Is FIRE the Finish Line or Just the Beginning?

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Is FIRE the Finish Line or Just the Beginning?

Looking back on my own path to financial independence, I treated the whole thing like a race in my mind.  Reaching the finish line was the utmost important goal.

As I continued to make more money every year through raises, I saved more and more.  But the other side of the equation is cutting expenses… and cut expenses we did!

In my mind, if it wasn’t a necessity, I really had to think about if it made sense to spend money on it.  The exception would be travel (which we love), but we still made sure to find the best deals we could on everything.

Spending less is obviously good.  But it can get to the point where you’re cutting too many corners.

I don’t think I’m alone in overdoing this, but it’s really a bad way to handle the path to FIRE (financial independence / retire early).  Completely foregoing today just to hopefully reach a better place later is a bad idea on so many levels…

What if you don’t make it till tomorrow?  Yeah, the idea of reaching financial independence is great, but you never know what’s going to happen in the meantime.  Imagine cutting back immensely on everything you can for years and then suddenly you get hit by a bus and die.  What a waste!

What’s the point of trading today’s happiness for tomorrow’s?  Reaching FI usually does require cutting back on some expenses or spending more time building a bigger income elsewhere.  But overall, you ideally don’t want to compromise today’s happiness for tomorrow’s.  That was something I learned from Paula Pant on an older Afford Anything podcast, but it was a huge wake-up call.

Do you really want to set the bar so low?  If you’re basing your spending on a life of over-frugality, that means you’ll need to spend the rest of your life living your days in over-frugality once you reach that FI finish line.  That sounds miserable!

Realizing that the journey is not just a race to the finish line is critical to happiness.

Welcome to the finish line…

Luckily, I got my own life back on track.  I probably lost a year to being crazy frugal, but after my wake-up call, I got back to reality.  I let automation do its thing to handle all our saving and investing and felt comfortable spending what was left – pay yourself first, right?

And guess what – we still reached financial independence in due time and I was able to leave my job at the end of 2018 at the age of 43.  Not too shabby!

Think about it.  This has been the centerpiece goal in your life day after day for X number of years.  The dream is to be able to leave your full-time job once it happens.

And you did it!.  You’re part of the small percentage of folks who reached financial independence.

You made it to the finish line.

The finish line?

Wait, what?

Hold on a second… am I now supposed to just sit on a rocking chair all day and wait for the grim reaper to show up?

When I text or call my brother during the week, he loves to give a jab and say something like:

Um, some of us are working while you’re sitting there doing nothing all day.

Now, obviously, he’s busting my chops (what are brothers for?!).  I’m assuming he realizes that I’m not just sitting on my butt all day.

However, it bugs me.  And, of course, I’m sure he knows it bothers me – again, what are brothers for?!

In my head though, it seems like we’re constantly busy here.  This isn’t a “woe is me” scenario – a big part of me being busy can be attributed to the fun we’re having.  The biggest reason I craved FIRE so bad was so I could spend as much time with my daughter as I could before she grows up.

And we’re definitely getting that quality time together.  Being together in Panama every waking minute probably makes her want to run away.  Hopefully, that’s not true – as I’m typing this, she’s outside at the playground with a friend.  That makes me happy because I want to make sure she has a normal social life.

But we do spend a tremendous amount of time together.  Just off the top of my head, some of the fun things we do:

  • Weekly group hikes or hiking in the rainforest
  • Trying out new restaurants
  • Playing cards – rummy, anyone?
  • Making an appearance at the weekly market
  • Playing checkers or Mario Kart on our old-school Wii
  • Buying from the local fishmonger
  • Walking around and exploring the town
  • Visiting the animal refuges
  • Going to Faith’s horseback riding lessons
  • Taking the bus down to David to do some shopping and exploring
  • Visiting the library
  • Playing racquetball
  • Swimming… and of course, enjoying the hot tub!

We’re busy peeps!  And we’ve just booked a “vacation” for a few days at the beach about an hour and a half away in a couple of weeks.

So that’s it?  It’s the end of our lives – when Faith grows up and moves out, Lisa and I will just shrivel up and die, right?

… or is it just the beginning?

Here’s the real deal – I can’t find the time to rest in my day.  I’m busy almost every day here.  And yes, a lot of it’s fun like I mentioned, but that’s only part of it.

I spend a lot of my days working.

