Asking Yourself: Is FIRE Worth It?
Is FIRE worth it?
It’s a question that’s asked by people who are looking at the movement from afar, as well as those who are actively pursuing financial independence and wondering if they are making the right choices.
It’s an important question, but the answer is like any assessment of value. You need to look at what it’s costing you, and what you are getting from it.
The cost will be based on how much of your limited resources you are investing in it. How much time are you spending looking at your finances, making more frugal choices or working on side projects? How much of your money goes towards your FIRE goals, and does that leave you enough to spend on other things that you care about? And how much energy, mental and physical, does your strategy use up?
Then think about what you are getting from it, both now and in the future. If you started the journey later on, like I did, time – or compound interest – won’t be on your side. It’s likely that a much greater financial sacrifice will be needed to retire early than if you had started ten or twenty years earlier.
There’s a difference between being happy with your life and happy in your life. Is your strategy for FIRE still allowing you to be both of these things: enjoying the day-to-day and also feeling like you are living with purpose and in line with your values?
Ask yourself, will you enjoy your life substantially more when you reach financial freedom? If the cost to you is high, but you don’t see your future being much better than it would otherwise be, then it’s likely that for you, it isn’t worth it.
Moving the needle
If you are doubting whether it’s worth it, but still feel committed to pursuing FIRE, here are some strategy and mindset shifts you can make to tweak the outcome of that cost/benefit analysis.
Put FIRE on the back burner
At the very least, allow yourself periods where you prioritise other goals over FIRE. This might mean automating investments that you know you can comfortably make every month and giving yourself permission not to increase that amount through side hustles or finding extra savings.
While your FIRE plans are simmering away, think about other goals or projects that will bring you joy and fulfillment, or just focus on maximising your time with the people you care about. This doesn’t need to be a temporary strategy – this can be the way that you incorporate the FIRE movement into your life. It may well mean a slower route than if it was your main focus, but it may be the way that you make it “worth it” to you.
Find joy in the journey
If you feel that you are constantly making sacrifices to save or earn then you won’t be enjoying the path to FI. This might be ok if you are earning and saving so much that this is only for a short period. But it is possible to enjoy the process if you can find joy in it. It may be that you are with a partner who is on the same page and working together on this goal brings you closer together. Maybe you can gamify it and get a kick out of tracking your progress on a big wall chart, or doing challenges like no-spend years.
For me, because sustainability is important to me, I find a more minimal and self-sufficient lifestyle satisfying. I love finding those win-wins, a way of doing something that is cheaper, more eco-friendly, and a better experience than the usual alternative. Like switching to a refillable fountain pen or a plastic-free safety razor – or learning to do something yourself like baking delicious sourdough.
Grow your skills when increasing your income
There are lots of ways to make some extra money nowadays and if you are really driven it’s hard to resist pouring all of your spare time into this for little reward. If your current side hustles are not profitable, ask yourself if they are at least helping you to grow your skills. If they are, these skills could help you to build up a professional toolkit for a new “work optional” lifestyle. If you are learning new things then you are unlikely to regret the time you spent on this and are more likely to enjoy the process.
One way that I’m putting this into action is through starting a new blog that’s related to a hobby I’ve always had but have let slip recently. I’m hoping it will encourage me to pick this hobby up again and also let me develop my online skills in an area that isn’t money related.
Treat your time as precious, from now
In a similar vein, being on a FIRE journey does take time whether it’s time spent learning about investing, putting in extra hours for a promotion or cleaning the house yourself so you can save some extra money.
Try not to devalue your time now for the sake of your time in the future. If you’ve got into the habit of spending time on things that you don’t value then try to shake that one habit at a time. I used to pick up my phone after I put my son to bed and lie on my bed scrolling social media for at least half an hour. Now I go straight down to the kitchen and listen to a podcast while cleaning the kitchen. I remember to keep my phone downstairs which makes it more difficult to fall into the old habit.
Cultivate aspects of your “retired” or “dream” life now
If you want to retire so you can pursue a creative hobby or travel then do more of that now. I envisaged my ideal day of “freedom” and it started with time in the garden having a leisurely breakfast. I don’t do that now but I do make time for a coffee in the garden every day before I start work and it’s already made such a difference to my quality of life.
Not only will you enjoy the present more as you do this, but you are also setting stronger foundations for living a full and purposeful life if you do end up retiring early.
Put your health and relationships first
These are things that you can’t sacrifice or put on hold until later. It’s so easy to do but without your health and without good relationships your free time will be worth so much less. Again when I imagined my ideal day I realised how much of it involved spending time with my family and being active outdoors.
If you’re a natural “tracker” like me but are feeling less inspired by following your progress to FI then you can shift your focus to working on health and wellbeing goals like increasing your fitness levels or spending more time outdoors through the 1000 Hours Outside Challenge.
Although that’s my natural tendency, I’m starting to be more guided by watching how I’m feeling and then adjusting. Would I feel better after a walk outside? How do I feel if I eat this, or that? How can we have a better day together as a family?
It’s in your hands
My partner teases me by saying that we are FIROT (Financial Independence Retire On Time) in that our strategy for FIRE is not very aggressive. From my perspective when you start looking at your finances you can make great progress at the beginning as you figure out ways to grow the gap between what you earn and spend. Then there’s the boring bit in the middle where you’ve used up your quick wins and aren’t benefiting yet from the upward curve in the hockey stick of compound interest. As we are in this lull now, this is when I choose to put FIRE on the back burner to make sure that the journey stays worth it for me.
I also find that having an understanding of how our situation will change naturally over time helps too. For example, in a year’s time we won’t be paying any nursery fees any more which will mean we either won’t need to earn as much or will be able to save more. I could spend every last minute trying to save or earn now just to feel I am making progress, or enjoy this time knowing that we can pick up momentum again in a year’s time, without the extra effort.
So if you are asking yourself, “is it worth it?” I’d say, ask yourself what you can change to make it worth it. Understanding your passions and priorities, and respecting your time, how can you make the most of these things and still enjoy the benefits of more financial security and more freedom in the future?