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Illustrations by Robert Rodriguez

What Is Financial Independence, Retire Early? A Beginner’s Guide to FIRE

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Money stress is one of the most powerful psychological triggers of our lives. But the way out of money stress is not through more wealth.

It’s through financial independence: the ability to be work-optional, location-independent, and, most importantly, free to do as you please with your time. Financial independence — often abbreviated to “FI” in personal finance circles — gives you space to cultivate your legacy, contribute to your family and the world, and leave nothing on the table when you reach your final days.

Financial independence is no longer an end-of-life or wealthy lineage phenomenon. Thanks to personal finance education on investing, side hustles, and passive income becoming widely available on the internet, money making opportunities are now all around us. Some approaches are better than others. But all in all, financial freedom is achievable with the right approach and a logical timeline.

“If you are someone who stresses about money, who came from a past or a childhood where you were taught to stress about money… trying for financial independence is worth it,” says Bernadette Joy, who paid down $300,000 in debt and became work-optional at the age of 37. “Even if you never ‘make the numbers’, the journey in and of itself is worth the peace of mind that you get in the learning process.”

The pursuit of financial freedom on your terms is what’s known as the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement — and in recent years, it’s expanded to encompass both saver and spender personal finance styles. Once anchored to a shared goal of retiring as quickly as possible, the movement has evolved more toward cultivating an intentional lifestyle, rewiring the way we think about money, and working toward a better quality of life.

This guide will get you started with everything you need to know about FIRE: what it is, why it’s controversial, and how you can start using its principles today to achieve financial independence on your terms. 

What Is FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early)?

The acronym FIRE was first coined in 1992 in the book “Your Money or Your Life” by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez. The book centers on the idea that reducing your expenses —and learning to be happy with less — are the keys to both financial happiness and wealth accumulation.

This publication, and others that followed, helped FIRE enthusiasts realize that retirement didn’t have to be confined to a certain age bracket. By calculating the net worth you’d need to retire early and accelerating your savings timeline, you could actually “move the goalposts” and exit the workforce years or decades ahead of schedule.

“Work culture in the United States essentially forces people to deprioritize the role they play in their families,” says Julien Saunders, who, with his wife Kiersten, runs Rich and Regular, a personal finance brand focused on FIRE resources for the Black community. “By making work optional, you have more time to spend with loved ones.”

In the FIRE movement, your target retirement number is known as the FIRE number. This number is unique to you and your lifestyle goals, and calculating it is a simple way to get your financial independence journey off and running.

The best part? You don’t need to work with a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or other financial expert to figure this number out. You can calculate it right now.

How to Calculate Your FIRE Number 

Your FIRE number is the total value of invested assets you need to accumulate in order to quit working and live off of the annual gains alone. For example, if your investments returned an average of 4% per year, a way to calculate that number would be to divide your expected annual expenses by 0.04, or, put more simply, multiply your annual expenses by 25: 

Annual Expenses x 25 = FIRE Number  

These assets need to be invested to ensure your money grows, as well as to stave off inflation. This napkin-math formula became popular after the publication of a research paper in 1998 entitled Retirement Savings: Choosing a Withdrawal Rate That is Sustainable. The article was written by Trinity University professors Philip L. Cooley, Carl M. Hubbard, and Daniel T. Walz, was published in the American Association of Individual Investors Journal, and later came to be known as the Trinity Study.

“To calculate a ballpark FIRE number quickly, multiply your annual expenses by 25.”

The Trinity Study’s data set calculated that retirement plans which had reached a certain financial milestone — and had withdrawal rates of 4% per year or less — had a 100% success rate for maintaining wealth and principal, based on historical market data. The idea was thrilling at the time; remember that 401(k)s and Roth IRAs, common retirement savings accounts used by millions of Americans, were established in 1978 and 1997, respectively. The 4% annual withdrawal plan later became colloquially known as the 4% rule.

The Trinity University professors later released an updated study on sustainable withdrawal rates based on various stock and bond allocations for different retirement horizons. The researchers concluded there was a 100% chance that someone whose portfolio consisted of at least 50% stocks could safely withdraw 3% of their investments for 40 years without risk of depleting their investments. Because of this, some FIRE enthusiasts prefer to calculate their FIRE number off of a 3% withdrawal rate by multiplying annual expenses by 33 instead of 25.

