There was something so enticing to me about the financial independence/retire early movement (FIRE) when I learned about it a few years back. The idea that if you understood your numbers, you could aggressively invest, save, and reach retirement over a short period of time and begin living your best life when you hit your ideal retirement number.
FIRE folks are those people we read about retiring at the age of 32 with over $1 million saved. Or, the 27-year-old who never had debt and worked a high-paying job and optimized every financial decision in order to hit their FIRE number before 30. In retrospect, I'm surprised I felt so strongly about the FIRE movement, because nothing about my financial life would indicate that FIRE would ever be right for me.
As time went on, I started asking myself some questions about FIRE, and I realized that FIRE connects deeply with the imagined life that most people want to live and plays on that hopeful future. But it just wasn't for me.
I really disliked the idea that I would have to sacrifice to the point of financial deprivation for the next 10 to 12 years in order to hit my FIRE number. Part of why I disliked this is that I'd already sacrificed for years to pay off more than $60,000 in unsecured debt. I'd side-hustled, lived in a small home, and said "no" more often than not to purchases that I felt would negatively impact my debt-repayment goals.
These were great financial moves at the time, but I kept thinking about my life in the future. I started to dream about what my ideal FIRE life would look like.
* Waking up naturally without using an alarm clock
* Traveling around on road trips in my state of Colorado, visiting my relatives, or going abroad whenever I felt like it
* Pursuing intellectual interests to my heart's content
* Helping others financially or through volunteering when possible
* Going to brunch and having that bottomless mimosa
What I found problematic about FIRE was that I didn't want to wait years to live my best life. Especially because I was older than 32 when I stumbled upon this financial pursuit. In fact, I was in debt, professionally burnt out, and tired — not exactly prime for FIRE.
Also, the more I thought about the financial independence/retire early movement, the more I found myself questioning why certain very important conversations about access and finances weren't being had in the FIRE community.
Here's the thing: The money — the FIRE math — it works. If you invest at a much higher rate than most people, have no debt, and earn a great salary, you can easily hit your FIRE goals.
But what if you're a person like me facing a ton of financial headwinds? My access to FIRE wasn't the same as the 27-year-old with no debt and a high-paying job.
FIRE relies on being debt-free. There's no way that you can invest at over 50% if you're also actively paying down debt like I was.
Plus, the more complicated your finances are, the more challenging it is to work towards FIRE. In my case, I had a very complicated debt situation. It hasn't been until recently that my finances have simplified enough that I can focus on traditional FIRE. If you're dealing with a large number of creditors, etc., this impacts your ability to focus on FIRE.
On top of that, working towards FIRE requires a financial skillset similar to paying off a large amount of debt, learning how to negotiate your wage, etc. It takes a while to get into a rhythm that is comfortable and moves you toward your goals.
There also seems to be a lot of conflict within the FIRE community about working after you hit your FIRE number, which honestly makes no sense to me. Why not work if you're enjoying it?
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to approach FIRE depending on your financial philosophy and the reality of your finances. Eventually, I learned about Slow FIRE, which was incredibly attractive as a financial philosophy.
With Slow FIRE, you are investing, saving, and working towards your ultimate FIRE number, but you are likely doing this at a slower rate than regular FIRE folks who tend to approach the financial steps to obtain FIRE more aggressively. Basically, Slow FIRE practitioners are aware that it will take awhile to reach their final FIRE number. Slow FIRE adherents may still be cleaning up their financial foundation. This may look like finishing up debt repayment, lowering overall expenses, and looking to grow income. These are key steps in the FIRE journey.
Basically, Slow FIRE is similar to the regular FIRE movement with a couple of major exceptions.
* Slow FIRE practitioners focus on designing and achieving their FIRE lifestyle now. This may include working remotely in order to create more flexibility in their lives. It's also a nod to the fact they will work longer in order to hit their FIRE number. There's no work-shaming because work factors heavily into Slow FIRE.
* Work is a large part of Slow FIRE, but the emphasis is on working in a way that works best for you right now. In fact, COVID has created a huge opportunity for professionals to design their best lives now while earning an income and focusing on their future.
I appreciate that Slow FIRE is a more approachable way to begin the financial independence process.