With so many blogs, coaches and gurus telling you how to retire early, it’s no surprise that many are following the footsteps of those who have already done it. And all these stories have the same steps in common: live below your means, pay off debt like crazy, saving and invest the rest, hit your target number and live the rest of your life comfortable while withdrawing a certain amount of money each year.
Sounds simple. Their focus is on analyzing how much wealth you have to accumulate in order to quit the 9 to 5. When you hit that target, you have enough to retire early. Your accumulated wealth will last a lifetime when keeping your lifestyle at the same level. Within the FIRE community, this is a very common mindset, which is often referred to as the ‘regular’ FIRE approach.
And if this is the ‘regular’ approach, are there any others? Well, thanks for asking. Because yes, there are. You have the Lean FIRE and Fat FIRE ‘movement’. People who’ve set up a different set of rules that deviate a bit from the status quo of FIRE.
As in all journeys, everything is personal. So when the FIRE concept is growing out of its start-up phase, people are altering the standard to meet their own needs. The ten steps to early retirement don’t fit everyone anymore. Instead, personalization comes into play, and people figure out new ways to get there. Don’t just copy the story of somebody else, make your own story instead.
I won’t tell you how to do it. I just want to make you think about what is possible, what’s beyond what we already know and give you a different voice on Financial Independence and Early Retirement.
The Retirement Manifesto
Live below your means
adapt to a frugal way of living
Eliminate all debt
pay of that student loan/mortgage
Save as much as possible
boost that savings rate
Invest your money
let the compounding work its magic
Set up an FI target
and plan your way to early retirement
Repeat and continue
until you hit that target.
and live life comfortably
The race to retirement
If you’re sick and tired of working your job, you probably want to retire as soon as possible. You will save everything you can and diminish your spending as much as possible. The less you need and/or want, the sooner you’ll get there. And thinking in ways like choosing between ‘spending money or retire a day earlier’ might be your biggest focus. This is the basis mindset of many FIRE people, and many who think like this will get there eventually.
What would you rather do?
Would you rather retire one year earlier? Or buy a motorcycle instead?
Do you use travel hacking to lower your spending? Or do you skip the hassle with all the different credit cards?
Are you going to buy a big, or small home to live in?
Looking for ways to save on everything? Or don’t mind spending a bit more here and there?
The sane choice would be to choose the money over material items. Mostly because consumerism and (most) material things don’t give as much value to your life as financial independence would do. Essentially, you prioritize quitting your paycheck-to-paycheck life over having a new car. This sounds simple. But looking at how many people who do the exact opposite, it’s actually very hard. And I have the deepest respect for the people who are working hard to accomplish these kinds of goals.
To speed up the process to FIRE, you can make use of life hacks, travel hacks or whatever-you-want-to-hacks to alter your daily life into a smarter way of living. The mindset you need to achieve this is about the realization that owning stuff isn’t all there is to life. You have to create a mindset where you are content and happy with the simpler things in life. Restructure what gives you joy and what makes a meaningful life for you. You live a decent and frugal life without giving up too much. Others might look at it as a life without having fun, but you know better. Spending more time with your children and family will give you the most joy, not a shiny car on the driveway.
Although we probably all have a similar mindset and using the same methods to get there. I couldn’t stop thinking that some parts of this road aren’t the ones I want to follow. For example, paying off debt just isn’t a priority for me. I can easily become financially independent while still having debt. After circulating around in this community for about a year now, I’ve come upon reading about the different types of FIRE.
The three FIRE categories (and mine)
The Lean FIRE folks are willing to eat rice and beans for weeks if that means they can save more money. It’s very blatantly said, but it’s often looked at it that way by others. They give up more than the ‘regular’ FIRE followers and are willing to live really far below their means to make it happen. I believe their objective is to ease into a more slim down life during the journey, to get there as soon as possible. Still maintaining a frugal life, they have time on their side very fast. This is not our way to get there. But if you have a really shitty job and no other place to go, it might be the only way out of it.
The definition of Regular FIRE is establishing a certain (frugal) lifestyle. By cutting cost and reducing debt, you will need less overall wealth to become financially independent. And as soon as you hit your target, you could quit your job, and live a comfortable life in resemblance of the lifestyle you have already set for yourself. Money isn’t everything, and you can be perfectly happy with living below your means.
The common explanation of Fat FIRE is that you follow much of the regular way, but will have a fat bank account waiting for you when you retire. Often by working longer after hitting your FI target. You will have more than enough to last within your early retirement. At least that is the common perception of it. Because how much is ‘more than enough’?
To put it to numbers (as a couple), lean peeps will be doing great while only spending 20.000 euro a year, regular folks will be needing around 35.000 euro and the Fat FIRE followers will be wanting around 80.000 euro as income per year. These numbers are different for everybody, but it loosely describes the gaps between the three different types of FIRE.
