When you commit to achieving financial independence, and possibly retiring early, you make a commitment to playing the long game. The journey to FIRE has three phases:
- The oh-my-god-is-this-real phase of early excitement.
- The boring middle.
- The final sprint to the finish line.
Stage one is characterized by near constant checking of your account balances, voraciously devouring every blog post and forum post you can, crooning sweet nothings to your spreadsheets, and optimizing the ever-loving shit out of your finances.
Stage three is characterized by equal parts excitement and nervousness. All you have worked for is coming to fruition, and there suddenly seem to be so very many loose ends to tie up before you start the next phase of your life.
There is no dearth of things to do during stages one and three. There is no shortage of motivation at the very beginning or when the finish line is in sight. Stage two is the danger zone. It is long, and it can sometimes feel like you aren’t making any progress at all. Stage two feels like you’re playing a never ending game of chess over snail mail. This is the phase in which you are most vulnerable to the curveballs that life might lob at you.This is when you are most likely to fall off the FIRE wagon with a thump and end up being a Jones after all.
Watching your money slowly creep from $10k to $50k to $100k to a million and more is about as fun as watching grass grow (and unlike the grass, your money will sometimes shrink). In order to stay the course, one needs to stay motivated. In order to stay motivated, one needs to feel that one is making progress.
So what is one to do?
Enter stage right: FIRE Games.
FIRE Games give you a way of keeping score, of earning badges, of levelling up: all with the end goal of tricking your monkey brain into seeing progress, feeling motivated and working towards fire. Much research has been done in the area of gamification. The short version is: it works. It can be successfully used to make users more engaged with a product (think reddit and karma), to keep folks on track with their fitness goals, by corporations to motivate employees, and today we’re going to explore ways of using it to help keep us on track for the goal of financial independence.
What does your Safe Withdrawal Rate (SWR) cover today?
Which of your budget items could your safe withdrawal rate cover today? If you spend $9.99 on Netflix a month, then once your Stash reaches $2,997, at a 4% SWR you can pay for Netflix for life!
You can start small with items like Netflix, and work your way up to covering your groceries, your travel or your mortgage.
Make FIRE Art
If you are a visual person, using art to track your progress towards FIRE can be a fantastic idea. Add leaves to a tree for every $1000 you save, that sort of thing. Derek from HowDoIMoney posted a pretty comprehensive list of ways to track your finances visually.
Years until Broke if you Quit Working Today
Another way of visualizing your Stash is to calculate how many years (or months, days, minutes or seconds) it would take for you to be broke if you quit today. It is interesting to find out that while you might not yet be ready to FIRE, you could live for say 6 years before you ran out of money.
Instead of just tracking the nice big round numbers, give yourself a plethora of milestones to hit along the way. Here are some ideas:
Somewhere in the world, you are already a millionaire
While you eagerly await the day when you will be a millionaire in U.S. dollars, have you considered the fact that you might already be a millionaire in local currency somewhere in this world? User /u/afoxling on reddit created this spreadsheet to help you track your worldwide millionaire status. $43.99 makes you a millionaire in Vietnamese Dong. $132.11 makes you a millionaire in the local currency of Sierra Leone. On the other end of the spectrum you need over $3.4 million to be a millionaire in Malta.
The FIRE calendar
I’ve written before about pretending that your entire FIRE journey is one calendar year, and you reach FIRE on Dec 31st. Is it still spring for you? Is July 4th the next holiday you will celebrate? Is winter coming? Download the FIRE calendar and find out!
Are you Coasting Yet?
This is the number after which if you stopped saving, you could simply coast to regular retirement age, and have enough money to live on till you die. It is also sometimes referred to as barista-FI, indicating that once you get here, you just need a job that covers your day-to-day expenses and no longer need to save for retirement. Once you hit your coast number, everything else is just gravy. You definitely have enough for a regular retirement, and all savings from this point on just work to bring the date in. This blog article includes a nifty calculator to help you compute your coast number.
Can you pay yourself Minimum Wage?
The U.S. federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. If you consider a full time job to be 2000 hours a year, when your Stash reaches $362,500 you can afford to pay yourself the federal minimum wage for the rest of your life (assuming a 4% SWR).
You could also play this game with the minimum wage of various states.
Where in the world could you live?
Use the super fun (and, fair warning, super addictive) The Earth Awaits website to figure out where in the world you could currently live given the size of your stash.
At $642,000 (and a 4% SWR), you could move to lovely Valencia.
An ample lifestyle beckons in Penang once you have $563,700 to your name.
Are your taxable investments = 5x your annual expenses?
Why is this is an important milestone? Because this is the number of years that you will have to cover post-retirement before you can reap the rewards of your Roth Conversion Ladder.
Silly, Arbitrary Milestones
As far as FI milestones go, you are truly only limited by your imagination. Here are some ideas to help you get the ball rolling:
From the FIRE subreddit:
“The one silly thing I keep track of is how close to the moon I am. It’s 238,900 miles to the moon from Earth, on average. Every dollar of net worth is a mile. I need to get to the moon and back to be FI ($478k)”
For the Star Trek fans out there:
“$1,701, because FIRE is quite the Enterprise.
$74,205, because I am being quite Defiant by bucking the norm
$74,656, because I am a Voyager on an unusual mission to FIRE.”
For the math geeks (or maybe just the folks who love pie):
$3.14159265359, $31.4159265359, $314.159265359…………$314159.265359 etc.
$4k, $16k, $32k……..
Stay the Course
If You Never Did You Should
These Things Are Fun
And Fun Is Good
– Dr. Seuss
Remember when you took road trips with your family as a kid and made your parents want to kill themselves by asking “Are we there yet?” once every nanosecond? The journey to FIRE is long, and if you spend all your time asking that question you are going to drive yourself batty. Have fun along the way instead as best you can – perhaps by playing some of the games suggested here, or perhaps by focussing on your hobbies, your career, and your family.
Here is the most important thing to remember: The Boring Middle of the FIRE journey? It goes by another name too. It is also known as Life. Don’t let it pass you by.
What do you do to help you stay the course? Any fun numbers you track that I’ve missed? Let me know and I’ll update the post (and give you credit of course).