extreme FIRE and how to live well

Monevator has a diverting ding-dong started last year that tried to split off the financial independence from the retire early part. I get it, nobody should be made to retire early if they don’t want to. I didn’t take part in it because much of it was a rhetorical construct. In the end being FI is necessary for you to retire, but it’s not sufficient reason. If you don’t want to retire, well, just don’t.

This is a particular case of the general question how does one live well?

This has occupied philosophers and religions since we found ways to have the opportunity to ponder such questions. There are as many answers as querents.

These answers diverge more as you get older. You had much more in common with your schoolmates that you do with the people you work with at 30. This divergence in aims, goals and lived experience continues throughout life. The branches of the decision trees fan out to more and more widely spaced points as they cascade. You are the product of all those decisions as well as what happened to you outwith you control.

FIRE is one aspect of this general problem, but first we should acknowledge that life is a journey, not a problem. It involves change. Your fifty-year old self is not the same as your 20-year old self. If you had good fortune and played your hand well, your fifty-year old self with be deeper, happier, wiser, more tolerant and gentler than your 20-year old self. If not, well, all sorts of other outcomes are possible. By no means all are bad, people are adaptable as hell, provided they don’t ossify first.

Let me call this “out in 20 years approach” extreme FIRE, xFIRE, in  homage to the grandaddy of FIRE, Jacob Lund Fisker, of earlyretirementextreme. He was a great exponent of FIRE ASAP, and his manifesto gives you it straight between the eyes

I posit that most people can attain financial independence in less than 10 years and in less than 5 if they are truly determined. I also submit that many people are not willing to make the necessary changes.

I lapped this up, because guess what? I wanted out in 3 years. Yesterday would have been better, but the numbers showed 3 years. He was a great inspiration.

Worked for me. But I didn’t do it starting at 20. I had almost paid off my house. I had a decent company pension scheme. I was 12 years from normal retirement age, at the then white-collar retirement age of 60. So while I used a lot of ERE’s xFIRE methodology, I built it on a very different foundation.

If you are 20, that option is really tough, and the risks are very high because your retirement is 40 years long rather than the more normal 20.

If you’re a footballer, you better get it done and dusted by the time you are 35. If you work in industries where burnout is rife, like law, finance and IT, look around your office. If there’s nobody over 50, don’t aim to be the 50-something exception in 20 years’ time. Don’t fight the obvious evidence.

Everybody else under 30, take a step back. and think. There are two main columns to the FIRE methodology.

Don’t be a financial muppet

The first is ‘don’t be a muppet’. Don’t buy anything with debt except a house and the tools of your trade, which may include education though not always. All else pay cash and do without until you have saved enough.

Fail to do that and stick it all on 20% APR revolving credit card debt and the best that will happen is you only pay 20% extra for everything you buy. It’s that simple. Don’t be a muppet. There are other aspects of don’t be a muppet to do with consumerism and spending. All of these, twentysomethings, knock yourselves out and take it all the way. There is absolutely no downside apart from the months of cold turkey when you catch up with your previous muppetry and pay it down. If this is unrealistic (the debt is high multiples of your monthly salary) then seek outside help with the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, Debt Stepchange or the Money Advice Service.  Just make sure it’s a non-profit and never consolidate loans on your mortgage. You heard it here first. JFDI. It’s never too early or  too late to stop being a muppet.

You will observe nobody’s talked about early retirement so far, and financial independence ain’t on the horizon. It is a necessary but not sufficient condition for FIRE to stop being a muppet, but even if you are happy to work till you drop start off with not screwing up. Anybody wanting to lend you money is looking to make money out of you, and their gain is less money you can spend on what you want. Don’t be a muppet.

The second column – take back control of the track of your working life

There’s significant privation to be gone through in becoming finacially independent (FI) earlier than normal in the FIRE sense. It appears Monevator’s definition of RE means people want to quit the rat race after 20 years1. You’re looking to do it in half the time it will take most of your colleagues. You want a good reason for taking such an iconoclastic path. All other things being equal2 your peers will have a lot more disposable income than you. Humans are social critters, you’ll feel that. I only did it for three years, I felt it!

This is all part of this “what does living a good life” conundrum, and people seem to miss out that fact that what looks like a good life changes over your lifetime. It’s more obvious in the early stages: Living a good life at two means not shitting on the carpet, but that’s probably not quite enough to make the grade at fifteen. Once we’ve nailed the muppetry, to see if the view of xFIRE is worth the climb, we need to broaden the frame of reference.

The seven stages of life

What does a well-lived life look like? It depends.  I did sciences rather than arts, and philosophy is firmly on the humanities side of the Two Cultures so I start from the wrong side of the tracks. But a general education, a life’s worth of reading and an inquiring mind hopefully compensates a little for my absence of Oxbridge PPE…

There’s a lot of woo in this, but the stages of life are found across human endeavour and through the ages – Shakespeare’s All the World’s a stage, Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, Carl Jung’s work on individuation.  In the spirit of holding contradictory viewpoints a la Scott Fitzgerald, I thought I’d run with it, because the metaphor speaks to the human condition.

Your twenty-year old self should be different from your fifty-year old self, else you aren’t doing something right. I would hate to have the concerns of my twenties now. I struggle with some of the reincarnation bits of that, but compared to the Immortalist society freezing their heads in search of the Elixir of Life 3, who am I to call it.  Savant cryogenicist man-children like Ray Kurzweil  didn’t invent this. Old men looking for the Elixir of Life is a search thousands of years old, ever since terror management theory became a thing in the Palaeolithic.

Old men have been looking for the Elixir of Life for millennia. This is the White Rabbit making the Elixir on Life on the Moon, from ancient China

What I liked was the resonance with my observation of humans changing over the stages of their lives. I have passed through some of these stages – the forecast of a fall in grades in the third stage (adolescence) surprised me, but it was true of me in the lower-fourth, and looking back, for those reasons. As indeed was the quarter-life crisis, which overtook me at university in my second year undergraduate level. All those angsty Millennials writing in the paper have a point that some things are tougher now, but being twenty to thirty is always hard because you’re taking on a lot of change, most of which is new to you, and you are changing your social role in the world.

The adult stages of life are indistinct in our culture, but they are still there, unsignposted. The modern world is delaying some of these stages of life compared to previous generations. “Adult” children seem to remain dependent on their parents beyond 30 to a degree that would have been shocking in the past.

The adolescent to mid-life FIRE-aspiring you must throw switches that route your life differently from your peers. But the facts of FIRE don’t change – if you haven’t got your shit together and started along the track by the time you are 30, you ain’t retiring by 45. Retiring by 55 is ten years early and very doable. 50 can be done with serious effort, but ERE does have a point. Most people won’t want to take the hit.

So young pup, give up a little bit of life now if you can, so your older self may have a choice, though I confess I am with Monevator – don’t kill yourself to get out in 20 years.

I am closer to Monevator than I thought on xFIRE, even though I used it

I disagree with him on some things, like that work is a meaningful part of life in and of itself. In one respect I agree. There’s a nasty hair-shirt streak developing in the xFIRE ethos.

