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In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 4th decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Is Life Really Better After FIRE?

Brent Hartinger

Financial independence and early retirement are all the rage.

But is that life truly as good as they say?

I won’t leave you in suspense: yes, life is better after FIRE.

FIRE stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early, and it’s the name for the lifestyle movement that encourages people to spend much less and save more aggressively so they can — duh! — retire early.

And to hear people on FIRE tell it, life really is better post-early-retirement — usually, way better.

“It’s freedom,” says Amy Rutherford, who retired with her husband Tim Rutherford in their 40s in 2015; they now run GoWithLess, a  YouTube channel and a Facebook group devoted to their experiences. “We have the freedom to do whatever we want whenever we want. We spend lots of time with friends, going on nice holidays. Cooking. At no moment have we been bored. We’ve been relaxed but not bored.”

Akaisha Kaderli and her husband Billy retired in 1991 in their 30s — long before FIRE was a movement with a catchy acronym. She too says the experience has been overwhelmingly positive — so much so that they’ve co-written books  on  their experiences.

“We wanted an international lifestyle with bohemian friends and viewpoints,” Kaderli says. “We’ve traveled the world, eaten local cuisines, climbed volcanoes, scuba-dived, and done white water rafting. Geography and history have come alive in real time and become three-dimensional for us.”

Akaisha and Billy Kaderli, then and now.

Akaisha and Billy Kaderli, then and now.

Michael and I also began practicing FIRE before it was a “movement” per se. Because we’ve been self-employed writers for most of the last twenty years, our income was very inconsistent. As a result, we tried hard to spend less than we earned and save aggressively for leaner years.

As nomads for the past five years, we spend so much less than we did living back in the United States that we’re now essentially quasi-retired — only working on projects we choose.

And we haven't exactly been shy about how much better our own lives are.

But come on: nothing in life is perfect. And whatever else is true about FIRE, there’s also currently a ton of hype.

So what’s the God’s honest truth? What are the challenges that come even after you’ve set yourself on FIRE?

 

 

 

 

Show Me the Money

The truth is, if you’ve been in the stock market, it’s been fairly easy to make big returns over the last thirteen years: it was a bull market from 2009 to 2020, and then after a brief, covid-related downturn, the market shot up again.

Ditto for real estate. In most places, housing prices have gone up dramatically. And if you managed to purchase a home from 2008 to 2010, after the burst of the previous housing bubble, you stumbled into an even greater buying opportunity.

It’s probably not entirely coincidental that the rise of the FIRE movement has coincided with these boom-times for Americans in the middle and upper-class.

But what happens if the economy enters an extended downturn — or even simply stagnates? Are people currently on FIRE prepared?

“It’s very easy to oversimplify, disregard, and delude ourselves into justifying anything we want to buy,” says psychologist Scott Guerin, who retired last year at age 63. “We humans do this all the time. But retirement is not the time to gloss over the details and spend unchecked. Do you have the resources to survive a down market and a war or two?”

Indeed, whatever age you retire, you’re essentially deciding you have most or all of the money you’ll need to live on for the rest of your life. The younger a person retires, the riskier that decision is: forty or fifty years is a long time to comfortably predict into the future. If you do have to go back to work, will you be subjected to ageism, or will your hard-won skills be out-of-date?

That said, it’s definitely possible to make a plan. “I’ve asked my financial advisors a million times if I’ll have enough money,” says Scott Guerin. “They always told me that, while no one has a crystal ball, decades of history and their team of over 100 analysts say that if we keep to our annual budgets, we'll be fine."

Plus, FIRE doesn’t necessarily mean no work or income; it just means being able to be more choosy about the work you do.

“Most people get hung up on the ‘retire early’ part of FIRE,” says Lauren Keys, who retired at 29 and also keeps a blog of her and her husband's FIRE experience. “They think they'll get bored if they don't work, or they think that they aren't allowed to earn any more money once they're retired. The truth is, financial independence just gives you more options and the freedom to choose what you want to do.”

The Art of Letting Go

For some, the transition to a life on FIRE is easy.

“I thought it might take a while to extricate myself from my old life,” says Amy Connors Rutherford. “It was such a big part of who I was, I thought I’d never been able to leave it behind. But three days, and it was done. Evaporated.”

