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.
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).
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…
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.