How FIRE Fits Into my Overall Lifestyle Design

Some homemade gnocchi I made in late 2022

I thought this week we’d talk a bit about how the quest for FIRE fits into my overall lifestyle design.

To start with, I think the entire central thesis of FIRE is about lifestyle design. By definition it is about having enough money to fund your lifestyle without having to work, whatever that lifestyle may look like.

So how have I worked this search into my lifestyle? I’ve mostly cut back for now to build resources to let me live as I like later. Let’s take a quick look at what kinds of the things I’ve been focusing on in my lifestyle now on the way to and plan to focus on after I achieve FIRE; travel, my hobbies, health, work, and finance.

Travel

I’d like to travel rather extensively once I hit FIRE. I doubt this would be full geo arbitrage, taking a 100 pound anvil with me wherever I go would be difficult and they just keep getting more expensive either used or new. So for my traveling I plan on having some kind of home base, where I live in the off seasons, and spend a couple of months a year traveling, this would also allow me to travel during the times of year that would be ideal for whatever location I’m planning on going to. Of course another option would be for me to get a storage unit for the items and keep them there while I’m doing the geo arbitrage thing. We’ll have to see when I get there. Most of this traveling would be the international stuff that I have on my list as well as some of the stuff that are significantly farther away from where I’m living/end up living in the future.

That’s not to say I don’t plan to travel before I hit FIRE too. I just plan for them to be shorter and more affordable trips. Maybe I’ll take a train ride back to New Mexico with a few planned stops to see things along the way or I’ll take a drive to the east coast to visit my sister while making stops at places I want to see along the way. I have plans to make these trips more affordable, for instance bringing things I can make on the road like sandwich supplies so I don’t eat out as much and sleeping in my car/train or camping along the way.

But the important thing is that I’m saving my expensive travel for my post FI years and focusing on shorter, more local trips while I’m working. Will this shorter travel be a drag on my finances? Most definitely, I could save the money I’d spend on fuel, food, and other things while traveling by not going. But it’ll be a way to recharge and reward myself for meeting certain goals. Currently for this pre-FIRE travel I don’t have any plans.

Hobbies/leisure

So I have a lot of hobbies; blacksmithing, 3D Printing, cooking, and hiking just to name a few. All of these have costs. With hobbies it’s much easier to just spend money on them. For instance, another upgrade to my 3D printer or a new one would be great. But to avoid this I have allocated $100 a month to my luxury spending such as hobbies and dining out.

I can “bank” these between months. Say something I want to buy is $150. I can not spend $100 one month and then next month I’d have $200 to spend. I don’t bank it though if I just didn’t spend the money because I didn’t have any luxury spending. Unless I’m saving for a goal it won’t really roll over. I don’t think this will be a problem for my spending and make me feel like I “have to” spend the money before the end of the month. But if it does I’ll revise the rules.

Post FI, I plan to spend more on these hobbies just because I’ll be able to dedicate more time to them. We’ll see exactly how much that will be once I hit that point, but I’m going to shoot for less than $300 a month. But I’ll adjust this as needed.

I may also look for cost effective ways to practice my hobbies. Maybe I teach a blacksmithing class or I’ll start selling 3D Printed items. I most definitely have options on how I could make my hobbies more cost effective.

Before and after FIRE I don’t expect these to change too much really. Other than that, I may have the time and energy to pursue activities to mitigate the costs associated with my hobbies when they have costs.

Health

In my experience, working as an engineer is terrible for your health. You spend a good chunk of your day sitting in a chair, be it at your desk or in meetings, with brief sporadic walks throughout the day for walkdowns and such. While you may be able to sneak out for a quick 5 minute walk every once in a while, you still have to be fairly available in case something comes up. Sometimes you just get too absorbed in your work. Like most jobs it’s also pretty taxing work, most days I get home from work and I don’t want to cook, making it really tempting just to go order or pick up a meal which may not be super healthy. The problem solving though can be good for your brain.

Pre-FI I’m planning to work out 5-7 days a week. See my goals for this year. This helps a lot with the sedentary nature of this field. I also try to take regular breaks throughout the day where I get up and move a bit, even if it’s just walking around the perimeter of the building, just to keep me from sitting too long.

As for the food, I eat a lot of leftovers. Every Saturday I cook most if not all of my dinners for the week. This has been working well for me so far and while I’m usually eating the same thing for a week, I usually do something quite different the next week.

I also try to make each of my meals healthy, for instance my breakfast is a homemade smoothie which gets me the fruit and some of the leafy greens that I need. Maybe a goal for next year would be an overall cut in how much meat I eat and a shift towards a more vegetarian diet. I’ll have a better idea of what my diet looks like at the end of the year and the changes I’d like to make.

On top of my job I also read regularly and I am trying to learn a new language. All of this is good for my brain.

Post FI I plan to workout even more, expanding it to longer cardio workouts seven days a week with more stuff interspersed throughout the day, like a short 5 minute break every half hour to hour just to get moving. This will ideally keep me from being too sedentary.

