The Long Road to FIRE

I’ll be honest after getting to FIRE myself I’ve backed away from reading most blogs on the topic.  My interest has shifted from ‘getting to FIRE’ to ‘living in FIRE’ which changes what I read.  But the other day I decided to skim some blogs and Reddit forums on getting there again and I fully admit I was a bit shocked by some of the ideas out there on FIRE.

Some people are like obsessed with the concept and saving as much as humanly possible, which from a old timer like me (I’ve been writing about this since 2006) is bloody stupid!

Saving a small fortune and then managing your investments is not a sprint which you can see how much you can save for as long as possible.  It is in fact a VERY long journey.  I had higher than average income, little debt and it still took my a decade to pull off.  So the only sane way to really survive the long road to FIRE is enjoy the ride.

What?!?! That’s your advice?  I know not very dramatic but I should perhaps tell a story of my own path getting to FIRE.  At one point I was like those obsessed people,  I had cut everywhere I could and was saving as much as possible but then something went wrong and all my plans blew up in my face. I couldn’t maintain that level of savings for very long because there was next to no slack.  Then it occurred to me to really do this well on the long haul I had to back off on my savings rate.  So we added spending back into the plan which gave us a bit more cushion and add some things back into our lives that we enjoyed.  And honestly the amount of spending we put back in was less than 5% of our savings rate…it didn’t really change that plan all the much (I can’t recall the exact change but it was under a year more of working).

But you know what? It was a world of difference to my life.  I enjoyed the world again.  I mean I was literally a more happy person by just spending a little bit more.  I had found that mythic thing called enough.  Then as a added bonus when something went wrong I didn’t freak out because we had some cushion for those weird things that come up like a car accident.  And then the irony started to kick in…I was beating my new lower goals anyway.  I had aimed to leave work prior to my 45 birthday and I exceed that goal by leaving before my 40th birthday because I didn’t depend on getting a raise for my plan to work.  So every raise at my job over those ten years accelerated the plan.

But the most important thing of all those long years of savings was this: I could literally ignore my savings for months at a time and just live my life.  My life was not only about FIRE…I had a much more healthy and interesting life because I firmly put FIRE on the back burner.  It could just simmer away with a few good habits and so when I was not interested in FIRE I could just forget about it and still make progress.  Thus I never had a full burn out and never entirely gave up on the idea.  I, of course, had moments of thinking: why bother? But I kept saving until I got interested in it again because I was spending enough that I didn’t feel deprived or left out.  I still took vacations, we still ate out and I still made my own wine and beer but yes I also bought some as well.  My kids never felt like we were poor but at the same time I never gave them everything they asked for either.  They grew up loved and with enough things that they didn’t feel left out at school.

In short, I lived the middle life.  Not saving too much and not saving too little but rather saving enough for us.  And here is the fine print: that level of enough spending is different for everyone.  So yes, try to cut back your spending until it hurts, but then back up 5% or so to find your ‘enough spending’ level.  And realize that amount will shift over time.  You won’t always be there but it is worth the effort to try and find your way back because getting to FIRE is a long road.  It is totally worth it but only if you don’t give up your life to get there.  You should be a fully developed person with lots of interests and hobbies otherwise you can find yourself bored in FIRE because you gave up too much of you life and now don’t have anything to do.

So the irony is this: the most successful people at FIRE isn’t those with the highest savings rate but rather those with the most happy lives.  So live life, spend some of your money and stop being a cheap bastard.

Okay, your turn.  How do you keep savings for the long haul?

6 thoughts on “The Long Road to FIRE”

  1. Great post. I tend to want to push things to the extreme but finding that zone where you live comfortably and can maintain your savings rate is huge! My wife likes to spend more than I but not excessively for her high income, and me I enjoy small savings and maximization of $ utility. We seem to have settled at about a 50% savings rate. A place that we don’t feel restricted by. Mostly we found this % by thinking about our purchases and how they contribute to increasing our wellbeing . It’s decreased wasted spending (no benefit), decreased regular bills (necessary but maximized), and actually added more freedom to spend on the things we benefit from and enjoy most (health, travel, occasional luxuries).

    Also knowing this spending position helps with the financial planning for FI.

