F.I.R.E. stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early – or does it?
Sure, the basic premise behind the FIRE movement is pretty simple: Spend less than you earn (or earn more than you spend) and invest the difference. Eventually, you’ll reach Financial Independence, which will enable you to Retire Early.
However – and I’ve written about this many, many times over the years – almost no one actually ends up retiring in the classic sense when they reach FI. In reality, FIRE probably ends up meaning something along the lines of Financial Independence, Retire Early (from the 9-5 grind) for most people.
People continue to try to come up with new interpretations of the oh-so-catchy term “FIRE” all the time. Probably because deep inside, we all know that FIRE (as in Financial Independence, Retire Early) is a nice idea but not how things pan out in real life. Yes, there will always be some exceptions, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
Here is a list of examples of how people re-frame the RE part of FIRE:
- Financial Independence, Retire Eventually
- Financial Independence, Redirect Employment
- Financial Independence, Rethink Everything
- Financial Independence, Ratrace Exit
- Financial Independence, Reduced Effort
- Financial Independence, Recreational Employment
- Financially Independent, Rewired and Energetic
Notice how none of these actually refer to (early) retirement?
So we’ve started to question the second part – Retire Early – of the FIRE acronym. But strangely enough, hardly anyone seems to question the first part – Financial Independence.
Several alternative terms to FIRE have appeared over the last few years, coined by clever people who also question the whole “retire early” narrative:
- FITR (Financial Independence, Time Rich) – I actually really like this one. It was coined by Money School author Lacey Filipich.
- FILE (Financial Independence, Live Early) – This appears to be a FIRE variation for people who don’t want kids?!
- FIFE (Financial Independence, Freedom Early) – I first heard about this one in the latest episode of the Irish FIRE Podcast which referenced this article. I really like this term.
- Work Optional – this is the term Tanja Hester from Our Next Life uses. It’s a nice alternative to all these acronyms!
- FIOR (Financial Independence, Optional Retirement) – not sure who coined this one, but it’s very similar to “Work Optional”.
I really like some of these, and I find they do a better job conveying what FIRE enthusiasts are actually after. However, my one criticism is that they still include the same first step – reach Financial Independence (aka accumulate a massive nest egg to have the option to never ever work another day in your life) before you start living the second half of the acronym.
My question is this: if RE (Retire Early) is not part of your FIRE plan, then why is (full, early) Financial Independence?
I am most confused by “Financial Independence, Retire Eventually”. If you won’t retire straight away but “eventually” instead, doesn’t that also mean that you don’t need full financial independence straight away but could just reach the FI part “eventually” as well?
I think that many of us are too scared to start working towards our ideal post-FI (RE) lives. So we trick ourselves into going after the FI part first and chasing that magic number. That way, we feel we can tackle our RE endeavours with a cuddly blankie (aka Financial Independence) wrapped around us – just in case things don’t go to plan / we fail / something terrible happens. The years of sacrifice and hustle to get to FI get brushed aside, even when it becomes clear that because of all the un-retiredness that goes on in our RE lives, the FI nest egg never even gets touched.
The more I think about this topic (which I have a lot lately), the more absurd it seems.
Many hardcore FIRE enthusiasts will argue that Early Retirement simply refers to retiring from the rat race and that it’s the phase in which we have the freedom to do whatever we want. That’s all good and well, but you don’t actually need to be fully financially independent to enjoy these benefits.
I would argue that all these people who reach FI and then leave their 9-5 job to become entrepreneurs, part-time or seasonal workers, freelancers, etc., are not early retirees. There is a much better and more accurate term for their status: they are semi-retired!
So what do I believe FIRE stands for? Call me a purist, but for me, it stands for Financial Independence Retire Early.
Retirement to me means that someone is, well, retired. A retiree does not start businesses. A retiree doesn’t fund all of their expenses from their job. A retiree is retired and doesn’t work (a few hours of volunteering don’t count, obviously). Everyone is entitled to have their own opinion, but I’m with the dictionary on this one:
That’s exactly why I will probably not “FIRE” (the acronym has also turned into a verb in recent years!) and retire early for at least another decade or more. I just enjoy being semi-retired so much and can’t imagine being fully retired at this stage – reaching our FI number won’t change that. That’s why I gave this website the subtitle “Financial Independence, (Semi-)Retire Early”, – although I don’t have a cool acronym for the term.
The meaning of the acronym FIRE continues to evolve and change. I think that’s a good thing. I’m pretty sure that at some point, more people in the community will also start questioning the FI part of FIRE. This will inevitably lead them into the magical world of alternative FI strategies where your friend Mrs. Flamingo feels at home. 🙂
So, what does FIRE mean to you? What does the RE part stand for, in your opinion?