To start, the title of the post A Year Away From FIRE is not intended to read as a status update. I am not one year away from financial independence. No, instead what I meant by this is that I took the last year “off” from focusing on FIRE. That may sound strange – I mean, you either are part of the FIRE movement or you’re not, right? I’d suggest it’s not so black and white.
What does a year away mean? In short, for the last twelve months, I have not written about, focused on, or obsessed over, the pursuit of FIRE. This is my first blog post in over a year and while I’ve glanced at some of the social media platforms, I have not really participated or contributed in a meaningful way. Admittedly, at first, I felt odd about not participating. A small part of me felt a bit guilty really. Up until I took some time away, I managed to accumulate over 50 posts and closer to a novel in content on retiringby45.com and built a decent presence on FB and Twitter. I larger part of me knew I needed to focus elsewhere, at least for a while.
everyone, COVID impacted my daily life. I run a successful small business and when things got turned upside down last year, my day job got considerably more complex. My focus shifted to how to keep my employees safe. I focused on how to keep product coming in and going out. I also attempted to convey calm and confidence when I was anything but. After about three months of navigating uncharted waters, I was exhausted. Little did I know the journey had only just begun. To this day, I face enormous challenges to keep the business alive and healthy. My optimism on the business world returning to some version of its prior self is also all but gone. While the challenges remain, the business carries on.
Outside of work, the catalyst for me to step away from FIRE came as a result of changes in my personal life. My wife and I, after much debate and doubt, decided to move our family during the summer of 2020. We also decided to adopt a puppy. It seems that by August of last year, COVID had shifted the way we thought about our family goals in a big way. The focus was on more usable space within our house, a better (and smaller) neighborhood, and on smaller schools for our daughters (ages 12 and 6). The problem was, to achieve these things, we had to open the checkbook. And we opened it in a big way.
happened quickly. We listed and sold our then current house in three days for 5% over asking price. We then had the place we put an offer on fall through – short version is the inspection produced some major concerns the sellers wouldn’t resolve. Fortunately, a house on the same block was for sale and we managed to get under contract. Unfortunately, the new house needed a significant amount of work. Queue the checkbook.
After Moving In
I quickly realized that not only would all the equity we pulled out of the old house go into the new house but that we’d also be dipping into our savings heavily to make updates. It was at that point last year, I decided to step away from FIRE. The thought of writing about effectively managing money and driving expenses down to achieve financial independence didn’t fit with where I was in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t just give up on FIRE and decide to go for broke. Instead, I decided to not focus as much on how spending/investing in a new house would impact my overall timeframe to reach financial independence.
I wrote some large checks. We had to replace two furnaces and AC units, paint the entire house, refinish the floors on the main level, remodel the laundry room, replace the water heater, and buy some new furniture for the larger house. While that’s not a comprehensive list, overall, we put several tens of thousands of dollars into the new house (in addition to the 20% down payment). For a while, each check I wrote caused me some anxiety about reaching my FIRE goals. Eventually, my focus shifted to being appreciative to be able to write checks for these items vs. financing all the work. Our savings percentage rate dropped to zero and cash came out of accounts but, nothing we did over the last year resulted in debt.
all the updates and adjustments to the new house, new town, and new schools, I developed a greater appreciation for being mindful of what happens each day. We lost acquaintances to COVID, our family dynamic changed, and our view of what is important shifted slightly. Being financially independent well before I’m too old to enjoy it is still my goal. Retiring by the age of 45 is still realistic. What’s changed is my tolerance for variance.
If I end up being 47 before I reach financial independence because I prioritized the health and happiness of my family, I can live with that. Being obsessed with FIRE is, in my opinion, like any other obsession; unhealthy. I now view FIRE more like yoga. I stumble when attempting Tree pose, but I center myself and try again. Pursuing FIRE is similar. Practicing sound financial decisions doesn’t mean you get all of them right. It means you consistently try to do better as you work toward your goal (side note, I still believe and use my Six Steps To Fire).
With that in mind, I’m excited to get back to practicing, and writing about, FIRE again. The projects at the new house are all complete and I’m mentally prepared to ease back into my pursuit of FIRE. I appreciate all of you that continue to follow my blog and social media channels and look forward to continued (and more) interactions with you going forward.