The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

I recently read a post from a retired FIRE blogger, Living a FI, where he gives an update to his readers about how he’s fared the past five years since retiring. He achieved financial independence and was able to retire in his 40s due to the extreme frugality and saving that’s common amongst those in the FIRE movement.

FIRE stands for “financial independence, retire early.” It’s a financial movement where those involved save and invest the majority of the income, cut their spending to the bare minimum, and hope to retire early by living off their accumulated funds.

Although becoming financially independent and retiring as early as possible is often revered, Living a FI’s experience shows why it isn’t for everyone.

Here’s a link to the post. It’s not a short read, but I found it to be incredibly introspective and his brutal honesty highlights how retiring early may not be all it’s cracked up to be.

The long story short is he and his wife enjoyed their newfound freedom for the first couple of years before things started to go downhill. They watched as their friends got richer and climbed the status ladder which made them feel like they weren’t progressing. The wife started to feel like she was missing out which eventually led to their divorce. One unforeseen thing led to another and after an unfortunate medical condition, Living a FI was forced out of early retirement.

You’ll probably get more insights out of reading his original post than this one, but I wanted to share some of my favorite excerpts and takeaways.

Takeaway #1: Things change

Planning for a traditional 25-40 year retirement is difficult. Planning for a 40+ year retirement is almost impossible.

Living a FI writes about how he carefully crafted an elaborate spreadsheet that contained all of his financial assumptions, plans, and goals. He was very confident that his plan could carry him through the 60 or so years he had to live. He writes:

“The initial plan itself was fine.

But the plot twisted: My life decided it didn’t want to conform to the plan.

If you are yourself working on becoming FI and you have any specific takeaway from this post, let it be this: You are making future plans based on what your current life looks like. Your current job, your current income, your current partner, your current percentage of savings, your expected market return, your housing costs, your location and so-on. You’re assuming large parts of your life will remain static over the next X years…

They may not be static. It might be a mistake to think that things will be as smooth as you believe they will be. The ability to recover from changes and disruptions — to be adaptable and resilient in the face of adversity — will show itself to be perhaps the most critical Early Retirement skill of them all.

You just never know how things are going to go.”

After only four years his 60-year plan was irrelevant. He mentions that life may not be static, but I’ll go ahead and amend that statement with … life will never be static.

As Carl Richards says, the only thing we know for sure about a financial plan is that it will be wrong. Risk is what’s left when you think you’ve thought of everything.

Takeaway #2: Money isn’t the goal

The participants in the FIRE movement work very hard for years to be able to retire early. Most of their life revolves around becoming financially independent and they derive a sense of purpose from their journey. But when that goal is achieved, then what?

Living a FI realized that becoming financially independent didn’t solve all of his problems, in fact, it brought its own issues. He shares:

“Not working is awesome, for sure — I was able to do whatever I wanted with my time, and I didn’t miss work at all. Still, I learned that having freedom in and of itself didn’t automatically bring me happiness. Happiness is more complicated than that.

I no longer see quitting my job and retiring early as the most direct path to bliss. It was five years ago, but now?

I’m not so much worried about a life without work as I am a life without meaning or purpose or love.”

Ernie Zelinski wrote, “physical well-being, mental well-being, and solid social support play bigger roles than financial status for most retirees.” This is true whether you retire at 35 or 75.

Money itself isn’t the goal. The purpose of financial planning isn’t to stockpile the largest amount of money by the end of your life, it’s to use money as a tool to live your best life.

It’s important to note that this is just one guy’s story. I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who have crushed early retirement. However, I thought this story was helpful in outlining the possible downsides of FIRE. Financial freedom is a worthy goal, but how and when it should be achieved is different for everyone.

Thanks for reading!