Is Life Really Better After FIRE?
Financial independence and early retirement are all the rage. But is that life truly as good as they say?
I won’t leave you in suspense: yes, life is better after FIRE.
FIRE stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early, and it’s the name for the lifestyle movement that encourages people to spend much less and save more aggressively so they can — duh! — retire early.
And to hear people on FIRE tell it, life really is better post-early-retirement — usually, way better.
“It’s freedom,” says Amy Rutherford, who retired with her husband Tim Rutherford in their 40s in 2015; they now run GoWithLess, a YouTube channel and a Facebook group devoted to their experiences. “We have the freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want. We spend lots of time with friends, going on nice holidays. Cooking. At no moment have we been bored. We’ve been relaxed but not bored.”
Akaisha Kaderli and her husband Billy retired in 1991 in their 30s — long before FIRE was a movement with a catchy acronym. She too says the experience has been overwhelmingly positive — so much so that they’ve co-written books on their experiences.
“We wanted an international lifestyle with bohemian friends and viewpoints,” Kaderli says. “We’ve traveled the world, eaten local cuisines, climbed volcanoes, scuba-dived, and done white water rafting. Geography and history have come alive in real time and become three-dimensional for us.”
Michael and I also began practicing FIRE before it was a “movement” per se. Because we’ve been self-employed writers for most of the last twenty years, our income was very inconsistent. As a result, we tried hard to spend less than we earned and save aggressively for leaner years.
As nomads for the past five years, we spend so much less than we did living back in the United States that we’re now essentially quasi-retired — only working on projects we choose.
But come on: nothing in life is perfect. And whatever else is true about FIRE, there’s also currently a ton of hype.
So what’s the God’s honest truth? What are the challenges that come even after you’ve set yourself on FIRE?
Show Me the Money
The truth is, if you’ve been in the stock market, it’s been fairly easy to make big returns over the last thirteen years: it was a bull market from 2009 to 2020, and then after a brief, covid-related downturn, the market shot up again.
Ditto for real estate. In most places, housing prices have gone up dramatically. And if you managed to purchase a home from 2008 to 2010, after the burst of the previous housing bubble, you stumbled into an even greater buying opportunity.
It’s probably not entirely coincidental that the rise of the FIRE movement has coincided with these boom-times for Americans in the middle and upper-class.
But what happens if the economy enters an extended downturn — or even simply stagnates? Are people currently on FIRE prepared?
“It’s very easy to oversimplify, disregard, and delude ourselves into justifying anything we want to buy,” says psychologist Scott Guerin, who retired last year at age 63. “We humans do this all the time. But retirement is not the time to gloss over the details and spend unchecked. Do you have the resources to survive a down market and a war or two?”