The Difference Between FIRE and Minimalism – And Why I’m Doing Neither…

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Are you unfulfilled in life? Do you ever just stop, stare blankly into the distance and wonder, “What the heck am I doing with my life?” Don’t be discouraged, you’re not alone. I think we’ve all had these feeling at times – even those of us that seem to have everything together (I’ll even admit it…I’ve asked myself this question many times!)!

And from this common feeling, people will often respond in one of three ways:

  1. They distract themselves by buying a whole bunch of stuff – hoping that each on of those little “highs” will make them happy (ie. Materialism)
  2. They’ll start working themselves to death trying to retire early and travel the world like many other 30-somethings are doing today (ie. FIRE – Financial Independence, Retire Early)
  3. Or, they’ll go an entirely different direction and start selling off all their stuff – living with less to hopefully leave room for more enjoyment in life (ie. Minimalism)

So what should you be working towards? What’s going to make you happy in life?

I think it’s safe to say that materialism doesn’t work (thanks for proving this out for me Hollywood). Sure, it can be fun to have a bunch of stuff for about a minute, but after that it’s just stuff that we quickly get tired of.

So then there were two….

I think we’re all somewhat familiar with these lifestyles, but what’s the real difference between FIRE and minimalism? And, which option is right for you?

difference between FIRE and minimalism

The Difference Between FIRE and Minimalism – And Why I’m Doing Neither…

When I was 27 years old, my net worth was about $10,000. Three years later, I owned my house outright, I beefed my 401k up to $50,000, and I had $20,000 in the bank. I was worth about $200,000. You want to know what my motivation was? FIRE….

What is FIRE?

Financially Independent, Retiring Early – FIRE. This movement really popped up in the last decade. Instead of retiring in your 60’s like everyone else, people are beginning to realize that by earning more and spending less, they could retire in their 40’s, 30’s, and on rare occasions, even in their 20’s!

Some well-known examples of FIRE are:

These guys all generally preach the same thing. Earn big money when you’re young, pay off your debts, sock money away rapidly (like 75% of your income), and then live on the big pile of investment money.

Sounds pretty cool at first glance. I mean c’mon, you get to quit your job in your 30’s and do whatever the heck you want?? Maybe you can even travel the world or live in an entirely different country if you choose! This story has cool written all over it! But….just like anything, there are downsides…

What is Minimalism?

Next on the list of cool things to talk about is minimalism. And right now there is no one cooler than Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus – aka, “The Minimalists“.

Here’s how they define minimalism:

“It’s quite simple: to be a minimalist you must live with less than 100 things, you can’t own a car or a home or a television, you can’t have a career, you must live in exotic hard-to-pronounce places all over the world, you must start a blog, you can’t have children, and you must be a young white male from a privileged background.”

Obviously, they’re joking. πŸ˜‰ They’re funnier than I am – and more ballsy too!! πŸ˜‰

The article continues and they finally get to their real definition of minimalism:

“Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom.”

In other words, minimalism is the act of getting rid of your stuff so you can free up your mind, your time, and your money to do what truly brings you happiness.

So What’s the Difference Between FIRE and Minimalism?

Both FIRE and Minimalism sound a bit similar don’t they? Both encourage you to live differently to get to a more desirable result in life – and neither have anything to do with acquiring stuff along the way. But there are pretty clear differences between the two.

  • FIRE is all about replacing your income so you can quit your job and do what you want to do:
    • Live out in the middle of nowhere
    • Travel the world
    • Pursue your passion even if it makes you no money (ie. become an artist! ;))
  • Minimalism is about clearing out the clutter in your life so you can actually gain an understanding of what it is that you want to do:
    • Get your stuff down to only the necessities
    • Live in a place that’s small by everyone else’s standards, but big enough to meet your needs
    • Live on less naturally, not by ambition or intentionality, but as a by-product of simply meeting your needs and ignoring most of your wants

Put simply, minimalism is the hipster way of living (live free, love everyone, be at peace with yourself). FIRE is the American way of taking the bull by the horns, getting the job done, and say “F” you to your boss and to conventionality in general.

Between FIRE and minimalism…do you love one enough to actually choose it as your life’s path?? Personally, at this point in my life, I wouldn’t…

Difference between FIRE and MinimalismFIRE and Minimalism…Why I’m Doing Neither

So what happened? Earlier in this article I confessed that I was on the fast road to FIRE. I had a $200k net worth at the age of 30. And, to be honest with you, I figured that by the age of 35 I could have hustled my way to millionaire status, quit my corporate job, and then I could have just spent my days on the beach and blog remotely for the rest of my life.

It all sounded so perfect and surreal – everyone’s dream, right?

Until I actually started experiencing life…

How FIRE Ruined My First Marriage

FIRE started building up inside of me long before my late-20’s when I went crazy on my consumer debt and mortgage loan debt. If I had to put an age on it, I’d say that I wanted to ditch the corporate life before I even really knew what it was….somewhere around the age of 19 or 20. That’s when my brother introduced me to network marketing.