On the other hand, she admits that the lack of structure in her life now can sometimes be a problem. “My husband and I need a routine, but we have a hard time sticking to one on our own. We’re not always disciplined enough to do healthy things like go to the gym.”

Amy Conners Rutherford and her husband Tim

Amy Rutherford and her husband Tim

For others, retiring early can mean leaving behind important workplace relationships — and also all the structure and identity that comes from your job.

“I experienced some depression for a few weeks,” admits Scott Guerin, who now writes about spirituality. “It takes time to decompress. It’s been an emotional journey.” He’s also had to make it a priority to find and maintain friendships. “Those of us who are introverts, we have to up our game. For many of us, it requires effort.”

Some early retirees also find themselves a bit isolated from their peers.

“I don’t have any friends who can relate,” says G. Wilson, who retired at 42. “It's a lonely success story. No one throws you a retirement party when you retire early.”

“It’s great having all your time to yourself and not taking bulls**t from other people,” agrees John Frigo, who is currently working on a book about the FIRE Lifestyle for Millennials and Zoomers. “The downside for me was that my girlfriend didn’t really want to FIRE, and most of my friends still had jobs.”

In the end, Frigo chose to continue working, but on his own terms. “I basically have my ‘f**k you’ money, and if my workplace ever gets on my wrong side, I can say, ‘Peace,’ and walk out on the spot. It makes working a thousand times better knowing I don’t have to be there.”

FIRE gets all the attention, but the fact is, “slow FIRE” — where people are “retired-ish” — is extremely common.

This is the option Michael and I have chosen. And why not? The whole point of FIRE is to enjoy life — to not be a slave to your job. But if you’re a slave to someone else’s conception of FIRE, is that really any better?

 

 

 

 

“Wasting Your Life”?

The most difficult part of FIRE isn’t always the emotional adjustment or even stress over one’s finances.

For many, it’s been the judgment of friends, family, and the world at large.

The FIRE movement sits at the nexus of a lot of issues that have been even more fraught lately than usual: money, privilege, travel, generational conflict, capitalism, and the American/Protestant work ethic.

With a YouTube channel, Amy Rutherford is often literally one face of FIRE. As such, people online can be very pointed about the choices she and her husband have made.

“Stop with the judgement!” she says, exasperated. “I worked for decades, I helped raise my husband’s three kids, who are now my kids. I’ve been volunteering my entire life, and I’m still volunteering. We make lots of charitable contributions. I’ve done the work to earn some free time without judgment. I deserve my nap, my free time.”

Akaisha Kaderli says that FIRE has made her a more productive citizen — not that it’s anyone else’s business how she and her husband choose to live their lives. They’ve done all kinds of volunteer work, from teaching English to children, coaching basketball, building tennis courts, and working with indigenous populations.

“FIRE is not a continuous round of golf or margaritas on the beach,” she says. “At some point, you will want your life here on earth to have mattered, whether you volunteer or follow your spiritual path or artistic dreams.”

Meanwhile, G. Wilson chose FIRE because his own father wasn’t very engaged in his life when he was a child, and he wanted to be more available for his own kids. After retiring last year, he and his wife are now both stay-at-home parents.

“There’s no recipe for what I’m doing,” he says. “I started a blog, DadisFire to try to capture my thoughts on it all. But I’ve been at playgrounds too much to update it.”

Michael and Brent

Michael and me. For us, earlier retirement was an uphill — but not impossible — climb.

FIRE is Simply a Tool

Maybe I’ve drunk too much of the FIRE Kool-Aid, but I find myself frustrated with Some of the recent criticisms of the movement. Sure, there’s too much hype and over-simplification, and I’d never deny FIRE requires some degree of privilege.

Then again, Americans have the same amount of privilege whether they’re living on FIRE or continuing to work.

FIRE isn’t perfect, but what movement is? Humans aren’t perfect. In the end, FIRE is simply a tool: a collection of ideas and beliefs that people can use to gain more control over their own lives.

More importantly, I think the values of FIRE — like the values of the Simple Living, Deep Ecology, and even the nomading movements — are much better than values of consumerism and American conformity they’re trying to replace.

And life on FIRE? Well, that’s never going to be completely perfect either. But if it’s better than the alternative, isn’t that still something worth knowing?

For more from Brent, visit him at Brent and Michael Are Going Places.

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About the Authors

 
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.

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