For many of us in our 20s and 30s, it's enough of a struggle getting by financially day to day, with the cost of renting and buying property so prohibitive and our salaries failing to keep up. So it's no wonder that a quarter of us worry we'll never be able to retire, according to a recent survey.
Nearly as many believe they'll have to continue working in some capacity even after they've retired from their main jobs, and unsurprisingly, many aren't delighted at the prospect of being a slave to capitalism and soul-sucking jobs for the rest of their lives. Now, a small group of millennials are going to extreme lengths to retire early by embracing the so-called FIRE movement.
What is the FIRE movement?
The movement, which stands for "financial independence, retire early", involves frugality and saving as much money as possible in order to retire early (sometimes as young as 30) and never work again while living off investments, leaving them free to do whatever they want.
It has its origins in the US, with much of the conversation taking place on Reddit message boards and money "hacking" blogs like Mr. Money Mustache among tech bros fed up with their high-pressure jobs. Peter Adeney, the man behind the aforementioned blog, retired at 30 with his wife so they could start a family, which he managed through a combination of hardcore saving, shunning debt and credit cards, and avoiding spending wherever possible. The pair continue to live a mostly financially independent life with their three children (but he does make $400k/£305k a year from his blog).
The movement is now picking up momentum in the US and has spread to the UK, with a recent FIRE meeting in London attracting 900 people wanting to find out how to quit their jobs while still relatively young, The Times reported.
What does it involve?
At its simplest, FIRE involves living exceptionally frugally by tracking your spending, saving as much of your income as possible (sometimes as much as 50-70%), and paying off all debt (such as student loans and mortgages). You need to build up a net worth of 25 times your annual spending, to be invested in the stock market or buy-to-let property.
In practice, it also means making some pretty huge sacrifices, so it's definitely not for everyone: no credit cards, no holidays, no dinners out, no clothes you don't need, no coffees. It's the opposite of accumulating wealth in order to have more to spend.
People follow different levels of FIRE depending on how committed they are: "lean FIRE" (extreme frugality), "fat FIRE" (saving and investing while maintaining a more normal lifestyle), and "barista FIRE" (working part-time after retirement to qualify for company benefits, such as health insurance in the US).
What's the catch?
You need to be earning a decent wage in the first place in order to save enough to retire young. To live off £25k a year without a mortgage, you need to save up to £650k. For a more lavish lifestyle in which you spend £50k annually, you'd need £1.25 million. Not exactly small change. Probably worth a quick glance at these cities in the UK where you can earn the most...
Then there's the huge sacrifice of having to cut back on even the simplest pleasures, which for many of us would involve a serious downgrade in quality of life and missing out on important life events. Think about it: no cocktails to celebrate your friend's good news, no weddings abroad, no treating your parents to dinner, no consoling yourself with a pizza after a hard day... the list goes on. Also, not having a job would be great initially but it might (just might) get a little boring after a while.
Who's done it?
There are countless accounts online of people who have taken the plunge, including many young women. Kristy Shen, 31, and her boyfriend of 10 years saved $1m, quit their jobs (hers in IT) and are now backpacking around Europe and southeast Asia. "Our ex-coworkers thought we were nuts," she told Vice. "They joked that they'll have pillows ready for our knees when we come crawling back to work." But they seem to be having the time of their lives.
There's also Tanja Hester, a consultant on a "low-six-figure salary" in LA, retired in 2017 after saving enough to retire at 38 with her husband. "We see friends and spend our time outdoors," she told Vice. "We feel like kids waiting for an adult to show up and tell us we can't do this." Be warned: scrolling through Hester's serene, nature-heavy Instagram account will be enough to plant the thought in your own mind.