Playing With FIRE. How To Retire Early.

There are two things going on right now that touch on the incredible early retirement movement. The first is a documentary movie playing hopefully, at a theater near you entitled ‘Playing With FIRE‘ (click here) that chronicles one couples quest to retire as soon as they are able. The second is this article (click here) How To Retire Early So You Can Work, Travel And Relax On Your Own Schedule from Business Insider that gives you a step by step account on how to actually do the early retirement thing.

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The road to retiring early isn’t easy.
photo credit: Kathrin Ziegler/Getty

One step that both entities share and boldly announce is the reality that retiring early is very difficult. It requires a lot of sacrifice and self-discipline. In other words, it is NOT an easy journey.

The road to retiring early isn’t easy. It takes time and incredible discipline to earn, save, and invest as much as you possibly can. You must live below your means.

It’s very difficult to build substantial, long-term wealth if you spend more than you earn. When you’re working toward early retirement, it’s imperative to live below your means as it’s the only way to save and invest aggressively. Focusing on reducing your biggest expenses, which are probably housing, transportation, and food, can go a long way in the effort to increase your savings rate.

In the documentary, when the wife is told that she can only spend $5,000 on a car, she breaks down into tears. She expresses the difficulty she is having driving a car of inconsequential wealth. But hey! that’s the voluntary lifestyle that both she and her husband have chosen. Giving up consumerism in order to cease employment must be a style of living you want wholeheartedly and with all your soul.

When I early retired back in 2001, I knew that in order for me to be retired, stay retired and NEVER work for ‘the man’ ever again, was to remain frugal until my death. It’s certainly not easy to live on $25,000 to $30,000 a year (this is based on MY finances. yours may be different) for like forever. But I do. Because the thought of ever going back to work is so abhorrent to me, living frugally is the better alternative. Every second at work takes me away from living my best life ever.

I’ve been retired for nineteen years now and I am estimating I have another twenty or so more years to go. Early retirement years don’t always go smoothly. Lots of things can go wrong and lots of things did go wrong. I’ve had to adjust my retirement planning many, many times. One of the most important things to establish in FIRE is to have a Plan B. And a Plan C, D E and F!

Make a backup plan

No matter how foolproof your plan may seem, consider what could go wrong. You may find you hate the unstructured days of early retirement— would you go back to work? Or the economy could tank, taking your net worth with it — would you have room to cut expenses? Running through potential worst-case scenarios is essential when your livelihood is on the line.

The economy tanked twice since I retired in 2001. I’ve been through The Dot Com Disaster of 2001-2002 and I’ve been through The Great Recession of 2008. I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. The one thing I learned that if I continue to stay frugal, I’ll get through anything! Other things that went wrong, that I had no idea could, so I hadn’t prepared for it was my husband getting ill along our early retirement journey. Medical bills and medical insurance took center stage rather than travel and adventure. Also, relocating to a warmer clime was a huge disappointment. Again, something transpired that was unimaginable in my retirement planning (unhealthy living conditions). Each time I had to restart all over again, return to Square One (thankful that I even had a square one to fall back on) and map out a different retirement route.

If you get the opportunity, check out the documentary Playing With FIRE. It stars our very own Mr. Money Mustache and J.D. Roth, to name a few fellow finance bloggers. Here’s the trailer:

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14 comments

  1. Interesting to hear the “moving to a warmer climate” was a huge disaster. My husbands retirement dream is Florida. We’ve been here 10 years now and only this year have we come to a compromise that makes it work for me. A walkable city with clutural ammenities works for us. The “retirement” neighborhoods we tried left me longing for the life we lived up North. I complained about the heat and thought that was the issue. We’ve had to change up our plan, make trade offs to the original finances and could not be happier.

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    • Hi Laurel. Does that mean you moved back up north? We bought a condo in Sarasota, pre-construction and at a fabulous price. Three months after we moved in, we were surrounded by neighbors who smoked. After a while, breathing in 2nd hand smoke can be detrimental to one’s health. My husband has a heart condition and couldn’t stand the lung choking smoke! I wound up with a serious nose problem. We tried for 1.5 years to get the problem rectified: through both legal and condo rules but it just made the people smoke even more. You can not tell people what to do inside their own home even if what they are doing destroys your quality of life in your own home. Go figure. Plus the total maintenance in 1.5 years went from a starting $7,000 a year to $10,500 a year. I found these types of increases to be unsustainable on a fixed income. We sold in 4 days complete with all the furniture etc. I made a small profit and we came back to our home in NY and haven’t looked back. I think we avoided a big future problem. It’s over a year since and I still have nose membrane issues. The damage done is probably irreversible. Besides, Sarasota is a nightmare, overcrowded, over trafficked and now with the red tide and flesh eating bacteria in the Gulf of Mexico, I am very happy we sold and got out when we did. Real Estate prices are dropping. Go figure.
      I’ve been looking at St. Augustine and North Carolina. We’ll see. We are so afraid to make another move right now. In the interim we still winter in Florida but on the Atlantic Ocean side now.
      Thanks for your comment. I trust your relocation is far more better than mine. 🙂

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      • Ironically we are in Sarasota downtown after fighting all the traffic each weekend coming in when we lived in Venice. It works for us as we walk most everywhere. We live in a smoke free building that has legally forced people to stop smoking inside units and even on balcony’s. Red tide happens about once every 10 years and we’ve lived thru it on both sides of the coast. We used to have a place in St Augustine and feel about it like you do Sarasota. That’s the beauty of America…..we all find what works fir each of us!

