Written by Jared Casazza, PT, DPT of FifthWheelPT.com
The Goal of Reaching FIRE
There is a persistent focus in the financial independence community on reaching FIRE as quickly as possible. This is definitely warranted since a large proportion of the population seems to be very unsatisfied with their profession. Working a job 40+ hours a week that is unfulfilling combined with long commutes and being away from family is a recipe for unhappiness and fantasizing about laying on a beach somewhere in the future. But what about the people who are reaching financial independence at a very young age or have a career that they don’t completely hate? After all, taking up a life of healthy leisure may be feasible for someone leaving the workforce in their 50s, 60s, or 70s after a long and successful career, but for a young person that is driven enough to reach the goal of financial independence with a massive savings rate, it’s probably not realistic to assume that complete relaxation comes next. I’ve found myself in this very position over the past three months after semi-retiring earlier this year and am currently grappling with “What’s next?”
My Journey to FIRE
I finished grad school with my doctorate in physical therapy a little over three years ago at 26 years old, saddled with a nearly six figure student debt burden from grad school alone! I’ve always been a natural saver, and this was supercharged when I found the world of financial independence about four years ago. I initially was just in search of a way to quickly pay down my debt, although that goal changed after learning about the 4% rule and running various hypothetical scenarios. Even though I spent a tough three years plodding toward graduation and enjoyed my clinical rotations, I quickly realized that I was not nearly as passionate about the profession as many of my classmates and fellow PTs. I have many other interests in life and never wanted the majority of my life to revolve around a profession like many PTs seem to be content to do. For this reason, I decided to very aggressively pursue financial independence directly after graduation, with a 85-90% savings rate over the past 3 years. I did everything possible to achieve this goal by living frugally (but still comfortably) and maximizing my income as a new grad. I chose to take travel assignments instead of accepting a permanent job, which allowed me to effectively double my compensation; worked overtime at these assignments whenever possible; took part-time PT jobs when available; started a blog (not only for the income, but it did grow into a small source); and made extra money from taking advantage of credit card and bank account sign up bonuses. After three years of buckling down, with a mostly singular focus, I essentially reached my financial independence goal with assets equal to over 25x my current expenses. I thought this would be the “finish line” of sorts for me, but to my surprise it wasn’t as wonderful as I’d hyped it up to be in my mind. In fact, it felt more like the beginning of the journey than the end. While traveling around the world over the last three months, I’ve found myself doing a lot of contemplation about the future and found that I’m motivated by more than just money. I want to make a difference in the world and leave a legacy.
What Comes Next?
In hindsight, I should have realized that striving so furiously for a goal would lead to inevitable disappointment, but this is something that is rarely touched on in the FIRE community. There are many other young, goal-oriented people in the community just like me that have spent their entire lives jumping from goal to goal, with little thought about what the finish line really looks like. FIRE is a wonderful thing to aim at after college/grad school because it gives you nearly unlimited options, but it shouldn’t be the ultimate goal. For one, it makes it very easy to live for the future instead of living for today when you have such a lofty goal in mind. Even though I’ve done my best to enjoy the journey to get here, I undoubtedly passed up some experiences in the name of being financially independent just a little bit earlier. Second, it is unrealistic for any motivated, intelligent, young individual to assume that they will be happy going from 100 MPH toward FIRE to being content with a life of leisure. I did have some foresight regarding this and planned for it by making a list of things I wanted to do after reaching financial independence, but what I didn’t realize is that even with having my time occupied with various pursuits, there is still a void left after leaving my job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m much happier now than while working, but I still have the unrelenting desire to be productive in some capacity.
After a few months of reflection, I can say with certainty that FIRE is just the beginning, not the end. It’s the beginning of finding a productive pursuit that truly motivates you, instead of working a job strictly for a paycheck. It’s the beginning of distinguishing between what makes you truly happy when money isn’t as much of a concern, because that can be very difficult while working aggressively toward a financial goal, at least for me. It’s the beginning of contemplating what type of legacy you want to leave behind when you’re gone. It’s also the beginning of living a more laid back lifestyle that fits you and your personality, which is priceless.
Things to Consider on Your Journey
If any of the above describes you, and you’re currently on your journey to FIRE, here are a few things to consider now to help you be a little more prepared than I was.
- Having FIRE as a goal is wonderful, but don’t let it cause you to not enjoy the journey along the way. In the grand scheme of things, reaching FI a few months sooner is not worth sacrificing experiences with loved ones.
- Start to consider what truly makes you happy and motivated now before reaching FI. Everyone knows that you need to retire “to” something and not “from” something, so think about what that thing is for you. Also realize that you’ll likely still desire to have an impact and make a positive difference in the world, so even if you fill your time with leisure activities, it’s highly likely you’ll still feel a void like I have.
- A slower transition into “retirement” is ideal. If there is any way to gradually ramp down your working hours per week to ease into the new lifestyle, then take advantage of that. This should allow you to more slowly contemplate what after FIRE life will be like, instead of an abrupt stop that could leave you with an existential crisis of sorts like I had.
Thank you for reading and I hope that you have a very smooth transition into your new beginning when the time comes!
About the author: Jared Casazza has been a traveling the country as a physical therapist for a little over three years since graduating in 2015. He travels with his girlfriend, Whitney, who is also a physical therapist, and the majority of their time traveling has been in a fifth wheel camper. He writes about travel therapy, domestic and international travel, as well as personal finance and investing on his blog “Fifth Wheel Physical Therapist.” He and Whitney are currently on a five month trip around the world to celebrate reaching a goal of financial independence and semi-retirement.