Mr. Mechanic joins us again today with an extra special guest post sharing his views on FIRE. After blabbering about FIRE for years, I was excited when he offered to write about his experience as an outsider looking in. Some links below are affiliate links!
Discovering a New World of Finance
I don’t like to think about money, deal with money, or talk about money. You can imagine how this plays out living with a financial blogger.
Before Mechanic dove into the world of finance, I was an absolute novice. My grasp on finances was limited to vague generalizations; stocks are a thing that you should have and “diversify”, put some money in a 401k, and don’t spend all your income on candy. When Mechanic picks up a new hobby, I always end up learning by osmosis. When she was on the hunt for her dream car, I learned to distinguish between an NA Miata vs. an NC Miata, a skill I probably won’t need to use again.
Now that she’s into finances, I can throw out buzzwords like Roth conversion ladder, triple-tax advantaged, and low-cost index funds, and pretend to know what they all mean. It has definitely been an adjustment from barely thinking about money to hearing about all the research and helping edit blog posts. However, it has provided opportunities to think hard and discuss our personal plans and shared goals.
My Thoughts on FIRE
I’ve had to consider what my personal views on FIRE are. It seems simple enough in name, “Financial Independence, Retire Early” but gets much more complicated in practice. I have to admit that when Mechanic first pitched the idea, it sounded awful shaky to me.
Quit your job when you’re barely into a career and live off the interest alone? How do you plan for catastrophe? What do you do with yourself all day?
With time, I’ve been coming around to the idea, at least a bit. Having invested so many years (and more to come) into my medical training, I don’t have any plans on retiring soon. It’s not just sunk cost fallacy; I see my upcoming career as the reward for many years of delayed gratification and I can’t wait to dive into it.
What I’ve come to understand about FIRE is that my plan is still perfectly compatible with the concept. The part that resonates with me is the Independence piece. By saving hard up front to build a base, you give yourself the stability and flexibility to take advantage of more choices as they come along. For me, maybe that means being able to take a lower-paying job in a desirable place, or one with fewer hours to give me some hobby time on the side. FIRE doesn’t have to detract from my work as a physician, it complements it.
Handling Life with a FIRE Fanatic
In many ways Mechanic and I are polar opposites when it comes to money. Mechanic is very future-minded and goal-oriented. She has all her investment and retirement accounts planned and funded, and is thriving in a well-paying, upwardly-mobile career in software. I, on the other hand, hadn’t done much planning.
In the couple of years that I worked between undergrad and starting medical school, setting up investments and retirement just wasn’t a priority. I have just a savings account and a simple brokerage account; no 401k, no Roth, nothing. To top it off, there isn’t much progress I can make right now as a medical student with zero income and constant tuition payments to make.
Getting into the Nitty Gritty
Mechanic and I are also significantly different in how hands-on we get with our individual finances, and we drive each other bananas over it. Mechanic monitors her income and spending weekly (okay, daily) on Personal Capital, while I skim through my bank and credit statements every 3 months…maybe. Money was a taboo subject in my family growing up, and one I prefer to avoid thinking about now. In my book, the less often I need to check on things, the better.
Mechanic loves the detail and control, while I strive to automate and ignore as much of my bills and financial matters as possible. This particularly comes to a head when trying to calculate our monthly expenses (which I actually prefer to do every 3-6 months or so). We spent many agonizing evenings slogging through our credit statements, deciphering each charge and assigning each transaction to a column. With this friction, Mechanic and I try to keep most of our finances separate (more on that later).
Competing Careers and Timelines
Probably our biggest challenge is reconciling the difference in our career trajectories. Mechanic is well on the way to her goal of achieving FIRE by age 32. Meanwhile, I am just 4 years into a 10-year training sequence to become a licensed physician. If everything goes to plan, I’ll be hitting the workforce right around the same time Mechanic hits her FIRE number. Once I start working, I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. We resolve this apparent conflict in two ways: embracing our personal independence, and making flexible choices for the future.
Leaning on Personal Independence
Mechanic and I started our relationship long-distance for several years. Between my various medical rotations and travel for her work, we spend at least a month apart every year. While we get lots of quality time together, we also engage in hobbies and participate in friend groups separately. We enjoy being together but also know how to take care of ourselves. These coping skills enable us to continue supporting our relationship, while being free to pursue interests and opportunities on our own. That means that if Mechanic wants to spend a week away at a workshop learning a new craft, or a month off exploring Southeast Asia, we’re going to be just fine.
Planning for the Future
Mechanic and I agree that FIRE doesn’t have to mean radically changing your life the day you hit your number; it’s more about being able to make the choices and pursue opportunities that will make you happiest. Mechanic is going to hit her FIRE number way before I do, and even then I plan to keep working. I went into medicine as a calling, not just for the paycheck, so I don’t think the Retire Early aspect fits for me. However, we’re both approaching our careers looking for what will give us the most opportunities for fulfillment, and flexibility to pursue some independence.
Mechanic and I are both in (or training for) jobs that allow us to work remotely, which serves our shared goal of traveling often and living abroad. With our earning potential and frugal spending habits, we can support ourselves working part-time while still enjoying other interests. In our own ways, we’ve each picked a path of delayed gratification that will let us write our own ticket down the road.
One Saving Grace: Spending and Lifestyle
Mercifully, Mechanic and I match up in one category: how we spend our money. We both grew up in frugal homes and naturally tend towards frugal choices. We know how to stretch our dollar at the grocery store. We both love to travel, but don’t mind roughing it so we can do it on the cheap. We both bend a little to splurge on a treat without going overboard or giving in to lifestyle inflation. While I definitely lean a little more into the fat FIRE category, we have similar spending habits and keep each other balanced.
These principles play into how we manage our money now. Our day-to-day expenses are shared, and the long-term funds are separate. On my end, I have my own (woefully small) savings account and a brokerage account. Mechanic is completely removed from my medical school costs. My tuition gets covered by a combination of grants, scholarships, and loans, which I’ll be repaying on my own once I start collecting paychecks again. Her paycheck, savings, retirement, and investment accounts are all her own.
For years, we split up our few shared expenses like utilities, groceries, and such on the aforementioned giant spreadsheet. I put this process off as long as possible, which meant we only settled up every few months, to the chagrin of Mechanic. After much pleading, Mechanic convinced me to get a shared credit card, which we pay off jointly each month (in full!) and has greatly simplified this process. Like I said, the less thinking about money I have to do, the better!
Looking to the future, we are each going to maintain separate FIRE funds to make sure the basics are covered. Whether the remainder of our respective earnings goes into separate pots or one shared slush fund is undecided, but we have years before that decision really needs to be final. Thankfully, Mechanic and I match very well in terms of spending habits and lifestyle, so conversations like “How did you spend $300 on shoes/computer parts/avocados?!?” won’t be a common feature.
The Final Stage is (Grudging) Acceptance
Since Mechanic dove into finance, I have only benefitted. I’ve done serious thinking about what I want in my career and outside it, I’m more mindful about where my money is and what it’s doing, and best of all I now have a highly-qualified financial advisor in the house. While I may not be 100% gung-ho on every aspect of FIRE, I’m at least warming up to the idea.