My personal definition of FIRE is the following:
Focus on (multiple) passive income streams over growing net worth. Often using creative ways to build more income in a shorter time range as well as investing for the long term. My lifestyle adapts over time and over the years I want to have the possibility to spend more than currently possible. While still having the freedom of spending time & money how I want to.
As you can notice, my definition of FIRE focuses far more on the journey part, then on the early retirement part. That is, partly, because we are not ready to retire early, yet. And I don’t see the need to get there as soon as possible as well. We like to work, for now. We would rather quit working when we feel it’s right, then just because we hit a magical target.
Even better yet, we aren’t focusing at all on our target. But have a slightly different view on our withdrawal plan.
Rethinking our why
We have a different approach than many that I’ve read about in the blogging community as it comes to our financial resources in early retirement. As we are not aiming to withdraw our money using the safe withdrawal rate method. This makes our definition of Fat FIRE a bit different as well. We have no target, no number to achieve FI and certainly no focus on aiming to have just enough. We are building wealth, like many of you. But instead of withdrawing our money in the future, direct cash flow is going to pay our bills.
Our definition of Fat FIRE doesn’t only cover to have more wealth than needed for early retirement but to want more than needed in order to live a richer life than we do now. We can deflate our lifestyle a bit in the build-up phase, without penny-pinching. We will spend more in one category, and save more in the other. We could retire early with a regular fire target number, but we would not be able to live the life we really would want to. So we choose to fatten up before we ditch the grind for good.
Because our goal is to have passive income to cover our expenses, we basically wouldn’t have to touch the principal. Meaning our a portfolio of stocks and Real Estate can continue to grow going onwards.
What we want to achieve with our wealth, however, is the same as many others: more freedom. We could travel more, read more, learn more and experience more out of life. Those are the riches of life we have yet to discover. Plus, I do want to own that motorcycle. I dream of building my own home one day. And I would love to travel in comfort to exotic places (but can’t make use of travel hacks from the NL). And I don’t want to wait to do this. Even if this means my FI date will be delayed.
In this definition, there is a clear distinction between what I need, and what I want. We are currently living a lifestyle level that works out for us at the moment. So, we don’t focus too much of our energy towards saving money anymore. Instead, we want to increase our income stream. In the meantime, we pick our battles on what we spend our money on. Like having a pretty ‘normal and expensive’ wedding, but still looking for promotions when I shop for groceries.
Saving money has become an inherent consequence of the lifestyle we have chosen. For example, we aim to eat healthily, and therefore we buy no soda & sweets, less meat & bread, and more fruits & veggies. Which, fortunately, saves us money as well. We focus what gives us meaning, and what we find important.
Choosing your own way
Not needing the income from depending on somebody else (a boss) is what equals the freedom in our FIRE journey, but even more so the freedom to do whatever we want with our time AND our money. If we would need to budget and balance every year in order to make things work, wouldn’t we still be depended on our own money? What is true freedom if you can only spend 4% of your wealth every year?
I don’t want to do things, just for the sake of saving money. But because I want to be deliberate about how I live my life. Living on a (small) budget feels to me like being trapped. And since my goal is to achieve more freedom in spending time on whatever I want. Why shouldn’t it be the same for spending money?
I fully acknowledge that not everybody starts with the same experience or mindset. That there are people who drown in debt, and who are better off to tackle that problem first. Or who found difficulties to maintain a job, let alone finding one you actually love. It’s not easy. And I hope that everyone struggling will have the opportunity to have a life that meets their standards.
My fortune was knowing to handle money at an early age. I never had to deflate my lifestyle just to keep things afloat. My lifestyle was already set up around a structure where saving money at the end the month was just the normal thing to do. I was also very fortunate that I found somebody to share my life with, having the same mindset. Our current lifestyle is almost the same as before we started our FI journey. We just started to earn more money, and therefore saving money was a merely a side-effect of the lifestyle we already had chosen for.
How I look at the FIRE journey is constantly shifting, but is now coming to a more stable mindset where I can really connect with. Reading all kinds of personal journeys of others, helped to shape my own standards, steps, and plan. Instead of following somebody else, I’m now creating my personal journey as well. Which is exactly what everybody else should do.
At the moment, the reasons why I feel more connected to Fat FIRE are the following:
- Having a fat bank account where passive income is just gulping in
- We still have our retirement fund and social security as income when we are older
- Getting a job I like, and working longer – which isn’t very unrealistic
- Quality over quantity, the ability to spend because saving isn’t always needed
- Not worrying that spending money equals a delay in an early retirement
“The best way to predict your future is to create it”
– Abraham Lincoln
Describing what goes through your head isn’t always easy. I still have lots of thinking to do in how we want to lead our lives, but the above ‘manifesto’ is a great base to start from.