FIRE: Could You Retire Early?

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FIRE is the acronym for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” If 50 is the new 30, FIRE practitioners want to make 35 the new 65.

Most of us think of retirement age as somewhere between 62 (Social Security eligibility) and 70 (mandatory retirement age for some professions, and the age when Social Security payments max out.) But a wave of young people have decide life is too short to spend 50 years of it working. They are working hard toward the day in their 30s, 40s, or early 50s, when work will be an option and not a necessity. Some think it can be achieved in your 20s with determination, good planning, and a little luck.

I spoke to “Sam,” a FIRE practitioner who also blogs about his experience under a pseudonym to protect his privacy. He’s based in Los Angeles and works as an engineer. He’s 30 years old, and in 2015 he set his goal to be retired in the year 2024 at 35 years old. As an engineer, he’s a numbers guy, so planning and monitoring come naturally to him.  He’s also a naturally frugal person with a keen interest in personal finance.

Sam says he loves his work, but his FIRE plan is a way to make sure he’s prepared for whatever life might throw his way. “If I should lose my job, or suffer some serious illness, I know I’ll be okay,” he says. “I will also have the ability to care for family if they need my help.” He’ll be free to pursue a passion full time if he discovers something he wants to explore.

He says that finding your “why” is as important as finding your “how” to do FIRE right. “Once you know why you want to do this, the planning will be much easier,” he says. Your “why” will also sustain you through challenges and setbacks and keep you from giving up.

Sam says that once he became serious about FIRE, it took him about a year to implement his plan. He spent six months researching options for saving money and building wealth, finally settling on real estate ownership as the best decision for him. “Then I had to decide where to invest,” he says. “LA is not a viable market for my budget. The rent I could charge for any home I could afford would just barely cover the mortgage, so I wouldn’t be building wealth at a healthy enough pace.”

Sam settled on Indiana as a state with plenty of options. Real estate there is half the cost of the LA market, and will provide him with twice the return on investment. (He looks for a 10 percent profit over expenses for a property.) He located a team to help him with purchasing and managing properties: a realtor, banker, insurance agent, and tax accountant. He wanted local professionals with expertise in the market and real world experience in what works there. They can also visit the properties and provide accurate assessments of their value.

Sam now owns several properties in Indiana, and estimates that the income adds 20 percent to his earnings each year. The other important pillar in his FIRE strategy is living within a strict budget that allows him to put as much money as possible into his plan for the future. At his blog he writes, “Every dollar you make can either work for you  – or be burned in the trash. Money, in addition to being a tool, is a slave. Put that little green man to work for you.” He provides tips for saving money, finding better paying jobs, and ways to grow wealth.

Sam admits that even a great strategy is subject to forces beyond your control. “I’m not immune to doubt and second guessing myself,” he admits. “What if the real estate market tanks again? What if I lose my job and can’t afford to maintain my properties? But I keep reminding myself that I’m young, and there will be time to recover from any down cycle, if I’m patient and rational in my decisions.”

Sam doesn’t share his plan with many people; he wants to wait until he’s successful to let people know how he did it. His blog, called money-engineering.com, is his how-to guide and accountability tool for other like-minded individuals.

How will Sam spend his time in retirement? He plans to attend art school, a lifelong dream of his. He’d also like to travel, to visit all the countries on his bucket list. Oh – and play plenty of video games. He figures Virtual Reality innovations will make for some awesome binge playing sessions.

Find his writing on FIRE at money-engineering.com.

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