What is Slow FIRE? The smell the roses road to financial independence

slow fire
Photo by Diana Măceşanu on Unsplash

Immediate gratification is great. Rewards today are better than rewards tomorrow. Our reflexive brain is designed to tell us that. We have a strange relationship with our future selves. Future us is abstract and it’s hard for us to wrap our tiny brains around the concept. Me? But not right now me? 

People seeking FIRE have a massive goal. Earn and invest money so you have enough money. Enough money to quit the job you hate. Enough money to make work optional. Enough money to live a peaceful life on your own terms. It’s the dream. Getting to this goal tomorrow is better than getting to this goal 3 years from now. Right? Slow your roll on mate, not so fast.

Accelerating your timeline between now and your FIRE date requires change.

  • You need to earn more. 
  • You need to save and invest more.
  • You need to earn higher returns on your investments.
  • You need to lower your monthly cost of living. 

Those are basic moves that you must make to accelerate your timeline. 

  • Earning more requires working more, that sucks.
  • Saving more and investing more requires spending less, that’s not as fun.
  • Earning higher returns on your investments requires taking more risk, yikes.
  • Lowering your monthly cost of living requires more frugality, also not fun. 

If all the actions you must take to speed up your FIRE timeline stink, you need to ask yourself. Is it worth it? Is an earlier exit from your corporate prison worth the extra marginal effort? The choice is up to you. If the answer is no. Then you’ve decided on a journey known as slow FIRE or slow FI. 

What is Slow FIRE aka Slow FI? 

A journey to financial independence that balances spending today and investing for tomorrow. It’s the FIRE roadmap designed to allow you to smell the roses along the way. It’s driving down the FIRE highway with the cruise control set to 5 MPH under the speed limit. 

Slow FIRE = FIRE at 80%

Jog Towards Financial Independence

Make a transition plan. Many retirees have regrets about leaving their careers. Learn from their mistakes. What is it that you want? What will you miss if you wake up tomorrow and never go back to work? How will you find fulfillment? What will make you feel significant and needed? What social interactions will fill your week with positive energy?

Is there a better version of your job that you’d actually love? What areas of your current work do you enjoy? If you spent 80% of your time working on the enjoyable parts, does the other 20% of garbage become tolerable? Are there certain people that you work with that suck the positive energy from your workday? If you separated yourself from them, is the work actually enjoyable? A bad apple can ruin an entire team’s morale. 

  • Don’t confuse shit work with shit coworkers.  
  • I’ve seen a single rotten manager ruin the culture of an entire company. It’s possible.  
  • Don’t rush. Practice. Plan a transition. 

Enjoy a Few of the Finer Things Now

It’s important to avoid lifestyle creep. Avoid the temptation to buy a bigger house or fancier things. A higher income doesn’t mean you must spend more.

Splurging in categories like housing or cars costs your money three times. 

  1. Once when you layout large chunks of money. 
  2. Again because your monthly expenses are higher. 
  3. And again because you now need more money to retire. 

Splurge on experiences. 

Splurge on quality durable goods that will last you for decades. When you splurge in these categories you don’t increase your recurring monthly cost of living. 

When you enjoy your money today and spend it on experiences you create lasting memories. If you’re lucky, memories that will last a lifetime. That’s money well spent. 

When you enjoy your money today and spend it on high-quality goods you get to enjoy the purchases for many years. Additionally, you don’t have to worry about shopping or replacing these goods. There is a tangible and undervalued benefit when you buy high-quality goods.

Increasing spending in service categories that make life easier is money well spent. Trading a little money for a little more time can be a great trade. With more time and less on your mind, you can create more value at work and increase your income. Clever high achievers learn this lesson early in their careers. 

Enjoying the finer things once in a while will still get you to FIRE. Keep your eye on the long-term price and make it a habit to reduce your recurring monthly costs. The weekend lake trip with your friends or the leather weekend bag won’t sink your goals. 

These higher than average spending events also act as a release value. It’s like a cheat day when dieting. If you have a great diet for 6 out of 7 days, you’ll make great progress in the long run. Having one day a week to go nuts, helps you stick to the long-term plan. You’re less likely to completely abandon your long-term habits with a designed cheat day. 

Slow FIRE is an approach with design cheat days, cheat days when you treat yourself! Many people do this once or twice a year with a vacation. That’s a fine choice. It’s not wise to pop Veuve Clicquot every night of vacation, but hell drink some champagne once in a while! Life is all about creating great moments.

It’s also important to spend your money in categories that provide a lot of utility or value. Being frugal with every dollar under optimizes total happiness. Being frugal with all your money optimizes your FIRE journey for speed. 

Instead of speed, consider optimizing towards

  • Health: make time for yourself.
  • Relationships: make time for people you love.
  • Quality of work: vs work that pays the most.
  • Mindfulness: each day is precious, make the most of it.

There are many outcomes to consider when designing your FIRE journey. As fast as possible might not be right for you. Slow down and enjoy the ride. You get one shot at the game of life. 

Choose Meaningful Work Even if it Pays Less

Most people choose jobs based on how much they can earn. Salary and bonuses are common factors when sorting and applying for work. Some look for equity and stock compensation, but cash is king when looking for work. It’s tangible, it’s known, and it’s predictable. 

If you’ve mastered your financial habits and you’re tracking for FIRE other factors come into play. At some point, more income does not matter as much to you. That extra money will increase the amount to save. Your spending has likely settled into a comfortable range after years of practice.

How much better will your life actually be if you earned $250,000 vs $125,000? Will life be 2x better? No, it won’t. Life and happiness don’t work like that. 

Since you’re on the long haul version of FIRE, it might be smart to look for better work. Work that challenges you. Invigorates your creative side. Or supports a cause that’s important to you. 

The longer you work, save, and invest, the more heavy lifting your portfolio does. One year in the future. The annual returns on your portfolio will dwarf the amount you save from working. That might be the right time to find more meaningful work. 

You can also consider easier work. Less stress and pressure in your working life goes a long way. It helps be present when you’re outside of working hours. Your Sunday night isn’t ruined by the thoughts of returning to work on Monday morning. 

The answer might be living right under your nose. Is there a version of your work that would suck less? If you could remove all the components of your job that you hate, would it be something you look forward to? If that version of work paid less, would it be interesting to you? Would it provide a better overall experience while you skip down the winding road of FIRE? 

  • Smell the roses during your road to FIRE. 
  • Splurge from time to time and enjoy the fruits you love.
  • Find work you love. 
  • Smell the roses during your road to FIRE. 
  • Enjoy the satisfaction of a good day’s work.
  • Spend more time with your family. 
  • Smell the roses during your road to FIRE.