I’ve been on the path to Financial Independence and Early Retirement for close to 10 years now. I don’t remember precisely when I stumbled onto Mr. Mustache’s blog but it was somewhere around 2011/2012. As a college kid, there wasn’t much I could do about accumulating assets, but it was incredibly helpful in avoiding debt.
I was listening to the Earn and Invest podcast hosted by my friend, Doc G. This particular episode featured J.L Collins, Jillian Johnsrud, and Brad Barrett and discussed whether the FIRE movement has evolved since it began and hit mainstream.
I think it was Brad that said something like “at the beginning, FIRE was mostly about earning a ton of money to save as much of it as possible to retire as quickly as you could.” As someone who was around the FIRE space then, I can definitely say that was the case. The biggest voices at the time were Mad Fientist, Mr. Money Mustache, and Jacob Lund Fisker. All 3 were earning lots of money, saving lots of money, and retired early.
If they could do it, so could I. I took a lot of inspiration from them at the beginning of my FIRE journey and you can definitely see it in my status reports from 2014–2016 ish. I was feverishly saving as much as I could, optimizing every aspect of my life, and counting down the days until I could retire at the age of 35.
One reason I started my blog 6 years ago (6!?!?!) was because I went looking for someone like me and couldn’t find anyone. They were all married male bloggers in their 30s and I was a single woman in my mid-20’s. They had a lot to teach me, but there was also something missing. I so wish I had had a community like the one Angela from Tread Lightly, Retire Early has created. (Ladies, check out Women’s Personal Finance! It rocks!!)
I think the thing that was missing was the voice of moderation. Yes, you can save 70% of your income, but are you happy? Or are you miserable today just to get to the promise of a happier someday once you save a lot of money?
One of the biggest pivot points in my FIRE journey was talking to Brandon the Mad Fientist. He told me he really regretted saving so much money at the expense of their happiness then. (He goes into way more detail in his podcast episode with Ramit Sethi that I highly recommend listening to.) At the time, I was miserable. I was working for a big corporation with limited vacation time and an aura of fear about it. They were constantly reorganizing departments, aligning their workforce according to “agile practices”, and trimming benefits. Rumors abounded about the next division to face cuts. I couldn’t see myself staying there for 40 years and there were no other big companies in the area that paid as well. Yay living in the middle of nowhere. So I saved and saved and saved to position myself better if I did get laid off or downsized. But I wasn’t happy. I even managed to convince myself that investing in real estate was a good idea.
Narrator: It was not a great idea for me. Sure I was getting paid to live somewhere, but the stress of managing the property was making me so unhappy.
2011: discovered the FIRE community
2012–2013: absorbed knowledge
2014: started working and saving
2015–2017: saved all the money
After I sold my property and broke up with my partner at the time, I realized I couldn’t just go back to the working and saving world. I needed to stop hoarding all my money and live a little now while I could. I stopped calculating how much longer I had to work. I reset my FIRE goal to something a little more realistic for my income level and partnership status. Instead of retiring at 35, maybe 45 or later. I also tried out changing my physical location. While this Midwestern gal learned she didn’t like living in huge cities on the East Coast, she still had a good time and learned a lot of valuable life lessons.
I learned I didn’t hate work. What I needed was a balanced work environment for a company that was doing good in the world that didn’t have this atmosphere of fear woven into their business model. I needed to be appreciated while performing a job that has me doing more work time than sitting around bored time. My current position fits this criteria well. It’s technically a non-profit so there are no shareholders to weigh in on business decisions.
Outside of work, I came to the realization that I like having nice stuff and room for all my nice stuff. I’m not going to go crazy, but I’m going to spend some money on hobbies. I bought a way nicer house than many in the FIRE world would say I need. Our house might be huge, but it’s under 20% of our budget and we’re not trying to save every dollar. Living in a smaller space might save money, but having to keep my stuff in cardboard boxes makes me stressed out and sad.
Now I am on the path to what some call Coast FI, or Slow FI. I believe Jess from the Fioneers was the first person to coin the term. With $300,000 in assets working for my future in the background, I don’t need to save more funds in retirement accounts to have a comfortable retirement. (I still save about 10% to fully get the match from my employer and cut down on my taxes but I’m nowhere near maxing them out anymore.) I “have” to work until I am 55.