Annual Expenses x 33 = FIRE Number (Conservative Version)

By the time this updated study was released, however, the term “4% rule” had stuck. Here at NextAdvisor, we recommend calculating your initial FIRE number using the 4% rule, but also advise learning about personal finance in general so that you can adjust your strategy with the ups and downs of the market and ensure you have enough money.

Important Takeaways

  • Your FIRE number is a sum of invested assets and other savings.
  • It’s the number you need to reach for your investments’ annual return to sufficiently cover your expenses.
  • If you plan to withdraw 4% of your portfolio each year, an equation that lets you calculate your FIRE number is to multiply annual expenses by 25.
  • Your FIRE number will probably change as you realize your expenses could be higher or lower after becoming work-optional.

An Example FIRE Number in Action

Let’s look at a hypothetical situation. Eva Example (work with me here) calculates that her living expenses are $5,000 per month, which means her annual expenses are $60,000 ($5,000 a month times twelve months).

“Eva Example” has $5,000 in monthly expenses. To maintain her lifestyle without working at all, she’ll need $1.5 million in invested assets. She can lower this number either by tightening her expected retirement budget, or pursuing a version of FI that still involves working, such as Coast FIRE or Barista FIRE.

If Eva uses the 4% rule, her FIRE number would be $1.5 million ($60,000 times 25). If she wants a more conservative FIRE number, she could assume a 3% withdrawal rate instead, which would mean needing a total of $1.98 million in invested assets to retire ($60,000 times 33).

Eva is also weighing her lifestyle options. She could downsize her living situation in retirement and get a roommate, which would lower her expenses to $3,250 per month, freeing up cash and allowing her to reach her FIRE number sooner. This approach is known as Lean FIRE, and we’ll touch on it a bit later in this guide.

Alternatively, she may also realize that what she really wants in retirement is to travel the world and visit her family and friends often throughout the year. This might mean she will need more money after leaving the workforce — let’s say $8,500 per month — which would put her in a category known as Fat FIRE. Eva will need a larger investment portfolio to produce this level of passive income, which will take longer to achieve.

Here’s a snapshot of what those different FIRE number targets would look like.

Monthly ExpensesAnnual ExpensesFIRE number (4% withdrawal rate)FIRE number (3% withdrawal rate)
$3,250 (Lean FIRE)$39,000$975,000$1.29 Million
$5,000 (FIRE)$60,000$1.5 Million$1.98 Million
$8,500 (Fat FIRE)$102,000$2.55 Million$3.37 Million
Figure 1: Example FIRE number calculations based on three different anticipated monthly budgets when no longer working.

Everyone’s lifestyle needs are different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all FIRE number, and there are actually many variations based on the lifestyle you want to pursue. Your FIRE number gives you a personalized, tangible financial goal to start working towards.

How to Avoid Having FIRE FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)

Financial independence culture has a buzzy, electric quality that can sometimes leave you feeling like you’re not making enough, saving enough, or achieving your goals quickly enough. It’s important to note that the acronym FIRE consists of two distinct phrases.

“FI” refers to becoming financially independent, a lifestyle in which work can become optional, and “RE” refers to retiring early. You don’t necessarily have to retire once you become financially independent. You may see aspects of FIRE culture referred to just as “FI”; in these cases, the focus is on wealth generation, and whatever you want to do with that accumulated wealth is up to you.

Many FIRE enthusiasts have swapped out the R in recent years for things like “relax early” or “relax everyday”. The idea of FIRE is that lifestyle design is within your grasp, but achieving it requires widening the gap between what you make and what you spend each month so that you can accelerate your savings and investment efforts.

“A lot of the old-school philosophy around financial independence is to work, work, work,” says Joy. “Work really hard now, so you can save up all your money, so you can invest it and then retire and be free. A lot of people have a really hard time untying their real identity from their work identity.” Joy suggests working on ‘practicing’ retirement early, even when you don’t have the numbers behind it, by trying to work less while still producing income.

“A lot of people have a really hard time untying their real identity from their work identity.”

“Limiting the amount of hours I’m at work forced me to become more efficient at growing my income, more efficient at investing, and give me room to start exploring things I would like to do in retirement,” she says.

A common theme in the FIRE community is developing the financial discipline to make more than you spend. Investment strategies and income generation approaches many, but what all FIRE enthusiasts have in common is a sense of belonging around intentional lifestyle design and encouraging one another to do what it takes to make and keep more money.

