Is the FIRE Movement Really The Way To Go?

By: Naomi Matlow

Are you feeling the FIRE?

We’ve all heard of the Fyre Festival, but do you know about the FIRE Movement? FIRE, standing for Financial Independence, Retire Early, is a movement — or really a ‘way of life’ — for millennials who in fearing the onset of burnout, ‘hack their finances’ by lowering their daily costs in order to save a substantial amount (many who follow the FIRE fold say 10-15% of your income beginning in your twenties) with the purpose of retiring early and exiting the rat race with plenty of time to spare.

Steven Kurutz of The New York Times says that To be ‘firing’ is to slash one’s expenses to maximize saving while amassing income-generating investments sufficient to support oneself. To have ‘fired’ is to have achieved that goal.”  

Is living below your means to increase your savings something actually attainable in your current work life?

What are some of the benefits and shortcomings for living for the future in such a way?

We took a page out of our old Social Studies textbook and decided to make a good ol’ fashioned pro and con list. We invite you to make your own and join in on the conversation:

Pros of the FIRE Movement Cons of the FIRE Movement
  • A light at the end of the “daily grind” tunnel
  • Spending years of your life on passion projects or hobbies without having to worry about finances
  • Frugality is good for the environment and mitigating waste while only focusing on life’s essentials has social and psychological benefits
  • Encourages less urban-centric living for cheaper living costs, which has auxiliary benefits to health and happiness
  • Work becomes less of who you are and more of a means to an end.
  • Supportive of a more holistic approach to life and well-being
  • Additional income streams can give space for creativity and maximizing secondary skills
  • You must be debt-free (and that would be nice!)
  • Only possible for very few: largely employees in the tech industry that can support themselves while also saving for early retirement
  • The difficulties of living frugally for years at a time
  • Putting all your eggs in the basket of a specific profession because you rely on that income being generated to dictate your future
  • Less career flexibility in order to maintain flatlined income
  • Primarily possible for individuals who fall into very specific gender, age, class, racial, background constituencies
  • Additional income streams can increase stress and take away from leisure time (hobbies can become work)
  • Tax bases disappear and early retirees may not be financially contributing to society’s social welfare
  • Potentially reliant on investments and the stock market which can be dangerous
  • You must be debt-free (and that is not easy!)


Whether feeling the FIRE is something attainable or desirable for you, or not, it is an interesting thought exercise to think about what retirement means for you.

Nick Holeman, a financial expert at Betterment, was quoted in a recent Fast Company article saying:

“Normally, it’s that you’re retiring to something instead of retiring from something. It might be a full-time job, just something that doesn’t pay as much and that you feel more passionate about–or it might be what was once your side hustle, but now you can devote more time to it.”

Instead of aspiring to completely “retire to” something and save up to “never work another day in your life” for most of your life, consider finding meaning and pleasure in your work, or taking occasional sabbaticals.

Travel and FIRE

Rather than saving up for the complete end of your tenure in the workforce, what about saving for occasional sabbaticals and opportunities to explore the world as occasional “travel breaks” between jobs or workplace positions. We have seen many Unsettled alumni celebrate work milestones by joining an Unsettled retreat and then return to their work post with an enhanced perspective and a trove of memories.

Partial retirement is also on-FIRE. To save up to retire from full-time work is also an option if your income savings allow. Either to focus on passion projects, or work remotely part-time to facilitate travel and international adventure, this may be an option too, and something to aspire toward.

Nevertheless, what is of utmost importance, in the words of Jungian analyst and author James Hollis, paraphrasing Joseph Campbell, “We can spend decades climbing the ladder, only to realize too late that we have placed it against the wrong wall”. Or as David Brooks said in this week’s NYTs editorial, what mountain are you climbing?

Are you sure you’re climbing the right one for you?



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