Strategies for Your Financial Life

If you consult finance books, blogs, websites, podcasts, YouTube, or your neighbor at a backyard BBQ, you quickly discover that there are about as many different strategies for a financial life as there are … well … there are a lot. It would be easy to be overwhelmed. Here are a few:

Option 1: The Classic.

Earn what you can, spend less than what you bring in, avoid debt, set up a few months’ expenses in an emergency savings account, invest a decent percentage in your 401(k), or 403(b), or Thrift Savings Plan, or 457 etc., and retire in your 60s or 70s. Most of the big-name financial gurus make the case for this type of approach. Consider Chris Hogan, Dave Ramsey, Suze Orman, David Bach, and others. They are compelling and help a lot of people. Many people swear by the approaches that have helped them get out of debt, make sound financial choices, set-it-and-forget-it on their way to a classic retirement to a sunny climate before reaching old age. That’s not what we are focused on here, but it’s important to acknowledge this baseline that appeals to–and serves–many good people.

Option 2: FIRE.

In the past few years, a movement has sprung up around the idea of becoming financially independent and retiring early. This idea has been around for a long time, but it has hit mainstream discourse in the past few years. It has many adherents and a pile of variations.

  • LeanFIRE: save enough to live a very frugal life.
  • FatFIRE: save enough to live a very comfortable (e.g., “fat and happy”) life.
  • BaristaFIRE: save enough to live a life where you can support yourself and/or a family on a job as a Barista at a coffee shop that gives you health insurance and so forth.

Juan’s goal is closer to a “Coast FIRE”, where after amassing enough wealth to retire, you “retire” to another, more fulfilling job to pay the bills. Depending on how much Juan saves, he could also draw-down some of his wealth during his early retirement- many people would call this “Barista FIRE”. This could be defined as being not wealthy enough to live the life you want by withdrawing your portfolio but any small amount of income on the side would make your dreams feasible.

Government Worker FI, “Early Federal Retirement Case Study
  • CoastFIRE: save enough so that you can gradually coast into an early retirement.

… and so forth. You get the point! There are wonderful blogs, online communities, Reddit boards, Facebook groups and the like for each of these approaches. It is fun to explore them, even if you don’t follow them.

In our case: we don’t seek to “RE”. Many people, like us, choose not to “Retire Early” and that’s good too. The theories behind the FIRE movement can help you to learn more about your options.

You also might choose to pursue “FI” (Financial Independence) but not “RE” (Retire Early). The options that you will have if you FI may be much greater than the options you have if you always have to work for a paycheck from someone else. For those devoted to non-profit service, being FI might be a great way to be able to carry out your mission-driven work.

Option 3: DIY.

It’s not essential to follow anyone else’s strategy for a financial life. You can develop a strategy that suits you and your family, drawing from the inspiration that you gain from others.

Different strategies work for different families in different situations. One critique of the FIRE movement, for instance, is that it is populated by a lot of male engineers who think and act in a certain way and have a pretty high salary to draw from as they pursue FIRE. Most adherents to the FIRE movement vociferously disagree: they argue that anyone can FIRE, regardless of income, background, race, family history, and so forth, so long as you have enough discipline and follow a now well-described path. Some FIRE community members acknowledge their own privilege while encouraging others to try it if they find it appealing, even as the FIRE path may be easier for some than for others.

Our approach: there’s not one right answer. It’s important to get educated and make your own choices.

On this blog, we don’t tell anyone what to do. We are just interested in spreading the word about the many different sound options one might pursue during a life of non-profit service. Of course, no one goes into a life of non-profit work to get rich (or you shouldn’t, anyway). There’s no chance of becoming fabulously wealthy; there are no stock options involved (for the vast majority of us, anyway). But that does not mean a life of poverty or never retiring. And it doesn’t mean that you have to compromise your ideals as you earn, save, and invest your way through life.

We don’t have a good name for this path yet, but we’ll write about it over time and share ideas for how to live a life of meaning that also includes sound financial outcomes for you and your family. And maybe we’ll come up with a catchy name for it along the way!

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