Goals for Every Budget: The Different Types of FIRE 

As the FIRE movement continued to pick up online, different sub-communities have cropped up that focus on specific interpretations or wealth categories of FIRE. Here are a few of the most popular approaches, arranged from low to high with regard to the FIRE number you need to achieve them.

Coast FIRE 

Many people are intimidated by their FIRE number. The thought of needing $1 million, $2 million, or more stockpiled away can feel overwhelming at first. 

Coast FIRE aims to establish peace of mind by frontloading retirement account contributions early on in life, then letting compound interest carry you the rest of the way toward your FIRE number. Your Coast FIRE number is the lowest net worth number in the FIRE ecosystem, and will be the first milestone you reach.

To calculate an approximate Coast FIRE number, use the following formula, which incorporates year-over-year compounding interest:

Coast FIRE number = FIRE number / (1 + Annual Rate of Return)(time in years)

In this formula, annual rate of return is expressed as a decimal (For example, “0.05” for 5%), and time in years is the length of time you expect your investments to compound, expressed as an exponent.

Let’s continue to use Eva as a hypothetical example. She’s 34, has saved aggressively for nine years, and now has hit her Coast FIRE number of $250,000 across her retirement and brokerage accounts. Eva could stop contributing to her accounts altogether and still reach her Lean FIRE number of $975,000 by the age of 61 if her accounts average a 5% annual return. (For reference, the average annual return of the S&P 500 since its inception in 1957 is 11.88%.) 

She could also continue to work through her sixties and reach her traditional FIRE number of $1.5 million by 70. Remember: she will not have contributed a penny to her portfolio since she was 34.

Here’s a chart that shows the math — and the power of year-over-year compound interest.

AgeInvested Assets — Start Of Year5% Annual ReturnInvested Assets – End Of Year
34$250,000.00$12,500.00$262,500.00
35$262,500.00$13,125.00$275,625.00
36$275,625.00$13,781.25$289,406.25
37$289,406.25$14,470.31$303,876.56
38$303,876.56$15,193.83$319,070.39
39$319,070.39$15,953.52$335,023.91
40$335,023.91$16,751.20$351,775.11
41$351,775.11$17,588.76$369,363.86
42$369,363.86$18,468.19$387,832.05
43$387,832.05$19,391.60$407,223.66
44$407,223.66$20,361.18$427,584.84
45$427,584.84$21,379.24$448,964.08
46$448,964.08$22,448.20$471,412.29
47$471,412.29$23,570.61$494,982.90
48$494,982.90$24,749.14$519,732.04
49$519,732.04$25,986.60$545,718.65
50$545,718.65$27,285.93$573,004.58
51$573,004.58$28,650.23$601,654.81
52$601,654.81$30,082.74$631,737.55
53$631,737.55$31,586.88$663,324.43
54$663,324.43$33,166.22$696,490.65
55$696,490.65$34,824.53$731,315.18
56$731,315.18$36,565.76$767,880.94
57$767,880.94$38,394.05$806,274.99
58$806,274.99$40,313.75$846,588.74
59$846,588.74$42,329.44$888,918.17
60$888,918.17$44,445.91$933,364.08
61$933,364.08$46,668.20$980,032.28
62$980,032.28$49,001.61$1,029,033.90
63$1,029,033.90$51,451.69$1,080,485.59
64$1,080,485.59$54,024.28$1,134,509.87
65$1,134,509.87$56,725.49$1,191,235.37
66$1,191,235.37$59,561.77$1,250,797.14
67$1,250,797.14$62,539.86$1,313,336.99
68$1,313,336.99$65,666.85$1,379,003.84
69$1,379,003.84$68,950.19$1,447,954.03
70$1,447,954.03$72,397.70$1,520,351.74
Figure 2: Year-over-year growth of invested assets, assuming 5% annual returns, which are then reinvested.

The money Eva had been contributing to her 401(k), Roth IRA, and/or brokerage account could now be funneled back into her monthly budget, giving her resources to pursue her passions or have a higher quality of life. However, Eva would need to continue working and not make any withdrawals from her investments in order to accrue enough compound interest.

Coast FIRE is praised for being a lower, more relatable milestone for enthusiasts as they embark on their FIRE journey.

Coast FIRE: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Peace of mind. You know you’ll hit your FIRE number without ever investing another dollar because you’ve frontloaded your retirement savings.

  • A higher quality of life now. Coast FIRE frees up money in your budget to spend on other things.

  • Easier to reach. Your Coast FIRE number will be lower than your overall FIRE number.

