What got you FIRE’d up?

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We all know that the most important step in making the decisions to be Financially Independent or to Retire Early is to have a goal. That goal needs to be big enough that we can stick to it when the initial excitement wears off.

Yet, there’s plenty of folks haven’t found that goal yet. So I got an idea.

What if everyone in the Personal Finance community could write about how they found their goals? Maybe newcomers would relate to one of these stories and decide to make these goals their own? What if that could help someone FIRE? 🙂

I’ll start with my story.

A missed opportunity

2013 was a crazy good year for stocks. The S&P500 went up some 24% and everyone that was invested in stocks was making a killing. If only I had 100k$ invested at that time, I could have been 24k$ richer now.

But that didn’t happen because I was too busy spending money, instead of investing.

I didn’t invest because I was too busy spending money

I spent on travels, restaurants, clothes and I wasn’t saving nearly enough to make any kind of substantial investment.

But then over Christmas, over a delicious dinner at my uncle’s house (he’s a former chef), something struck me.

When we were all done, stuffed and slowly drifting away into our respective food coma, with a well-deserved digestive in one hand, I thanked him for inviting us over and making such a delicious dinner. I also told him I felt so lucky to live such an amazing life.

That’s when he told me his story, and I’ll never forget it.

My awakening

My uncle has retired 5 years ago, from working for 40 years in various restaurants as a chef. Part of his job required him to start working early to select the best produce and meat at the markets and working extended hours to cover his shifts. He was a very hard working employee.

He was a good chef, but he wasn’t particularly good with finances. Like many of his colleagues, he had his retirement contributions set on automatic, in the default fund the company made available.

The default fund was basically stock in the parent company that owned the restaurant. After 20+ years working there, the parent company went bankrupt and the restaurant closed. Many employees’ retirement savings evaporated, as did their expectations of retirement.

Seeing him working so hard for so long and ending up with no pension made me sick. Of course there is a law-suit against that company, but it’s been years since the process started and in the meantime, he has only social security to rely on. It sucks even more knowing that Social Security will be broke in a few years.

That’s when I realized that :

  • I had to take my finances in my own hands. If I decided to not take care of my finances, I was implicitly trusting that someone else, anyone else, would be taking care of it for me. Not good.
  • I had to have a plan for retirement, now. Because building a nest egg for retirement takes time and plans rarely work out as intended, I had to have a plan that would make it virtually impossible to have no retirement.

I was 32 at the time and thinking about retirement seemed crazy.

But working for another 35 years and getting no retirement seemed crazier!

The opportunities are endless

Now that I’ve worked on that plan, what seemed completely insane 3 years ago feels like common sense today. As it turns out, I’m now on track to be Financially Independent at 41, which means retirement at 65 should only be a formality.

All it took was a kick in the pants and trying to figure out what my money was doing (reading Personal Finance blogs helps a lot).

So what got me FIRE’d up?

Realizing that working for 40 years is no guarantee for a comfortable retirement. But if you plan carefully, you can be done in 10 years.

If this is a story you can relate to and want to start getting control of your finances, I’d recommend a few reads:

What got others FIRE’d up?

What got Mr SSC FIRE’d up?

Mrs. SSC had her retirement spreadsheet projecting us to retire at 45. I can’t believe that’s all we’d need though. I mean it’s all right there, but I’m just amazed that the number is what it is. I just thought it’d have to be higher… 

What got NorthernExpenditure FIRE’d up?

We missed raising our baby together. We missed the creative projects we pursued. We missed the freedom of time and location we enjoyed.

What got Finance Superhero FIRE’d up?

For as long as I can remember, my motivation to achieve financial success has always been about one primary factor: Legacy

In the present, those visions represent a future worthy of current sacrifice and hard work.

What got Mr PIE FIRE’d up?

We have documented our experiences with a financial advisor already. Suffice to say, this was the turning point that really got us FIRE’d up. Our experiences with him when we tried to discuss a retirement plan were painful. I simply told us that our plan was so much better than any plan his team could ever put together.

What got AmberTreeLeaves FIRE’d up?

The big change here is that I became a landlord. Most of my bonuses went to an accelerated paydown of the mortgage. At one point, the mortgage was gone! Cashflow was good!  […] I decided to sell the apartment. I got a good price. […] Some of the money went to our house mortgage, some went to the garden. The left over needed a destination. This is where I started to google about how to invest and finally stumbled upon the FIRE community.

What got The Green Swan FIRE’d up?

Lucy and I have now had more conversations about “FIRE” than cavemen. We’ve always been a team and there to support each other with whatever life throws at us. She’s on board with FIRE and like always, ready to take a life’s worth of journeys with The Green Swan. I wouldn’t have it any other way. And that will always be our swan song.

