What comes to your mind when you think of retirement? White-haired people with a mojito on the beach? Your grandmother finally pursuing her passion for painting? Well, some people believe you shouldn't have to wait for your hair color to change before you can soak up that sun or pursue your passion full-time. Followers of the FIRE movement believe you can retire as early as your 30s or 40s!
How, you're asking? We researched the movement and broke down how it can inspire your financial journey.
What is FIRE?
FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early. The movement can be traced back to the wave of financial independence starting with the 1992 book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. Before FIRE caught momentum in 2018 there was ERE (Early Retirement Extreme), a blog by Danish astrophysicist Jacob Lund Fisker. After he retired at 33 he shared his financial philosophy and lifestyle with the rest of the world inspiring today's FIRE community.
At first sight FIRE seems to be about early retirement, but digging deeper it becomes clear that it is truly about freedom. It's about having the freedom to do exactly what you want without financial pressures steering the wheel.
Surprisingly, we found that many retirees choose to continue working on their own business and some even accepted employment offers. Imagine a world in which you show up to work because you want to be there, not because you have to. How much shit would you take from a boss? Exactly, none.
Before we delve into the hows of FIRE, it's important to keep it real. We found that most early retirees came from very privileged backgrounds. Many of them are - yup you guessed it - (white) men with high-paying jobs straight out of college. That said, we still think that principles of the FIRE community can inspire any single person. Of course we dug deeper to find some female pioneers and people with varying levels of income for you to follow and link them below.
Here's how FIRE members retire in their 30s. And how it can inspire you.
1) Save, save, save
2) Set a clear goal and make a plan
3) Do NOT ignore emotions that trigger spending
4) Invest, Insource & Diversify Income
1) Save, save, save
The way to FIRE is to spend less than you make, way less. Yes, even less than you're thinking now. Yup, try dividing that by two, much closer now.
FIRE turns our approach to saving and consumption upside down: saving is primary and the residual of that is for consuming. In the most extreme cases, people save up to 70% of their monthly income(!). There are some dedicated stories out there, like chopping wood to heat your house or food, or never going out to eat (not even a coffee no). This level of frugality might not be realistic for everyone. The takeaway is that by prioritizing saving, FIRE forces you to be more conscious around your spending habits.
Frugality and delayed gratification are crucial mindset shifts to reach FIRE.
Today we exist in a market that constantly pushes us to consume with an obsession for productivity. Pushing a single button will make new goods arrive at our doorstep, no energy or thought required. What FIRE does is it forces you to think rather than spend on (continuously stimulated) impulses. Do I really need that cordless vacuum cleaner or those new hiking boots that just popped up on my IG? Or are the ones I have now working just fine?
One of the powerful metrics in the FIRE movement is: If I save X extra a month, that will allow me to retire X months early. So before new purchases you stop and ask the question: what does this additional spending imply for the number of years I have to work?
2) Set a clear goal and make a plan
Decreasing your spending is important, but you can only do so with a clear goal and plan. If you decide to fully dedicate yourself to a frugal lifestyle with a laser focus on money making, a clear ending date with small goals along the way is crucial. Tracking your success and seeing tangible progress is necessary to stay motivated, it's why advent calendars still do the trick.
The FIRE community uses a simple equation to calculate your monetary retirement goal with the 4% retirement rule or the less frequently mentioned 3% rule (if you want to play it super safe). As Rita-Soledad experienced, calculating this number can be confronting and terrifying. Especially if you're just starting off on your financial education journey. But it is equally empowering. As we often say at Juno - knowledge is power.
What is the 4% rule? Annual Expenses x 25 = FIRE number.
If your monthly expenses are €3.500, your annual costs will be €42.000, meaning your FIRE number is €1.05 million. Although many FIRE practitioners propose this rule, it's complete accuracy is debatable.
To be safe you can use the 3% rule:
Annual Expenses ÷ 0.03 = FIRE number
In this case your FIRE goal would be €1.4 million. Don't know your annual expenses? You can use this worksheet or any one of these to keep track of your monthly expenses. Another way to start budgeting is the 50/20/30 rule. Do this for at least 3-6 months to get an accurate number before calculating your FIRE goal.
3) Do NOT ignore emotions that trigger spending
You tracked your expenses, calculated your money goal and sketched your road to freedom. You're a few weeks in and you did not get the promotion you were expecting, you feel FOMO when you scroll through IG and see all your friends fine dining, or you're on your period and just hate life - so you splurge on something that makes you feel better in that moment.
As women, we frequently feel shame around our spending behaviour. No wonder when 99% of financial content for women is all about "how to spend less". Whereas for men it's about "how to invest."
"But… you just did the same, Juno." I know I know. It just happens to be that we're discussing the FIRE community and their primary rule is to spend as little as possible to save as much money as you can.
First things first, it's okay to be emotional. I know we're often made to feel bad when we are, but I'm here to tell you: it's absolutely okay sis.
Now let's be honest, do your emotions affect your spending? If yes, welcome, you've passed the evolution test and you're officially a "human being".
Use those first 3-6 months of tracking your expenses to also understand any impulsive splurges. Take notes of what triggered those purchases - was it peer pressure? Was insecurity triggered when you spent that €105 on new lashes? Did you just have an intense therapy session and scrolling through Vinted became a coping mechanism for a few days? Just go back to what happened the moments before your purchase and note it. Then, as financial therapist Amanda Clayman advised all of us on the So Money podcast: Pause. Do not judge.
