FIRE stands for Financial Independence Retire Early.
FIRE proponents strive to get high-earning jobs, invest 70% of their income into the stock market, until they have enough to live off their dividends without having to work.
According to Wikipedia, two books written in the 90s and one blog called Mr. Money Moustache spread the gospel of FIRE to the Internet.
In this article, we’ll look at why the FIRE concept is flawed, and what to do instead.
Why FIRE Is Flawed
1. It Stems Out Of Laziness
The FIRE movement wasn’t established out of a need to reclaim your freedom.
It was established out of a need to do nothing. To just lazy around.
And to watch other people work.
It’s not only lazy, but it’s also incompatible at scale. Think about it.
If everyone saved one million and retired early, who would get the world running?
This is why I don’t like FIRE. Whatever principle I adopt, I always make sure it respects the Kantian principle that the world would still work out if everyone applied it.
The FIRE movement ain’t it.
2. They’Re Not Using the Right Techniques
The problem with FIRE is that it includes keeping your job.
However, no one ever became rich out of working 9-5.
Because getting a job is an event-driven activity. You apply, get a job, and a month later, you earn money.
You earn money because someone already worked hard at establishing a business (or a country) and made a nice, warm place for you to come work for them.
It’s too easy. You can’t just make a lot of money by working this little.
This is (one of the reasons ) why jobs that demand processes (learning skills, like IT) pay much more than jobs that don’t (serving burgers).
Trying to get rich with a job is like trying to bike to China on a Peloton bike.
It rarely works.
3. They’Re Sacrificing Today for Tomorrow
FIRE sacrifices the pleasures of youth for the comfort of old age.
FIRE people, often in their twenties or thirties, don’t:
- Drink with friends
- Watch movies at the cinema
- Take holidays
- Buy without looking at the prices
- Enjoy life
Every nickel is spared and accounted for. Everything is invested to grow “the pot” into a sum that will make them enough money for the rest of their lives.
4. It Rarely Actually Works
And the reason why it doesn’t is that one million is a lot of money to spare with just a job – and it’s not making you that much.
If we take the stock market, you can hope to make on average 7% yearly. Discount 3% for dividend reinvesting and you’re left with 4%.
That’s €40k a year.
Are you sure you can afford the restaurant with €40k a year?
The other reason why it doesn’t work is that people whether consume, or produce. It’s a zero-sum game.
You whether produce stuff, or you consume them.
There is no in-between.
This is why people that do nothing never have any money (they’re constantly consuming since they are not producing anything).
So, once the FIRE people reach their million, they have a hard time sticking to their budget since they stopped working.
They’re “free”…but they can’t do anything since they have nothing to spend.
Is it really freedom?
5. They Are Counting on Something They Can’t Control
I think the reason why the FIRE movement is still strong is that we haven’t had yet a major stock market meltdown since 2010.
The market crashed in March 2020, sure, but quickly recovered.
Why am I speaking of this?
FIRE is based on giving all your money to Wall Street (or Euronext) and enjoying dividends and asset appreciation.
So far, the FIRE people that became free in 2010 have been enjoying a pretty rewarding stock market.
Let us not fool ourselves – this won’t last!
What will you do when your $1 million net worth crashes and the S&P500 erases half of your income and net worth?
What will you do when Apple and Coca-Cola suddenly refuse to pay out dividends?
The money the FIRE people set aside is not enough.
By putting all of your money in one basket, you will lose a lifetime of savings when the inevitable eventually happens.
The stock market can’t be controlled.
Do you really want to count on it for your ability to eat?
Yet, a stock market crash is not the worst thing.
What if you spend the first 15 years of your working life to retire at 40 years old and live off your savings…and die?
Life is now.
God knows what will happen tomorrow.
6. They Are Building Their Asset the Wrong Way
FIRE is built on the passive income idea.
Passive income happens when you have a low-maintenance asset that wires you money every month without you doing anything.
Money is the “lowest-maintenance” of the low-maintenance assets, hence, it’s the one the FIRE people are trying to build.
