Having read my fair share of FIRE Movement blogs and books, and reading everyone’s FIRE stories and journeys on Money Twitter, I have come to the conclusion that being FIRE doesn’t guarantee happiness. You would think that being Financially Independent and Early Retired is the holy grail of life success, triumph, and accomplishment.
Obviously being financially independent at a young age is a great privilege, and not having to work in the corporate world is many people’s dream. That uncomfortable feeling as an overwhelmed working mom that you can’t quite pinpoint on Sunday evenings before the workweek and Monday starts again is gone when you achieve FIRE.
However, sometimes I think that the glitz and glamour of being early retired glosses over the the fact that life can still be a struggle even if you’re financially independent, retired, and not working anymore.
What iS the FIRE Movement?
The FIRE Movement (Financial Independence Retire Early Movement) is where people focus on saving enough for retirement in order to be able to not work until the traditional age of retirement, which is at age 65.
I used to see a lot of ads for Freedom 55 when I was a kid, and I thought Freedom 55 would be my goal. Freedom 55 is now owned by Great West Life and is part of Power Corporation of Canada. The FIRE movement seems to balk at even Freedom 55 and touts achievement for retirement in your 30’s or 40’s instead.
There are different types of FIRE, including Coast FIRE (bulking up your savings ahead of time and not really contributing to them too much later on), Fat FIRE (saving enough so you can have $100,000 a year or more to spend in early retirement), and even Barista FIRE (saving enough for retirement so that you can take a less stressful job and live off of that plus your retirement savings).
The essence of the FIRE Movement is that you don’t have to spend 40 hours of your week behind a cubicle working for someone else and instead you can spend your time how you want to. Working on your own terms rather than for someone else’s terms.
Here’s the recipe for FIRE if you’re interested.
Working towards achieving FIRE is a huge daily dopamine rush and gives you a real sense of purpose. Contributing to my investment accounts regularly and seeing the numbers increase on my liquid net worth tracker, and my dividend income number is a very gratifying feeling.
Once you reach FIRE though, once you reach your goal, the process of ‘working towards something’ kind of stops.
Achieving FIRE Won’t Make You Happy
And early retirement won’t necessarily make you happier.
There is a blogger by the name of Living a FI who had posted about working towards Financial Independence Retire Early and then suddenly stopped posting for a while after 2015. A few years later in 2021, he re-emerged and shared and update with his readers.
He went through a year by year (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021) account of what happened since he FIRE’d with a $950,000 nest egg.
A lot had happened in his life since he FIREd at 38, including his partner leaving him in 2019 because she felt unhappy ‘not working towards anything’ and wanted to keep up with the Joneses, diagnosis of depression and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and him eventually going back to work (because things are more expensive when you are single).
In the end he met another person who was more suited to him, someone who had an inner scorecard rather than an outer scorecard. He also realized he needed to spend more than $30,000 a year and realized he might want to start a family which will require more money, hence the return to work.
When asked whether he could retire early again he replies:
And so I could. But I’m not so much worried about a life without work as I am a life without meaning or purpose or love.
So I will work until I am sure that all of these things can exist in harmony, and without a ton of financial stress.—-Living a FI
It’s 10,000 words and very well written, I recommend checking it out if you remotely wonder what early retirement in your late 30’s will be like in a brutally honest fashion.
One of his regrets is that he might have been able to salvage the relationship he had, had he tried harder to understand her unhappiness. But he has since moved on with someone who has more similar values.
Difficult Relationships Still Exist
Another reason why achieving FIRE won’t make you happier necessarily is that relationships that need to be worked on still exist. In a twisted way, being busy with work helps free you of the expectation for working on, and improving the relationship(s).
I know that relationships are the core part of the ‘meaning of life’ but in all honesty, some relationships are sometimes difficult to cultivate and sometimes painful.
I find it difficult when a family member is having trouble with something in their life and you can’t help because they don’t want you to.
This post was actually inspired because I see my own mother having some recent difficulty with her driving (she seems to be getting into more and more minor car accidents) but she declines to do anything about it. She doesn’t think there’s a problem with her driving or her memory. She ignores my offers to take her to the doctor for a check up that she hasn’t had in over 4 years (she’s over 70 years of age).
It’s hard to stand by and watch.
It’s hard to worry about the future (peak sandwich generation time) when she’ll be over 80 and may need more help but might not accept it.
Having more time during the week can’t fix this unfortunately.
That being said, therapy might fix it! I suppose I could take some ownership and continue to try working on the relationship and spending more quality time together.
You can have control over your time with FIRE but having control over your time doesn’t give you control over how good your relationships are.
Time Freedom Doesn’t Take Away REsponsibilities
Retiring early doesn’t take away the day-to-day tasks of daily living and the general busy-ness of life.
Cooking, cleaning, buying groceries, shuttling your children from swimming to soccer, that still exists when you are not working and it almost feels like a full time job doing this at times. The mental load of thinking about what to cook for dinner, how much milk is left in the fridge, when the last time you cleaned that aforementioned fridge… it’s a lot.
In fact, there might be even more pressure to do all this yourself (instead of outsourcing it, like getting takeout, getting groceries delivered, or using a robot vacuum) because you’re not busy or working, and ‘have the time’.
These day to day tasks are still there.
The antidote for this in my opinion is to have getaways from the day-to-day grind like a getaway or a trip somewhere. Instant happiness!
Financial Independence Doesn’t Automatically Give Your Life Meaning
In summary, being financially independent doesn’t automatically give your life meaning, but it does help you feel much more comfortable in life.
It gives you a sense of confidence knowing that your financial future is secure and dealt with. It’s one less piece of the jigsaw puzzle we call ‘life’ to work on.
What gives your life meaning according to The Atlantic, is purpose and goals in addition to feeling significant (that your life matters).
What I’m saying is that money doesn’t solve everything. You can have loads of money but still not be happy.
You can have loads of money and still die alone or still die with the sadness of failed relationships, lost friendships, or estranged children or parents.
You can have loads of money and still not feel it is ‘enough’.
Like many things in life though it is our onus to manage our feelings and try and repair relationships if they need strengthening.
A Purposeful Life
A palliative care nurse has documented some of the top things that people confess to regretting about life in their dying days at the end of life.
The 5 things that people regret in life while on their death bed are:
- I wish I let myself be happier
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard
- I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not a life expected of me
Life is short.
Working towards Financial Independence and early retirement is a fantastic goal but I would say that it’s not the be all and end all.
Being financially independent won’t automatically bring happiness but it does give you the building blocks (time freedom) to be able choose how you want to spend it, even if it means working on relationships that aren’t easy.
We don’t know how much time we have left but we have to make the most of the time we have- to spend time with those that matter in our lives in order to retire happy.
If you have achieved Financial Independence Retire Early, did you have any non-financial related struggles? How did you fix it?
GYM is a 30 something millennial interested in achieving financial freedom through disciplined saving, dividend and ETF investing, and living a minimalist lifestyle. Before you go, check out my recommendations page of financial tools I use to save and invest money. Don’t forget to subscribe for blog updates, a free dividend yield spreadsheet, and the free Young Money Bootcamp eCourse.