What is the FIRE movement?
FIRE stands for ‘Financial Independence, Retire Early’. It involves extreme frugality and penny-pinching in every aspect of your life in order to retire early, never having to work again. Instead people live off investments, leaving them free to live how they please. Much talk of this movement has manifested itself on Reddit message boards or money-hack blogs like Mr. Money Mustache, which attempt to give you strategies for increasing the amount you save to about 70% of your income. This includes things like cheap holidays using airline rewards cards and saving small change.
It doesn’t sound that revolutionary, but by following these titbits of advice, some have actually been able to retire at a relatively young age. Denver software engineer Carl Jensen and his wife came up with a plan to save a large amount of their income over a five-year period, whilst dramatically reducing their expenses, until their net worth was $1.2 million (£910,680). He was able to retire aged 43.
Furthermore, the man behind Mr. Money Mustache, Peter Adeney, retired at 30 with his wife so they could start a family, which he did through saving, avoiding credit and debit cards, and cutting out any unnecessary spending.
The movement has continued to make waves in the US and is now being considered by young professionals in the UK, too: 900 people attended a recent FIRE meeting in London to find out how to quit their jobs whilst they’re still young.
How do you do it?
At its most basic, FIRE is about being stingy with your money. Really stingy. It’s imperative you save as much of your income as possible – ideally around 50-70% – pay off all forms of debt, from student loans to credit cards to mortgages. The idea is you build up a worth roughly 25 times your annual spending, either to be invested in a buy-to-let property or in the stock market.
But obviously, this means sacrificing nearly all of the fun things in life: no dinners out, no holidays, no payday spending sprees at Topshop. As most people aren’t on the same wage, there are different levels to FIRE: ‘lean FIRE’ practice extreme frugality, while ‘fat FIRE’ sees users maintain a more typical standard of living whilst saving and investing. ‘Barista FIRE’ means continuing to work a part-time job after retiring to still get a bit of incoming cash, or using it as a means to get health care if you live in America.
Sounds good to me…
Obviously, it’s not as easy as just saving – you have to be earning a substantial amount of money to be able to retire properly. Jensen was on $110,000 (£83,483) at the company he worked at, and although technically retired, Adeney still makes around $400,000 (£305,000) from his blog. In order to retire in your 30s and live off of £50,000 annually, you’d have to save over £1 million – not easy for most millennials who struggle to even buy a house. Plus, could you live for five years without celebrating an anniversary, or not having a holiday?
But there are people who are doing it – and from the sounds of it, all the saving seems worth it in the long run. Beyond people like Jensen, who benefit from being free of the stress of highly pressurised jobs, some FIRE-starters are living the kind of lives we only see on Instagram. Tanja Hester, a consultant working a “low six-figure” job in LA, retired in 2017 at 38, and said she and her husband spend their time seeing friends and being in the great outdoors.
Kristy Shen, 31, and her partner saved $1 million between them, quit their jobs and now backpack around Europe and Southeast Asia. Steve Adcock, an engineer from Tucson, Arizona, and his wife retired in 2015 aged 35 with more than a million in the bank – they now travel the country in an RV. The couple told Vice: “Our problem in our life now is it’s almost too social.”
Perhaps a few missed holidays might be worth it after all…
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