Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early): How Far Would You Go for Financial Freedom?

Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early): How Far Would You Go for Financial Freedom?

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Overview

What if a happier life was only a few simple choices away?

A successful entrepreneur living in Southern California, Scott Rieckens had built a “dream life”: a happy marriage, a two-year-old daughter, a membership to a boat club, and a BMW in the driveway. But underneath the surface, Scott was creatively stifled, depressed, and overworked trying to help pay for his family’s beach-town lifestyle. Then one day, Scott listened to a podcast interview that changed everything. Five months later, he had quit his job, convinced his family to leave their home, and cut their expenses in half. Follow Scott and his family as they devote everything to FIRE (financial independence retire early), a subculture obsessed with maximizing wealth and happiness. Filled with inspiring case studies and powerful advice, Playing with FIRE is one family’s journey to acquire the one thing that money can’t buy: a simpler — and happier — life.

Based on the documentary

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608685806
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 01/01/2019
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 129,206
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Scott Rieckens is an Emmy-nominated film/video producer, serial entrepreneur, and author. Scott has spent his career as a storyteller connecting people with ideas. Along the way, Scott’s work has generated millions of views through a feature length documentary, multiple televisions series, short films, and a diverse range of commercial projects for Microsoft, NBC, Facebook, FOX, Taylor Guitars, Wired, and others. Now, Scott has created Playing with FIRE, which explores the growing community of frugal-minded folks choosing a path to financial independence and early retirement. He and his family reside in Bend, Oregon.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

WORK, EAT, SLEEP, REPEAT

If you'd driven by me on the freeway in San Diego on this particular Monday morning in February 2017, you probably wouldn't have looked twice: a guy in his midthirties sitting in traffic in a relatively new but unremarkable car, drinking a cold brew from Starbucks. Just another American heading to work.

In fact, there was nothing particularly special about that Monday morning, and I would have lumped it in with a hundred other ordinary Monday mornings that I had spent navigating traffic on my way to work, except that on this particular morning I heard an idea that would change the course of my entire life. An idea that would cause me to quit my job, leave California, and spend a year traveling with my family. To question everything I thought I knew about success, money, and freedom. To find the secret to the American dream, the thing that most people crave but few achieve: the ability to do absolutely anything I wanted.

* * *

This story starts ten years earlier, when I met my wife, Taylor.

From the beginning, Taylor and I were the couple who sought adventure and wanted to live large. New Year's in Vegas? Sure. Last-minute spa trip to Sonoma? Why not! We weren't spending money on flashy watches or designer clothes — but boating on Lake Tahoe? Four-star restaurants? A new snowboard? Flights around the world? Absolutely. We developed an interest in fancy wine and an expensive restaurant habit. When a new restaurant opened, we made sure to try it. If we could meet the chef, even better. Sometimes we ate out three or four times a week.

We joked that our motto was "If we have the money in the bank, go for it." And we did: As hard as we worked to earn money, it all went right back out the door to pay for our good times. That was fine by us. As long as we didn't go into debt, we felt like we were doing life right. Certainly, at times, I would stress about how much money we were spending or how little savings we had. Then I would remind myself that we were young — there was so much time to save in the future! We would hit some big payday, land some huge job, or perhaps sell a business for millions. Eventually, something would surely get us there! Right? We habitually used this "lottery mentality" to feel better about our lack of control.

At the time, I was managing events for one of the largest beer corporations in the world. My job consisted of being flown around the West Coast to support events like the NBA and MLB All-Star games, the Sundance Film Festival, music festivals, and so on. For me, a restless kid who loves adventure and meeting new people, it felt like a dream job. But after a year on the road, the parties and events began to blend together. I started to question the long-term viability of this line of work. I could feel myself craving something more creative and meaningful. I was traveling constantly, barely sleeping, and living an unhealthy lifestyle. I knew I could not keep this up for long. I wanted a life of outdoor adventure, physical activity, and connection. Something that felt more exciting than drinking beer and missing out on quality time with my family.

* * *

After Taylor and I married in 2010, we honeymooned in the island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis. On the flight back, Taylor leaned her head against the airplane seat and said, "Why can't we just live somewhere every day that feels like a vacation?" We were currently living in Reno but we were both ready for a change of scenery. Ten minutes later, we had made a list of "paradise" locales on the back of a drink napkin: St. John in the US Virgin Islands, Kauai, Coronado, Scottsdale, and Key West. After some back-and-forth, in early 2012, we packed up our house in Reno, quit our jobs, and moved to Coronado, California, outside San Diego, hoping to find our endless vacation. We wanted a life that felt enjoyable every day instead of just living for the weekend. We told ourselves we wouldn't be like other people who talk about moving to the beach but never follow through. In retrospect, this atypical move was great training for our FIRE lifestyle to come, but it was also part of our problem.

