Although it presents less raw danger than a physical flame, FIRE (financial independence/early retirement) is not necessarily safe for the soul. So what is the stop, drop, and roll of the FIRE movement?
Fire safety is drilled in our kids at a young age. Even my preschooler can tell you what to do if you catch on fire: stop, drop, and roll. Kids have fire drills at school and on the bus, and are encouraged to plan escape routes for home. It makes sense that fire safety is a big deal, and that teachers and firefighters know how to make it memorable.
Even if you never plan to retire early, we all need safeguards against losing ourselves as we navigate money, work, and life. That’s why I believe we should all pursue financial flexibility; there’s no benefit to being enslaved by our jobs by over-extending ourselves financially. So, what’s the soul-risk in pursuing FIRE or even financial flexibility?
Last week we talked about Luke 12, where a man retires early and decides to live unabashedly for his own pleasure. The catch? He dies on day one of retirement. It’s a parable, so it’s meant to teach some lessons about relying on God, living for yourself, and the foolishness of putting all your hope in this short life.
And then there are verses like this one: What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? (Matthew 16:26). You could gain freedom from work, freedom from worrying about money, but lose yourself in the process. Even the popular blogger and early retiree Mad FIentist admits he fell into depression on the intense journey to FIRE (scroll down to Dark Times here).
Like money itself, FIRE isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s a tool that depends on how you pursue it and you use it. Here’s the stop, drop, and roll of FIRE soul-safety as I see it:
Purpose. Many people advise you don’t just retire from something, but retire to something. I believe this should mean more than projects, hobbies, or travel. Life is most satisfying when it’s lived for a bigger purpose. How will you connect your interests and talents with your values and purpose? Finding how these connect before retirement will help you find contentment and fulfillment when you leave behind traditional work.
Practice makes perfect. What do you dream of doing with your time in retirement? Makes sure you do some of that now! This will help you avoid living for the future but missing the present and make sure you’re living a useful life. And it will also hone your dreams and plans and you figure out exactly what your why is for retiring early. Here are some areas worth practicing:
Generosity. There’s no better way to guard the heart against greed than to give charitably and sacrificially. I’m not necessarily talking about extravagant gifts or buying your friends dinner. It’s great to be generous to those you know, but sometimes greater to help those you’ll never even meet. There are no end of good causes and reputable charities supporting them. Read more on the benefits of giving and how to find an effective charity.
Volunteering. Giving your money is not interchangeable with giving your time and talents. But both are undoubtedly important ways to make sure you’re not just living for you and losing your soul along the way. For us, this looks like volunteer ministry such as leading and teaching home group Bible study, serving as elders, and discipling new leaders.
Relationships. Staying connected with people along the way to FIRE is invaluable. Making time for the people in your life ensures you have a healthy family and friendships to enjoy your retirement or flexibility with. It’s part of living for more than yourself. And it also opens you up to the possibility of accountability and feedback along your journey to FIRE.
What else do you see as important for FIRE safety?
I love your perspective . A great blog. Thank you.
I am already retired and this year (2019) I have to take my RMD on my traditional IRA. I have both Roth and traditional IRAs. For a couple of years I have planned to give it to a mission organization that I am familiar with. Last week I notified one of the accounts where IRA monies are kept to send my RMD to the designated mission organization. If I am around in another 10 years, I plan to repeat this process because I would like to give 10 percent of my retirement funds to missions. Because this is money that has been in custodial accounts it is easy to give it away.
What a great use of your RMD. There are also great donor-advised funds for those making donations before traditional IRA withdraw age.
What you may not be able to do now you can promise to do in the future. When we were young and broke our daughter watched a lot of Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, and Mr. Rogers. I promised some day I would financially support PBS so other young families could receive that benefit too. I am please to be able to keep that promise now.
That’s great that you’ve been able to keep that promise to yourself and support a worthy cause later on!