Accidentally Semi-retired – Aussie Firebug Interview

Today I’ve got something special for you: An interview with Aussie Firebug!

This is not another interview about savings rates, the best portfolio allocation or frugality – we talk about semi-retirement, lifestyle design, travel, entrepreneurship and how to make the most of the journey to Financial Independence.

Who is Aussie Firebug?
I don’t have to introduce Matt aka Aussie Firebug to my Australian readers – his blog and podcast are very popular and well-known in the Aussie personal finance scene. Here is a quick intro for everyone else: Matt is in his early 30s and lives in regional Victoria, Australia, with his wife. He has been on the path to Financial Independence since he was in his early 20s. While spending two years in the UK and travelling around Europe, Matt accidentally fell into a semi-retired lifestyle. When he returned to Australia in 2021, he decided to start his own freelance business, work part-time and prioritise travel. Matt has documented his journey to FI since 2015 and publishes monthly progress updates on his blog.

I first came across the Aussie Firebug blog in early 2016, not long after we relocated from Europe to Australia and started our journey to Flamingo FI. I actively looked for Australian FIRE content, and Matt’s blog was the only one I was able to find. I am pretty sure it was one of the very first Australian blogs on the topic.

There were only a few articles on the blog at the time, most about escaping the rat race and saving as much as humanly possible. It was very much a blog written by a mid-20s guy obsessed with FIRE. 🙂 At this point, I was already more interested in lifestyle design and alternatives to the standard path to FI, so I have to admit I didn’t really connect with Matt’s content at first.

However, I continued to follow his journey over the years. Over time – especially in the last 2-3 years – Matt shifted away from the hardcore race to FI toward a slower, more lifestyle-focused approach. It was quite an impressive transformation, in my opinion.

These days, Matt and I share very similar attitudes towards FI and what it means to live a good life. I really enjoyed chatting with him when he invited me on his podcast last year, so I was excited when he agreed to this interview here on the blog.

In this interview, we discuss

  • Matt’s semi-retired life
  • What made him change his approach to FIRE
  • How the Aussie Firebug caught the travel bug
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Regrets and suggestions for people on a similar path
  • Plans and visions for the future

Let’s get started!


Q1: What does a typical day in the life of the Aussie Firebug look like these days?

It’s a bit different depending on which day, so let me give a weekly summary.

Monday

  • Wake up around 6:30-7:00 and start breakfast for me and the wife
  • The wife leaves for work around 7:45
  • Catch up on sports/news/FIRE Facebook group or whatever I’m into at that moment during breaky and really enjoy my cuppa
  • Toilet/shower/morning walk all done and dusted before 9:00
  • Work on either AFB content or my freelance business until lunch
  • Get some sort of exercise in after lunch. Either gym, cycle, walk or mountain bike riding, depending on the weather
  • Start dinner around 4:30
  • Early dinner so I can digest the food before BJJ (Brazilian Jui Jitsu) training at 7:30
  • Get home absolutely wrecked, hit the hay around 10:00

Tuesday

  • Wake up a bit earlier to get to the gym (around 6:15)
  • Similar start to the day as Monday, except I’m usually working from the client site all day
  • Get to work at 9:00
  • Get home around 5:30 
  • Help with dinner and watch something on the TV with Mrs

Wednesday 

  • Pretty much the same as Tuesday

Thursday

  • Exactly the same as Monday

Friday

  • Same start as Monday, but then it will depend on what I have on
  • Sometimes I take Fridays off completely and catch up with a friend. Other Fridays, I’ll just work from home and finish off that podcast/article or something with my business.
  • We also sometimes travel on Fridays because the wife only works four days a week.
  • Sometimes we do a lot of life admin on Fridays too because all the shops are open and it means our weekends are free.

Saturday & Sunday

  • Varies greatly, but most of the time, we’re at some sort of sporting event to watch the nieces and nephews.
Matt competing in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament. He loves that he has the free time to train and compete without it impacting other areas of his life

Q2: How is your life now different from the vision you had 5-10 years ago?

Great question. 

I didn’t really have a vision past financial independence 5-10 years ago. That’s the thing, my sole focus was building my wealth and escaping the 9-5 grind. I didn’t put enough effort into thinking about where I was escaping to!

Anyone that knows me personally will know that I’ve always been a ‘man with a plan’ operator. 

Getting married, buying a home and hopefully starting a family soon was in the original plan ten years ago. So that big stuff hasn’t changed. 

