Disclaimer: Lean Investments is a financial education and entertainment website. None of the content below should be misconstrued as investment advice or a recommendation. The author holds none of the positions mentioned below.
There is a large overlap between the audiences of young, proactive investors and FIRE enthusiasts. For those who don’t know, FIRE is an acronym for Financial Independence Retire Early. The idea behind FIRE is to save and invest at a much higher rate than the average American, in order to set oneself up to retire potentially decades earlier than the standard retirement age of 60, or 65. Many FIRE adherents, including some of the bloggers listed below, succeeded at saving enough to retire from full-time work in their early 30s.
If you’re interested in learning more about the concept of FIRE, the investing concepts that its adherents rely on, as well as learning about the top personalities in the space who can answer almost all of your questions on the subject, then read on.
What is FIRE?
The concept of FIRE has just a few bedrock principles and a lot of flexibility and variation for how to achieve them.
One of the main principles of FIRE is detaching the concept of retirement from any particular age. FIRE looks at retirement as a math problem; the most common equation you will see in FIRE circles is “The 25x rule.” This simple rule states that in order to retire, you need to save 25 times the amount of your annual spending.
With a rule like that you can see the importance of two additional principles and why they tend to be emphasized so much in FIRE circles:
- The importance of achieving investment returns of at least 4% above inflation annually.
- The importance of limiting expenses in retirement.
In order for the 25x rule to work, FIRE adherents need to have confidence that the pile of money they have saved will grow through investment returns while outpacing both inflation and their withdrawals for living expenses. Luckily, index investing through the FIRE Movement’s favorite mutual fund, the Vanguard Total Stock Market Fund (VTSAX) has easily met these requirements since the FIRE movement came into vogue, returning more than 15% annualized over the past decade and 8.45% annualized since the fund’s inception in 2000.
Secondly, FIRE adherents tend to focus on seeking out lower cost of living locations and arrangements. Some look overseas to places like Thailand and Mexico. Others earn their income in high cost of living areas such as New York or the Bay Area and then choose to retire in cheaper areas of the US. It’s obviously a much quicker process to retire if you only need $30,000 per year compared to $100,000 per year.
For a great summation of the core concepts of FIRE and one family’s journey in the movement, check out the documentary Playing with FIRE, available on many streaming services.
It is not a one size fits all concept and allows room for purists who want to be able to properly retire as fast as possible, as well as those who want to make gradual progress and are happy to retire just a few years ahead of standard.
Like life itself, an individual’s approach to FIRE will depend upon a number of factors such as:
- Your current income and ability to earn more.
- Your current satisfaction with your job.
- The cost of living in your current location and planned retirement location.
- Whether or not you have a family and if your family is supportive of FIRE principles.
- How intense you wish to be with cutting expenses, now and in retirement.
Many related sub-communities have been born since FIRE came into vogue, reflecting people’s different approaches to the practice including “Lean FIRE,” which focuses on cutting expenses to the extreme in order to bring on a faster path to retirement, as well as “Fat FIRE,” for those high earners who want to pursue FIRE principles but not necessarily cut lifestyle expense they value.
A great way to explore various approaches and learn about people’s individual stories is to explore Reddit’s FIRE communities:
Beyond Reddit, there are a number of FIRE influencers who have been guiding the curious to a totally different way of thinking about lifestyle expenses, saving money, investing and what really matters in life. We profile some of the best below.
Mr. Money Mustache
If you just read one FIRE blog, this should be it. Mr. Money Mustache has been publishing since 2011 with a focus on waking people up from their consumerist habits, becoming more intentional with their spending and challenging readers to save at least 50% of their income. Since the blog launched it has become a movement, some say cult, although a very positive one at that. Part of the reason the blog has been so successful is that MMM, as a former software engineer who retired at 30, can speak the vernacular of the typical high earning upper middle class millennial. He understands the temptations and attractions of the shiny new car, the apartment in the expensive downtown area and desire to buy groceries at the organic health food store. He also understands that these temptations are the key obstacles standing in the way of most people retiring in their 30s and 40s, so is merciless at shattering the necessity of these lifestyle traps (in a very funny manner) and instead advocates for biking as much as possible, shopping at Costco and living in a less expensive area, close to your job.
Introductory post: The 4% Rule: The Easy Answer for “How Much Do I Need for Retirement?“
Mad Fientist launched his blog in 2012 and takes a slightly different tack than MMM, above. While retiring early at a similar age (34), the Mad Fientist blog will be most engaging for those looking at options to speed up early retirement as fast as possible. Going beyond standard FIRE advocacy of index investing and managing expenses, Mad Fientist puts a lot of focus on legal tax avoidance strategies, that can “drastically reduce your tie to financial indolence without impacting your quality of life.” Such strategies include utilizing a health savings account (HSA) and strategies to access retirement savings accounts ahead of the standard age of 59. He also shares strategies on travel hacking and other “innovative” ideas to speed your path to financial indepedence.
Introductory Post: How to Optimize Your Journey to Financial Independence
Afford Anything has a great tag line: “You can afford anything, just not everything.” The blog has a definitely Millennial appeal and veers towards the Fat Fire side of the equation, with an emphasis on earning more through side hustles, rental property investments and having fun while “investing like a warrior.” While Afford Anything’s web site and blog have a ton of great information, the real gem is the Afford Anything podcast, hosted by the personable Paula Pant. The podcast features top notch guests from across the personal finance spectrum as well as plenty of reader questions that can help inform your own situation.
Introductory Post: How I Earned an Extra $40,800 in Two Years Without Lifting a Finger
Answering reader questions is also a prime focus of the FIRE Cracker blog, and the case studies for how various readers have achieved (or are on their way to achieving) FIRE are inspiring. The authors retired at 31 to travel the world and are extremely relatable in engaging with Millennial concerns about money. They decided to escape one of Canada’s most expensive cities, declined to buy a house and put their emphasis on investing and travel. The blog is funny, opinionated and always feels relevant to the challenges of personal finance today.
Introductory post: Mission Impossible: Retiring Early and Travelling the World…With Kids?
And there you have an overview of the FIRE movement and some resources to help you learn if pursuing some type of FIRE is right for your situation. To learn more, read about the different stock indexes that form the basis of a FIRE investing and our recommendations for podcasts of interest to long-term investors.