Well it wasn't actually a single moment, it was a series of moments which led to another moment.
It started one day when I left the train at my station on the way to work. As with most train stations in the middle of a big city, all of the miserable zombies head towards daylight, reaching for the surface to start another miserable day of our miserable lives. Trudge up the stairs, trudge trudge trudge. Grey and black pants, grey and black coats, grey and black bags. Trudge trudge trudge.
A sea of grey and black, male and female, all trudging in the same direction on the stair-climber to an early grave after leading a miserable, boring, uninspiring life.
I started to smile, I smiled because I heard a song in my head, a song and an image so perfect it could have been Déjà vu. I had seen this scene before and it came to me now–The opening from Joe Versus the Volcano.
Another day older
For those that don't know it, and I'm sure those that do are already nodding in understanding of our situation. The movie scene has the depressed, tired, uninspired and disengaged Joe heading to another day at the factory. Trudging with the other wage slave zombies through the factory car park.
The chorus went over and over in my head…
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
It was so perfect.
I sang it in my head every day for six months or so. It was the ritual tune that I started to hum earlier and earlier on the train. Sometimes before I even got onto the train, waiting at my station. It made me think of what my life was, and if Joe's miserable life was enough to make him jump into a volcano in return for a good time on the way to the jump–What did that mean for me?
I thought I was doing OK, good job, good money, beautiful wife and children, saving a little towards my retirement. A few years of fun from the age of 65 in return for all the years of trudge. A life lost in return for a short period of enjoyment before jumping into the volcano.
Now the daily song hum started to remind me that I was also a wage slave zombie, I'm also trudging up the stairs to waste another day of my short life to earn enough money so I may or may not be able to retire at some undetermined point in the future. That proposition did not appeal to me.
Introduction To FIRE
The actual moment came later, the solution came because the hour-long train of dread gave me chance to Google around. Subjects I remember Googling were:
- What am I living for?
- Why am I wasting my life doing this?
- How can I jack it all in?
- What are the chances my train will crash?
- How can I retire early?
The last one gave me some actual useful advice, an introduction into the FIRE lifestyle and this subculture. It provided advice I have studied, checked and double checked. Reviewed and slowly implemented to change the way my family and I think about life, the future, how we spend, how we save and how we invest.
The first cuts are the easiest
I made a few mistakes, I would like to say they were free lessons, but mistakes with finances are rarely free. Buying shares in companies with great dividends, just before they stopped paying a great dividend. Oil stocks always go up right? That small mining company is a great prospect, a guy at work told me. Not catastrophic errors, but I sleep easier now with index investing.
As you know FIRE is a combination of saving and investing, here were my first steps to give you some ideas:
- I sold my stupid 3rd (yes 3rd) car, I didn't use it because I spent so many hours at work, I didn't have time to take it for a blast. Just think about that for a second, I was spending time at the trudge to cover car payments for a car I didn't have time to drive.
- I maxed out my employer retirement account contribution, free money if I sacrifice some of my take-home pay. I turned my ex-car payment into an immediate investment. Feel the compounding of benefits!
- I took the option for share-match with my job, I commit to a few years of monthly payments and double my shareholding. I couldn't afford to do this before.
- We stopped eating out so much. I love to cook, so focused on developing a number of delicious, fast and healthy home-cooked staples.
- We committed to selling our 2nd car, that was more difficult, but with a little planning and use of public transportation, it has allowed us to save another car payment each month.
- We started taking coffee and homemade vegan muffins out for our weekend walks, healthier and tastier than the coffee shop version. With the added benefit of being able to share it with our pups, on a bench overlooking the ocean. What is that worth?
- I looked more critically at our budget. Can we reduce insurance costs? Groceries? Travel Hacking? I attacked one item per month. That's how to eat an elephant, one spoonful at a time.
- All of the savings went into stocks. A few errors, but now fully committed to index investing.
- The final and most important change came from inviting (I chose that word carefully) Mrs fit2fire along on the journey. Every relationship is different, but I am eternally grateful that she has joined me.
Implementing those first few steps took around six months, and I am almost ashamed to say that with the savings in running one car instead of three and the other small changes, we dropped our expenses by over $4000 per month.
The years of waste still hurt when I think about it but we must always move forward
Making those small changes to save money, cut back on unnecessary expenditure and investing it instead, has not just accelerated retirement but just a few years of effort has put us within reach of FIRE in my mid-forties.
Maybe that isn't super early FIRE to you, but compared to what I was heading for it will probably give me 20 extra years of trudge free life.
It will mean some sacrifices and some hard work. But nothing good in life is easy.
I just wish I could tell Joe.