Middle Class on FIRE

The folks over at OurNextLife (a fantastic blog on the topic of Financial Independence / Retire Early (“FIRE”) issued an interesting challenge recently that they’re calling “The Road Less Traveled Challenge.”

The idea of the challenge is that those in the FIRE “bubble” have all drunk the Kool-Aid and are following largely the same path to early retirement.  They’ve asked fellow bloggers to write-up how their particular path to this Holy Mecca (early retirement) may be different from others in the bubble.

Middle Class Dad’s Take on FIRE

I read a fair share of blogs in the FIRE universe.  One of my favorite things about these blogs is that many times they keep me grounded in folks that are, frequently, on a mission to cut spending to as close to zero possible (thereby increasing savings rate, thereby bringing early retirement closer).  This is not my family’s mission, but it does a great job of balancing out the folks in my neighborhood with $800K+ houses with luxury cars in the driveway!

The big difference between my family and the FIRE community is the RE piece of their puzzle.  The OurNextLife couple is looking to retire later this year (when the eldest of the pair is 41).  I am (very sincerely) excited for them and interested to follow their journey after quitting day.  But we, like a large portion of the middle class these days, are a dual income house and we have no designs on early retirement.

Financial Independence (the FI in FIRE)

I am certainly a big proponent of Financial Security (my preferred synonym for Financial Independence… it doesn’t work as well to make catchy acronyms but it is much more to the point of my goal).  I have a wonderful wife and two young children – thinking about the potential consequences of Financial Insecurity (too bad FI is taken…) scares me to death.  This is my motivator to stay out of debt and to invest for a secure future.

REtire Early

Imagine for a moment that my wife and I won the lottery tomorrow – say $5MM take home (not likely to happen as we don’t buy lotto tickets… but stick with me).  Not crazy, Oprah-rich money, but enough to comfortably retire on at about any age with a reasonable withdraw rate.  Would we retire then?  No.



Children learn best through watching and emulating the actions of their parents (and other key influencers you allow in their lives).  If I drive around with my daughters for 16 years never stopping at a stop sign, but tell them they should stop, what do you think they’ll do when they get behind the wheel?  I can see the flashy lights now, no question.

If my daughters are going to make something of themselves that they (and we) can be proud of, at some point they are going to need to put in real work.  I feel pretty strongly that they’re going to have to have some sense of what that is (even if it is just seeing mom leave for work when she’d rather be going with her girls to play soccer).  To be the Middle Class Dad I want to be for my family, demonstrating hard work, a middle class standard of living and responsible financial management are all part of the equation.  Job #1 is to make sure these little ladies can take care of themselves as independent and self-sufficient women (okay, maybe it’s Job #2, but loving them had a check mark from day one).

MCD's Girls at Brook Run Park

MCD’s Girls at Brook Run Park.

Having said that, we do plan improve our home:work ratio as the girls get older and our financial security increases.  My wife will probably decrease from her current sixteen shifts-per-month to fourteen then, eventually, twelve, for example.  The extra home time will go right into the family bank.

Spending time with your family is the best reward of having financial security and we don’t plan on missing out on it, even if we aren’t retiring early.

Final thought on early retirement… I’ll be fifty-two when my youngest (who will turn eight months tomorrow!) turns the ripe-old age of eighteen (hopefully college-bound).  Would we retire then (assuming we were financially secure to do so)?  Yikes!  Tough to say – that’s pretty far out when you have a zero-year-old.  Let me consult my Magic 8 Ball…

Cannot predict now...

Cannot predict now…

Figures.  No help.  My gut tells me perhaps “semi-retirement” as we adapt to the empty-nest and get our heads in the game around what OUR next life might look like.


In short, our road and those of the FIRE bubblers are paved with the same materials and we are most definately travelling in the same direction, but our destinations are different (as is when we plan on turning off our respective engines).

If you’re on your way to FIRE, give a wave to us in the middle class on your way – we have a lot in common!

What do you think?  Do I have it wrong?  Can children avoid the traps of entitlement and wants-over-needs when their parents aren’t working?  Is the thought that someone who is financially capable of retiring (and not addicted to work) would continue to work anyway ludicrous to you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  1. Thanks for taking the challenge! I think it’s so admirable how focused you are on teaching your daughters the right values, including the importance of working hard. My heart nearly stopped when I read that you wouldn’t quit working if you won $5 million! I think if you truly love working, then that makes sense, but otherwise it feels like life is too short to spend it all at the office. I grew up seeing both things — a workaholic dad who didn’t have enough time to spend with me, and then a fully present dad after he became disabled, and I would say I did NOT learn a good work ethic from his workaholic years (I really just wanted more time with him!), and I absolutely did value having a lot of time with him after he stopped working. He would even say he doesn’t regret becoming disabled because it meant we got more time together while I was still at home! So, as was the point of the challenge, there’s no one right way to do things — but I do hope you can make as much time to spend with your girls while they’re home. That feels like a move you’ll never regret. 🙂

    • Thank you for the input. I certainly don’t have all the right answers, just what *feels* right today (and your reply will definitely help to influence what feels right tomorrow).
      My family is always first. I try to be very strict about “switching off” of work when I finish the work day.
      I’m also very against spoiling my family with things that have more than an incidental price tag and try instead to spoil them (my wife included) with my time and thoughts/efforts around what would make them happy (which in turn helps to make me happy).
      I fall down a lot – work has a tendency to always try to pull you back in, but I’ll keep trying.

