[Good morning FIRE nerds!!! Got a cool guest post for ya today from Mike who co-hosts the Friends on FIRE podcast. Mike had a unique upbringing as his parents both retired in their early 40s! I think most of us want to achieve FIRE and teach the ways of financial independence to our kids… Well, that’s what happened in Mike’s family, and here’s a chance to hear more from the children’s perspective when parents retire early. Enjoy! 👇👇👇]
What I Learned Growing Up in a FIRE Family
If you’ve stumbled upon the concept of FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early), you wouldn’t be faulted for believing it was a new concept, a product of the Great Recession, or Millennials coming of age. The idea is attractive and inspires so many people. But the truth is that the concept of financial independence or retiring early has been around for a while.
So if you’ve been reading that blog about the 20-somethings who retired and now travel in a van … or the 30-somethings who quit their white-collar jobs to pursue their passions … or the 40-somethings who retired from full-time work to be full-time parents … you might wonder: What happens later? It looks great one year into this so-called “retirement,” but what happens when the blog runs its course or the money runs out? What happens to their seemingly perfect family life?
I’m going to tell you about the latter and what I learned as the product of a FIRE family. Let’s fast-forward 30 years, though. I co-host a podcast called friends on FIRE, I wrote a book about changing your relationship with money, and I have reached FI with my wife and two kids. And while this article is about my life, it’s about my life when I was a kid and what I learned as a result of it. My parents retired at 42, and perhaps they were part of the OG FIRE movement.
When my dad was in his 30s, he got hooked on the idea of financial independence. He had a good corporate finance job that he enjoyed. My mom worked with hospitals and held a variety of jobs working primarily with recovering elderly patients. They were both successful and happy, admired and respected. And when I was 10 and my sister 8, they both left it all behind.
I barely remember my parents working. They didn’t leave in the morning, get back late at night, or step away from dinner to take a call. They were full-time parents. And while I knew in my heart that I wanted the same and would lead a life of similar intention, I’m now at the same point in my life where my parents made their decisions. Upon reflection of my evolving understanding of life, I realize that FIRE isn’t just the best choice for me; it’s the only choice.
Here’s what I have learned from growing up in a FIRE family…
Your Time Parenting Is the Best Gift You Can Give Your Children
If you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once you can provide physiological and safety needs (think: food and shelter), the most valuable thing you can give your kids is your time. No amount of money can replace the impact a parent’s time and attention can have on a child.
My parents were always there. And I don’t mean at every lacrosse game, I mean at every practice, too. My dad helped start the team at my high school and was always around, helping make that experience better for me and everyone else. He was greatly appreciated and admired for it. That involvement was a critical factor in my passion for the game. In college, when I was playing at the University of Michigan, he came to every game, too. And he lived in St. Louis! He’d fly out to Arizona or Utah, Pennsylvania or Florida; it didn’t matter. He came to all of my games. Our parents were there if my sister or I needed help with something, whether it be homework, crafts, sports, or hobbies.
You’ll Figure It Out
My parents didn’t have some elaborate master plan for what to do with their time, but now after 30 years of not working, they’d tell you that they’ve been pretty darn busy! What many people contemplating retirement struggle with is what they’d do with their lives. My parents wanted to travel the world extensively with us, which they accomplished, but past that, they put themselves in situations to find meaningful opportunities.
If you go to an office for eight hours a day, the opportunities that come your way are someone else’s, or you’re too busy and tired to engage with the ones that aren’t. But if you are out in your community, place of worship, or neighbor’s BBQ, and you have time and energy, a whole new world of activities presents itself.
It’s ok not to have a plan for every hour of your life, but when you have the time and the energy to explore, you’ll quickly be bombarded with an endless supply of opportunities aligned with your values and interests. As a kid, I was fortunate that the activities my parents found to fill their time quite often included me. I realize now that this was by design.
Do It While You’re Healthy
I’m 39 now, and getting old sucks already. My parents are now in their 70s and starting to pull back on some of the adventures. But when they were 40, and we spent months traveling the world, they were superheroes to my sister and me. They seemingly didn’t need sleep, could carry everything on their backs, and found a solution to every problem.
If you’ll permit me a slight digression, a myth I encounter frequently is that working hard in a job teaches work ethic. I can tell you that for the few years I remember my dad having an office job, I didn’t learn a damn thing about his work ethic there. But when I saw my parents overcome obstacles, solve problems, and find success outside of work, I learned a great deal.
But parents need to be healthy to work hard. In the same way that you can never regain the past time with your kids, you can never have the health you once had. So if you want to embrace your life fully, the opportunities that come your way, and the time with your family, don’t wait.
Knowing Yourself and What You Want Is a Critical Piece of the Journey
Perhaps the most significant realization of my parents’ decision to leave work is that it’s deeply conflicting. I never thought about what my parents thought or felt making the decision; they were just there. But now I have kids and a career and feel all the same pressures and conflicts they felt. There are many competing narratives of what your life should be, delivered by companies, institutions, entertainment, and social networks.
There are certain pieces of those ideal lives that you can and should adopt, but your life is still your own. Employers want you to have a long, fulfilling career with them, but that’s in their best interest, not yours. Car companies want you to live free and play hard by buying one of their vehicles. Clothing designers want you to dress in the sophisticated manner they market to you and change every season to look the part of your place in society. But none of these things matter. And they drive you towards a life reacting to outside stimuli instead of pursuing what matters to you. The sad part is that for most people, you can’t have both. You can’t have a fulfilling career, drive a luxury car, dress to the nines, and be a full-time dad. I’m more than fine with the trade-offs and my parents have no regrets for theirs.
You Won’t Regret It
I’ve been following FIRE bloggers for a long time, and I always wonder if they’re truly happy. I like to think they are, but the difference between a fulfilling life and the appearance of one can only be found deep down in those individuals. I hope they have all found their purpose.
If you have kids (and you like being with them), you’ll understand that there is nothing better. There is nothing more meaningful, more joyous, more rewarding than spending time with your family and friends doing something you all enjoy. Sitting at baseball practice is probably not as fun, but real family time, in my humble opinion, is the meaning of life.
So if you decide to leave work, with its title and prestige and paycheck, you won’t regret it if you leave because of family. This isn’t to say that other reasons for leaving aren’t worthy; they most certainly are. Whatever your purpose in life, if you pursue it wholeheartedly, you won’t regret it. And your kids will thank you for it as I have thanked mine.
My parents retired when I was 10, and my whole life has been shaped by it. They’ll tell you it was the best decision of their lives. You might have only recently heard about retiring early, but FIRE isn’t a fad. It’s not a gimmick, and it’s not out of reach, although it does take discipline and focus to attain. We all want to live lives of meaning and purpose, but it can be challenging to do so in a society trying to make you broke.
If you want to make a dramatic change in your life, don’t look at it as leaving a career or checking out; instead set your sights on entering a more intentional life. And trust that it’s the right thing to do.
Mike and his friend Maggie host the Friends on FIRE Podcast — where they encourage friends to talk about money more so everyone can grow rich… together! Check them out on whatever platform you get your podcasts from. ;)
Have a great day!!