Don’t Get Burned With FIRE

In recent years, a new personal finance concept has caught on called: FIRE: Financial Independence, Retire Early.1 Some young professionals embrace the FIRE movement, working to save at least 50 percent of their income in a bid to live frugally now and retire while young. The theory goes that the savings, amplified by investing, will quickly accumulate to be enough money to retire by age 40.


As an idea, FIRE is intriguing, and saving for the future is always a good plan. But there’s more to it than that. Many of the people who advocate FIRE have six-figure salaries, don’t have dependents and have a low cost of living. In addition, the plan does not address disability, accidents or illnesses, which can easily disrupt best-laid plans. Further, there is an inflation concern that gets skipped over: If your retirement lasts 50 or more years, which it easily could if you retire at 40, your purchasing power could be cut in half—twice—over that time period.  Finally, when you pick through many of articles about those who have successfully "Retired" using the FIRE concept, you'll find out that they aren't really "Retired" in the traditional notion.  They're now earning 6+ figures blogging and selling advertising on their sites as "Influencers".  So for many (not all), they've just really changed careers.


Another method seeks to protect yourself today, while saving for tomorrow. This can be implemented in place of FIRE or be a complement to it, depending on your personal preferences.


Just imagine for a moment: What would happen if you were too ill to work? It’s not far-fetched. One out of four young workers will have to put work (and earning) on hold due to an illness or accident at some point in their career. Often this kind of income interruption drains savings accounts or drives people into debt to cover basic expenses. A disability income insurance policy can help to keep a portion of your income flowing in the event of an injury or illness. This can help you to stay focused on getting better and keep up with expenses. Similarly, properly designed life insurance can give families financial protection if an income earner dies unexpectedly and also be a tool to significantly enhance their Retirement.


As I've said from the start, it’s important to save for the future. But a 50 percent savings rate is extreme and simply not achievable for most people. Many financial experts recommend saving 20 percent of your income.2 That’s because saving for the future should be a sustainable, lifelong habit. The immediate goal is to have a year’s worth of expenses in your savings account. Once you have this kind of financial cushion in place, you can weather the unexpected without accruing debt through credit cards or unsecured loans.


Many people get caught in a debt cycle and are motivated to pay it all off as fast as possible. This is a good thing to do, certainly, but not at the expense of protection. Think about it. You could pay down every last cent one day, and be unable to work the next, because of an unexpected event. Then, you’re quickly back where you started.

Certainly, one of the great things about the FIRE movement is that people are really talking about ways to live within their means and save. However, there may be a better way to live today without sacrificing your tomorrows, that can also lead to greater overall financial and emotional confidence for the rest of your life.