Pursuing FIRE feels like being in a secret club. A weird nerdy spreadsheet obsessed club. I like that. We’re all out there in the world doing our thing (in a socially distanced way of course), but we have this whole other side to us that most people know nothing about. I’m fairly open about my obsession with my finances and the fact that I want to retire before I’m dead, but I tend not to talk openly about the FIRE movement. I talk to my kids about it, as I’d like them to learn from my mistakes and for them to be able to buy themselves options in life by making smart decisions. Outside my immediate family though I don’t say a lot, and I certainly don’t talk about the fact that I blog about FIRE.
I love being part of the FIRE community. It’s great to see people doing so well pursuing their goals. FIRE people are my sort of people. They’re goal focussed, driven, good at coming up with solutions to problems, and the fact that there are a ridiculous number of runners in our number is an added bonus. There’s a real mix of demographics too. We’re not all the cliché of a well paid software engineer raking in the big bucks and being able to retire in our thirties. Some of us discovered FIRE much later in life, are on much lower salaries and have kids to support. FIRE doesn’t discriminate though. If you’re willing to work on your spending, set up your investments and stick with it, then you will get there eventually.
The online FIRE community gives you a great opportunity to learn strategies and keep motivated. Let’s be honest though, it’s not exactly rocket science. Yes, there’s some maths behind it, but once you’ve learned the basics it’s really just a question of getting your head down and being patient. This is the difficult bit, and where it’s great to be surrounded by people who are on the same path as you. They understand that it’s important not to be splashing the cash on rubbish. We keep each other accountable by publishing our figures and giving ourselves goals to work towards.
Do you have to have stumbled upon FIRE to be able to quit your job and do something different though? Well clearly no. Maybe there’s a whole other group of people out there who have reached FIRE without even knowing what it was. I’ve been kicking about on this planet for fifty years now. Even as an introvert who avoids social interaction like the plague I’ve still had a fair amount of contact with lots of different types of people. I’ve been thinking about people I’ve known over the years who have made big changes to their lives, and with quite a few of them it looks suspiciously like they’ve reached FIRE and have pulled the plug on their 9-5 and taken their lives in a whole different direction. None of them has ever mentioned FIRE, and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t something they knew about.
After about five minutes of ruminating I’ve come up with a group of people in my life that would fit the bill as having reached FIRE and done something completely new with their life. I’ve always been so impressed when people make massive changes to their lives, but I’d never really seen the connection before between what they had done and the fact that they’d hit FIRE without even knowing what it was. I’ll introduce you to these people and we’ll see if there’s anything to learn from them.
First up my ex-husband’s sister and her husband. They were both chemists and live in the south of England in a big house. They chose not to have kids and have always had a good lifestyle. They love their golf and have travelled all over the world. They’re not into spending money needlessly on stuff, but rather would spend it on trips away and nice meals. When they were in their late forties they both got made redundant. They both worked for the same company and had a lot of years service. The severance package was generous and they jumped at the chance to never work again.
This could look like a lucky break, and it certainly helped them to achieve the great life that they have post work. If we look a bit closer though, good decision making along the way helped make their new life possible. They didn’t have debts, their mortgage was already paid off and they didn’t have an extravagant lifestyle to fund. Lots of other people in their situation would have found redundancy a disaster. Both of them getting laid off at the same time would have meant no money coming in to the house. If they had large outgoings and no income then they could have quickly been in dire straights. They would have been scrabbling around trying to get work, which wouldn’t have been easy at their time of life.
Instead though they were able to spend lots of time playing golf and having some amazing slow travel holidays. My ex sister in law has taken up photography and now regularly gets her pictures published, so she’s even developed another stream of income. What’s even more gratifying about the lifestyle they were able to adopt is the fact that my ex brother in law is now having lots of quite serious health problems. He has great difficulties getting around and is likely to end up in a wheelchair before too long. If they hadn’t been in a position to take advantage of their redundancies then they would have missed out on all those great experiences and many, many rounds of golf.
Next up is my step cousin and her husband. They lived in Oxfordshire and she had a really high powered job. She spent a lot of time flying all around the world training people in various call centres. This was a high stress job and involved a lot of time away from her husband. They opted not to have children (I’m sensing a theme here!) and instead spent their money on a nice lifestyle and a holiday home in Devon that they bought jointly with my auntie and uncle.