Cons

  • Solving for income generation. You’re not withdrawing from retirement accounts or investments yet.

  • It’s paycheck-dependent. When you’ve hit Coast FIRE, you’re still not work-optional.

  • Requires a long time runway. In Coast FIRE, compound interest does the heavy lifting. The earlier you hit this number, the less money you’ll need.

Barista FIRE 

The next stage of your FIRE journey involves reaching a net worth at which you could partially retire. Many FIRE enthusiasts don’t want to stop working completely. Instead, they want to maintain a part-time job that generates residual income, and — especially in the United States — health insurance.

This approach is known as Barista FIRE. The name Barista FIRE is a nod to Starbucks, which offers health insurance to employees who average at least 20 hours of work per week over a rolling 12-week period. In Barista FIRE, you have two income sources: your part-time job and passive income from your invested assets.

Calculating your Barista FIRE number will be similar to how you calculate your FIRE number. The difference is that your monthly expense burden will be lower because some of your expenses will be covered by active income.

(Annual Expenses – Annual Residual Income) X 25 = Barista FIRE Number

If Eva is working toward a lifestyle that will require $3,250 per month in expenses, and she’s 60% of the way to her Lean FIRE number of $975,000 ($585,000), her investments will return $1,950 per month in passive income, assuming a 4% annual withdrawal rate. This means Eva only needs to generate $1,300 a month in active income to maintain her lifestyle. If she can find part-time work that includes perks like health insurance, her expense burden may be even lower.

Barista FIRE is a great goal if you have some money saved up, but don’t want to stay at your current job all the way to the finish line. The approach lets you slowly and methodically downshift out of the modern workforce. Keep in mind that, if you’re withdrawing all of the annual gains from your invested assets, they won’t grow any further; you’ll need to reinvest some of your gains if you want your wealth to keep growing.

Barista FIRE: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Requires a much lower FIRE number, because not all of your income will need to come from your investment portfolio.

  • Can be a checkpoint on your way to FIRE at which you exit a high-stress career.

  • Help you offset some expenses, especially if you have benefits like health insurance.

Cons

  • You’re not actually retired, though you can work less.

  • It can be a challenge to find a job that offers health insurance to part-time workers.

  • You might need to work part-time for a long time, depending on how far away from your FIRE number you are and how much you’re withdrawing each month.

Lean FIRE 

We keep mentioning Lean FIRE. So what the heck is it?

Simply put, Lean FIRE is the first net worth benchmark at which you can stop working altogether. It’s typically characterized as needing less than $40,000 per year for expenses, and attracts people who are willing to live on a bare-bones budget in order to reach lifestyle independence at an earlier age. 

That being said, the finish line is closer. If you choose to take a Lean FIRE approach, your FIRE number will be $1 million or less.

“A lot of people think financial independence is all about money,” says Lauren Keys, who, along with her husband Steven, runs Trip Of A Lifestyle, a personal finance blog. The Keys became work-optional in their late twenties by reaching their Lean FIRE number and keeping expenses low. “The point is actually to avoid letting money control your life. When you wake up on Monday morning, you probably think, “I need to go to work today so I can pay my bills.” It’s already been decided. Financial independence buys you the freedom to spend your time the way you want.”

“The difficulty of your FIRE journey depends mostly on your living expenses,” adds Steven. “So if you just pause for a second to drop some dead weight, like a car payment or a habit of paying other people to cook your food, you can shave decades off your mandatory working career.” Since Lean FIRE requires low monthly expenses, frugality is a hallowed virtue for this FIRE community.

Lean FIRE: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Your FIRE number is lower, so you can reach it sooner than other types of FIRE.

  • A great option if you’re happy with a simpler lifestyle that has lower monthly expenses.

  • It’s not permanent. You can hit your Lean FIRE number, retire, and then return to the workforce later if you wish.

Cons

  • Budget diligence: Lean FIRE is classified as having $40,000/year or less in expenses, which comes out to $3,333/month.

  • Not feasible for everyone. If you have kids, a mortgage, or other large monthly expenses, it may not be attainable.

  • No more shopping sprees. Lean FIRE requires that you cut most luxuries from your budget.

Traditional FIRE

As you research FIRE, you may also come across terms like “traditional FIRE” or “regular FIRE”. A good way to think of traditional FIRE is that it’s the happy medium between Lean FIRE and Fat FIRE.