My younger self would have struggled with suck it up, work sucks, keep your eyes on the horizon in my 20s. At the start of your career you have greatest freedom of action and least to lose by trying a different track. To sign away twenty years of your life to trying to get away from a working situation you detest is selling yourself short. You owe it to yourself to ask if that’s the best you can do.

I lived the counterfactual view: 20 years of your life is far too long to stay somewhere mediocre when you only have maybe 40 healthy years left – get a new job first, your house is burning down! I was OK with London apart from the price of rents and houses, but I wanted more money and more interesting work, so I changed job three times in the 1980s, improving my situation both in terms of pay and congeniality.

I never solved the housing cost problem so I left London, because no job I could get was going to solve the housing problem for me. I’ve spent a lot of time bitching about work here, but for 27 out of thirty years I was okay with work. There was enough interest, people were good in the main, and particularly in the early days at The Firm I was learning a lot of interesting new things from some really bright people. I could still have made a decent fist of being a gentleman aristocrat if I’d had a trust fund, but work wasn’t a terrible second best.

I used xFIRE at the end, but that’s a very different thing from using xFIRE for 20 years. What’s wrong with xFIRE from the get-go is that you are telling your young self that the next 20 years is going to be hell. Form may follow thought. Just as work isn’t a panacea or even a serviceable reason for living, it may not need to be hell either.  Provocatively, perhaps xFIRE is more suited to desperate old gits at the end of their working lives than Page 1 of the Book of Working Life for twenty-somethings 😉

There’s a Jungian stages of life aspect to this too. Susan Roberts says

The young person’s task is to get into the world

Early adulthood asks us to establish ourselves in society — through vocation, relationship, and a stable material life. Now the idealistic youth must bank his or her fires in order to adapt to the world on its terms. Hopefully, in all the striving for worldly accomplishment, the twenty- or thirtysomething will not lose sight of the original vision, but find ways of working his or her gifts in spite of the compromises demanded by reality.

suck it up, work sucks, keep your eyes on the horizon is an avoidance technique. In the world but not of it, not quite failure to launch but probably not engaging. While I reject wholeheartedly that work is the non plus ultra of meaningful achievement in the second half of life, perhaps it has its role in the first half. Roberts’ description is a decent account of the accommodation I found with work – I wanted to rise above the first technician job, the second studio engineer job, I wanted to design, to innovate, to originate, which is why I eventually aimed at research. I did not lose sight of the original vision. For twenty years I lived it.

Having given that point, I am now going to take a pop at some things that are red herrings in my view.

well-paid part-time as FIRE-lite? Yeah, right

Here’s a canard. You don’t have to go nuclear on your career, you can just do some well-paid part-time work. Nothing I have experienced in three decades of the world of work supports this view. There are inherent problems with part-time – other people will be learning faster because they are full-time. They will get better quicker other things being equal. People bitch about there being a penalty for taking time out of the workforce but it’s not rocket science. Practice makes perfect.

I lived this prejudice. The Firm was dead keen to reduce its costs by encouraging part-time working in the 2009 crash. I didn’t entertain the idea for a heartbeat. If my career was flaming out, then at least full-time I could make the most of the last years – three years gone part-time was probably equivalent to another ten years shelf-stacking at Tesco to make up for the money I wouldn’t earn. I’d still be there. There was a second fear, because if they can get along fine with only half of you, there’s an obvious extrapolation to be made.

Of course we officially applaud people taking time out to do more important projects in their lives, but if it’s my business that takes the hit when you’re telling me that your choices in life are more important to you than my company I hear the message. I’m likely to take the line that I’ve very happy for you, but don’t do your important project at my cost. Fortunately, I’ve never been anywhere near being in charge of HR with such unreconstructed views, but I didn’t originate this, and I’ve seen some small companies stiffed that way. There are some great paying part-time jobs, but not as many as full-time. Why is this? Part-time cleaners are interchangeable. Part-time CEOs? Not so much. It’s also a right pain in the arse for full-time workers to interface to the particular part-timer with domain knowledge on job-shares and continuity sucks. Which are all part of the reasons why part-time work generally pays less, if you don’t want to hear it from me, hear it from the office of national statistics4.

If you want a high rate pay, go full-time for better odds. Low pay is 2/3 median, high pay is over twice the rate at 1.5  median

So when Monevator nonchalantly says you can save yourself the trouble of saving up a quarter of a million pounds if you can earn £10,000 p.a. for the lifestyle you want, I think WTF? I can’t even think of something I could do to earn £10k p.a., other than work in a shop. I could probably earn more than that if I worked full time, but from what I’ve seen of the world of work it has become more demanding and always-on rather than less. Don’t fancy that much.

OTOH, if contracting is your taste, then I can see there is much less of a problem. I believe indeedably uses this method, favouring recreation in the warmer months and work in the colder ones. Hats off to him for innovation.

Some of that objection to part-time is I have no desire to go contracting. Contracting comes with self-promotion and always hustling, and I’d rather crawl over broken glass than hustle. I have done occasional hit and run jobs since retiring. I earned an higher hourly rate with one than my working self ever did, but not on a sustained basis. And having to do 10k worth of that a year gives me the creeps, indeed having to do anything for x amount of money gives me a very bad feeling indeed. What part of financial independence am I missing here? FI for me is not having to sell my time for money. End of. To paraphrase Kate Moss

No consumer shit tastes as good as financial freedom feels

I have enough to buy more consumer shit than I want, and arguably consumerism is/should be a little bit less important as you get older. Erich Fromm summed it up in the title of his book, To Have to To Be. When you are young, Stuff makes more difference to your life, because you start out with now’t – you first kettle and your first chair and your first house make a huge change to your lifestyle. That lessens with time.

There is an argument that stuff bought you better security in the past than it does now

The percentage of workers who are freelance instead of salaried grows each year. House prices are prohibitive in any place with a strong labour market. […] the greatest wealth now comes from the accumulation of invisible capital, not physical stuff: startup equity, stock shares […]

Meanwhile, crisis follows crisis and mobility now feels safer than being static, another reason that owning less looks more and more attractive.

Some of us are cut out for that part-time required sort of FI-lite (thin FIRE? sputter? unFIRE? extinguished? never ignited?) , but I’m not one of them. I had a working life as a full-time employee with no break between getting my first job and leaving work for the last time other than a one-year MSc.

I’m an all or nothing guy here. It would be a bit rough to work thirty-five hours a week for less than my money does sitting on its backside. That isn’t a good message for me. Easier to work a decent job at a decent rate and parlay your savings into a decent stash than work some shit job.

Now that’s just me and my unreconstructed ideas about work that were probably set forty years ago. I could see the rationale for elective spend, if you need to work part-time for essential spend then you ain’t FI. If part-time working nets you 10k so you can go on holiday more often and that lights your fire, then have at it.

Do what thou wilt, and harm ye none.

Your time gets more valuable as you get older

Supply and demand. There’s less of it left, bud. The young just don’t get this, because, well, they’re young.

As a well-known vinyl record from my youth said

You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you’re older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.

I would agree with Pink Floyd that the fourth stage, midlife, is where may people stall. Overly invested with the meaning that served them well for 20 years up to then, they freeze rather than abdicate that source of meaning. For some (more often chaps) it’s work, for some it’s the contents of the nest that if done right should become empty in the natural order of things.

