Reader Case: Feeling Disheartened about FIRE. Please help!

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Our inbox is overflowing with reader cases so time to pick another one!


Dear Ms.FIRECracker and Mr.Wanderer,

First of all I would like to thank you both for giving my life a sense of purpose and direction and why not.. HOPE!… After reading “Quit Like a Millionaire” 3 years ago my life really completely changed for the better I must say and for that I will be forever grateful… more than that you have a full time preacher of the FIRE movement now… I have “converted” 3 of my friends and counting.. if only more people will know about these financial tools, man oh man…

Anyways first to tell you a little about me I am a single guy and part of a family who is a first generation of immigrants to the US and because of that (and also because of being part of a Latino Cuban family) I still live with my parents (on my mid 30’s :() and support them housing wise with the help of another family member who also lives under the same roof.

So every time I try to “math shit up” the numbers are disheartening to say the least, especially lately with all the shit that is going on in the world and also living in Miami, FL, has not been easy at all… I would LOVE to rent a place for myself to finally have some “social life” (if you know what I mean) but at the same time rents in MIAMI, FL are about $2200 monthly (usually without services) for a 1/1 which is a number that I could probably do but will destroy my FI dreams.

Is it worth the trade-off of social life to achieve FI? …. been pondering that for the last year… starting to believe it is not worth it…

Is it possible to have the BEST OF BOTH WORLDS? My own place and my FI dreams intact? please help me “math shit up” properly

Here are my numbers:

-Gross/net annual income:
yearly gross: 88k
yearly net: 47k

-Monthly spending:
housing/rent $1200 (including services)
car insurance $100
gas $80
car tolls $20
phone $40
home food/groceries $450
roth savings $500
Total $2390 expenses – $3920 net monthly income: $1530
the rest = fun/travel/clothes/dineout money = $1530

-Debts:
0 debts

-Fixed assets:
Toyota Corolla 2019 fully paid

-Investments or savings:
employee 401k: 71.4K (also they match 4% when I put 6% towards it… nevertheless I am currently putting the maximum allowed in my 401k.. lastly my job by the start of each year adds 4% of your gross salary to your 401k as a yearly bonus)
vanguard brokerage: 49.6K
vanguard rollover IRA brokerage: 17.8K
vanguard roth IRA brokerage: 23.5K

So.. what do you guys think? Is there any light at the end of the tunnel for this first gen immigrant or I am doomed to work until my back breaks?

My greatest wish is to achieve FI before turning 50 but also have some kind of social life and perhaps form a family? Who knows !

Thank you !

Sincerely,
The Cuban Missile


Okay, first of all, how can I possibly resist this reader with the alias “Cuban Missile” and the adorable icon. You’re just too interesting to ignore. Well played, my friend, well played.

But beside that, this reader case also grabbed my attention because it spotlights a troubling trend of people needlessly sacrificing and following the “death march towards FIRE” path which never ends well. I said this before, and I’ll say it again. Do not do this. You have to ENJOY the journey to FI. Otherwise, it’s not sustainable.

It’s a lot like dieting. You can starve yourself, cut out all sweets, ban yourself from eating anything you love, and sure, that might help you get to your goal weight quickly, but a year later, you’ll rebound to your previous weight or worse. That’s why a healthy lifestyle is more sustainable and better for weight loss than an extreme diet. Ditto with FIRE. You need to become financially fit sustainably. Not starve yourself to “get FI” instantly.

I’m curious as to why Cuban Missile feels he needs to sacrifice towards FI since on first glance, he has a nice gross income and his expenses don’t look too bad, so without farther ado, let’s MATH THAT SHIT UP!

Summary

Income:Gross: $88k; Net: $47k
Spending:$1200 + $100 + $80 + $20 + $40 +$450 + $1530 = $3420
Debt: $0
Investible Assets:$71,400 + $49,600 + $17,800 + $23,500 = $162,300

Ok, two line items immediate screamed at me. One: why is gross salary $88K and net salary only $47K? Clearly this guy doesn’t live in Denmark, so what the hell is going on?

Since he mentioned he lives in Florida, I put his gross salary into a tax calculator and if he maxed out 401K and Roth IRA, it should be $73,431 ($20,500 of which are retirement contributions).

Two: “roth savings = 500” does not belong in the “spending” category. That’s savings, which is literally the opposite of spending. This makes me more suspicious that the $47K/year after tax salary isn’t including Roth IRA and 401k contributions. They don’t just disappear, these are your retirement contributions and needs to be accounted for when you calculate your yearly savings.

