The Many Paths That Lead to FI – A Case Study

I’m excited to share the first FI case study in a very long time!

This case study has two parts: an introductory guest post and a “numbers and options” part.

Micheal, originally from New Zealand, is 38 and lives in Ireland with his family. He has been on the path to Financial Independence since 2018. Michael has a podcast – The Irish FIRE Podcast – where he shares his journey and interviews guests who are also on the way to FI. He also shares all of his numbers on his blog.

I first met Michael in the Semi-FI group on Facebook, and I was a guest on this podcast last year. I am a big fan of Michael’s work and how open-minded and transparent he is. Michael enjoys exploring alternative pathways to get to his Financial Independence goal and openly shares his decision-making and thought processes.

I initially wanted to do a standard Semi-FI interview with Michael to share his story, but his response to some of my first questions actually turned out to be a great little essay on its own. So I’ve decided to publish it as is as an introduction. In part 2 of this article, the case study, we’ll dive into Michael’s numbers and the different pathways he could choose to get to his final goal – Financial Independence.

In this post, Michael discusses

  • his career background
  • how he found the FIRE movement
  • the power of a high income and a high savings rate
  • how his attitude towards working has changed
  • his thoughts on semi-retirement and slowing down

Over to you, Michael! 🙂

Do you ever feel like you were the odd one out?  I think, in many ways, that has been me for as long as I can remember.  I didn’t really know my place in school. I didn’t know myself at university, and by the time I graduated, I still didn’t really know my place in the workforce.  My parents bought me a computer when I was 16, and it was the best investment they ever made for me.  I learned to code.  At first, it was just basic HTML, but soon I was making custom eCommerce solutions back before it was a thing.  By the time I finished university in 2004, I didn’t need to find a job.  I had enough work coming in as a web developer.  I formed my own agency and started developing websites.

Over the years, I have freelanced, worked for agencies and contracted.  These days I am contracting full-time and enjoy it.  The money is good, which has allowed us to save up to 75% of our income.  Income has been my big trump card when it comes to pursuing FIRE.

I am originally from New Zealand.  In 2010 I met my now wife in a pub in Galway, Ireland.  One thing led to another, and in 2011 I moved to Ireland to be with her.  I recall coming with €50 in my wallet when I arrived here.  But I worked hard, and by 2017 we had bought a house, had been married and had just had our third child.  But something was bothering me.  We were earning more money than ever before, but it was going out just as quickly.  Our weekends were spent going shopping.  I specifically recall one Saturday when I was carrying the bags upstairs after a shopping trip for “stuff” when I opened the door to the spare room to place the bags in, only to see the “stuff” we had bought the week before still sitting there in their bags, untouched.  We were simply spending for the sake of it!

Get up, work, spend, get up, work spend – we were in the rat race.

Michael and his family

This is when I started looking for alternatives.  I had to find a better way.  I recall hearing about FIRE on a podcast – I don’t remember which one.  I was consuming everything at the time.  A few people recommended the book “Rich Dad Poor Dad”.  This was pretty powerful for me.  Not that it gave the answers, but it talked about the power of money.  It was clear we had failed to think about saving, or investing for that matter.  We were, at least, at ground zero and not below it.  We had no consumer debt or personal loans.  We had a very small mortgage.  So while we had nothing in terms of savings and investments, we were at least at break even.

2018 was the year it all started for me.  Our savings rate was low at first – we started off with a savings rate of 10%.  These days, we are up to 75% – it is crazy how that has increased in five years.  My reasons for pursuing FIRE are likely not unique.  Like so many, I wanted out of the rat race.  I felt trapped at work – I HAD to go to work. It wasn’t optional.  For my family to survive each day, I had to go to work.  There was no plan B.  As a freelancer/contractor, I had no safety net.  It’s a horrible feeling when you have to do something just to keep ahead and on top of the bills.

Five years in, and I think we have done a pretty good job.  Our FI number has been calculated at €800,000, and our FIRE portfolio stands at around €360,000 as of February 2023.  We are saving a LOT at the moment as I have really put my head down and found a few projects that pay well.  We save around €10k a month after tax – and if we keep this up, we are only around three years from hitting our FI number.

But this is where things get somewhat ironic.  My whole reason for starting this journey in the first place was that I wanted not to HAVE to work.  But ironically, the closer I get to FIRE, the more I enjoy work.  I like earning money, I enjoy saving, and it can be hard to turn down good opportunities.  It can be hard to leave money on the table, especially when it has taken me years to perfect my skill as a software developer, and I am finally at a place where I feel well rewarded financially for what I do.

I love a lot about what you write, Tina, and you constantly challenge my own thinking on FIRE.  I was in a dark place with FIRE in 2021.  Three years in, I realised that I was still years and years away from hitting our FI number.  That was when I discovered your blog, and I felt so much better about where I was at.  Since then, I found ways to increase my income further, and it has allowed me to push my progress along a lot further, but the key takeaway is that there is more than one way to do this.