At least becoming overly invested with work doesn’t do anybody else any harm. Helicoptering your kids can seriously arrest their development, much must happen between the third (adolescence)  and fourth stage else Philip Larkin’s prognostications of This be the Verse may come to pass. You will recognise those children later on – arrested at the puer aeturnus stage. The gold of character is at times forged in the furnace of adversity.

As an example I did not gain understanding from the crisis of confidence in my third year at university. After many years I did eventually learn to let it go, it was a product of time and stage, not a curse set to play out again and again.

Had an external force alleviated it, however, then like getting a childhood illness in adulthood, the injury may have been worse because the transformation would not have happened. I wonder if our Western societies fail us in having no real rites of passage across the stages of life, particularly those early ones. Passing your driving test or getting your first credit card don’t really match up to slaying a boar, or a walkabout. With no model of transformative challenge, is it any wonder that Western adults can freeze at the crossroads of midlife, clinging to the empty shells of old forms that have served in the past, but now stand in the way of change?

Midlife is a big hazard, because you are established enough that you can get away with stalling it, clinging on to past glories. Compared to the fusillade of transitions across childhood, you’ve settled in steady as she goes for 20 years and think you have it sussed. The words of Carl Jung indicate the problem: What is great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.

The problem isn’t that the world changes. You do. Worse still, the tendency is to regress, to capture a lost youth but without the innocence. This inflates the sales of sports cars and persuades flabby men with a beer gut that their Russian bride thinks he’s 21 year old hunk.

In her section finding lasting values in the afternoon of life, Susan Roberts says:

Few of us today have the financial resources to become renunciates, and so we may have to keep working into our elder years.

Hmm, having this option is what FIRE is all about. It’s an option, and just like a stock option, it is an option, not an obligation to retire early –

But whatever our outer activities may be, our attitude needs to change if the afternoon of our life is not to be one long process of decline and ourselves to become embittered old people.

[…] a flowering of its qualities of imagination, depth, and understanding. With nothing to prove and no one’s approval to seek, the old person may gain a delicious freedom to return to the original vision first kindled in him or her in youth. He or she may then become a character, a wise old man or woman, and ultimately an ancestor, a bearer of values that outlast the fleeting concerns of the present moment.

To reach this point, one must submit to the archetypal tasks required by each stage of life. By allowing the deep processes of nature to work on us, the acorn of our destiny may grow into the mature oak tree of our fully-realized individuated self.

Clinging to the chimera of you are what you do may not be the best way of doing that. But in my observation fewer than half of those who make it to old age achieve individuation.

And yes, I am making the case that perhaps the meaningfulness of work is a truth that may be more of the morning of life than its evening. It was in my case. It was much more important to me at the beginning of my career, a big part of who I was, neither of my parents had gone to university and my Dad worked with his hands. As I grew older it mattered less, I have now rendered unto Caesar the value of a working life, exchanging my human capital for financial capital. It is time to move on, to embrace the seasons.

It really doesn’t matter whether you retire or not at some point earlier or later than anybody else. To make it possible5 your  younger self needs a motivational story. “just suck it up for as long as you have been alive and there will be a pot of gold over the rainbow” is not inspirational.

If your older self thinks the same about work as your younger self your development has become arrested, and you will not individuate. The hazard of that is of a long process of decline and ourselves to become embittered old people. You may, of course be fortunate enough to avoid physical decline and die in your sleep. You may project all your energies into the grandchildren. It is not mandatory to deepen as you get older. Just try and avoid the embittered Victor Meldrew, eh, for all our sakes.

Your older self may come to the same conclusion about early retirement as your younger self, but if the reasons are different, that is good. Let the option lapse. Give your freedom fund to your kids, or the cats’ home, or shovel it out of a helicopter over your home town. Your younger self will have lived a bit less large. Insurance against adversity always costs.

I have seen people who fall apart after retiring. Often they fall because their sense of meaning is bound up with work. What was true in the morning failed them in the evening. Some struggle because they are skint, or they become infirm. Some fail to maintain their human relationships and web of life, or don’t build these up before they retire. There are many ways to screw up in life, ain’t that a thing? That perhaps many fail does not mean all will fail.

Happy New Year to y’all, and a cautionary tale of work I came across.

I had been in the States working on a project when it became apparent that an internal takeover was going to bust my project in Feb 2009. Americans look after their own, while The Firm now owned that subsidiary this work was going to move over there and out of my division. Project work was drying up due to the financial crisis.

Your job gets more brittle as you get older

One of the problems you tend to have as you get older is that you specialise more. You also get paid more, if you are any good. That makes the shape of the sort of holes you are going to be a good fit for quite specific and therefore rare. Monevator nonchalantly says

get a new job first, your house is burning down!

That’s a young man’s game. It might be an argument for living in London6 rather than Ipswich, because your pool of potential alternative employers is larger. Selling up and moving would cost me a year’s wages, and we owned a smallholding at the time. I just didn’t have the get a new job option – there wasn’t more than 10 years of work to play for. So I chose to play a weak hand, as it happened quite well.

I was fortunate enough to be able to use a different legacy skill for my final project, But before I got that project, I faced this exchange which summarised the working environment. Let’s call the chief scumbag Graeme F, he was my division head’s boss7. GS stands for generally satisfactory, the performance management mark of 3/5 (average). My boss had made mine “needs improvement” before I got that work. I had already applied for voluntary redundancy, though it would have been premature. The shithead GF demanded a conference call with me and my division head just before 17:30 hours because he “had some news he thought I’d be interested in“. These are notes made at the time – the first thing I did next day was buy a telephone recording coil so I would have an incontrovertible record of that sort of intimidation should it happen again.

Friday March 6th 2009

GF: [We are] Raising the bar next year. will be harder to improve GS

Me: This sounds like a threat to me (this was verbatim, I could hear the bullying sneer in dear Graeme’s voice.)

GF no, effectively saying how it is

Me: okay carry on

GF: you cannot get [voluntary redundancy] on a GS

Me:  outline that I am going away from that anyway, outside opportunity needs [VR] to work, time has passed, [The Firm] looking better, new projects etc

GF: but we may be able to do something else for you

Me: ok

GF: offers three months’ salary plus gardening leave to go

Me: that is not enough

GF: seems taken aback

Me: I will not change the course of my life for such a small amount

GF: reiterates stuff about raising the bar

Me: I say ok I hear what you say, sorry if the news didn’t get to you, wasting time etc

Graeme didn’t meet his target that day. Three months VR after 20 years was derisory, plus I would have lost an advantageous Sharesave. I was at the very outset of a three year journey out, I couldn’t get there from here. Another entry in the log celebrates my division head (who brokered this delightful meeting as the offer of a great opportunity) getting the bum’s rush without VR. How did that happen?

Finished at fifty is a thing

They even made a TV programme about it. All sorts of people will holler in yer ear if you don’t like you goddamn job so much go get on your bike git a new one you lazy bum. Hello IDS, Digby Jones, I’m looking at you . The trouble with that specialisation is my division head was shit outta luck as far as finding another job for a division head at a FTSE100 like The Firm. There weren’t any, and there was a large pool of competitors – the guys the CIO had let go in the days before. The CIO’s management style was to call all division heads one after the other into the office, and ask each one to describe a weakness of the just departed fellow. A commenter elsewhere described the CIO’s modus operandi as

replacing British IT workers with resource from India here and remotely –  decimate the workforce.