For the first few years, living in Coronado really did feel like living in paradise. We rented a little one-bedroom apartment near the bay and would stroll the boardwalk to watch the sunset reflect off the beautiful downtown skyline. We bought two beach cruisers and biked everywhere — to the beach, around the city, to meet our friends for drinks after work. It felt like we had the life that everyone dreams of: carefree, outdoorsy, relaxed.

As our love of the outdoors grew, so did our collection of outdoor gear. We bought kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and surfboards. Then we needed a fleet to carry all our gear, so we bought a Chevy Equinox SUV and a Toyota Prius, complete with sunroofs and roof racks, because — California.

We found loads of career opportunities in San Diego, a city on the rise. Taylor worked for her family's recruiting company and steadily built her market and network. I co-owned a video production company that was eventually acquired, and we moved into a larger marketing agency's office. The cultures didn't quite mesh, and eventually my partners and I decided to move on and start fresh. Doing this meant leaving a large amount of money on the table, but I felt it was the right decision. I have always prioritized my freedom over a paycheck, and I knew that I had the potential to build another successful business. I had developed the skills; I just needed to give myself a chance.

Then we decided to have a baby.

* * *

Our daughter was born in October 2015. It was a perfect California day: sunny, with clear skies and an ocean breeze. We named her Jovie, a reference to the word jovial, because we wanted her to chase joy in her life the same way we were.

Like most first-time parents, we had gone above and beyond in getting ready for Jovie's arrival. We'd moved out of the one-bedroom rental apartment and into a tiny but more accommodating three-bedroom house. Taylor was working from home at this point, and she wanted her own office. Plus, we knew family members would visit to see Jovie, so we wanted a guest bedroom. After weeks of searching, we found a rental house for $2,850 a month, which was a steal in Coronado. We promptly spent another $8,000 furnishing our new home, along with stocking a new nursery with a crib and all the amenities. No cost was spared as we prepared for our new baby.

By this point in our lives, we had recently spent $6,000 to become boat club members, and we were leasing two cars — a 2016 Mazda 3 Hatchback and a 2015 BMW 3 Series GT.

Before Jovie was born, Taylor and I could both feel that our expenses were getting out of hand. We occasionally talked about cutting back. But whenever we tried, we ended up convincing ourselves we just had to have whatever it was that we wanted, like a Vitamix blender, a vacation to New Zealand, or the best Italian-made stroller for our little coconut. We had the money, and we both innocently assumed that it would all work out, that our incomes would keep increasing and we'd eventually start saving for the future.

After all, Taylor's salary was good, and my new company was already making a profit. Plus, we were being financially responsible by contributing to our 401k retirement accounts (usually around 10 percent of our income). That said, aside from our retirement accounts, neither of us were invested in the stock market. We were unfamiliar with investing, stocks felt too risky, and our busy schedules were always a convenient excuse for why we didn't have time to learn more. Besides, everything looked good: We had high-paying jobs; we were contributing to our 401ks; and we had avoided consumer debt. Surely, we were on the right path.

Then Jovie arrived, and Taylor had an epiphany that many parents experience: Within weeks, she couldn't bear the thought of having to work again and be separated from her infant daughter for eight hours a day. Taylor enjoyed her work, and she'd never considered being a stay-at-home mom. Now, given our financial situation, she had no choice. When her abbreviated maternity leave ended, Taylor went back to full-time work, and we hired a nanny to watch Jovie during the day, which cost $2,500 a month. Neither of us wanted Taylor to have to work, but it was our only option: We needed two incomes to afford our lifestyle.

As the months passed, Taylor became increasingly distraught as she thought about all the moments with her baby that she was missing. It killed me to see her feeling this way, and the worst part was that I felt responsible. Why hadn't I pushed us to save more money before we'd decided to have a child? Had I made a mistake by leaving that larger agency, and its higher income, so I could start my own business? Taylor had supported this decision, even though it meant more financial instability, as well as travel and long workdays. Now I wondered if she regretted it. Did she feel like my entrepreneurial dreams were standing in the way of her happiness? Was she giving up time with our child so I could pursue my personal ambition? And while all this was swirling, I found myself getting more stressed-out thinking how little time I'd have with Jovie if I took on all this myself. Holy moly, was there a right answer out there? Why was this so hard?

