I realized I never talked about FIRE(financial independence/retire early) on this blog. I’ve been talking about goals lately so I figure it’d be good to visit my ultimate goal. I want the option to retire early.
The FIRE movement is often painted with a broad brush and seen as a group of people saving money in order to retire as quickly as possible. However, FIRE to me isn’t as simple as having an endpoint and doing whatever possible to get there. It’s simply about having options. That is what makes it so appealing to me.
Let’s go back in time to 2008. I was an anxious, skinny graduate looking for a job with my finance degree.
A mix of my brother’s ill fitting suit, social anxiety and a bad haircut meant I made quite an impression at interviews. However, I somehow managed to convince someone to give me a shot.
I landed a sweet boring insurance job right before the economy went bust. It was a real feat of timing on my part.
I felt lucky but also stayed realistic. After all, the economy was exploding all around us. Last in, first out right?
All my co-workers voiced the same worries too. That surprised me in my youthful naivete.
At the time, the average age of my team was probably in the 40s. In fact, I was only person below 30 in the entire department! The fact that these people, some twenty years into their career, were in the same spot as me was surprising. I mean, they worked so long, didn’t they have a bunch of savings to fall back on! Didn’t these people have other options?
Again, youthful naivete.
Hell, now that I think about it, they may have been worse off that I was. After all, I was young and easy to mold. My ability to learn and adapt was at its peak and I’d probably find another job if things went haywire here. Plus, I still lived with my parents so I had no real bills.
However, the 50 year old guy with a bunch of debt who worked at one company all his life might have a bit of a problem if he didn’t have savings. He’d be thrown into the competitive job market with people like me; flexible, good with computers and more importantly, cheap as hell.
My 45k/year was a great salary in my mind. However, that wasn’t quite enough to support a family and pay a mortgage in our expensive state.
The discussions these people were having were often financial in nature so I got an idea about where everyone’s status. Retirement accounts dropped and things looked bleak. Hypothetical situations like having to borrow against a 401k to make ends meet were talked about openly. That situation even if hypothetical sounded terrible to me.
The layoffs never came. We were lucky as a group. However, those days taught me a lot about where I wanted to be when I was their age. I didn’t come out of 2008 thinking I have to retire early. However, it certainly made me think. I didn’t want to be in that position when I was 50.
Anyway, I was 23. I was young and ambitious. I started to learn and perform well at my job. It was that honeymoon period in a job where you’re being introduced to new stuff and learning a ton. In essence, it wasn’t too bad.
The first two years were fine. I got some raises. Then came a promotion and I started to learn more complex things. The cycle continued. Growth, raise, promotion and so on. Somewhere in that cycle, I stopped learning as much. It was a promotion to a “senior” or “consultant” version of my job but my tasks remained pretty much the same.
I just didn’t care for work. It was an obvious realization but it took me a while to get there. The cubicle world just wasn’t wowing me! I know crazy! Just look at these fluorescent lit halls of wonder!
You’d think I’d be happy. I was making more cash and that amount was growing every year. I could spend more and get more STUFF! Isn’t that what life was about?
However, I felt another way.
My job wasn’t super complicated. After a few years, I felt like I knew more than enough. I wasn’t really learning anymore and just repeating the same thing over and over. I often joked to my engineer wife that I was also an engineer; a repetitive task engineer.
Was this all work was? I didn’t know but if Office Space was an indicator then probably.
On top of that, I didn’t find the money all that stimulating. I was making way more in year 5 than I was year 1. However, I found going to work much less enjoyable.
I wasn’t hating work but I was just going through the motions.
My life in general was good. However, the thing I realized is that my life outside of work had barely changed since I started my career despite all the extra income. In a certain sense, I’m lucky to be this way and it’s probably one of the reasons why this whole thing is possible for me.
I happen to be the type of person who’s biggest enjoyments are things that are pretty much free. I enjoy hiking, board games, staying in and watching a movie, writing, photography and the occasional vacation. Beyond that, what else do I need?
I was making more money now but that didn’t mean I needed to spend more. I hadn’t read anything about a possible early retirement at this point, I was just naturally saving. My savings weren’t maximized and I wasted more money than I should have on meaningless crap but I was still saving a decent amount.