Lots of guff about new tech, agile, under the hood it will be nothing but using the cheapest IT workers they can get.

That sort of environment, young fellow, is why your older self needs a RE ejector seat and parachute. He may earn more as he gets older, but his position gets more brittle as it gets more specialised, and more susceptible to hatchet men like that CIO.

I was able to switch direction out of IT and use a legacy analogue RF electronics skill on my final project, which is how I was left standing after that division head left. More by luck than by judgement, a specialism that fitted another set of odd-shaped holes was in demand at that time. So after three years I brought the damaged wreckage of my career to a successful landing and was even glad-handed on my leaving do as having left on a high. It could easily have gone differently, and I would be stacking shelves rather than writing this.

You don’t forget that sort of learning in a hurry. What I learned was never rely on selling your time for money again, it makes you a hostage to fortune.

Even if that hadn’t happened, I was already past the apogee of life, and hopefully the individuating self would have gotten the message through:

Self, you need to start looking for new ways to be, because what is great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie

In my life one of those things was work. Had that crisis not happened I would still be working, running on the old default assumption of working to NRA. In hindsight that would have been a dreadful waste of my time.

We are all headed for different waystations on the branching railway lines of life, maybe this will be different for you. But if you see no things that were desperately important to you in the morning of your adult life become less so, then ask yourself how you are so invariant in the face of change. The sun is making its way across the arc of your life. Change with it, for the moving finger writes, and having writ moves on.

  1. I am a RE failure by that definition, I worked for 30 years, so 10 years behind schedule. I am still a long way to getting my State Pension, and not even at the NRA for my works pension 
  2. One of the tenets of the FIRE movement is that not all things are equal and many people spend like muppets or carry revolving debt. All this is true, but you just can’t bring the difference in lifestyle down to zero by spending smarter though perhaps it won’t be half their disposable income. 
  3. For some reason unbeknownst to me extremely bright materialist rationalists are drawn to cryogenics likes moths to a flame (for example). It is possible I am just too dumb to understand, but it seems obvious to me you must not lose state. I do not find it impossible to conceive that humans could live forever, but I’d say you must not die first. Reanimating a hunk of meat strikes me as a hiding to nothing. Sure, future alien visitors might be able to recreate humans from DNA like Jurassic Park, but these would be new humans, not the deceased living again with all their past memories and foibles, in the same way as your children don’t remember your schooldays, first love or skills in Latin though they may look like a mini-you. 
  4. ONS ASHE Fig 5 
  5. Parents can try, but there be dragons in that territory. The dead hand of parental capital coming at some unspecified time to transform their lives easily robs the children of agency, because it doesn’t seem worth it for them to make the effort to try and save something that will be lost in insignificance to the inheritance. There is a similar problem with the legions buying lottery tickets – Lady Luck seems to be a harsh mistress when she pays out, because the recipient has not learned the value of the windfall. No idea how the aristocracy used to fix this problem, though it seems they did as many estates have been in the same ancestral hands since 1066 
  6. Just kidding. I left London in 1988, and my career went titsup in 2009. That’s twenty years of outrageous London prices I haven’t had to pay in rent, I left there because I couldn’t afford to buy a house. That Guardian millenial’s lament that “House prices are prohibitive in any place with a strong labour market.” held true before. I had a decent job and savings, but I was living in one room. 
  7. Researching this on Linkedin, it is probable that Graeme F was a hired gun brought in from elsewhere in The Firm to ping people out from my campus. I guess like management consultants on the cheap, outsiders will be more ruthless because they don’t know anybody locally 

45 thoughts on “extreme FIRE and how to live well”

  1. As one who started a conscious road to FI around the age of 21 and who is still meandering in that direction as I approach 30 (let’s say I’m about halfway) my profile is quite different to yours, so I particularly value hearing your perspective. I’ve not really enjoyed any of my work to date and, anecdotally, this is relatively common amongst my similarly-aged peers. It may be that we are misaligned with our life-stages, but your account suggests that there genuinely is a lot more bullshit in the (white-collar) workplace than there used to be. For this reason, I think some of my “away from” motovations for seeking FI are likely to hold good well into later life. However, only time will tell…!


    1. > there genuinely is a lot more bullshit in the (white-collar) workplace than there used to be

      I would concur – I worked for BBC Designs in the 1980s and they as well as The Firm’s research facility had a far greater grace and was a much better place to work that The Firm ended up towards the end. Part of this seemed to be a general change in how business is run – The Firm in the early days had some elements of how people describe Google as a workplace now, a far more supportive environment with greater freedom. When I entered The Firm I could sign off £500 in project spend without needing higher authorisation. Twenty-three years later and four levels up the greasy pole I needed to get authorisation to buy a train ticket to London and create a justification.

      All the performance management cock and bull started around the time of the GFC. We had appraisement before then, but they were annual and as long as you had something to show for most projects it was good enough. The system at the end you had to justify yourself quarterly. I don’t ever want to put up with that sort of thing again

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Ermine, just in case you miss this, see this article in today’s ft from a personal finance journalist of all people, try not to bite your tail off ;-): “Car finance: is leasing the model choice?”. Enjoy!


      1. OMG, these guys are muppets is directions I didn’t even know you could be a muppet. The article is so wrong, in so many ways. From the box of most popular leased vehicles to this muppet’s choice of motor.

        which my American wife wanted because it would remind her of her native California when she felt homesick.

        These muppets live in West London, FFS. You don’t need a frickin’ SUV in West London. When I lived in Ealing thirty years ago I often had to park my damn car a hundred yards away because there was no space.

        Let’s take a look at what happened last time matey-boy took a car home. Cash price 12,870. He pays £950 + 47* 179 = 9363. Then £210 + 200 +681 = 10,454. It’s cost him nearly the entire capital cost of the car to rent it for four years.

        In some ways this muppet was right to go for outright rental for 48 months, if it is true that this will only cost 952+48*238 = 12,376. Let’s look on the bright side, he’s only going to be rushed just over half the capital cost of the car to rent it for four years, as opposed to nearly all of it. Still not clear to me if there’s some sort of gotcha at the end if his foul 30kg hound knackers the carpet of his daughter’s mates puke up on it after too many cocktails. And why can’t his teenage daughter and her mates take the bloody bus or hire an Uber if he’s in London. Barmy.

        He also shows the problem with these contracts – he’s stuck with the car for 4 years, so he couldn’t adapt to the extra houndage and daughter’s payload. Mind you, if his solution is a SUV in London then perhaps for the sake of the world his precious daughter is going to grow up in it’s just as well that he couldn’t indulge his wife’s California Dreamin’. In a city that was designed for the horse and cart, not a Chevy three-litre.

        So yes, if you are going to be a muppet, PCH is probably less bad than PCP when you don’t want to buy the car. But it wasn’t the tools of his trade (PF journo, so held the rest of us God) so the rule is simple. Save up first and pay cash. Don’t be a muppet.


