I recently finished Playing with Fire (affiliate link), an interesting take on one couple’s first year of learning about, or finding FIRE and trying to figure out how to apply the core principles. This made me recall that distant day long long ago when I first learned about FIRE. Truth be told, it wasn’t earth shattering when a Mr. Money Mustache article first made its way into my world around 2014. But, it was big enough for me to share with Mr. Hippie and excitedly exclaim, “Other people are trying to do this too! We’re not alone!!”
See, the concept of FIRE was very intuitive to me. Though at this point in my life I had never been a ‘big’ earner, I was already well along this path without realizing it.
Growing up with a Scarcity Mentality
I attribute a lot of my early progress toward FIRE to my frugality. I attribute my frugality toward growing up with what you might call a “scarcity mentality.” This infiltrated how I thought about most things, including money. In general, this meant that I considered money to be a scarce resource that should be stored away for future use. So, even as a small kid I took it very seriously when my parents told me there wasn’t enough money for something and I made “sacrifices” accordingly. I did things like avoid lessons or even develop interests in what I perceived to be expensive skills (I.e. expensive meaning anything that cost money). I pulled out of a week at camp with a friend as a preteen so that I could work instead. My hobbies were (and still are really) things like playing outside, listening to music, reading, writing, and making my own clothes using hand-me-downs or thrift store finds simply because those were all things I could do for free.
Starting Work Early
Next, I started working as soon as I could. I had a lot of hustles as a kid such as a neighborhood carnival organizer, lemonade stand tycoon, eraser dealer at school, and local garden waterer and pet tender. Come cookie season with my girl scout troop, all bets were off, and I was pulling MVP status! By age 10, I was babysitting neighborhood kids for money pretty regularly. I started my first full-time W-2 job an hour with a commute for a handsome sum of $5 an hour when I was 14. I worked most weekends during the school year and had a full-time gig every Summer of high school.
Money in the Bank
But all that work amounts to nothing if you spend it all. My dad encouraged me to save every dollar I could and put it in the bank. It was never particularly clear what that money was supposed to be saved for exactly, just that I would need it ‘someday’ and it should not be taken out of the bank. If I ever asked my dad would have told me the money should go toward buying a book or a pack of ramen in college or maybe a house down payment one day. I might have responded to him that I was 12 and would much rather prefer a new Sims expansion pack!
Due to the scarcity mentality, even at this age, I was a terrible consumer. I have distinct memories of my friends spending their hard-earned cash on copious cds and band T-shirts and then declaring themselves broke and unable to go to Chile’s. Money felt like a precious resource I wasn’t eager to be parted with, so I simply just skipped step 1 and declared myself not rich enough to go to Chile’s (some may argue as a nonmillionaire I’m still not rich enough for Chile’s!) [A Note from Mr. Hippie: I recommend that no one, regardless of income, ever go to Chile’s except in the most dire of circumstances].
When ‘Someday’ Finally Comes
By the time I got to college, my savings were in the 5 figures. But, at this point my habits were set. I worked 2 nights a week at a part-time job on campus and simply funneled the money into my accounts and lived frugally as always. But, I also learned to loosen the purse strings and ended up dipping into this money for some of the best life experiences I have ever had. Thanks to my frugal living and saving habits I was able to live abroad. Twice. I took a Summer off to road trip across the country. I did it again. I moved across the United States to somewhere I’d never laid eyes on. I went to music festivals and saw bands I’d only even dreamed of seeing. I took almost a month long honeymoon — in freaking Europe, y’all! I switched careers to follow my passions again and again and felt comfortable doing it because I had money in the bank to fall back on if it didn’t work out.
By the time I found FIRE, it was like finding a new way to refer to a lifestyle I’d had for years. I shared it with Mr. Hippie and soon after this we started Getting Serious™ about increasing our income. Though we had been nailing it at living frugally, we had taken a lot of risks in our careers and hadn’t prioritized maximizing our income. I took a step away from what one interviewer painfully called “the helping industry” and Mr. Hippie closed his start-up [Ed.: Profits were growing! But we were impatient.], and we both joined corporate America to make something like 4x what we had the year before. I, thankfully, got over my horrific “individual stocks in a taxable account” investing technique. Then, we firmly latched on to the tried and true method of index funds and maxing our tax advantaged accounts every year. We’ve never looked back since (well, except for the corporate America bit!)
The Gift of FIRE
Truth be told, pursuing FIRE has been one of the most valuable things I have ever done. The principles of frugal living and saving have opened up so many opportunities for me that would never have been possible otherwise. Learning valuable techniques to maximize our income and the impact of that savings have propelled us further on our FI journey than I ever thought we would be at this age. Mathematically, it’s just a matter of time before we reach full blown FI now — all thanks to the power of compound interest.
One thing about my story is that I am immensely aware of how privileged and lucky I am to not only have come across FIRE literature when I did, but also to have such an early start in the journey thanks to my upbringing. Scarcity mentality and growing up fast through hard work have their downsides, yes, but I was able to use them to benefit my position in life immensely. I also heavily benefited from parents who didn’t ask me to help pay household bills (and even turned me down when I tried!), held the pretense that the money I earned was mine alone, and considered it their job to put a roof over my head.
That being said, had I not had parents who did all these things and encouraged me so heavily to work and to save at a young age, I certainly still could have reached financial independence. But, it absolutely would take me longer, and I might spend some time unlearning certain money-related habits.
Part of why I began this blogging journey in the first place was because of how important I consider financial literacy to be. The core tenets of the FIRE movement are life-changing. I want to be able to share what I’ve learned in the interest of enabling others to pursue opportunities and life-long security in the same way I have.
Now that you know a little more about my FIRE introduction, tell me a little more about yours! How did you first find FIRE?