When I first started writing about FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) in 2009, my main goal was to first survive the Global Financial Crisis. If I did, then I would find some way to permanently change my life for good.
Back then, the FIRE movement was a bear market phenomenon. Plenty of people were getting laid off from their jobs. Partially due to pride, some of these folks said they retired early. Others said they were digital nomads.
Whatever they called themselves, many proceeded to try and make money online in order to supplant lost wages. I was impressed with the human's spirit to adapt, even if some of their stories felt a little disingenuous.
I took notes as I planned my own escape from the corporate grind while chronicling my journey on Financial Samurai. Mainly due to luck, I survived seven rounds of layoffs.
The Journey To FIRE
In December 2010, I published the now classic post, The Dark Side Of Early Retirement. My goal was to highlight all the potential negatives of early retirement to make sure I and others weren't missing anything. Leaving a well-paying job with great benefits in my 30s seemed reckless.
If you go through the comments, you'll notice a lot of unhappy people who disagreed with the negatives I highlighted. However, I was 33 at the time and really itching to get out of the 7-to-7 work grind.
Sometimes speaking the truth hurts the most. But I needed to know the truth before making such a drastic change with my life.
It took another 1.5 years before I finally retired from finance in the spring of 2012. I was afraid of the unknown. Therefore, I devised a plan in October 2011 to engineer my layoff with a severance package. It worked, thank goodness.
My FIRE Confessionals
As the economy continued to recover after 2012, some folks who said they had retired decided to go back to work.
By 2014, I no longer told anybody I was retired. Not only did I feel stupid saying so in my mid-30s, but it was also no longer true.
I was spending about 20 hours a week writing on Financial Samurai. Further, I wanted to explore the startup world given I lived in San Francisco. Therefore, I decided to consult part-time for Personal Capital from 2014-2015. I also picked up a couple more consulting gigs with two other startups (series Seed, B).
Finally, working at a startup could be crossed off my bucket list. I was living in San Francisco since 2001 and wanted to be able to tell my children someday that I participated in the startup boom.
Throughout my FIRE journey, I've tried to be as candid as possible. Instead of always telling you how great things are, I wrote posts like The Negatives Of Early Retirement Nobody Likes Talking About.
My goal has always been to share with you the good and the bad so you can make a more informed decision. There have definitely been many times when I questioned giving up my finance career so soon.
Having Someone To FIRE With Is Better
After my wife retired in 2015, I decided to stop all consulting gigs and just write on Financial Samurai. We decided to travel the world aggressively before having our first child in 2017.
From 2015 – 2017, we had a lovely two years of early retirement bliss. Even though it's financially more prudent to always have one spouse work a day job for income and benefits, life is better if both partners don't have to work.
Here's a plan to help both spouses retire early in case you're feeling bad for your working spouse. The post is also for couples who are too afraid to quit the money.
Hard To Overcome The Male Ego
Although I tried to stay retired, I could not after our son was born in 2017. Being a full-time parent for the first two years of a child's life is the absolute hardest job in the world. To say that I was retired while working harder than ever being a dad made no sense.
Therefore, I proudly identified myself as a full-time father and a high school tennis coach instead of an early retiree. Unfortunately, I couldn't convince male peers to identify as full-time fathers to take our fatherhood jobs more seriously. Instead, there was an overwhelming desire to identify as retired or FIRE.
Perhaps it's our fragile male egos? I have yet to hear a stay-at-home mother say she is an early retiree while her husband or partner works. So interesting!
Tried To Go Back To Work
Then in 2019, something miraculous happened. As geriatric parents, we had our daughter as mentioned in, Why I Failed At Early Retirement: A Love Story. Now the pressure was really on to provide.
Once we had kids, I wanted to make more money. It's like we are genetically wired to earn more and stay in shape to help ensure the survival of our species.
Suddenly, $200,000 a year in passive income didn't feel like enough. Gobbling endless amounts of my favorite key lime pie also was no longer appropriate.
I felt like we needed more after modeling out the future costs for our children. Too bad education and healthcare costs are so expensive.
I tried to convince my wife to go back to full-time work, 12 months after having our second. But I failed. She was happily busy taking care of our kids and helping me with Financial Samurai part-time.