  2. I agree with Employee that your age and experience are very valuable for fiRE aspirants to hear. We are older than you but DH has similar story from a U. S. s/w company—forced retirement at 64, jobs going to India or clearing the balance sheet for a sale. A more generous VR since he was a key early employee, but many others (most in their 40s and 50s with kids in college) let go at the same time with 1 week/year worked pay. It can and will happen to you in the tech industry if you make money at the top of the scale and likely at an inopportune time if you have children.

    DH’s story ended well with a job offer in non-profit due to an extensive publication/academic/patenting history, but on far less pay (which hasn’t mattered to us for a long time). I only wish Ermine’s voice was more widely (and frequently!) heard in FIRE circles because I think there is a lot of optimism out there among 35-year-olds thinking that 4% built up during the longest economic expansion in history=forever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think VR saves a lot of people’s best laid plans. It did greatly help mine, though after getting on for 10 years it is the stock market that beat all that into the dust. Even if I now deflate the capital amount by 50% for the crash that will happen in the next 10 years, the market appreciation beats the VR package hands down. But I had to wait for that and set a lot of value at risk, where VR is cash that stiffens the spine greatly when it is needed most.

      > It can and will happen to you in the tech industry if you make money at the top of the scale and likely at an inopportune time if you have children.

      I wish this were written in neon above the main entrance to every workplace this holds. So that people don’t commit to too much house and private school fees and other trappings of fancy living assuming they will work all the way till their children go through university. The dashing of those dreams cause much angst, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

      It must be tough to be a child going to a fee-paying school where you are told you are God’s gift and then Daddykins loses his high-flying job when you are a year and a bit off your exams and have to go to the local sink school. You are going to be bullied something rotten…


    2. I did chuckle for at your notes from the attempt to force you out. You are right that experienced specialisation does make for a brittle situation. One solution that my old job implemented was to employ younger inexperienced workers to fill the places that previously were competitive to enter. The solution to the inexperience was to a. Supervise to the nth degree b. Create processes for every occurance where there had been none before.

      I was luckier in my choice of bosses. She popped into my office and asked what my plans were. On finding I was not likely to stay, she wished me well and made my last few months fun. Gave me a bottle of coconut shower gel to commemorate finding me in the executive bathroom.

      Ironically two years later there was an attempt to re-recruit the retired managers as part-timers because the new regime had gone pear shaped. Some people took it I understand.

      I also understand your reluctance to hustle. Some people make ideal lieutenants. This never seems to be recognised in a world where you are expected to be “passionate”. In my opinion day, describing yourself as passionate was restricted to theatre French.


    1. Graeme? According to Linkedin via private browsing natch, he is a true survivor, now up in Edinburgh, still with The Firm now with 40 years under the hood. You gotta surf the wave of the hatchet-men – kill or be killed.

      It appears he was higher up in the org than I had guessed, too, he wasn’t the division head’s boss at the time, unless he’s sexed up his profile. I always wondered why I’d never heard of him before, or since.


  3. Fantastic post, thank you. It’s a first-world problem but the specialisation and the pay that goes with it can feel like a trap while you are working towards FI. As you say it makes the search for alternative employment extremely difficult. I am not quite at FI but within spitting distance and as I realise that my only remaining motivation for my line of work is the money it is increasingly difficult to stop thinking about the opportunity costs of the time spent in that toxic environment.


    1. > s I realise that my only remaining motivation for my line of work is the money it is increasingly difficult to stop thinking about the opportunity costs of the time spent in that toxic environment.

      Carl Jung is speaking to you from beyond the grave as the truth of the morning transforms 😉


  4. Haha – very good, very gritty, classic Erm.

    You’ve got me sweating now – part-time was my solution to the problem – now I’m not so sure!

    (I did literally start sweating on that paragraph, that’s good writing that can do that!)

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Blimey, I had to set aside a good hour to digest all of this post. My new favourite phrase is now “Don’t be a muppet”.

    “All other things being equal your peers will have a lot more disposable income than you. Humans are social critters, you’ll feel that. I only did it for three years, I felt it!”

    This is only anecdotal , but because I’ve been saving fairly hard (unconsciously) since I started work, I seem to now have more disposable income than my peers, who are older than me (but a lot have children). I bought a new car recently (I know, I know – it was mostly with savings, and at least it’s electric and super cheap to run) and my manager seemed flabbergasted I had the funds to do that. I also know our outstanding mortgage is way lower than some people 10 years older than me (wtf are they doing with their money?!).

    “One of the problems you tend to have as you get older is but you specialise more.”

    I’m perhaps not old enough yet, but I generally try and stay a generalist. The last time I specialised in something I got stuck in a rotten role with no one able to replace me (probably cos they refused to send someone over for me to train!). That back-fired pretty spectacularly on them when I quit. Of course, not being replaceable is nice, I guess….? Or you end up doing nearly the same job each project… If they can’t replace you, they also can’t promote you.

    Further to Employee’s comment – I can confirm that in the IT business I’m in, the metrics are always increasing. I’m currently having to decide what 5 ‘extra-work’ achievements I need to hit this year. No doubt as in every other year, my 100%+ engagement rate will lead to me not being able to do more than a couple but my pretty cool manager generally let’s them slide (cos of the billing rate). Further proof, if you will, that it’s busy work. Generating money for the company > training staff. Though in fairness they are actually pretty good with the training on a whole, I enjoy working there 90% of the time.

    Anyway, cracking read as always, thanks Ermine.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. > I seem to now have more disposable income than my peers, who are older than me (but a lot have children).

      If you are child-free (at this stage) that makes a very big difference. At work most of the rather nice cars were owned by technicians, who had started @16 and often still living at home. The beaters were driven by the up to 40-somethings who had kids.

      At the other end of their careers in my experience the child-free tend to reach FI about five years earlier than the parents, even if they had been muppets. Muppetry was OK than because people retiring early by the time I left had bought into a much more advantageous housing market, they hadn’t carrier student debt, and there were far fewer things that they could be muppets.

      Chkdex’s cautionary tale and mine about fifties brittleness holds in spades for parents nowadays. People tend to have children later in life, say late 20s to early thirties, and say they have two spaced by two years. The last child will come of age when the parents are in on=r near their fifties, there be much hazard in that time from the brittleness of their careers.

      > I generally try and stay a generalist.

      I did too, for what it’s worth, I was never tempted to go into project management which was the classic way to power your way up the greasy pole (and find yourself hanging in your 50s aw waves of delayering went through like a dose of salts). I remained (and indeed remain, though I am falling behind now) interested in both electronics, some software at a low -level (assembly/firmware) and also higher level .

      But there is a cost to that generality. Colleagues climbed the greasy pole faster, though I got there in the end. The wise way for those more ambitious colleagues would have been to salt away some of their money in the years of plenty against the risk of being caught on the hop by a wave of redundancy*. But they didn’t in general. The fellow who educated me into using AVCs and salary sacrifice declared himself of the wisdom that you’re crazy if you’re still working here after 50. I was 49 and he was probably 45. I used his wisdom, but he found that his wife and kids quite liked their holidays in Italy and pleasant middle-class lifestyle. He’s still there.

