“FIRE is a lot of work,” my friend said. He had sent me a long Reddit thread, the kind that FIRE-pursuers — aka people who want to achieve Financial Independence and Retire Early — write on a daily basis, and that includes copious details about their pension plan, savings rate, health insurance, passive income sources, and, yes, even the coupons they might be able to use to pay for groceries.
The thread in particular was so meticulous and set on exploiting loopholes in Germany’s various financial systems that it bordered on satire, but my response was more general, echoing the underlying idea of my first book: You don’t need to reinvent the wheel to manage your money well.
They might not realize it, but many people get involved in financial movements in order to avoid facing the harsh reality that financial independence takes a lot of hard work. They get lost in spreadsheets, overthinking, and over-engineering whatever system they are using, and that feels productive — but constantly staring at your numbers won’t make your numbers go up. Instead of redoing them, how about you go and do some work?
As long as you do your best, don’t burn yourself out, and invest as much as you reasonably can, you can slowly dial back the number of “things you do for money” as you generate more income from your investments and then replace them with “things you do because you want to.” Sure, you need to pick those investments and diversify, but whether you get a percent more here or there doesn’t matter. What matters is that you keep going and enjoy the journey.
Unfortunately, for most people, that very first part is the problem, and that’s why they turn to ideas like FIRE in the first place: They don’t like their job, they’ve probably never liked any job, and as a result, they think they hate work altogether. But humans are meant to work as in “have a purpose,” and without it, we’ll feel empty no matter how much money we have. It’s true that loving your job is one hell of an accomplishment: It’s a matter of finding, adjusting, and, to a large extent, learning to love what you do — and that process not only takes a long time, it is never really done.
Faced with such a sobering truth, it is no wonder people would rather spend weeks planning their retirement by 40, even if it means having to perpetually drive an RV through some remote country in order to minimize their expenses.
I do think it’s an honorable goal to think about retirement long before you are 65. We’re learning that it’s silly to wait to live until you’re 65, because who knows how much life you’ll even have left, if any? It is, however, just as silly to stress yourself so much over retiring at 40 that you may as well die on the way. Whether you’re slaving away faster or slower makes no difference. What does is finding something that doesn’t make you dread every Monday — because then it won’t matter whether you retire at 40, 55, or not at all.
Einstein supposedly once said that we “can’t solve our problems on the same level of thinking on which we created them.” In that sense, moving up the timeline on retirement is just another game played in the same box. We don’t have to think about the retirement we know earlier; we have to think about retirement differently. Personally, I choose to fire FIRE and focus on the work I do well and enjoy — long Reddit threads or not, I’m sure the rest will fall into place.