I love the idea of cutting back and am hoping to this year.  Learning to say no has been my big thing.  Even on my current numbers, I am already well past my Coast FI number and now only a few months away from Flamingo FI.  I like the idea of cutting back but still contributing a little to my investments.  Even small monthly contributions make a big difference. 

In many ways, all of this is somewhat relative.  For me, saving €10k a month has been an extreme, so the thought of cutting back and saving €5k a month (while still a great savings rate), feels like a walk in the park.  For this reason, I think income is a huge, underappreciated factor when it comes to FIRE.  Bloggers talk about reducing expenses and investing, but hardly ever income.  MMM might have been frugal, but it is likely between himself and his wife (who was also a software developer), they were likely pulling in $200,000 USD a year – this was the real reason why they were able to retire early.

I tend to talk about income a lot because I have somehow managed to increase mine three times over since I started my FIRE journey in 2018.  I never thought it was possible to do, but it turns out that if you make it a priority, it can be done.  I think the FIRE movement focuses too much on expenses and investing – my trick has been to focus on the income side.

I am definitely obsessed with FIRE and think about it every day.  With the FIRE movement, I finally have found my place where I fit in.  I love talking about FIRE with people, and in many ways, have found non-FIRE-related topics harder to discuss.  It has changed my friendship group a lot too.  My friends these days tend to be older and well along their own FI paths.

FIRE has given my family and me so much.  We are in such a strong financial position because of it.  While we still save a lot, we have also been able to help our families in tricky situations – help them avoid credit card debt, help them find their own houses to buy and provide financial support when they are going through tough times.  There is so much good about the FIRE movement that happens long before you reach FIRE.

Finally, I just want to point out the power of your savings rate.  In our case, with a 75% savings rate, there is this really amazing thing that happens – you can walk away at any stage.  For example, in a typical month for me, five working days cover our family’s expenses, and 15 days go into investments.  This means I could work 75% less than I am now, and our lifestyle would be exactly as it is now.  I think this is an amazing thing – almost as powerful as compounding interest itself.  Knowing that you can step away at any point and embrace semi-retirement is a wonderful feeling.  This is where your blog has helped me, Tina, as while I haven’t cut back yet, I know at any point I could, and this in itself is motivating.  For now, I am happy to keep powering on, but I know at some point (hopefully this year), I will cut back and start enjoying some of the amazing benefits FIRE has brought us.

Thank you so much for sharing your story and thoughts, Michael!

I can relate to so many things Michael talked about.

Fun fact: When Mr. Flamingo first came to Europe, he arrived at my doorstep with nothing but a worn-out backpack and a tennis racket, so Michael talking about how he arrived in Ireland with €50 in his wallet brought back some fond memories for me. 🙂

I completely agree with Michael’s comments on the impact a high income can have. This really is an underappreciated lever for people on the path to FI – not just during the full-time accumulation phase but also afterwards. High-income part-time jobs are actually perfect for a semi-retired lifestyle (this strategy has worked well for us here in Sydney)!

The one thing that stands out from Michael’s story is the “irony” regarding his attitude towards working. So many of us start off pursuing FI so we can stop working and then end up enjoying working as we go through the process of building a better life. That’s one of the main reasons almost no one actually stops working once they hit their FI number.

It is great to see how self-aware Michael is. This self-awareness gives him the opportunity to account for the fact that he enjoys his work and probably won’t stop completely anytime soon. This means he can explore options like semi-retirement and related strategies like Coast FI and Flamingo FI. Given his high income simply slowing down his FI journey and saving efforts could be a good alternative. Also, adopting a “Die With Zero” strategy would likely give Micheal even more flexibility and freedom sooner. There are certainly many options to choose from!

In the second part of this case study, we’ll dive into the numbers and explore the strategies mentioned above. We’ll look at different pathways Michael could take from here to get to his FI goal and optimise his quality of life along the way.

Can you relate to the “irony” Micheal talks about? What are your thoughts on his emphasis on a high income and savings rate?

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18 thoughts on “The Many Paths That Lead to FI – A Case Study”

  1. Such a common story – hating work, finding FI, hustling hard… only to realise work gets better over time and we need something to do. I know this is what you preach, but seeing this play out over and over is still amazing to me. I look forward to the numbers part! Cheers Michael for sharing your story.

    • Yes, very common indeed. But I think most people (and I include myself her) just don’t see it coming when they are in the early stages and all they want to do is find a way out of the rat race. I think it’s human nature. I work with people who don’t have this realisation until very, very late in the game. But I do think that in general, people are becoming a little more aware that options like semi-retirement that involve some work might be preferable to full-throttle FI.

