The “American Dream”, a term coined in the 1930s by James Truslow Adams, became the ethos of America for decades. Now there is a new term that is on fire, no pun intended, which is the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement.
The FIRE movement encapsulates the idea that you can retire in your 30s, 40s, or 50s, enjoying financial freedom and time to pursue your passions. The levers used to achieve this dream combine aggressive saving, smart investing, and expense reduction.
This comprehensive guide will walk you through the principles of the FIRE movement, its different approaches, practical steps, and the pros and cons of this lifestyle movement.
Table of Contents
Understanding the FIRE Movement
FIRE involves achieving a point where one is not obligated to hold a full-time job and can reduce their workload or stop working altogether. Retiring early involves leaving the workforce before the traditional retirement age of 65 and having enough money saved or invested to sustain one’s lifestyle without relying on a regular paycheck.
To achieve this lofty aforementioned goal, FIRE sets forth its foundational tenets which include:
Completion of an emergency fund
Investing 15% into tax-advantaged retirement accounts
Keeping expenses low
Exploring avenues to increase income
I can imagine Robert Kiyosaki, author of “Rich Dad Poor Dad“, smirking at some of these tenets, especially on debt elimination and investing into retirement accounts. The point being, there is no universal truth, outside of scripture, especially when it comes to financial matters. You must consider all angles, weigh your risk and opportunities, and decide if FIRE is for you.
Assuming you are interested and want to to move towards implementation of FIRE, then the following steps should be put in place:
Determining one’s FIRE number
Setting a budget
Keeping a close eye on expenses
Finding ways to boost income and maximize savings
Since everyone’s life situation and overall objectives are different, there are several approaches available for FIRE, including Lean FIRE, Fat FIRE, and Barista FIRE, each offering a different lifestyle depending on individual preferences and financial goals, more to come on this below.
Financial Independence Defined
Financial independence is the foundation of the FIRE movement and denotes the point where one can comfortably cover living expenses without relying on an employer. Achieving financial independence necessitates accumulating enough assets to cover living expenses indefinitely. The 4% withdrawal rule is a savings goal based on accumulating a fund amounting to approximately 25 times one’s annual spending requirements, helping individuals reach their financial goals.
Upon achieving financial independence, individuals gain the option to either scale down to part-time work or cease working altogether. This level of financial freedom not only provides peace of mind but also opens up opportunities to pursue personal interests, hobbies, and other passions without worrying about financial constraints.
The Core Principles of FIRE
For all those enticed by the promises of FIRE, herewith some more granularity in terms of implementation steps for the FIRE strategy by elaborating more on savings, expense reduction, and investing.
Household Savings, in general, is not a forte of the American people. Before COVID-19, the United States ranked 15th as compared to other OECD countries. As of 2023, the situation has greatly deteriorated, and household savings is -2% from pre-pandemic levels, with other OECD countries +3-5% on the same basis.
FIRE takes the concept of savings to an extreme case. It involves allocating a substantial portion of one’s income, typically ranging from 50-75%, in order to expedite the achievement of financial objectives. To allow for such extreme savings levels, the practitioner may have to resort to strategies such as:
Creating homemade products
Turning off utilities when not in use
Purchasing items in bulk
Being mindful of daily expenses
FIRE is counter cultural in this regard, but with the allures of early retirement, many individuals are setting fire to their credit cards.
Expense reduction involves reducing costs and living economically to decrease financial requirements and speed up progress toward FIRE. Reducing expenses in the FIRE strategy may involve opting for used items instead of new, only purchasing necessary items rather than desired items, and learning how to complete home improvement projects rather than outsourcing them.
The process of minimizing or cutting down on expenses is a crucial aspect of the FIRE movement. Strategies to maximize expenditure include comparison shopping to secure the best prices, taking advantage of available discounts and coupons, and utilizing cash-back rewards programs.
Prioritizing expense reduction can result in substantial progress towards financial independence and early retirement.
That said, the most common criticism of FIRE is that you need to drastically lower your quality of life in the present for a payoff later. Frugality is not for everyone, thus you have to weigh the “size of the price” to the “cost of implementation”.
Smart investing within the FIRE movement involves optimizing returns through low-cost index funds, utilizing tax-efficient strategies, and leveraging the power of compound growth. Utilizing IRAs and 401(k)s to invest in one’s retirement, as well as saving money for an emergency fund in a high-yield savings account (HYSA), are some tax strategies that can reduce the amount of taxes paid on retirement income in the FIRE strategy.
Many FIRE participants typically invest in passively managed index funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs). Additionally, they might consider ways to avoid early withdrawal penalties when retiring early, such as saving the necessary amount between their target retirement age and the age at which withdrawals from retirement accounts can be made without penalty in a regular brokerage account.
Different Approaches to FIRE
The FIRE movement offers various approaches to cater to different preferences and financial goals, such as:
Lean FIRE: a more economical approach, focusing on decreasing expenditures and embracing a more minimalist lifestyle.
Fat FIRE: a less stringent approach, wherein one focuses on augmenting income and investing more aggressively.
Barista FIRE: a middle ground between Lean FIRE and Fat FIRE, where individuals aim to achieve financial independence but continue to work part-time or pursue lower-stress jobs.
Lean FIRE is a financial strategy that encourages individuals to live a minimalist lifestyle and save more than 50% of their income in order to reach financial independence in a shorter period of time. The Lean FIRE approach involves living a minimalist lifestyle and saving more than half of one’s income to achieve financial independence more quickly.
