Starting FIRE: My first six months

Hello! Welcome back to Millennial Money Journal. 

Today I’m going to share with you a movement that has inspired me so much that I’ve quite literally changed the way I live. From the devil may care attitude towards my wallet, I’ve been able to make progress myself into a conscious spender and moderately high saver. It’s called the ‘Financially Independent Retired Early’ movement. 

The movement suggests that if you’re able to save anywhere between 25-40 times your annual expenditure, you can live off that money indefinitely as long as you withdraw between 3-4% from the capital. It’s a game changer. Especially for someone like me who never really understood the point of saving, considering I had to work till 60 and I had all the time in the world to do it. FIRE opened my mind to the possibility that there is an end to the tunnel and with a little discipline you can get to the end faster. 

Now there are a lot of critics for this movement. Some say its unwieldy. Others say its depravation now for further penny pinching later. The money can’t last you forever because of inflation etc. etc. etc. And I’d like to believe all these people. I really would. Unfortunately, I believe in the positive side more (call me silly!). Just because I can retire early, doesn’t mean I have. For me, FIRE is the freedom to move onto pursuits without the fear of money or the lack of it. I could travel for a year, come back and work on a passion project. Or I could take a year off to just read all the books in the world (As a child, I really wanted to read all the books every published in the English language.) It would be my choice. And isn’t that what the world order today really is about? Of course, this doesn’t mean putting off living until you retire. It’s all about a fine balance. 

In this post as a FIRE beginner, I’m going to talk to you about how I’ve stared my journey and where I’m going to go from here. 

I started tracking my expenses

Before anything else, I needed to know what my expenses were, to find out the final figure that I needed to save. So, after meticulous tracking over the last seven months, I arrived at a near perfect figure of my monthly expenses. This allowed me to extrapolate it to find out my annual expenses. Since, I’m a fairly easily frightened person I’d love to have close to 35x my annual expenses at the very least. This made my figure rather large and thus, herculean. 

Breaking down the math and journey

When I started out, I had a negative net worth.  I had six figures of credit card debt and I was living paycheck to paycheck. I realized that just my FIRE number alone was going to overwhelm me and I was bound to give up. 

So, I decided to break down my journey into goals. And then, I decided to further break it down into annual, time bound goals. When I started in April, I laid out five goals that I wanted to achieve this financial year until March 2021: 

  1. Become debt free by 30th August (Which I achieved by 30th September)
  2. Build my emergency fund of 3 months’ worth of expenses 
  3. Max out contributions to my tax advantaged accounts of PPF and NPS (In three years of working, I’ve literally never done that, even though I could)
  4. Buy my own medical insurance. (Again, despite having been working for three years now, I’m still tied to my father’s insurance policy because I never had the money saved for it. )
  5. Begin investing in mutual funds

Each of these goals has required me to undertake a different strategy. But as I’ve ticked some off and moved to the next, I feel like my goal of FIRE was possible. And while I have achieved 2 and a half of these goals (PPF needs just a little more), I can’t wait to get to my next set of goals. 

Studying and learning

I’m fairly nerdy. I love reading a lot and have a love-hate relationship with researching. So even though my introduction to FIRE was through YouTube videos, I knew there had to be more gyaan out there in books.

I started devouring personal finance books (you’ve seen that in my Books and Your Money series) and some FIRE books (although US or Canada centric). I realized that the concepts were all similar and the cruz was the same- spend less than you earn and invest the rest. The difference lay in the execution and the context. 

My studying is far from over because so far I’ve studied enough to conquer the ‘savings’ part of it. My next study mission is for ‘investments’.

Finding the balance

I’ll be honest. It’s tempting to cut everything out and just save. Actually, let me rephrase that, it’s tempting to fantasize that you will cut everything out and save 70-80% of your monthly income and reach FIRE in 10 years.

In real life however, it becomes tough because 10 years is a long time too. Can you really put your dreams on pause for 10 years? I personally struggled with this a lot, to the point where it was starting to cause me anxiety. 

After much soul searching and reading stories of people who did FIRE. I realized that there were two things I could do: Give up or Try it my way. I decided to do it my way. Being the half type A that I am, I made a list. A list of the things that despite everything and my desire to FIRE I still want to do in the short term. The list was simple: 

  1. I wanted to travel annually (after the pandemic, of course)
  2. Invest in myself whether in my love for writing or my career as a trainer. 
  3. Have the ability to change one gadget of mine every 2-3 years because I enjoy gadgets and I derive a lot of value from them. Especially since some of them can help me make money. 
  4. Have small funds for regular purchases like books, clothes etc.
  5. Have some money to give gifts to my loved ones, because that brings me a lot of joy.

Of course, there is a balance to this too. For instance, I don’t buy every dress or pair of earrings I want. There’s a difference between dreams and wants. I may want a dress but its not my dream. But playing the Ukulele is a dream because I’ve always dreamt of playing an instrument. There is a thin line between discipline and depravation. And while day dreaming about depravation for fast tracking things can be tempting, it’s almost not sustainable. 

I could put all of this off for 10 years but would I truly be living? So, I decided to start sinking funds. I put in reasonable amounts of money every month towards each of these goals. So theoretically, I’m saving about 70% of my income each month now. But within that, 20% of my income is allocated towards these short terms goals. So practically speaking, I save about 50% of my income for FIRE purposes. Of course, this means that my FIRE number would be hit in probably 15-20 years (with regular increases in my income) but I’d have no regrets! Also, some of these goals are likely to help me earn some side income too so maybe that investment could help me shorten my FIRE journey. And even if it doesn’t I’d have lived a happy, fulfilled life. 

Bonus: Using the pandemic to get ahead.. mentally

I’m going to be honest. If it wasn’t for this pandemic I wouldn’t be on this journey. Partly, because I would probably have never discovered it. But also, because it would’ve been very tough to break my existing money patterns. I would have had commute costs, ‘de-stressing’ expenses and just a chunk of impulse purchases. 

With the pandemic and work from home, I’ve not just been able to cut down my costs but also get substantially ahead with the goals. I’ve also been able to build a better, healthier mindset about my job and career, which has further helped me bring down my impulse purchases and ‘de-stress’ expenses. Sometime events like these are exactly the wake up call you need. Of course some of those expenses will come back once office resumes, but I think I would be better prepared for them and definitely more intentional about them.

What’s next?

In a few months, I’ll be a year into my FIRE journey and to be able to move forward, these will be my top priorities: 

1. Understanding investing in the Indian context: I’m veryyyy risk averse. In fact I used to be the kind of person who would rather spend my money my way, than invest it and lose it in a market dip. But I want to change that and invest in equity to build real growth and wealth for which I want to understand more about mutual funds, markets, investing etc. 

2. Increaing my income: Personally I want to look at ways not just to increase my income but also diversify it. A lot of people have spoken about this at length in books, videos and podcasts and this is still something I’m trying to wrap my head around. Passive income is a game changer, they say. Well I want to change my game!

3. Pursuing my interests: Because I don’t want to wait to live my life until FIRE, I want to pursue my passions of writing and someday in the future, travel. It’ll help me get a taste of life and at the same time understand the financial implications of such interests. 

That’s all for now. I’ll definitely share more updates about my FIRE journey here.

Do share your thoughts and experiences with FIRE! Until next time!

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