Becoming financially independent and retiring early has completely changed my life for the better.
The lifestyle I have now is customized by me and for me. I have built a routine from the ground up, where I’m able to allocate my resources toward pursuits that make me happiest. I’m living my best life.
There’s very little to dislike about FIRE.
But is financial independence and retiring early for you?
I think it’s a very worthwhile to question to pose.
That’s because it’s possible the answer to that question, for you, is no.
I’m going to list three reasons why that might be the case for you.
I’ve long held the notion that jobbing a 9-5 until I’m 65 is a much bigger sacrifice than living below my means.
Given the choice between the two, all else equal, I don’t see how it’s even a close call.
In fact, I don’t see most aspects of living a frugal life as sacrificing at all.
I’m a minimalist who would actually be less happy if I were to own a big, suburban house with a bunch of stuff in it. That would crank up my anxiety. I simply prefer renting the relatively small apartment I have here in Thailand.
And I’d quite frankly rather eat at a hole-in-the-wall Thai market than a fancy restaurant.
I’m essentially built for frugality. It’s in my DNA.
Growing up poor probably has something to do with this. Even when I was spending a lot of money in my early 20s, I wasn’t happy.
However, I do view the idea of being forced to work a job until I’m old and used up as an incredible sacrifice.
Because I value time more than money, and because I like having the options necessary to live an authentic and free life, allocating most of my waking hours toward the will and needs of an employer is something that honestly sounds terrible.
That’s not to say that I don’t like working. Quite the opposite, actually.
I love to work.
But being confined in terms of space, output, hours, and ideas does not sound appealing to me at all, especially if the work doesn’t align well with personal beliefs, values, and passions.
That said, this is only how I look at the world.
Other people might find living frugally to be quite the sacrifice.
And since what you save will matter a whole lot more than what you make in terms of how fast you become financially independent, some measure of frugality will almost always be necessary in order to achieve freedom relatively quickly.
If it’s a massive sacrifice to downgrade your life in any way, FIRE might not be for you.
If you want the house, the cars, and a more high-end lifestyle, changing things up might be a big sacrifice for you.
There’s also a family, if you have one, to consider. If the significant other has something different in mind for themselves and the children, FIRE might be a hard sell. While I don’t personally see FIRE as unattainable or even significantly more difficult with a small family in tow (you’re almost certainly never going to be alone anyway), one’s personal goals become demoted against the greater good of the family.
Seeing lifestyle changes as a sacrifice might especially be the case if you don’t mind jobbing, or if you otherwise actually mostly enjoy what you do.
If you’re in this spot – you genuinely enjoy your job – that’s great. In my view, a good chunk of the value of FIRE becomes diminished in this situation. You’d be in the minority here, but it’s a very nice spot to be in.
That said, you can love your job, but your job might not always love you.
And so being at least somewhat financially independent is a fantastic idea for almost everyone. Most of the benefits that FIRE confers are available well before someone becomes 100% free anyway.
However, the lifestyle that’s usually required in order to become fully financially independent at a young age isn’t for everyone.
That leads me to my next point.
You Might Be Older
This one is a bummer, because there’s nothing we can do to change time.
Time is the great equalizer.
We all have 24 hours in the day, which makes it such a fascinating case study to see the differences in how different people spend their time and allocate their resources.
Time is the great teacher.
We grow as we go through new experiences, meet new people, learn new things, and make mistakes.
However, time is also the great punisher.
Every day we mark off the calendar is one less day we have in this world. With life being so short, time is a very cruel friend to have.
Likewise, being older (over, say, 50 years old) could make it more difficult to become financially independent within a reasonable amount of time. And retiring early becomes less possible at a later stage in life, because it’s simply not retiring “early” if you quit your job at 60. It’s just retiring.
Compounding is an incredible ally when you have decades on your side. It’s a less powerful force, though, when you only have a few years or so to give it.
The shorter the time frame to financial independence, the more you’ll rely on your saving (rather than compounding). And so most people should focus on being better savers rather than better investors.
But compounding is still a wonderful thing, even over shorter periods of time.
The snowball effect behind dividend growth investing is phenomenal. Even just a few years of snowballing can prove to positively change the rest of your life. Seeing this occur in real-time is one of the most amazing and fun things I’ve yet to experience.
But starting the game in your 50s is a lot different from starting in your 20s or 30s.