I considered getting a day job again in 2020. But then the pandemic hit and I was stuck at home.
Therefore, the logical thing to do was to spend more time making more money from home. I was determined not to let the pandemic defeat us. When your back is against the wall, you find a way!
In retrospect, if there's ever a time to have a child, it's right before a global pandemic. Both parents get to go to the hospital and witness the miracle of childbirth. Then both parents get to stay at home and raise their child during their most crucial development phase.
We weren't planning on traveling for a couple years after our daughter was born anyway.
Back In Wind Down Mode
From a financial standpoint, the pandemic has ironically been good for investors.
After building enough capital to generate our passive income target for over a year, I'm in wind down mode again. Sometime during the Biden Presidency, I want to get back to early retirement life. Having our son attend preschool this fall will free up 30+ hours a week.
With a growing government safety net and higher taxes, the best time to retire could be right now. Investors have already had a surprisingly great run. Therefore, why not take things down a notch and enjoy life more?
To plan ahead, I've published new versions of my Dark Side To Early Retirement post to make sure I don't miss anything again. These early retirement preparation posts include:
Not Afraid Of Retiring A Second Time
This time around, I'm not nervous about retiring because I've got experience.
I don't have any uncertainty about what to do next. All I want to do is raise my kids, go on more dates with my wife, play sports, and write online. It's a simple life, but one that I enjoy.
Pivoting from working 30-40 hours a week on Financial Samurai to writing 10-20 hours a week is easy compared to going from a job to no job. Further, I am not switching careers either.
It seems to me the FIRE movement has now turned into a bull market phenomenon. With investors so much richer today than ever before, employees are leaving their jobs at the greatest rate ever.
I'd like to think that if I had kept working until this year, I would have no problems trying to engineer my layoff either. There's no point in having money if you can't use some of it to buy more freedom.
However, I might be delusional in my confidence now that I have two young kids. Therefore, to help those of you who are thinking of retiring early, let me share more FIRE confessionals from several readers.
If you have a FIRE confessional, I'd love for you to let us know in the comments section below.
FIRE Confessionals: A Bull Market Phenomenon
The definition of FIRE is when your investments generate enough income to cover your desired living expenses.
We can make ourselves feel better about our progress by coming up with new FIRE definitions like Coast FIRE. However, true FI lies in the numbers
Below are some perspectives from people either trying to FIRE or who have already FIREd.
1) FIREd at 32 with ~$500,000 Net Worth (Female)
In 2016 at the age of 32, I left work after building a net worth of around $500,000 and no debt. I was single and fed up with the system. So I decided to go the Lean FIRE route. Today, my net worth is around $650,000.
Back then, I figured I could live simply off $20,000 – $25,000 a year. I did for a couple of years, but then I started resenting my budget. It's fun to live frugally for a bit. But as you get older, you naturally want to enjoy nicer things.
I spent 10 years after college saving and investing over 50% of my income every year. Now I wish I had lived it up more in my 20s. I currently spend about $35,000 a year and feel happier.
Two years after work, I also started asking myself whether this was all there was to life. Even though I disliked my job, it gave me something to do. And my boss was actually pretty nice too.
Before I left, my boss said he wanted to promote me to senior manager with a healthy $15,000 raise. He was a good guy who looked out for me. But it felt strange to be so appreciated. It felt so strange that I ran away.
My father left my mother when I was just three years old. She had three boyfriends when I was growing up and I hated all of them. As a result of feeling abandoned as a kid, I'm also afraid of marrying my partner.
What if we get married and he leaves me like my father left my mother? I would rather not go through that pain. But at 37, many of my girlfriends now have kids. They seem happy.
If I didn't always look at people with great suspicion, I probably would have kept working until at least 40.
FIRE isn’t a magical potion for happiness.
2) FIREd at 40 with ~$1.9 Million Net Worth (Male)
I was actually laid off at my finance job in 2018. Luckily, I received a fairly generous severance package that covered a year's worth of living expenses.
I aggressively looked for work for 14 months, but couldn't find anything. Was it age discrimination against people over 40? Or was it my personality or lack of skills? I wasn't sure. I hadn't interviewed in a long time.
