From FIRE to FREEdom

By Maia Monell | 5 June 2020

Truth be told, I struggle with the concept of FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) for a multitude of reasons. But as I write this in the days of COVID-19, and a time of civil unrest across our country, I reflect on all the reasons FIRE exemplifies the many ways the financial system has neglected to include over half of us. The hardest part of my work with Nav.it is discussing topics like paying down debt, creating a safety net of savings, and spending less than you earn when I know these principles just aren’t attainable for many in our country. And yet, if we don’t discuss them, if we don’t educate ourselves about the system and how we can nav.igate it, we’ll never change it.

So here we are, exploring FIRE and trying to redefine what it represents and who it can be for. 

FIRE reminds me of that brilliant line from The Italian Job about the word ‘FINE.’ During the film, the older protagonist, played by Donald Sutherland asks his mentee, a young and dashing Mark Walberg, how he’s feeling. Mark looks at him and says, “Fine.” Donald replies, “you know what ‘fine’ stands for, don’t you? Freaked out. Insecure. Neurotic. And Emotional” — F.I.N.E.

To this day, I refrain from the word fine. And to this topic, F.I.R.E. makes me feel freaked out; insecure; neurotic, and emotional. 

And that’s just f*&king fine.

But, that’s not to say there isn’t a place for FIRE. On the contrary, it is a beautiful pipe-dream. Just one that is very often reserved for the hungry, coding, 6-figures-out-of-college types.

For the rest of us, may I suggest we turn to a similar, yet more fulfilling acronym : F.R.E.E. 

Financially Resilient, Empowered Early. 

In my humble opinion, the FIRE movement isn’t just for those able to leave their 9-5 by age 35 by saving and investing over 60% of their monthly income. The FIRE movement represents the freedom to walk through life with confidence, knowing how the financial system works, how it can help you, and that you are doing all that you can to live the life you want.

If we think of FIRE as the freedom to explore our financial opportunities, unencumbered by fear or disadvantage from a system that is not designed for over half of us, then the end-goal changes. It’s not that we all want to put our feet up at 35, sip a few Pina Coladas on the beach and call it a day (though, as I write this that sounds quite nice). In fact, I think the FIRE movement was designed by people who would do the exact opposite of that.

Instead, if we apply the principles of FREE, we’re encouraged to take advantage of the system no matter our income level, to include chasing FIRE if we have the ability to do so. It enables us to consider our opportunities while we’re young, to do different jobs, find new sources of income if we can, prioritize and protect our savings (even at just a dollar or two per day), and live each day with purpose. Once we’re aware of how much we save, spend, and earn, we’re much more likely to protect and grow our wealth, which in turn will allow us to pursue the job and activities we most enjoy, live a life of lower financial stress, and partake in the experiences that matter most.

We might not all be millionaires at 35, but we can embrace a financial strategy early, do the work, and demand a seat at the table if only to turn the table on its side and smash every ceiling that tries to stop us. 

With that, I’ll leave you with a new favorite poem of mine, sent by a dear friend, one I can talk freely with, discuss my own money goals with, and who helps me through even the lowest and most confusing of times. May you all have a friend like that to send this to next. 

You Can’t Have It All 

By Barbara Ras

But you can have the fig tree and its fat leaves like clown hands

gloved with green. You can have the touch of a single eleven-year-old finger

on your cheek, waking you at one a.m. to say the hamster is back.

You can have the purr of the cat and the soulful look

of the black dog, the look that says, If I could I would bite

every sorrow until it fled, and when it is August,

you can have it August, and abundantly so.

You can’t bring back the dead,

but you can have the words forgive and forget hold hands

as if they meant to spend a lifetime together. And you can be grateful

for makeup, the way it kisses your face, half spice, half amnesia, grateful

for Mozart, his many notes racing one another towards joy, for towels

sucking up the drops on your clean skin, and for deeper thirsts,

for passion fruit, for saliva. You can have the dream,

the dream of Egypt, the horses of Egypt and you riding in the hot sand.

You can have your grandfather sitting on the side of your bed,

at least for a while, you can have clouds and letters, the leaping

of distances, and Indian food with yellow sauce like sunrise.

And when adulthood fails you,

you can still summon the memory of the black swan on the pond

of your childhood, the rye bread with peanut butter and bananas

your grandmother gave you while the rest of the family slept.

There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,

it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,

but there is this.

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