The fun/travel/clothes/dining out money = $1530 is several categories all jammed into one. CM is spending more in this category than his rent! It’s probably a good idea to break this category down into subcategories and figure out where the money is going. Is there a way to optimize and get the same level of enjoyment by travel hacking to get this expense down? Right now, we don’t know because it’s too opaque. Start tracking this more carefully at least for a few months to see where the money is going and whether it’s optimizable. I used to spend $500-600/month on vacations and never felt guilty about it because it aligns with my values, but we were intentional about it. Don’t just throw money blindly at vacation packages if there’s a better way to get the same enjoyment for less.

Given that CM’s yearly spending is $3420 x 12 = $41,040, per the 4% rule his FI number is $41,040 x 25 = $1,025,000.

Here’s where that part about putting Roth savings into the wrong category hurt him unnecessarily. If he were to calculate his savings rate using his methodology, it would’ve looked like only an 8% savings rate to him.

In actuality, with his net salary of $73,431, that means he saves $73,431 – $41,040 = $32,391, and his savings rate is $32,391 / $73,431 = 44%, which is pretty amazing considering he lives in Miami. Clearly he’s not a Brickell-ista. Miami reference five! *holds out hand for high five* Anyone? Anyone? No? Just me? Ok, then, moving on.

Using the correct savings rate, his estimated time to FI should be:

YearBalanceContributionsROI (6%)Total
1$162,300.00$32,391.00$9,738.00$204,429.00
2$204,429.00$32,391.00$14,209.20$251,029.20
3$251,029.20$32,391.00$17,005.21$300,425.41
4$300,425.41$32,391.00$19,968.98$352,785.40
5$352,785.40$32,391.00$23,110.58$408,286.98
6$408,286.98$32,391.00$26,440.68$467,118.66
7$467,118.66$32,391.00$29,970.58$529,480.24
8$529,480.24$32,391.00$33,712.27$595,583.51
9$595,583.51$32,391.00$37,678.47$665,652.98
10$665,652.98$32,391.00$41,882.64$739,926.62
11$739,926.62$32,391.00$46,339.06$818,656.68
12$818,656.68$32,391.00$51,062.86$902,110.54
13$902,110.54$32,391.00$56,070.09$990,571.63
14$990,571.63$32,391.00$61,377.76$1,084,340.39

(Note: These tables assume your salary keeps up with inflation. See Appendix D (page 303-308) of our book for more details)

Less than 14 years!

This means he can become FI before the age of 50! Not only that, I feel like he could easily bring up his savings rate to 50%, just by making some simple optimizations to his expenses, particularly the fun/travel/clothes/dining out money category without decreasing his level of happiness. The first step is tracking and being aware of what’s being spend in these sub-categories so he can be intentional about it.

By increasing his yearly savings from $32,391 to $36,715.5, to get a 50% savings rate, he would need to save an extra $4,324.50/year or $360.38/month.

What happens if he can find some spending optimizations and decrease his “fun/travel/clothes/dining out money = $1530” by $360.38. This would increase the money he’d be able to put towards FI as well as decrease the amount he needs to become FI.

If he does that, his new FI number would become $917,887.50, which he would reach in:

YearBalanceContributionsROI (6%)Total
1$162,300.00$36,715.50$9,738.00$208,753.50
2$208,753.50$36,715.50$14,728.14$260,197.14
3$260,197.14$36,715.50$17,814.76$314,727.40
4$314,727.40$36,715.50$21,086.57$372,529.47
5$372,529.47$36,715.50$24,554.70$433,799.67
6$433,799.67$36,715.50$28,230.91$498,746.08
7$498,746.08$36,715.50$32,127.69$567,589.28
8$567,589.28$36,715.50$36,258.29$640,563.06
9$640,563.06$36,715.50$40,636.71$717,915.28
10$717,915.28$36,715.50$45,277.85$799,908.62
11$799,908.62$36,715.50$50,197.45$886,821.57
12$886,821.57$36,715.50$55,412.22$978,949.29

Less than 12 years!

This shortens his time to FI by 2 years! But also, keep in mind, no one says you have to become fully FI.

