeping your expenses low: FIRE Movement proponents monitor where their money is going. They do that by defining their needs and wants as well as cutting out any spending that’s not making sense. In fact, FIRE followers create a budget and stick to it.

Generate Extra Income: You have to find ways of making extra cash if you want to retire really early. Getting a promotion or advancing your knowledge in order to a higher salary, or stating a side hustle that you run at night or weekends and more. The aim is to grow your income which will help you leave the workforce and enjoy an early retirement.

Saving and Investing should be a Priority: An early retirement is only possible through intense saving and investing. For this reason, many FIRE Movement followers have a huge saving plan towards their retirement. Saving 50% of your income or more might seem impossible at the moment however you have to start somewhere. For instance, you can put 15% of your income in your retirement savings after paying your debts as well as putting 3-6 months of your expenses in an emergency fund. The goal is to cultivate a habit of saving and investing each month. The compound interest and time will work for you but not against you.

Is FIRE Achievable?

The majority of FIRE Movement critics says that this way of life is inaccessible to most Americans. In fact, some adults are struggling with retirement savings while those who have it lack financial knowledge thus are uncomfortable making any investment decisions.

Making aggressive investment decisions is an ingredient to a successful FIRE strategy. Financial literacy influences people’s decisions regarding the types of investments to choose in order to execute any long-term financial plan or the FIRE concept.

Still, those opposed to the FIRE strategy criticizes the unrealistic expectations that successful followers have set in order to retire early and that most American workers cannot have. This is so because very few individuals can get a large inheritance, have high-performing portfolios or real estate investments to get started.

Aside from the lack of enough income to get started with the FIRE strategy, there are other drawbacks. They include:

  • Less Social Security income
  • Skipping some retirement contributions
  • Outliving your savings
  • Pricey health care

Based on your early retirement plan, you can continue to enjoy your health care coverage if you continue working for your employer. Still, you will encounter some challenges such as economic crises and financial shocks that affect the stock market hence the return on your investment. Others are the declining health of your parents, unstable Social Security and global pandemic.

On the other hand, an experienced financial advisor can help you plan your early retirement carefully in order to avoid outliving your savings. For instance, purchasing an annuity can be helpful because it guarantees lifetime income thus added financial security during your retirement.

Additionally, a person interested in joining the FIRE Movement should take an inventory of their hopes, values, dreams in addition to their debts and assets.

The reason why Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez the authors behind the FIRE Movement developed it was to test the limits of frugality. They wanted to align their behaviors and actions with their beliefs and values which is termed as intentional living and is extremely rewarding compared to a fat bank account.

Is FIRE Movement for Everyone?

Generating a really large income has been the biggest barrier to FIRE Movement. People have tried to cut down their lifestyle but it still takes a big chunk of their income. You also need a six-figure income for you to save enough that can enable you to retire early or before hitting 40.

The good news is that most millionaires didn’t have a six-figure household income per annum. Some worked and saved for nearly 28 years before touching the $1 million. Therefore, don’t struggle to get a high-paying job in order for you to save and retire early. You can become a millionaire with time and by diversifying your sources of income.

Another huge issue with the FIRE Movement is that it advocates for the use of credit cards in order to earn points and rewards. The recommendation is a challenge because most Americans carry a huge financial burden on their shoulders due to credit cards and student loans.

As a result, these individuals spend a third of their income on repaying debts which is completely not a good recipe for financial success. So such Americans are not able to save and invest 50% – 75% of their income.

Swiping a plastic card can be easier and more fun but it can cause you to spend more than when paying using cash. Still, paying your credit card bill on time doesn’t help you beat the system. Actually, you can find yourself in big financial trouble if you miss a single major emergency or payment. So you should be careful using your credit or debit cards if you want to save and invest in order to enjoy an early retirement.

Lastly, it’s said that people who are drawn to the FIRE Movement are mostly employees who hate their job. The statement might be true because very few workers are engaged at work while the majority dream of exiting the workforce.

However, FIRE doesn’t solve such an issue because the best route to take when you’re not satisfied with your job is to change your career path. In fact, even FIRE enthusiasts will advise you to look for a place where your passions and talents intersect.

Those individuals joining the FIRE Movement in order to retire early so as to avoid going to work every Monday ends up disappointed. So sticking to a job you don’t love can ruin your enthusiasm to even save or invest. So don’t just waste your years working a job that you don’t like, change your career path and with time you will achieve your early retirement goals.

Should You Join the FIRE Movement?

Joining or not joining the FIRE Movement depends on your relationship with money. For instance, some people’s life is marked by traumatic experiences, others are not ready to commit to a kind of extreme austerity while still, and some are looking for a version of FIRE that favors them.

