Playing with FIRE: The millennial movement to quit work

BBC Reel just released a short film on the FIRE movement, interviewing three FIRE people / couples: Mr. Money Mustache, Rich and Regular, and Millenial Revolution. I think it’s a great, short introduction to FIRE. One thing I really like about it is how it focuses on aspects beyond money — freedom / flexibility, reducing consumption, and the fundamental unreliability of employment. I especially liked how the couple behind Rich and Regular talked about how they thought FIRE would ultimately change the nature of work.

I definitely agree that the freedom to choose is one of the biggest benefits of a frugal lifestyle. For us, for example, being able to take time off when our daughter was born (2.5 years for my wife and 1 month plus 5 months part-time for me) was wonderful. In other words, FIRE isn’t all about saving as much money as quickly as possible. It’s about freedom.

FI-losophy: Accepting Uncertainty

In Buddhism, there’s a concept called the eight worldly winds. The idea is that these “winds” blow through worldly life in a way that is unpredictable and, ultimately, unimportant. Because they are fundamentally uncontrollable, fixating on managing or avoiding these “winds” is a source of suffering. The eight worldly winds are typically expressed in four pairs, the first of which, gain and loss, is central to financial independence.

The idea of financial independence is, fundamentally, a false premise. There is no such thing as “enough” money in the sense that there is no amount that guarantees that you will never run out. Uncertainty is a fact of life, and it is important to keep this in mind to help moderate our fixation on guaranteeing successful outcomes. For me, this is part of why I always look at FI numbers as a soft target. Safe withdrawal rates (i.e. the 4% rule) are guidelines, not guarantees. We do not know how the wind will blow. We can prepare as well as we can using the information we have, but the future is ultimately unknown.

This uncertainty can be frightening, but it can also be freeing. If it is impossible for me to prepare for every possible negative outcome, then I don’t need to obsess over trying to do this. Years ago, I found myself starting to veer into “prepper” territory, imagining all the different ways things could go sideways. In addition to saving money, I started gardening and learning about off-grid living. While there is nothing wrong with these interests in and of themselves, this was definitely not a source of happiness for me. The more I prepared, the more potential gaps in my preparation I saw. I’ve found much more peace accepting the uncertainty, and just doing my best based on the information I currently have at hand.

True financial independence, to me, means not worrying about money. This has something to do with how much money you have but, in my experience, it has more to do with your orientation to money. I found that, even after hitting our FI number, I continued to worry about money. In some ways, I worried even more because we were finally there and I didn’t want to lose it.


There are a number of ways in which I try to cultivate a more financially independent state of mind:

  1. Remember that uncertainty is a fundamental fact.
  2. Remember that my wife and I are both competent, resourceful people who have handled challenging situations in the past and will be able to handle them in the future.
  3. Intentionally keep my material standards low. In other words, avoid hedonistic adaptation.
  4. Reflect on the fact that material things don’t bring happiness.
  5. Intentionally bring more non-material pleasures into my life.


The truth of uncertainty has other implications as well. Because gain and loss are fundamentally out of our control, we want to be gentle with ourselves and others in terms of how we respond to them. Part of the reason that my family has financial independence is hard work and good choices, but part of it is also luck and privilege. And even the hard work and good choices are the results of countless influences throughout our lives, rather than innate qualities that I can take credit for. And, of course the same is true of folks that are struggling financially or making “bad” financial decisions. In other words, luck is an undeniable component of everyone’s financial situation. Remembering that helps me be less judgmental, both of myself and of others.

How do you save money? (the small stuff)

This is always kind of a tricky question for me to answer. Personally, I am frugal by nature (or nurture) so saving money comes pretty easily. That isn’t a helpful answer, though. The real question is what changes can someone make in their life to save more money? Here, I certainly have some suggestions.

Fundamentally, though, the big thing is mindset — you’ll never stick with it if it feels like deprivation. There are a few antidotes to this. For one thing, I’m always aware of the larger goal (i.e. financial independence) that I am saving towards. For another, I’m also very much aware that many of the “conveniences” that we spend our money on actually lower my quality of life. To put it another way, I find there is usually some synergy around saving money. For example, the more frugal choices are also often better for my health and / or better for the environment.

Take today, for example. I had the day off. We had our usual breakfast (oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit) and I noticed the drawer in the kitchen cabinet was tilted. I pulled it out and found that both rear brackets had broken so the rails were loose. I am not particularly handy, but this seemed pretty straightforward, so after taking my daughter to the bus stop, I took the bracket off and prepared to head to the hardware store.

(Already, there are a couple of little choices there — oatmeal with peanut butter and fruit is cheap, healthy, convenient and reasonably good for the environment. Deciding to fix the cabinet both saves money and gives me a chance to learn something new. Finally, having my daughter take the bus to school is both more frugal and better for the environmental. Plus, we get to share a daily walk to the bus stop, and conversation once we get there.)

As I was getting ready to leave, I remembered that the spring loaded tub plug upstairs was also not working. I brought it downstairs so I could take it with me as well to try to buy a replacement, but my wife suggested trying to lube it first. Again, I’m no DIY expert, but I know that WD-40 can be a good cleaner for these types of things, so I sprayed that in first, then I used a lube I had previously bought for my garage door, and it worked perfectly, so I just re-installed it into the tub.

(Obvious one — deciding to try cleaning and lubing this both saves money and prevented the current plug from ending up in the landfill.)

I brought a small backpack with me, and put in a bag of almonds and a reusable water bottle. I walked to the hardware store in about 15 minutes and found what I needed in about 2 minutes. A set of two shelf brackets cost $5 CAD. I also bought a vase and a rose bowl at the thrift store for a total of $4 CAD — we have a ton of flowers at our house, and our primary vase had recently blown over on the deck. And then I started walking home, and I got a call regarding a credit card application. I’d applied for a new card the day before, mostly in order to get free roadside assistance. I answered their questions on my way home, and then I installed the new brackets in about 15 minutes.

(OK, there are a lot of examples in this paragraph. First of all, I brought almonds and water with me so I’d be less tempted to buy a snack or a drink that would be more expensive, less healthy, and worse for the environment. Similarly, deciding to walk rather than drive was both better for my health and better for the environment. If I were in a hurry, I would have biked. And, of course, this choice was informed by the much earlier (and bigger) choice to buy a house where we could walk into town. Again, repairing the brackets ended up being much cheaper than hiring someone, plus I got to learn something and experience the satisfaction of taking care of something myself. And buying the vases secondhand was both cheaper and better for the environment. Finally, we’re using a no annual fee credit card to get free roadside assistance. I’ll do a future post about how we approach credit card rewards.)

Hopefully, by this description of a very ordinary day, you get a sense of the type of mindset behind the many small choices we make each day that enable us to save 30-40% of our income. I hope you can also see that, for us, being frugal does not mean deprivation. We take care of the things we need to take care of, and buy the things we need, we just try to do so in a way that doesn’t cost very much money. And by doing this, we find that we are often also adding benefits in terms of making healthier choices and / or choices that are better for the environment. Plus, we get to learn new things and experience the satisfaction of taking care of things ourselves. And, just to be clear, we absolutely hire professionals for bigger projects. At the same time, each experience of doing something ourselves raises the bar for “bigger” a little bit higher.

Finally, I want to emphasize the point that being on the path to early financial independence doesn’t necessarily look dramatically different. From the outside, there’s nothing particularly unusual about any of the choices I made in that day. To our neighbors, I think we appear more or less similar to everyone else. The accumulation of these choices, though, is what enables us to have the savings rate we do, which is one of the key elements of our journey to financial independence.

What about you? What are some of the little things that you do regularly to help save money?