You know the pitch:

  • Start your network marketing business
  • Learn how to sell product
  • Recruit a few superstars that can sell product on your team, and….
  • Become a millionaire and retire after a few weeks worth of work. πŸ˜‰

Alright, so even the most gullible among us realize that riches aren’t going to happen that fast, but I definitely drank the Kool-Aid for a few years and actually saw some people succeed in the network marketing arena. I personally never made more than $400 a month, but the seed was planted. If it was possible to retire early and develop a massive passive income, I wanted in.

A couple years later after the network marketing introduction, I met the love of my life (or so I thought)… She was a hardcore spender.

Pretty much every day, my quest for paying off debt and hardcore saving were met head on with new purses, dresses, and nights out on the town. Needless to say, that marriage didn’t last long – partially due to my FIRE mentality and her “retire never” habits.

If I didn’t push so hard to retire early, we might still be married today.

And…How FIRE Started Ruining the Second…

The 2nd Mrs. Sall was a carefully selected ultra-saver. πŸ™‚ Life was going to be great! I was going to put my head down again and make millions and eventually retire and do whatever I pleased, and Liz would be along for the ride loving every minute of it.

Ha, man…guys, we’re really dense sometimes aren’t we?

To my surprise, just because Liz was a saver didn’t mean that she wanted to stash away millions of dollars and live the “early retirement lifestyle” (filled with relaxing weekdays at the beach and romantic excursions to Europe, Bora Bora, and the Caribbean).

It took me almost four years to realize it – and Liz almost literally had to punch me in the face to get it through my thick skull – FIRE wasn’t for us.

  1. To get there, we’d have to work our tails off in the present to get to a so-called “better tomorrow”. But what was so bad about today that would be worth missing 3-5 years of each others’ (and our child’s) lives? Really, nothing… We love where we live, my work is only 4 minutes away which gives me a ton of time with my family, and my job is awesome. I love what I do.
  2. The FIRE lifestyle is all about ditching your job so you can clear your slate and travel around in an RV (okay, not always, but this is the typical dream of FIRE followers). Traveling is okay, but we would honestly hate a life on the road 24/7. We like our home and traveling around 3-4 weeks out of the year suits us just fine.
  3. Early retirement nearly paralyzes Liz. She thinks about our young kids and their costs, health insurance, uncertainty around our investments and my blogging income. They’re all legit concerns and if I love my job in the first place, why would we even take the risk?

Retire at 35? Why?

I have a flexible job that pays well. Liz already stays home with our daughter. And, our constantly increasing paycheck is helping us achieve our dream of moving to the country with acreage! FIRE? No thanks, friend. I’ll pass this time.

And Minimalism…That’s Just Not Going to Work For US either

I honestly don’t mind minimalism that much. When I was busting my way out of debt, I had…

  • no living room furniture,
  • no dressers in my bedroom, and
  • my mattress was on the ground in the middle of my bedroom. All other bedrooms were completely empty.

For the most part, my $2,500 car sat in the driveway and I rode my bike everywhere. I was the epitomy of a master minimalist and I didn’t even realize it. I just desperately wanted to get out of debt and I figured that selling off all my stuff and avoiding the gas pump at all costs was my best way to get there.

During that stretch of time, I distinctly remember riding along-side the road and staring up at the sky. The blue hue was simple, deep, and beautiful. I never really noticed it before. A warm wave enveloped me – I identified it as contentment, so thick I could literally feel it.

I wondered if anyone else was experiencing creation’s backdrop like I was at that moment. I scanned the faces of the cars passing by. Instead of contentment, their looks told a different story:

  • anger,
  • annoyance,
  • obliviousness,
  • and mostly…indifference and emptiness.

Minimalism helped me identify contentment – not in stuff, not in other people, but in myself and my place in this world. I think a ton of people can benefit from a short stint of minimalism.

But, In This Moment in Life, It’s Not For Us

Like I said, my wife is frugal and I love that about her. With my ex, I was watching the bank account two or three times a day to make sure she didn’t spend our next mortgage payment. With Liz, I think I check our account like, once or twice a month just to try to keep up with it and make sure we’re not getting hacked. But, just because we’re both frugal doesn’t mean we’re signing up to be minimalists at this stage in our lives.

In the next couple of years, Liz and I want to:

  • Buy a farm property with acreage and horses, goats, chickens, and who knows what else!
  • Upgrade my car to a GMC truck
  • Frequent the movies, Broadway shows, concerts, baseball games, and some expensive cottage stays on the lake up north
  • Give piles of money away to charities that pull on our heartstrings – ie. spend plenty of time not thinking about ourselves, but giving of ourselves to others

I think our biggest problem with FIRE and minimalism is the ultimate focus on self. The plan of FIRE first focuses on money so you can ultimately be selfish for life. Minimalism is a lifestyle choice that allows you to be more content with your situation and yourself, but again does little to help others (outside of becoming a community of like-minded minimalists). Living these FIRE and minimalism type lives can help you become happier, but they’ll never get you to true happiness if you can’t ever get yourself out of the way.