Why “have” to?
Well, my employer offers both a traditional defined benefit pension plan and allows retirees to stay on the employee health insurance. It would cost so much more money for health care if I left before 55. If you take my previous employer’s pension plan, this pension, any dredges of Social Security, and all my personal retirement accounts, I’ll be doing well in retirement. I just have to get there, first.
The Next 25 Years
I am 30 years old in 2021. I will turn 55 in 25 years. I don’t plan on working a full 9–5, 5 days a week schedule until I retire. My employer offers flexible working schedules — 4 10’s, every other Friday off, etc. I might even try to see if I can drop down to 32 hours if I can keep full benefits.
But, I also have my partner to consider in this. Just because I have to work until 55 doesn’t mean he does, too. His job is great but leadership in the office makes it a tough place to be sometimes. I would love for him to be able to exercise his FU money if it gets to be too much one day. He’s in software development, so chances are high he’ll be able to get a job with more pay with little effort. Or, he can do a sabbatical and work on developing his own video game. Or, he can be a stay-at-home dad when we have kids.
So, all in all, I’m really grateful the FIRE community has evolved to allow a little bit more slack and a little bit more grace with regards to savings rates and going all-in on frugality. I think bike commuting has its place in the community. I think homesteading has its place. I think house hacking has its place. And I’m even more grateful I was allowed to try all the different lifestyles to find the one that works best for me and my partner.
What will your FIRE journey look like going forward?
As always, thanks for reading! I’d love to hear how your FIRE journey has already evolved in the comments below!
Rob S says
Nice piece! I’m glad you’ve found a more moderate route that keeps you happier. One thought: perhaps you won’t have to work till 55, at least not for healthcare reasons. His job may also provide healthcare for both of you, or the two of you can alternate taking time off while one person maintains a job with healthcare benefits (though logistics there could get tricky).
Gwen [Fiery Millennials] says
Without going into too much detail, his health insurance right now sucks and mine is one of the best plans you can get. We’ve estimated he’ll save roughly $500/mo when he joins my plan, so having him be primary would be a last resort. But if he gets a different job, that could be an option!
My FIRE journey started because my whole career has been marked by upheaval, so I wanted more control over my financial stability. The first company I worked for went through 2 acquisitions in 9 months before it was shut down. Then I became a contractor at a mega pharmaceutical company, and eventually made it to permanent status. I was starting to settle into the comfy corporate life, jet setting to San Francisco to do presentations at super fancy hotels, and then suddenly was laid off. That was the spark for me. I moved across the country to a small startup that had explosive growth in 2017 and 2018, then about half the company was laid off just before Christmas. I survived, but it was never the same and I was pretty miserable there after that happened. Then the pandemic happened and I decided to move back across the country again to my current company. So far things are going well, but given my history I can’t guarantee it will stay that way.
Like you, I’ve already front loaded most of my stash and have a pretty similar net worth. I’ve decided to keep transportation costs low by living about 3 miles from work, live in a reasonably sized house, and cook all meals at home except weekends. If I can keep those expenses low, everything else takes care of itself, and I invest the difference. Amazingly it still works out to about 50 percent of my income. My goal is still to retire early, but it looks like the hard part of hyper optimizing is over.
Gwen [Fiery Millennials] says
Wow! That’s quite the tale. Mad props to you for keeping your head up and continuing to save!!
Well done. I found when I hit about 4x lean annual expenses saved everything with money (and therefore choices available) seemed to change psychologically. Getting fired (or leaving a bad job to find another one) was no longer an emergency but rather a sabbatical. Starting a business (with low start up costs) was not some huge risk anymore. The car blowing a head gasket was no longer a setback worth shedding a tear over but rather just an ‘irregular expense’.
And the money itself is now large enough that doubling is huge, doubling again is monstrous, and that can all happen without adding much to it. And in the end, gritting your teeth and saving like mad to get to that initial 4x amount really didn’t take me very long, so whatever sacrifices were required were relatively short lived in the grand scheme.