Wait, what?!!  I thought you were retired?  Isn’t that the whole point of FIRE to not have to work?!

Not really.  At least not in my book.  The “retire early” part of the FIRE acronym (financial independence / retire early) simply provides an opportunity to get out of the corporate world.

From there, everything else is up to me.  And guess what, there’s no rest for the wicked.  I think that means that I’m the wicked or something.

Anyway, I’m currently spending my time working – just not in the traditional sense.  I’m not working for an employer.  And although you could call this blog self-employment, I’m not trapped in a corner with it either.  If Route to Retire makes money, that’s fantastic.  But if not, we’re not going to go hungry over here.

So now, when I’m not having fun with Faith and Lisa, I fill my time working on other things.

Route to Retire has been taking up most of my time over the past few months.  Fellow bloggers can probably attest – writing a post isn’t just a quick hour or two.  I usually spend a good 6-8 hours working on a post.  Then you have those pretty images I make for each post and the home page, social media sharing, blah, blah, blah.

I’ve also finally revamped the site.  I’m still not 100% thrilled with the result so far, but it’s far better than it used to be.  I also think it’s a little easier for you to read and I got rid of some garbage throughout.  Not only that, but I was able to speed up the loading of the site, which is always a good thing!

This little project was a lot more involved than I thought it would be and took quite a bit of time.  But I still have a lot of changes that I want to make over the next several months, too.  Let me know your thoughts on what I’ve done so far in the comments.

I also want to work with more affiliates where it makes sense and can serve and benefit you guys, too.  That’s not an easy task – it takes a lot of time to form the right relationships and make sure I’m only recommending products and services that I truly feel provide value to you.  Right now, some of my favorites are:

  • Empower (formerly Personal Capital) – I use it and love it!  How could you not?!  It’s a free, easy, and awesome way to manage your finances.  I actually ditched Quicken after 20 years because I love this so much!
  • How To Engineer Your Layoff (eBook) – I bought this book myself while I was still at my 9-5.  It was written by Sam, an extremely smart guy from the popular site, Financial Samurai.  It’s an expensive eBook but I picked up a lot of good information from it and thought it was worth it.  I wrote about my thoughts on it in my post Get Paid to Get Laid Off – How to Engineer Your Layoff.
  • Retire in Panama Tours – Ok, I didn’t get to sign up for this one myself, but I would have if I had known it was a thing before we came here to visit back in 2017.  These tours are run by Oscar, Rod, and Megan who know all the details and nuances of living in Panama.  Being able to travel across the country to all the renowned expat spots on a basically all-inclusive trip with guides who will provide you with the good, bad, and ugly plus give you resources to use is crazy valuable!  If you’re considering moving to Panama or just want a great trip where you can learn more about life here, Retire in Panama Tours is truly the way to go.
  • NordVPN – I need to write a post on this one because after talking to Lisa, I think a lot of people don’t understand the value of a VPN.  We use NordVPN mainly to be able to access websites and streaming services that don’t allow access to other countries.  However, VPNs give you some major protections whether you’re connected to any open WiFi hotspot or don’t want your ISP spying on everything you do even when you’re at home.  NordVPN is one of the biggest players in the market and with the cost being so low, it’s well worth buying.
  • Credit cards – We love travel rewards and have saved thousands over the past year or two.  If you’re considering signing up for a new credit card, please consider clicking through on my recommended credit cards page to do it.
  • Namecheap – Starting a new website, blog, or just want a personalized email address?  You’re going to need a domain name (i.e.  Buying one is the same everywhere, so don’t waste your money elsewhere – Namecheap is about as inexpensive as it gets!
  • BigScoots – I switched to BigScoots in 2018 from a different web hosting provider and it was like night and day!  Every website needs somewhere to live so be careful of just signing up for the cheapest – you’ll regret it later.  Slow speeds and bad customer support plague a lot of the cheapos out there.  BigScoots provides a fantastic value for a good price with great customer support.  I updated my Create Your Own Blog page – check it out if you’re considering starting a blog of your own.
  • Backblaze – Are you backing up all the valuable data on your computer?  You should be.  Backblaze is fantastic.  Backing up securely to an online provider is one of the smartest ways to protect your data.  If you’re just using an external hard drive, you’re taking a risk that the hard drive works, you’re keeping it up-to-date, and that it doesn’t get destroyed along with your computer in an incident like a fire.  Backblaze is so inexpensive and just works in the background with no intervention.  I use it to back up our home theater PC (the rest of our computers are Chromebooks and don’t need to be backed up).
  • Amazon – That’s right, anything you order from Amazon after clicking through on my link won’t cost you a penny but will shoot a commission our way to help support the site!  ¡Muchas gracias mi amigo!

