I described what financial independence/retire early (FIRE) is on one of my first blog posts. It will be a fairly constant theme here, because it affects a lot in how I run my finances as well as my life.
I’ve said before that I would explain why FIRE is so important to me. Well, here it is! The big reveal….
In the beginning there was nothing…
Growing up, retirement was most assuredly not something that was discussed in my house. I didn’t know anything about it. I can’t remember knowing anybody we called “retired.” There were people who were too old to work, but I don’t remember anybody ever saying they were retired. I’m sure I knew people that were retired, but I didn’t know they were retired, you know? I didn’t realize this until later, but my dad actually didn’t want to retire. Ever!
And financial independence? Uh, no. I kind of vaguely remember hearing that financial independence was when you turned 18 and stopped living at home and got a job. You were independent of your parents and their money, in theory. But the kind of financial independence people mean when they say FIRE? The kind that means you can support yourself without a job? Never heard of it.
Basically, money was something you worked hard to get, and you spent because you deserved it. And then you’d work again to get more of it. And then you’d spend it again. That was the circle of life work.
Then I got the seed of an idea….
When I joined the military, I loved it. And silly Lieutenant Me decided pretty quickly that I was going to serve 30 years and then get out and open a non-profit. I’ve had some amazing opportunities in my life that led me to where I am today, and I want to give those same opportunities to others. So I figured I would earn my 75% retirement and retire on that kick-@** pension and work for free.
Can I swear? Do you guys mind if I swear? There’s a good chance I will swear in this blog.
Anyway, after my second or third Reduction in Force experience I learned it wasn’t that easy. You don’t just get to decide to serve for 30 years. Ah, the blessed ignorance of youth.
But I was, and for the most part have remained, excited to spend 20+ years in the Air Force. Sure there are days and sometimes weeks where it hasn’t felt awesome, but I am very lucky in that I’m not sticking it out for the pension – I freaking love this job! If the Air Force sees fit to keep me around, I’m staying. So my new plan became:
- Serve at least 20 years in the Air Force
- Work at another job until I am 51 to keep padding that retirement account
- Open a non-profit where I take the smallest salary possible
With this plan I figured I’d have enough money to live comfortably, though not lavishly, and would have a greatly reduced workload after age 51. Not the most aggressive of financial independence/retire early plans, but still very different from the “standard” pathway.
And the idea grew….
I started to study investing and retirements more. I’ve always loved learning and have read quite a few books about personal finance over the years. I knew that I would need to control my lifestyle inflation, and that I should save as much as possible. But you can only read so many personal finance books before it gets a little boring, so I started to look around for more.
And that is when I discovered the concept of FIRE.
We live in a glorious time known as the Internet Age. It turns out, you can find anything online. Anything. And that includes whack-a-doodles who think they can retire super super young. Those crazy kids! And not only that, but they write really detailed information about their finances and how they got from point A to point B on these newfangled web logs.
WeBlogs. Blogs. Eh? Eh? See what I did there? I’m so clever.
(no I’m not. That was 100% not me that thought of that)
Yes, for those paying attention, I wanted to retire early before I knew what retiring early was. But now I had a tribe! A group of people I could interact with on the interwebs when my IRL friends didn’t want to hear about the status of my Roth IRA! Which was always!
I don’t remember the exact date I learned about the financial independence/retire early community, or which blog I read about it on. I’m pretty sure it was the summer of 2009, though, because I was on a deployment with good internet and lots of downtime so my coworkers and I were racing to find the end of the internet. I probably heard about the concept via The Simple Dollar or Get Rich Slowly, which were the finance blogs I read the most back then. No matter.
I started learning all I could about financial independence and early retirement…
I was fascinated by this tiny group of people who were off living these funky lives where they didn’t care about money, they cared about wealth. And by wealth, I mean freedom and time. They cared about having enough. What a concept!
For a long time, I read Mr. Money Mustache. I don’t follow him very often anymore, since he (and his
pseudo-cult of followers minions) is a little intense for me. But for a long time, he was one of my favorite bloggers because this guy was really doing it.
I already loved traveling, but I learned about traveling on the cheap from Go Curry Cracker and other, similar blogs. So long term world travel got added to the list of things I wanted to do once I reached financial independence.
I learned just how cheaply someone can live from Early Retirement Extreme. I started thinking about RVing in FIRE, and whether I could, or would, live on less than $20,000 each year. The answer is no, by the way, but more power to those that can.
Eventually I found Early-Retirement.org, which remains one of my favorite financial independence/retire early websites. It’s a forum of like-minded people. Some have been FIREd for years while others are like me – still trying to figure it out. If you haven’t checked it out, go!
So from 2009ish until 2013, that’s the path I was on. I started saving and investing more aggressively and planned to be actually, totally done with paid work by age 51. I’d use the military pension (if I got it) and my retirement savings (which was under my own control) to be completely financially independent by age 51. I even drafted a business plan for that non-profit I wanted to open. Like, 20+ years before I expected anything to come of it. Yes, I am a nerd.
And finally, there was a catalyst that got me focused
A few years ago, my sister got sick. And not a little sick. I spent as much time as possible with her during her last few months, but she still left my family too early. Too young.
Coincidentally, I’d begun reading Your Money or Your Life around the time she got sick. YMOYL, as it’s known among fans, is a classic FIRE book….one that has impacted many of the major names in the movement…one that transforms people.
Really, I’m going to have to write a review of it soon.
So at the same time that I was watching my sister literally lose her life, I was learning how to realign my life, and my money, to match my value system. It was, uh, a pretty impactful few months.
About 4 months after she passed, I did a complete overhaul of my budget and discovered that I was spending over $1,000 each month on things that I didn’t really care about. Now, keep in mind that I’d already been on the FIRE path for years. And I’d completed my first money transformation (going from increasing debt to super-responsible adult) a decade earlier. I thought I was already living on the smallest possible budget. YMOYL makes you question that premise. I’ll go through the full details later, but suffice it to say I was spending money on things that did not align with my values. And in doing so, I was delaying FIRE, which I did value.
Where I am now on my FIRE journey
Since 2013, I’ve been much more focused on financial independence and early retirement. Not just the money aspects – the “how” – although of course I pay a lot of attention to that. But also the “why” and the “what” of FIRE. The why is clear to me – as much as I love being in the military, it’s not my whole life. There are other things I care about. So I will dedicate myself to the military for now, but eventually I will say goodbye and go live life on my own terms.
The what is a bit harder to determine, and it changes. I’m referring to how FIRE will actually work – what will I do all day? Well, here are some of my ideas:
- Take that sweet, sweet GI Bill and go study anything I want. No degree in mind, just the pure joy of learning. Although a few people have suggested I get certified as a financial planner. We’ll see. Or maybe cooking school!
- Hike the Appalachian Trail. And the Pacific Crest Trail. And the Camino de Santiago, and the Coast to Coast in England, and and and…
- Foster some dogs.
- Build a tiny house. Or restore a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle. Or learn to build furniture. Maybe all of these things.
- TRAVEL!! So much travel!!
- Write a book.
- Visit friends and family.
- Learn to draw. I’m really, really bad at this.
So on and so forth. I honestly don’t understand people who say they would be bored in retirement. There is so much to do!
So that’s my story. How I got to where I am, and where I want to go. I’m excited to share more with you about how I plan to get to FIRE – the broad concepts and also the minutiae.