FIRE is Not Beans & Rice. FIRE is Not Pink Lambos. FIRE is Life!

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FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is certainly a catchy acronym, but it always seems to confuse people because the word “retire” suggests a line between working and not working. What does it mean to “Retire Early”? What if you only work part-time? What if you like your job and have no intention of quitting completely? Beyond that, FIRE has been further hijacked. I’ve noticed that many mainstream articles about FIRE follow a similar template:

  • Create your own custom definition of FIRE. For example, FIRE is people who eat only lentils, use 100 coupons at the grocery store, and don’t have any friends nor fun. Alternatively, FIRE is just rich people who didn’t have to make any effort at all, they are just smug rich people.
  • Once this straw man is created, you can easily attack it. Eating only lentils is weird and you are a foodie. The person using coupons is that super-annoying person that spends 10 minutes at the cashier. This person did FIRE but now regrets never having friends or fun when they were younger. How sad. That person is rich and therefore you personally have no chance at it, so why bother unless you make $300,000 a year or enjoyed a million-dollar windfall?

On the other hand, I think pointing out the many possible paths as a good thing. One of those lifestyles will likely click with some specific reader. A recent entry is from the NY Times with Your Neighbors Are Retiring in Their 30s. Why Can’t You? Meet the schemers and savers obsessed with ending their careers as early as possible (gift article). Yet the cover, of course, is a pink $300,000 Lamborghini…

If we want to stay catchy and shiny, but make it broader and more encompassing, how about “FIRE is Life!” I am a latecomer to the Ted Lasso bandwagon (yay free Apple+ trial!), but this is how I interpret the catchphrase “Football is Life!” from the character Danni Rojas.

  • To be successful at football, you need to work hard. This is the variable that you can control, and thus should be your focus.
  • To be successful at football, you need be lucky. You need some natural-born talent, supportive people, and a few breaks along the way. Thus, you should act with humility.
  • Sometimes you start strong, but still lose. Sometimes you start horribly, but still win.
  • Sometimes you try your best, but you still lose a particular game.
  • Some people have a playing style that is very aggressive and risk-taking.
  • Some people have a playing style that is very defensive and reliable.
  • Some people follow the rules with good character, and others break the rules whenever they think they can get away with it.
  • There is great beauty in the game, if you step back and take the time truly understand it.
  • You are far from the first person to play football. People having been kicking around balls since before you were born. According to Wikipedia, the earliest known written evidence for a similar game with standardized rules was 2,000+ years ago (Han Dynasty, China).

Similarly, FIRE is not something invented in the 2000s. It didn’t even start with Your Money or Your Life in 1992. People have been pursuing financial independence since… there have been people. Sure, for about two million years we were hunter-gatherers. But as soon as people could gather enough wealth to not have to spend their time gathering food or working for food, they did. Well, a few of them did. Here’s a selection from my old FIRE books reading list.

The Quest of the Simple Life by William J. Dawson is a book from 1907 that talks about escaping the grind and spending less money to create a simpler life (sound familiar?). My review and highlights: The Quest of the Simple Life: Escaping The Work Grind in 1907 vs. Today. Here is a sample quote on the cost of “keeping up appearances”:

Money may be bought at too dear a rate. The average citizen, if he did but know it, is always buying money too dear. He earns, let us say, four hundred pounds a year; but the larger proportion of this sum goes in what is called ‘keeping up appearances.’ He must live in a house at a certain rental; by the time that his rates and taxes are paid he finds one-eighth of his income at least has gone to provide a shelter for his head. A cottage, at ten pounds a year, would have served him better, and would have been equally commodious. He must needs send his children to some private ‘academy’ for education, getting only bad education and high charges for his pains; a village board-school at twopence a week would have offered undeniable advantages. He must wear the black coat and top-hat sacred to the clerking tribe; a tweed suit and cap are more comfortable, and half the price. At all points he is the slave of convention, and he pays a price for his convention out of all proportion to its value. At a moderate estimate half the daily expenditure of London is a sacrifice to the convention or imposture of respectability.

FIRE is considering the possibility that you don’t have to spend all of what you earn. Considering what is “enough”. Considering how much (life)time to devote to work, and how soul-sucking that work should be. There is no black and white answer. The variables are infinitely adjustable.

Along the way, I’ve changed my mind on some things. I am not retired. I could try to live off what I have saved so far, but I was surprised to find that I do like some of the mix of purpose, money, community, etc. that comes with finding the right kind of work. I also cut back enough to make time to pick up my kids every day after school. Financial independence is the power to spend your finite time how you wish. Saving $1,000 helps with that. Saving $10,000 helps with that. Saving $100,000 helps more.

The most important lesson that I would tell my kids is that the pursuit of FIRE has been an overwhelmingly positive experience. My life is infinitely better for taking the time to make more conscious decisions about how I make money, spend money, invest, and so forth. Not only can I spend more time with loved ones, I am more present and happier during those times. FIRE is Life!

My Money Blog has partnered with CardRatings and may receive a commission from card issuers. Some or all of the card offers that appear on this site are from advertisers and may impact how and where card products appear on the site. does not include all card companies or all available card offers. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and has not been provided nor approved by any of the companies mentioned. is also a member of the Amazon Associate Program, and if you click through to Amazon and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission. Thank you for your support.

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  1. Dave Lewis says

    Good perspective…. We need to be challenged, to occasionally revamp our schedule and reconsider our priorities. This post encourages this at a very root level! Thanks!

  2. It comes down to Saving.

    • I’ve told my kids many times, savings gives you options. My youngest has clearly taken that to heart, likely because she saw me FIRE. 6 months into her career and she already has about $20k saved pre and post tax.

  3. Good post. Welcome to the Ted Lasso bandwagon. Such a good show.

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