Financial Independence

The FIRE Movement: Can You Really Retire at 30?

Retirement at 60 or 65 used to be the default option, with a lucky few able to achieve financial independence even earlier.

With increasing life expectancy, the likelihood is that many of us will need to work for much longer. The State Pension is already set to rise to age 68 and not everyone will have the resources to retire much earlier than that. Retiring at age 55 not only means you need to fully fund your essential expenses for an additional 13 years, but you will miss out on earnings potential and deplete your capital. 

So is the idea of early retirement a lottery-win level fantasy?

The FIRE movement would strongly disagree. 

What is FIRE?

FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. It involves aggressively saving to build up a pot that makes paid work optional. 

Followers of the concept aim to earn well, live frugally, invest at a low cost, and generate passive income, with many able to retire in their 30s or 40s. Advocates reject consumerism and seek a life of balance, fulfilment, and simple pleasures. 

The ideas behind the FIRE movement are not new, but were brought to popularity in the blog Mr Money Mustache, which launched in 2011.

There are now multiple websites, blogs, and chat forums devoted to the subject, with an entire subculture of millennial ‘influencers’ living the FIRE life.


The basic concept of FIRE has grown, with many supporters adapting the ideas for their own lifestyle and goals. These variants all have their own catchy, hashtag-worthy labels, for example:

  • Lean FIRE – building up a modest pot that will still require frugality, or earning an extra income, in retirement.
  • Fat FIRE – accumulating a large amount of capital and achieving comfortable financial independence.
  • Barista FIRE – a lifestyle of semi-retirement and part-time work, with plenty of time for leisure and travel (usually in a converted camper van).
  • Coast FIRE – the point at which your capital, and future projected growth, is enough to achieve your goals so you no longer need to contribute. 

How to Achieve FIRE

The steps towards FIRE are as follows:

  • Earn as much as you can during your working years. Developing your skills, seeking promotions, or starting a business could all have a role to play. 
  • Diversify your income. Many FIRE followers will have income from employment, a side business, and possibly passive income such as property rental.
  • Live as frugally as possible. Adherents are encouraged to spend only when necessary and limit luxuries. There is a great deal of crossover with anti-consumerism and environmentally conscious social trends.
  • Build up an emergency fund and avoid getting into debt.
  • Invest in equities, usually through low-cost tracker funds. Reinvest income and profits to boost returns. 
  • Aim to build up a pot that will sustain you for the rest of your life. As a rule of thumb, many FIRE starters set a goal of 25 – 30 times their annual living expenses. So if your lifestyle costs are £20,000 per year, you will need at least £500,000. 
  • Withdraw money at a ‘safe’ rate, avoiding eroding your capital.

The Benefits of FIRE

If you decide to adopt a FIRE lifestyle, there are a number of benefits:

  • It ingrains good financial discipline from a young age. Many people don’t consider their retirement goals until their 40s or 50s. If you are starting in your 20s, you are already ahead of the curve.
  • It can help to fuel your ambition and seek opportunities to earn more money.
  • You can learn to live within a modest budget and won’t have much debt. This means you will be less financially vulnerable if your situation changes. 
  • You will understand the basics of equity investing, financial markets, and the importance of investing for the long-term.
  • You will start to value experiences over possessions and avoid living wastefully.
  • You can expect to learn a number of new skills.
  • Once you are financially independent, you can choose to work, follow your passions, or live a life of leisure. You will still be young enough to undertake a career change if that’s what you want to do. 
  • Many people aim to be financially independent, or at least close to it, before they have children. This can help ease the pressure of being a working parent.
  • There is a great deal of support for the FIRE lifestyle in the online community. 

Potential Downsides

Of course, the FIRE life is not for everyone. It has a few downsides:

  • Not everyone can earn enough to retire early. If you are working overtime and still just covering your bills, you may not be able to save enough to achieve your FIRE goals.
  • You may feel that all luxuries are unnecessary. Treating yourself occasionally can lead to guilt.
  • If you have a family, you will have other priorities for your money. Children won’t always understand what you are working towards and may notice that their lifestyle is different from their friends. 
  • The mathematics behind setting your FIRE goal is simple, but life is not simple. Your expenses will vary, inflation will take effect, and your ‘safe withdrawal rate’ may not be so safe if the market has taken a downturn. 
  • Higher earners in particular can often benefit from help around tax and pension planning. It can be easy to get it wrong, which costs you more in the long run.
  • With such extreme focus on a future goal, or competing with others, life can pass you by.

What Can We Take from FIRE?

FIRE is not simply a financial planning concept. It is an entire lifestyle choice that requires sacrifice and a conscious decision to live outside society’s norms. Like many things that gained popularity on social media, it takes things to extremes and can be competitive. It is the financial equivalent of an intense diet or exercise plan. 

You don’t need to adopt every aspect of the FIRE movement to achieve financial independence. Boosting your earnings, avoiding debt, investing for the future, and living within your means are all excellent lessons to learn, and will help you achieve your goals. But living a satisfying life now is equally as important. 

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Joe Jackson

Helping people achieve their financial goals is an extremely rewarding experience. No two clients are the same, which means no two days are the same. It’s a really fast-paced industry, full of characters and personal interaction, and I absolutely love it.