The closer you get to FI, the less pressure you have. Even making it to partial FI in 6 years is a huge win! You’ve just bought back half your working hours! At this point, he could downshift at work, switch careers, or find a remote job and travel. There are lots of options when you reduce the pressure and only have to earn half the salary you do now. Remember, when it comes to FIRE, the RE part is optional. You can continue to choose to work, doing something you love.

CM also mentions that he wants to get a rental of his own and maybe start a family one day. None of these things are mutually exclusive of financial independence.

He could work towards a promotion at work, upgrade his skills for a higher paying job, eliminate rent by considering a tiny house, reduce rent by moving to a place with a lower cost of living, live nomadically, join the world-schooling community once he has a family, etc. The options are endless. Especially given that remote work is more mainstream now after the pandemic. When we first started travelling in 2015, digital nomadism was a fringe lifestyle, but now with 25 new digital nomad visas created by countries all over the world because of the pandemic, it’s gaining wider acceptance.

If his expenses increase as a result of moving out on his own or starts a family, he can redo the calculations with updated numbers and see where he ends up. If he gets a promotion or raise, that can also offset the cost of getting his own place.

So no, CM, don’t give your social life or happiness to relentlessly pursue FI. You have to enjoy the journey. You also don’t have to retire—it’s optional. You can reduce your work hours, switch to a lower paying but more fulfilling career, or start even your own online business/freelance consulting.

Your future is bright, so fire up that rocket and blast your way to FI! Just make sure you’re enjoying the views along the way!

What do you think? What advice do you have for CM?


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21 thoughts on “Reader Case: Feeling Disheartened about FIRE. Please help!”

  1. He should house hack! Get a multi-unit, live in one unit and rent out the others, to cut his housing cost to zero.

    1. Yes!

      Or have a similar cost month to month while supporting family, but with some privacy for his social life! I think this is a great suggestion!

    2. I too, am Latino with first generation parents. Starting from zero is hard, however very achievable.

      I worked as a firefighter paramedic for over 10yrs. During this time I purchased three rental properties in CA, and used them as Airbnbs. I house hacked them for many yrs.

      Every dollar I could save was reinvested. I became FI at the age of 36.

      The beauty of FI, is it gives you the ability to work on new things, and opportunities.

    3. Most people who have never owned a house before don’t realize how expensive owning a house really is (in BOTH time AND money).

      Housing hacking is easier said than done. Imagine unable to find a tenant for 3 or 6 months or longer … that happens more often than you think. Also imagine big expenses such as roof replacement, window replacement, appliance replacement, etc. — they also happen more often than you think.

      Owning a house is therefore a huge, huge time sink.

      Once you have a house, forget about your social life — be prepared to spend all your time after work and on weekends fixing things, or arranging to have things fixed.

      1. Appreciate the caution but as someone who always had roommates and has been investing in rental properties there’s no reason to ever go more than a month or maybe 2 without a tenant in a larger city. There’s probably a scenario where he could live on his own about the same or less than his current monthly while building equity.

  2. House hacking is a good idea but it does not have to be anything grand. Buy a property with renovation potential, move in and start doing it slowly (my first one took me 2 years). Save on rent to pay the mortgage. Than look for another renovation house and move in and sell the previous one for a profit. Put some of the money away in ETFs and use the rest for renovation costs. Repeat the whole procedure as needed. Yes it is hard work but the rewards will be worth it. In the last 13 years, I have done up 4 houses, living in each of them and renting out an extra room or putting an extra unit and living in it and renting out the original house. I am a female immigrant and a nurse by profession and YouTube videos were a great help. One important advise, take 1 day a fortnight off everything for yourself and every time you sell a property, take some time off and enjoy a small vacation. It will refresh you for the next one. Also learn about taxes, and house codes etc so your work is acceptable. Another thing to consider in your calculations is cost of caring for your aging parents. Hang in there mate, the road is long but not impossible.

  3. Miami is super hot right now. Buy a property and you will do very well and much better than 6% returns. Act quickly. I’m thinking of investing there and I’m not local. Buy 2 condos one to own and one to rent to start. Good luck. Great weather and lots to do. The Keys are not too far as well.

  4. How about renting a place and taking on a housemate / lodger?

    Rent minus housemate’s contribution may not be much different to the contribution you’re currently making at home.

  5. Guys,

    Thank you ALL for the great recommendations.. going to to take special consideration on the house hacking advise… could make sense with the proper math.

    And of course FireCracker was right, I was doing the math wrong regarding my 401k and ROTH IRA putting then as “expenses” when instead they should be accounted as saving.. so yeah she was right my correct net salary is around $73,431.