My life outside of work was good but work, well work was just…there.
It was a place I went to and did things, sometimes stimulating but mostly boring things.
The worst part was that work took up such a big portion of my time. It wasn’t just being at work but the commute and getting ready in the morning too.
I thought about getting another job but I was good at this one and honestly it offered me a good mix of work and life balance. Plus, through talking with friends who had left, I realized the grass was usually less green on the other side. Hell, most of them wanted to come back.
What about a career change? There was really nothing else that drove me and excited me. At least nothing that paid anything. Plus, I’d have to start over at the bottom again. It’s not like I was making a ton here but the amount of effort was minimal. I read about other careers in this area but most of the sounded rough too.
Still, a few years into my career, I thought to myself, shit, is this all there is to it? I was probably around 30 at the time, maybe 6 years into my career and already jaded and tired of work.
The future looked bleak. I was 6 years in, bored of my job and I still had 35 years left based on the standard retirement age.
My naturally frugal lifestyle meant that I was ahead of the curve in saving. On top of that, my income had increased a bit so I was saving more every year. My salary was around $65,000 at that point, nothing amazing, but more than enough to cover my expenses and save a good bit.
I started to think about what having this money meant for me.
I didn’t hate my job but could I imagine life without HAVING to have to go to it? Hell yea, I could. Was I at a point in 30 where I desperately wanted that to be the case?
Honestly, no, I wasn’t. My job actually wasn’t that bad. I had my standard complaints, of course as laid out here. It was boring and repetitive and all that stuff. However, the hours were flexible, the pay was good for what I did and the people were great.
I was ready for a change and I realized that because of the way I lived, I had the option to take a chance.
That was the first eye opening moment for me. Having money meant something more than just being able to buy more stuff. It meant having options.
At that point, I realized that it wasn’t my dislike of my job that was really souring me on things. It wasn’t my desperate need to retire early, it was something else. It was the potential that I’d have to be stuck in this situation for the rest of my life.
Entering the job market in 2008 was a real eye opener for me. I learned it was possible to lose your job due to forces outside of your control. I didn’t like that and I wanted to have more control of my life.
In 2008, when I first entered the work force and had no money saved, I thought I had no control of my life. Basically, I had to do what the company wanted because I was so dependent on that income. On top of that, finding a new job was impossible at the time. I understood how everyone else felt when the specter of layoffs loomed.
If I didn’t like my job then, well tough shit guy, you’re stuck here for now cause we pay you and you’re dependent on us. That feeling sucked and I can’t even imagine what it felt like to those who had a lot more riding on that income than me. Compared to everyone else, as a young kid with no dependents, I was on easy street.
Still, that feeling bothered me and maybe subconsciously caused me to save more.
Now at 30, I realized that I had a different feeling when I thought about my boring career.
I wasn’t making a ton but I had saved enough that by the time I turned 30, I didn’t feel that same lack of control. My job was boring and I wanted a change and for the first time in my life, that didn’t seem like such a daunting thing.
That actually felt nice. I had a choice.
An opportunity at work came up and I thought, why the hell not?
If I hate it, I can always quit and be OK. I’ll find something else.
It wasn’t just the money that gave me that feeling, I had a comfort around my job by that time as well. However, having the ability to know that you won’t be stuck in a role if you absolutely hate it was a great boost.
It was a different situation than in 2008. This wasn’t a potential layoff and fear of lost income. However, the unknown aspect was what made it comparable to me. In 2008, I was afraid of the unknown and I lacked control of my situation. Now, the unknown was there but I knew that if things didn’t work out, I had control and that felt great.
This was about four years ago but it opened a whole new train of that thought. I could take chances, I had options!
I got the new job and I started to enjoy it again.
Two years later, I felt that familiar boredom again and took another chance. This time it was a managerial role rekindling my passion for work. Again, the cash buffer was a consideration when I thought about taking that role. What if I hate it? I’ll just quit!
It was then that I really started to think about whether it was possible to retire early. It wasn’t an all consuming idea but just a little thought here and there. I was a finance guy, I knew what it took and I was on the path to get there.
Beyond that, I realized that things like work are fickle.
