FIRE (financial independence and retiring early), easy or difficult?
Achieving FIRE, easy, difficult or somewhere in the middle? In reality, the answer will be different for each of us, so today I'm figuring out my take on it. I've looked at four major steps in the FIRE journey and made my judgement on where these sit on the easy, difficult or somewhere in the middle scale. It will be interesting to get your opinion too, whether you agree with me or think my views are from another planet.
It was a comment on last week's post that got me thinking about this. Stuart is heading towards early retirement and is pretty close to the finish line - just one to three years away, so long as he avoids OMY (one more year) syndrome. What should I say to Stuart? Is there an obvious yes or no decision to working one more year? What do I think, what do you think?
When to retire early, of which OMY is a part, is just one step in the FIRE journey. I'll look at this as well as three others to try to decide whether FIRE is easy or difficult:
Do you aim for FIRE (or be like 99% of the population and accept you must work until 67 or older)?
Amassing enough money to FIRE
Deciding when to quit work to FIRE
What will early retirement look like?
Here goes for my take on these steps/decisions points - easy, difficult or somewhere in the middle?
Decision 1 - do you aim for FIRE?
This is difficult! Why? Because you're an oddball for even considering it, and most people won't even think about it, at least not seriously. "Normal" people follow the herd, and that herd is conditioned to think that the latest fads, a bigger house, newer car and flash holidays are where your money should go. Keeping up with the Joneses is alive and kicking. Any vague thoughts about retiring early are just...vague thoughts at best. They don't amount to tracking costs, thinking about saving rates or the compounding effect on investments, the things that can make FIRE a reality.
Difficult because for most people, FIRE just doesn't feel realistic, surely it's too far away, or only for people with mega salaries or who win the lottery. Or perhaps that's just an excuse not to commit to something that's challenging. Plus, nobody else they know is doing it - who's going to choose to be weird? Not many, it feels much safer to stick with the herd.
Decision 2 - amassing enough money to FIRE?
It seems that every country is increasing the retirement age, which surely tells us that bucking the trend to retire in our fifties, forties or perhaps even thirties has to be super difficult.
I'm not going to call this easy, but perhaps it's not as difficult as people think. Decision 1, the choice to get to FIRE is much tougher in my opinion. Once that's done, it's a case of formulating and implementing a plan and then having the endurance to stick with it. In a nutshell, that means controlling costs, saving well, investing effectively, doing these things regularly and staying the course. And not getting discouraged when you make little mistakes or have minor relapses.
I mostly did OK with saving because it was the flip side of tracking/controlling my costs, something that came fairly naturally to me. I wasn't perfect at avoiding lifestyle inflation or keeping up with the Joneses, but I was far from a disaster at it. Finding a balance between enjoying life now and saving for the future was a key element for me.
Investing is the bit I sometimes got wrong, but subsequently learned that it needn't be as difficult as I made it. I spent too much time listening to bad advice and procrastinating in case the markets were too high or low. My game changers were finally realising that time in the market is a far better investment strategy that trying to time the market, and that low cost diversified ETFs make more sense than guessing what might happen to individual stocks or paying unnecessary fees to investment managers.
So easy or difficult? Somewhere in the middle is where I land. not easy, but not as difficult as I expected.
Decision 3 - when to quit work to retire early?
I'm saying difficult! As with decision 1, do you aim for FIRE?, it's likely you have to figure most of this out by yourself - not wanting to tip your employer off that you're thinking of quitting and with friends or family who may be less excited and supportive than you hope. After all, this is a question beyond the reality of most people.
So, pretty much by yourself, you're trying to figure out what you'll do with your new time, how much it will cost, how long you'll live and will your money last as long as you do. Impossible to work out with certainty so you'll have to use some best guesses which doesn't feel right for such a major decision.
This is where Stuart's one more year syndrome comes in. Is it best to work another year to be on the safe side of the money part of FIRE? Is that OMY really needed and will it lead to
another OMY, and maybe yet another after that? From my personal perspective, I initially thought why waste time working another year, start enjoying early retirement instead, so don't delay. Alternatively, maybe an extra financial cushion is nice, just to remove those nagging money worries or to open up a few extra choices of what we can afford to do?
If the clock were to be turned back and I had to choose the timing of my early retirement again...I don't know what I'd choose. This is difficult.
Decision 4 - what will early retirement look like?
I can't begin to describe how much I battled with this, spending months trying to imagine what life would look like once I'd retired early. At the time, it felt like an impossible task. Now, four years later, hindsight lets me realise this was nowhere near as difficult as I made it.
That's not to say it's easy to describe in detail ahead of time what retired early life is going to be. But what I found is you don't need to, figuring much of it out as I've gone along has worked fine. I did have an outline plan which was useful, but it doesn't seem to have mattered that it was far from detailed. My conclusion is that someone who's had the imagination and determination to start and finish a journey to FIRE is going to be able to apply those same attributes to figure out the actual early retirement part just fine.
In the context of the entire FIRE journey, figuring out what early retirement will look like is the easiest and most fun part - does that sound kind of obvious?
That's my take on the FIRE journey.
Deciding to start the journey in the first place is difficult.
The saving and investing perhaps isn't as bad as some might imagine. Discipline and endurance are required, but by having a balance between doing things now but with an eye to the future too, it's more doable than it sounds. So not difficult, not super easy for sure, somewhere in the middle.
Deciding to take the plunge and quit your job and start early retirement is a big call involving some guesswork, so I think difficult.
Deciding what early retirement will look like isn't necessarily easy, but the exact details don't need to be nailed down ahead of time. Don't sweat it too much, trust yourself and this is relatively easy.
And overall? Getting to FIRE isn't easy, but it's not an impossible dream either. I got there leading what I believe was a balanced life, enjoying the journey but with an eye to the future prize too. Is it worth it, definitely, but that's just my opinion.
So what do you reckon, do my views tie in with your opinions, or do you think I've got this wrong? Let me know in the comments.