If you spend any amount of time reading personal finance anything, you’re likely to come across the term FIRE. No, it’s not someone trying to sell you insurance (per se), but a mentality that has a strong following among us nerdy types. It’s actually a hybrid acronym for two separate terms, and it stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early. Sound broad and all-encompassing? Eh, only kind of. While the FIRE mentality is certainly appealing to people from all walks of life, it’s actually pretty straightforward in what it means. To be financially independent, and therefore able to retire “early,” you simply need to have invested enough money to where your investments are growing at a rate that outpaces your spending. For example, and with extremely oversimplified numbers, let’s say you have a million dollars in investment products that earn a 10% annual return. If you can live on less than $100,000 each year, you would theoretically be able to quit working completely and live solely on the interest your investment is earning for the rest of your life. You wouldn’t even need to touch the million; your money would literally be working for you. Again, that’s way oversimplified, and doesn’t take into account things like inflation, market volatility, economic landscape shifts, etc. But still, many are out there striving for this very goal of ditching the 9-to-5 and living how they want. Sounds good, right? Lots and lots of people would say the same. But Rachel and I aren’t so convinced. While retirement is definitely part of our long-term plan, we’re not sold on the concept of being financially independent at any point in our lives, nor are we trying to retire early. Here’s why:
We Depend on God, Not Our Jobs, and Not Ourselves
As Christians, the entire premise of financial independence is just something we can’t identify with, because we will never be fully independent. We are social beings, and we don’t live in a vacuum. Sure, we could have a ton of money in a bank account somewhere, but what happens when the next Bernie Madoff pilfers it all? Or when Canada takes over the United States and sends the US dollar plummeting in value as payback for all the merchandise we sent them with the tag labeled “Prices higher in Canada”? Even if we did everything correctly, there’s always the possibility that something outside our control could affect us in a permanent way. The point is, the focus in the FIRE mentality is misplaced. For us, no amount of stashed money will ever mean we’ve “made it,” because no amount of money is guaranteed to stay put, or even stay useful. The only guarantee we have is that made to us by our Creator, such as in Matthew 6:26 – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” I’d much rather trust in my Father who has promised to take care of me instead of a stack of money that may or may not be able to keep up with my plans.
We Were Created To Work
Perhaps the most motivating factor among FIRE….ers? is the prospect of retiring early. Many look forward to walking away from their 9-to-5 so they can do something that matters or make a difference outside the office. Granted, “early” retirement means different things to different people, but I think a safe assumption would be that most people in this lifestyle camp are looking to retire in their 40s. But again, I feel that the focus there misses the mark. Every job, no matter how insignificant, has a purpose. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t exist. I understand that it may not always be enjoyable or fulfilling, but by doing your job well, you are doing something that matters. Further, the apostle Paul warned against people that refused to work in his letter to the church at Thessalonica: “Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12)
Rachel and I are planning to retire at some point. But not until we have used the bodies we’ve been given to serve as God’s called us to serve for as long as He wants us to serve. Our rest will come in Heaven, and though we love to travel, eat, and relax here on earth (and there is definitely a time for all that!), we’ve been instructed to work.
Our Priorities Don’t Match Up With FIRE’s Requirements
Maybe the biggest reason that we won’t be able to retire early is one of practicality. In order to FIRE successfully, you need years of saving lots of money. It’s gotta sit in investment accounts for a long time earning that sweet, sweet compound interest. On our salaries (our household income was under $70k last year), that’s just not something we can do while at the same time affording the other goals that we want to achieve. The one we’re working on now is getting out of debt, so every spare penny we can scrounge up is going towards that. We’re also feeling the urge to flex our giving muscles, even while we pay down debt. After our debt is paid off, we’re going to be working on saving for an emergency fund, then buying and paying off a house, then hopefully hitting the big leagues of giving. While we intend to leave some sort of inheritance for however many children we have, we also want to make the best use of most of our money while we’re still alive. That means giving money away when and where we’re able, as often as we can. That flies right in the face of the FIRE mentality, and will necessarily delay our retirement as a result. But that’s okay. It’s what we’ve prayed about, felt compelled to do, and agreed on.
I have a lot of love and respect for the wonderful people that are working towards FIRE, and there are a ton of you! I just don’t think it’s the right thing for my wife and myself. I hope I didn’t push too many buttons out there, but let me know in the comments if I did.
So, there you have it. My wife and I have rejected the idea of early retirement. Are we crazy? Are we misguided? Do you have an overall plan like FIRE for your money? Talk to me below!