By Bob Lai, Tawcan
Special to the Financial Independence Hub
When I created this blog over seven years ago, the sole purpose was to chronicle our journey for financial independence and joyful life. I wanted to share my knowledge with like-minded people. I could have just focused on writing articles about money and personal finance.
But I didn’t.
Right from the start, I put a strong emphasis on the joyful life aspect, because I realized that having all the money in the world does not automatically make one happy. Happiness needs to come from within and finding this internal happiness is a daily practice. I realized, that writing about money gets old quickly; I wanted to write about more than just the money.
Being the sole income earner of the family (for now), early retirement was never really a goal I had in mind. My focus has always been on financial independence. I want to reach financial independence so Mrs. T and I can have more options in life and have the freedom to work because we want to, rather than working because we have to.
Perhaps the reason that early retirement isn’t on my radar is because I enjoy what I do at work. Having been with the same company for 15 years, over a third of my life, I feel fortunate that I am still working at the same company where I started my engineering career.
To me, early retirement has always been just one of the nice things that we would have in life one day. It does not mean I must retire early in my 30s or 40s to make myself happy. Or that I must hit a specific FI number or hit a specific FI date.
Perhaps I am unique compared to most people, as I grew up in a family where multiple family members either retired in their early 40s or became financially independent but continued to work. Money has never been a taboo subject in my family, which has had a very positive impact on my life.
Another unique thing about our family is that we technically are financially independent, but we choose to prolong our financial independence journey. We wanted more flexibility, so we set the goal to create a dividend portfolio that had enough dividend income to cover our annual expenses. We set a goal of becoming “financially independent” by 2025 or earlier, but we aren’t too worried about whether we hit the goal by 2025 or not.
One of the distinctive benefits of having a dad who retired early and a stay-at-home mom is that my parents were always there when I needed them. Unlike many of my school friends, both my dad and mom could attend many of my school functions, like sports games, band concerts, and field trips.
Now I am a dad of two young kids, I am even more appreciative of what my parents could do for me and my brother when we were growing up. Always available and present at my kids’ important life and school events is something I want to achieve. I am practicing it right now as best as I can with a full-time job.
One year, we flew to Toronto and drove around Eastern Canada and the Eastern United States. Another year we drove from Vancouver to Alaska and back. Another time we drove from Vancouver to New Orleans and back. Then once to Prince Edward Island to drive around the Maritimes and Maine. Throughout high school, we also drove to Banff and Alberta multiple times.
My extensive travels growing up is the exact reason why I want travelling to be part of my family’s life in the future. I want Baby T1.0 and Baby T2.0 to learn invaluable lessons that can only be learned from travelling and seeing the world with their own eyes. There are so many things that you simply cannot learn from reading books or sitting in a classroom. You must see them and experience them yourself.
We have been very fortunate to have travelled quite a bit with both kids already. We went to Denmark multiple times, we visited Japan and Taiwan, and various parts of Canada and the US.
We plan to travel around the world for a year and live abroad for an extended period of time in the near future. We can live off dividends via geo-arbitrage already but building up our portfolio will provide even more possibilities.
FIRE the end
Although I am involved in the FIRE community, shamefully I didn’t know the acronym until a few years after I started this blog. For a while, I was confused whenever people used this acronym.
For a while, FIRE was the only acronym, then folks started coming up with different acronyms to categorize FIRE. There’s lean FIRE, fat FIRE, barista FIRE, and the list goes on.
FIRE has been getting more and more mainstream coverage lately. Almost every other day I would come across articles on so-on retired at age 38, or someone who retired at age 27 to travel around the world, or someone who retired after saving extremely aggressively for 5 years, or someone who retired by saving up one million dollars in less 5 years.
To me, FIRE is flawed in these articles.
They don’t provide the general public with what FIRE really means.
Almost all of these articles only focus on the early retirement aspect and provide a false image of relaxed and luxurious life in retirement – travelling around the world, leaving the 9-5 rat race, saying FU to the employers, and sipping piña colada on the beach. Early retirement is all fun and games. There are no drawbacks and no negatives to early retirement.
Many of these articles also fail to acknowledge that many of these early retirees are not really “retired” in the traditional sense. In fact, many of these early retirees are still earning money through side hustles or even part-time jobs.
Because most of them cannot fathom the idea of financial independence or early retirement. A small minority even gets so fed up with the idea of early retirement, they become trolls and leave very negative comments on these articles.
The fundamental problem with FIRE
The root of the problem is that too many people hate their jobs.
They despise what they do at work, they don’t like their bosses, they don’t like their co-workers. Through media, these people have been told that owning expensive things will make them happy. Purchasing things will solve all of their problems.
Therefore, they continue to clock in and clock out every day despite hating their jobs. Due to how they feel about their jobs, they are constantly looking forward to the weekend or their next vacation, because that’s when they can be completely free from their jobs. And so, the Monday blues sets in whenever they are back to work from weekends or their vacations.
To them, FIRE is an escape. The happy ending. The escape route. The finish line.
They tell themselves that they will only be happy once they are retired. Before they get there, they will never be happy. They constantly remind themselves how miserable their life is and how wonderful their life will be once they are free from their 9-5 job. So, they constantly look forward to that retirement day so they can give their employers the middle finger and tell their coworkers to get lost.
This video is a perfect example of this endless vicious cycle of going nowhere and believing that buying things will lead to happiness.
Connecting life problems to not having money, financial independence, or retire early is simply incorrect and fallacious.
If there are marital problems, FIRE certainly won’t solve them. Over the last few years, we have seen some prominent figures in the FIRE community ending their marriages…
If you are not happy and content with your life right at this moment, what makes you think that you will suddenly become happy when you are financially independent and/or retired early?
