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18 of the Most Important Lessons from Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) Influencers

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In strict terms, financial independence is just another word for retirement. It means that you have enough income and assets to cover all your expenses and maintain your desired lifestyle without the need to work actively for income. Financial independence retire early (FIRE) is a phrase used to describe people who have achieved financial independence and retired in their 40s, 30s, and even 20s through extreme frugality and disciplined saving and investing.

While FIRE is not for everyone, there are some great lessons for anyone.

Most people worry about being able to retire in their mid to late 60s. FIRE adherents take the leap much earlier.

We read through hundreds of articles from dozens of financial independence blogs to discover 18 of the top lessons from people who have achieved total financial independence.

1. Spend Less on Highest Cost Items

If you save 50% on an item, that sounds pretty impressive. But if that item was a $5 bottle of shampoo, you really only kept $2.50 in your pocket.

J.D. Roth from Get Rich Slowly explains that if you want to retire early, you’ve got to focus on your high-cost items. Namely, your:

  • Home
  • Car
  • Food

The average person will spend over $2,000 a month on these categories alone. If you want to retire or retire early, the solution is simple: spend less and save more. And, you can do it easily by focusing all your efforts on reducing the big dogs – home, car, and food expenses.

Need more inspiration? Here are 23 ways to save BIG. Or, listen to the podcast interview with J.D. Roth.

Financial independence means that you don’t require additional income to sustain your desired lifestyle. Financial freedom is more about being able to find work that you love. With financial freedom, you are able to monetize something you are passionately interested in pursuing.

You are still working, but you love your work.

3. Know Your Target Savings Rate

There is no formula that is going to work for everyone. (The best way to figure out your target savings rate is to create a personalized and very detailed financial plan for the rest of your life. Sound complicated? Don’t worry, the NewRetirement Planner makes it easy.)

However, if you want a simple formula for FIRE, Mr. Money Mustache (MMM) is your guy. He uses a shockingly simple formula with just two data points: the number of years you work and save and the percent of your income that you put away (assuming a 5% return and a 4% withdrawal rate).

If you currently have zero in savings and want to retire in:

  • 5 years, you’ll need to save 80% of your income
  • 15 years, save 55% of your income
  • 25 years, put away 35% of your income

Most of you have already been working for a few decades, so the numbers above might not mean as much. So, what numbers are relevant for you?

If you have consistently put away:

  • 10% of your income, you’ll likely have to work a total of 51 years before you retire
  • 15% of your income, your time in the workforce is 43 years
  • 20% of your income, you’ll probably have enough money to retire after 37 years in the workforce
  • 50% of your income, then you should be good to quit after a mere 17 years on the job

4. Don’t Rule Out Part-Time Work in Retirement

When most people retire, they assume they’ll never work another day in their lives, and, if they have to, they consider themselves a failure in retirement.

Jonathan Clements, from the financial independence blog the HumbleDollar, disagrees.

According to Jonathan, “Working a few days each week could greatly ease any financial strain, while adding richness to your retirement.”

So if you have to (or want to) work in retirement, don’t sweat it. There are countless others that do the same.

Explore 14 reasons retirement jobs are the best and listen to our interview with him on the NewRetirement podcast where Clements discusses money, behavior, and happiness.

Like MMM, Darrow Kirkpatrick (retired at 50) is a fan of simplicity.

“The best way to get a useful model going is to input a small number of initial assumptions, then calculate and check the results carefully, year by year. Once you are certain those initial numbers are behaving as expected, you can begin adding more data, more financial events, and refining your model.”

Darrow Kirkpatrick

He compares retirement planning to constructing a puzzle. You don’t try to put all the pieces together at once. You start with a corner, add a piece, add another, and then slowly put together the entire puzzle one piece at a time. The same should be true with your retirement planning.

Instead of putting all your numbers into a complex tool right off the bat, put in only a few, confirm the number, and then go back and model other likely scenarios. In the end, you’ll be much more confident in your number and you’ll understand it completely.

This approach is fully supported by the NewRetirement Retirement Planner. Users start by inputting a relatively simple set of data – estimates are okay. You can view results and start building a more complete plan. Or, simply run different scenarios and keep your information updated over time, making adjustments as necessary.

