Is F.I.R.E. Stressful?

Is F.I.R.E. Stressful?

Financially Independent Retire Early (FIRE) is an acronym and concept that seems to have come from a book published in 1992, Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. The book and later editions focused on expenses and time working versus the hours in your life.  Just Google “FIRE movement” to find hundreds of articles and citations on this concept.

It’s not unusual for a financial planner to have clients and prospects who want to retire as early as possible and that coincides with their expressed primary financial goal. Some of them want to retire before their parents. They’re tired of the stress of everyday life. What does that goal of retiring way below age 65 entail, they ask? Extreme saving, in my opinion. That usually means exchanging one stress for another one.

It all begins with a focus on savings and expenses. Sometimes it involves saving 50-70% of your income if you believe the stories you can read online or in plenty of financial books. Many articles aim for a 40% savings rate to reach FI by age 40. This strategy usually involves pain and stress to meet such a pronounced goal. Having children usually means it is not a realistic avenue to reach retirement in your 30’s or 40’s for most millennials who are now in this target age group subject to FIRE aspirations.

As Karly Holland, CFP® points out in a May 2020 blog, the ingredients for success with FIRE means a large, likely six-figure income; a detailed plan to save 25 times your annual forecast future value spending; a stingy budget; discipline to stick to your savings and budget plan; and maybe a financial advisor to hold you accountable. We note Karly is just such a person.

What do you have to give up when following a FIRE strategy? In reading stories of many FIRE, retire early bloggers like Mr. Money Mustache, Passive Income MD, Financial Samurai, and Mad Fientist, among others, it leads me to believe they have some regrets, which they mention but were able to save millions before taking the early retirement leap.

What do people who adopt a FIRE strategy give up? This list is not all-inclusive or apply to all FIRE adherents.

  • Delay or no children. The cost of daycare and the necessity to stay in one location due to schooling are big deterrents to this movement.
  • Coastal US living location (need cheaper place to live)
  • Normal size housing (smaller, cheaper home)
  • A car (bike and public transportation plus Uber on occasion)
  • Most pets (dogs and cats eliminated as costly)
  • Expensive air travel
  • Traditional social life (no happy hours)
  • Normal social security payments (stopped contributions early)
  • Inflation protection during a 50-60 year retirement
  • Impulse purchases

A September 1, 2018, NY Times story entitled “How to Retire in Your 30s With $1 Million in the Bank” detailed a number of successful FIRE-ees. Many of them started blogs as a way to detail their FIRE trip and also used it to generate part-time income and reduce pressure on their investments to fund their lifestyle.

In that NYTimes article, writer Steven Kurutz detailed that there are three distinct types of those who are “fired”, the term that means you’ve achieved the FIRE goal:

  • Lean FIRE – extreme frugality
  • Fat FIRE – maintaining a typical standard of living meaning you saved more
  • Barista FIRE – working part-time at Starbucks for health insurance or writing a money-making blog


If you’re one of those younger people who hate their job, are tired of keeping up with the Joneses, and are seeking a new way of life, then FIRE might be a strategy for you. Just know you will be trading one or more kinds of stress for a different kind of stress. Do your research and know that it’s not easy, but you’re not going to be the first to go down this path.  Good luck.

Jim Ludwick
Jim Ludwick

Jim Ludwick is the founder of MainStreet Financial Planning. His varied education and life experiences have enabled him to apply his knowledge and experience into useful solutions for personal financial problems. His writing and broadcasting activities allow him to help many more than just individual clients. He loves a microphone.

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