The FIRE people and I agree that money makes money.
However, money is one of the most difficult financial assets to build.
Imagine you earn $200k/year, which is…a LOT of money (mainly happens in the US btw, doesn’t happen in the rest of the world).
You save 70% per year. That’s $140k. 1 000 000/140 = 7 years.
7 years to build an asset that will make you $40k per year (1 000 000*4% per year = 40k).
Does it look like a good bargain?
Let’s be honest. No one ever got rich from a job.
7. They Ignore Mankind Needs Work
That’s the most important point.
What the hell are you going to do once you’re free from your job?
If you think you will “enjoy life”, let me tell you, you won’t, and for two reasons.
- Mankind finds meaning in building something, taking care of something, or fighting for something.
- Doing nothing costs money (as we said above).
As a result, you will end up in a self-made prison. Dying to do something meaningful without the financial means to do so.
Too rich not to need to work, but too poor to buy anything.
8. They Rever Warren Buffett But Don’t Understand Him
One more time for the people in the back.
WARREN BUFFETT DID NOT BECOME RICH BY INVESTING IN THE STOCK MARKET.
Buffett bought companies and actively managed and grew them (and on top of that, he is a terrible investor, but this is out of scope here).
Most companies that Berkshire Hathaway owns are privately owned.
The difference between Warren Buffett and the rest is that Warren never created any company.
Too lazy (and risk-averse) to do so, he bought companies that were already making money, waited 4 or 5 years to recoup his investment, and bought more companies with the profits.
Furthermore, Buffett became rich old.
In an interview, Charlie Munger declared that Warren Buffett only became a good investor at 65 years old.
Way past the FIRE people’s deadline.
Now that we have established why FIRE is a hopeless endeavor, let’s have a look at what the FIRE people should do instead.
Conclusion of Part 1: You’ll Burn Yourself With FIRE
The FIRE idea is honorable.
After all, we weren’t born to pay taxes and die.
But the methods that FIRE is built on are wrong.
The premises are wrong.
And the promises are wrong too.
You can’t become rich with a job.
You need to build a business.
How To Retire Properly
Ok. I normally don’t do what I am about to do, which is writing about things I don’t know, or haven’t done.
But I thought my input would still be valuable to the reader.
It’s presumptuous to assume that I know better than others how to become rich. I am not rich. Far from that.
None of what is written below was invented by me either.
It comes from all the books I have read on the topic.
So, here’s how it works.
You have two ways to retire.
- You build a tool that enables you to build a cash pile, invest the cash pile, and retire. It takes 5-10 years, but the potential is in the tens of millions.
- You build a tool that makes you money every month passively. It’s quick (1-2 years), but the potential is in cash flow, not in net worth.
However, the first thing you need to do before building a net worth or a cash flow business is to stop selling your god damn time for money.
1. Stop Selling Time for Money
Employees are not supposed to be rich. They’re usually too busy making someone else’s rich to take care of their own net worth.
So, how do rich people become rich?
Consider the illustration below.
Rich people are not employees. They create a company that becomes an asset that makes them money.
See the difference?
On the left, we have a rich person that builds an asset that is making him money. With this money, the rich person can build a cash pile.
On the right, we have a poor FIRE person trying to build a cash pile selling time for money.
This is critical, and something the FIRE people don’t understand.
If you hope to be rich, you need to stop being someone else’s asset and build one for yourself instead.
Let’s have a look at how you can do that.
2. First Option: Build Your Cash Pile
This option is for those that want to be really rich. Like, $20 million types of rich.
If you want to earn $20 million, you need to sell a service or a product worth $20 million (or sell a lot of it).
I’ll take a page off The Millionaire Fastlane book written by MJ DeMarco.
According to MJ, there are six types of systems that make you money. They’re rated from the most passive, to the least passive.
- Money systems: what happens once you are already rich. Let’s disregard it for the moment.
- Digital products system: evergreen books, videos, courses. Once created, these products reproduce themselves without any effort.
