In Spring 2020, many predicted doom for the F.I.R.E. movement (one pundit called it “D.I.R.E.”). The term stands for “Financial Independence Retire Early” and some of its core tenets are tied to stock market returns. But more than a year later, F.I.R.E. is still around, perhaps stronger than ever, precisely because of how the pandemic forced many to take a long, hard look at finances and their futures.
There are two main schools of thought within F.I.R.E. One is simply F.I., with a focus on developing financial independence without really focusing on early retirement. The early retirement school of thought isn’t so much focused on an age of retirement as a number: what amount of money do you need to have invested that will generate enough income for the lifestyle you want (accounting for inflation, market swings, etc.).
F.I./F.I.R.E. fundamentals include:
- Frugality (auditing all of your expenses and paying off all debt, including mortgages)
- Extreme savings (F.I.R.E. devotees aim to save at least 25% of their income; many save 50%, some as much as 75%)
- Developing income streams (this could include side hustles or real estate investments)
While the stock market was down, for a period, as low as 20% from its previous level, and rental property, both long and short term, were squeezed by lockdowns and people thrown out of work, the pandemic didn’t force many F.I.R.E. followers to change their fundamental goals.
Some changed retirement dates, some got different perspectives (both positive and negative) on their current jobs due to a new work-from-home situation, while all of them were glad to have a pool of savings to draw from.
There were also those who were not involved in F.I.R.E. pre pandemic that are taking some of its principles to heart.
- One in ten Baby Boomers have decided to retire early as a result of the pandemic, citing the desire to live the life they want now as a key reason.
- Millennials who had not previously heard of F.I.R.E. or who were not serious about investing or cryptocurrency have used the shock of the pandemic to examine their financial and life trajectories. The ongoing pause on student loan payments has also enabled many to experience what life without a debt obligation (at least temporarily) felt like and hence made more real the endgame of paying off those loans.
Americans are experiencing a bit more “normal” than many parts of the world at the moment. While large parts of the country did experience some form of a harsh lockdown for 6-8 weeks in 2020, other parts of the country never locked down at all. But in South America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, not only did lockdowns go for 3-6 months, but they have been rolling on and off, with a period of freedom only to be followed by more lockdowns.
It is precisely this more “normal” situation in the US that is allowing people to take stock of what they are doing with their lives. While not everyone is interested in retiring early, as many love what they do on a daily basis, financial independence is a state of being (and state of mind) that means not having to worry about finances if and when there are pandemics and lockdowns.
Financial independence is also a non-zero-sum game. If one person becomes financially independent, it doesn’t exclude someone else from doing the same. Hence, just as the pandemic made working remote something mainstream, it may have put a lens on personal financial responsibility at a time when it is needed the most.
Are you an advocate of F.I./F.I.R.E.? If so, what got you started? Let us know in the comments.