Folks in the tech space — especially those of you working at some of the most well-known companies in the world — might have heard the term “FIRE” floating around a lot in the last few years.
You may know it has something to do with quitting work before the traditional retirement age, but do you know how to figure out when exactly you’ll be ready to retire, and how to make sure you stay retired (aka not run out of money) once you’ve taken the plunge?
We’re here to help you learn:
- The intricacies of the FIRE movement
- Why FIRE is especially fitting for FAANG workers
- How to find your “FIRE number”
- Tips to achieve and maintain FIRE status
Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE)
First up, the meaning of FIRE.
FIRE stands for financial independence, retire early.
In other words, the FIRE movement is all about being able to support yourself financially so you can retire from working. The term is thought to have been coined in the 1992 book Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez.
People with FIRE goals tend to prioritize careful saving, frugal living, and high-return investing in order to have enough in the coffers to retire earlier than more traditional budgeting and retirement planning allows.
Right now, the traditional retirement age in the U.S. is around 64. For FIRE devotees, that age is more like 40 or younger. That’s a decent difference!
There are a few common “flavors” of FIRE.
Fat FIRE is an approach in which the individual doesn’t necessarily “slim down” their lifestyle on their FIRE journey. For this approach to work, the person will likely need to have a lot of income to save, whether that’s coming from a high salary or a really successful investment plan.
Barista FIRE practitioners usually retire from high-stress, full-time jobs but take on part-time work — such as working in a cafe or somewhere else that piques their interest.
This style of FIRE enables people to stave off boredom in retirement, may provide some benefits such as health insurance, and of course generates some income to help their retirement savings stretch further.
Lean FIRE is the opposite of Fat FIRE. With this approach, people really buckle down and live a slimmed-down lifestyle to save up what they need for retirement. This approach may be necessary for folks who don’t generate a lot of income, but it’s also ideal for those who just want to move toward retirement very quickly. Many FIRE pursuers in this boat live on $25,000 per year.
In FAANG? FIRE May be a Perfect Fit for You
FAANG is an acronym that references five top tech companies in the U.S.:
- Facebook (now Meta)
- Google (now Alphabet)
If you work at one of these companies, FIRE could be an especially good fit for you.
Well, first of all, these companies tend to compensate workers well, with competitive bonuses and regular raises.
For example, a senior software engineer at Google can make $350K+ a year. So, in less than half a decade, they’re looking at a million dollars of income.
But it’s not only about the salary. Another thing about FAANG companies is they usually offer great stock options.
Workers can choose to hold onto these high-value stocks and sell them when they’re closer to retirement, or they can easily sell them to buy other stocks that generate income. While you’re working, you should be able to live off your FAANG salary and let your investments sit and compound until you need to start drawing from them.
Why else is FIRE great for FAANG folks? As we’ve all heard, people at these companies put in a lot of time and effort at work. This may make retiring early even sweeter.
Whether you work in FAANG or not, let’s talk about what you need to do to reach and maintain FIRE.
How to Find Your FIRE Number
First, you need to know your FIRE number. This number is the amount of savings, investment income, etc. you need to have in order to retire and stay retired.
The equation is really quite simple.
To determine your FIRE number, multiply expected annual expenses by 25.
Expected annual expenses should include all the money you’ll spend in retirement on housing, travel, healthcare, and so on. Jordan Sowhangar, CFP and wealth advisor, says most people in retirement spend around 75% of what they spent while they were working.
Keep in mind, the FIRE number calculation has to rely on some assumptions in order to work universally, one of the biggest of which is the 4% rule.
The 4% rule presumes that investors can withdraw 4% from their portfolios yearly in retirement without running out of money. Compounding interest should keep your portfolio growing at the same rate or faster than you’re withdrawing from it.
Things like age at retirement, life expectancy, stock market downturns, and inflation rates will all impact the success of the 4% rule, so you’ll want to carefully consider whether it’s the right percentage for your portfolio and lifestyle.
Want to Reach FIRE? 8 Strategies to Set Yourself Up for Success
As you can probably tell, achieving financial independence and retiring early isn’t just about shoving a bunch of money into a savings account and hoping for the best.
Here are several tactical things you can do to be even more successful as you pursue the FIRE lifestyle.
Establish Portfolio Visibility
In order to make plans and movement toward a goal, it’s imperative you’re able to understand where you’re actually at at all times.
When it comes to FIRE, this means developing a birds-eye view of all the things that impact your wealth — cash, assets, stocks, debts, and all.
There’s no better tool for doing so than Kubera, personal balance sheet software that specializes in whole-portfolio visibility and management.
Through a combination of integrations with tons of financial institutions and an easy-to-use interface, Kubera can be used to monitor every asset type — alternative assets like real estate and crypto, traditional assets like stocks and bonds, and collectible investments like artwork and jewelry.
See for yourself right now — it only takes a few minutes to get signed up and set up with Kubera!
