Last week I wrote an introduction to FIRE and working out your FIRE number. The approach and calculations in that post also apply to basic retirement planning, since the task was to fully understand what you will need when you stop working. If you want a more step by step guide to approaching your pensions (and you’re in the UK) then check out this Meaningful Money podcast which does exactly that.
If you want to retire at 65, or at 30, you need to know your requirements. Only around 40% of Americans have tried to calculate their retirement needs (can’t find the number for British people but I suspect it might be even less). If you don’t know what your goal is or why it matters, the chances of you making it are slim.
So once you have worked out what you need per year to live on, then the fun starts.
Or maybe it doesn’t. If you do your calculation and feel like it’s a million miles (or million pounds) away, it can feel disheartening. If your net worth is zero, it can feel even more impossible. But there are two things to bear in mind:
- That there are different kinds of FIRE to aim for, and not all of them mean waiting until you have it all in the bank before you are independent enough to make different choices;
- And that the basic tenets of spending less and making more income are available to (almost) everyone.
I want to take a moment to recognise that I am coming to this from a place of privilege. Poverty is alive and growing in the UK at what should be inexcusable rates. According to the Child Poverty Action Group more than 4.2 million children – or 30% – are growing up in poverty. 44% of children in lone parent households are growing up in poverty. Children from black and minority ethnic groups are more likely to be affected: 46% are now in poverty, compared with 26% of children in white British families. More than 70% of children living in poverty live in a working household – so the simplistic notion that we can all just work our way to a new life isn’t true either.
I’m not saying this to use a personal finance blog to smack about some politics – I’m saying it because not recognizing the institutional and personal privilege I do have would be not just disingenuous but would be a contribution to the kind of poverty-shaming narrative that we cannot afford if we are to care for the whole of our society. I am a single parent, and I was raised by one: we lived on benefits for a while when I was a child, and I did again as an adult with my first child. I am very fortunate to be in this position now, and I pay specific attention in my life as to how to support and build up others in that position. Ok, with that said…
So then shouty lady, what are the different kinds of FIRE?
This has been something of a key discussion in the FIRE community in recent years, partly because there are so many different lives that people are interested in living. Broadly though the categories are:
- Barista FIRE: This is the first step for many people. It involves having enough assets or passive income to cover your most basic bills, but you need to work to make up the difference. The trick here is the ability to potentially give up a stressful and high pressure job – or one you hate – for something which brings in basic income and gives you a way to socialise. Barista FIRE is a good way to split a FIRE journey half way, and takes off some of the pressure to to save, especially if you hate your job. This allows you to top it up or to pay for luxuries. Some people also like the idea of having work to do and other ways of socialising during retirement. At the moment, this is what I am aiming for.
- Lean FIRE: This is about covering the basics. It’s hard to find UK – or even European – calculations, though there is, naturally, a rich discussion on Reddit. but in the US the estimate is that you will be looking for an income in retirement of about $40,000 or £29,000. Interestingly, this is around the number that WHICH thinks is needed for a ‘comfortable’ retirement in the UK. It’s also the median income in the UK. As such, this should be enough for a comfortable life style, without too much scrimping but also without expecting regular long haul luxury holidays. Assuming you were starting from scratch, you would need a pot of £725,000 to be able to comfortably draw this down. Regardless of the number, Lean FIRE is about being able to comfortably pay all your costs, including replacing things if they break, without dipping into savings or heading back to the office.
- Regular FIRE: this is seen as a middle ground, and was the traditional calculation of what you think you will need. It’s worth doing (as discussed in my last post) so you get a better idea of your goals and what would work for you.
- Fat FIRE: this is the purview of those who really do want the regular long haul luxury, or something else, anyway. Fat FIRE is retiring on a significant budget – in the US of around $100,000 per year. At £70,000 per annum, this would put you in the top 5% of all earners in the UK – you would need a pot of £1.75m. For me this is the fantasy-land stuff which is great if that’s your schtik but it’s not for me.
For me, I am aiming for Lean FIRE but with the intention that I will work to cover additional costs. These might include helping my kids with their university costs or other expenses, or travel. I also love a lot about my work and have put a lot into building a career, so I would like to be able to take on some self employed pieces – but only if I can pick and choose, including choosing not to work.
So what’s your FIRE number? And how does that make you feel – excited that it’s closer than you thought, or terrified? I’d love to hear about it! And if you feel terrified then do come back next week when I look at simple steps toward FIRE.
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