What Does F.I.R.E. Really Stand For?

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?

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18 thoughts on “What Does F.I.R.E. Really Stand For?”

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading this candid article. Food for thought for sure. I fall in the RE from the rat race camp. I agree that full FI is not required and is more of a mental blankie as you put it.
    Loved the last line, you sure feel like a friend after all these years, Mrs. F! ❤️

  2. Thanks for the shout out in the post Tina! Very interesting topic and you have expanded further on my own podcast episode on this – which is only expanding my own thoughts further!

    For me personally, one of the challenges I am going through at the moment, is that saving is addictive. I know I could slow down and I am nearly at my Flamingo FI number (only a few of months away), but at the same time, part of me continues to want to push on. I am a person caught in two minds. The ironic thing, is that the closer I get to not needing to work as hard, the more I want to work – its like a contrition. I am enjoying work more than I have in many years – and making better money than I have in a long time.

    I’ve found a great sense of irony, that the greater I get to FI, the more I am enjoying work. Almost like the real issue was never work, but this feeling of working and never getting ahead. Once the savings rate kicks in, the whole feeling of anti work becomes better.

    So I think if I do decide to keep working full time beyond my Flamingo FI number, it is truly because I want to. Not to escape work, but actually because after years of feeling like I have to do it, with the choice, I finally actually want to do it.

    Monday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday – the day of the week doesn’t matter. I seem to have no Monday blues, nor Friday high anymore – I love each day whether it is a work day or not.

    • This whole FI journey comes with many unexpected twists and turns. I can definitely relate to what you wrote. For me, work got so much better the moment we started making fast progress towards our goals.

      Have you considered taking some extended time off once you reach your Flamingo FI number to see what the other side is like and stop the “save, save, save” treadmill for a while? If you miss working full-time you could then go back knowing you are doing it for the right reasons.

  3. Totally agree with Michael, since we semi-retired, the work has started to be more enjoyable, mainly because that pressure is off and the not giving a sh#t factor is higher! Since I started caring less in my job, a promotion came my way!

  4. So what you are saying is that if you don’t want to retire early you don’t need to reach FIRE early? Makes a lot of sense but yes, people are scared, myself included!

  5. I dunno. I think folks are overthinking this. FIRE covers the basics, if one wants to amend or deviate from that objective, I think one should just do it. Personally I don’t need a new acronym to give me permission. Granted, I am a renegade, so gotta keep that in mind. Thanks for the article.


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