I’m honestly getting really tired of all the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) blogs, articles, and people out there. Don’t get me wrong, I think FIRE is amazing, and if you can achieve it, that’s great. My problem is that in the last little while, FIRE has been making headlines because of people who have unique situations.
It’s easy to achieve FIRE if you have a high income and reside in an area where there’s a low cost of living, but for most people, that may not be the case.If you want to achieve FIRE, you can take a few steps to help you get there. You may not retire in your 30’s or 40’s, but I would say if you can retire a few years early without having to worry about money, you’re probably doing alright.
When FIRE gets out of hand
A couple years back the CBC featured Millennial Revolution, a couple in their early 30’s who retired with a $1,000,000 portfolio. There was so much online hate that they followed up with another story loosely explaining how they managed to achieve FIRE. Basically, the couple graduated as computer engineers and had high paying jobs while living in an apartment that cost them $800 a month. They saved $500K and invested their money which happened to coincide with one of the biggest market rallies in history. When their portfolio hit a million dollars, they called it quits and have been travelling since. This is a great story, but that’s some pretty unique circumstances.
Business Insider recently featured Physician on FIRE who is a part-time doctor earning $250,000 a year and plans to retire in a year at the age of 43. When I first read the headline, I was wondering why it took so long for a guy who earns a quarter of a million U.S. dollars working part-time to retire. Well, it turns out he was never really formally planning to do so but realized that with his current situation, it made sense to achieve FIRE. It’s clear that Physician on FIRE worked his butt off to get to where he’s at, but how many people make $250K working part-time?
Then there’s Sean Cooper who paid off his mortgage in just three years. Sean gets a lot of hate online since he sacrificed just about everything to achieve his goal. Whether you agree or disagree with his strategy, there’s no denying that what he did is impressive. I personally love travelling and eating too much to cut out all the fun, but Sean deserves credit for everything he gave up to pay off his mortgage.
The three above scenarios illustrate that to achieve FIRE, you either need a high income or you need to make a lot of sacrifices, but is that what FIRE is about?
It’s the daily things that matter
I know you’ve heard it before, but it’s the small things that you do on a daily basis that make a huge difference when it comes to financial independence. Heck one decision could impact you for years.
When my wife and I went house hunting, we were approved for a million dollars, but we ended up buying a condo for less than half of that amount. I imagine that our lifestyle would be quite different if we ended up a huge mortgage.
Our daily spending is pretty reasonable so we don’t get upset about the occasional treat. Seriously, what’s the point of life if you can’t enjoy a coffee or poutine when you want? That being said, if you were spending on small things every day, that would certainly add up.
Yes, we travel a lot, but we still have a hard budget when it comes to our vacations. We set aside a set amount every year and travel as much as we can until those funds run out. We never travel on credit which means we never pay interest charges.
How I’m looking to achieve FIRE
Listen, there’s no chance I’m retiring anytime soon, but what I’m looking to do is to build financial assets and reduce my debt as quickly as possible without giving up too much.
Full disclosure, I make above average income in Canada, so you can slam me as much as you want, but these are the steps I’m taking to reach my own financial independence.
I’m maxing out my retirement savings plans – Despite the fact that I had a defined benefit pension plan when I was a full-time employee, I still maxed out my RRSPs. This may have not been the greatest tax strategy, but I figured it didn’t hurt since it gave me a tax refund. Since I always had that money invested in a balanced portfolio, I’ve been able to see it grow over the years.
I’m focusing on my TFSA – With my RRSP maxed out every year, my focus then turns to my Tax-Free Savings Account. My overall goal for this account is to wait until I’m retired before I start withdrawing money from it since all gains are tax free. I’m lucky that I started contributing to my TFSA as soon as the accounts were introduced so I’ve seen this account grow quite a bit. Here’s a guide covering RRSP vs. TFSA.
I’m paying down my mortgage – The only real debt my wife and I have is our mortgage so after maxing out our RRSPs and TFSAs we try to put any additional funds towards our home. Making yearly pre-payments isn’t always possible, but by changing our payment schedule to advanced bi-weekly, we’ve been able to shave a few years off our amortization.
One thing to note. Now that I have a child, the above strategies may change over time. I’ve started to prioritize my daughter’s RESP and I’m sure other expenses for her will come up over time. I just wanted to illustrate that I have a rough plan with my money.
My wife and I aren’t purposely trying to achieve FIRE, but by being smart with our money, we’re able to prioritize things that matter to us. FIRE is great, but it’s also important to live in the now. Who knows what will happen one, five, or twenty years from now.