Forget FIRE and Focus on Lifestyle
So many people in the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community seem to have a one-track mind when it comes to FIRE. I’m not one of them. I would argue forget FIRE and focus on your lifestyle instead.
The again, FIRE is really nothing new.
Forget FIRE and Focus on Lifestyle
While the marketing is interesting, and so are the bloggers that popularized this movement over a decade ago via their blogs and podcasts, the building blocks for financial success existed generations before any FIRE movement.
A quick example is below from Finiki, the Canadian financial wiki, a site that shares a plethora of free financial subjects written for Canadians from a Canadian perspective.
This has been the FIRE movement for generations distilled into a simple image:
In fact, back when we made pennies in Canada, FIRE simply looked like this:
I’ve written a few times about my plans to forget FIRE, and focus on financial independence, work on own terms (FIWOOT) instead. The reason for that is because FIWOOT describes my personal path very well and I don’t want anyone to misinterpret that I’ll continue to work for some income, in some capacity, in the coming years. I just won’t be retired.
Further Reading: Why I’ll take FIWOOT over FIRE any day.
Other savers and investors, feel the same, they have always focused on their lifestyle decisions and they largely disregard the marketing machine behind FIRE.
Welcome to the site Réjean Venne from MindfulFamily.
Réjean, along with his wife Danielle, quit the rat-race and moved from Ottawa to a small Northern Ontario community to re-settle a few years ago. While they held high-paying jobs and fancy titles at the time, they realized it wasn’t what they wanted from life and sought after a more balanced lifestyle by design.
At MindfulFamily, they blog about a number of topics, including more mindfulness, and given they are from Ottawa I thought it might be interesting to learn more about their path to financial independence, what they took from the early retirement community while ignoring what didn’t appeal to them.
Welcome to the site, Réjean!
A pleasure to be here Mark, and thanks for the questions to share some of my story.
Let’s start at the beginning, tell us about yourself. I know you (and your wife) quit your jobs here in Ottawa in your late-20s and moved to Northern Ontario, but maybe share a bit more about your background?
Danielle and I are both from Northern Ontario. We met in University in Sudbury while both studying business. We moved together to Ottawa upon graduation to start our careers.
In Ottawa I worked for a large insurance company and Danielle worked for the federal government. After university, Danielle completed the CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant) designation program, and I completed an MBA. Our further education helped us advance in our careers.
We got married in 2011 and then had our first child in 2014. We discovered Mr. Money Mustache in 2015 shortly after sending our child to daycare so Danielle could continue her career. We were incredibly motivated by the blog and decided to pursue early retirement.
We retired in 2018 after just 3 years of planning. Our biggest asset was our house which allowed us to downsize in a smaller town with no mortgage.
Today we have 3 children which we homeschool and live in Verner, ON. We recently purchased a 160-acre forested property and live off-grid.
That is a lot of land! So, let’s jump in. Are you a fan of FIRE? Why or why not?
Mark, I’m not a big fan of the term FIRE exactly because most people don’t understand what it means. I also don’t really like that our lifestyle and early retirement is generally described as “movement”. It makes it sound like a bit of a scheme or implies that you need to change your life drastically to achieve.
I view early retirement as simply a lifestyle choice.
Fully agree. Réjean, can you expand on that. What does that mean? How did you conclude this is what you wanted? How did you put your plan into action?
What I mean is financial independence doesn’t just have to involve retirement. It could mean needing to work less or it could mean switching careers to one that may not pay as much but allows you much more flexibility.
For us, at the beginning of our journey to early retirement, we weren’t entirely sure what we wanted. We just knew we didn’t want our careers to take the front seat in our lives anymore. Even though most people will always put their family ahead of their careers, the latter still dominates how they structure their lifestyle. It’s typically your job that will dictate when and how much vacation you take. It’s your job that will allow or not allow you to spend more weekends at home. It’s your job that will often dictate what town you will live in.
I guess what I mean by financial independence is getting to a point where you can choose that your career or job won’t dictate those things.
Great stuff. So, are you retired or semi-retired? How do you support your lifestyle and cover expenses? How do you invest and in what?
Today I would consider ourselves fully retired as our income is strictly from passive investment. When we left our careers in 2018, our main source of income was two rental properties that generated approximately $30k-$40k of cash flow per year. We were pretty hands-on landlords and these properties occupied about 4-5 hours of our week doing maintenance and updates.
Since retiring, our investment portfolio has done very well and so has our real estate holdings. In light of the real estate boom of the last couple years, we reviewed our finances last fall and realized we could sell all our rental properties and be strictly reliant on financial investments as our source of income.