For those of you who have already taken control of their finances and decided to pursue Financial Independence or to Retire Early, what was your trigger? What gave you the initial motivation to get your finances in order and have a long term financial goal?

Please share your stories, your a-ha moments in the comments!

For my blogging peers, I challenge you to write a post on what really got your FIRE’d up! Let me know and I’ll add a link to it here.

How awesome would that be that a newcomer reads your story, relates to it and decides to pursue FIRE as well? 🙂

-Nick

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32 COMMENTS

  1. As sad as it is, learning from others mistakes is important. My uncle had a similar story working for a popular telecom company a couple decades ago. That’s how I learned the importance of diversification. Thanks for sharing how you got FIRE’d, I’ll have to give some thought to my story.

    • You’re right, diversification is another important strategy. The telecom industry radically changed in the last 20 years and particularly since the dot com bubble, it’s a good reminder how fast things can change if we aren’t paying attention.

  2. That’s a rough story about your uncle, reminiscent of Enron, “sorry, your retirement is gone”. My story was driven almost entirely by Mrs. SSC. She had her retirement spreadsheet already projecting us to retire at 45, which I half didn’t believe anyway, and she kept talking about Mr. Money Moustache, which did even less to sell me on the concept of FIRE.

    I didn’t work hard to get through college and grad school barely scraping by to land a nice job where money is now not a concern, only to leave it now that I’ve arrived, JUST so I don’t have to work. That was how I looked at it then. Especially when she letp mentioning that he lived off of $25k/year, and other people did the same. It didn’t help she brought up extreme examples, like living in RV’s or trailers (no offense Steve) or people severely cutting their grocery budgets by dumpster diving. No thanks!

    This link is when I finally “got it” and realized we could retire in 2019 (it’s now mid-2018) very comfortably and not change much if anyting in our current comfortable but not lavish lifestyle. Re-reading this older post makes me think I should update it with a post like you suggested. 🙂

    http://www.slowlysippingcoffee.com/the-lightbulb-emails/

    • Thanks for sharing your story Mr SSC, I’ll go have a look at that article. Having a spouse that is already convinced is definitely a help, it’s 50% of the job done! Do you know what convinced her?

      • Well I think it was the amazed responses from her colleagues when she sent them our retirement spreadsheet, which predicted we’d be FI by 45. It was around the 401(k) election time at work and a lot of friends were asking her for advice.

        When she realized that 45 was still young, she started looking online and found MMM and 1500 days, as well as Big Guy Money (doesn’t really post any more), and Root of Good (ER’ed a while back now). Seeing these real life examples made her track stuff even more and start working on calculating how much we would actually need if we really retired at 45 (we’re now targeting 40/41). Those blogs were a key driver for her.

        I’ll have to work on a co-authored post from us and explain it more. 🙂

  3. Well, I’m actually drafting right now a post about my FIRE epiphany, but there’s no enlightening story like your uncle’s one. In my case, it was a continuous process as I wrote in “my financial story” series on my blog.

    • Can’t wait to read it! It’s also good that you didn’t need a kick in the pants like I did, you probably have a much more rational mind than me.

  4. I will chime in with ‘forced’ early retirement of by dad before age 60, because the new management wasn’t so keen on him. He got a severance package, and still has access to the company sponsored medical plan, but 30+ years of service to be asked to exit, showed me the company loyalty isn’t there. He has invested wisely and has not gone back to full time work.
    My mom was a teacher, and the administration was asking more and more of them. Teach to this strategy, teach to that strategy, keep up the test scores, without getting data points if any strategy was effective. Most people get into teaching to – TEACH! – not be observed 20 times, and told you can’t fail a student who has scored 50 or less consistently through the year. Due to investing well, she was able to say “No Thanks” and retire before 62 as well.
    Being envious of her summers off, and the flexibility my friends with work from home jobs have inspired me to figure out how I can get the same. FI/RE is my answer. I’ve always been frugal, but having a goal sure helps.

    • Actually death is my second answer. My grandparents passed away around the age of 72. I read an article that social security was going to get bumped up to 67. If genetics and chance keep that average, I’d have 5 years of retirement, for working for 30+?!?! That doesn’t seem a good trade off to me. I started thinking about how to get to 65, or 62 or heck 60.
      Then I found the FIRE community and said, how low can I go?
      People my age or just a bit older passing also lit the ‘fire’ for flexibility. If I need to work, make it not my whole life, make time for friends and family, that if my time will be shorter, less of it was spent in a cubicle.

      • I agree with you Jacq, death has also been a powerful motivator. I can imagine that I’ll be working until my last breath, but it will have to be work I love. How low do you think you can go?

    • It’s good that you have some examples to relate to and motivate you. It sure helps to define goals when you a frame of reference.
      Teaching is a tough job these days and mega corporations often compare loyalty to an ROI. Seeking FI/RE gives options!

