The Sprint to FI

FI is for the Fortunate

I want to bring up something I haven’t heard much about in the FIRE community: This is a path for the fortunate. Not necessarily for the inherently privileged (or we’d all be financially independent already), but for those of some means.

I can already hear the objections. FIRE is for everyone! Anyone can do it! Start small and it will grow! And theoretically, that’s not wrong. The fundamental principles are sound, and simple enough. But simplicity doesn’t equal realistically possible for everyone.

The bottom line is, in order to save for retirement, you have to have something to save. Folks who live in HCOL areas may need every bit of their income to survive. People with families and minimum wage jobs just won’t have anything extra to set aside. America’s fastest growing job sectors don’t pay a living wage. I’ve personally had to decide whether to buy groceries or take my sick child to the doctor (thanks, American healthcare system) because there wasn’t enough money to do both. Saving for retirement seemed ludicrous; I just wanted to make it until fucking payday. A broken down car or other “surprise” was a disaster, and I wasn’t alone. Per an October 2019 AARP report:

Despite the United States being in the midst of a prolonged period of economic growth and record- low unemployment, a large share of Americans remain just one surprise event away from financial distress. For the sixth year in a row, the Federal Reserve reports that approximately 40 percent of American households would struggle to cope with a $400 unexpected expense.

I lived like that for a long time, and I remember how it felt, and it makes me cringe when I hear that saving for FI is just a matter of taking fewer vacations, or skipping Starbucks, or saving 30% of your income. Again, good in both theory and practice, but only for those who actually have things they can cut back on. As past-me would have said, must be nice to have it like that.

There’s nothing wrong with the FIRE movement and I think it’s very valuable to get people to really think about how they spend and save their money. I’m incredibly thankful that I have the knowledge and ability to chart a FI course at this point in my life, even if it’s later than I would have liked. We’ve been talking with our (now grown) kids about it because we want them to start planting a few tiny FIRE seeds as soon as they can. But plenty of folks can’t, and it’s presumptive and misleading to act as though it’s universally accessible.

 

 

 

 

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