In recent years, the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement has really gained traction around the world. Financial bloggers and investment gurus won loyal followings teaching others how to build a passive income stream that freed them from the tyranny of salaried work. For a while I was also quite taken by this narrative, signing up for course after course hoping to make a pile.
After trying this out for some time with limited success, I started to have my doubts. Is FIRE economically achievable for the masses? After all, if everyone is a shareholder or landlord, who is left to work to provide the income – the future generation and the poor? More importantly, what happens when I’ve reached FIRE – will I be happy living in retirement for the rest of my life?
I then realised FIRE plays to the growing insecurity and frustration we feel towards an increasingly volatile and uncertain world of work. Most of us no longer feel safe in our jobs when employers sack co-workers in the name of cost-cutting or “poor performance”. Others feel trapped in jobs that pay well, but take up all their energy or are ultimately dissatisfying. With a stable income stream and freedom from the paymaster, FIRE is an attractive way to break out from the rat race.
However, I don’t think this is suitable for everyone. Not everyone has the temperament for investing. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying FIRE is a scam, nor am I writing this out of spite due to my own failure in this pursuit. I do believe all of us need to be prudent with managing our money, saving up to reach goals or for the occasional rainy day. In fact, I maintain a portfolio in equities and other instruments as part of a balanced, responsible approach to investments and savings.
What I am against is the single-minded pursuit of FIRE for the purpose of ditching work permanently. Beyond providing income, I believe that work is integral to life, giving us meaning and purpose. Just because work is broken, I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Are you pursuing FIRE today? What will you do when you reach financial freedom?