What I did know was that my ego was squashed. My wife was a stay-at-home mother to our three year old. Losing my job felt like I had failed as a father.
Instead of staying in San Francisco, a year after I had lost my job, we decided to sell our house and move to Bend, Oregon, where property is much cheaper.
Luckily, we got a good price for our SF place that we bought in 2011. We cleared about $300,000 after taxes and fees. Unfortunately, we didn’t buy a place in Bend before the pandemic pushed prices even higher.
Although we had a net worth of almost $2 million when I was laid off, I didn't FIRE by choice. I wanted to keep working until I was 50 and amass a net worth of $5 million to take care of my family.
With $5 million, I could withdraw $150,000 a year easily, retire early, and live comfortably while renting.
I also wanted to get to a $5 million net worth because we also wanted to have another child. I realize plenty of people have multiple children with much less wealth. However, this was just my Fat FIRE mindset at the time, which took time to adjust to.
By the time I got over the trauma of losing my job, two years had passed. And by this time, my wife was also in her 40s. We tried for two years, but could not conceive.
We even paid $43,000 out of pocket for several IVF trials to no luck. This cost was another kick in the shins because my old company would have paid for two IVF cycles.
Today, I've learned to accept our situation and embrace the FIRE movement. Although life didn't work out as planned, we still have enough wealth thanks to a bull market.
And don't call the Internet Retirement Police on me, but I've got a new job lined up that allows me to work remotely! I continue to tell everyone I'm FIRE though because it makes me feel like I belong to a community.
Since moving to Bend, I haven't been able to find a group of people to hang out with. Be careful moving to a new place just to save money. It's the relationships you have that make a place special.
3) FIREd at 35 with ~$1 Million Net Worth (A Couple)
At the end of 2019, my wife and I decided to quit our respective jobs and travel the world. We were in Tulum, Mexico in February 2020 when news of COVID-19 intensified.
Instead of continuing down to South America, we decided to cut our 3-month adventure short and head back to Chicago. Chicago is the best city to live in during the summer. However, it's a tough city to live in during the winter.
Unfortunately, we ended up staying in Chicago for the next 12 months in our one-bedroom condo thanks to COVID. Living in a house with a yard and a pool would have been nice. But we were looking to simplify. Further, we had thought the pandemic would have calmed down by July 2020.
In retrospect, we should have stayed at our jobs during the entire pandemic. If we had, we would have made a combined $240,000 in income in 2020. After taxes, we would have saved about $120,000 of it. Not only that, our company's stock went up 35%, which would have meant another ~$100,000 in gains.
The other financial move we made was liquidate about $90,000 in stocks in early 2020 to help pay for our trip and also be more conservative. We never got back in. Our net worth composition consists of $400,000 stocks, $150,000 bonds, $300,000 real estate, and $150,000 in cash.
I know we shouldn't be complaining. But our timing was off. COVID really screwed with our FIRE plans.
Due to the growing covid variant, we're a little worried we're going to repeat the last 15 months. But we've decided to no longer put our lives on hold. We plan to rent a camper and see some of our great national parks.
Share A FIRE Confessional
I hope you enjoyed these latest FIRE confessionals. You can subscribe to my free newsletter and respond with your FIRE confessional the next time I send out an e-mail. Or, you can share your confessional in the comments section below.
One of the things I've noticed on my financial independence journey is that things often don't go according to plan. As a result, we need to be flexible with the way we approach financial planning.
We should also be more accepting of other people's journeys. For example, I received a lot of flak about how much is enough to live a middle-class lifestyle with kids in a big city.
I've also been bonked over the head on Twitter because I identified as a high school tennis teacher instead of as a blogger with passive income. I'm now a retired high school tennis teacher and dedicated stay-at-home father + writer.
Let's let people live their lives how they see fit. Things are always changing, which is really the fun of it!
Related FIRE posts:
Readers, how is your FIRE journey coming along? Any FIRE confessionals you'd like to share? If I get enough feedback, I will publish a FIRE confessionals part III. What are some funny things you've noticed about the FIRE movement as it has become more popular?
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