Freedom and Flexibility on Your Own Terms: To FIRE or Not to FIRE?

This post is part of the Plutus Foundation Impact Series. I don't actually consider myself part of the FIRE movement, although I don't have a problem with it. I do like the idea of freedom and flexibility, however.

The FIRE movement, like many movements, continues to grow and change. Much has been written about whether the FIRE movement:

  • Can be empathetic
  • Is realistic for everyone
  • Addresses the needs of low-income people
  • Allows for different priorities
  • Recognizes systemic barriers to wealth-building for members of marginalized communities

There's a lot to unpack there.

And amazing people are addressing these issues. (We did a Thing in Portland for Plutus Voices.)

But, even though I don't consider myself a true adherent of FIRE, I do find some of the values espoused by participants attractive. In particular, the freedom and flexibility associated with a FIRE lifestyle appeal to me.

FIRE Movement Values: Freedom and Flexibility

When you talk to many people involved with the FIRE movement, they cite the idea of freedom and the ability to live life on their terms (what I call flexibility) as reasons they participate. And I totally get that. These are two of my top values.

I value the freedom and flexibility to:

  • Spend time with family and friends
  • Set my own schedule
  • Work with interesting clients
  • Move things around as needed
  • Participate in efforts to make my community a better place to live
  • Travel
  • Treat myself when I want something special
  • Help people who matter to me

When you get to the crux of the “why” behind many people's interest in the FIRE movement, you realize it's really about freedom and flexibility.

Many of those I talk to say they hate their jobs. They wish they weren't stuck with work that isn't satisfying. Perhaps they could enjoy time with their kids more if it wasn't all crammed in on busy weekends. They want to take a vacation but don't have enough PTO left.

Designing a Life I Like—Outside the FIRE Movement

These days, there are many types of FIRE. Which is kind of the point. One size doesn't fit all, and just trying to achieve financial independence is the goal. However you get there.

For me, participation in the FIRE movement, or considering myself FIRE, isn't as important as the fact that I'm designing a life I love. I was surprised not too long ago to realize that I had achieved what some people view as Coast FI.

Instead of actively figuring out how to FIRE, I focused on designing my life and money around creating a situation I don't want to retire from.

  • I invest because I like being able to travel.
  • Freelancing allows me to bring in a good income on a flexible schedule without working a full-time job.
  • I can work from anywhere.
  • Freelancing subsidizes the nonprofit volunteering and politics I do.
  • My son is grown, but I was able to be available for him as he grew up.
  • I only set an alarm if I have an early flight. And I rarely have to get an early flight.

The lifestyle that many people aim for as part of the FIRE movement is already mine. My time isn't consumed by a job I hate. Plus, I get to do things I find meaningful.

While some of the tenets of FIRE, like the focus on intentionality and looking for ways to use your financial resources more effectively, make sense, it doesn't really do it for me. Most of the reasons that people follow FIRE are already in my life—even though I'm not doing the FIRE thing.

Where Pursuing FIRE Actively Might Help Me

Of course, there are risks to my approach. For those who aggressively pursue FIRE, sacrificing for a few years while they supercharge their portfolios and build passive income, they position themselves to be “work optional.”

Work isn't an option for me. Active income through freelancing is still how I make money. I need to keep doing it for the foreseeable future. But, even though I sometimes get annoyed at the articles I write, I can't really complain. Mostly, I like what I do. It pays well. And it provides me with freedom and flexibility.

The downsides to the need for active work to support my lifestyle include the following:

  • I'd have to dip into savings/investments to deal with a health emergency.
  • Becoming unable to work would be devastating to my finances.
  • Losing clients would lead to financial trouble.

As a result, I've worked to diversify my income streams in recent months. I'm experimenting with Kindle Vella, starting with a small publication on being single. I began creating mini-courses, including one on how to build and maintain a travel fund. Once I'm done with this election, I'll probably do more with video.

While I diversify my clients, I haven't diversified my content creation. So I'm working on that. Not necessarily as part of some effort to be part of the FIRE movement for real, but because I don't want to be overly reliant on freelancing alone.

Making that move to look for some type of recurring revenue streams and looking to bank that income to build my portfolio faster is one way to apply FIRE principles to my current situation. Even if I don't formally decide to set a FIRE number and date.

Bottom Line

As with all things personal finance, the key is to consider what you need in your life. What you want in your life. How you want to proceed. Figure out what matters most to you and make a plan to start getting it. I wanted freedom and flexibility. But I didn't want to give up my everyday comforts or make huge sacrifices. So I pursued a freelance career and made investing part of my strategy for achieving my goals.

But you might have a different path. And that's ok, too.

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