Then one of my partners decided to leave our production company, and the business fell apart. We had started four years ago when we were a bunch of young guys in our twenties, full of optimism and energy for our work. And we were successful: We turned our company from a small wedding-video outfit into a desirable commercial-video production company with seven-figure revenues. Of course, we worked our asses off to do it; the job was a grind. At first, this sacrifice was manageable, but now our lives looked completely different: We had kids, families, mortgages, daycare costs. We couldn't travel for weeks at a time anymore. We longed for company-sponsored health insurance and 401ks. We wanted stability, not this feast-or-famine lifestyle. When that partner decided to leave, we collectively decided it was time to move on.

Within a month, we shuttered our agency, and once again I was untethered, searching for my next opportunity. Selfishly, I wanted to start a media company, creating content that interested me. But we couldn't afford for me to start over again; our lifestyle required two full-time earners. So I accepted a job as a creative director at a promising young creative agency called Grizzly. The team was loaded with talent, and I was excited to learn more about brand design, strategy, and development. It was a great job with a stable paycheck, but it still didn't solve our problem: our lifestyle. Even with this job, we were never going to get ahead. And did this mean I would be locked in a salaried job indefinitely, with no chance to pursue entrepreneurship?

At the same time that I became a salaried worker, costs that had always seemed far off were starting to seem alarmingly close. Like buying a house. The equivalent of our small three-bedroom rental would cost over a million to buy in Coronado, and $600,000 to $750,000 anywhere else in San Diego. And what about college? Weren't new parents supposed to save for that? Beyond contributing to our retirement funds, we didn't have any extra savings. The choices that had once felt carefree and spontaneous now felt foolhardy and reckless.

I told myself there was only one solution — I needed to come up with a "million-dollar idea." Something that would give us the financial cushion we needed so I could go back to being an entrepreneur, Taylor could quit her job or work less, and we could stay in Coronado, pay off the cars, buy a home, and finally start saving money.

I spent hours every night walking around the neighborhood carrying Jovie, which was the only way she would fall asleep and stay asleep. As I did, I listened to podcasts about start-ups and entrepreneurship. Maybe I would start my own media production company. Maybe I could start a "Fulfillment by Amazon," or FBA, business; those seemed all the rage. I read about cryptocurrency and real estate flipping. For months, I kept searching for my million-dollar idea. I just needed one big lucky break so that we could cash out and start living the stress-free lives we were meant to live.

* * *

On Monday, February 13, 2017, I woke up, kissed Taylor and Jovie goodbye, and headed out the door for work. As the line of cars stretched ahead of me on the freeway, I turned on my favorite podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show. Ferriss always has interesting guests and is known as a lifestyle and "life hack" guru. He's also a successful angel investor and famous for writing The 4-Hour Workweek and, more recently, Tools of Titans. His podcast description says, "I deconstruct world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract tactics, tools and routines you can use." Past guests have included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Seth Godin, Amanda Palmer, Jamie Foxx, and Tony Robbins.

I was curious about this episode's odd title, "Mr. Money Mustache — Living Beautifully on $25–27K Per Year." I pressed Play. Mr. Money Mustache, whose real name is Pete Adeney, is a Canadian-born engineer of average means who retired at thirty; lives near Boulder, Colorado, with his family; and hasn't held a "real" job since 2005. In the podcast introduction, Tim asked, "How did [his family] do that? They accomplished this early retirement by doing several things, but, in effect, optimizing all aspects of their lifestyle for maximal fun, at minimal expense, and by using index fund and real estate investing. Their annual expenses total a mere $25,000 to $27,000, and they do not feel in want of anything." I did a quick mental calculation: Taylor and I were burning through this guy's annual spending in about three months! Whoa. Tim termed the Mr. Money Mustache community and philosophy "a worldwide cult phenomenon" — the blog has 300 million page views since its inception in 2011 — and he addressed Pete by telling him that he was "in the top-five most-requested guests for this podcast." That had my attention.

Pete explained that all he'd done was live like he was in college even after he was making a good salary as an engineer. Over the years, he had saved a total of between twenty-five and twenty-eight times his annual spending and invested that money in Vanguard index funds (which wouldn't be the last time I'd hear that recommendation!). Then, at thirty years old, Pete and his wife quit their cubicle jobs when their baby boy was born, since their investments were now creating enough passive income to recover their living expenses. He went on to say that this same basic formula works for most people. Soall Taylor and I needed to do to retire was save twenty-five times our annual expenses? At the time, we were spending around $10,000 a month, which totaled about $120,000 a year, so that meant we needed to save a total of $3 million. That was all? Hadn't someone once calculated you needed to save, like, $10 million to retire?! That's what I had heard once from a friend, or was it on TV? I didn't remember. While I had no idea how this math worked, Pete explained it with such confidence that I was immediately intrigued.