We have a financial portfolio of $900k and plan on relying on a conservative 3-3.5% withdrawal rate as our long-term income flow. We have comfortably lived on approximately $25k-$30k per year since we retired.
(Mark – amazing!)
We are very ambitious people and will likely find other projects we are passionate about in the future that will generate additional income. But right now, we are very busy parenting and homeschooling our three children.
No doubt with three children. So, you don’t like the “movement” per se which I get as well. What’s one thing about the FIRE movement you disagree with?
To be honest, I don’t like the acronym that was chosen at some point for this movement. It’s not even a complete sentence. It’s just two concepts mashed together to create a catchy acronym. I prefer associating with one of the originals in the movement, Jacob Lund Fisker and call myself an extremely early retiree.
You write about mindful living a great deal on the site. What does that mean for you and your family? What takeaways could others learn from you?
I think mindful living aligns really well with the idea of FIRE. It’s about simply being mindful of what you want in life. Being mindful that the next promotion, or bigger house likely won’t make you happy for long. So, find what will make you happy long term. Concentrate on those things in life.
I say it aligns well with FIRE because once you realize what you truly need in your life, you likely end up a lot closer to your financial goals.
Reading most of MMM’s (Mr. Money Mustache’s) early blog posts inspired us to put our goals in perspective and realize what we really needed in life to be happy.
I think mindfulness and happiness are very much intertwined. What key books, references or resources would you recommend to others – seeking a more mindful lifestyle?
I’ve always found Eckhart Tolle’s books as being very grounding and helping me put life in perceptive. I also often enjoy just watching his calm lectures on YouTube.
I always recommend everyone read all of Mr. Money Mustache’s blog posts from the beginning as you will learn a lot about yourself and what you truly need financially to live a good life.
One important book that I keep referring to lately is Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. I think one of the biggest obstacles for most people being able to live more mindfully is technology – I think it’s important that we set boundaries with our electronics. With emails, social media and especially with the news.
Réjean, as we close, any words of wisdom you have for Canadians who feel like they are on the treadmill of life – debt, working, spending – rinse and repeat? What actionable steps can folks take to better identify who they are, where they want to be – to live a life more fulfilled?
There’s a quote I included in my book when I try to convey this message to my readers.
“Nobody on their deathbed has ever said, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” – Paul Tsongas
What I try to tell people is take the time to reflect on your life right now and not in 50 years. Figure out what you will be proud of on your deathbed. I bet you it won’t be getting that fancy car or promotion.
The first step is identifying what you want and want you need in life financially. Figure out how expensive your desired lifestyle is. It may be much less than you think. Then, calculate how you can achieve that level of income with the most flexibility possible.
My own book summarized these steps pretty well and how we went through them to get to where we are today.
I want to thank Réjean for his comments.
I’m not anti-FIRE. FIRE has always included some outstanding concepts I try and follow myself:
- Live within your means or well-below your means ideally.
- Save early and often, in great quantities if you can.
- Avoid lifestyle waste.
- Avoid long-term debt that is not used for wealth generation.
- Optimize your investing (i.e., keep your costs low and diversified).
Part of the challenge I have with FIRE is the mass marketing around it – selling a dream per se – or as this Vox article puts it: “the implausible millennial movement to save, invest, and quit the American workplace.”
“While FIRE’s seductive premise is that followers can retire early and quit work wholesale, some of the most public-facing FIRE-ers aren’t living solely off their savings and investments. Their work, often FIRE-related, translates into money — podcasts monetized through ads, blogs that earn money through ads and affiliates, speaking engagements, book deals, etc.”
If you want to leave your current job and do something else for income, that’s great. Kudos. If you want to be a part-time entrepreneur via running a blog, podcast, membership site, stock channel, manage a forum or beyond, awesome as well. Go get it!
Just don’t tell others you’re not working or hustling for some amount of money and it’s all about “retirement”. Some people might not believe you.
I wish Réjean, Danielle and family all the best and their take beyond FIRE.
I look forward to your comments.
Related financial independence reading:
This couple wonders if they can retire at age 52, and spend $4,000 per month. What will it take in their bank account?
As millennial, how can you find financial independence? Check out this case study and essay from a Canadian 30-something that has some answers.
Some financial planners seem worried about FIRE. In this article, I push back on that. Financial planners shouldn’t be worried about FIRE.
FIRE is fine, but financial independence is better. Why you should strive for financial independence and not early retirement.