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Can I FIRE As a Single ?

A few weeks ago, I received an unexpected e-mail from a woman who was seeking FIRE, but wasn’t sure if it’s doable on her own as this community is dominated by high income couples. That e-mail is as follows:

Hi, I have been interested in early retirement and financial freedom topics for the last year or so. I have been reading lots of stories of couples retiring early and traveling the world … because it’s easier to save when you are sharing living expenses and common goals with somebody else , right?  So I started to wonder if it is even a feasible goal to retire early as a single person.  I started my research for single FIRE  success stories … so far I haven’t found any.  After FinCon was over I decided to ask Mrs. Our next life if she knows anybody and she suggested to check out your site. Here I am:) tell me how you do it ?

I wasn’t sure how to respond to this e-mail. As I’ve mentioned before, I consider a lot of what I do in the FIRE world to deviate from the usual narrative we see, with more than a little cheating. I utilize actively managed dividend-focused stock and investment grade bond funds to juice my income. My plan even includes going back to work. The horror!  I’m also not doing the stereotypical American abroad backpacker thing.

If you’ve read my blog posts, you shouldn’t be surprised that my response was absolutely long-winded:

Thanks so much for reaching out! An ONL recommendation is a pretty high honor. Hopefully I won’t let her and you down. 🙂
I can’t think of any single FIRE folk off the top of my head either, but I did learn that there are a lot of people doing cool things as a single which have provided me with the inspiration that I don’t need to wait until I’m partnered off to take some financial risks in my life.
Jay Zantos is somebody you should check out. He did a year long road trip going to all the national parks all by himself. He’s not financially independent, but he took a life risk and experienced something that many people would say is impossible. I think it’s a pretty cool story.
 
Lula is another…after she paid off her student loan debt, she went abroad and never came back. She supports herself via internet marketing and such and lives out of a single backpack. She doesn’t write about money much anymore, but that’s because money has basically been eliminated from her thought process. She was going to travel “until the money runs out”, but  she makes more than enough to sustain her lifestyle. So, I’d say there’s a form of financial independence where you’re still working, it just depends on what you want to do. She admittedly has a rock bottom daily budget that most people would not want to try to adhere to.
I also highly suggest that you read my favorite personal financial book as it’s been a big influence on my own life philosophy of early retirement and financial independence: How to Retire Happy, Wild & Free: Retirement Wisdom That You Won’t Get From Your Financial Advisor.
The most important question to ask yourself:
Why are you wanting to achieve FIRE ? Consider that you might not need to achieve total financial independence for whatever it is you are wanting to do with your life. For me, waiting until financial independence defined by conservative measures would have meant waiting until around age 40 (or longer) to live the life that I want to live. That’s a long time to wait.
I think, for you, it might help to re-frame what you are perceiving as the social norm from extraordinary stories you read about on the internet. You are observing the people who are in these happy financially compatible relationships as the social norm and you’re looking at that and you’re thinking “I can’t duplicate what they are doing. it’s just not possible. They have this huge advantage over me.”
 
The issue with that is that you’re comparing yourself to the wrong group of people. I totally get where you’re coming from, I’ve been there, and because I’m assuming your life’s dream isn’t to become the Financially Independent Crazy Cat Lady (if it is, I don’t think anyone has yet created that blog!), the “Who is my partner going to be?” is a major unknown variable in the FIRE journey.  My fear is that by pursuing FIRE as a single, I might subconsciously place too much emphasis on money status in a romantic match. That makes me feel icky inside, but when something like FIRE is a dream, you either need to have that in common with a partner or you need to be willing to give up that FIRE dream or at least potentially delay it.
What you haven’t considered is that as an independent single person, you have an advantage over the many people who are stuck in incompatible relationships but who are too afraid to try something different.  Since it’s just you, you don’t have to compromise with anybody, you don’t have to consider a partner’s priorities/circumstances and you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself. That is the PERFECT circumstances to choose to save more money for FIRE. Want to live in a tiny shack? Nobody to tell you no. Want to live close enough to work so that you can bicycle to work and sell your car? Nobody to tell you no.  It probably sounds selfish, but I know that for me, every money-saving decision I make not only benefits myself, but it also benefits my future wife. So when I remind myself of that, It starts to feel a little less selfish.
 
For me personally…how do I do it? A lot of good fortune and a lot of staying humble. Good fortune? I never had student loans debt. My working career so far has been during an incredible stock market run. My parents instructed me to buy a condo when I moved out and they gifted me a portion of the down payment. I sold it five years later and made a noteworthy profit.  For the humble part, I drive a six year old Honda Civic whereas many of my peers would opt for an Audi or a Volkswagen or something even more luxurious than that. Probably on a new lease every few years. I’ve also lived with  a roommate for almost the entire time after I moved out of my parents house. A lot of people choose to live alone while they are single. 3 of my 4 roommates over the years were random people from Craigslist. That being said, I’ve still lived a great life full of fun and adventure. Over the past 7 years, I did a 10 day trip to Canada, a 2 week trip to Europe and a 6 week trip to Australia/New Zealand and have eaten way too many meals at restaurants..
As you may have noticed in a recent blog post, my personal life definitely hasn’t been an easy one. I’ve spent a lot of money trying to be someone I’m not, and I’ve found it difficult to look for the types of women who will accept me for my unusual approach to spending money, but if you read the comment section on that post, there’s a lot of inspiration from people who found their person at an unexpected time in their lives.
So, to sum it up, I totally agree with you that it probably is a lot easier to heavily save when you are sharing living expenses and have common financial goals with a partner – but that doesn’t make it impossible to do on your own, and just because you’re single now doesn’t mean you always will be.
Please let me know if anything in this ramble was remotely helpful (….or not…)
The following week, I received a reply that made my day. THIS is exactly why I share my thoughts and financial stories. It’s nice to see someone else recognizing that there is in fact more to life than money:
Hi, TJ,
I have been listening to “Retire happy, wild and free” as you recommended. I love it. I think it’s time to pursue more hobbies while I have health and desire:-) So rock climbing, backpacking, library, golf, skiing and new things to try … here I come 🙂
Yes, your rambling was helpful… I saw a different perspective and also your email had impact on my decision to stay away from social media and focus on people and community in front of me. And yes I am loving no social media … my friends and family are happy to hear from me again, I sleep better and I am already calmer and happier. 
🙂
Would you response be different? Let me know in the comments! Have a question of your own? E-mail me!
11/13 update: I completely forgot about the most obvious Financially Independent as a Single Success Story. Anita  at Power of Thrift was a lawyer in Chicago for a few years. She just doesn’t really blog that much or promote herself, because she’s too busy living here life, that I completely forgot about her.