Between FIRE and Minimalism – Which Is Best For You? Maybe Neither?

If you had the choice between FIRE and Minimalism, would you gravitate toward one or the other? Or have you decided (like we have) that neither option is best for you or your family?

Let’s continue this conversation! Leave me a note in the comments below. I can’t wait to hear your take…

There’s FIRE and Minimalism…and then there’s an infinite amount of other options. What route are you on?

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12 comments to The Difference Between FIRE and Minimalism – And Why I’m Doing Neither…

  • Julie

    Thank you for being so vunerable about your struggles. I think FIRE or Minimalism can become an idol if we’re not careful. A better tomorrow is never guaranteed. Yes, it’s important to be wise with money and invest for your future but the present day is just as important. The precious moments that you have as a young family are ones you will never ever get back. It has been a struggle for me in the past too. After we paid off our mortgage, I have been able to breathe and take my foot off the gas. I now stay home and I’m enjoying every minute. Every now and then I worry about all the money I’m leaving behind not working but I try to focus on what I’m gaining by leaving that behind for awhile.

    • Love it, Julie! Well said! It’s not always easy being vulnerable about my struggles, but I know being real can help so many people out there – especially since the FIRE and Minimalist community can be such a draw for so many. The thing is, it’s not going to necessarily lead to happiness. Everyone’s situation is different.

      Thanks for the comment! Good to hear from you again.

  • Well, at 69 I’m a little late to FIRE, and kind of late to be a minimalist either (it might take the rest of my days to pare down my belongings). I think the point to be made is that there can be a balanced approach. You can take some passive income and savings from FIRE and a measure of minimalism (at least be more considered in your possessions), and add that to what’s right for you. I think that’s what I would have done had I come across all of this when I was younger. I’m glad to see that you’re finding your own path and focusing on giving as well.

  • Melissa P

    I wouldn’t say I’m following either to a “T”, but I do implement several guidelines from both in my life. I aspire to be financially independent as soon as is reasonably possible, even though I love my job and have no plans to quit anytime soon. With that said, I make a point to spend money intentionally and only where I see value. This mindset helps me achieve my own level of minimalism I suppose. I’m not a fan of buying stuff to buy stuff. I look at most purchases and determine is it’ a need? worth the opportunity cost lost? And/ or does it bring me joy? If yes, then I pull the trigger.

    • Hi Melissa. Yup, sounds like we’re totally in the same boat. I’m not on a mission to acquire a bunch of stuff, but if there’s something out there that will make my life easier and allow me more time with my wife and kids, I’ll totally buy it.

  • Great read, Derek. I’m right behind Gary @ Super Saving Tips at age 64. I love what I’ve learned about the FIRE community. And I think it’s a good thing to strive for financial independence and give yourself choices. I wish I would have learned these lessons much earlier in life.

    I’ve struggled with the somewhat obsessive attitude and closed-mindedness by some in the community.nI sometimes feel like I’m in an echo chamber. There has to be a balance in life. I appreciate your sharing your struggle with and decisions about FIRE and minimalism. If you love your work, make good money, and are conscious of how you spend., save and invest, that seems healthy to me

    With that being said, I wrote a Mea Culpa post to Millennials for my stereotypical attitude toward them. Since entering the blogging community last year, I’ve been impressed with How hard Millennials work to get out of debt and put money away. And I had no idea how bad the student debt problem was.

    Thanks again for your willingness to be transparent and honest in your post.

    • Love the comment, Fred! We like where we live, I like my work, we spend far less than we earn, and really we have no interest in obsessive travel… so why rock the boat? We’re going to be early millionaires (probably before we turn 40) and we’ll have options to do whatever we want if we choose…but for now, we choose to stay on our current path.

      I second your opinion on millennials. Some of them are blood-sucking leaches on society, but many of them are hard-working and digging their way out of student loan debt with a vengeance!

      I’ll keep the transparency coming. Hopefully you’ll keep coming back to share your wisdom as well. πŸ™‚

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Derek. I hear you on the extremes.

    My wife and I just wanted out of finance ASAP, hence the decision to both leave at 34. But it was the severance package that gave us the confidence and catalyst to leave.

    I want to be more minimalist, and did downsize our home in 2014. But now it just seems like we have lots more stuff w/ our baby.

    It’s a fine balance!

    Sam

    • It sure is a balance! We’re not extreme anything, but you know what? We’ll be millionaires soon, so I’d say we’re doing something right. Plus, we love what we do!

      Thanks for the comment, Sam. Good to hear from ya!

  • […] featured article,Β The Difference Between FIRE and Minimalism – And Why I’m Doing Neither…, talks about two of the tenets of the FIRE (financial independence/early retirement) […]

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