Lisa Harrison of the Mad Money Monster is comfortable using financial independence optional retirement (FIOR) which is a FIRE philosophy variation that takes into consideration the fact that she wants to work continuously but on her own terms once she attains financial independence.

So a person that pursues financial independence should have a clear vision about their future as well as realistic expectations. These factors enable people to define their goals and choose an ideal retirement lifestyle and the version of FIRE that can guide them there even as they enjoy life to the fullest now.

This is different for everyone. Why so? Work gives people’s lives a sense of meaning. In fact, there are people who are passionate about their work and so their career and identity are interlinked. Therefore, there is a need for a plan that replaces the purpose and value that a job brings to someone life when one joins the FIRE Movement. If not so the follower is most likely to drift away.

On the other hand, the FIRE Movement gives its followers a sense of control over their income. After all, independence is about having control over your present and future. Having a high dose of discipline and a shift in mindset, a person can make both small and big lifestyle changes that determine the path of their financial future.

Fortunately, you don’t need to join the FIRE Movement to do so.

What is the Roadmap to Early Retirement?

Your retirement can only be guided by a plan but not wishful thinking. Therefore, retiring at 35 or 65 will only be possible if you know how much you need to save to retire at the desired age

The following step-by-step plan can help you craft your early retirement goal.

Build Your Emergency Fund and Get out of Debt: Over the years, debts have enslaved the majority of younger workers. However, you can free yourself if you remained focused. First, build your emergency fund and attack debts with all you have. Avoid credit cards and work towards becoming debt-free before starting to invest. Actually, your saving account should have funds to cover at least 3-6 months of your expenses. Such an amount will help you when your air conditioner suddenly breaks down or you experience a flat tire. These small emergencies are the ones that derail your investment plan and plunge you into debt.

Allocate 15% of Your Investment to Tax-Advantaged Retirement Accounts: Your journey to early retirement will be boosted when you put 15% of your gross income in retirement plans such as Roth IRA and 400(k). Your preferred mutual fund should have a good track record because you want retirement money to grow and be secure.

Pay off Your Mortgage and Save for Kid’s College Early: Even as you save and invest, try to put a larger chunk of your money in your mortgage so that you can finish early enough. Actually, you will be able to put a huge amount of your income into saving for your retirement when you complete your house payment. Also, you can achieve or do a lot when you’re completely debt-free. Additionally, start putting aside some money for your kids’ college education now. This will eliminate financial anxiety when they join college and which can derail your early retirement plan as well as help them to graduate debt-free.

Max Out Your Retirement Contributions: Since you have the emergency fund, college fund and paid off your mortgage, it’s time to restructure your retirement accounts. You can do that by maxing out your contributions in IRA and 401(k). That is to say, you should put up to $6,000 in IRA and $19,500 in 401(k) giving you a total of $25,500. However, you can’t access these contributions until you hit 591/2 or else you will pay an early withdrawal penalty. The next point will tell you how you can deal with that problem.

Maintain a Taxable Investment Account (Bridge Account): The purpose of the bridge account is to fill the gap between your early retirement and when to access the funds in the retirement accounts. You can do that by setting a target of when you want to retire and the amount you need to live on. Then save that amount in a bridge account because you can easily access it while you wait to attain the official retirement age to get your 401(k) and IRA savings. The bridge allows you to withdraw the amount you want anytime you like, has no contribution limits and you have it through a brokerage firm or invest in mutual funds. An investment professional can guide you on how you need to save in your bridge account to help you retire early.

FIRE: The Basic Plan

Basically, the FIRE Movement promote savings and investments by cutting expenses to the bare minimum. It also encourages its followers to start as early as possible in order to attain the early retirement goal sooner.

Here are some of the suggestions on how you can cut your expenses in order to save.

1.    Limit the Outgoings

Begin by chopping the high-interest debt such as credit card debt, student debt and personal loans. The next category is low-cost debt which includes mortgage loans. These debts should take the first priority because they don’t consume a lot of your income.

Daily expenses is another key item that you should consider because they also take a big chunk of your budget. You do this by removing non-essentials. For instance, you can opt for outdoor exercise and scrap off gym memberships, lose the designer clothes, shoes and purses as well as limit eating out.

2.    Diversify Your Sources of Income

Cutting unnecessary expenses leaves you with a lot of funds to put in your saving account but you can even get more income if you start a side hustle. For instance, you can become a freelance writer, graphic designer, dropshipper, personal chef or personal trainer, etc.

Therefore, look for another project outside your 9-5 job that you do in the evenings or weekends to generate extra income which you will put in your saving account.

