“Those people are missing the point,” Merz says. “If you’re depriving yourself that much, you’re not going to be happy, and you’re not going to be able to maintain that.” Merz advises cutting back unnecessary expenditure to the point that feels uncomfortable, then settle just above that level. “You should be able to live your best life, but that doesn’t mean you’re spending lots of money.”
Whiter agrees. “You don’t need to go to an expensive, city-centre bar,” he says. “You can have your mate round for some tinnies.” That extends to his family. Before he retired, he realised his family of five could live well on £24,000 ($31,000) per year.
“We don’t indulge rampant, runaway consumerism by buying the kids the latest iPhone,” he says. He describes his lifestyle as frugal, not deprived.
“There’s no point living miserably for 20 years just so you can live miserably for another 20 years post-work,” he says.
Working on freedom
Despite the “RE” (retire early) part of the FIRE movement moniker, the goal for Merz and Whiter isn’t to quit their jobs at 27 or 43 and do nothing until they die.
“We’re not meant to sit around and drink Mai Tais all day,” Merz says. “Humans have an intrinsic need to work. We need to feel like a valued member of society, and that’s not going to stop because you have an arbitrary number in the bank.”
Rather, it gives them the flexibility to do what they want. Some choose to travel – on a budget, of course – while others simply pick and choose their work, rather than feeling trapped on the hamster wheel.
“I felt like I was beholden to the system,” says Whiter. “I felt like I was in a prison camp, working to sustain a lifestyle I didn’t actually want.”
Now he’s free. “A lot of this stuff is emotional and psychological,” he says.
“You have to live through it to understand how powerful it is.”