      Thanks again for sharing.

  2. We’re living a comfortable middle class lifestyle with an upper middle class salary. Like you, it appears I’ll be 52 when the younger of my two children leaves the nest in 12 years.

    I’ve also said and written that I’d like my boys to remember me going to work often, staying up all night (and sometimes sleeping most of the day) for the sake of the family and my patients. In 5 years, they’ll be 10 and 12, which I think is a great age for them and for me (45) to retire early from clinical medicine.

    I’m not good at sitting still, and I hope to still be writing, but I do have RE plans. To answer your question, I think it’s great to work beyond the point of attaining FI. That’s what I’m doing now. When I do leave, I’ll have a very comfortable cushion, and a sizable donor advised fund from which to give.

    Thanks for sharing your story, MCD.

  3. First off, I found your site through Our Next’s Life challenge page; pleasure to meet you! 🙂

    I believe that our children can absolutely learn the value of hard work and gain understanding of wants-versus-needs without having to watch us go to work forever. As a nurse, I love what I do and honestly never see myself fully retiring, even if that means working on a PRN, “as needed,” basis and working even just one shift per month to keep my nursing license active and my skills intact.

    My wife and son watch me from our living room window as I walk to work…while I want him to gain an understanding of where money comes from and the value of work, I would MUCH rather spend my time at home, playing with him and teaching him these lessons as he grows. The act of watching me walk away from the house doesn’t teach him anything; however, my words and, more importantly, my presence have the power to leave a lasting impression. That desire to be present as often as possible is actually one thing that will prolong my date of reaching FIRE. Where I work, I could quite literally work every one of my off days for OT. While I occasionally pick up a day of OT, this would have the power of drastically accelerating my FIRE date, but at the trade-off of spending less time with my family…something I’m in no way willing to do.

    If you’re as good a dad as this post (I’m about to go read more) makes you sound, your daughters, who are beautiful by the way, will certainly grow up with an excellent appreciation of your hard work and dedication to your family. 🙂

    I’ll be following along with you from now on; if you have time, I hope you’ll stop by my site and, if you’d like, follow along with my family’s journey, as well. Have a nice day! 🙂

    • Brandon – Thank you for the thoughtful comment. My dad is also a nurse (he worked in the ED @ Detroit Receiving Hospital for most of my teen years). I think of him often as I evaluate the kind of father I am and compare that to the kind of father I aspire to be.
      I agree with completely that showing love and being a positive influence does not happen if you are not around (firmly in the “parent I don’t want to be” column). The same works the other way as well though – my eldest daughter will soon (fall of next year) be getting up every morning for public school – she’ll then be doing that for the next 13 to 22 years (depending on which parent’s schooling path she emulates more).
      There is definitely no easy answer or perfect balance here. I spend a lot of time thinking about the pros-and-cons from my daughters’ perspective. I also think about evenings around the dinner table with everyone sharing stories about their day and advice I got from my parents when I was early in my career…
      Perhaps I’m overly concerned with “setting an example” of a strong work ethic they aren’t truly there to witness… I suspect I’ll be stepping back and re-evaluating my position on this for sometime to come.

  4. I had this same conversation with someone the other day, a mid-level manager at my company who doesn’t really love the work he does but feels it’s important for his children to see him working. I think this case might be different than yours since the context was about working a job you don’t really love and I’d hate to set that example for my children. If we hit our FIRE goal our twins will be 13 when we retire and I’m not sure what FIRE will look like for us between that point and when they turn 18. I expect we would both work in some fashion, whether it be part-time work, volunteering or involvement in other community activities to keep us busy until our nest is empty and we have a greater level of freedom.

    The example I want to set for my own children is that they should be fiscally responsible and ensure they can supply their own food, shelter and basic amenities. Beyond that they can choose their own balance of work/saving to live the life they want now while also looking to the future. If they find their greatest happiness self-employed as an artist and living in a tiny house, and they can support their lifestyle and save for their future I will feel successful as a parent.

    • Thanks so much for the reply Jenerra.
      You’re right, I do enjoy my job and have a very positive work/life balance. For me I think the struggle is trying to wrap my head around teaching work ethic without… well, working. I’ve got some time to figure it out and, if I don’t, I’ll be 53 when my youngest turns 18. Not the youngest to ever retire, but not the oldest either (assuming we’re financially prepared for that when the time comes)!

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