I may not hate my job now but who knows what will happen in five or ten years? In my short ten year career, I’ve gone through swings where I’ve gone from liking my job to hating it to liking it again.
It took a role change to get me excited again but who’s to say I won’t be in the same spot again in a few years? I can change roles again or find a new job but what if that doesn’t help this time? That’s why having the option to retire early is so appealing to me.
The reality is that I’m fickle too as are most people. I may want certain things now but will those wants change in the future? I can’t predict that but why not leave myself the chance to BE fickle and actually HAVE a choice.
It’s not even the option to retire early but just having an option. It’s having a choice and having control.
I’m also realistic in that often it’s not as simple as having this be my choice. I often think back to the people that worked with me in 2008. Remember, how I told you that when I joined our team, I was the only person below 30?
That’s not the case anymore. We didn’t fire anyone, not directly, but it’s clear that our strategy of paying younger high performers(like me) more pushed some older people to look for other jobs. Our management seemed to be fine with and when it came time to hire their replacements, it wasn’t someone of equal experience. It was fresh college graduates.
I don’t disagree with the strategy, I get it. It’s an ever evolving business world more reliant on new technology. Experience is great but it’s less relevant when systems are becoming more efficient and changing every three years. What’s easier? Hiring some kid out of college who is a wiz with computers and can learn the basics of the job in a few months OR keeping the guy who learned computers when he was 40 and takes a year to get accustomed to new systems.
You can make that call for yourself. All I know is that I went from the only guy below 30 on our team to being one of three people above 30 on our team.
That’s the reality of a lot of jobs these days. And you know what, I know that I’m gonna be that old person someday. I’ll be making serious dough and I’m gonna be mediocre at my job because there’s eight new systems being launched and I don’t like it. What the hell am I gonna do if I’m laid off and every other company in my industry is following the same strategy?
Maybe, I’ll be lucky and find another gig or maybe I’ll be out of luck. I’d rather not find out.
There’s just so many unknowns in the future and I don’t like that.
That’s why I save money. It’s not cause I want to retire early but it’s because I want the OPTION to retire early or the option to switch careers to whatever I may want to do ten years from now.
Life is better if you have options. I don’t know a lot of hard truths about life but that one seems pretty hard to dispute to me.
I am a risk averse person. People often talk about the risk of running out of money if you retire early. However, depending on a career that is expected to last until I’m 65 seems risky to me too. It’s all about balancing those risks.
Life to me is about finding a way to be content. I really don’t believe that my career is key in that journey for me. I don’t mind it right now but from an early age, I understood the risks that come with depending on my work to fill that void for me. On top of that, I began to understand the risks that came with not having many options.
Right now, I have no concrete plans to retire early. This isn’t a journey that ends with me walking into my boss’ office and flipping him off. That’s not how I feel about my job.
This is a journey about options.
I want to have the option to take risks(like I did when I was 30 and changed roles).
More importantly, I want to have the option to say no to things when they get crazy(I’ve maintained a 40hr max work day even in my role). In the end, I don’t want to be killing myself with stress due to layoffs or being dependent on checks when I’m 50 and it’s harder to find a new job.
And maybe, most importantly to some, I want to have the option to quit and retire early when I just don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t know when that’ll be but I know that if I continue down this path, that option and more will be open to me and I like that.
Best of all, I don’t think I’m limiting myself by living this way. As I said, I’m lucky in that regard. I don’t make a boatload of money but I also don’t need to spend a lot to be happy.
FIRE to me is all about options, whether you choose to retire early or not. The option to be able to do that is very nice.
I don’t have any specific plans right now. I often have days where I don’t feel like getting up and putting on pants. We just had a snow storm and it’d be nice to just say screw it, I’ll wait for it to melt even if it takes three days. Right now, I don’t have that option but maybe someday.
Right now, I don’t hate my job. I still like it but if that changes or if anything else changes, whether they’re in my control or not, it’ll be nice to have options.
It’s nice to come to that realization early in life and try to take control of your choices when you’re older. Many people aren’t that lucky or plan too late for things they can’t predict. I don’t know where I’ll be ten years from now but I plan to have options when I get there. That’s what FIRE means to me. How about you?