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What is Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE)?

Alyssa Davies from Mixed Up Money shares her insights on a savings trend that has swept across the internet.

By Alyssa Davies 25 November 2022 4 min read

Alyssa Davies is founder of the two-time award-winning Canadian Personal Finance Blog of the Year, Mixed Up Money. Her books, The 100 Day Financial Goal Journal and Financial First Aid are currently available for purchase.

You'll often hear people referring to their retirement planning as some distant worry they don't need to focus on. So, they'll set up their automation, take their employer Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) match, and do what they're told they need to do to save enough money for retirement.

I used to think the same way until I realized that saving enough money for retirement is the one thing that gives you the control to determine your future. Retirement planning doesn't have to be a lifelong commitment. Nor does work, and nor does working to live. So I also learned a few options to make that future a reality.


What is Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE)?

First is the internet-famous Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement. You'll see people of all backgrounds pinching their pennies and living extremely frugal lives to help them retire at younger-than-traditional retirement ages. For most of us, retirement isn't possible until age 65. Those pushing for FIRE try to opt for their 30s or 40s as their retirement age.

Although the idea sounds impressive — to be retired and enjoying your life, no strings attached — by the time you're 35 or 40 years old, it will take a bit of sacrifice. The reality is that not all of us can cut out any more expenses, nor do we want to live frugally while we're young. I'm with you. As a parent, there isn't much more I can cut out of my budget to achieve FIRE, except for the lattes that keep me awake when my children refuse to sleep, and that won't be happening anytime soon. So, what is another option? For me, it's CoastFIRE.


What is CoastFIRE?

When I heard about CoastFIRE, I was over the moon. Unlike traditional FIRE, CoastFIRE means you'll likely continue working until you're 65. But the difference is that you'll already have invested enough for retirement by a chosen age that you will no longer have an obligation to contribute to your RRSP or Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA).

CoastFIRE is an investment strategy that involves front-loading your retirement accounts as early in life as possible so that you can coast to retirement. Ultimately, if you create an extensive enough portfolio in your younger years, your investments will grow to hit your target retirement balance without you adding another dime.

CoastFIRE depends on how long you invest your money in the stock market. For that reason, the more years you have to invest, the better. If you're under 45, this is an ideal retirement strategy should it align with your budget.


How much do you need to invest to achieve CoastFIRE?

To achieve CoastFIRE, you'll need to hit a certain percentage of your target retirement balance by a certain age. So, for example, let's look at what it might take to hit CoastFIRE by 35 years old.

Say you have an average rate of return of 8% and plan to retire at 65.

  • To hit $1 million, you would need to invest $100,000 by 35
  • To hit $2 million, you would need to invest $200,000 by 35
  • To hit $3 million, you would need to invest $300,000 by 35

To determine how much you should aim to have in retirement, you typically want access to 80% of your pre-retirement income each year. You can assume a withdrawal rate of between 4-6%. So, if your annual income is $60,000, you'll want around $48,000 per year in retirement. Assuming a 5% withdrawal rate, you'll need about $960,000 for retirement if you plan to retire at 65.


Why I love CoastFIRE over traditional FIRE

As a mom of two kids, one of my values in life is to provide my kids with security. One of the best ways to do this is by taking care of my retirement early to focus on enjoying their lives sooner. Unfortunately, traditional FIRE has the opposite effect, meaning we'd have to eliminate some of our wants. At the same time, my kids are too young to accomplish what we'd like to achieve by early retirement.

Given that I'm already 32 years old, and my kids are already four and one, I know that if I invest all that I need for retirement by age 35, I'll be able to focus on providing them with the things that almost every parent wants to give to their children: things like endless extra-curricular activities, annual family vacations, a fully-funded college education, and more. But, of course, without CoastFIRE, I can't guarantee that we'd be able to provide them with all of those things in their younger years.

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