FIRE is not about money, it’s about TIME | Learn the 4 stages of FIRE mentality

Are we still retired? My wife asked me that last week. The whole “financial independence retire early” thing may seem wrong given that I still work part-time, we work on this blog, and I’m thinking about a startup. But the truth is I’m living the early retirement DREAM because really, financial freedom is TIME freedom

Today we’ll learn the true meaning of FIRE, How FIRE people think, and how to get TIME freedom. 

Financial independence is the freedom to say NO to a paycheck

Who in their right mind would say no to a paycheck?! Actually, it’s easy! All you need to do is:

  1. Have enough money to support your lifestyle. 
  2. Value your time enough that a salary doesn’t tempt you.

Early retirement is valuing your time more than a salary

Here’s a little thought experiment. Let’s say a neighbor knocks on your door and offers you $5000 to mow his lawn every week for the summer. Is it worth it? 

(And I get that some of you would do it for a couple of beers if you like the neighbor, like lawns, or like how it feels to help out. But that’s beside the point. We’re just talking money here.) 

Now $5000 is a lot of money so most people would say YES in a heartbeat. 

Well, what if it was $500? 

This is where you’d have to step back and think. It’d be nice to have an extra $500, but is it really worth every weekend of your summer? Unless you really have nothing else going on, It’s not an “in a heartbeat” kind of decision.

And what if it was $50? 

At this point, you’d probably just close the door. That amount of money is not worth your time. 

Congratulations! You just passed the FIRE test of deciding that your time is more valuable than money and that you can say NO to a paycheck. 

Let’s take it back.

Now I want you to go back and decide what it would take to EASILY say no to the $5000

  • You’d probably have to have enough money coming in to not be tempted by the offer.
  • You’d probably have to value your time so much that the thought of giving it away (even for a paycheck) is gut-wrenching.

And to take it a step further, what would it take to EASILY say no to a paycheck from work?

Same thing. Having enough money that you don’t need someone else’s and valuing your time enough to not give it away. 

That’s the goal of “financial independence, retire early” in a nutshell. It’s the freedom to say NO to a paycheck, and valuing your time more than a salary.

Feel the difference of having to work and doing it because you want to.

How FIRE people think:

We’re disciplined and consistent

It may seem like some people are just born lucky and some are destined to toil away struggling to keep up with their bills. 

The thing is, when you create good money habits and are consistent about them, you can take advantage of great opportunities as they pop up. And these opportunities pop up all over the place. Most people just don’t pay attention because they don’t think it applies to them.

What are good money habits? Start by knowing how to save and invest. (You may need to grow your income first, as well.) The rest will unfold in front of you. 

We figure out which splurges are worth it and which are not

Every one of us has an occasion to splurge. But we don’t make a habit of it. I’m not one to buy the newest gadgets. I don’t have a nice car. And I never get takeout. 

Those things might be fun, but they don’t add anything to my life. And they add up. 

On the other hand, my family travels at least once a year (pre-covid, anyway.) Most people would look at that as a lavish splurge. To me, it’s knowing what adds value to my life and focusing on that

We know our $/hr 

There are different ways of calculating this. It could be your pay rate from work. It could be your total income over how much time you put into it. It could also be completely made up. 

For me, that number is around $50/hr and I use it to decide if hiring someone instead of doing it myself makes sense, and if taking on a gig is worth it. More on this later.

We don’t focus on money. We focus on time.

  • If I’m having fun, I don’t want to waste time thinking about something else
  • If I’m working, I don’t want to waste time on crappy tools or processes.
  • If I’m trying something new, I don’t want to waste time on trial and error. 

If you hate wasting time as much as I do, you know that a lot of those problems can be solved with money. 

Saving time, maximizing my time, and generating MORE time is what motivates me to be financially independent. 

If that sounds a little complicated and all you were hoping to find was a few tips and tricks on saving, don’t worry. You can do it in stages! But first, let’s recap: 

Financial Independence = freedom to say no to a paycheck. You’ll find resources along the way to help you do that.
Retire early = valuing your time more than a salary. Start by freeing up a few hours in level 1, and work your way up!