As for my diet, I expect little to no change. Just that I might start cooking more varied meals throughout the week. Usually I only have the time to cook a few meals on the weekend and I have limited fridge space to store them. Making one big thing I can store in one container works really well for this. Maybe when I’m Post FI I’ll only cook one or two serving of a meal every night instead of once a week.

As for my brain I plan to pick up plenty of new skills in retirement that will further allow me to save money or might just be fun. I may also take some classes for continuing education. I also want to learn more languages than just Spanish, at the very least I want to learn ASL since both my dad and sister are hard of hearing and I may develop the same issues later in life. These should all keep my brain working hard. But if not, maybe I’ll add in sudoku and other kinds of puzzles every day.

As for mental health, a lot of the FIRE blogs I read talk about how it’s hard to find community once you retire, the social networks provided by work disappear once you retire. I plan to combat being lonely by leaning into the communities that exist around my hobbies. For instance, I may start or join a biking or hiking club before I retire. These kinds of activities will allow me to build social connections outside of just a work network and gain experience I’ll be able to lean on when I’m retired if I need to meet more people after FIRE.

To sum up why I’m focusing on my health both long and short term, is that if I take up unhealthy habits that could shorten my retirement or make it harder if not impossible to do the things that I want to do. So I’m striving to build healthy habits now so that I don’t I can be healthy and happy for as long as possible as well as to expand the healthy habits I enjoy after I hit FIRE.

Work

While traditional work isn’t really something I plan to do once I hit FIRE I plan to do some kind of work. Maybe that’s work part time in something I find interesting or maybe it’s volunteering. Work will still make up a part of my pre and post FIRE. The form might just be different.

Pre-FIRE it’s really just working for a paycheck. Trading my time for money that I can invest. This is pretty traditional for just about every one. Though you could also count what I do to meet my goals as work as well, as we’ll discuss below.

Post-FIRE the sky’s the limit. I could continue to work full time in a job I enjoy, I could cut back hours on a job I enjoy that has a lot of frustration that could be avoided with less hours, I could not work at all. Currently my plan is to do a bit of volunteering every year. Not only will this help keep my engineering skills sharp, I may develop new skills.

I don’t want to constrain my focus to just traditional jobs or volunteering though. You can work as something like being an engineer but you can also work towards something. When I was in college working on my degree, my parents told me that my parents told me all the time that school was my job. In some ways that could be work. So maybe that’s the work I do, go and work on learning new skills. It could be that I work on honing my skills as a blacksmith, maybe becoming a master blacksmith one day. Maybe it’s that I do a project of some kind, make a podcast or something else.

Maybe it’s something I do while I’m young and tapers off as I age, maybe not. My dad’s picked up reloading and really got into it and he started shortly before he retired.

Either way, I think some kind of work is needed to be well rounded in retirement. These could even tie into other areas such as my hobbies or health. I don’t believe work is just working for a paycheck but that you can work towards some goal or on a project.

Financial

Before FI this is mostly about saving and setting up good financial habits.

I plan to do a lot of upcycling where I can, for instance I’ll use old clothes as rags or other items as they wear out past where they can still be worn. When I buy something that comes in a plastic container, such as my yogurt, I save the container and use it to put liquid trash in such as cooking oil or to put peat pots in when sprouting seeds. I save the caps from some of my soap containers if I don’t save the whole container, you never know when another lid will be beneficial. If/when I have chipped dishes I’ll put them under plant pots when they have small water dishes to contain the drainage as well as other applications.

It’s also about saving before buying other things.

Would it be way easier for me to just go and buy some of the things I have on my to buy list such as the materials my forge needs? Definitely, but as mentioned above I only have $100 a month to spend on that, this helps me get used to delayed gratification and focus more on saving.

It also means setting goals such as only spending so much on a given category, say only $50 on hobbies that month or reaching a certain net worth by a certain date. These goals could even be about certain kinds of accounts such as opening and funding a Roth IRA or an HSA.

However things don’t change too much once I hit FIRE. I may continue to save even if I don’t have to.

There’s no reason to ever stop upcycling. I want to continue to find ways to reuse things until they’ve degraded beyond the point of any usability.

While the goals may change from saving to just not going over budget, there are still other financial goals that could come with FI. It may be as simple as donating a certain amount. Maybe it’s trying new investment strategies with a small portion of your portfolio just to see if it works for you 

And both post and pre FIRE I plan to keep learning as much as I can about personal finance and how I can make my finances better. It’s not like I shouldn’t learn more just because money isn’t as much of a concern

Conclusion

So there it is, what I’ve been focusing on when trying to define my best life. Overall most of my focus is more on becoming better at something and being healthy enough to enjoy it. My big concern is getting sucked into the “death march” to FIRE and it making me miserable now, but that’s for a future post.

I guess the big way FIRE fits into this whole puzzle is less that I’m making FIRE the focal point of everything, but instead I’m thinking about how these activities will be handled before and after FIRE and what changes there will be down the road. I think that’s the big thing, while the work I’m doing towards FIRE is important, it’s not the only thing to think about.

Even my current goals for the year play into all of these. I’ve got goals to focus on my health, goals related to my leisure activities, goals for improving myself, and financial goals. I’m hoping these will continue year to year even if their focus changes.

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