A few months ago we put out an article that caught FIRE, so to speak. In that article we argued that FIRE bloggers weren’t really pursuing FIRE.
While we gave a number of reasons for this opinion, the main one boiled down to the fact that what people pursuing FIRE are looking for is more freedom to pursue what they want.
FIFE = Financial independence so you can have freedom early.
This article sparked a little controversy, with most taking issue with our opinion about what it means to be retired.
While we could argue until the cows come home about what it means to be retired, the main thing I took from this article and the controversy it created was that the FIRE community is quick to put up defenses when they perceive that someone is questioning FIRE.
But the thing about the FIRE movement, like most personal finance topics, it that it represents one way of going about your life.
It’s not for everyone, and that’s okay.
Heck, FIRE isn’t even accessible to everyone, so we as bloggers must be open to other ways of conducting our financial lives.
Tawnya here, and I’m one of the people in the personal finance blogger sphere not pursuing FIRE.
But seriously, I’m not, and although Sebastian is technically FIRE, it wasn’t something he pursued in his younger days either.
We represent a different take on personal finances because we don’t/didn’t have any plans to leave our 9-5’s years and years ahead of time.
While we’re a minority in the personal finance blogger world, we represent the vast majority of American workers, many of whom will struggle to be able to retire AT ALL, let alone early.
As such, I wanted to spend some time giving you FIRE pursuers a glimpse of the other side by telling you why I’m not pursuing FIRE.
I Enjoy My Job and it Gives Me Purpose
For those of you who don’t know, I’m an elementary special education teacher and I enjoy my job.
However, I’m not your typical teacher.
I teach in a self-contained (meaning I have the students all day) classroom inside a residential treatment facility. This means that my students are living at the facility on locked units, and are there because they are a danger to themselves and/or others in the community.
You see, my students have experienced a great deal of trauma in their lives and as a result often act out aggressively. Some of that is a result of seeing these behaviors modeled in their young lives, while some of it is simply because they haven’t learned any other way to deal with frustrations.
I have 6-8 students at a time ranging from 1st grade (6 or 7 yrs.) up to 5th grade (10 yrs.). My students are there anywhere from a month to over a year, depending on the severity of their behaviors and their family (or lack of family) situation.
It’s a difficult job.
My students are the most difficult in Oregon and the neighboring states, and many are funded at state hospital level care. Add on top of that issues with the system (treatment, foster care, DHS, lack of funding, lack of placements, etc.) and it would be easy to imagine why I might want to pursue FIRE.
In fact, the burnout rate is extremely high for behavior teachers, with most lasting only 5 years.
But yet I’m not pursuing FIRE, partly because I enjoy my job.
Aside from what I just shared, there is a lot of good and satisfaction that comes from my job.
Despite the challenges, most students are highly successful in my class, many for the first time in their academic lives.
My classroom is highly structured, predictable, consistent, and above all, safe. Not only that, we spend an enormous amount of time building rapport with students and making them feel proud of what they’re accomplishing.
I remember in grad school a professor saying that the single biggest predictor of whether someone will end up in prison or not is whether they can read by 3rd grade.
I take that sentiment to heart, and I try as hard as I can to get kids the individual attention they need to get caught up before they transition out.
The most challenging students in the state are successful in my class and I’m making a difference.
What higher purpose can you have than that?
I Get Enough Time off to Pursue Other Endeavors
Aside from the great sense of accomplishment and purpose my job gives me, another reason why I’m not pursuing FIRE is because my job also allows me enough time off to pursue other endeavors.
I’m a teacher, so obviously I get a lot of time off.
A lot of people have the wrong idea about teachers because they get a lot of time off. Don’t be fooled, we work every second of the time off we’re given throughout the school year.
In fact, I have it pretty good as far as working overtime, but even I routinely work an hour or so extra a day. Add that up over the course of the year and it evens out with the time off.
Even though we’ve technically earned all that time off, it still provides a nice break and the time to pursue other endeavors if we so choose.
Most teachers have about 2 ½ months off during the summer, 2 weeks in December, and a week for Spring Break, along with other days here and there.
Add that up and I have around 3 months of the year to relax, travel, do part-time work, work on my house and yard, and blog.
But the best part? I have all this time to pursue what I want WHILE still being paid.
I take my salary in 12-month allotments, and rest assured it’s much easier to pursue what you want knowing you have that steady money coming in.
I Have a Great Pension Plan
Yet another reason why I’m not pursuing FIRE is because my job as a teacher means I have a great pension plan.
In Oregon the state employee plan is called PERS (Public Employees Retirement System), and it’s one of the rare pension plans still offered by employers.
PERS is great for many reasons.
First, saving for retirement isn’t optional. As soon as you begin working a PERS job a portion is taken out of each check for your retirement. Not only that, your employer also contributes monthly to the account. Finally, when you do retire you’ll be given a monthly stipend for life based on your years of service and salary, plus all the money you’ve contributed can be taken as a lump sum or a monthly allotment.
I especially like this last PERS perk, as it means that I will receive a monthly paycheck for as long as I live. There isn’t as much need for me to worry about saving enough or withdrawing the right amount every year.
Unless something drastic happens, I’ll be covered as long as I’m alive and any other savings is just icing on the cake.
I Have Good Pay and Great Benefits
This one goes with the pension plan I discussed above, but my pension is only a portion of my total benefits package.