Level 1: Use money to free up a few hours

I want you to get your feet wet with spending money to gain back some time. I used to have the habit of saying “Why should I pay someone else to do it when I can do it myself?” 

The answer is that you can use that time for something better

Of course, there’s always a tipping point of when paying someone is just not worth it. I still do most of my own car maintenance – not because I enjoy it, but because I don’t want some mechanic looking for new problems with my car. In that case, a simple oil change that costs me $40 and maybe 2 hours becomes $1400 and 3 days in the shop. 

But at least stop to ask “would it make more sense to hire someone to do this?” Here are a few places to start: 

Hire someone to do your chores. 

Cleaners, landscapers, babysitters, handymen. The world is full of people willing to do a great job for you. This is where knowing your personal pay rate really helps. If your personal pay rate is $50/hr, but you can hire a cleaner for $25/hr, that’s a pretty big no-brainer! 

But it gets even better! Cleaning my house top to bottom would take me an entire weekend. Probably around 10 hours – that’s $500 in my books! A cleaner can do it in maybe 4 hours, around $100. 

So hell yeah, I’m saving money by hiring someone to do my chores. 

Hire specialized people.

Okay, so hiring a cleaner was a no-brainer. But some people charge a lot more. Maybe even more than your personal pay rate. I’m talking lawyers, accountants, property managers, etc. 

And things get murky when it’s something that you could do yourself but it takes longer. This one is a judgment call. Here’s how I make those decisions:

Accountants – I just use tax software. 

I have income from more than one country, and most accountants want to add a hefty fee to deal with me. Besides, most of the work is in tabulating the data, which I’d have to do myself anyway. So I just bite the bullet and do everything myself. 

The only thing you can’t get from Turbotax

Lawyers – something you can’t get away from. 

I have a good relationship with a lawyer down the street. They squeeze me in when I need and they don’t overcharge me. 

The trick is knowing when you actually need their services, or when you can DIY it and just come in to get something stamped. 

Property managers – It depends. 

I have property managers for all of my rentals because they’re all long-distance. And I have to say, it’s nice to free up that brain space and have things taken care of. 

But these days, most of your property management needs can be met with a good software. My suggestion is try to DIY it if you can, but if it takes a huge toll on your time, hire a manager. 

Read more:
Review of top property management software
Should you self-manage your rentals and how to make it work
Long-distance real estate investing. Is it really possible?

Level 2: Use money to maximize your time

There are some things you have to do yourself. In that case, I want to achieve maximum results in the minimum amount of time. Here are a few examples. 

Hire a trainer

When my wife started going to the gym with me, I realized there’s a stark difference between how we approach a good workout. While I’m trying to push myself past my limits, she would push herself to maybe 50%, and waste time being indecisive. Then I realized that most people work out that way. Geez, people! Why do you even bother!

So I hired a trainer for her. Her workouts became streamlined. She had the confidence and the know-how to push herself. And she got clear on her goals. Within weeks she became known as that “intense girl” at our gym. 

If your routine works for you, then stick with it. But if you have new goals, your old routine won’t get you there. If hiring someone forces you to make the most of your hour together – then it’s worth it. 

Buy better tools

When it comes to software, I’m guilty of stretching the limits of my “freemium” accounts. To a point where I was making concessions or even wasting my time creating “shortcuts.” I know I’m a cheapskate, but at the end of the day, it’s just not worth it

This point became obvious to me last summer too. I’m pretty into gardening, (a little Mr.FIREescape surprise for you) and I was using my grandparents’ hand-me-downs for tools. I just couldn’t justify buying new snips when I had perfectly good ones that were not even a century old. Then they broke and I had to buy a new set.  

OMG, have I been missing out. Having better tools just makes the process more enjoyable, not to mention faster. I can’t believe I was holding out a few bucks for a whole summer of happiness! 

A word of caution – don’t over-research!

If you’re wasting hours comparing a bunch of things that are basically the same – you’re not maximizing your time. Especially if you’re just researching a $40 power drill. Give yourself a time-limit proportional to the price and force yourself to make a decision at the end. 

