OPINION: Want to retire early? Don't get burnt by the FIRE

If you spend any time on the internet looking at money related topics, you will at some point come across the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement.

FIRE is a lifestyle movement whose goal, as its name implies, is financial independence and retiring early.

Basically, it’s a bunch of people who are aiming to quit their shitty jobs at a youngish age through a combination of a) increasing their savings and passive income and b) decreasing their expenses.

While the principles behind the FIRE movement have been around for quite a while, it really took off about 10 years ago, with the rise of blogging and social media. Through these online platforms, the FIRE movement has become almost cult-like, with proponents becoming ever more fanatical in their devotion to the cause.

Some of the FIRE tactics used to save money include:

– Not going to restaurants or coffee shops

– Driving an old car or walking everywhere

– Minimising the use of aircons, heaters, TVs and other electronic devices

– Mending their old clothes rather than buying new ones

– Foregoing holidays

Basically, they voluntarily cut out all the expenses relating to things and experiences that the vast majority of people in the world can't actually afford.

While there is no disputing that there are massive benefits to cutting your expenses to the bone and saving more, I believe there are some serious concerns for those taking it to extremes, as many of those in the FIRE movement are starting to find out.

Here are just a few of the criticisms I have with people who take the FIRE movement too far:

Too much focus on the expenses, not enough on the revenue

When you are so focused on finding ways to pinch pennies, it’s easy to miss out on big picture opportunities in your job or business. You might save yourself a few hundred Rand a month by dedicating your time and attention to shaving off some expenses, but how much money could you have made had you committed those extra hours to closing a few more deals or working towards a promotion.

Similarly, cutting your gym membership or subscription to the Financial Times may actually cost you more in the long run in the form of lost networking, business and career opportunities.

It takes money to make money

Focusing too much on accumulating savings may also prevent you from taking risks that could be potentially life changing. When I started my business, I had to dig into my savings, my access bond and even my retirement fund. It decimated my net asset value in the short term but ten years later, it turned out to be the best decision I ever made.

The money paradox

Part of the rationale behind the FIRE movement is that instead of spending your time making and worrying about money, you can do the things that you really want to do.

However, it seems to me that many of those who have taken FIRE to the extreme have become consumed by the topic of money.

Retire, and then what?

Many of those in the FIRE movement are hell-bent on achieving their goal of retiring early, but don’t actually have a clear idea of what they will do should they actually succeed in doing so.

Take it from someone who is in this position, it’s pretty cool not to have to go to work anymore, but it’s not always that easy to figure out what you are going to do for the rest of your life. There is a big part of me that believes that it would be far more useful to spend your 20s, 30s and 40s figuring out what you really enjoy workwise, rather than putting all your efforts into seeing how quickly you can retire from a job that you hate.

You can’t put a price on experiences and relationship

A good chunk of my monthly expenses go towards eating out, socialising and travelling. Many in the FIRE movement would call that wasteful, but I don’t believe you can put a price on sharing experiences and connecting with friends and family. Sure you don’t always have to stay in the best hotels or eat at the finest restaurants, but I doubt anyone has laid in their deathbed and wished they hadn’t taken that trip to Machu Pichu or shared an exquisite meal with great people.

* Elian Wiener is the founder of Wealthwoke (www.wealthwoke.com) – a community of people who aim to redefine their concept of wealth. Views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Fin24.

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