Like most people, I have a retirement plan. It consists of saving some percentage of my paycheck and hoping that decades from now we’ll still be using banks and dollars and not bartering pelts to pay Emperor Mungo, who controls the sunlight. I mean, what am I gonna do? It’s not like I can retire right now. Or can I?
The New York Times recently ran a story about the FIRE phenomenon, which stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” There are different types of FIRE, from lean FIRE—where you’re super-thrifty—to barista FIRE, where you work part-time at Starbucks to get the health benefits. If you’re thinking that working at Starbucks doesn’t exactly sound like a carefree retirement, then you’re totally not getting this FIRE thing. See, it’s all about, uh… well, I don’t really understand what it’s all about. So I veered off the Times story to check out Mr. Money Mustache, one of the more popular FIRE blogs.
According to Mr. Money Mustache, “If you save a reasonable percentage of your take-home pay, like 50 percent, and live on the remaining 50 percent, you’ll be Ready to Rock (also known as ‘financially independent’) in a reasonable number of years.” Which turns out to be 16 years. Oh, is that all I need to do? Just save 50 percent of my take-home pay for 16 years? Tell me more, wise guru.
Well, first of all, you can’t have a Jeep: “Mr. Money Mustache’s first rule of cars is you never borrow money for a car. One of the next rules in that book is you can’t drive a Jeep on a paved road. Never. If there’s pavement, you use a front-wheel-drive hatchback that is either a 4-cylinder
manual, or electric.” That advice is quite specific, but it sounds like it doesn’t really matter what you drive as long as you’re sad about it.
I got my fill of Mr. Money Mustache pretty quickly, so I bopped back over to the Times story to read more about that catalog of insufferable bores. The story features a guy named Carl Jensen, a 38-year-old programmer who makes $110,000 a year and is married with two kids. He decides he wants to retire, so he saves really hard for five years and “drastically reduces expenses.” Voila: He has $1.2 million in the bank and tells his boss to pound sand. Wow! How did he do that?
Never mind how he saved $1.2 million in five years. A married 43-year-old with two kids can’t afford to retire on that, right? Well, soon enough we learn his retirement secret, which is that his wife still works and they live on her salary. The article doesn’t explicitly say so, but I think we can conclude that Carl Jensen must be hung like a bull moose.
My wife, Heather, and I just had our 12-year anniversary. I ask her, “So, what if I told you that I’m retiring but you’ll have to keep working and drive a beater car and we can’t afford Starbucks?” She replies, “Well, I’d say 12 years was a pretty good run.”
Later on in the story, we meet a pharmacist who can’t handle being a pharmacist so he somehow retires at 38 and is a huge dick about it. He doesn’t even have as much money as Carl Jensen
but his net worth has gone up since he retired, which he attributes to “the passage of the tax cut for wealthy job creators like myself.” I suppose he is a job creator, in that right now I’m hating him like it’s my job. Look, dude, being a pharmacist can be stressful, but you know who’s handling that just fine? Maureen down at Walgreens. I’m sure you lecture her about how awesome you are every time you go in there to scour the newspaper rack for loose coupons.
Since FIRE is a trend, I want to be on top of it and invent some new ones. Like, hobo FIRE stands for High-Octane Body Odor and it’s when you save tons of money by not wearing deodorant. Dumpster FIRE is saving money by eating out of trash cans. With forest FIRE, you live in the woods under a hollowed-out log and it’s so awesome because you’re your own boss. You don’t wake up to an alarm! (You wake up to rabid coyotes fighting over a squirrel carcass.) And don’t worry—even though you dropped out of the rat race, you’ll still get to see plenty of rats racing around, because buying a tent would blow your monthly budget of $37.50.
Look, I get it: Work sucks sometimes. And out-of-control materialism doesn’t get you anywhere. But I fail to see the freedom in obsessing over every dollar you spend, or the glory in having nothing to do for 40 years. Honestly, a lot of these people seem bored out of their skulls. The pharmacist says he’s watched 600 movies and gotten quicker at solving Rubik’s Cubes. Cool, bro. You’re really living the dream.
In high school, we once had a substitute teacher who smugly told us about how he’d invested wisely and now he was retired and could do whatever he wanted. One girl was like, “Then why are you here?” and we all laughed at him. Nobody said substitute FIRE was easy. ◆
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