One of the biggest differences from the original vision is my ambition to start a freelance business. I got bitten by the entrepreneur bug when I lived in London for two years. I completed changed my opinion of meaningful work and what’s possible when you have driven ambitious people working towards a goal. It was an experience that had the biggest impact on me from a meaningful work perspective.

Q3: You now work part-time and prioritise lifestyle over getting to FI as quickly as possible. Tell us a bit more about the thought process behind this transition.

I think there comes a point in everyone’s FIRE journey where you have to take a leap of faith and leave the security of your full-time gig. 

I was forced to make this jump because we wanted to travel and live in Europe, which meant I had to quit my job. That was the best decision I ever made for a few reasons. 

Obviously, the travel was awesome, and we got to see and do so many things. But because we were travelling so much, there were months when we didn’t work at all, and we inadvertently fell into a semi-retired lifestyle without realising it. 

Working for a bit, travelling, working until the end of the contract, chilling out for a month or so… it was a great experience, and I knew I would never go back to full-time work.

Starting my own freelance company enabled me to work more on my own terms and boost our lifestyle tenfold. I could write a book on all the benefits we have by only working three days a week. 

One of the biggest benefits I’ve noticed is I’m never counting down the hours to home time. I look forward to work 99% of the time, and it gives me more than just the paycheck. 

I can honestly say with hand over heart that I’d still be mucking around in the data space solving fun problems even if I won the lotto tomorrow. The life I’m living right now is the exact same one I’d be living at full FIRE. Given that, I don’t feel the need to go back to full-time work just to increase a number on a spreadsheet a bit quicker. 

Matt enjoys mountain biking around local trails 

Q4: Do you ever regret going after FI so hard and making big sacrifices early on in the journey? Is there anything you’d tell your younger self to do differently if you had the chance?

Regret is a strong word, but I did miss out on a few experiences in the pursuit of FIRE that I wish I could get back. Mostly overseas trips with my mates. I still went on my fair share during my early 20s, but there was one particular European trip that I skipped which still stings a little to this day. 

Other than that, I honestly didn’t sacrifice that much. You can only sacrifice something when you have a desire to do it in the first place.

I didn’t want to party every weekend. I preferred to make dinner instead of eating out. I wasn’t interested in fashion and buying new clothes every year (it helped that I met my wife at 21). I hated big cars and only ever viewed them as a mode of transport. 

And for the things that I did enjoy, I went out of my way to get the best deals or wait for a price drop or order a bulk buy with a few friends. 

I was a major tightass, and I found joy in an extremely simple lifestyle.

Our trip abroad broadened our horizons, and we’ve suffered (been blessed with?) the controversial lifestyle inflation everyone in the FIRE community talks about.

My wife and I now find joy in certain experiences that were never that high on the hitlist before (mainly travelling). 

I’d probably tell my younger self that travelling with your mates when you’re young and don’t have kids is a tiny window that vanishes after a few years. Don’t worry too much about spending money on those once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

Q5:  Some people would argue that you didn’t need to accumulate such a large nest egg to start a business and enjoy the life you live now. What would you say to them?

I’d say they’re probably right. 

But here’s the thing… 

I know how my brain is wired. I don’t believe I would have had the conviction to unplug from the safety of the full-time machine if it wasn’t for our FIRE portfolio.

Knowing that we have over $700K in shares generating roughly $2.3K of passive income monthly is the ultimate safety net. 

Starting a business or being in a career that allows part-time work is a shortcut to living a more free life. And you don’t need to work for 7-10 years, unlike many traditionally FIRE strategies. But there is a risk tradeoff doing it that way. If the business doesn’t work, you could be even more stressed than someone grinding it out in the cubicle. 

Matt snowboarding on a Monday when everyone else is at work

Q6: Tell us a bit more about your entrepreneurial ambitions!

I have a dream of creating a kick-ass working environment in rural Victoria, solving challenging problems with fun and creative people. 

I had never worked in the type of environment that I found myself in overseas:

  • Something new every day.
  • High energy levels of motivated people
  • A genuine passion for the product we were making
  • Deadlines that actually mattered, haha (I worked for the government back in Oz)
  • Ambitious people that thought that could honestly make a difference
  • A fun environment that rewarded hard work
  • Team comradery with an emphasis on celebrating wins

And the list goes on. 

It was full on, but I liked it!

I started to contract back at my old job when I returned to Australia, and it wasn’t bad or anything, it just wasn’t the same as those startups in London. 

I have a dream of trying to create the same vibe that I fell in love with, but here in my hometown. 

I would love to have an office space one day and put in a ping pong table and set up some old 64 consoles. 

It’s not about the money at all. 

I want to create something that people find useful and foster a great work environment where I can have fun whilst working. 

