The Financial Independence/Retire Early (FIRE, or just FI) movement is all about freedom.
- Freedom to never have to drag yourself to a job you don’t love
- Freedom to spend more time with the people you love, less time working
- Freedom to never miss an important event again, because, work
- Freedom to live every precious day on your terms, doing things you enjoy
FIRE started when young people began to question the status quo of life–you spend eighteen years under the domain of your parents, another four years under the thumb of military service or college, then decades under the control of “management,” and then, after you’re broke down from all of it and getting to an older age, maybe poor health, maybe then you can actually enjoy your life and work on that bucket list.
Early FIRE conceptualizers did a mental break from the matrix of that hamster-wheel life. The black-swan event of the COVID-19 epidemic certainly exacerbated this. Too many of their parents and grandparents died just before reaching that Holy Grail of life, clutching their dreams of travel, actual time to themselves, their bucket lists gone unfulfilled.
Thus, a movement began (actually, back in the early 1990s). The revolutionaries asked the question: what kept people ensnared in this kind of drudgery throughout their one beautiful life? The answers were pretty clear. Debt. Need for immediate gratification. Keeping up with the Joneses. Status. Greed. Consumerism. The American way. Constant bombardment through ubiquitous channels that this kind of encumbered life is good and normal, sponsored by the megacorps and financial machines that profit from it all.
The early designers of FIRE imagined a life spent traveling across the US in RVs, homeschooling their kids, experiencing life in foreign countries, living free. How could that be possible? They came up with a few founding principles.
- Disavow debt
- Be frugal, spend wisely, find bargains
- Develop passive streams of income and side hustles/virtual businesses
- Save and invest – emergency funds and 50% or more of income in low-fee index funds
It’s the way things should be. It works. It’s all about living free, living on your own terms.
The thing is, it existed before. After another black-swan event (World War II), veterans returned home burned out and disaffected, anti-social, unwilling and unable to conform to normal society. They created the first motorcycle gangs. They didn’t live their lives on society’s terms. They were rebels without a cause.
At the same time, the populace had also been traumatized by the years of war and threat of communism, a fate far worse than runaway capitalism. The youth of that time began the Beat movement, rebelling against the machine, refusing to be sucked onto the hamster wheel of the 1940s nuclear family. Jack Kerouac wrote a novel, On the Road, about a life spent on travel and kicks, and it became a bestseller, the anthem of that pre-FIRE movement in the 1950s.
Kerouac inspired others to live freely throughout the following generations. He showed there’s an alternative to the scripted, mundane life pushed upon us. His book inspired the hippie generation of the 1960s. Unfortunately, he wasn’t cut out for fame, became reclusive, an alcoholic, and died fairly young. He could no longer be free, due to his celebrity.
A more modern take is found in the book Farawayer, by Billy DeCarlo. Set in the 1980s, the protagonist emerges from the military unwilling to spend another moment of his life under the control of others. In fact, his rebellion against austere authority led to an early discharge. He hitchhikes and motorcycles throughout the United States, trying to remain free, despite the pull of societal norms, tragedies in his personal life, and homelessness. It’s an incredibly dramatic and interesting take on early FIRE concepts put to work, long before the proper movement ever existed. The main character didn’t have the precision of today’s FIRE. He just knew he wanted to be free. If he had, things may well have turned out differently for him! Perhaps DeCarlo is this generation’s Kerouac, and hopefully he doesn’t end up the same!
The desire to be free has always existed. We’re lucky to live in a society where it’s even possible, as it’s just not in many places around the world. Be thankful for that. Don’t give in to the urge to shackle yourself to a life unlived, a life unloved. You don’t have to retire in your 30s or hitchhike/motorcycle around the country while broke. Don’t give in to rampant consumerism. Track your spending and income at a high level. Don’t spend more than you make. Cut up the credit cards that obfuscate your cash flow. Set goals. Save. Invest. Be free. Live life on your terms, not someone else’s.