Any time we feel guilt or shame about a choice or an action, it actually activates the reward center in the brain. Meaning it makes us seek more rewards, i.e. more spending, drinking, eating. Again, knowledge is power. It is important to understand how your emotions affect your spending so that you can take preventative measures once you kick-off your FIRE (or any budgeting) goal. For example, avoiding fomo by deciding to delete certain social media apps for some time or letting your partner or friends know beforehand when you're going to need some extra support sticking to your finance goal. That said, we're not perfect and it is equally important to know how NOT to respond (i.e. judgment, shame and guilt) when you fall off the bandwagon so as to not make matters worse.
Invest, Insource and Diversify Income
Once you save a good sum of money, the next step is to use that money to generate more money for you. The good old saying money makes money has a very literal application.
The way that many FIRE devotees speed up their process is by creating passive income through investments and by diversifying their income with newly acquired (frugality) skills.
Investing always involves some level of risk, make sure to check with a qualified financial professional to understand the pros and cons of all your options. Here's the most common forms of investment in the FIRE community:
Stock market – Blogs like nerdwallet.com or Golden Girl show that you don't need to be a day trader to take advantage of the stock market. For example, ETFs are often used by FIRE devotees, both for their low-cost index funds and the diverse range of brokerages you can choose from.
Real Estate – There's different ways to invest in estates, purchasing properties and renting them out or REITs (real estate investment trusts). If your current residency is more valuable than your newly purchased estate, you can swap homes for some years and make more money renting the bigger apartment.
Diversifying income – Many FIRE devotees build businesses to generate extra income offering products, services, or advertising. If you don't have any business prospects at this moment, insourcing sellable skills is an idea.
Proposed by the founding father of ERE, J.L. Fisker advises people to insource rather than outsource (as suggested by Tim Ferris in The 4-Hour Work Week). He defines insourcing as taking responsibility over any manual and digital tasks relating to your own house and business rather than outsourcing it to external parties. Think of fixing things around the house or building a website for the services you provide. Although insourcing requires time and investment, if done wisely it can help beat two birds with one stone. Once you hone certain skills, you not only save money on carpenters, designers or web developers but you also acquire sellable services that can help diversify your income. Thank god for YouTube tutorials and Google in 2021, the teachers that never leave you hanging.
Here's a list of side-gigs you can look at for extra income and business ideas. Whether insourcing or outsourcing is your way to FIRE depends on your personal situation and preferences. But if reaching your FIRE goal asap is important to you, diversifying your income is crucial.
The basic idea behind FIRE is to live well beneath your means for a calculated number of years, save as much money as possible through frugality and insourcing, and invest that money for a higher return rate. Make sure to diversify your income with newly acquired skills along the way so you can retire and declare your financial independence even sooner.
If this article ignited a FIRE in you, try finding people in similar situations to you in terms of age, education, location, children and goals. You can search by topic in online communities like Reddit's FIRE group where 918k devotees share their individual stories and tips. You can also scroll through the ERE forum journals and look for other people's wisdom for your particular situation.
Here's a list of some diverse bloggers with different starting positions and lifestyles that could also help you.
Rita-Soledad Fernández Paulino, Rita was a math teacher in her thirties when she found out about the FIRE movement. She had 0 savings but is dedicated to her goal of retiring at the age of 47. Not the usual 'retired in her early 30s FIRE story", but if you're just starting out and want to follow someone who you can relate to, subscribe to her newsletter and stay up to date about her FIRE journey.
TheMoneyHabit, one of the most famous and inspiring blogs on early retirement out there. Run by J.P. Livingston who retired at the age of 28 herself. She came from hard-working and self-made parents and financial awareness was instilled in her from a young age. She started her money journey early on, her mindset was clear and she dedicated a good couple of years in her early 20s to working very hard. Livingston got a high-paying job straight out of college and saved up as much as she could to FIRE. The knowledge that she shares is both informative and motivating.
OurNextLife, Tanja Hester openly talks about her difficult journey with saving, which did not come natural to her. If you experience difficulties saving, Tanja's blog and book WORK OPTIONAL: Retire Early the Non-Penny-Pinching Way can help you. Being a FIRE devotee for some time, she is also critical about some of its developments. It's always good to learn from people that scrutinize the movement they find themselves in.
Frugalwoods, if you're looking to retire in a house by nature, become self-sufficient, and teach your children these valuable habits, the Frugalwoods is the family to follow. A farmer's family, Liz and her husband both graduated without debt, their main sources of income are Liz' writing, her husband's work as a software engineer and some real estate assets.
Mr. Money Mustache, no FIRE article is complete without mentioning Mr. Money Mustache. Retired at the age of 30 as a software engineer, his blog has gained a cult-following amongst FIRE practitioners. Regardless of whether you agree with all his practices, like asking yourself with every "comfort" investment whether a catheter and bedpan will be the next most comfortable purchase… But, if you take his advice with a bit of humor, his knowledge and lifestyle are useful tools for any person's commitment to financial independence.
One thing to remember is that as human beings we are creatures of habit, whether you choose to save for a frugal post-retirement life or a more extravagant lifestyle. A few years ago we would never ever dare to imagine the wearing of masks in public places, today it's become our new normal. And perhaps frequent hand washing is not a bad habit to keep? In a similar way, living frugally for any number of years will leave you with conscious spending habits for a lifetime. Educating yourself about investments is lifelong useful knowledge and diversifying your income might not just bring you new income, it can enrich your life in many different ways. As can the setting of a financial goal and sticking to it. Remember to pause and observe in between. Embarking on a financial journey does not only require committing your wallet, it also requires emotional perseverance and mental compassion.
Torkan writes quality content for startups. Having spent the last 7 years working closely with startups on their PR, pitching and brand development she noticed they all have one thing in common: the need for content but not enough time to create it. How does your startup change the world? Tell her at email@example.com