Starting a company has always been a bucket list item. I know it’s going to be hard work, but I reckon the sense of achievement will be worth it (if it pans out, lol).

Q7: You started working towards FIRE just over a decade ago, and a lot has changed in your life since then. What do you think your life will look like another ten years from now?

A lot can change in ten years, but hopefully, some of the below will be in the picture:

  • Celebrating my 10-year anniversary with my wife
  • Being that annoying dad yelling from the sidelines of my daughter’s netball games
  • Putting my hand up to be the assistant coach of my son’s basketball team
  • Having the flexibility and time to always volunteer to help out whenever my kids are participating in an interstate tournament/play/competition
  • Still prioritizing my health and making sure I’m getting to the gym three times a week plus riding my bikes around town
  • Still competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu comps and may be closing in on my brown belt promotion
  • Living somewhere in SE Asia for the month of July each year to escape the cold
  • Leading a small team of 5-10 people in creating and selling a digital product whilst having a blast doing so
  • Prioritising spending time with family and friends
Sipping on a beer on a recent trip to Bali. Matt and his wife enjoy being able to travel more than the traditional four weeks a year usually allowed by employers.

Q8: Do you have any advice for others on the path to FI who are considering an alternative approach and/or semi-retirement?

Like with most things, balance is key. 

It’s normal to be excited when you discover the concept of FIRE. And you’ll probably want to save every cent to get there as quickly as possible (that’s what happened to me). 

But reaching financial independence won’t make you happy by itself. What it will give you are more options to pursue other interests. Start to develop those interests during the journey. Travelling and working abroad is one of the best ways to broaden your horizons and figure out what you want to do in life.

A lot of people say that don’t really care about retiring early, they just want to reach financial independence. This mindset is a trap. 

Retiring early doesn’t mean you stop working. It means you stop working for money. 

Wealth should be a means to an end. You don’t want to become wealthy just for the hell of being wealthy.

Thanks for sharing your insights, Matt!

The Aussie Firebug’s story is pretty much a perfect case study of what happens to most members of the FIRE community: They start out chasing FIRE and at some point they realise that they don’t actually need to be 100% financially independent to reap the rewards and live a great life.

Some (like Matt) realise this relatively early on and make positive changes in their life long before they are financially independent in the traditional sense. Unfortunately, many don’t figure it out until very late in the game, often not until they have passed the FIRE finish line.

Matt stumbled into the semi-retired life by accident and doubled down on the benefits this lifestyle can offer. It sounds like he has found his happy place as far as work-life balance is concerned. I truly believe that semi-retirement is the sweet spot when it comes to finding a balance between saving for FIRE and enjoying the freedom our growing portfolios offer.

By starting his own business and moving to a part-time schedule, Matt has managed to unlock most of the benefits of full FIRE several years early. He is living in the green zone of the Financial Independence spectrum.

While he isn’t financially independent yet, he has what Mr Money Mustache would describe as “a good, fun amount of money so I can walk outta this cubicle with confidence and never look back.” His nest egg will continue to grow over time. Even if he doesn’t save another cent, he will reach FI at some point.

I love Matt’s list of hopes and dreams for his future. It really shows what he values in life – and most of the things listed don’t require millions of dollars in the bank. After all, things like family, health and contribution are what make life worth living, so it makes sense to focus on building a life based around them.

I 100% agree with Matt’s comment about figuring out what your interests are before you reach Financial Independence. This is so important. Incorporate your interests and goals into your life along the way. That’s what will allow you to create a happy life before and after FI.

It really sounds like Matt has found the perfect balance between meaningful work and time for his hobbies, health and travel. I look forward to following his entrepreneurial endeavours and the next chapters in the life of the Aussie Firebug! 🙂

What do you think about Matt’s transition from “obsessed with FIRE” to happy part-time entrepreneur?

 
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8 thoughts on “Accidentally Semi-retired – Aussie Firebug Interview”

  1. Interesting read! I agree with your observation, his attitude and way of talking about all this FI stuff has changed. All part of growing up I’d say. I recently saw an article where they basically argued that every single person who FIRE’s at a younger age ends up working and doing good stuff in the world. Keep spreading the good word, Mrs. F! Happy semi retiree here as well!

    Reply
  2. Great observation. I have followed Matt’s journey too (hard to miss in the oz FI space!) and have noticed the same. It’s great he adjusted his plans and didn’t just soldier on regardless. Love the green zone concept, very applicable. He only has 700k or so in his portfolio, so very lean by most standards. Good on him for making the most of it!

    Reply

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