Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further
In a world with stagnating wages and an increasing cost of living, many people are looking for a way out of the rat race. That’s why radical investment strategies and risky business ventures are so popular.
Believe it or not, there actually is a reliable way to achieve financial independence – but it’s far from a “get-rich-quick” scheme. Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) is an increasingly popular strategy to break free from the daily grind and build your ideal future. Here’s what you need to know about how it works.
What is the FIRE Movement?
The FIRE movement encourages consumers to save and invest aggressively while they’re young in order to retire decades earlier than normal. There is no specific FIRE timeline; that depends on your particular goals and financial situation. Many people who work toward FIRE try to retire in their 30s and 40s.
The FIRE movement isn’t always about retiring early, however. Some people may reach their FIRE goal and keep working, because they enjoy what they do or because they’re not sure about the next steps to take. For them, FIRE provides the peace of mind that comes with not relying entirely on your job to make ends meet.
Some people choose to work toward FIRE so they can take a sabbatical, switch careers or become digital nomads. Others want to reach FIRE so every extra penny they earn can become a legacy they leave behind.
Types of FIRE
There is no one way to reach FIRE. In fact, there are many schools of thought. Here are the most common types of FIRE and how they stack up:
People who don’t want to worry about budget limitations when they retire may opt for Fat FIRE, where your investments greatly exceed your annual cost of living. Fat FIRE may be appropriate for those who don’t believe in penny pinching and want to enjoy the luxuries that life has to offer.
Because health insurance is one of the biggest expenses for those without access to an employer plan, some FIRE devotees will retire from their regular job and work at a company that provides health insurance to part-time employees – like Starbucks. This is known as Barista FI.
Coast FI is a financial independence movement where the goal is to have enough invested that you can afford to stop making retirement contributions. Once you reach Coast FI, you can either keep making contributions in order to retire early or focus your resources on other goals like starting a business, contributing to a child’s college education, traveling abroad and more.
The Slow FI movement believes in reaching financial independence, but not at the crushing pace of traditional FIRE. Slow FI is a more conservative path, avoiding the huge sacrifices that come with traditional FIRE strategies.
How to Retire Early
Lower your expenses
If you’re trying to retire early, one of the most important things to do is lower your expenses. This will free up more money to invest and save. Track your expenses with a budget and find a balance between saving for FIRE and continuing to enjoy your life.
Increase your income
While lowering your expenses is key to achieving FIRE, increasing your income is another crucial aspect. There’s a limit to how much you can save by being frugal, but there’s no limit to how much you can earn.
Increasing your income can include asking for a raise, switching industries, starting a side hustle and more.
Understand your numbers
One of the main reasons that people fail to meet their FIRE goals is that they don’t properly identify how much they’re saving, how much they’re spending and how much they’ll need to retire early.
Start by tracking your expenses to get an average of how much you typically spend a month. It’s important to be realistic – not optimistic – when you calculate your average expenses. To get a baseline estimate of how much you need to save, use one of the many FIRE calculators.
You’ll have to input how much you spend annually, how much you save annually, when you hope to retire and how much you currently have saved. The calculator should show if you’re on track to meet your goals or way off course.
Talk to a financial planner
Deciding to retire early is one of the biggest financial decisions you can make. And before you take that leap, you should talk to a third party to ensure you’ve thought of everything.
A financial planner can point out potential problems with your plan, like whether you can afford huge health insurance premiums or annual property tax increases. They can also recommend the best types of investment accounts to open and how to lower your tax liability.
Create automatic savings
Saving money is hard, but saving money to retire early is even harder. You can make it easier on yourself by automating your savings.
If you have a 401(k), you can increase your contributions by talking to your HR or payroll department. The money will automatically come out of your paycheck. If you receive a raise, then your 401(k) contributions will also automatically increase.
If you invest in an IRA, then you’ll have to set up automatic contributions through the investment company. Determine how much you can afford to save automatically every month.
When working toward FIRE, it can be hard to find like-minded people around you. That’s why it helps to get inspiration from outside sources like FIRE blogs, podcasts and forums. Some popular resources include the Choose FI Podcast, the Mad Fientist blog and the 1500 Days to Freedom blog.
Some of these communities even have local meetups, where you can spend time with real people who share your financial priorities and dreams for the future.
Save more, spend smarter, and make your money go further
Zina Kumok is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. A former reporter, she has covered murder trials, the Final Four and everything in between. She has been featured in Lifehacker, DailyWorth and Time. Read about how she paid off $28,000 worth of student loans in three years at Conscious Coins. More from Zina Kumok
Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) is a popular strategy to build your ideal future. Here’s what you need to know.
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