      *I can’t be too hard on them. I failed to prepare for the seven lean years too. It is part of the human condition until you have been tested and found wanting 😉


      1. I’m both a specialist and a generalist !

        Specialist in a very narrow field of metals production which give me much of my income in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s when huge capital projects abounded worldwide to upgrade or replace assets based on older technologies.

        Generalist in everything else, which helped fill any gaps between the specialist projects at that time and still keeps me gainfully employed today – now there’s only the very occasional consulting opportunity in the specialist field.


  6. I’ve never replied to one your blog posts before – despite being an avid reader of them over the last ten or so years. They’re always thought provoking – the philosophical implications of FIRE are not well trod ground in the FIRE blogosphere. So, first-off – a big “thank you” for a decade of great posts.

    I’m 51 and I started to save seriously for early retirement around ten years ago – I work in IT and assumed that I may be become effectively unemployable by 50 to 55. I did several years of consulting – very hard but well-paid work and stashed a large chunk of the income from it into a pension.

    I now find myself having met my savings goals – I could retire at 55 if I lived frugally. And yet, there’s still a lot I want to do which will require me to keep working in order to do it – particularly travelling and experiencing stuff with kids. This isn’t stuff which I need to do to escape from the daily grind but stuff which would add meaning to my life. Additionally, now that I’ve hit my fifties I’m actually less worried about job security than I was in my early forties – and I’m doing really interesting work for a relatively benevolent employer (a German carmaker). Permanent jobs may be harder to come by for me (maybe) but I’d have no trouble finding a contracting gig.

    I’m really glad that I’m almost at the FI stage of FIRE – but I’m lucky enough to be doing work which is intellectually and socially stimulating. Having lived frugally for the last ten years means that I don’t lay awake at night worrying about money. That means a lot to me.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Thought provoking as always Ermine, and I love some of the internet wormholes that you guide me through!

    I’m in my mid 40s but I studied for a long time and had my children late, so they are still very young. I think I did like my work once (for that matter I still do on occasion), but as the years roll on the “wow fascinating” and “yes we aced that!” moments get rarer and the “oh crap this again” becomes more common. I’m luckily FI and hoping to transition to RE during this year (though I’ve managed to become hooked into a big project that I would feel guilty leaving before the end, so it’s somewhat out of my hands how RE this year looks – possibly not very).

    Having done 20+ years of paid work (and with many of my peers in the same situation), I observe that even with an objectively well paid and interesting job most people have “had enough” in one way or another after 20 years. Some people give themselves a refresh by changing employer (not clear how well that works…). Others by setting out in self-employment or (in my field) switching from private to public sector or vice versa (seems to work better). I’ve considered most of those, but I really feel it’s going to be RE for me. The main danger, given the age of my children, is that I fall into the trap of helicoptering them with my new found time and energy so I’ll need to work on avoiding that…. but its’ not a bad challenge to face, in the scheme of things.

    It seems to me for those of us lucky enough to do the Uni/professional career thing, we could pretty much split life into 4 lumps of 20-25 years each. First lump for education. Second lump for your first career and figuring out approximately who you are and approximately what you want out of life (not sure I’m there yet but a hell of a lot closer than I was at 20!). The fourth lump nearly everybody would like to be for retirement. The third lump is the controversial one. The traditional model is just to “plug on” at Phase 2 … but if you’re not FI there is a real risk you end up too expensive and/or too rigid and out on your ear, competing with the other has beens for jobs that don’t much exist. If you’re FI you may be in the same boat, but at least you aren’t faced with trying to downgrade your lifestyle at the same time. Plus you have the opportunity to work out if there is something new out there for you at that point (or before you’re pushed): whether that pays a lot of money, a little money, or none at all.

    I feel lucky that my Dad created quite a nice blueprint for this. He left Working for the Man (which he’d found increasingly intolerable) in his 40s to set up by himself. Had a second career for around another 20 years still doing “accountancy” but self-employed and becoming a shareholder in a couple of the small businesses he advised, which massively contributed to his interest and enjoyment. And then when he “retired” in his 60s he got an OU degree (before the fees went up) and now is working on a PhD. I think he has become happier and more at home with himself throughout his life, and it’s a model I aspire to (not necessarily the PhD bit, but the embracing change bit for sure!).

    I don’t yet know what my third (and, if I’m luckly enough to have one, fourth) lump of time will look like, but I am very open to them looking pretty different to the second (and from each other). One thing the Millennials have absolutely right with their “gig economy” (whether it was by choice or necessity) is to be flexible and open to opportunities, and not too fixed in their ways. I find that really hard: I’m a creature of habit and find change and uncertainty inherently stressful. But I’m going to grab them anyway. And try not to be a muppet 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Great post as usual. It’s interesting to see how your focus changed with the final 3 years.

    As someone at the beginning of their career, and more a causal FI…er, I constantly wonder, despite my best intentions, if I’ll be as focused on achieving FIRE 20/30 years down the line as I am now. I never rule out anything happening that could change what I want in life.


  9. “Worked for me. But I didn’t do it starting at 20. I had almost paid off my house. I had a decent company pension scheme. I was 12 years from normal retirement age, at the then white-collar retirement age of 60. So while I used a lot of ERE’s xFIRE methodology, I built it on a very different foundation.

    If you are 20, that option is really tough, and the risks are very high because your retirement is 40 years long rather than the more normal 20.”

    Yes I wonder if there isn’t a bit of a FIRE bubble at the moment (the concept has moved increasingly from the internet into the mainstream media – always a warning sign imo.) Years of rising asset prices are leading to complacency. RE is probably realistic for FI over 50s especially those with final salary pensions kicking in at some stage. But living off investments in your 20s or 30s? It seems incredibly risky to me unless you are seriously wealthy or have some reliable well paid skill/ talent that doesn’t go out of date. I wonder how many FIREs will end up getting badly burnt in the coming years if economic conditions really deteriorate? I don’t think many younger people appreciate how difficult it might be to try and restart a worthwhile career once they are a few years older. Other factors such as housing costs if you do not own your own home are unpredictable over long time periods. Many younger people rely for FI on geo-arbitrage (living somewhere cheaper!) but the decline of the West and rise of the rest is making this a less beneficial option. Living costs are equalising and supposedly hard currencies are not giving as much purchasing power as they once were. Favourite destinations, notoriously Thailand, are no longer the bargains they once were. Many millenials who seem to be fans of FIRE don’t have children! How is that going to work if they start a family?

    As for VR I think that is becoming a benefit of the past like final salary pensions and so much else as employers get increasingly ruthless and merciless towards their employees. My role was supposed to have been made redundant last April but the company had no intention of offering any sort of redundancy. We were to be offered jobs that most of us do not want instead – a form of legal constructive dismissal.