Take a course

When you’re trying to learn something new, (like investing in real estate) paying for a course is totally worth it. Someone else went through the trouble of:

  • Deciding what’s important and what’s not
  • Deciding what order to do things in
  • Researching the best tools
  • Finding secret loopholes
  • Warning you what to watch out for

If you’ve ever gone deep into a research-vortex of Reddit and Youtube, you probably wish you had paid someone to walk you through the process instead. After days of trying to figure it out, you’re probably too exhausted to take any action! 

The most important part of paying for the course though, is that you force yourself to follow through. If wasting money is too painful, you’ll never allow yourself to procrastinate! 

Read my review of top real estate investing courses

Level 3: Use money to create more time

There are some things that may seem like a waste of both money and time on the surface, but in the long-term give you way more of both. Here are some ways to create more time: 

Hire an assistant (or a VA.) 

Having an assistant may sound “next level rich person” but you wouldn’t believe how many average Joes have a VA (virtual assistant). You can hire one from a site like Fiverr and pay them to do all those things you keep putting off:

  • Follow-up on emails
  • Proof-read, format, or even research reports for work
  • Create designer-worthy powerpoints

And you may be thinking that those things are nice and all, but training these people is just not worth the time. I hear you, but that’s why it’s Level 3! You have to look at the long-game here. How much of your time and energy do you spend on those tasks that you thought only you could do, and how much do you waste by putting them off? 

Besides, a lot of these VA’s are not new kids on the block. They have even more experience than you do! 

Travel.

How does travel create more time exactly? Well, if your goal is to unwind or to connect with your family, nothing’s better than a change of scenery

When you take a week off work but spend it at home, nothing really changes. Your brain still goes through the same thought-patterns and likely zeros in on your to-do. You’ll probably use that time to catch up on a bunch of random errands, which means you get 2 days for yourself and your family. Tops.

Now, if you go away – every minute counts. You instantly forget about work, chores, and your to-do. And so does the rest of your family, (if that’s who you’ll travel with) so having fun can start ASAP. 

Besides, as per the Happiness Equation book, when you stop focusing on work is when your most creative ideas just pop in! So really, you’re fast-tracking your productivity

I know right now travel is a bit of a bummer, but I’m sure you can get creative in your pursuits for a change of scenery! 

Also read:
10 ways successful people use their free time
7 reasons growing your money is just like raising kids

4 steps to setting REAL financial goals

Level 4: Stop trading your time for money. 

At some point, I want you to see your time as so valuable that trading it in for a salary is just not worth it. 

That’s the real goal of “financial independence, retire early” or FIRE. 

To reach this stage, you have to have enough of your own money that you can happily say NO to someone else’s

The best way to get there is to:

When you reach this stage, can you still work? Sure! But then you will feel the difference between having to come in to work to chase that carrot on the stick, and coming in because that’s exactly what you want to do with your time!

TL;DR

  • Financial independence = freedom to say NO to a paycheck
  • Retire early = valuing your time MORE than a salary
  • FIRE is about TIME! Not money.

Now. Leave me a comment and tell me how you value YOUR time and if you started thinking like a FIRE person!


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3 thoughts on “FIRE is not about money, it’s about TIME | Learn the 4 stages of FIRE mentality”

  1. Many people in the FIRE world seem to be hell-bent on earning like crazy so that they can eventually flip a switch to the ‘early-retirement’ model. I’m not opposed to it, but there are other ways that get you thinking about your time value earlier. My approach has been to try not working myself to death from the get-go and see how I can simultaneously enjoy my life. My career is not for everyone, but I’ve been happily employed, teaching at a small college for most of my adult life. Every summer I try out a mini-retirement where I have large surpluses of time. Spontaneously take a week-long road trip? Sure, why not?
    On a quite modest salary (low 50’s), I won’t hit the full FI point as quickly as some others, but I will still make it by mid-40’s or so. And then will I continue teaching? Perhaps. But even if I do, I’ll still continue to enjoy immense amounts of free time every year. Not many careers grant you that structural freedom.

    Reply
    • I think you have it figured out Steve! If you’re already enjoying your mini-retirements – why would you ever give that up?!
      I often say that having a $200K salary is no better than a $50K salary if you’ve inflated your lifestyle. It actually makes it that much harder to retire!

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      Reply

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