It got to the point where she resented spending time away from home and wanted more time rather than more money. Lots of late night chats ensued plotting an escape route. They realised that if they sold their Oxfordshire house and moved to Devon that they could both afford to give up work. So that’s what they did. They moved to Devon, got themselves a couple of dogs and and seem as happy as it is humanly possible to be. They travel back to Oxfordshire reasonably regularly to see family there and for the husband to do some gardening work for a long time customer. This keeps them in touch with family and brings in some extra cash.
Another cousin now. I must have a family that’s particularly motivated to change their lives! Let’s hope it’s in the genes and has been passed on to me. This is one of my Newcastle cousins. He’d moved to London when he was starting his career and got into marketing. He did very well for himself and quickly rose up the ranks. Along with that though came the almost compulsory socialising with clients and the heavy drinking that inevitably went hand in hand with that. He met his now wife and they started a family.
Having three young children didn’t mean he worked any less. If anything the pressure to earn seemed greater, and the lovely house they now lived in needed an ever bigger mortgage to pay for. The lifestyle wasn’t sustainable, and they started to talk about him quitting and doing something else. Whenever he mentioned at work about leaving though they offered him more and more money to stay. Nice to be appreciated that way, but I imagine it must make it much more difficult to walk away when they are throwing money at you like that.
Eventually things came to a head as they invariably do. It became clear that things couldn’t continue as they were. His wife hatched a plan. Years of a fantastic salary meant they were in a reasonably good place financially. They sold the London house and moved to Cornwall. They now live in a house with a view of the sea. The kids play on the beach after school and enjoy family time with both their mum and their dad. And the financial side of things? My cousin’s wife set up a small business making soap. My cousin helps her now and they have grown sufficiently to be able to employ one other person. They are even doing well enough to have a small business premises for manufacture and dispatch, rather than just using the kitchen table. The business is big enough to sustain them, yet small enough to allow a quality of family life that was never possible previously.
And finally a non-family member. This is a man I met at parkrun on Christmas day last year. We got chatting and exchanged numbers. There then ensued 10 months of messaging, flirting and a handful of dates. I had high hopes that this might turn into something promising on the romantic front, but sadly we were after different things so I had to put an end to it. Although it didn’t work out on the dating side of things he has become a bit of a role model for me on the FIRE front.
He’s a retired GP. He was 58 when I met him and had retired at 52. He made a decision fairly early on in his career that he didn’t want to be working forever. He loves the outdoors and spends his time cycling, kayaking and walking. Although he’s retired he pretty much spends most of his weekdays volunteering doing wildlife surveys, so it’s almost like he has a job but he just doesn’t get paid for it. It’s his idea of heaven. He gets himself to some beautiful spot and counts birds, whales, butterflies, or whatever else has been allocated to him that particular day.
I told him about the FIRE movement and although he’d never heard of it his reaction was that he’d pretty much followed the FIRE principles, but had just figured out a plan himself and implemented it over the years. He put massive amounts into his pension and never had an extravagant lifestyle. From the sounds of it this was a bit of an issue with his wife during their marriage. She couldn’t understand why she didn’t have the lifestyle of a doctor’s wife. Once they were divorced he was able to put even more money away for his future.
Towards the end of his career he moved north from England to the islands of Scotland. He worked as a locum GP moving between the islands. This allowed him plenty of time off to spend his leisure in the mountains. Eventually though he wanted to pull the plug completely. He told me that his spreadsheets got a really good work out at that time as he tried to figure out if he could afford to quit. He realised being mortgage free would be crucial, so he sold his house and bought a modest ex council house for cash. He’s never looked back.
None of these people knew about FIRE, and yet all of them achieved what we’re looking to do. They were all on good money, so maybe that made all the strategising that the FIRE community is so good at slightly less important. Most of them have started some sort of new income stream, but in all cases this has been something that fits around their lifestyle. I don’t think most of them would have been able to predict in advance where this money would come from. The freedom of time allows you to develop your passions and money will often flow from that. They all took a leap of faith. They couldn’t know how it would work out, but they went for it anyway. That’s something I’m going to try and take from knowing these people. Yes, planning is important, but sometimes you just have to jump off that cliff.