There are tons of people today that have absolutely no idea how much they spend from month to month. And, not only do they not know the amount that they’re spending, they probably couldn’t even tell you how the spending is allocated.

If you have absolutely no idea where your money is going today, you have little chance of grasping where it will go ten to thirty years from now.

In Darrow Kirkpatrick’s book, “Retiring Sooner,” he discusses several ways to assess your living expenses quickly and easily. So if you’re one of the people who doesn’t know where your money is going, take some notes from DK and get a handle on your spend today so that you can have a blissful, easy retirement.

When you think of regrets in retirement, you might only consider the regret of retiring too early and running out of money, but that’s not the only outcome you should fear.

Physician on FIRE (retired at age 39) warns us also of retiring too late.

If you run all the scenarios in all of the models and you’re safe in every one, then you waited far too long to retire.

Everything won’t happen all at once. You’re not going to: get cancer, develop Alzheimer’s, get into a car accident, experience 3 stock market crashes, lose your pension, and get sued.

The point of modeling is to protect yourself against the likely fears, not every one. Wait too long to retire, and you’re going to regret it for the rest of your life. Sure, your kids might enjoy the millions that you’ll never be able to spend, but I bet they’d much rather have your time instead.

The Wealthy Accountant, Keith “Taxguy,” is certainly a guy you want to listen to. He’s worth over $12 million and hasn’t held a conventional job since he was 22 years old…

He says it plain and simple:

“When you are in debt the clock works against you. Every morning when you wake—weekends, holidays, sick days, birthdays and work days—you are already behind. The mortgage, credit card, car loan, et cetera, all tacked on interest the second after midnight. Long before you rolled out of bed and poured your first cup of coffee you need to work to pay the interest before you have money for food, clothing, shelter or entertainment.”

The takeaway is that debt is just adding to your expenses. Pay your debt off as fast as possible and invest heavily once those liabilities are gone. Saving is easier once you don’t have a payment in the world.

Most people go to the bank and ask the question, “How much will you lend me?” The bank tells them the maximum that they’d be comfortable forking over, then the borrowers go out and find the best house for that amount of money.

Without realizing it, these folks just became house poor. Hopefully, they really love the house, because they won’t have enough money to do anything outside of those four walls for many years to come.

Passive Income MD gives us a great rule of thumb when it comes to getting a mortgage – never exceed 3 times your annual income. So, if you are making $100,000 a year, you should buy a home that is no valued at no greater than $300,000.

If you are currently in over your head, downsize. You won’t regret minimizing your debt down the road.

You hear this all the time, but are you actually doing it? Are you putting the maximum amount allowed into your 401(k) each year? Joe Udo, from the financial independence blog Retire by 40, admits that he didn’t max it out every year, but he only missed his first couple when he let his high-performance, stock chasing mentality get the better of him.

By maxing out his retirement nearly every year, he was able to build up a $640,000 nest egg before his 40th birthday. Not too shabby.

If you still haven’t started to max out your contributions, it’s better late than never. Do nothing and you’ll have way more regrets than if you get started today.

If you’re over age 50, be sure to use catch up contributions (whether or not your employer offers a program or not).

In 2012, Justin, from Root of Good, earned $140,000 and paid just $600 in taxes. In 2013, he did even better. He earned $150,000 and paid $150.

“We didn’t go anything sneaky or illegal,” Justin explained. He and his wife simply invested in all the tax-advantaged accounts:

  • 401(k)s
  • Traditional IRAs
  • Health Savings Accounts
  • 457
  • And a 529 College Savings Account

That, and they paid for childcare with a Flexible Spending Account through his wife’s work.

His motto is to keep things simple, but also to keep the government’s hands off his money. If you can do this just half as well as Justin, you’ll be well on your way to total financial independence.

Planning ahead for taxes in retirement — especially when it comes to your Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) — is critically important if you want to preserve your wealth.

Use the NewRetirement Planner to take discover ways to reduce your lifetime taxes.

“Saving a high percentage of income is only half the battle. You can’t just put fat stacks of cash under your mattress and expect to get rich.”