  2. Thank you for putting together fantastic content Tina.

    We started with a dual income back in 2017 after having many years with a single income due to having kids and paying through our nose with childcare (I’m sure many can relate to this). With the help of many months of covid lockdown in Melbourne, we managed to achieve Flamingo Fire based on the Flamingo calculator.
    We are struggling to change our mindset to slow down. Often felt our number isn’t enough (and that 1 more-year conundrum). Our internal thought process normally goes ….with aging parents and kids growing up with more education fees and sporting costs, so we are definitely not confident if our FI number is accurate. Our spending tracker confirms an increase in year-on-year spending and obviously doesn’t help with inflation issues.
    While we both are on high income with good saving rates we definitely can relate to some of the key points mentioned in Michael’s situation. I have gone through the book ‘Die with Zero’ and hope it could help at least to slowly change my mindset. Tina, Just wondering what are some of the techniques you use to get better sleep at night factor with your portfolio given the cost of everything are going up and also, the family dynamic, needs, and cost increase over time?

    • Ha, your name confused me for a moment, so many Michaels! 🙂

      Congrats on reaching Flamingo FI, that’s fantastic!

      It does sound like you have not found your “enough”. I think it’s important to define what “enough” means to you – on a lifestyle, spiritual and monetary level. Otherwise the goalpost will just continue moving. That’s probably the number one “technique” I’d recommend. When I work with coaching clients this is what we always do at the start, it’s such an important foundation for the whole downshifting process.

      Overcoming a scarcity mindset takes time and a lot of self-awareness. It sounds like you are very focused on the numbers, especially your spending. Another helpful technique can be to “flip the script”. What happens if you continue doing what you are doing, one more year at a time? What will you miss out on? What regrets will you have later in life?

  3. Congratulations Michael on your achievement.

    I also left my home country to make a new start in my husband’s country (Portugal -> USA) so this resonated with me!

    Thanks Tina for sharing stories like this, I love it when the little Flamingo symbol shows up in my inbox.

    • Thanks Ana, glad to hear you enjoy receiving my emails! 🙂

      I’m planning to share more international content in the future. My readership is actually only 50% Australia-based (which makes sense since I’m from Europe and only moved here 8 years ago).

  4. This can be very inspiring, but also demoralizing for the great majority of people who do not get to earn so much! 🙁
    The world is full of inequalities and no, it’s not true that “anybody can do it”, since there are a LOT of variables that come into the equation…
    Let’s face it that for the average person, saving 75% of your income would lead to a poor life, barely eating maybe, depending on where you live, but generally. So many people struggle to make ends meet, so the inequality makes it way easier for some. And that some should not think they achieved it only because they were competent, but also because they got lucky in life. It is what it is.

    • Look up Coast FI or Flamingo Fi. Much more achievable. Could also just go slow and add a little at a time. Plenty of things can be done without a high SR

      • Don’t get me wrong, I am all for FI. I just think financial privilege should be taken into consideration on the contents about this topic.

    • Remember, it’s all about the math, not the actual numbers. This is actually the main reason I don’t share our numbers, it takes away from the underlying principles. Not everyone has a super high savings rate (we certainly didn’t have a savings rate anywhere near Michael’s), but the math works regardless. You can get there saving 25% instead of 75%, it will just take a little longer.

  5. “Learning to say no.”
    Yep, that’s the hard one for me… (she writes, sitting in a classroom in the middle of a term’s worth of teaching work.)
    Even though I’m officially retired, the ‘scarcity years’ of being a single parent mean that I find it incredibly difficult to knock back work, even though I know I’ll be unhappy with the loss of freedom.
    It’s a real thing.
    Oh well. Today is 28/50. Just over halfway there!

  6. Thanks Tina, really enjoy your stuff. I’d be interested in more thoughts or words around the high income parttime work. I’ve actually just pulled the pin on work for a mini retirement and hope to come out with similiar role but less hours more pay haha so probably freelance business. Any good people you know of to follow in that space? I also kind of agree with Michael with that the FIRE being the only thing that got me through the first horrible few years of my career, but with time it does get better!! So grateful that FIRE helped me hang in there.

    • Hi Kate, from my experience and what I’ve heard from others it’s usually easier to get a full-time job and then go part-time when the time is right (job share, after mat leave, etc.). It’s not always easy but worth it in my opinion. Contracting is another option, but that would usually mean at least 3-6 months full time and then some time off (very well paid though).

  7. Absolutely agree with Michael‘s view.
    I discovered FIRE during Covid when my salary was cut in half by work mandating 50% hours. However, our expenses dropped by nearly 75% because travel, kids sports, after school care, eating out, travel to work etc stopped. My journey started by reading frugalwoods. Thus first I was all about saving but once Covid restrictions were over it became clear hubby really detests the frugal mindset and it saps his energy to continue working a high income job. For us the journey is going to be shorter with a high spend lifestyle because we ll stay dual high income for longer


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