I’m still relatively new to the whole FIRE concept. My parents, both in their early 60s, are still working and most of my friends have never even mentioned the word “retirement.” The thought of retiring earlier than when my pension is “fully funded” never occured to me until a year ago.
For those who are unfamiliar, FIRE stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early” and it’s a popular idea among those in the personal finance community. I’ve been staunchly on board with the FI component since January 2018, but the RE part is still a moving target for me.
Although FI–basically the idea that you don’t need income from a job to live because of savings and passive income from investments–may look drastically different from person to person, I’m still VERY early in the process toward FI. I have student loan debt. My current emergency savings could not cover a full 6 months of living expenses. The mortgage may not be paid off until around 2040. But FI is a real, tangible goal for my fiancé and me. We are taking small steps toward increasing our savings rate and paying off debt. However, RE is more of an abstract notion at this point.
I love my summers and, since I’ve already maxed out my education level on our pay scale, I no longer take classes to fill my time. This may be blasphemous to some, but since I don’t *need* extra income, I don’t work during the summer. No side hustle. No part-time job. (Yes, I do realize how lucky I am that we can live comfortably on our salaries.) Sure I do a lot of lesson planning, but mostly I enjoy slow mornings and exciting travels. June and July are like “mini retirements” for me, glimpses of what it might be like to retire early. Since I have a taste of the RE life during my summers (while still getting a paycheck because my salary is spread over 12 months), I do not feel the pressure to get to RE as fast as possible.
There are some who pursue an all out early retirement plan. They target retiring by 40 or even 30, as in the case of APurpleLife, a blogger who’s goals and writing style I deeply admire. I have nothing but respect for those who have a clear vision and the determination to reach their goals. Tanja Hester’s Work Optional outlines specific exercises and strategies to help anyone considering an early retirement — it’s full of practical advice and inspiring stories. (Her blog, Our Next Life, also includes wonderful content.) Although I do not have precise RE aspirations, the ideas from APurpleLife and Hester help me understand ways to optimize my financial life right now.
Despite my admiration for RE, this is where it starts to get a little complicated. I realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have a steady job I love, a strong relationship with an ambitious and accomplished partner (not to mention he’s handsome, kind, smart, and hilarious 😍), great health, and so many available opportunities. It’s the amount of choices I can make and all of the things I want to experience that make it difficult for me to nail down a set FIRE target. Most books and posts I read about RE include a visualization of your early retirement life, but we still struggle with that part. Since everything is a possibility for us, nothing emerges as a clear winner for a set-in-stone RE plan.
My fiancé and I share our goals and our “wouldn’t it be awesome ifs” pretty frequently since we came together to work toward FI. The interesting thing is we throw around new ideas and possibilities each time. We talk about selling our house and buying a large rental property to “house hack” (living in one unit while renting out the others) since his construction background would be an asset. We talk about moving to Australia — a country where we both have personal connections (although their strict dog quarantine policies put a damper on the moving talk 😭, so then it turns into a conversation about the logistics of taking a sabbatical year there).
And then we talk about how much we love our beautiful house. How much we love living close to our families. How we both want to have children, which will undoubtedly affect our lifestyle and priorities for the future. (Stephanie from Graduated Learning outlines some considerations for opportunity costs when having children here.)
I can clearly articulate what my ideal day looks like, but my ideal retired life is a little different. The idea of planning and saving for potential sabbaticals as opposed to a full early retirement appeals to me because I’m nervous about a permanent target, a fixed path. I am unsure what challenges we may encounter in the future, especially with regard to our jobs, health, and family. It makes me a little uneasy to create a set plan for “future us” when I’m not sure what adventures and obstacles “future us” may experience.
I don’t know if this is a by-product of me feeling “in limbo” until I get my debt paid off, or if it’s a natural uncertainty in the face of an infinite number of possibilities. Going back and forth between my desire to strive for early retirement and pumping the breaks to ensure my lifestyle is aligned with my values now provokes a sort of “analysis paralysis.” In one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite shows, Tony Soprano states, “more is lost by indecision than by wrong decision.” But with something as serious as early retirement, is fictional mob boss Tony right? (Side note: After Googling the quote to make sure I got it right, it seems Tony was inspired by Marcus Tullius Cicero.)
This week The Fioneers shared their new series about “slowing down.” This couple writes about their perspectives on personal finance, but also about work, meaning, and busyness. I appreciate the conscious attempts to build a happy, fulfilling life instead of focusing on a miserable slough that will end when a fixed number is reached in the brokerage account.
I’m looking forward to reading the stories of others who made mindful decisions to do what is best for them on their own FI (or FIRE) path. I hope that as I get closer to getting a handle on my FI blueprint, I will have a clearer view of retirement. For me, the RE part of FIRE is still a work in progress.
Do you have an RE plan? Was it difficult to decide on a set path or are you still questioning your vision for the future?