First, it was Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps.
Then, it was Mr. Money Mustache.
Dave + MMM = my world lit on fire. I was introduced to both shortly after my first child was born. I commuted two hours a day to work full-time in a beloved but stressful job. I missed my baby, whom I saw for about 30 minutes each day. But quitting was not an option: Between student loans and a self-employed husband (read: no health insurance), our expenses didn’t allow it.
More than that, while my job was a mostly fairy-dusted experience, I couldn’t envision myself doing that same thing for 30 more years. I felt like a hamster on a wheel, happily toiling away but nonetheless trapped.
Enter the concept of FIRE, or financial independence retire early. The concept is this: Save a high percentage of your income by living frugally and investing wisely, retire early, and pursue whatever it is that matters most to you, money-earning or otherwise.
The idea that life could be different was a big breath of fresh air. Suddenly there were options and possibilities. Those first years felt intoxicating, in large part because my husband bought in early, we made substantial progress, and I was learning all sorts of new skills in service of this new project.
That learning component is crucial because it’s a huge means of saving money. Things like cooking regularly and doing your own yard work comprise the cornerstones of the whole philosophy. So when it was time for my kids to get haircuts, I ordered the $7 pair on Amazon and started watching Youtube tutorials. That’s how we’ve done it for years now, and every single time I feel a rush of enjoyment that this one action has (1) saved us money and (2) given me a sense of accomplishment.
Naysayers are quick to rebuff this particular aspect of FIRE in particular. They don’t want to do their own yard work, for example, and want to hire someone to do it instead. Interestingly, this is exactly how FIRE has had the most impact on our lives: We weed out the financial expenses that don’t give us joy, and we keep the ones that do. Maybe your joy is coming home to a manicured lawn that you didn’t touch; great, you’ve spent your money wisely.
True enough though, most FIRE bloggers would encourage another line of inquiry before hiring the landscaping company, and I’ll state it like this: Are you really sure you want to give up the opportunity to work hard on something that matters to you? The answer may still be yes; proceed forward with confidence. I feel this way about painting; every single time I will pay someone to paint our hallway or kitchen when it needs to be done. But I appreciate that I’m giving up an opportunity to work hard and accomplish something.
Because at the end of the day, you have to spend your time somehow. Maybe you’re the person who’s regularly meeting up with friends, going on great camping trips, cooking new cuisines. But for a lot of us, that time I don’t spend spreading new bark dust is, in all honesty, probably going to be spent watching Netflix. And that, I can admit, isn’t doing my mental health, waist line, or bank account much good.
This is the shortest, assuredly unnecessary introduction to the topic that I can muster. Thankfully there are a whole lot of people speaking more elegantly to the process, with three coming immediately to mind:
FIRE might not be to everyone’s tastes or abilities. I can think of all sorts of life situations that wouldn’t allow this pursuit or make it a desirable one. But financial independence? Having more security in your bank account? That’s something I could push all day and all night as something I want everyone I love to have.