You still need to work on those problems in your life regardless of you are FIRE’d or not. Instead of using FIRE as an excuse not to work on these problems right now, start taking steps to resolve these problems. Stop ignoring problems in your life thinking they will disappear once you are financially independent or retired.
Practice gratitude every day and be appreciative that you are still alive at this very moment. Enjoy the present moment, because you can’t be certain that you will be alive tomorrow. Stop worrying about things in the past because they are already done.
Stress is just an imaginary thing that we invented. The things you are stressing out about, you don’t have control over. So why stress over them?
We can’t fight the human nature … but we can learn from it
We are wired to believe that we need to have something first in order to do what we want to do, so we can be who we want to be (happy). So, we teach our brains that we must attain retirement before we can enjoy our lives. It’s only when we attain early retirement, then we can do what we want to do with our lives. Once we can do what we want to do with our lives, we can finally be happy.
Unfortunately, it is easy to get stuck in this endless loop of chasing that next new shiny thing and never be satisfied with our life. We are constantly comparing ourselves with our neighbours, friends, family members, or even strangers.
We envy someone who has a brand new car, we envy someone who got promoted, we envy someone who has a big job title, we envy someone who is retired in their early 30s, we envy people who became millionaires in 5 years, etc.
It is human nature to compare with our peers. But don’t let comparisons create a negative effect where we become hateful or envious of someone else. Instead of comparisons, think of other people as positive motivators and inspirations and allow them to drive us and improve ourselves in every aspect of our life, every single day.
In fact, many of these early retirees featured in the mainstream media articles are still “working” in some ways. Many of them have a blog that is generating side income, some have turned their hobbies into a second career, and some are providing consulting services.
They are doing things that they enjoy doing and making an income. They no longer see these things as work. The term “work” has taken on a completely different meaning after they become financially independent.
FIRE. RIP. It’s time to retire FIRE!
I think the term “FIRE” is very misleading and it is a terrible term. There is simply too much focus on the retire early aspect, which creates a false image of what FIRE really is.
Don’t even get me started about those individuals who claim that they are rich or have retired early and want to sell you eBooks and courses to teach you how to be FIRE’d just like them.
Be careful with these people!
Are they really rich or retired early? Or are they trying to your money so they can create a semi-passive income then retire early?
The time has come to say RIP to FIRE.
Over the last few years, more and more people have started to focus more on the financial independence aspect of FIRE and some have come up with different terms and acronyms.
Coast FI and Slow FI have both picked up steam.
Chrissy and Money Mechanic came up with the term Spouse FI.
Fellow long time Canadian blogger Mark came up with the term FIWOOT (Financial Independence Work on Own Term).
Jay coined the term FFFLC (Fully Funded Lifestyle Change).
Craig developed FIBRE (Financial Independence Before Early Retirement).
The time has come to stop putting FIRE on the pedestal. FIRE is not the magic solution. It is time for us to focus on the core message – become financially independent so you can empower yourself. You can continue to work if you choose to, not because you have to.
A life that you don’t have to worry about the paycheque every two weeks.
A life that you can do things that you enjoy doing, regardless of whether they produce money or not.
An empowered life. A life with meaning, fulfillment, and purpose.
What is success?
How do you define success? Success has different definitions for each person. Why do we always tie success to how much money someone has, someone’s job title, someone’s social status, or accomplishments, or popularity?
Why can’t we define being successful as being happy and provide value to the community? Are celebrities and professional athletes really more successful than someone who volunteers at the homeless shelter every single week?
Every single job is an honourable job!
FIRE is just one of the many possibilities in life. One important thing I have learned and constantly remind myself of is that there is no need to compare myself with other people.
I am successful in my own ways
The way I define success is to be content and at peace with myself and improve the world. There is no need to compare myself with other people. It’s about holding myself to a higher standard every single day, and practice gratitude. Be humble, be appreciative, that is the way life should be.
Now it is easy to write and talk about this idea of success. It is much harder to practice this daily.
That is why we should all aim to be a better version of ourselves every single day. That’s the only way we can improve as human beings. Treat each day as the best day of our lives, because it is. Tell yourself every morning: “Today is the greatest day of my life” and then look for reasons to feel good.
At the end of the day, it’s not about how much money you make, it’s not about how big your house is, it’s not about what kind of car you drive, it’s about the relationships that you build and the impacts you’ve made on other people’s lives.
This was a final speech that was given at my high school music teacher’s retirement party a few years ago. I absolutely loved the core message.
“Retire early” doesn’t magically make you a successful person. For me, success is defined by how many people you have helped and made an impact on in their lives.
I am eternally grateful that I can use this little blog of mine to connect with like minded people, to share our financial independence journey, and to empower people by improving their financial lives, and even start their own financial independence journey.
Again, it’s time to retire the term FIRE. Let’s focus on financial independence instead.
So what exactly is financial independence (FI)?
FI is a lifestyle rather than a key life milestone. FI means not having to worry about cash flow, being able to dictate what I do with my everyday life, being my own boss, determining my own schedule, having more flexibility in life, helping the community, and improving the world that I live in.
There is no right way to achieve FI. There are multiple paths to FI. There is no set formula, no trick, no shortcut, no magic. FI is more than having enough money to sustain your entire lifetime. It is a mentality, a lifestyle of self-improvement and sustainability.
This blog originally appeared on the Tawcan site on Feb. 7, 2022 and is republished on the Hub with the permission of Bob Lai. Here’s his bio: Hi there, I’m Bob from Vancouver Canada. My wife & I started dividend investing in 2011 with the dream of living off dividends in our 40’s. Today our portfolio generates over $2,700 in dividends per month.
One thought on “RIP FIRE”
Great column Bob. I agree.
You have a very mature and holistic approach to investing and life. Very good.