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      • Laurel, small world! How funny! My brother and sister still live in Sarasota. My best girlfriend lives in downtown and if I had to do it all over again, I’d live downtown too. She walks everywhere! My brother lives in a smoke free building also. I had no idea. In New York there is no smoking in any of the buildings. I thought life was like NY everywhere else. No so.
        The more I think about it, North Carolina sounds better and better. Not too hot. Not too cold. We’ll see.
        BTW, my granddaughter got very ill swimming in the Gulf this past year. Horrible ear infection. Be careful. My BFF loves the Lido pool.
        Thanks again for your comment!

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      • Lucky you. Have fun! As I said, if I had to do it over again, I’d choose a downtown condo in a flash. And leave the car tucked away in a basement garage!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Cindy- thanks as always. In retirement, we bought a home on the ocean in Newfoundland. It is a temperate climate. We have seen the arrival of what I call the “Sunbirds”, people who buy oceanfront property in Newfoundland to escape the extreme heat of the southern states. Wise advice – always . Why do we buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know. 🤗

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    • Sally, I think that question is meant never to be answered. Maybe we just buy things to impress ourselves?
      An ocean front home in Newfoundland? Yes, please! Sounds divine. Enjoy always, in good health!
      Thanks Sally for your comment.

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  3. Another great article as usual Cindi. As you know I live in Miami. Lived here for 45 years since moving in my junior year of high school from Maryland. I do not love it here, but it is where we are and where we are likely to stay. The heat is unbearable as is the traffic. However our home is paid off and my daughter and two grandchildren live within a half an hour drive.

    It’s funny that you should mention never going back to work LOL. I retired in 2017, my two sisters are still in shock that I decided I did not want to work anymore. My brother-in-law who is at the age of 70 is still working, told me the other day, he thought I had retired too young LOL ! everyone seems to have an opinion.

    Interestingly I have weekly nightmares about going back to work. I will do anything not to have to return. I worked for over 40 years as a clinical social worker, and make sure I maintain my license just in case something happens in the future. Hopefully it never does because then my nightmare would come true.

    I like what you say about adjusting your plans and being open and flexible. I’ve been following your blog for years, and I see what you had to do to maintain your lifestyle. By remaining open and flexible, you can change your plans as needed. I think that is the crux of the issue. Congratulations excellent article.

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    • Ah, Teri, thank you so much. One of the things on my Bucket List is to go to South Beach and salsa the night away! Ola! Last time I was in Miami was with one of my college friends, back in the 1970’s. I remember it was very dangerous and we had to bolt our hotel door shut with chairs. Boy! How times have changed. It’s the hottest spot in America!
      There was a famous painting, by Red Skelton. He was dressed up as Freddy The Freeloader and had a caption on the bottom that said: “I got the biggest scare of my life today. Someone offered me a job!”
      I feel exactly like that!
      Thanks again for your comment!

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  4. Cindy- great post as always. I’m down to the wire, having 2 more weeks to go till I am leaving my job. Here’s the thing, am I “retiring” or just stopping work? To me, retirement always conjured up the image of global travel, buying a vineyard in Napa or something else. None of that is happening here. I am not complaining at all. We live within our means and have a decent pension, ssi and some savings. Still, I won’t lie. I am apprehensive about losing my salary. But if I don’t stop working now, then when? In recent months, we have seen 2 friends pass away and most recently another friend received a pretty grim diagnosis. I say this not to be debbie downer, but it made me realize I am not immortal. duh! I want to be able to do some things while all my body parts are still in good working order lol.

    I had to laugh about your Miami memory. My girlfriends and I went to Miami on Spring Break in the early 70’s and stayed at a place called “The Castaways”. No idea if it’s still there. It was a nice enough place, but oh boy Miami was scary. Let me tell you, we were terrified! Boys banging on the doors all night telling us to “come out and party”. (we didn’t) …..:-)

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    • HI Maura. You are right. It is very, very scary not to get a steady paycheck anymore when you retire. Your image of retiring with visions of vineyards and global travel is nothing more than good advertising. People got paid big bucks to make you think like that. 9 times out of 10 there is no such thing as those images for most people. Don’t be afraid. You can always have a part time gig or hustle to keep steady money coming in. Almost every retiree I met down in Florida had a side job. And a pension. And an investments. And Social Security. So no worries there. Try it first without a side job and see how it goes.
      ALL my husband’s childhood friends, from the old neighborhood have died. In fact, he just got a phone call last week that one of his best buddies died of a heart attack, on his boat, while he was sailing! MYhusband got very upset. But you have to think like a soldier and just keep moving ahead. We’re still alive and kicking and we have to get on with it, don’t we? That’s why I always recommend we enjoy each and every day. My husband is overjoyed when just he gets up in the morning to live another day!
      If you and I would have purchased a Miami condo back in the 70’s for like dirt cheap, we’d be multimillionaires today! See how life is? Crazy, right?
      Don’t be afraid of retirement life. It’s just another part of this wonderful thing we call life’s journey. Always be mindful of your money, live happily within your means, be kind to your fellow retiree and you will have a wonderful life. Take a few affordable vacations. One should be a wine tasting tour in Napa Valley!
      Keep us posted. Fill us in and share your retirement stories. Have faith and good luck, Maura! Thank you for your comment and for sharing your story with us.

      Like

  5. So exciting to read the comments of others and to learn how they are coping/succeeding in retirement. I think we bought our pool to impress ourselves. Kind of a status thing. And it seemed like something we would really enjoy. Not sure we should have and pretty certain we wouldn’t do it again, if we had the choice.

    Will check out the trailer. With PC’s job still in jeopardy, I am getting nervous.

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    • Uh oh. I know that feeling. Fingers crossed PC’s job will be AOK.
      Yup, we learn from each other and the best thing we all can do is share our stories, our accomplishments and our failures.
      Enjoy your pool! I know it has put you through a lot of angst. But, just enjoy it. I’m sure it is a blessing.
      Thank you again, for your comment.

      Like

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