One area I think people pursuing FIRE tend to underestimate is healthcare. With my job I pay about $100 a month for healthcare, but if I had to pay out of pocket it would be more like $500-$1,000 depending on my coverage.
While healthcare isn’t as big of a deal for me right now, I know all too well the dangers of complacency when it comes to health.
It’s easy to imagine taking a minimal plan when you’re young and healthy, but it’s important to remember that things could change at any time. I’ve known people who got into accidents that forever changed their life. I’ve also seen what can happen when a serious disease takes hold.
My dad is a great example. He was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1988, but had been able to continue working and living a fairly normal life for much of the time since. However, major surgeries in 2014 kicked the MS into high gear. My dad went from working full-time and making over 100k a year to bed-ridden and on disability.
Life can change quickly, and it’s important to not underestimate the impact of health and ability on our lives.
My healthcare, along with my other benefits, are estimated to be about 30k a year of my total compensation package.
That’s a lot of money that I’d need to replace if I was pursuing FIRE.
I’ll Be Able to Retire Early Anyway
Yet another reason why I’m not pursuing FIRE is because I’ll be able to retire early anyway.
Of course I won’t be retiring in my 30’s or 40’s like many FIRE folks, but I’ll be able to retire much earlier than the average American who waits until their 60s to retire.
I’ll be able to retire when I’m 56, to be exact.
In my district, teachers become eligible for retirement after 30 years or a certain age (I believe 62). I turned 26 my first year as a teacher, so I’ll hit my 30 years at age 56.
Not super young, but still more than young enough to enjoy life, and all with the full benefits of a 30-year career.
Every Job Has its Good and Bad Points
Most people pursuing FIRE are doing so because they want more freedom and control over their lives.
They also typically hate their job.
Whatever the reason, or reasons, more people seem to be increasingly dissatisfied with their job these days, and as a result are looking for a way out.
While I generally enjoy my job and have a clear purpose, it definitely isn’t all unicorns and rainbows. I have days where I don’t want to go into work. I have high stress days, problems with administrators, parents, and co-workers. In short, I have many of the same struggles as others have in their jobs.
However, the thing to consider isn’t that I have struggles in my job, but that EVERY job has its good and bad points.
In fact, Sebastian told me early on (following a rant after a particularly stressful day) that no job will ever be perfect, and that I would have good and bad days no matter where I was working or what I was doing.
That was some of the best adult advice I’ve ever been given. And it’s true.
I think sometimes people pursuing FIRE have a little case of grass is greener syndrome. In other words, they think if they can only reach FIRE and quit their day job then life will be fine.
Well, hate to break it to you but even retirement has its good and bad points. First off, most FIRE people are still working in some capacity, and those endeavors carry their own challenges. For those that aren’t working at all, you may find you struggle with filling your time.
Whatever you choose to do after you’ve quit your 9-5, just know that leaving the traditional workforce won’t automatically solve all your problems, and that there will still be good and bad days.
Even if I Stopped Teaching I Wouldn’t Be Retired
Most people who have attained FIRE are still working, whether they want to consider themselves retired or not.
Which brings me to my last reason for why I’m not pursuing FIRE. If I ever did decide to retire early from teaching I wouldn’t really be retired.
At this point I have no plans for retiring from teaching, but that doesn’t mean things couldn’t change years from now. If by some miracle this blog began making a ridiculous amount of money I’d be foolish to not at least consider leaving my day-job to blog full-time.
But, as we argued in our article on FIRE bloggers, we consider someone who leaves the workforce to blog to be simply changing jobs, not retiring.
Disagree if you want, but we consider retirement to mean not working for any substantial income at all. Think of my 90-year-old grandparents who hang out at home all day and occasionally help my mom around the farm. Or, think of Sebastian’s handball buddies who hang out at home, play handball, and go on trips.
Those people are retired.
And if I ever considered leaving the traditional workforce but was still working for money I wouldn’t consider myself to be FIRE, but rather FIFE.
Moral of the Story
FIRE people tend to get defensive when anyone poses a challenge to the concept of FIRE, but the fact of the matter is that FIRE isn’t accessible for everyone, nor is it right for everyone.
I’m one of those in the personal finance blogger sphere who isn’t pursuing FIRE, and I have some pretty good reasons for why I’m not pursuing FIRE.
First, I enjoy my job and it gives me purpose. My job also allows me enough time off to pursue other endeavors, has good pay and great benefits, and a great pension plan. I’ll also be able to retire early anyway, and even if I stopped teaching I would just be moving into a new job and therefore not be retired (in my opinion).
I realize my situation will not relate to everyone and that I’ve got it pretty good. Not everyone has a pension plan, or as much time off, or feels as great a purpose as I do.
However, it is important to consider the aspects of your job that are not as easy to replace if you strike out on your own, such as healthcare, possible employer retirement account matches, and the security of a steady paycheck.
Remember, every job has good and bad points, and that you’re going to have problems no matter where you work or what you do.
Pursuing financial independence is a great goal no matter what, but take into consideration all aspects of your job before you decide to leave the traditional workforce.
And, if you happen to be one of those advocating for FIRE, make sure you’re open to the perspectives of others, and understand that you belong to select company if you’re ever able to actually achieve it.
And for that, I applaud you.
Talk about Money Saved.