    I am not knocking FIRE by the way. I think that any young person (or anybody in fact) today should be aiming to achieve FI as soon as they can simply as a matter of self preservation. The RE part might not be voluntary!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. @CAT793. I’m with you on this. I too didn’t start the FIRE process until I was 50, but embraced it completely and achieved FI (sufficient for a full fat RE) in 12 years. But, my house was paid off and my wife had a very good job with an excellent DB pension, so my starting point was entirely different from ‘youngsters’ today starting in their late 20s early 30s with none of these advantages.
      And, of course, I started the journey coincedent with a raging 10+ year bull market.
      As you say, the FIRE movement has gone mainstream media. I wonder how many aspirations fueled by this will end in tears?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. “Yes I wonder if there isn’t a bit of a FIRE bubble at the moment”

      I’d put that as a definitely. Though is that more on the “you can invest and live on the 4% rule forever”? Or that we should save as much money as possible? The latter one isn’t bad when the UK is still in such uncertainty. I remember reading an article in Men’s Health(?) that had SavingsNinja and The Escape Artist in it promoting FI and thought we’re probably at peak-FIRE now. It still seems to be growing though.

      “Many millennials who seem to be fans of FIRE don’t have children!”

      Uh, guilty as charged. Interestingly, my parents at my age had 2 children already and a house already. I’m trying to work out when exactly to have my own!

      “I think that any young person (or anybody in fact) today should be aiming to achieve FI as soon as they can simply as a matter of self preservation.”

      That’s certainly my reasoning 🙂 There’ll be a market crash at some point… and then the job cuts start in earnest…

      Liked by 2 people

    3. FIRE is definately bubbly at the moment. The decade long bull market in all asset classes has made people confuse what has basically been a very lucky streak, created by the crisis or 2008, to their skill/insight. Overconfidence is pretty much rife in the FIRE blogosphere. Some of the high priests of the FIRE blogosphere smell profits from it going mainstream.

      The idea that you can simply translate the “4% rule” or it’s like from a 20-30 year retirement to a 50-60 year one is likely to be proved a huge error of judgement. The cost of children tends to be ignored. Plus the conception of FIRE seems more and more about justifying a very lean/grim existence. Even getting a pizza delivered seems to be considered a sin according to some FIRE blogs! It’s so full of silly dogma and cultish views, rather than quantitative analysis and contrarian insights. There are exceptions such as this blog but they are becoming the exception rather than the norm.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. ZX, I enjoy your learned comments here and on Monevator, but I take a different view to you on FIRE. To take your points in turn:

        1) Overconfidence is rife. This is a simplification in my view. I read the reddit FIREUK board fairly regularly, which is quite a good gauge. People there are mostly very conscious that we are sitting in a very richly valued space. Some newbies are still at the “4% SWR” stage, but they’re always the ones at the start of the journey, not going to be quitting work anytime soon, and will learn fast! The general guidance at this stage is to aim for a much lower SWR and consider a rising equity glidepath to lower the sequence of returns risk, supported by the detailed analysis done by sites such as earlyretirementnow.com

        2) “high priests”. Yeah, well, there are always people looking to make money from trends. Does that mean that all trends are invalid? Should I also be ditching indexing because it is popular, and denim jeans?

        3) “4% SWR error of judgement” – again, many/most are now appreciating this. Monevator’s article debunking of 4% sums this up well. It doesn’t invalidate the FIRE concept though, just lowers the SWR.

        4)” cost of children is ignored”. This is just wrong, I’m afraid. How could you embark on becoming FI whilst discounting one of your largest costs (if you want them). If you want them/have them, you need to account for them, it’s as simple (but not easy!) as that.

        5)”lean/grim existence”. This type of argument comes from a place of a fundamental life perspective difference (a bit Brexity in that regard). What’s a lean/grim existence to you is a simple, more eco-friendly life to me. Your lack of comfortable luxury car might be another’s fulfilling bike ride in the countryside (or whatever). In my case, I just don’t have expensive tastes, but I assure you that I do enjoy my life -must I be labelled as having a grim existence rather than just a different outlook to you?

        Besides, if a FAT lifestyle is for you, FIRE is equally applicable to that too. Same %’s , just bigger numbers, whatever.

        6) ” full of dogma, not quantitative analysis”. Again, I point you at sites like earlyretirementnow.com . tell me that isn’t quantitative. The qualitative stuff is there to inspire one to put the work in to follow up with the quant work.

        I get what you’re saying. And yeah I’m sure some people are taking the wrong end of the stick and being carried away on a wave of enthusiasm to follow impossible dreams. So it is all with all of life’s endeavours. There are however an awful lot of very smart, switched on, grounded people out there – not just passing exceptions – who I feel you are doing a disservice too.

        Liked by 3 people

  10. Terrific read, and a strong case why the changing nature of work makes RE much less of an option than it might seem to some.

    The dilemma reminds me of another Larkin gem:

    Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
    ‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
    I am all you never had of goods and sex.
    You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’

    So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
    They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
    By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:
    Clearly money has something to do with life

    —In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:
    You can’t put off being young until you retire,
    And however you bank your screw, the money you save
    Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.

    I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
    From long french windows at a provincial town,
    The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
    In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > I am all you never had of goods and sex.

      Ah – so well put. Opportunity cost is so dry a term in comparison. Thank you for introducing me to this Larkin piece!


    2. They fuck you up, the FIRE Blogs,
      They may not mean to, but they do.
      They fill you with the faults they had
      And add some extra, just for you.

      But they were fucked up in their turn
      By fools in old-style hats and coats,
      Who half the time were soppy-stern
      And half at one another’s throats.

      Man hands on misery to man.
      It deepens like a coastal shelf.
      Spend up as early as you can,
      And don’t save anything yourself.


  11. Arghh I had finally come around to the idea of going part time and cruising to FI rather than grinding straight to FI in my full time role, and now you’ve got me wondering again. I must have changed my minds between these two options a thousand times!

    I really enjoyed the read but despair at my own uncertainty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the increasing brittleness of one’s career with the passing years is not allowed for enough. Contracting can help with that but it’s not a panacea, I have seen contracting strategies flame out too, though less often that permies. It’s more a business cycle thing where contractors feel the draught, as firms draw in their horns with a financial squeeze, whereas older employees are more vulnerable to restructuring and overspecialisation in something that gets either outsourced or creatively destroyed.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes that’s a good point on the career brittleness. Perhaps part time only when FI has been achieved is the way to go. I like the idea of using part time work to move to a lower withdrawal rate. In that sense eventual redundancy would be a help rather than an ordeal.

        Your line about being a hostage to fortune really strikes home. I want to be FI as soon as I possibly can.


  12. Excellent rant. I do love the way you link and discuss other blogs (including ours — cheers!) as it really reminds me of the old, golden days of the blogosphere.

    I appreciate we’re never going to agree on the indefinite value of earning money — and so I certainly do appreciate the olive branch you’ve extended to work for younger workers here. 😉

    When I’m talking about earning £10K a year, I am mostly thinking of what you call contracting (and in my industries I’d more likely call freelance). It could even be a side hustle.

    I am certain for Monevator level readers this is doable on say two days a week, with a little planning and fore-thought. And as you do it you should get better at it. (You should get more specialised, to your point!)

    Here’s a trivial example that is not at all what I’m talking about (I think people should leverage their pre-FIRE skills). It took me six hours to fit two Sonos speakers to a plasterboard wall this week, due to a multitude of unexpected issues. I now have a box of plasterboard fittings/tools, due to every wall in my apartment being different. In contrast, the people Amazon sent to fit my (far heavier) TV when I moved in got the job done in an hour. From memory, I paid them £100 or similar. From my experience here I am sure somebody handy could do 3-4 plasterboard fitting jobs a week and easily earn £10K a year in a big city.