  2. Thanks for this post, helps to keep a more sane pace, being only about mid way to fi… Gotta be patient I guess

  3. Great post.
    I think you’ve just scratched the surface of an extremely complex and highly significant aspect of achieving FIRE.
    The majority of people in their prime earning and spending years (say, 24-50 years old) have been hopelessly brainwashed by the powerful economic marketing and advertising machine into becoming mindless debt addicted spendaholic automatons.
    The system churns out “consumers” that are designed by corporations and influence pedlars to keep pumping cash into the economy no matter what the cost.
    Greed, FOMO, envy, desire, craving, habit, lust, and other addiction related triggers compel most consumers to covet expensive luxury cars, clothing, vacations, jewelry, restaurant meals, TVs, iPhones, iPads, houses, motorcycles, RVs, entertainment, trendy clubs and bars, cable TV subscriptions, luxurious adornments, high cost services, and an endless array of gadgets, gizmos, and baubles.
    Just log onto Amazon, and click away to you heart’s desire.
    Actively controlling debt and spending is a foreign concept for the average person.
    People are so weak and easily overcome by their desires and need for instant gratification that they inevitably get mired in debt early in their lives, and trap themselves in an endless cycle of uncontrolled spending and deeper debt.
    We must continually educate those that are willing to listen, in the innumerable ways that exist to combat the magnetic forces out there that are tirelessly designed to separate people from their hard earned money.
    I consider myself a beneficiary of FIRE, even though I waited until age 58 to bail on the rat race.
    None of my colleagues are anywhere near retirement, and at 60 years old (some pushing 70) “can’t understand” how I was able to do it.
    Keep up the great work and blog writing.
    Let’s get into the details and depth of the “spendaholic” mind, debt addiction, bad habits, misguided notions about necessities vs desires, laziness, and the illusion of happiness that materialism feeds, invariably leading to further cravings and endless disappointment.

  4. I am in a similar place as the author of this post. In theory, I could probably LeanFI/RE right now. But it would require downsizing from my largish and somewhat expensive house. As it turns out, my 3 kids enjoy the space and it is easier for my wife and I to maintain composure by having room the space the kids out when they are being irritating. The cool part about this, is that even if I was FI … nothing dramatic would change right now (evenings and weekends are usually off … plenty of time to spend with the family). In about 8 years, when the kids have completed high school … we will have the freedom to make use of FI/RE.

    Like a conversation that is bundled to a car ride (i.e. you know you are driving annoying person X for 15 minutes and can expand or contract the small talk accordingly), we now have an FI-plan that is bundled to the time when the little birdies have left the nest. If they are reluctant to leave … well, selling the house out from under them should be sufficient motivation! Of course, we will help them as needed and stay in touch. I’ll just no longer be able to justify living in our current residence once they have grown up (maybe if they propose living here and offer to pay rent it might make more sense though).

    Either way … I think the point of the article is … Defer gratification enough to get stuff done. But don’t live for the future so exclusively that your present ends up sucking. After all, you could be 6 months away from enjoying FI/RE and then get diagnosed with terminal cancer or something. If you have been enjoying life up to that point, then … Que sera, sera. But if you’ve made your life miserable for the prior 5 or 10 years … that would be a pretty shitty deal.

  5. I can’t say I targeted a specific savings rate during my working years. Whatever I didn’t spend, I saved. Many years, it was in the 20%-60% range. The biggest things which ramped up my savings rate had to do with my mortgage. After I refinanced it, my savings rate jumped into the 30%-40% rage. After I paid it off early (only 9 years I had it), my savings rate jumped again into the 40%-60% range. I did take some temporary hits on my overall portfolio due to paying down then paying off the mortgage, but those were quickly made up through market gains in the 1990s or paying out less in interest.

    Throughout the 1990s, my salary went up a lot, which also helped because my expenses did not rise proportionately (they fell, thanks to the mortgage stuff). After I paid off the mortgage, I was basically living off one biweekly paycheck per month.

    I never really changed my day-to-day lifestyle, so it wasn’t like I was buying lots of new toys all the time. I am single and childfree, so I never added any costly expenses from kids.

    Even after I reduced my weekly hours worked by nearly 50% three years after I paid off the mortgage, my savings rate was still high, over 40%, thanks to increased investment earnings. This pattern pointed my way to an early retirement 7 years later when all of my earnings would be from investments.

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