FIRE Regrets

Getting to know yourself is crucial for your financial future.

Yahoo Finance took a look at people who started down the FIRE path (FIRE-financially independent/retire early) but then felt they were giving up too much of the present for their future, an imbalance of sorts that they could no longer live with. A round number savings goal I seem to regularly see in FIRE articles is 70% which some people obviously do but it does seem extreme. Similarly, saving zero or even worse going some period of years spending more than you earn (so racking up debt) is also extreme.

In addition to saving a lot, these people often took up side gigs, including blogging, to raise more money to save. There were also pixels in the article devoted to passive income like from owning rental property. The article did not get into specifics about how much the side gigs generated but side gigs and other sorts of self employed work is what I think of when I think about FIRE. For me, the focus is on being financially independent not retiring early or in my case, I don't plan on retiring. Interestingly a couple of the people profiled were self employed but wanted to retire from that? I'm not sure but that is the impression that was created.

What I think was coming through from all the profiles was youngish people who hadn't yet figured out what was important to them. This is an important concept on many levels. The context of the Yahoo article is about being happy in the present. Wishing away the week from a job you don't like to get to the weekend will likely result in you waking up "old" one day having realized you wished away your life. Do the things you spend money on add value in a meaningful way? Our biggest expenses are probably housing and vehicles (sadly, reality is health insurance might be even more, it will be for us in 2020). I drive a 2006 Toyota Tundra, I don't perceive that the benefit from driving a new model pickup would be more than the payment I would need to take on or the hole in our savings if I paid cash. The tradeoff wouldn't be close. Similarly, we live in a modest house, it has a killer view, we love the location and community and upsizing in the manner people usually do would not be worth the tradeoff for a larger payment and more rooms we wouldn't use. The examples of cars and houses, are just that examples for how my wife and I live. Everyone of course will have their own ideas on those topics, the point is not to draw my conclusions but to draw your own conclusions and then spend and plan accordingly.

Planning accordingly is about saving and investing. Life is certainly simpler and cheaper with no car payments and a (15 year) $1500 mortgage (living below your means) versus a 30 year $2800 mortgage and another $1200 in perpetual car payments. Stating the obvious, it is much easier to save, plan and invest to replace a $4000/mo lifestyle in retirement than a $10,000/mo lifestyle. Now think about that last sentence but instead of retirement, you have to replace that lifestyle now in the face of an unexpected job loss. In seeking to replace a smaller lifestyle expense, you are likely to need to take fewer investing chances. You are also more likely to get to the number you think you need for retirement sooner. If you think you want to retire at 65 with $800,000 and you have $700,000 at age 55 you might be in a position to dial down the risk and volatility and just make sure you don't make any serious behavioral errors-while still saving of course.

Another part of this conversation people need to have with themselves/spouses is understanding their vulnerabilities or hot buttons. One of my vulnerabilities is that I never want to be faced with needing to cover a lifestyle that would be unaffordable without a job. Some people thrive on that sort of stress. My first job out of college was in the boiler room department of the then prestigious Lehman Brothers. A lavish lifestyle was kind of encouraged to provide motivation to do more business. I knew at 23 that I would not be able to function that way. I would do better by not taking job stress home with me or maybe more correctly, I'd be happier but not putting myself in a position to be even more stressed out. Again, my hot button mustn't be yours, the point is people need to figure these sorts of things out for themselves. As a note, my early to mid 20's were stressful work wise and while I have avoided that sort of stress for just about all of my adult life, I view my stressful time at Lehman Brothers as part of paying my dues. I learned a lot about markets and myself.

Finally, I'll mention optionality/resiliency which is another big one for me personally. The idea is important on multiple levels. Much of the above has been about optionality/resiliency in the face of an adverse work situation. In a similar vein optionality/resiliency could mean developing some other skill that could be turned into a revenue stream if needed, this is part of generally staying curious as a means of successful aging. We've also talked about financial optionality/resiliency in terms of how much you need and/or wind up with when or if you retire. If by living a modest lifestyle you only need to take 2% of your portfolio instead of 4% or 5% then you have more optionality/resiliency in the face of something unexpected in retirement like having to help a family member financially.

I write a lot about physical optionality/resiliency. No matter how old you are, occasionally something heavy needs to be moved or lifted. Life is much easier if you are able to move or lift that heavy thing more often than not. Physical optionality/resiliency is our best shot for not having to spend money on medications for potentially, avoidable chronic maladies which is obviously one less burden on your finances or portfolio. The list of benefits from weightlifting and consuming less sugar seem to almost be endless. I would urge everyone to take the time to learn about this, it is crucial for every aspect of successful aging.

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