Malik Williams says
I discovered FIRE at 18 in my college dorm when I couldn’t figure out a career, major, & life. I met Justin McCurry and learned everything about personal finance. I skipped life stage because I was worried. Fast forward 5 years, I’m graduated, working remote doing analytics while living at home. I still want the money for options, but early retirement isn’t on my mind. I contribute 32% of my 61k starting salary to my 401(k) and save a lot but still live for today. I’ve made my mistakes too but money gives us options. It gave you the option to get up and move to several places. I want the security of being independently wealthy because of security and less because of retirement. My goal is late 40’s mid 50’s retirement as well.
David @ Filled With Money says
It just goes to show, personal finance is definitely personal. For some folks, they can live the “save as much as you can so you can retire as quickly as you possibly can”.
I still have no clue how early retirement extreme got there. I don’t even know how to live on $7k per year ($8k on an inflation adjusted basis).
A good story to learn from though.
Work is not all bad! You get all the benefits and 401k matching that you can ever want.
David @ Filled With Money recently posted…Gut Feeling is What Matters the Most in Life
We actually didn’t find the FIRE community early on, but we were living a lot of the principals. When my wife and I first started out, we had no money and were living very close to the edge of our budget. This shaped a lot of our savings mentality early in marriage. Now we are close to hitting a couple financial goals thanks to the aggressive savings but I am considering making a career change that could slow us down on our FI journey in exchange for more work life balance. This post really hit home for me and I think FI doesn’t have to follow any specific outline, it needs to be done the way that gives you the most freedom to do what you dream to do in life.
Chris recently posted…Why Don’t We Teach Our Kids Personal Finance?
The Expostriate says
I have no idea where my FIRE journey will take me going forward. It definitely won’t be as initially planned, but I hope I get lucky and it is even better than planned.
I totally relate to you starting a blog because you didn’t find others in a really relatable position. My journey started after I moved to Germany and I also didn’t find many relatable blogs (expats in Europe, ideally Germany). I’ve made FIRE and financial topics a significant portion of my blog in hopes of meeting others, whether they were more experienced or looking for info on their own journey. I’m happy to say I’ve gotten some positive feedback from the latter. I’m still looking for the former, though 😉
I could have sworn I used to get your new posts via email…how do I sign up to receive them again?
Gwen [Fiery Millennials] says
Hi Tabitha, you might’ve gotten them in the past but I stopped paying for my email provider as I was utilizing it fully anymore.
We all have our all roads to take, right? Actual retirement makes no sense if you’re still young. But for us, the pursuit of FI has been a real blessing. No one actually retires — they write, if nothing else.
For me, I don’t (need to) worry about my job as much, or making more money. Coast FI makes a lot of sense.
But kudos to you for realizing these when you still so young.
Dividend Power says
Good story. I lived in many places and I still like the East Coast and northeast the best. FIRe is a process rather than a goal and it evolves with time.
Dividend Power recently posted…Is Gold a Good Investment – Week In Review
Thanks for sharing how your journey has evolved. I discovered FIRE roughly when I discovered your blog during my first job after college in 2018, and I had a similar experience to you. I was unhappy in my job and saved aggressively the first ~2 years, and after that I broke up with my boyfriend of 5 years and my entire world changed. I was completely rediscovering myself, and I went on what I can only describe as a spending bender for a solid year. I’m still trying to get back on the FIRE wagon and practicing good financial discipline, and it’s inspiring to read your blog again, where I originally started, knowing the FIRE community and others’ FIRE journeys have changed substantially. Just know that there are other women even earlier in their FIRE journeys than you looking up to you and reading your blog 🙂
Olaf, the Mile High Finance Guy says
Gwen, this post hits close to home. Your quote, “I think the thing that was missing was the voice of moderation. Yes, you can save 70% of your income, but are you happy? Or are you miserable today just to get to the promise of a happier someday once you save a lot of money?” is how I felt when I was undergoing personal and professional changes.
The FIRE community has evolved beautifully since its founding and now embraces slower or alternate paths to financial freedom, and I think these counterpoints provide balance.
For me, I realized I was searching for financial independence and the freedom not to worry about money. I didn’t particularly care about retiring early, just the ability to live each day as I saw fit. So, I have backed off the throttle myself and have focused on living a more purposeful life where my relationship with money and everything around me is meaningful.
Thanks for spreading the word, as anyone considering FIRE needs to hear this!