Lean FIRE offers the potential for expedited financial independence compared to other methods. Additionally, it may enable a minimalist lifestyle, which can be beneficial in terms of stress relief and simplifying one’s life. However, Lean FIRE necessitates a high level of discipline and commitment to save more than 50% of one’s earnings and requires a considerable lifestyle alteration, which can be challenging for some individuals to adapt to the fire lifestyle.
Fat FIRE is a variant of the FIRE movement that involves higher levels of savings and income during retirement, enabling individuals to sustain or even augment their pre-retirement lifestyle without compromising their expenditure. The amount needed for Fat FIRE is greater than other FIRE approaches as it strives for a more lavish retirement.
The advantages of Fat FIRE include the capacity to sustain or even augment one’s pre-retirement lifestyle without diminishing expenditure. The drawbacks include the requirement for a greater investment than other FIRE approaches, which may not be feasible for everyone.
Barista FIRE is a concept in which individuals opt to retire early but continue to work part-time or less, dedicating their efforts to pursuits that are personally meaningful. This approach is appealing as it enables individuals to:
Retire earlier than usual
Still have the option to work part-time or engage in meaningful activities
Maintain a steady income while still having the liberty to relish their retirement
The advantages of Barista FIRE include the capability to work part-time or pursue meaningful work, the capacity to sustain a certain level of income, and the liberty to enjoy retirement.
The disadvantages of Barista FIRE include the possibility of reduced income, the necessity to manage expenses prudently, and the possibility of burnout.
Practical Steps to Achieve FIRE
We read above that there are a few key practical steps required for FIRE. Let’s look at each one in greater detail.
Calculating Your FIRE Number
To determine how much money is needed for retirement, individuals can use the Rule of 25 or the 4% Rule. The Rule of 25 involves multiplying one’s annual expenses by 25 to calculate the FIRE number, while the 4% Rule states that an individual’s retirement savings should be sufficient enough to enable an annual withdrawal of 4%.
For example, if one’s monthly expenses are $6,000, their FIRE number would be $1.8 million. Determining their FIRE number allows individuals to set a distinct financial goal, guiding their pursuit of financial independence and early retirement, while accumulating as much money as needed.
Creating a Budget and Tracking Expenses
Companies have in their “DNA” the concept of budgeting and tracking expenses, unfortunately individuals many a times lack this rigor.
FIRE requires the creation of a budget listing one’s income and expenses. The tracking of expenses involves recording and categorizing expenses in order to monitor spending habits. The significance of creating a budget and monitoring expenses is that it assists in pinpointing areas for cost-cutting and optimizing savings, as well as discipline.
Set realistic goals, track spending, and develop a budget that is tailored to your needs. Through budget creation and expense tracking, individuals can enhance their financial awareness, make more informed financial choices, and ultimately boost their savings, aiding in their pursuit of FIRE.
Boosting Income and Maximizing Savings
Boosting income to maximize savings can be achieved by exploring opportunities for salary increases or starting a “side-hustle”.
A side-hustle is generally freelance or piecework in nature, providing a supplemental income. Side-hustles are often things a person is passionate about, rather a typical day job worked in order to make ends meet. It can be a valuable tool for those looking to reach their FIRE goals more quickly, as it may significantly increase income.
Today more than ever, we have a plethora of choices for side-hustles, from freelance writing and web design to selling handmade products on Etsy or even dog walking. The options are vast and can be tailored to your specific skills and interests.
The Pros and Cons of FIRE
The allures of FIRE include financial stability, greater autonomy, and possibly decreased stress levels, making it an attractive option for those seeking a life free from financial constraints and the limitations of traditional employment. However, potential drawbacks may include inaccessibility for some individuals, risks associated with market fluctuations or unexpected life events, and lifestyle modifications required to adhere to the principles of FIRE.
It is advised to carefully weigh the pros and cons before making any decisions about pursuing the FIRE movement. The beauty is that there is not a one-size fits all, as we saw, there a variants which might be more suitable given your risk/reward levels.
The FIRE Movement is a financial strategy focused on achieving financial independence and early retirement through extreme saving, smart investing, minimizing expenses & utilizing different approaches.
Practical steps such as calculating the FIRE number, budgeting & tracking expenses can help individuals achieve their goals with real-life success stories available for guidance.
The movement offers advantages but also presents potential risks to consider before embarking on this path.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the 4 rule of the FIRE movement?
The 4 Rule of the FIRE movement is to save 25 times your annual expenses and withdraw 4% or less per year in order to retire. This allows adherents to maintain their current lifestyle during retirement for 30 years.
What is the FIRE movement for beginners?
The FIRE movement stands for Financial Independence Retire Early, and its goal is to save and invest aggressively so that people can retire early – typically in their 30s or 40s. Followers of this movement often save up to 75% of their income in order to reach their goal.
What the FIRE movement gets wrong?
The FIRE movement is often criticized for sacrificing current quality of life in pursuit of retiring early.
How much money do you need to retire at age 50?
To retire at age 50, you should aim to have around six times your salary saved for retirement. This means if your annual expenses are $50,000, you may need around $1.5 million in investments to live comfortably.
How can I retire early and get financial independence?
By dramatically reducing expenses, increasing income and investing in a variety of accounts, it is possible to reach financial independence within 10 years by saving up to 50% of your income. Additionally, managing spending and avoiding high-interest debt can help you reach this goal.