If you are like many people in this country, the singular goal motivating you to go to work each day is a comfortable retirement plan. Owning your time, freeing yourself from work-related responsibilities and spending days with family and friends are likely what come to mind when you picture this stage of life. You may be imagining yourself enjoying it 10, 20 or 30 years in the future, but what if you could live the retired life right now? A movement is taking hold among 40-, 30- and even 20-somethings, and it’s getting them fired up. F.I.R.E., or Financial Independence, Retire Early is a financial independence strategy and lifestyle shift that’s enabling people to retire decades earlier than they ever imagined. Could it be the right move for you? Are you prepared to pursue retired life by creating an aggressive retirement plan?
While the F.I.R.E. movement is often adopted by those in the mid to high earning technology sector, it is not exclusive to any single profession or demographic. At its core, this F.I.R.E. movement is a lifestyle shift. It demands a scrupulous approach to saving, budgeting and investing that is driven by much more than a quest for wealth. The New York Times article, How to Retire in Your 30s With $1 Million in the Bank, chronicles the stories of several individuals and couples whose paths toward the F.I.R.E. movement were rooted in the desire to reclaim their lives from stressful careers and to dedicate their time to following their passions. It requires an aggressive retirement plan to steer you toward retired life.
Ask someone who has “fired” and they could probably tell you the moment that they decided to pursue their financial independence. But that moment and the day they walked out of their offices for the last time were likely years apart. Committing to the “fire” movement requires lots of advanced planning including a restructured budget, savings plan and investment strategy. Suffice it to say, you’ll need money saved and invested to live off of in order to initially “fire,” and you will need to keep aggressively saving and investing to stay that way. This strategy for retired life is all part of an aggressive retirement plan.
The first step in determining if the F.I.R.E. movement could be a reality for you is to evaluate your annual budget and monthly household expenses. These will likely be drastically different once you have fired, so the key is to identify which expenses are critical. What would your monthly household expenses look like if you downsized or moved to a less expensive community? Can your family operate with just one automobile? With the understanding that eliminating every creature comfort is not sustainable for most people, which luxuries can you realistically live without? Finding ways to stretch your money while maintaining the standard of living you have budgeted for retired life is a delicate balance but it can be possible.
A commonly touted rule of thumb when calculating how much money to save before “firing” is to multiply your annual expenses by 25 times. This is a hotly debated topic among people in the F.I.R.E. movement community, however, with some arguing that 25 times annual expenses is not nearly enough. This is because the calculation does not account for personal or national inflation nor does it offer much of a buffer in case of hard financial times. While this is true, it’s still a good baseline to use to start calculating how much you will need to live on while in retirement life.
You will also want to decide what type of lifestyle you plan to follow after firing, as well as any large expenses that you may face in the future. Unlike someone who stays in the full-time workforce and can budget for expenses like a wedding, children, new home or education as they arise, someone who has fired will need to draw from savings and investments to cover such expenses, else they find income in a new way.
For some, this “new way” comes in the form of part-time work. After declaring financial independence from the traditional 9-to-5, these individuals may pick up a part-time job in the service or retail sector, a move that’s been coined “barista fire.” There is also “fat fire,” which entails following a lifestyle more typical of a full-time employee, and “lean fire” for those who practice extreme frugality.
Read blog posts, listen to podcasts and follow social media accounts from those who have fired or are on their way to becoming financially independent and you will find many different stories and strategies. Some err on the side of extreme frugality and the “lean fire” method, while others maintain a semblance of their lifestyles prior to firing. You may also read about people whose partners continued to work or who personally took on a part-time job. There is no right or wrong way to fire because financial independence and early retirement plans do not necessarily look the same to everyone.
The time may be right for you to consider your options for an early retirement plan. Ultimately, F.I.R.E. is about taking control of the timeline of your life and shaping your future into what you want it to be. Explore more tips for saving and budgeting to get you on the right track on our FutureTrack Blog.