The average American household’s monthly expenses are $5,855, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Surveys. Traditional FIRE is the range in which most of us will land when calculating our initial FIRE number, based on the economic data we have about spending. If you anticipate monthly expenses between $3,333 per month and $8,333 per month after leaving the workforce, traditional FIRE is the correct approach for you.

Lauren and Steven Keys became work-optional at 29 by pursuing Lean FIRE, a slimmed-down version of FIRE that plans for less than $40,000 a year in expenses. The couple lived in a renovated campervan and used their location independence to visit every National Park in America in 2019, then returned to being a two-income household to resume wealth generation efforts. (Credit: Lauren and Steven Keys)

Note that you’ll hit some of the other benchmarks we’ve discussed along the way. You’ll hit your Coast FIRE number first, then your Barista FIRE number, and then your Lean FIRE number. You may decide that you want to change your finance goals as you age; playing the long game of going after a traditional FIRE number will help you develop money habits that are both healthy and sustainable.

“Spend your money,” says Ali Lupo, who, alongside her husband Josh, runs @TheFIcouple, a social media account on Instagram that has 117,000 followers. “While it may seem counterintuitive, I think you should allocate money on specific items you love, within moderation. So often with FI, people focus on the destination. If you spend five years in misery to get to the destination, at the expense of both your physical and mental health, is it really worth it? Understand that this is truly a marathon and not a sprint.”

Fat FIRE 

Need a bigger budget? If you’re curious about the financial independence, retire early movement — but know that you’ll still have substantial expenses upon leaving the workforce — Fat FIRE is for you.

Fat FIRE is a super-sized interpretation of FIRE for people who anticipate over $100,000/year in expenses after exiting the workforce, which will require a FIRE number of $2.5 million or more. Fat FIRE invites the idea of a luxury lifestyle, but material possessions aren’t the only reason you might want to have a larger budget. Other reasons may include:

  • Exiting the workforce while still raising children.
  • Planning ahead for lots of vacations or travel to take advantage of your retirement time.
  • Wanting to retire in a city or location that has an inherently high cost of living.
  • Budgeting for elder care costs or supporting a loved one.

Since your FIRE number will be higher in Fat FIRE, it will likely take longer to reach, or require a more aggressive income generation strategy.

Fat FIRE: Pros and Cons

Pros

  • More budget, more space. Fat FIRE enables a more comfortable lifestyle.

  • Frugality who? You won’t need to scrimp or penny-pinch.

  • True location independence. You can retire in a metropolis or other location with a high cost of living if you want.

Cons

  • You need a lot of money, y’all. Fat FIRE is classified as having $100,000/year in expenses or more, which means a FIRE number of at least $2.5 million.

  • The finish line is further away. It will take you longer to reach financial independence.

  • Can create temptation to splurge or live above your means, which breaks from a core tenet of the FIRE movement: discipline around spending.

How To Decide Which FIRE Is Best for You 

So many versions of FIRE, so little time! Remember that you can have more than one FIRE number. FIRE covers a wide range of net worth, and these different FIRE numbers are various checkpoints along that range. 

Here’s a quick review of the different types of FIRE and how they vary.

Type of FIRECan You Stop Working?How Much Money Is Needed?
Coast FIRENoVaries, but often 25-50% of your FIRE number*
Barista FIRENoVaries, but often 50%-100% of your FIRE number**
Lean FIREYes≤ $1 million
Traditional FIREYes$1 million — $2.5 million
Fat FIREYes≥ $2.5 million
Figure 3: FIRE number comparisons.
*The biggest variable in Coast FIRE is time: how long you want your investments to mature.
**The biggest variable in Barista FIRE is active income: how much your part-time job will continue to pay you.

Strategies to Achieve Your FIRE Number 

Now that you’ve calculated your FIRE number and end goals, we need to reverse-engineer how much money you’ll need to save each month to stay on track. The U.S. Security and Exchange Commission’s compound interest calculator at Investor.gov can help. Tinker with the numbers, particularly the monthly contribution number, to determine how much money you need to put away each month to reach your FIRE number by a certain age.

In the example shown below, someone who is 35, has $50,000 invested, and is putting aside an additional $1,000 per month could expect to have a little over $1.2 million in 30 years, assuming a 6% annual rate of return. The Investor.gov site also lets you input a range for your rate of return to see different possible outcomes all in one chart.