Practical Impediments of FIRE Basic Plan

  • Lowering expenses and increasing savings is a worthwhile habit that every individual should embrace. But why aren’t all people doing it?
  • The majority of citizens in both developed and developing countries work to get by and so they lack the capacity to save and invest 70% of their income.
  • The FIRE Movement advocates for a lifestyle centered on significant denial making it difficult for people to adjust to it.
  • The concept does not take into consideration some potentially alarming risks such as a market crash that can lead to a significant loss of an individual’s portfolio, unforeseen medical expenses due to critical illness or an accident as well as loss of a source of income.

The Challenge of Calculating How to Save

The total amount of money you will need between when you quit your 9-5 job and hit the official retirement age of 65 is unknown. Because of that FIRE followers are encouraged to save at least 25 times of their current yearly expenses and withdraw using the 4% rule when they retire.

For this concept to work the following assumptions must hold:

  • Your investment portfolio must grow by an average of 7% per annum. Although this assumption can be feasible, there are instances when the average annual returns drop below the recommended 7%.
  • The 4% rule formula assumes that the average annual growth will remain at 7% and your annual deductions at 4% for the next 30 years. However, the funds might not be enough if your retirement last longer especially due to younger retirement and increasing longevity.

Is Retiring in Your 40s Possible?

Yes. Although it’s extremely tough. Do retire at 40 you must be both incredibly disciplined and willing to make huge sacrifices when you’re still young. Further, having a well-paid job can greatly help.

The FIRE Movement became popular at a time when there was a bull run on the stock market. This boosted the FIRE fans’ return on investment.

As mentioned severally in this post, adopting the FIRE strategy can be hard for most people because they might not have a regular source of income while others may not be ready to make big sacrifices. Still, you can opt for a lower level FIRE saving plan and still continue with your normal lifestyle.

What Do You Need to Retire at 40?

The first step when you want to retire at 40 is to figure out how much you need every year when you retire so that you can calculate the income you will need.

For instance, if you want to retire at 40 and with an income of $20,000, your pension pot should have at least $500,000. That means you need to save 25X of your yearly expenses or $16,000 every year starting from when you’re 21.

For instance, if you earn $30,000 a year, you should put half of it in your retirement account. However, if you earn $70,000 then you can save a quarter of it.

Since you can’t access your savings before you hit the official retirement of 65, you must maintain a bridge account.

Here is what you need for you to retire at 40.

Save: The FIRE Movement advocates that workers should save 50%-70% of their monthly income. To achieve this, you must make some lifestyle changes and identify essential expenditures. You can achieve this by searching for money-saving tricks on the internet and try to implement them on yourself. Further, you must decide where to save your money in order to grow it by 7% per annum or more. Some of these are tax-efficient products such as stocks and bonds.

Invest: You should not put your money in a saving account with lower interest rates because your return on investment will be eroded by inflation. Therefore looking for investment vehicles with a high chance of growing. For instance, you can put your savings in low-cost tracker funds that mimic the stock market performance.

Boost Your Income: Aside from saving you need to look for ways of boosting your income. You can do that by asking for a pay rise, get a new job with better pay, retrain to attract a better paying job, start a side hustle, take a part-time job or start a consultancy business that you operate in the evening, weekends or during the holidays.

Watch Your Expenses: FIRE Movement fans plan before buying anything in order to avoid purchasing luxury items.  For instance, you can be able to put more in your retirement savings account when you avoid sandwiches and takeaway coffee habits. Instead, use that money to pay off your mortgage or invest it.

What Do You Need to Retire at 55?

Many people think that retiring at 40 is a bit too young and so they prefer retiring at 50 instead. Others leave the corporate world after attaining the state pension age and so retiring at 50 is still early.

Starting to save $6,000 a year at the age of 21 will allow you to retire at 55. You can achieve that by saving 20% of your annual salary of $30,000 or 9% of your annual salary of $70,000.

FIRE Movement savers realized that they can’t rely on a single source of income and so the need for an additional one in order to finance their lifestyle in the event of a market turmoil.

Emergency Reserves: You should have surplus savings designed to support you when you have an emergency. This account should have 3-6 months of your expenses.

Return to Paid Work: The emergency reserve is meant to give your investment some recovery time. However, due to the rising life expectancy, you may need to save up to 30-40 years to fund your early retirement.

How Much Will You Need to Sacrifice to Fit in the FIRE Movement?

According to financial experts, saving 12-15% of your income can enable you to retire at 65. These amounts are below what is promoted by the FIRE strategy.

Although the movement promotes saving and investing, it doesn’t encourage unsuitable lifestyles. However, you must make some sacrifices now so that your early retirement goal can become a reality.

Actually, FIRE is a way of life and not a number-crunching and retirement budget simple exercise. And so, this strategy is not ideal for everyone.

