On Living the FIRE Lifestyle before FI
I spend a lot of time talking to my village about money. Folks come with questions, others with goals, seeking direction. There’s one of my best friends of mine that connects with me on money reading. She recently pushed her side hustle to a space where she’s not only able to support her growing family but to also save for a home (and as a doctoral student, that’s huge!). I listen to podcasts throughout my work day, and online, I participate in forums and mentorship programs where I connect with like-minded people on their own journeys, learning from them (from their victories and mistakes) and reaching out to folks who are doing it right. In all of this, though, I’ve found that the folks who are participating in the personal finance/FIRE space are generally ones who don’t share the intersectional journey of grit that othered folks do.
Now, I’m not saying we aren’t on the journey, but I am saying that I haven’t seen a space in which we’ve mobilized, either joining the movement or creating one. I grew up in the hood. There were always thriving folks seeking more: the master electrician who’d accumulated six three-family homes over the course of his career, the neighborhood’s grandmother who stashed evidence of her investments in a mattress, behind the couch or underneath her floorboards, or the young Caribbean entrepreneur who worked three jobs with a fire in his belly ignited by the deep desire to get out. I grew up having life-lesson lunches with an alcoholic uncle living in recovery– a man who’d spent much of his life homeless, and later navigated his way to a nine-figure net worth. But these folks were always an anomaly, rarely part of a community that discussed the wins, losses, and lessons learned along the way. Often, folks didn’t think about what they were doing– it was just life, and a step they stumbled upon in getting to their end goal.
As I’ve spent time talking to these people over the years, I imagined what might happen if they knew how profound they were. I mean, they found the secret to doing better, but had they identified the need to share it widely? What kept them from sharing the news with the babies who played and whispered on their front stoop?
I was ever grateful to be able to have the discussion. Boston was filled with multi-family homes– incredible opportunity folks ran from when I was a child and ran to as the city gentrified– so to have in-depth community discourse on what the landscape meant, or what the neighborhood changes meant to those who’d lived there for 30 or 60 years was different.
I started to imagine what accumulating wealth looked like for these people. Why did so many folks experience the struggle of broke-ness? Why was the struggle so real for so many? Maybe they didn’t know what I knew, or hadn’t had the conversations I’d had. What would my life look like if I’d had the income from six rental homes, or the stash beneath my floorboards? What if I never needed to work again– what would I do? Would my lifestyle change– would I be like my uncle who had a fancy cars and a $4 million home, or would I continue to live in the way I was accustomed– with small luxuries and simplicity?
If I were financially independent (FI) today, my lifestyle wouldn’t drastically shift– I’d be in a quiet, modest home driving a mid-range car, stashing money for the next generation and information for the masses. I would buy investment properties. I would travel extensively, and I would enjoy sounds, languages, and experiences in the world.
This part of myself would remain unchanged, but I would be living my best life, away from obligations and in a space of shared knowledge and giving.
Living my best life, though, away from obligations means stability, for me. It means exploration and success on my own terms. It means being my own boss, health and joy. It means focus on being the example so that I could know the lessons to share. Reaching financial independence– where my journey would no longer depend on anyone else providing anything for me, including a job– meant time. Like many hood kids, I was taught that education was the ticket out of the hood. My mother had been disowned by her family for pursuing a bachelor’s degree, and from her experience, she was determined that I would not only have the best education but would go as far on that journey as possible. After all, knowledge is freedom, right?
Well, yes and no. Knowledge opens the doors to earn more, but it also robs you of time. As with anything, it is a trade-off. But when you can harness knowledge to uplift and foster growth in your people and further your journey? When you can align your knowledge with your goals? Now, to me, that was worth the sacrifice of time. Still, time was worth more than anything else and left space for me to explore and grow the joy planted deep inside me, and watered with dance and music and global escape. It meant eliminating the struggle, not just reducing it.
But while I knew what my goal was (financial independence), I struggled to detail specific steps to arrive there and to measure the target (more on finding your FI number later). I knew the typical things– live simply (don’t become a target), save as much as you can, spend less than you earn, pay your bills on time every time, use accounts and investments to your advantage, work as hard and as many positions as you need to, create multiple streams of income– but I hadn’t developed a focused view on what all of those things, cumulatively, meant, and hadn’t actually formalized my goal. How and when would I know I’d arrived?
Looking back over my own journey, I realize that I started with a FIRE mindset, and had begun living the FI lifestyle far before recognizing or starting within the movement. I am still in pursuit of financial independence.
I’m no longer solo.
I’ve carried friends into the lifestyle along the way, introducing them to seminal concepts and figures in the literature, strategically mentioning podcasts in passing, and providing thoughts supported by millions of people’s journeys. I’ve dragged my mom into the journey, kicking and screaming until it finally clicked, pushing her to pay her debts, live big in small space and save for a rainy day. I’ve abided by some things, and ventured into new places in others, opting to maintain my credit, just in case I need it one day. I’ve explained FIRE to teens learning about personal finance for the first time, answered questions and given thoughts on side hustles. And I’ve encouraged others to be present in the journey, living FIRE sans FI.
So, while I don’t see many othered folks speaking loudly in the FIRE community– not on the message boards, not in the blogs or podcasts– I realize that we’ve been here long before here was a place. That the basic tenets were part of our struggle back before sharecropping and reservations, before conquistadors stripped us of the clave and took our drums, when we were given pennies for good behavior and saved toward freedom. These lessons and deeply rooted in our bellies, and just need a little watering. While we may have drifted into fancy cars and expensive hairstyles, we still remember from somewhere deep and just need a place of our own to share, commune, and review.
Today, I am fulfilled by my journey to alignment, purpose, and sharing. I decided to shift to get rid of the bills– paid off my debt and moved through to accumulate wealth towards my goal of freedom. I pursue it as I would a business. It is my promise and I am happy to share it, and the journey to it. I’ve heard the victory, so I know it’s possible. I gained the clarity that comes with stripping back to simplicity. I’ve paid off the bills, so I know they have an end. And I’ve invested hours of my day and years of my life in accumulating the knowledge of the journey– of the process for stopping intergenerational poverty– so I know the good news. I’m a product of it.
So where are you starting? Are you starting with debt or with a lifestyle beyond your means, or are you starting with a savings goal? How is your life different, or how do you want to make it different? What is your goal? Are you impatient with your pursuit, or are you automating the course? Join the movement. Ask your questions. Dig in.
Welcome to the Othered FIRE family.