As you can guess, Route to Retire’s taking up the majority of my time right now.  Additionally…

  • I’ve added working out to my schedule 5 days a week.  I hate it, but I’m going full steam ahead now!
  • I’m really doing what I can to learn Spanish.  I use three language apps every single day and I’ve been watching a course from the library that’s been tremendously helpful.  I also found Rosetta Stone free through the library and might start that one soon, too.
  • I’m just starting to learn some management accounting.  I don’t want to be a CPA (I’ve already got a great one!), but I do need to manage my businesses better.  I now have everything in Wave for my accounting.  It’s free, I can manage all three businesses separately, and it pulls data automatically from my business credit cards and checking accounts.  I added my CPA, David, with limited access so he can help me with planning.  All of that is well and good, but I need to understand some basic accounting myself to make it worthwhile… so that’s what I literally started doing over the past couple of days.
  • Reading.  I love reading.  Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction – maybe a really great sci-fi book or an immensely valuable personal finance book – I cherish it.  I used to read so much when I was younger but then didn’t have much time when I was working a 9-5 once Faith came around.  Now I can squeeze in an hour of reading right before I go to sleep most nights.  It’s been wonderful.

Next up on this so-called “finish line”…

It’s no secret that I struggle with finding the right balance in life.  I’ve written about it several times including:

The complication generally originates from only having so many hours in the day and wanting to spend a number of those with my daughter.  What’s left usually isn’t a ton of time.  It screws up my mind but when she moves out one day, I’ll probably suddenly start complaining that I have too much time!

But I’m getting better at it and there’s no doubt not having a 9-5 makes this much easier.  I just need to try not to accomplish all my projects in retirement at the same time… it’s not a race to the finish line here either!

Assuming I’m able to continue my balance and get ahead on some of the things I want to (I won’t), here are a few of the main bullet points I want to go after this year…

  • Martial arts – As I finish out some of the Spanish lessons probably sometime this summer, I’ll fill that space with starting to learn a new martial art.  I still haven’t dug into which one to start with but I think that’ll be good for my mind and body.  It’s also something good to know should the time ever call for it.
  • Kotlin – Kotlin is a programming language that I want to start learning.  A new skill never hurts and I’ve done tinkering with different languages over the years (though nothing serious).  But I enjoy using that part of my brain and this language would allow me to create an Android app that I’ve had in mind for a while.  How’s that for fun?  I’m hoping to get started on this once I get Route to Retire settled a little with the remaining changes I have planned.
  • Writing a new book – I have a feeling it’s going to take a little time to get to this project, but it’s still on my radar nonetheless.  I actually have three book ideas in mind, but I’ll probably start with a children’s book first.  Why?  Even though I’ve written and published a couple of technical books over the years, I think a children’s book has more of a timeless quality ad appeal to it.
  • The Monkees – Ok, fine – watching a TV show from the ’60s isn’t work.  But it’s still nice to have on while I’m actually doing work.  I like having a little background noise without feeling obligated to pay attention to the show.  And since I’ve finished “The Dukes of Hazzard” and “Xena: Warrior Princess”, “The Monkees” seemed to be a perfect choice!

Last but not least, I still have a long-term goal to become a better person.  I don’t know exactly when this is going to begin, but it’s been eating away at me all the time and once I figure it out, watch out world!

There’s no doubt about it – FIRE was a huge goal.  It was something the whole family needed to be a part of to make happen and it took years to reach.

But it wasn’t the end – it’s not the finish line.  Rather, it was just a milestone in our lives.

On the financial side, it gave us some breathing room.  I would still love to build up some more money to feel even more secure.  But more importantly, FIRE was just one goal of many – reaching FI just gives me more breathing room to focus on some of my other goals.

In other words, FIRE isn’t the finish line – it’s just a great opportunity to get started on all sorts of new endeavors.

As for my brother, he’s probably reading this rolling his eyes and will still make those occasional jabs to get me riled up… but, that’s what brothers are for!

Have you ever treated the path to FIRE like a race to some finish line?  Bad idea, right?  And, who was the best Monkee?

