How Learning About FIRE Has Changed My Life

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It has been a couple weeks since I started this blog, and a few months since I began learning what FIRE was all about.

But I have been pretty serious about personal finance for almost a quarter of a century.

After getting my first job out of college, I had disposable income for the first time in my life.

Of course, I also had a lot of expenses I conveniently didn’t have to deal with while I was living with my parents.

Like rent.

And food.

And insurance.

Figuring out how to make ends meet, while saving money for the future, became a hobby of mine.

I devoured personal finance books, and was a voracious reader of publications like Money, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Investor’s Business Daily, The Economist, Barron’s, and The Wall Street Journal.

Keep in mind, these were pre-Internet days for myself, and almost everyone else in the United States, so I spent a lot of time perusing Barnes and Noble, Borders, local bookstores, libraries, and newsstands to track down information on personal finance and investing.

I read a lot.

I learned a lot.

And I was able to put a lot of what I learned into practice.

Back in 1993, the employee contribution limit for a 401(k) plan was almost $9,000. While the thought of maxing out my 401(k) contribution never crossed my mind at the time (the limit was about a third of my salary!), I did contribute to my 401(k) from day one, and have contributed a portion of every paycheck I have received since.

And I always made sure to contribute enough to get the maximum company 401(k) match, of course!

I’ve also consistently saved money outside of my retirement accounts, building up a cushion of cash in the bank, in addition to a portfolio of stocks and bonds used to generate both growth and income.

Despite that good start, nearly 25 years later, I am not financially independent.

My savings rate pales in comparison to those of people younger than me who retired years ago, and I have wasted tens of thousands of dollars on things that have little or no value to me – or anyone else – today.

And I continue to make poor financial decisions that waste more money.

I am better off than most, but the thought of doing anything except working for the man until my late 50’s or 60’s never crossed my mind until a few months ago.

The concept of FIRE has changed my life.

Four months ago, I would never have considered leaving my job without having another one in place.

Now, it’s something I contemplate.

Not because I am financially independent and never have to work again, but because learning about FIRE has changed the way I think about life.

Am I better off spending 11, 12, 13 or more hours a day working and commuting now, when my children are still young? Or should I consider working fewer hours for several years to spend more time with them, while living off our savings, and then go back to the daily grind when they are older or off in college?

I now recognize I have options, that while non-traditional, might make my life – and, more importantly, the lives of those around me – better. I am blessed to live in the United States, a country that gives my family a multitude of options most people around the world can only dream about.

I now recognize that each day I head into the office I am making a decision about how I value my time.

Does bringing home every last dollar I am capable of earning really matter, if it means my children grow up with a father who comes home from the office exhausted and irritable after another long and stressful day? Or should I consider a less lucrative career which offers a better work-life balance?

I like to assume I have another 40 years on this Earth. But tomorrow is promised to none of us. If I knew today was going to be my final day, would I have spent it the way I did?

Certainly not!

Time is an infinitely more precious resource than money. Especially as you get older. But in our society, time isn’t always treated with the respect it deserves.

Learning more about how others have achieved financial independence and pursued early retirement has inspired me to think differently, and consider options that, while not conventional, may lead me to a better life.

Four months ago, starting a blog was something I might do, someday, when I was retired.

But there are no guarantees in life.

There’s no time like the present to try something new.

To travel the road less traveled.

To consider making a decision others don’t understand, and society doesn’t condone.

I have been living life by the book since I was a young child.

By almost any objective measure, it has been a great life.

But learning more about FIRE has convinced me my life can be even better.

And making this life better is completely up to me.

How has learning about FIRE changed the way you think about life?

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