To some, working two jobs, living in rented student-style digs, scrimping, saving and investing every last penny is a vision of hell; but a growing number of millennials believe that it is a price worth paying for the opportunity to retire in their 30s.
FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is a burgeoning international movement of people seeking financial control and flexibility by strict budgeting and frugal living; they avoid debt, work extra jobs to boost their income early in life, then rely on low-cost growth investments such as exchange-traded funds (ETFs) to both build capital and draw from in early retirement.
However, if that feels a little too drastic for you, and you secretly do have a penchant for avocado on toast, there is much to be learned from the movement and tips and techniques to be adopted that can make dramatic improvements to your overall financial wellness and assist you in achieving your financial life-goals.
How much does it take to be financially independent?
Whilst the actual sum required will differ from person to person and their individual life style, broadly speaking when your net worth is 25 times your annual expenses, you’re considered financially independent.
Financial independence is about having the freedom to pursue your dreams and ambitions, no matter what your age; now a growing number of millennials are radically reducing spending to stash away at least 50% of their income and retire in their 30s or 40s.
FIRE was born in 1992 out of the best-selling book Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez which correlated expenses and time spent at work to hours of your life.
make dramatic improvements to your overall financial wellness and assist you in achieving your financial life-goals
First gaining popularity in the States, FIRE spread through a 1990s newsletter called The Complete Tightwad Gazette; today the message is shared through blogs and podcasts, and is starting to get serious traction in the UK.
FIRE is a radical idea that divides people because it involves some of the most personal things human beings deal with – money, relationships and self-worth; however, if, as we do at Muckle, you believe that are all going to have to take more personal responsibility for our financial futures, then it is certain to engage an increasing number of millennials and Gen Zs
The millennial behind the blog www.aussiefirebug.com says he was always good at saving and being frugal, and discovered the FIRE movement online in 2014; describing it at ‘financial independence on steroids’ he believes that by adopting such an approach, FI can be achieved as early as your 30s, and hundreds of his followers seem to agree.
Technical support: living appy ever after
Careful spending and a willingness to be flexible about how you can earn a living in response to the way the world is developing are factors, and there are now a large number of digital banking and money management apps available to help you budget, monitor and control your spending, and invest towards your final objectives.
Many of the next generation crop of robo advisors and micro-investing apps allow you to set up individual pots in pursuit of a range of financial goals, and then invest in an instantly diverse portfolio with a risk/reward profile that gives you the best chance of achieving your goals with a level of investment risk you are comfortable with.
invested in the market for as long as possible to take maximum advantage of compound interest, ride out market volatility and keep fees as low as possible
Many allow you to sweep ‘change’ from every day purchases into a savings or investment account; engendering a savings and investment culture sits very comfortably with Muckle – because ‘mony a mickle maks a muckle’ is no bad guiding principle for those looking to achieve financial independence.
One contributor to Aussie Firebug writes: ‘You merely need 10 years of pure sacrifice. I started late in my career, first decent job at age 30 and little money. Rented a small room, paying little and close to work. Worked hard, overtime etc. Scrooge for first five years. I took every dollar as gold because I understood the power of compounding.
Post five years, started to go easier on finances. Invested from day one. Fortunately it was 2008/2009 onwards. Bought a mixture of shares and Aussie properties. Had a like-minded partner, so it was a breeze. Retired age 38. Partner works one to two times a week. Two kids. Net worth A$2 million including super.’
The FIRE movement is able to capitalise on some of the core factors that can help deliver investing success and financial independence – being invested in the market for as long as possible to take maximum advantage of compound interest, ride out market volatility and keep fees as low as possible by investing in low cost index trackers – ETFs.
Contrary to widespread suspicions of profligacy – often held by Baby Boomers that have surfed on decades of increasing house prices – as a generalisation, millennials seem pretty savvy when it comes to money; an increasing number have looked at the way that boomers consumed and worked, and said they want greater balance and freedom to do life differently.
As a rule of thumb, in retirement it should be possible to sustainably withdraw 4% from your pot, and have it replaced by growth and income; clearly a protracted bear market could blow a hole in this and budgeting for a retirement that could span fifty years of fluctuating markets and changing personal requirements is no mean feat.
‘mony a mickle maks a muckle’ is no bad guiding principle for those looking to achieve financial independence
However, despite the acronym, perusing the FIRE bulletin boards and blogs suggests that many disciples have no firm intention of retiring at such a young age, but by dint of achieving financial independence feel secure in the knowledge that can if they want to; maybe that is the time to get off the corporate hamster wheel and follow the dream of the organic cheese shop.
Ivan Guan, author of FIRE Your Retirement: 3 Simple Steps to Financial Independence and Retire Early and founder of www.sgmoneymatters.com, says: “FIRE is a widely discussed subject among the online community in Singapore.
‘Typically, FIRE becomes a topic when people reach their 40s. It is probably because they are sick of their corporate jobs and want to make some changes. At the same time, they have more financial resources [such as savings] and time [as their children have grown up] to devote to FIRE.’
Becoming a FIRE starter
There is no question FIRE is a serious undertaking, and the required discipline may not suit all; however, plan to retire at 45, get it slightly wrong, having to settle for 50 would not appear to be a catastrophe.
Millennials embarking on the journey will need to save and invest enough money to not only account for a long retirement, but also factor in inflation and unexpected life events such as illness.
As well as market fluctuations and changing asset values, it is also important to realise that at certain times, you may feel less enamoured of the whole thing, and frankly worn down by the self-imposed austerity; whilst some may throw in the towel, others may choose to give themselves a treat or maybe take that holiday that has been winking at them from the glossies.
Whilst that may provide some instant gratification, there is every likelihood that – suitably refreshed – they decide to climb back on the horse when they realise that it has actually pushed their target retirement back appreciably.
FIRE may not be for those that subscribe to millennials as the ‘experience generation’, but its a very personal undertaking.
Another contributor to Aussie Firebug said: ‘I don’t think of FIRE as restricting my spending, I think about it as a shift in mindset and identifying what truly makes me happy. I’m human. I buy stuff I don’t need all the time, but I know that spending money on something I don’t need will mean I’m delaying my [progress] towards freedom.’
‘In a normal year we save 60 to 65% cent of our income. We still go out for drinks once a week and get a Friday night takeaway. But if we haven’t retired within five years – when I am 34 and my partner is 32 – something has gone drastically wrong.’
achieve financial independence and you will have the freedom and opportunity to explore your wildest dreams
He believes the FIRE movement awakens a person’s desire to achieve more in their lives, not only limited to financial success, but other aspects in life: ‘It also helps bring up the society’s standard of financial literacy. The bad thing about the FIRE movement is that, if you’re not careful, you may end up sacrificing other important things in your life.’
Whilst FIRE may not be for everybody, increasing financial engagement and improving financial education can only be a good thing; at Muckle we believe that whilst it may never be considered ‘fun’ financial education can point to a whole range of possibilities and opportunities that can be achieved with relatively relatively minor changes in behaviour – investing a little more for a little longer is rarely a bad idea and doing something is almost always better than doing nothing.
Whilst some may see the outcome as being worth any privation, others may wish to make a less dramatic commitment, whist still plotting a course to the achievement of their financial hopes and dreams.
Confucius said: ‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’
FIRE may not make you fall in love with your employer, but it can give work a sense of purpose; achieve financial independence and you will have the freedom and opportunity to explore your wildest dreams.
As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry would have it: ‘A goal without a plan is just a wish.’