Ready to see how all those assets you’re monitoring are performing?
Perfect, because we built an IRR for investments calculator that does just that for our savvy investor users.
Kubera uses cash flow, price, current value, and holding time to automatically find the IRR (internal rate of return) for all of your assets.
IRR is pertinent in understanding whether your investments are worth more than what you paid for them. And this is important info because you want to be sure your portfolio is filled with return-generating assets that will line your coffers for FIRE.
So we’ve got yearly portfolio performance covered — now how about viewing that over time to help you create more accurate future forecasts about your wealth?
Just hop over to Kubera’s Recap screen, where our functionality automatically crunches the numbers behind the scene to show you net worth and asset value change over time — from yearly performance all the way down to daily performance.
Set Your FIRE Number and Goals
Once you know where you’re starting with help from Kubera, you can finally see how far you’ve got to go.
This is when you want to combine that information with your retirement goals — whether you want to become a world sailor or a couch potato — and double-check that your FIRE number will support your post-work spending needs.
Build In a Safety Net
Of course, we can’t plan for every single surprise the future may hold.
But, we can be reasonably certain that at least a few will happen — sudden, high healthcare expenditures are a common one. So it’s best to prepare for them by building some padding into that FIRE number.
If you’ve never needed to build one before, a safety net is simply an emergency fund for covering expenses if your income (or retirement savings) wavers.
Different financial pros recommend putting different amounts in these savings accounts. Typically, six to nine months worth of expenses is good. And, if you can swing it, a bit more isn't a bad thing.
Look for Opportunities to Reduce Spending, Increase Income
If taking a lean approach to FIRE isn’t your thing, you may choose to skip this step.
However, for anyone with an average salary or extremely early retirement goals, reducing spending and/or increasing income may get you to FIRE even faster.
The first thing to consider is “Where is my money going?” The best way to answer that is to use a budgeting app like YNAB or Mint. You may find it enlightening to see how much you can save on all those little things that aren’t necessities — like those streaming services you never use or the payment on that extra car that you don’t really need now that your job’s gone remote.
It can be helpful to see spending shifts as methods for honoring your new goals and preparing yourself for a more thoughtful lifestyle once you hit retirement!
Feel like you’ve reached your limit on cutting expenses?
Another way to move toward FIRE faster is to of course generate more income, which many FIRE practitioners try to do passively. From real estate to creative investing to participating in the sharing economy, there are so many ways to generate passive income today!
Maximize Employer Matching While You Can
Frankly, you’d be foolish to not take advantage if your employer offers matching for a retirement savings plan such as a 401(k).
It’s free money!
So if you aren’t already making the most of employer matching, start now.
Start Thinking About Taxes
Speaking of retirement savings plans, there are some that have advantages like reducing the taxes you’ll need to pay once you’re retired.
Roth IRAs, for example, are a really popular option to layer on top of or use in place of a 401(k). With a Roth IRA, your contributions are post-tax. So you can withdraw all the cash you put into them without paying tax at the time of withdrawal.
If you’re planning to retire young, it’s important to note that this tax-free advantage only starts once you’re 59.5 years old, as of 2022 — and some other particulars apply.
Determine Risk Tolerance, Over Time
Typically, younger investors are willing to make more risky —but often higher-return — investments because they have more time to make the money back if something goes south.
As investors get closer to retirement, losses are harder to regain simply because of the shrinking timeline, so they tend to become more risk-averse.
You may experience this on a shorter horizon as you strive to retire earlier than most, so it’s extremely important you stay aware of the risks you’re taking and how they could impact your retirement funds.
If understanding risk and developing your risk profile feel out of your league, we’d recommend contacting a financial advisor.
Safety net aside — which you want to be highly liquid, aka accessible — it’s widely advised not to sit on cash.
You want to make sure every dollar you have is working for you. For example, some may be working at paying bills while some may be working at buying gold investments. Any cash that isn’t already earmarked for another job should be poured into index funds (or another easy investment vehicle) and generating returns for you.
An interesting caveat for this rule: There are some situations when you might want to keep cash on hand. For example, if your investment strategy requires timely asset acquisition (think real estate), you need to have liquid resources to make it happen.
Pay Off High-Interest Debt Before Retirement
We’re all for holding healthy debts, such as loans with low interest rates.
However, if you have debts with interest rates above 6%, those should be paid off before retirement — and even before saving/investing if possible.
Credit cards almost always fall into this category, but also look at any student loans, car notes, personal loans, and other bigger debts to prioritize where to start with your debt pay down plan.
Get Started Down your FIRE Path Today
Every great journey starts with a first step.
On your FIRE path, that first step should be developing a strong working knowledge of your entire portfolio, so you know how to best grow and wield it toward your personal finance goals.
You can be well on your way in just minutes once you get started with Kubera.
We’re by your side globally, across desktop, iPhone, and Android. You can even use Kubera with help from your financial advisor once they adopt our modern white-label solution as part of their client portal.