It’s actually a model for workers who are ready to save and invest as high as 70% of their income because they’re tired of receiving commands from their bosses. To them, this doesn’t feel like a huge sacrifice but a small piece to pay for their freedom. They feel like they are in a prison camp where they just work to maintain a lifestyle they actually don’t want.

FIRE: Theory and Reality?

Theoretically, FIRE’s investment formulas look great but they might not be real because life works out differently due to unexpected expenses. For instance, the formula changes when you become incapacitated, lose your job, become responsible for another dependent such as a parent or child.

On the other hand, things can take a positive outlook such as when you inherit a windfall or your side gig starts to generate a decent income.

Both situations can alter the duration you will take to attain your desired retirement age. But FIRE concept offers a helpful blueprint for planning because it takes a good financial plan to build a good investment.

Therefore building your investment over time will give you a good income in the future.

Who are FIRE Pioneers?

Mr. Money Mustache is one of the Canadian FIRE pioneers that achieved his early retirement goal and shared his story. Actually, his story is all about saving and investing in order to quit full-time employment.

His journey began when he graduated without student debt but no dollar in his account. Mr. Money Mustache maintained several engineering jobs in the first few years after graduation and earned $40-$80,000 per annum.

The good news is that he retired 9 years later because he had enough savings. Here are few lessons that you can learn from his story.

Shared the Same Passion with His Wife: They both wanted to retire early so they combined effort and saved enough money. Without this, it would have taken him 18 years to achieve his goal.

Reduced Expenses: Getting a roommate helped him minimize rent bills in order to save more. Also, together with his wife, they bought a house shortly after graduating and boosted their net worth via home equity.

Investment Gains: Having saved a huge sum, his return on investment added a significant amount to his income. Later, this added $20,000 to his net worth.

Therefore, keeping your goal at the forefront of your mind can help you retire early.

Things to Take Home from the FIRE Movement

Over the years, people have been planning for early retirement in order to quit boring, dissatisfying and uninspiring jobs as early as possible. Their dream is to indulge their passions, spend time with their kids as well as live extremely frugal life before their official retirement years.

However, there is a lot of misconceptions about the FIRE movement especially about what is needed to join it.

The following are the takeaways from the FIRE Movement:

Aim for Life Satisfaction as Early as Possible

People save for many years to have a dream vacation but when the time comes they’re too old to even enjoy it. The reason is that they kept on pushing off their goal until they had enough yet this keeps on redefining itself.

Therefore the emphasis on the FIRE Movement should be on financial independence rather than retire early part. Actually, financial independence should help you reach a point where working is optional or you simply work out of a sense of purpose and because of the value it adds to your life.

Retiring from a Corporate Job Doesn’t Mean not Earning or Working

Some people who have retired from their traditional workday clock still engage in other activities that generate income. Some of the FIRE Movement followers write, speak and podcast about savings and investments.

They don’t sleep as late as they can or sit on their couch the entire day watching Netflix but instead they use their time to pursue things that they love and that generate a decent income for them.

It’s Easier to Control Spending than Income

According to Fidelity, a worker should save for their retirement using the following formula.

  • At 30 save 1X your income
  • At 40 save 3X your income
  • At 50 save 6X your income
  • At 60 save 8X your income
  • By the time you retire save 10X your income.

On the other hand, the FIRE Movement discourages watching your income but instead save at least 25X of your yearly expenditure. Next, your withdrawal rate should be 4% per annum or less, your savings or investment will last indefinitely. The reason is that FIRE Movement focuses on what you spend and save because they are in your control.

FIRE Calculations can be Fun

Here are the numbers that make FIRE fun.

  • Saving 1% of your income takes 99 years to replace a year’s expenses
  • Saving 25% of your income takes 3 years to replace a year’s expenses
  • Saving 50% of your income takes 1 year to replace a year’s expenses

Also, remember the magic of compounding. Therefore, making a 50% saving every month for the next 10-15 years and with a diversified portfolio of investments while still making out on savings in a tax-advantaged IRA can sustain your lifestyle for the rest of time. However, you need to apply the 4% rule when withdrawing. Also, you can withdraw less when the market fluctuates especially during the early years of your retirement.

FIRE Movement is All about What You Can Control

There are things that you can never control in your financial life. They include; the interest rates, markets and your income.

On the other hand, the FIRE Movement focuses on what you can control such as what you spend and save. For instance, you can relocate to a less expensive area, downsize your car and more. Doing this gives you more freedom to spend your time when you retire early.

Further, having more control makes you happier and applying a bit of the FIRE Movement philosophy can help put back your life in your life.

I'm a passionate full-time blogger. I love writing about startups, how they can access key resources, avoid legal mistakes, respond to questions from angel investors as well as the reality check for startups. Continue reading my articles for more insight.

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