There’s been a recent uptick in media attention on FIRE. This is a freakin’ awesome sign, maybe one that indicates FIRE becoming mainstream…

However, in the comment section of these articles, I still see skepticism, criticism and even hatred for the ideas and people featured. It really grinds my gears reading a circle jerk of illogical comments- which makes me write a counterargument essay. (Anger management is something I’m working on.)

So here it is!

What is this FIRE thing?

FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. Even though FI and RE are 2 peas in a catchy acronym, they are actually two separate and different ideas.

  • Financial Independence: having enough money (in the bank or in revenue generating investments) so that you have the option to do whatever you want, including quit your job
  • Retire Early: the above, but you actually leave your job

The difference is key because most critics argue against the RE part.

“What are you going to do with all of your time?” (whatever I want)

“How is your money going to last 5 decades?” (let’s get into the deets of this study)

“Did you know most people die soon after retirement?” (correlation doesn’t equal causation)

Retiring early is nice and personally what I’m aiming for, but it’s not as important as financial independence.

That’s because financial independence gives you options. With FI, options are pearls and the world your oyster. You can retire early if you want to but you can also keep working. You can do whatever the fuck you want.

Aren’t options pretty?

 

FI Is All About Options

EVERYONE should be on the FI journey. No arguments.

Why? Because it’s not FI or bust. Even if you think you’ll never have enough money to reach FI or you started too late to RE, you’ll still benefits from just being on the journey.

  • $0 saved: limited options. You’re chained to your job because if you skip one paycheck, you’ll also skip one rent payment
  • Emergency fund saved: expanded options. If something unplanned happened, like your car needing a $1000 repair, you can get it fixed with no stress at all
  • “F-you money” saved: a lot of options! You can:
    • Take a few weeks off to go on a much-needed vacation
    • Take a few months off to build a passion project (I did this)
    • Take a few years off to spend time with your kids or volunteer abroad or take a trip around the world
  • FI: options galore. You can take time off permanently to do all of the above and whatever else you want, or not. A permanent job is an option.

More money saved = more options

And why do you need options? Your career, health, family and the economy are rosy. But life can be a bitch.

  • What if your boss leaves and your new one makes your job intolerable?
  • What if the next recession hits and your entire department is laid off?
  • What if you have your first child and can’t bare to leave her in daycare?
  • What if you get a serious illness that requires you to take an indefinite period of time off?

Depending on where you are in your FI journey, you’d be able to gracefully dodge life’s curveballs. You’ll be able to prioritize what’s important to you and not only sleep soundly, but even come out ahead.

But you hardly hear about options in these critic’s arguments, they wanna talk about what you’re missing out on.

FI is Not About Coupons, Rice and Beans or Any Sort of Deprivation

In fact, FI is about the opposite. It’s about indulgence. On things that matter. When you have extra money and you can do whatever you want, you’re not deprived.

Clipping coupons and eating only rice and beans miss the point. They might help you get a little closer to FI, but there are more effective ways.

The top 3 expenses for most Americans are: 1) housing, 2) transportation, and 3) food.

If living in a less fancy apartment with slightly outdated appliances saves you $400/month in rent, you can invest an extra $4,800 a year.

This was my Seattle apartment in 2015. It was in an amazing location but had coil stoves and popcorn ceilings.

If driving an older Toyota Camry instead of a flashy BMW saves you $300/month in a lease or car payments, you can invest an extra $3,600 a year.

A 2014 Toyota Camry, still surprisingly pretty flashy. Courtesy of cargurus.com

 

If bringing a homemade salad to the office for lunch 3x/week saves $120/month, you can invest an extra $1,440 a year.

Wouldn’t mind this at all…

And if you save $9,840 each year for 10 years and put it in an index fund with a conservative 7% return, you’ll have an extra $145,470. That will give you an extra $5,818 each year in perpetuity, based on the 4% rule.

How’s that for deprivation?

But still, it’s normal to want 3000 sq feet McMansions, smart stainless-steel appliances with LED screens, beautiful cars with front/back/side cameras and elaborate meals at $$$ restaurants. If everyone else has them but we don’t, we feel a sense of yearning.

And if you don’t, you’re weird. Why is that?

FI is Counter Culture

Capitalism runs our society. Free enterprise is not entirely a bad thing, but it also means that companies are incentivized to profit.

Profit-seekers want to make more and more money, so they encourage buying from them.

Their messages, often in the form of ads, have plagued our culture and become societal norms. They provoke our insecurities, speak to our innermost fears and fill us with desire.

  • You will be the epitome of success if you tote around this gorgeous $2000 monogrammed handbag
  • You will be the most beautiful person at the party if you wear this celebrity’s brand of makeup
  • You will be respected by your colleagues if you drive this gorgeous new car
  • You will be love life if you make this high-rise apartment with luxurious amenities and a city view your home
  • Your fiancé loves you if he spends two months of his salary to buy you this diamond ring

People who pursue FI know that these ads are lying- and buying these things doesn’t contribute to long term happiness. In fact, saving your money allows you to buy something that’s even more valuable. Your freedom.

– Fight Club

The problem is that even if you’re aware that these messages are blatant exploitation, you still struggle. That’s how I found myself here, typing from a $2100/mo apartment in a building with two pools, a gym, a pet run, and a community garden that we hardly ever use.

Conclusion

At the surface, FI is a really wacky idea. Why wouldn’t you want to enjoy your hard earned money?

But if you dig deeper, you’ll find that being on the FI journey allows you to enjoy life even more. When you’re able to choose what you want to do with your time, you have options. And it’s hard to argue that any thing, especially one that provides only marginal benefits, is more valuable than your time.