Advice From 9 People Living the Financial Independence Retire Early Lifestyle

Early retirees share their FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) tips and journeys.

The FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) movement has been gaining momentum. As more adults hit staggering levels of burnout and career anxiety, the idea of leaving the workforce behind before the age of 65 sounds better and better.

Categorized by considerable frugality, saving, and investments, FIRE followers aim to save and invest about 70 percent of their income, then live off of small withdrawals from their portfolios for the decades to come. And while the outcome of FIREing may sound appealing, the reality of what it takes to get there can be daunting.

"To be clear, the FIRE journey is long," Amon and Christina, the faces behind Our Rich Journey, explain. "It's natural for people who are pursuing FIRE to feel less inspired or motivated (or even defeated) at different times during the journey."

Amon and Christina began their FIRE journey in 2011 and retired in 2019 with $2.5 million saved. They quit their jobs, moved to Portugal, and now spend their days enjoying time together and with their two daughters.

When it comes to retirement, it seems that the shorter it takes to get there, the longer it feels. And at the start, the end can feel out of reach. Below, folks who have retired early share the tips they wished they'd known at the beginning of their journey to financial independence.

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Understand the Cost of Time and Learn How to Invest

For many people, retiring early is about getting time back—months and years that most assume belong to the workforce. When looking to reclaim that time, Amon and Christina note the importance of considering how much time—not just money—any purchase may cost.

"Before we started our financial independence journey, I think we placed too much importance on material things," they explain. "We understood that a new car would cost us 'X' amount of dollars. But, we didn't convert how many additional hours of work those new cars cost."

Once they began working towards early retirement, they started to think much more intentionally about their purchases, accounting for both monetary and time costs. These deliberate money practices also allowed them to invest more; they both say they wished education around this topic had been more accessible earlier on. 

"We didn't learn about investing in high school or in college or from anyone in our family. So everything we learned, we had to learn on our own," they say.

Amon and Christina recommend The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing and The Bogleheads' Guide to the Three Fund Portfolio as excellent starting points for new investors looking to educate themselves further.

02 of 05

Let Mistakes Happen—You'll Recover

While investing is undoubtedly an extremely important part of the FIRE methodology, it's OK if you don't get it right every time.

"When it comes to compound interest, the stock market, gains, [and] losses, you have a lot of time to recover from mistakes if you make them, and you have a lot of time to make better choices," Roshida Dowe, who retired at 39, explains. "There were times when I was more stressed about it than I needed to be."

Dowe says this because of a belief that early retirement is within the grasp of many more people: "This is a possibility." While doing the math and working out a plan for your retirement is important, it's never too late to get started or back on track and make early retirement your reality.

"We tend to look at people who are doing things we're not doing as special," Dowe says, "Chances are they're not different or special; they just did things differently, and it's never too late for you to start doing anything different."

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Track Spending

While saving and investing for the future, be sure to have an accurate grasp of how you're managing money from day to day. For this reason, Stephanie and Gillian, the couple behind Our Freedom Years, recommend tracking all your spending.

They retired in 2019 at 46 and 38 years old, respectively, and have been traveling full-time ever since. "For someone who had never [tracked spending] prior, it was a life-changer," Stephanie says. "It really helps you make informed choices about how you're spending your money," Gillian follows up.

They use the You Need a Budget app but note that it can be done just as easily with a pen and a piece of paper. Tracking your spending ensures that you have money to save and invest and shows that the small choices we make every day have long-term impacts.

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Consider Living a More Minimalist Life

Tim and Amy of GoWithLess didn't pack up to travel the world until their youngest daughter went to college a few years after their early retirement.

"What we learned when we got down to hitting the road is that we couldn't really sell anything, and if we sold it, it was at about 5 percent of the purchase price," says Amy. It was a lesson they couldn't learn until they were in the middle of it. 

They'd furnished a large home over the years, even before they planned to retire, and owned a lot of things. "It was painful to get rid of it because of the sunk cost," Amy explains. "We estimated that it was about $200,000 just wasted."

Whether you anticipate traveling or not, it's never too early to think about the long-term plan for anything you buy before retirement. Without any guarantee to get that money back, it doesn't hurt to start living a more minimalist lifestyle sooner rather than later.

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Understand the Emotional Cost of Early Retirement

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli of
Billy and Akaisha

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired in 1991 at 38, and 30 years later, they've still never had to rejoin the corporate world. "Having been retired as long as we have, we've hit recessions, downturns in the market, [and] health issues," Akaisha says, "But neither of us [has] ever wished we didn't do it."

There are some practical things they perhaps would've done differently, such as putting more money into the stock market over real estate. "We would have done better in financial markets without having to do plumbing, cutting the grass, painting the bedrooms, all the things the house takes," Billy says.

However, one of the biggest lessons from their financial independence was understanding the emotional side of the coin. "Friends and family are not necessarily going to support you on this," Akaisha explains, noting they've lost some friends because of their decision.

While neither would say the social-emotional toll is a reason not to retire early, it's certainly a consideration, making it all the more important for current FIRE hopefuls to find people who will uplift and support their journey. No matter what, Billy and Akaisha urge future retirees to "find out what your dream is and then hang on to it."

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