  5. I love this challenge. And what a horrible story about your uncle! Ours happened when Mr. T’s company started threatening lay-offs. And we talked about how much he didn’t actually want to get a job working for someone else. And then I started thinking: “If we ever lose this job, we’ll just start working for ourselves… I better save all the money coming in NOW while we have it in case that happens.” Now it’s up to Mr. T when to quit. 🙂

    • Always looking at the bright side of things Maggie! Turning something threatening into a positive motivation is a great story. Now, without any more immediate threat, maybe Mr. T doesn’t plan to quit any longer 😉

  6. It hit me when I moved to NYC realized the people there were making more money then they would anywhere else in the country, yet not many were saving ANY. I realized I was going to take my NYC salary and start investing it instead of spending it all. That’s when I found the FI community. It’s been a great 2.5 year journey!

    • So true! The saying “the more you make, the more you spend” is very true in big cities, where the temptation to keep up with the Joneses can be strong. You’ve probably saved more in the last 2.5 years than many.

  7. When I moved in my bought apartment, i had a hard time to move only off my salary. I was lucky to realise this was not a sustainable situation. Hence, I made a budget. I was lucky to have learned that skill when I was younger: I worked out a monthly allowance with my mother to cover for fun, cloths and some other items.
    After having our both kids, I made a plan in xls to see if we would have enough in retirement, that is, at age 67.
    The real trigger to FIRE came after selling the apartment. I wanted a DIY solution for the proceeds of the sales. From ETF investing, the logical find was FIRE blogs. The plan got a boost, and now we aim at age 53.

    • This is a great story ATL, it was a wise move to invest the proceeds of your apartment sale. You could have decided to spend it, but you instead looked for options how to invest and found a way to retire 14 years early. That’s awesome.

  8. Great idea here Nick!

    My story began last year during my senior year of college. I took a personal finance course and realized I had no idea what an emergency fund was, a mutual fund, retirement nest, 401(k) (to be fair I am not American so I excuse myself from that one) or anything personal finance related. I dabbled in stocks before but really had no idea the long term benefits they present to somebody as young as myself. After this class I started to learn more about investing and basic personal finance which eventually led to me creating a blog to put my ideas down and learn from others.

    • You had a personal finance class in college? This is really cool, I wish this would be more widespread. The benefit for you to learn this from such an early age gives you a headstart.
      What college is it? It deserves some free promotion 🙂

      • It was an elective so only 20 people could take it sadly but the college is La Salle University. It is a small (~3-4k undergrads) university in Philly. If it weren’t for this course I may have made many more mistakes that I already have made.

  9. I’ve watched a few family members go down a path similar to that of your uncle. It is horrible to watch, especially knowing that it could have been avoided rather easily. Helping people avoid such a senseless and unnecessary outcome is largely why I started my blog.

    I like the concept of this article and will soon be writing my own take – Challenge Accepted!

  10. I was always a saver after watching my parents. One day, while waiting on my mom to shop at WalMart, my dad found an article stating that if you maxed out your Roth every year for 12 years, starting as soon as you were eligible, you could retire a millionaire without ever contributing another dime.
    I worked enough through high school to max out my Roth every year.

  11. That’s unfortunate what happened to your Uncle. The silver lining is that you learned from his experience (although this could happen to anyway) and decided a different path for yourself. The reason for my desire to have FIRE is because I don’t like calling the shots on my terms…who doesn’t. I also like to work so I will never stop working probably. But I want it to be on my terms and for me to determine what that looks like.
    Also, After paying off $120k in 2.5 years, I was amazed at hoe disciplined I could be if I just paid attention to my money. Granted those were bare bones years when paying back debt, but even if I scale back a bit, I can put a significant amount towards savings and retirement.
    That is why I chose FIRE

    • Hi Pamela, thanks for reading and congrats on paying 120k$ off in 2.5 years! You highlight a very important point : often we underestimate what we’re capable of doing if we focus on it. When our minds are at it, many things are possible, including paying off huge amounts of debt and going for FIRE.
      Then you realize you can call the shot and gain freedom. Which, I agree with you, is a pretty awesome feeling 🙂

  12. Sorry to hear about your Uncle. There are so many stories like that out there where the pension system failed us. Seeing my own grandparents and parents work for so long and so hard is what got me interested in FIRE back in my 20’s. But with every article I read about people who have accomplished it in their 30’s and 40’s, it motivates me to optimize my plan even further.

    • That’s awesome that you got interested back in your 20s, it’s the best time! Don’t optimize too much though, you also need to enjoy the freedom of your 20s to do all these crazy things and travels before you get married and have kids. It’s a lot tougher afterwards 😉

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