How the Concept of FIRE Changed My Perspective About Money

by Melanie Lockert · 14 comments

When I first became interested in personal finance, I felt as though I was learning a new language. I started learning new terms related to budgeting, saving, paying off debt, and investing.

I learned the difference between the snowball and avalanche methods for debt repayment, I became educated on the various complexities, terms, and abbreviations that come along with investing, and have at least two or three methods of budgeting under my belt (my favorite is the zero-sum budget, which gives every dollar a job).

A few months after I started my unofficial education, I started seeing another foreign term being thrown around: FIRE.

What is FIRE?

FIRE is a term that refers to Financial Independence and Retiring Early. While both financial independence and early retirement have a lot of commonalities and some intersection, they aren’t exactly the same.

Financial independence is having enough money in passive income that you can stop working. Essentially, the money you have invested and saved provides you enough of a return that you don’t rely on a traditional income anymore, hence the term financial independence. People that pursue FI (which is a commonly used abbreviation) generally have plans to pursue their passions and other things in life.

Early retirement, while similar, takes an ode to its traditional retirement counterpart. It generally means that you retire early and stop working. But instead of retiring at 65, or later, you may retire at 45 or 55. In general, people that want to retire early want to enjoy the traditional benefits of retirement, just at an earlier age.

How FIRE Changed My Perspective

The concept of FIRE was so intriguing to me because it was the first time I learned about people actually retiring early or becoming financially independent. I thought I’d been prescribed a life where I had to work until I was 65 or much much later, given my current debt situation and lack of retirement savings.

Once I found out that people were challenging the status quo and living life on their own terms, I got extremely excited about my future. For me, the idea of financial independence is extremely appealing. I would love to have total freedom over the work I choose to do and never do things “just for the money.”

Even though I am years and years away from financial independence, the concept of FIRE changed my perspective. Once I become debt free, I plan to aggressively put the $800-$1,000 per month that Iā€™m putting towards debt, straight back into investments and savings. And that’s exciting!

money perspective

How Does FIRE Work?

The ideas behind financial independence and retiring early are nontraditional. As such, they require nontraditional modes of thinking and saving. While many financial experts may advocate saving 10-20% of your income, people that are looking to reach FI or early retirement, need to save substantially more. From what I’ve seen in the community, most people are saving between 40-75% of their incomes. Crazy right?

Before you give up and say, “I can’t do that!” take a look at your income and your expenses. It is possible to reach financial independence on a low salary, with a high savings rate, IF your expenses are low. My income isn’t very high, but I have pretty low expenses that I plan to keep in check even after I’m debt free. Of course, I also plan to increase my income and save more over time as well.

If you can continue to grow your income and keep your expenses low, you can reach financial independence. But the key is your savings rate. Your savings rate will be in direct proportion to how early you can ditch working life and say hello to financial freedom.

Based on average stock market returns, to achieve financial independence you will need to save up 25 times your annual expenses, so that you can safely withdraw 4% each year.

While it sounds like a daunting amount of money to save and invest, it’s all about priorities. It’s okay to work forever and retire at a traditional age. But if you are looking for something more, or something different, financial independence or early retirement might be for you.

Does FIRE seem like an attainable goal? How are you planning to reach financial independence early?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Ravi kumar says:

    Financial Independent is necessary before retirement. To whom, you are going to ask for money or your needs. If you are financial independent, you are free from worries.

  • EdG says:

    Everything in moderation. Yes you shouldn’t waste money but you also might not be here tomorrow, so you need to enjoy the day. Sometimes that takes money. A happy retirement is also different for everybody, some people like their jobs so it’s fine to keep working. But even then you should save in case you lose your job. Which is what happened to me. A new job would have meant a 1.5 hour commute each way, it just wasn’t worth it at 58. I also was able to work part time at 56 because I saved. Focus on reasonable savings, not necessarily retirement, if you hate your job that much, try to find a new one.

  • Senior Citizen says:

    Yes, we are also trying to save money so that we can retire quickly from work. However, it is not an easy task to leave the current work.

  • Mr T says:

    I just packed in my overly stressful job a couple of weeks ago at the age of 59. After being underappreciated, overworked and underpaid for several years I finally decided to “stop working for the man”. There were numerous reasons, some I won’t mention, but I admit that the intention had been looming quietly in the background for many years. In fact a friend recently reminded me while sitting in the stand watching the Hong Kong 7s many years ago I’d said I hoped to retire at 55. OK, so I failed there I guess, but we both agreed I made a noble attempt, (and 59 is better than 66).

    To be brutally honest, the decision was triggered by the ‘recent’ performance of my equity ISAs and SIPPS. I’ve been achieving average compound gains of 10.5% (exc. inflation) for about 11-12 years, but the last year this increased to 16%. The notional paper gain on my investments per annum is currently running at about eight times my after tax come from my day job. I reckon that allows enough slack.

    I could add MUCH more here, but I’m sure you get the general picture.

  • Christine says:

    Great post, thanks for spreading the concept and good luck on becoming FIREd!

  • Reddy says:

    I overhead a conversation about FIRE and was wondering what it really was. I landed here and it’s just sounds amazing. Now i have to dig deeper and see how it works out for my family. Thanks.

  • Jon @ Penny Thots says:

    I was excited too when I came across FIRE and started finding other people that were retiring much earlier than 65. To me, life isn’t meant to be working a job all day for 40+ years. My wife and I are aggressively saving our money so we can retire ASAP.

  • Mr. Enchumbao says:

    FI is certainly attainable for my wife and I. We’re looking to reach FI in less than 4 years. I know how exciting it feels to think about how your life can be on your own terms! Keep it up!

  • Tara says:

    I discovered the concept of FIRE about 10 years ago and went on a savings binge. Today I am within spitting distance of 25x my expenses and the possibility of retiring by 50. Prior to that I just assumed I had to work until 65 so I might as well have fun spending my money as I went along. It was a revelation that I could decide not to spend so much and quit work early. However, the health insurance question is a big one. As a Canadian I don’t have to worry about going broke for health insurance but it is different in the US.

  • Dot says:

    I am on an MS drug that retails for over $10K/month. If i keep working, my co-pay is $20/month. I’d love to retire early (saving 30% plus of income into retirement accounts) but insurance coverage while not working does concern me. More research (on my part) needs to be done.

  • David @ says:

    I was very excited when I first read about FIRE as well. I remember just blinding stating those dream goals like “I want to retire by 40 years old” back in the day but learning how to create passive income crystallized my plan to actually achieve early retirement.

    Keep digging and cheers to you for eventually being FIRE Melanie!

  • Angelica says:

    I felt the same way when I discovered the concept of FIRE. It’s a great feeling when you realize that you don’t have to do it the way everyone else is doing it!

    • Melanie says:

      It’s very liberating!

    • David @ says:

      That’s the great thing about the Internet.

      There’s little chance people would talk openly about money even if they were trying to pursue financial independence, but it’s so easy to find like minded folks online who are willing to share their thoughts.

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