Source: Investor.gov compound interest calculator

This exercise may reveal that you have a gap between how much you’re currently putting away and how much you need to put away in order to get back on track with your financial freedom efforts. 

Focus on hitting your FIRE number by adopting one or all of the following three strategies.

FIRE Strategy No. 1: Reduce Your Expenses

Parkinson’s Law is a popular adage which states that workload will always expand to fill the amount of time allotted. A popular personal finance interpretation of this law asserts that expenses tend to rise to meet income; this is sometimes referred to as “lifestyle creep”.

A core principle of the FIRE movement is to resist the urge to let expenses increase as your income increases. If you’re constantly trading up to a nicer house, fancier car, and/or better amenities — and continue to have nothing left over at the end of the month — you’ll have a hard time freeing up the excess income you need to contribute towards hitting your FIRE number, no matter how much money you make. Lifestyle creep is a more common problem than you might think: one out of three households making $250,000 a year still live paycheck to paycheck, according to a recent report by PYMNTS.com and LendingClub.

Ali and Josh Lupo recommend focusing on what they call the big three expenses: housing, transportation, and food. For most households, these expenses — along with taxes, which cannot be avoided — are the largest spending categories each month.

Can you get a roommate or move to a less expensive part of town? Can you reduce or get rid of your car payment? Can you cook at home more, and eat out less? Take small steps toward frugality at first, and you’ll find joy in the simpler things with time.

FIRE Strategy No. 2: Make More Money 

Once you’ve shored up your discipline with regard to spending, shift your attention to making more money.

For many people, the income they generate from their 9-to-5 job simply won’t produce enough income to reach their FIRE goals. Rather than try to live on absolutely nothing in order to save a substantial percentage of your income, focus on increasing your income instead via a side hustle, freelance work, or online business.

“Instead of pouring every ounce of extra energy and time into your career in the hopes of a promotion, focus on building streams of income that you enjoy doing that live outside of your day job,” notes Kiersten Saunders.

How to Make Money Online or Through Social Media 

The internet has made creating a new income stream more accessible than ever before — and with low or no upfront costs. The number of options you have can feel overwhelming at first.

Generally, making money online will fall into one of these seven buckets:

  1. Intellectual property: Offer your expertise in the form of a program, membership, or product, such as an online course.
  2. Freelancing: Trade dollars for hours, or providing a coaching or consulting service.
  3. E-commerce: Manufacture and sell a physical item on a website like Amazon or Etsy.
  4. Advertising kickbacks: Build up web traffic to a platform — such as a blog or a YouTube channel — then show ads, and you’ll receive a cut of the advertising spend.
  5. Sponsorships: Partner with existing brands or businesses to promote their products or services on your platform. This is how influencer marketing works, and if you’re good at creating content on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, or Twitch, it can make you money.
  6. Affiliate marketing: Promote someone else’s offers and receive a cut of every sale. Not to be confused with multi-level marketing.
  7. The sublet economy: Leverage assets you already own. If you have a property, apartment, car, swimming pool, or other asset that is not in use, you could rent it out and make some residual income on the side.

If You Have a Business, Form an LLC or Corporation

If you’re making money on the side, one thing to consider is whether or not you should start a limited liability company (LLC) to receive payments. Online income streams are often a form of business activity, and having an LLC or other business formation will give you several advantages, including tax savings opportunities, which will help you keep more of the extra money you make. It’s also fairly simple; you can be up and running with your own LLC in a matter of days or, in some states, hours.

Your personal assets will also be protected in an LLC. This means that, if anyone you do business with ever tries to sue you, your personal assets and belongings won’t be up for grabs. Your personal assets will also be safe from debt collectors should your business ever go bankrupt.

Here are some of the most popular states for starting an LLC, along with step-by-step instructions for each.

FIRE Strategy No. 3: Improve Your Investing Efforts

Your expenses are managed. You’re bringing in more money every month. Now let’s ensure that the money you’re setting aside is being properly invested.

For FIRE to work, the money that comprises your FIRE number has to be invested so that you can live off the year-over-year gains. If you want a low-energy, low-effort way to ensure your money grows year after year, low-cost index funds are one of the best ways to build wealth, and they are fairly liquid assets in the event of an emergency.

Index funds are funds that cover an entire index of the stock market. For example, if you were to invest some money in a fund, such as Vanguard’s S&P 500 Exchange-Traded Fund (VOO), you would own a tiny slice of a fund that is invested in the 500 largest companies in America. Index funds are notorious for being a “set it and forget it” investment tool, and you can even automate your contributions.

