Reclaiming the FIRE Movement for High-Value Work
I have wanted to write this post for quite some time but have continually put it off because I want to get it just right. However, I will probably never get it “just right” so I’m just going to take a swing at it.
Quick Intro to the FIRE Movement.
One of the most significant movements to come along in recent years in the personal finance space is the “FIRE” movement. If you haven’t heard of it, “FIRE” stand for “Financial Independence Retire Early”. This movement has been slowly building over the past decade. However, in the past two to three years it has exploded into the mainstream world of personal finance to include tremendously helpful blogs and podcasts (ChooseFI, Mr. Money Mustashe, Mad Fientist, BiggerPockets Money etc.) and even a documentary (Playing with FIRE).
While the FIRE movement takes on many forms when it comes to people’s personal finances, in general it focuses on reducing your expenses to a minimum while finding ways to save a very high percentage of your income (think 50%-90% of your income), especially through tax-preferenced accounts, which then accelerates the ability to retire early, usually within anywhere from 5-20 years.
The “Desire to FIRE.”
The desire to “FIRE” comes in many forms, but for many it is the realization that the work they are doing is unfulfilling, a grind, or downright unenjoyable and they want time for more important things in life. In order to be able to jump ship from their current situation, the FIRE participant buckles down to save a tremendous amount of their income and eliminate all non-essential expenses from their life. This then brings their financial independence date into a more foreseeable time frame.
Rather than the seemingly endless grind of work for 30-40 years until retirement at the arbitrary age of 65, these FIRE folks now see a light at the end of the tunnel, often within 10 years or less depending on their income and current net worth. This movement is producing an increased amount of early retirees, especially in their 30s and 40s.
What I love about the FIRE Movement.
Due to the fact that this finance stuff is what I do, day in and day out, I believe the FIRE movement is the best thing to happen to personal finance in decades. It has so many admirable attributes. The movement takes the boring financial planning formula of spending less than you make and turns it into the X-Games version, creating excitement around financial independence and showing that it truly is attainable, and in a short time-frame.
The FIRE movement also has shed a giant spotlight on consumption and how eliminating a significant amount of the consumption of goods and services not only reduces your expenses, but increases your happiness by showing, first hand, that things do not create long-term happiness. It forces people to place greater value on the truly important things in life.
This movement holds a special place in my heart as I myself am a member of the FIRE movement, and have been for years. I will be financially independent next year at the age of 35, meaning that if I wanted to quit my financial planning practice and real estate investing, my family and I would be able to live off of just our investment income.
Does this mean that I plan to quit? Quite the contrary. It does mean less work hours for me. It does mean more and more travel. But it also means that I will also continue to grow myself so that I provide more value in the hours that I do work. This is how I measure personal financial growth and I have big plans for the coming decades.
(see this post on Why You Need to Know Your True Hourly Wage)
And that brings us to the point of this post.
Reclaiming the FIRE movement for high-value work.
Personally, I believe we are created to work. Not in the burdensome sense that is often associated with the word “work” but rather in the creative sense of continually honing our skills and the value we provide to those around us. Some of the best parts of my life are when I perform high-quality, enjoyable, value-creating work, inter-mixed with extended breaks to recharge.
Many in the FIRE movement are so focused on jumping ship from their current, non-ideal situation that they neglect to think about what they are jumping to! Do you have a plan for the remaining decades of your life?
What will you do with all of your free time? Travel until you die? Sit on your beach chair until it breaks?
Don’t get me wrong. If you have read any of this blog at all, you will know that I am all about creating more free time for yourself to spend on the things that are most important in life. However, I think we need to realize that one of the important things in life is work. But not just work. High-value work that impacts others.
An alternate path.
For those of you considering, or currently pursuing, the early financial independence goal, I applaud you! You are on the path to opening up so many possibilities for your life that just aren’t available when you don’t intentionally work toward early financial independence.
I would suggest, however, that you think deeper than just about how much in investment resources you need to be financially independent by a certain date. Think about how you can make the journey to financial independence also a journey toward the ideal life you want to live and begin living parts of that life now to test it out. How much time do you want with family? How can you do that now? How much time for travel? Can you find a way to do that now? What work would you do even if you weren’t paid for it? Can you work toward it now, before your FIRE date?
Usually, those in the pursuit of FIRE are very motivated individuals with a lot to offer this world. If you are reading this, you are likely one of those individuals.
How will you steward your gifts and skills to continue to add value to those around you when you “retire early?” What abilities do you possess to produce the high-value work that this world desperately needs? What would it look like to sustainably produce this high-value work for the rest of your life to where it was a joy rather than a burden?
I wish you all the best as you strive to create greater value with your limited time.
Kyle Mast, CFP®