My Meandering Path To FIRE (Financial Independence/ Retire Early)
I wish I’d learned about FIRE a long time ago. FIRE is an acronym that stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early. Here is a summary of FIRE from the FIRE Movement Wikipedia page:
The FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement is a lifestyle movement whose goal is financial independence and retiring early. The model became particularly popular among millennials in the 2010s, gaining traction through online communities via information shared in blogs, podcasts, and online discussion forums.
Those seeking to attain FIRE intentionally maximize their savings rate by finding ways to increase income or decrease expenses. The objective is to accumulate assets until the resulting passive income provides enough money for living expenses in perpetuity. Many proponents of the FIRE movement suggest the 4% rule as a guide, thus setting a goal of at least 25 times estimated annual living expenses. Upon reaching financial independence, paid work becomes optional, allowing for retirement from traditional work decades earlier than the standard retirement age.
Like many things in my life, the path to discovering FIRE was a long, meandering one:
First, I found frugality. I can’t remember the exact moment that I initially took an interest in saving money, but I do recall a certain book: The Tightwad Gazette, by Amy Dacyczyn. I think I ran into the book at a yard sale or a library book sale. It caught my attention and curiosity, and I spent several days devouring its tips about penny-pinching. It turned out to be a compilation of what would have been blog posts, but they were written long before the Internet existed. So, they were letters. Yes, actual snail mail. When I finished it, I wanted more. I discovered that The Tightwad Gazette had sequels, and all had great reviews and were available on Amazon.
(Ad link to the book The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyczyn)
It was written in 1999, so as you can imagine, some of the tips in the Tightwad Gazette were a bit outdated. (Use WD-40 on a typewriter ribbon to extend the life of the ribbon. Write letters to save on long-distance phone bills.) Still, there was much that was timeless. I was fascinated by the lengths to which people would go to save a few cents. Even more intriguing was the idea that this woman created a newsletter of tips so long ago, developing such a massive following. She even had “tightwads” paying good money for her tips! It turns out that the craving for advice on frugality is nothing new.
Frugality fascinated me. I searched for more content- blogs, podcasts, and books about penny-pinching and making do. Many of the tips I discovered seemed over-the-top, but there were also money-saving gems and new ways to look at the world. For example, why was I buying disposable plastic fridge storage containers for my leftovers while throwing away glass bottles and other useful containers? I started to wonder why I was so wasteful. In my Google searches about waste, I discovered the Zero Waste movement, and I realized that I wanted to be a tree-hugger. (More to come on this topic.)
The next thing that I remember on the journey toward FIRE was discovering minimalism. I learned about loving what you own and owning only what you love. This was a natural fit for me as I’ve never enjoyed collecting things and I’ve always preferred neatness in my surroundings. An interesting challenge I discovered in minimalism is that it doesn’t always go well with frugality. Frugality and minimalism can be complementary, but there are often challenges to decide which takes priority in particular instances. For example, it is more frugal to wash out product containers and then save them for future use. It is more minimalist to own fewer containers. The perfect balance can be tricky. For me, it helps to consider the packaging as part of the purchase right from the start.
In my search for knowledge about minimalism, I found The Minimalists, (Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus,) and Marie Kondo. I discovered the joy of getting rid of stuff (it’s as fun as buying stuff!) and the joy of owning only what I love. On the topic of frugality, I enjoyed podcasts by Clark Howard. (The man can make one disposable razor last a year!) Still, with minimalism and frugality, I felt something missing.
(Ad link to Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus)
(Ad link to The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo)
(Ad link to Clark Howard’s Living Large for the Long Haul)
Around that time, my dad shared a book by Dave Ramsey with my brothers. I heard about it and wondered why he hadn’t shared it with me. I still don’t know why, but it doesn’t matter- my curiosity took it from there. I found Dave Ramsey’s podcast and listened to months’ worth of episodes. Dave Ramsey taught me the horrible power of debt. I was surprised at how fascinated I was about the subject of getting out of debt. It seemed like an extension of the same principles I’d learned in minimalism (less consumerism, more quality) and thrift (save more, spend less.)
(Ad link to Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover)
After a while, I was able to predict Dave’s answers to every single caller; it was clear that it was time to move on. I spent some time on Suze Orman’s podcasts until I ran out of episodes. I enjoyed Suze’s podcast and the focus on a female audience (although Suze pointed out that smart men were her listeners, too.) Suze inspired me to finally take action writing my will and other important documents. I signed up for software through her company before unfortunately discovering that it had to wait until after my divorce was final.
(Ad link to Suze Orman’s Women and Money)
By then, I knew that financial podcasts were of interest to me. I was hungry for more. I googled “top financial podcasts,” and found ChooseFI. ChooseFI is hosted by a couple of “regular guys” learning about financial independence. One of the hosts, Brad Barrett, is already “FI,” meaning that he has achieved financial independence and doesn’t have to work for a living. The other host, Jonathon Mendonsa, is on the road to FI. As they teach on their podcast, you are “FI” when you have enough money invested that you can live on only the investment returns. At that point, work is optional and can be focused exclusively on one’s passions. Their casual, inquisitive and informative style really caught my interest. They invited experts in the FIRE movement for guest interviews and I learned about many of my favorite bloggers and podcasters through them.https://www.choosefi.com/all-podcast-episodes/
I don’t know where I am on the road to FI because I am going through a divorce. Divorce is a topic that FI bloggers and podcasters don’t dwell on. I suspect that the reason for that is divorce is entirely unpredictable.
I don’t know my net worth. I don’t know my financial future. As a homeschooling stay-at-home mom, I did the unpaid labor for the family, and I lack paid work experience.
Divorce can take months or even years. During that time, one’s financial situation is unclear and is in a state of limbo. So, that is where I am right now. I have been in the process of divorce for over a year, and there is no telling how much longer this uncertainty will last.
In the meantime, there is much that is in my control: I am learning all that I can so that when I am able to take action I will be ready to make smart financial decisions. I am adding skills such as computer coding, dishwasher installation, and tree pruning to my can-do list. I am “habit-stacking,” as James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits would say. (More on this later, too!) Most importantly, when it comes to the time I spend with my three wonderful children, I am aiming for both quality and quantity.
Even while stuck in a waiting period, I’ve found the concepts of FIRE very comforting. Budgeting is not as stressful when you’ve learned to identify your “enough.” (See Your Money or Your Life, by Vicki Robin.) Considering a job search is not as scary when you understand the secrets to getting your dream job. (Check out this episode of ChooseFI: https://www.choosefi.com/how-to-get-any-job/) And, for me, working-from-home is my best option, but even that isn’t so scary with FIRE.
(Ad link to Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin)
I can grow my writing skills and create a type of a resume right here, with this brand-new blog. Maybe my own struggles and learning experiences might help you. I certainly hope so. Do you want to try starting a blog, too? Check out what this talented FIRE writer has to say about it: https://millennialmoney.com/how-to-start-a-blog/.
I am at the beginning of my FIRE journey. I’m a newbie. I’m excited, curious, and eager to learn. Want to come along for the ride? I promise to share everything I discover, even what I learn from my mistakes.