The FIRE Movement & Work-Life Balance

I discovered a “tribe” of people I belong with somewhat later in life, and somewhat accidentally. FIRE: Financial Independence, Retire Early. You are indeed, my people.

Photo of two people in chairs watching the sunset over the ocean by Anukrati Omar on Unsplash

It wasn’t until I started doing this coaching business that I realized completely how much freedom I was getting from having a healthy financial life, too. Let me be clear, my family is not wealthy. I still need to work and mostly for medical benefits. Still, with a plan in place, we paid off the mortgage on our home just before I turned 55 in 2019 which has allowed me to go to a part-time role at Patagonia and start this coaching business and work to rebuild the sprint canoe club from my youth. My wife stopped working as a college counselor and math teacher at the end of the 2021 school year and we have both started non-profit organizations. We also continue to save towards the time we’ll both be fully retired.

I had known there was a group of like-minded people out there that shared our goals of finance independence and retire early, but I simply didn’t connect it to living a balanced life until I saw that such goals seem to be rarely acted upon. The Covid-19 pandemic may have shifted some of this thinking, hopefully. Most people don’t seem to believe they will ever be able to retire. I would hope that everyone who works for decades, with the proper plan and goals in place, should be able to retire. Financial independence doesn’t necessarily even mean retirement – it can simply mean being able to make choices that are not bound by the size of the expected paycheck. If you choose a simpler lifestyle, financial independence is easier to achieve.

Here are my go-to tools and resources which have helped me make successful financial plans and decisions:

1. Mr Money Mustache
The name of the site is a bit ridiculous, but the content and resources found there are exceptional. At MMM, FIRE philosophies and do-it-yourself plans abound and the writing is fun and the community welcoming.

2. FIRECalc
The absolute best retirement planning tool I have ever found! It is not necessarily a pretty website design wise, and it can seem complicated to people at first. However, it’s rich in details, explanations, and functionality providing users with a financial model that uses the last 100 years of economic outcomes as a planning tool. Best of all, you can save your queries so you don’t have to re-enter your variables each time. I truly can’t recommend this website enough and have happily donated money to the author several times.

3. Tracking Your ProgressFinancial-Planning-Template
My wife and I have been using a shared Google Sheet for over a decade to track our major assets, cash on hand (meaning savings and checking accounts), investment accounts, and also separately our savings for our daughter’s education. We include the current credit card bill in our assets list as a negative but always pay the bill in full. We update our tracker about every two to three months and it also has lines for tracking life insurance amounts, future pensions/Social Security payments, and what our monthly take home amounts to.

The real power of tracking these values isn’t so you can change your investments – we rarely do that – it’s in being able to see things change over time. (I think we’ve shifted accounts around once and otherwise have only re-balanced the ratios of our investments.) If you are living simply and sticking to your plan, your investments will grow over time.

Separate tabs include one for a monthly budget which we track annually to see if we are living within those amounts, another tab for recording major home expenses such as a new roof, or adding solar panels, etc. We use that to help with knowing how much of a “rainy day” fund we should really be keeping.

There’s also a tab used to evaluate what may be the best time to sign up for Social Security. This tab takes the total amount one would earn each year, adds it to previous years, and gives the user a view of when waiting to take Social Security results in more money overall. For example if you wait to take your funds until they are maximized at say $3,000 per month at age 70, and compare that to taking them early at 62 for only $2,000 per month, it will take until age 77 for the maximized amount to equal or better the early amount’s total. Could you use that money earlier?

The biggest and most valuable thing you can do is to start early with your savings plan. If you’re young, do it NOW! If you’re middle aged, still do it NOW! Simplify how you live, make a budget, and saving for your future will reduce your stress and help you have a better work-life balance.

Welcome to the FIRE tribe!