The FIRE movement has carved out a big niche in the personal finance space. FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early but if you quit traditional work in your 30s or 40s, what will the rest of your life look like?
Three or more decades is a lot of time to fill and sitting on the porch in a rocking chair or playing golf aren’t going to be enough to fill it. The 30s to 60s can be the prime of life. We’re still filled with energy, ideas, and ambitions.
If we kiss the corporate world goodbye without a plan for what’s to come, FIRE becomes one of those concepts that seemed like a good idea in theory but is less than ideal in practice. In fact, even people who retire at a much later age who don’t have decades to fill but have no plans for the rest of their lives, don’t fair too well.
Turns out, taking early retirement isn’t the key to a long life. Instead, it’s the people working past age 65 who live the longest. Researchers found that healthy adults who retired one year past age 65 had an 11 percent lower risk of death from all causes, even when taking into account demographic, lifestyle and health issues.
We don’t want any of you to go the way of Andy Rooney so let’s figure out what to do with the rest of your life after you’ve set yourself on FIRE.
Rewired Not Retired
Kim and her husband are freelance engineers, that’s where the term rewired came from. She and her husband set out to quit their day jobs and become full-time freelancers, something they achieved in 2017 when they were just 35 years old. They paid off their mortgage in two and a half years and moved around the country, finally settling in Wyoming which was an important piece of their plan for early retirement.
The word “retirement’ has negative connotations, especially for professionals. Retired means you aged out of your field, you didn’t keep your skills up to date and instead of deciding to retire, you’re being retired. Like a racehorse being put out to pasture.
For Kim and her husband and many others in the FIRE movement, the goal wasn’t to stop working. The goal was to use their time and talents to do what they wanted for the people they wanted, the way they wanted. No commuting, no office politics, no billable hours requirements. They wanted to go in, get the job done, and get out.
The couple now spends their time freelancing on fun engineering projects, volunteering, exercising, and hanging out with their daughter.
How can we aspiring FIREs do it too?
Know Your Core Money Beliefs
Everyone has different money priorities. For some of us, we can’t sleep at night with less than 9 months worth of expenses in our emergency fund. Some of us don’t want any consumer debt, not even a mortgage. Many people can’t imagine not having employer-sponsored health insurance. Some of those money priorities, core money beliefs, will make FIRE impossible for some people and even undesirable.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. FIRE isn’t the only path to happiness. You can still work towards FIRE without ever taking the plunge. The principles are sound, don’t be totally dependent on a “9-5” job for your income, at least not for all of your income, and be able if not to retire, to leave a job that makes you unhappy without ending up under a bridge.
Kim and her husband paid off their mortgage in under three years. They were both aware that they could have grown their net worth more quickly if they had invested instead-but growing their net worth wasn’t the most important of their core money beliefs. They were trying to reduce their monthly expenses instead so they could take early retirement.
Find a Mentor, Books Count!
It’s daunting to walk down a path if you don’t know anyone who has gone before you. Finding a mentor whether it be for early retirement or any other goal you want to accomplish, is one of the best things you can do.
Kim was lucky, she had a real-life mentor. A manager at her day job quit and didn’t seem stressed about what would happen next. She shared her experiences and the resources that helped her on her path to early retirement.
If you aren’t lucky enough to have someone in your day to day life who can act as a mentor, you can find them online. There are tons of FIRE forums and resources including the Mr. Money Mustache community and several subReddits dedicated to the subject.
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The most important piece of achieving early retirement may be something known as geoarbitrage.
Geoarbitrage is an interesting concept, often closely related to the definition of lifestyle design. It basically means relocating in order to take advantage of the lower costs of a city/country.
We all know that certain areas of the country have a lower cost of living than others. However, a lot of people hoping to achieve early retirement hamstring themselves because they’re unwilling to move. Those reasons vary, but often it’s related to family. People don’t want to move away from their families, especially if they have or are considering having children.
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This is a matter of priorities, and again, something that may mean FIRE is not possible for you. But if you are willing to move, you can put early retirement much closer to your reach. If you are willing to move, consider a state that doesn’t have an income tax. Those states are Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming.
Even if you’re unwilling to move far, consider at least moving outside the city limits. That relatively small move can reduce your expenses considerably.
The Things That Stop Us
Probably the two biggest things that stop people from making the FIRE leap are health insurance and retirement savings. We won’t lie. The health insurance piece is probably the hardest piece to figure out. Let’s all vote for candidates who are in favor of Universal Health Care, something most of the industrialized world has and has had for decades. Until then, we have to do the best we can.
Because health insurance coverage and plans vary so much from state to state, we don’t have a solution that will work for everyone. That fact should be taken into account when choosing a state for your geoarbitrage plan.
There are things all of us can do to remain healthy or get healthier. We all know what they are, eat well, exercise regularly, get good sleep, learn ways to cope with and reduce stress. Don’t make doctors and big pharma any richer than they already are.
Taking your own retirement into your hands is easier. Most of us do that anyway since pensions are a thing of the past for the vast majority of Americans. And an employer-sponsored 401k may not offer you great choices. You can choose your own retirement investments and fund them with your IRA.
And remember, this is rewire, not retire. It’s not like you’re going to give your boss your resignation letter and never work or earn another dollar again. You are still going to work and earn money but on your terms and timetable. Well, mostly. Even freelancers have bosses in a sense and deadlines.
It’s Not All a Bed of Roses
Even when you do have a plan laid out for your life after early retirement, it’s not all puppies and rainbows. You will still have stress, it’s just coming from a different place now. It’s not your jerk boss, it’s your jerk client who still hasn’t paid your four-month-old invoice.
Often it’s other people who think you have all the time in the world and they’re entitled to some of it. That can come in the form of a partner who still works a traditional job and expects you to do everything that needs to be done at home. Or the neighbor who is always asking if you can pick their kid up or drop them off somewhere since “you’re home all day.”
No matter how you spend your early retirement, you still have things to do and you may not have nearly as much free time as you were expecting.
Early Retirement as a Goal
Even if you have no interest in early retirement, live your life as if you did. Cut your monthly expenses, accelerate your retirement savings, find a side hustle and add a form of passive income, research ways to make geoarbitrage work for you even if it just means moving a few miles from where you currently are, find a mentor or some financial friends.
Because the most important part of FIRE isn’t the RE, it’s the FI.
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The Frugal Engineers: Kim and her husband’s site.