Where should you invest your money first to maximize your FIRE strategy? Here are the priorities we suggest, based on company match and tax benefits.

Investing Account Priority No. 1: 401(k) or 403(b), up to Company Match

If your company has a retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), and offers a match, step one is to maximize that match. This is free money from your employer! Company matches vary; many offer a 50% or 100% match on pre-tax contributions you make, up to a certain point.

If you have this benefit at your current job, ensure that you’re taking advantage of it so you can funnel free money into your nest egg.

Investing Account Priority No. 2: Health Savings Account (HSA)

This is a savings priority that many people miss. You can contribute up to $3,650/year pre-tax to a health savings account (HSA). The money is tax-free when you deposit it, the earnings are tax-free, and you won’t pay tax on the withdrawals either, as long as the money is being used for medical or health-related expenses. This is called triple tax savings.

Medical costs rise as we age. A health savings account ensures the money you spend on keeping yourself healthy isn’t getting taxed. Note that, if you take out money from your HSA and use it for anything other than non-qualified expenses, you’ll get hit with a 20% penalty, in addition to income tax on the withdrawal.

Investing Account Priority No. 3: Roth IRA

Roth IRAs are a fairly new retirement savings account type — they were created in 1997 — but they’ve quickly become wildly popular. The money you contribute to a Roth IRA is post-tax. Since you’ve already paid taxes on this money when you contribute it, you won’t pay taxes on the money when you withdraw it, no matter how much your money has grown.

The maximum annual contribution amount for Roth IRAs is $6,000 for 2022 and $6,500 for 2023. There’s also an income cap for Roth IRAs; in 2022, your income needs to be under $144,000 if filing individually, and under $214,000 if filing jointly.

Investing Priority No. 4: Maxing Out Your 401(k) or 403(b)

Once you’ve maxed out your contributions to these various tax-free accounts, your best next move is to return to your retirement plan and focus on maxing out your annual contributions. This limit is $20,500 for 2022 and $22,500 for 2023.

Investing Priority No. 5: Taxable Brokerage

If you’ve maxed out the accounts described in the first four steps, great work — you’re putting over $30,000 a year into invested assets and are well on your way toward financial independence.

If you want to accelerate your goals further, you can set up a brokerage account in order to make additional investments in stocks or index funds. Brokerage accounts have the benefit of being very liquid, but keep in mind that they don’t provide the same tax savings that other accounts provide.

Important Takeaways

  • FIRE strategy #1 is to reduce your expenses.
  • FIRE strategy #2 is to make more money each month.
  • FIRE strategy #3 is to optimize the way you invest the money you’re saving so it can grow and you can retire earlier if you choose to do so.
  • Your investment account priorities, arranged in order of financial and tax benefit, are: 401(k) match, Health Savings Account, Roth IRA, maxing out your 401(k), and brokerage account.

The Best Resources to Learn More About FIRE 

The FIRE movement attracts many personal finance nerds, and in financial independence culture, nerdiness is a virtue. At NextAdvisor, we aspire to give you clear, digestible strategies on how to achieve your goals. Consider bookmarking this page and the resources below for future reference.

On managing a budget:

How to Create a Budget That Works

An Introduction to Zero-Based Budgeting

How I Stick to a Grocery Budget of $100 Per Person Per Month

On making more money:

4 Ways to Make Money Online Now, According to Experts Who Do It Every Day

How to Start An Airbnb (With or Without Owning Property): 3 Steps to Start Making Passive Income Now

How to Make Money From Blogging in 5 Steps, According to 4 Experts Who’ve Done It

Top Side Hustles to Start Making More Money

On investing for independence:

Index Funds: What They Are and How They Work

Backdoor Roth IRA: How to Open an IRA When You’re Over the Income Limit

Investment Rental Properties: What to Know and How to Manage Them

On early withdrawal strategies:

Roth Conversion Ladder: How to Withdraw Retirement Funds With Minimal Penalties

How to Convert a 401(k) into a Roth IRA

Are Early Withdrawal Penalties from CDs Ever Worth It?

