If you're ready to optimize your finances and make faster progress toward your goals, the principles of the FIRE movement (financial independence, retire early) may be able to help. Retiring early doesn't even need to be on your list of priorities, but financial independence is a good target to aim for. After all, saving more, spending less, and investing well for your goals and time frame are always good things.
What is financial independence?
Financial independence means having enough money to live the life you want without income from a job (unless you want one). Savings and investments could provide income for the rest of your life.
Sound good? Read on to find out why taking a page from the FIRE playbook may help inspire confidence and clarity around your spending and saving choices.
1. Your time is money
Time is a precious commodity. Your money can be used to enhance your quality of life now—whatever that may mean to you—and it can be used to buy more free time in the future to do what you want.
For most people, most purchases are made with money that was earned so it's easy to quantify how many hours of work were required to afford it. For instance, let's say you make $40 an hour and work 2,000 hours a year. You buy a car that costs $40,000. That represents nearly half of your working hours for the year. All things equal, you may have preferred to do something else with that time and money.
It's easy to get swept up in the excitement of buying new things and experiences. To help avoid that, try to identify your highest values and keep an eye out for spending opportunities that align with your long-term goals.
When there's a mismatch between your spending and your values, bringing them into alignment may be one way to spend more intentionally. By making fewer unnecessary purchases you may have some extra money to put toward something you value even more.
If your long-term goal is to be financially independent, spending less and saving more now isn't a chore but a choice that supports your future plans to take control of your life and your time.
2. Financial security can be a benefit of aiming for financial independence
Achieving financial security means you've built a cushion around your finances to try to avoid a worst-case scenario, like losing your job or a serious illness or injury that keeps you out of work. Fidelity suggests saving 3 to 6 months of essential expenses for an emergency.
For the financially independent, losing a job may be an inconvenience or a heartbreak but not a threat to their ability to sustain their lifestyle.
3. The option to say yes or to walk away
Financial independence gives you options. It could be the option to say yes. If you've always dreamed of taking a year off to travel, you may actually be able to do just that. If family members need a helping hand, you may have the time, energy, and financial freedom to help.
The option to say no to things you don't want is powerful as well. When money isn't the only thing holding you back, you may feel free to break away from toxic situations whenever you're ready.
For some people, waking up when they want, choosing their daily activities, and living where they please are the best things money can buy. It often involves a tradeoff, forgoing a more extravagant lifestyle in order to chart their own path through life.
Read Viewpoints on Fidelity.com: Is financial independence possible?
How to work toward financial independence
If you want to learn how to be financially independent, Fidelity's financial independence planner can guide you through the steps to consider and suggest ways to allocate your savings: Take the first step toward financial independence.
Here's what you'll find out:
Your savings rate
Your savings rate is the percentage of income you may be able to save. It measures how aggressively you're pursuing your goal. If you're able to save 50% of your income, your expenses may be low relative to income and you may be able to reach FI more quickly than if you were saving 15% or 20% of your income.
Your current spending and the amount you may spend in retirement
In order to save for future expenses, you need to estimate what those expenses might be. To judge how much you may spend in the future, start with how much you're spending now.
Your FI number and the number of years to FI
Your FI number is an estimate of how much money you may need to save and invest in order to be financially independent.
To be conservative, Fidelity's FI number is 33× (times) your expenses at a withdrawal rate of 3% (although other calculators use 25× and a withdrawal rate of 4%).
The number of years until your potential financial independence day is calculated from your estimated retirement expenses and your savings rate. If your savings rate or estimated expenses change, the number of years to reach your goal may change as well.
Here's a hypothetical example: Sarah is 50 years old and her household expenses are about $100,000 per year. Her FI number is $3.3 million (33×$100,000).
Fidelity's financial independence planner can suggest where to put your savings each paycheck to help reach your FI goal in an efficient way. In the example above, Sarah’s savings could be spread out across a number of accounts to help maximize the potential tax benefits.
Starting the journey is already a success
Saving money and being financially responsible are always great things to strive for. Your journey to financial independence may take more or less time than you anticipate but the lessons you learn about your finances and yourself can be worth it.