    Thanks for the dedication in the article FireCracker.. I feel way more hopeful now.. will start accounting closer my “fun money” too haha…

    Let me know when you guys visit Miami… first round will be on me for sure !!

    Cheers !! 🙂

  6. You gotta balance life with future goals, you won’t be in your 30’s again! Life and health are not guaranteed. Like the other’s said, if you could house hack or rent and 2/2 or larger place, it will be cheaper. You’ll also possibly save on transportation and entertainment costs being so close to amenities. Enjoy this time!

  7. Over the years, I noticed many FIRE enthusiasts failed the journey and I wondered why such a high failure rate.

    I came to the realization that many you have the “ALL OR NOTHING MENTALITY”.
    Just so you know, a full life has millions of shades in between. Very few people can skip these shades and be happy about it.

    I am going give this young man a “KIS” FIRE strategy (Keep It Simple)…

    Kristie’s math is solid so I will not repeat them…

    Assumption…You are 35 years old
    1. The saving rate of 20% will take you into the FIRE Hall of Fame at 60 years old
    2. The saving rate of 30% will free you from 9 to 5 at the age of 55.
    3. The saving rate of 44% (your current saving rate) will cut the slavery chain at the age of 49.

    Since, you are not very happy your life at 44% saving rate, try the 30% to see if it works for you. Drop to 20% if you need to and pick up the rate as you are getting better at the FIRE game.

    Here is a general “KIS” formula of FIRE for everyone REGARDLESS of incomes…
    1. 15% saving rate will take 35 years
    2. 40 % saving rate will take 20 years
    3. 50% saving rate will take 15 years
    4. 60% saving rate will take 10 years to get to the top of the FIRE Himalaya

  8. My first thought … Get a job that pays more… in this labor market if you are good at what you do this is a great time to ask for more either at a new employer or at your current.

  9. So many problems I see in this post. Over simplification, oh just live like a nomad, oh just buy a tiny house. Man, in what world do they live? latinos come to the US for the good life and american dream, if it was to live like hobos we’d stay in Cuba/Venezuela / Argentina.
    Also, 401k does feel like a cost. It’s money that comes off your paycheck and you don’t see anything for it. It will be locked away until 60 at least. I certainly consider it to be a cost not a savings even though I know the difference.
    Also, 14 years is a lifetime. They say like this is 14 months. I’m saving 90% of my income, living almost in a tent, sacrificing everything to reach this ** FIRE as soon as possible to be happy again. If that won’t solve everything, then perhaps suicide will ! I’m serious

  10. You gotta balance life they say. Man this is hard. Most people face it like it’s all or nothing – me included.
    It’s not easy to balance things out when you hate your job or all work environments for that matter. It seens like FC forgot the time she was in her cubicle 9-5 (or longer) hating it and wishing she could be writing a book. Was she thinking about balancing things out back then or just about pushing until it was gone and out of the rat race?
    FIRE is creating a sub group of unhappy and anxious people out there who won’t quit the journey when they should quit because it’s causing damage to their social life, health, family (I know of firees getting divorced because of FIRE). What started as a great movement is becoming a mental crisis group. Just see the comment above.

  11. First of all, no one is shoving FIRE down your throat. It’s your choice you can live the American dream of enjoying life, having the picket fence house and working until retirement when you get a fat pension. FC decided she wanted a different type of life, she worked hard and got it and did not have to live like a hobo to do it. She put her experiences out there and people inspired by it came to HER site for advice and she is giving it to them straight as per their situation and they can take it or not. Yes 14 years seems like a lifetime but compared to 40 years it’s doable. If u are suicidal than you have other issues before FIRE which are still going to be there even when you reach FIRE. You need to get help, get better and happy with yourself and than decide what type of life is best for you. I wish you a good long life and happiness.

    1. Get help? forget it. It costs money. Can’t afford. I’m 200% on the FIRE plan. Do or die. That’s it. It’s all or nothing for me. My last chance in life. My terminal plan.
      I even broke up with my gf because she was making me spend money that I can’t afford. I totally understand the guy in the letter to FC. It’s not worth having relationships that will ruin your plans. Better have more money than more friends I’d tell him. Keep on your path. It will all be worth when we get there on the FIRE heaven.
      Besides, look around, money controls every single one’s life. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Nobody does crap without being paid. It’s modern slavery and you can only be happy having a crap load of money.

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