Thanks for reading!!

— Jim

You know you wanna share this!!

22 thoughts on “Is FIRE the Finish Line or Just the Beginning?”

  1. Jim, our thoughts (and our “retirements”) are running parallel tracks. It’s interesting to see the mental shift ~1 year post-FIRE, we’re thinking (and posting) very similar thoughts. As you’ve probably noted, I now refer to “retirement” as “The Starting Line” whenever I mention it in my blog. My book is also focused on making the transition to a great retirement, and has many of the same themes you mention in this post.

    Amazing minds, my friend.

  2. Richard Engelhardt

    Good book to read = =This Perfect Day – by Ira Levin. (he wrote Rosemary’s Baby)
    It’s chilling to see how really close this 1970’s fiction is to today’s reality.

  3. I’m still trying to reprogram myself that I don’t have to “work”. Sadly I still have dreams where I’m working or looking for a job. Just taking care of the house and exploring what I might want to do next, reading/podcasts take up the extra time of not working. The one thing I have figured out is that working for the man isn’t for me anymore. The idea of sitting in a cube or windowless office for 9 hours a day plus commute again makes me feel ill. I just wish it was spring so I could get outside more. I miss the sun!

    1. It’s such a huge change in life – I can imagine that it’ll take years to completely “de-program.” But yeah, no doubt about it – it’s wonderful and 1,000x better than sitting in an office all day! Come on down to Panama – we have plenty of sun to share! 😉

  4. We’ve referred to hitting FI as “crossing the finish line” often. In some ways, it feels like dropping off a cliff – once you’ve reached a goal that took a decade to achieve, now what’s left? Lots of journaling and introspection helped us figure out (and still figure out) what we want our life to look like after subtracting our careers.

  5. oh damn, thank you for mentioning NordVPN. They have a deal that once you buy it you can win three, two or one year for free, got myself three years and won one year for free. thnx for reffering me!

  6. FIRE gave me the confidence not to freak out when my retirement was reached prematurely. (I still love the British term of being declared “redundant”.) I am still “looking” for work (I really do look every week, is it my fault Syracuse doesn’t think I can be a defensive coordinator?). But I find time has been well spent preparing the house for sale (detailing a car is tough enough, but a 4 bedroom house?). It has also allowed us to visit museums and places mid week – much more pleasant than the normal weekend experience.

    Definitely not a finish line but a new start. I just can’t see the course as clearly as when I was in the corporate and government world. It is more like doing a trail run than an urban half marathon.

  7. I see it more of a starting point to something even greater. A finish line in a race means you’re ignoring everything else, and just gunning to the end. If you make the journey to FIRE more meaningful, then once you hit that milestone, you’re new journey begins with a foundation you’ve already built.

  8. I put my vote in for “FIRE is just the beginning.” Because it really is. Once you finally have enough money that you don’t need to work for some jerk all day, you don’t just sit there and stare at the wall…. YOU DO STUFF!

    You use the time and money to learn things, try out new stuff, travel, build new friendships, and of course donate your time to good causes.

    Keep learning and trying new things Jim. Who knows what tomorrow will bring!

  9. FIRE was a transition point for me. I retired from my engineering career and became a SAHD/blogger. I could do things my way instead of trying to please the boss. Life is great when you have autonomy. Life goes on. You’re keeping busy. That’s the key to a happy retirement!

  10. Found your blog yesterday while researching the Costa Rica to David bus ride we are planning to take in order to get to Boquete. Enjoyed the read. Feel like you gave us a walk through for our travel plans. Maybe our retirement plans as well. This is our 3 week sampling of a Panama retirement. Appreciate the day in/day out things in town. Can’t wait to experience it ourselves later this week. Thx

  11. Haha, very nice post and I Just hope to be one day FIRE as well. I might need that eBook at that time that I am reaching “the finish line”.

    Fully agree with the beginning of the post. I am avoiding living to frugal, because I know it impacts my happiness if I would force my level of frugal Ian on my wife and kids 😉

    1. The eBook is actually more helpful earlier than later. There were a few things that I think would have been beneficial if I still had a few years on the clock before I had read it. Not pushing you to get it – just giving you a heads up.

      So true on the frugality part. I’m all for being frugal, but when it comes to being too frugal for the sole purpose of reaching financial independence, it’s setting life up to be miserable later. And yeah, nobody wants to push that on the wife and kids! 🙂

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