Go Curry Cracker

If you can earn a 10% rate of return each year, it takes approximately seven years for your money to double. In another seven years, it would double again. Wait another seven, and it doubles again.

Compounding interest is practically magical. 

In 21 years you could take $100,000 to $800,000 ($100,000 becomes $200,000 which doubles to $400,000, and then doubles one more time to make $800,000). If you could hold off another seven years, you could have yourself a cool $1.6 million. 

Sure, sustained 10% returns are unlikely, but the point is that investing, earning returns, and reinvesting those returns is going to increase your money greatly.

As Bill Bernstein said in his NewRetirement podcast interview:

“I’m going to sound kind of insensitive and cruel, I suppose, but when someone tells you that [that they are not invested and are holding cash], what they’re effectively telling you is that they’re extremely undisciplined. And they can’t execute a strategy and that’s the kind of person who probably does need an advisor. If you sold out in 2007 or 2008 and you’ve been in cash ever since, you’ve got a very seriously flawed process and you’re probably managing your own money.”

You have got to be invested in order to get ahead.

If you retire at age 60, you could easily have 30 years or more of retirement life ahead of you. When you were 30, could you have predicted you’d be where you are at age 60?

Of course not.

The same is true for your retirement years, “And that’s okay!” explains Steve from Think, Save, Retire (retired at age 35). You can do all the planning and forecasting your want, but you’ll never be able to predict what will happen to you personally, professionally, relationship-wise, or financially over the next 30 or more years.

In early retirement, Steve thought he was going to:

  • Exercise more
  • Blog more
  • And read more

He doesn’t, and for good reason. All reasons he hadn’t thought of when he handed in his two weeks’ notice.

Be ready to be flexible and able to make updates to your overall financial plan.

Sam at the popular financial independence blog, Financial Samurai worked as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs for 13 years. Very few have those credentials on their resume.

After all that experience and knowledge of the markets, his advice to achieve early retirement is not a stock tip and not even a sector analysis. His advice:

Keep it simple.

Spend less, earn more, and invest all you can. That’s it. There’s power in that message, especially considering the source.

ESI Money retired in his early 50s and has practiced exactly what he’s preaching today. His message:

“Invest for growth and then income.”

What does that mean? He goes on to explain and outlines the following:

  1. Max out your 401(k) and invest in index funds (growth)
  2. Invest in rental properties (a combination of growth and income)
  3. Consider person to person (P2P) investing (income)

Also, option three could include annuities – another tool that helps build up a consistent income for your retirement years.

You first want to get your nest egg going and grow your investments quickly out of the gate so you can capitalize on compound interest. Then, in order to retire early, it’s best if you invest in multiple income sources that can float you until you hit the magic age of 59 ½, when you can start withdrawing from your retirement accounts without penalty.

Led by co-founders and co-hosts Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendonsa, ChooseFI has become home to the largest Financial Independence community in the world. One of their many many financial independence tips is to take advantage of the triple tax benefits of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).

  • Contributions to an HSA are pre-tax
  • Any earnings you acquire through simple interest or investing are not subject to tax
  • If the proceeds are used towards qualified medical expense, the withdrawals are not taxed

They say, “After maxing out your IRA and 401k, the HSA is your best tax-free savings vehicle. It’s the only account that doesn’t tax contributions, earnings, or withdrawals.”

Learn more about HSAs.

Even if you hate your job and have a “countdown to retirement” clock on your desk at work, you’ll still likely have difficulty when you finally give them the old heave-ho.

Jacob, from Early Retirement Extreme, likens it to a long-term marriage. A break-up from your long-time spouse is sure to be difficult. You think the escape will be nothing but sunshine and rainbows, but it’s not always that easy.

The same is true of your job. Expect it.

Better yet, set up a future for yourself in other areas – self-employment, volunteering, or starting that part-time gig we mentioned above. When you’ve already moved on to the next thing mentally, letting go of the old boat anchor becomes that much easier to do.

We at NewRetirement fully support the FIRE movement and strive to make the NewRetirement Planner relevant to those who want to retire at 25…. and those who will wait till 85.

There is no one way to retire. Let NewRetirement help you find your way.

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