On how others have done it:

The New Hot Side Hustle Is… Owning a Vending Machine? How This 31-Year-Old Used Them to Make $340,000 Last Year

My Family Said I Was Too Old for TikTok. Now I Have 2 Million Followers and a Profitable Side Hustle

One Tweak Helped This Entrepreneur Turn Black History Flashcards Into a $2 Million Business

I Make A Million Dollars a Year Writing Emails To My Friends. Here’s How I Do It

I Hit My FIRE Number at 41 as a College Professor. Here’s How I Saved $850,000 in Less Than Four Years to Retire Early as a Single Mother of Two

‘Retirement Is A Scam’: How These Self-Made Millennial Millionaires Found Purpose in Parenthood

We also send an email newsletter every Wednesday called NextIdea that recaps our latest FIRE coverage and other relevant industry news. You can sign up for it using the box below.

How to Get Started with FIRE: First Steps 

When pursuing FIRE, the first step we at NextAdvisor recommend you take is to calculate your FIRE number. This exercise has several steps that will tighten up your personal finance hygiene and get you off to a running start. You’ll know how much you make and spend each month and better understand where that money is going. You’ll also get more clarity on the type of life you want to live in retirement — and whether you even really want to retire at all.

From here, focus on managing the money you have, making more money along the way, and ensuring your money is invested intelligently. You can set all of this up to run automatically in the background, freeing you up to enjoy your life in the present moment.

Things You Should Consider Before Starting FIRE 

The idea of reaching financial freedom years or even decades ahead of schedule can feel tantalizing at first. Pursuing your FIRE number often means making some lifestyle changes. Here’s what you might need to take into consideration before taking the plunge.

“If you don’t know where you want to go, you’re driving with a blindfold.”

Talk to your loved ones about your goals. Finances can create friction in relationships if you aren’t on the same page as your spouse, family, or friends. Talk about why these goals are important to you, and share your vision for how you see them continuing to be a part of your life after you become work-optional. Your loved ones might be excited to help you, and they may even be inspired to work towards FIRE themselves! To do that, however, you need to talk to them.

Weigh the pros and cons of big expense cuts. Yes, moving to a completely different town and living on a bare-bones budget will save you money. But will that negatively impact your relationships, job growth prospects, and/or mental health? FIRE has a lot of numbers, but numbers aren’t everything. Ensure that your FIRE journey, while challenging at times, isn’t so intense that you burn out and give up.

Josh Lupo agrees. “Don’t just focus on the numbers,” he says. “It’s really important to focus on the why behind FI. What do you want your life to look like? What do you need to do to get there? If you don’t know where you want to go, you’re driving with a blindfold.”

FAQs About FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early)

How do I achieve FIRE with a low or average salary?

If your monthly income is low, your FIRE strategy should first focus on two priorities: lowering expenses and increasing your income. See what expenses you can trim out or remove altogether. Then look at how you can negotiate a raise, go after a side hustle, or pick up odd jobs that will bring in more money each month. Once you’ve found your rhythm, stay consistent and start investing your extra income.

Is FIRE risky?

FIRE in itself is not risky — it’s a concept. Ensure that you invest your saved money in proven, trustworthy assets, such as low-cost index funds or real estate. Also be sure to talk with your loved ones and get them onboard with your savings strategy; many relationships have become strained or even fallen apart because someone was being too big of a cheapskate. Remember that you’re working toward a lifestyle, not just a number.

Be sure to keep an eye on your investments, especially if you’re building your FIRE number off of a more aggressive annual return. Most FIRE enthusiasts assume an annual rate of return between 4% and 8% on their investments, and expect to draw between 3% and 5% from their accounts per year. Recalibrate your math occasionally to ensure you’re on track.

What if I have big debts, such as a mortgage or student loans?

If your monthly income is low, your FIRE strategy should first focus on two priorities: lowering expenses and increasing your income. See what expenses you can trim out or remove altogether. Then look at how you can negotiate a raise, go after a side hustle, or pick up odd jobs that will bring in more money each month. Once you’ve found your rhythm, stay consistent and start investing your extra income.

Can you do FIRE if you have kids?

FIRE works for all types of families. If you have a child or multiple children, you may need to plan for higher monthly expenses, which would mean a higher FIRE number. Remember that your FIRE number is based on expected expenses when being work-optional, which may be different than the expenses you have today.

Embark on Your FIRE Journey Today

Personal finance is ultimately personal. As the FIRE movement becomes more varied and inclusive, people from all walks of life are using its principles to inspire confidence, plan for the future, and imagine the type of life they want to lead with their remaining time on this Earth. 

Embrace the truth about where you are and where you want to go, then start taking action now, and you’ll be well on your way toward achieving financial independence.