- Software/internet systems: SaaS, apps, video games, etc.
- Product systems: selling food, gardening tools, pet care products, etc.
- Rental systems: renting out real estate, garage, offices, cars.
- Human resource systems: systems where you need to manage people (pretty much any other types of companies).
These systems exist to solve a problem (aka delivering value).
I am not going to dispense an entire course on entrepreneurship, but it works more or less like that:
Someone has a problem he is willing to fix by paying for the solution -> you provide the solution for the problem against money -> you find more people that have this problem and make more money.
To make as much money as possible, a company should respect five commandments:
- Control: you should own the company or at least, the premise on which it is based. Eg: Amazon FBA is based on Amazon. You do not control your company, someone else’s does.
- Entry: your business should have reasonable barriers to entry to avoid the industry to be too crowded.
- Needs: your business should fulfill an actual need.
- Time: you should be able to split your time from the businesses (hiring people to do what they’re asking you to do).
- Scale: the business should scale easily.
Let’s now have a look at how you can build a cash flow business.
3. Second Option: Build Your Asset
This option is for those that want to retire as fast as possible.
Retiring should not take you more than two years. There is a range of small businesses with decent cash flows that can be more or less automated so you can retire and enjoy your time doing whatever you want.
I am serious.
In two years, you can grow a business sufficiently that it is making €10k in profit per month, enough to hire a manager and reap the rest and retire.
These businesses will take between 2 to 12 months to set up, and between 1 to 2 years to grow to €10k a month.
Find a few ideas below:
1. Vending Machines
Vending machines are one of my favorite businesses ever. No marketing, no customer service, functioning 24/7.
One vending machine will earn €300-€700 per month. With 10 machines, you’ll work no more than 10 hours a week and will earn anywhere between €3k to €7k.
If you double the number of machines, you will be able to hire an employee that will take care of them for you.
2. Lawn Care Company
The thing about people with lawn care companies is that they often suck and overcharge. If you enter the business, you’ll have no trouble offering better service for similar (or slightly higher) prices.
I remember one guy on one forum I was frequenting who had scaled his lawn care company and earned $30k a month.
His business was simple. He offered yearly subscriptions.
3. House or Window Cleaning Company
I prefer the window cleaning option as you work outside, almost no one is doing it anymore, and no one will sue you because one of your employees stole something inside the house.
If you specialize in skyscrapers, not only you will make a lot of money, but your employees will too.
This option is really easy and doesn’t even require you to cut hair.
Step 1: rent (or buy) a commercial piece of real estate in a street with a lot of traffic.
Step 2: put some mirrors and hairdressers’ chairs.
Step 3: go to your local hairdressing school and put an ad announcing that you are renting each chair for 20-30 euros per day all included.
Step 4: collect the money.
These businesses are win-win. You provide professional hairdressers with customers, a place to work, no risk, flexibility, and you provide customers with accessible hairdressers.
All you need to do is make sure the place is clean and that you pay the bills.
If you put a vending machine, you’ll make even more money.
Finally, the last idea is a hostel (after staying in 35+ countries, I should know).
Most hostels suck. All you need to succeed, is to be better than your competition.
Here’s what you will be judged on:
- Location (lol)
- Being open 24/7
- Amenities (bar, kitchen, living room, rooftop)
- Safety (of the neighborhood, having lockers available, etc)
There are plenty of ways you can make additional money by providing additional services, such as:
- Fees for service advertisers
- Renting out towels, scooters, bikes (don’t charge for bed linen, it’s cheap)
You can also have a professional kitchen and rent it out to an independent chef, so you’ll earn money whether people eat at the restaurant or not.
If you have a bar, you can organize events to attract more people.
Retiring on a salary is like getting tanned at night: it rarely works.
If you want to retire fast, use the right tools to do so.
Quit being an asset for someone else and build your own.
It’s uncomfortable, but you won’t get anywhere being comfy.
For more articles, head to auresnotes.com.
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