Moreover, being much older means you’re more likely to be set in your ways, making the idea of frugality or any type of sudden and extreme lifestyle changes less appetizing.
It’s easy to, for instance, sell your car and give the bus a shot when you’re 25 or 30. It’s a different story when you’re 55 and set in your ways.
That’s not to say that a major lifestyle change at an older age is impossible. It’s just that one will likely require more internal force (and perhaps even external force) at an older age in order to get the momentum rolling in a different direction.
I just see frugality, especially extreme frugality, as much easier when you’re younger. We naturally grow a bit softer as we age.
Some People Need Barriers
I’ve met a lot of people in my time. And I’ve naturally had opportunities to discuss this lifestyle with many different people. As such, I’ve seen quite a few different perspectives.
I can usually tell within just a few minutes if someone “gets it” or not. It doesn’t take long.
Now, I don’t see the FIRE lifestyle as inherently better than any other lifestyle. If you’re not hurting anyone else, people should be free to go about their lives without fear of judgement. I don’t see myself as any “better” than anyone else because I’ve chosen this path. Spending 100% of your income doesn’t make you a “bad” person, nor does spending 25% of your income make you a “good” person.
Furthermore, having a job doesn’t make you a “bad” person, nor does being financially independent and job-free make you a “good” person.
But there is something to be said for who we are intrinsically and how that ties in with our identities, our need to have a job, and our spending patterns.
What I would say about this is, talking to many different people has led me to believe that there is a significant percentage of the population that need barriers, direction, and rules in their lives.
They need a job. They need a boss. They need barriers. They need structure, even if it’s a structure they haven’t necessarily chosen for themselves.
What’s interesting about my own scenario is that I have a pretty set routine. It’s almost as if I have a job, because I tend to go about my life in a way that has a serious dose of structure.
But the key difference is that I’ve customized that structure. I’ve built my own schedule with no input from anyone else. My entire world has been built to my specs. And that makes me incredibly happy.
That said, I don’t think a lot of people out there are necessarily meant for that. If left to their own devices, they might feel a bit lost. Perhaps even depressed.
I believe quite a few people out there need to be told what to do. They need to walk a maze of life that someone else drew for them. They’re followers, for better or worse. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Not everyone can be a manager. Not everyone can be a boss, an entrepreneur, or anything else. We’re not all meant for one thing. We’re not all built the same way. We’re not all designed to become financially independent, especially at a young age.
The challenge to overcome that is, in my opinion, worth the stretch. But it’s easier said than done, especially when I’m confined to my own viewpoints, biases, and experiences that may not relate all that well to anyone else’s unique set of circumstances.
But the challenge might not at all be worth the stretch for someone else.
Not everyone wants FIRE. Likewise, not everyone wants to eat one particular type of food, live in one particular place, or listen to one particular type of music. We’re unique individuals. Individuality is what makes the world interesting.
This article was partly inspired by the numerous emails I’ve received over the years from people who exasperatedly contacted me only to tell me that they don’t have the desire or ability to live like I do.
These emails have ranged from honest reflections to angry trolling. I’m not quite sure how some of these people found me or why they took the time to contact me, but that’s another conversation altogether.
In addition, I’ve had time to have some some honest reflection in the face of meeting so many people who were clearly not meant to live like I do and achieve similar things to that of which I have.
There’s a mindset that’s necessary to have in place in order to become financially free at a young age and enjoy it. It’s more than money. You need to have a holistic lifestyle and belief system in place. And I just don’t personally believe everyone has what it takes to make this happen, nor does everyone want it.
There’s nothing wrong with not wanting, needing, or being meant for FIRE. It’s not for everyone. I don’t think this world would operate or be interesting if we all lived one way and wanted one thing. Perhaps some more cohesiveness across our species would be a good thing, but there’s value to be had in different lifestyles and perspectives.
Being financially independent is a wonderful way to go about life, in my opinion. I’ve been both financially independent and not financially independent. I can say for sure the former is a hell of a lot better than the latter.
But if it’s not for you, that’s okay.
If you ultimately conclude that it is for you, though, I wholeheartedly believe you’re in for a world of amazement.
What do you think? Do you think financial independence is for everyone? Have you ever met someone who was clearly not meant for this lifestyle?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: ArtJSan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
P.S. If you’ve decided that financial independence is indeed something you want and something you’re meant for, check out some fantastic resources that I personally used on my way to achieving financial freedom at 33 years old!