    Or what if you don’t want to leave your house? I am sure I could side hustle up from scratch £10K a year within two years. Okay, that’s not immediate, but after three years it’d probably be £15K so let’s average it out.

    As I say it’d be easier to just leverage what you did pre-FIRE but still.

    I strongly suspect this is an experience issue. I’ve over 20 years experience of conjuring money/work out of people. You worked for The Man for 30 years. Both have their pros and cons, clearly, but one for me seems to be a greater sense of how to generate money, and how it’s not the drag IMHO you feel it is.

    Incidentally I do believe someone could work a more conventional part-time job and earn £10K for a couple of days a week, if preferred. Again, a Monevator-reader level of intellect, which is obviously who I write for.

    Probably it would require a bit of planning/positioning 1-3 years before pulling the parachute. Compared to the 20-year slog to get to FIRE, that seems small beans to me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It took me six hours to fit two Sonos speakers to a plasterboard wall this week

      That is hilarious – you’re such a metrosexual. Part of the joy of home ownership is the in-depth knowledge of rawlplugs that you have to develop over time. Please tell me (a) the Sonos’ aren’t too heavy or (b) you took the time to find the studs?

      From memory, I paid them £100 or similar.

      WTF! £100 to screw a plate into a wall!?!? That’s got to be > 10% of the cost of the TV surely?

      London is a different planet! These things couldn’t happen elsewhere in the country.

      These are two ill-chosen examples to make a point 😉

      You are on to something with the self-promotion/greater sense of how to generate money bit though. There is definitely a huge push-back on selling yourself within the engineering culture if you’ve not been self-employed. I think its a psychological trick engineers play on themselves whereby they think if they are technically skilled that sort of stuff should be below them, but really its because they’re scared of doing it/it doesn’t come naturally for their personality type. I definitely suffer from this and have seen a myriad of engineers with the same attitude. I can see its something that needs work and could reap good rewards if I were to overcome it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, fair point this is London-centric, but I am sure there are other opportunities elsewhere in the country.

        Also I am saying £10K with a London mindset. Perhaps in The Provinces earning an extra £5K a year is the difference between passable FIRE and a modest version of the life of Riley. (Very likely going on my parents’ example.)

        I just checked, it was £110! Keep in mind it was fitted to plasterboard (even I would be happy screwing into brick!) and there were two men. It didn’t include the fittings — they had to go out and get them, too, as they weren’t happy with my swivel out option on the wall, and didn’t charge extra. The TV (50″) is still up after two years. And it took me zero hours. I’m happy.

        Re: The Sonos, I know. I’ve paired them with a Beam for a pseudo-Surround set-up at the cost of about £800-900 all-in. I’m confident this set-up will last me at least five and probably 10 years though, going on previous (I used a student-bought Cambridge Audio separates system from Richer Sounds for 20 years, and my Mac is still going through some cool JBL Alien style speakers/sub-woofer that I bought in a house move in 2007! 😉 ). So this should work out at likely c. £80 a year, which I’m happy with given all the movies/Netflix I watch at home.

        I had to use GripIts for this particular wall. It’s dot-and-dab. No, I didn’t know what dot-and-dab was two years ago. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I’m with Monevator there – interiors are tiresome. I paid a fellow over a ton to fit a roller blind to the bedroom. Having once tried to drill whatever it is that is behind the plaster above a window that is rock hard to fit a curtain rail in a previous house I’m happy to pay for that 😉 If Mrs Ermine really wants a curtain rail in the dining room (why – we aren’t overlooked) he said he’d do it for £25. That’s a 100% win, it’s not even worth me thinking about it.

        Plumbing I’m generally OK with, electrics fine, outside garden furniture OK but decorating – pah. I paid a couple of young fellow about 500 to paint the old house before selling because I CBA, and wouldn’t need to muck around with ladders.

        I don’t need to hustle to be able to afford that.

        I think its a psychological trick engineers play on themselves whereby they think if they are technically skilled that sort of stuff should be below them, but really its because they’re scared of doing it/it doesn’t come naturally for their personality type.

        Totally guilty as charged 😉


      3. Minimum wage 2 days a week works out at about £6800/year

        Come on let’s be honest acheiving 10k /year for any one who had the skills to get anywhere near FIRE should be an absolute walk in the park.

        Happy to help out with any future plasterboard fittings, TI 🙂


    2. > I’ve over 20 years experience of conjuring money/work out of people. You worked for The Man for 30 years.

      Writing this did show me that my experience is probably atypical of the work environment for people starting now. The trouble for me is that

      > conjuring money/work out of people.

      I didn’t become an engineer because I had a deep passion for dealing with people or have outstanding communication skills, although I more followed my predilections rather than running from what I didn’t want. I am an introvert.

      > how it’s not the drag IMHO you feel it is.

      for 27 years it wasn’t 😉 I did change over the time, and that was accelerated by the adverse experience, possibly that was one of those transformational stages of life.

      Perhaps I became more jaded over time and less adaptable to playing the game, though the stupidity of the performance management game escalated massively in the last years – the trend seems confirmed by other commenters. After the noise and hum died down I did genuinely come to the conclusion that the work part of life was not so important to me. I don’t think I am making a virtue out of necessity, though for a lot of this blog perhaps I would be open to that charge.

      But as my chronological age is catching up with the time I would have retired anyway I do think the words of Jung have resonance, though of course other people may have a different experience. I have another 20-30 years left, tops. I just don’t want to spend as big a proportion of my time on the tiresome business of keeping the wolf from the door. I don’t refuse it if the right opportunity comes to use my skills on the odd one-off basis, but I’m not going to give it a lot of headspace. There’s more of interest and reward in the world to give my remaining hours of consciousness to.

      Chacun son goût!


  13. “I paid a fellow over a ton to fit a roller blind to the bedroom. Having once tried to drill whatever it is that is behind the plaster above a window that is rock hard ” You may have found a concrete or steel lintel? Hard work!


    1. Possibly. Whatever it was consumed an entire battery’s worth of power from my hammer drill. So I then got the mains powered drill, which eventually got too hot to hold. I had looked for steel with a metal detector. Curtain poles were easy in my first house, a Victorian two up two down but the experience in the last house made me perfectly happy to pay others for that sort of thing.


      1. Yea will be a hardened concrete lintel. I bought a special drill bit when we moved into our flat for this and it managed to survive all the way up until I did some blinds in our house about 2 months ago, then it got mangled to hell. It was £10 so compared to your ton for just the one fitting I guess was not bad value! Definitely need ear protection when drilling those things though!


      2. > It was £10 so compared to your ton for just the one fitting I guess was not bad value!

        In fairness to the fellow that was survey, supply and fit. Do you have a SDS drill? I only have a bog standard hammer drill and that was definitely not going to happen any time fast


  14. Minimum wage 2 days a week works out at about £6800/year

    Come on let’s be honest acheiving 10k /year for any one who had the skills to get anywhere near FIRE should be an absolute walk in the park.

    Happy to help out with any future plasterboard fittings, TI 🙂


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