Pete talked about how he bikes and walks for 90 percent of his trips and lives completely debt-free. He only makes purchases that remove a significant negative from his life. He drives an older car that he owns outright and uses for hauling lumber from Home Depot. Instead of pinching pennies and only buying discounted food, he buys craft beer and organic chocolate. He said, "I set my spending limit for maximum happiness, and then stop spending when those purchases stop making me happy."

I was so engrossed in the podcast that I got off the freeway, pulled under a shady tree, and texted my coworkers that I was running late because of "childcare issues." I turned up the volume and kept listening. Pete said that he chronicled his family's lifestyle on his Mr. Money Mustache blog, and he'd amassed a following of converts who called themselves "Mustachians." Since Pete was my first introduction to FIRE, I assumed that he'd invented the concept. Later I discovered that Pete was actually one of dozens of high-profile figures in the FIRE community and that the tenets of FIRE had existed for decades.

At one point, Ferriss remarked that this kind of lifestyle seemed like the obvious way to deal with our overwhelmingly consumerist culture. I thought about our three-bedroom house stuffed with furniture, electronics, and baby gear. Taylor and I joked that we were "Amazon addicts" because every few days a new brown package would appear on our doorstep. Who were we? Why were we living this way? Where was the couple who just wanted to have fun and enjoy the outdoors?

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early)"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Scott Rieckens.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Mr. Money Mustache ix

Introduction to FIRE 1

Chapter 1 Work, Eat, Sleep, Repeat 11

Chapter 2 The Million-Dollar Idea 23

Chapter 3 Ten Things That Make You Happy 33

FIRE Story: Jillian, Kalispell, MT

How Our Family of Seven Reached FI with an Average Income of $60,000 45

Chapter 4 I Spend How Much on Coffee?! 49

Chapter 5 BMWs and Boat Clubs 59

FIRE Story: Todd, New York, NY

Pursuing FIRE in the Big City 69

Chapter 6 Goodbye, Coronado 73

Chapter 7 The Journey Begins 89

FIRE Story: Kalen & Kyle, Evans, CO

Is FIRE the Cure for a Certain Brand of Millennial Depression? 101

Chapter 8 What the Heck Is an Index Fund? 105

Chapter 9 Getting Schooled in FIRE 123

FIRE Story: Sylvia, Seattle, WA

How Hurricane Katrina Made Me Pursue Financial Independence 132

Chapter 10 Family and Frugality 135

Chapter 11 Dream House or Dream Life? 155

FIRE Story: Hannah, Denver, CO

How a Fire Pushed Our Family to Reevaluate It All 164

Chapter 12 Finding Our FIRE Friends 167

Chapter 13 The FIRE Is Spreading 177

The Seven Steps to FIRE 187

Acknowledgments 191

Endnotes 195

Index 201

About the Author 209

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“With the enthusiasm of a convert and a filmmaker’s feel for storytelling, Scott recounts his own and others’ journeys in pursuit of FIRE so that readers can try it on for themselves to see if it fits. You’ll love meeting the bloggers and writers who’ve stoked the ‘fire’ and the ordinary people who’ve been transformed by it.”
— Vicki Robin, coauthor of Your Money or Your Life and author of Blessing the Hands That Feed Us

“Having seen [Scott and Taylor’s] success, I now have even higher hopes that more people can reap the benefits of more financially independent lives everywhere. And I think you will feel that same hope creep into your own outlook on life as you read it.”
from the foreword by Pete Adeney a.k.a. Mr. Money Mustache

“The path to FIRE is not linear, and this book perfectly captures the ups and downs many people face along the way. It’s rare, however, to get such an intimate view into a family’s journey from the very beginning. This book gives you that and is a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming documentary. It contains interesting backstory, endearing personal moments, and actionable advice to help you achieve your own financial goals sooner.”
— Brandon Ganch, Mad Fientist

“Readers will benefit from the wisdom of saving today in the hope of a brighter tomorrow.”
Library Journal

“To the uninitiated, pursuing financial independence seems exotic, impossible, and/or daunting. But in fact, it is simple and has roots deep in the American psyche. If you wonder what this path is like in real life and in real time, Scott and Taylor will take you along on their journey: not yet finished, a work in progress, and a very engaging tale.”
— JL Collins, author of The Simple Path to Wealth

“What if you could change your life 180 degrees, break free of the paycheck-to-paycheck grind, and pursue financial independence? Scott and Taylor Rieckens chronicle their incredible turnaround in Playing with FIRE, and their brilliantly simple advice is applicable to anyone: Spend less than you earn, invest the difference, and create the space in your life to pursue true happiness and lifelong relationships.”
— Brad Barrett and Jonathan Mendonsa, cohosts of the ChooseFI podcast

“In Playing with FIRE, Scott Rieckens shares the essence of the FIRE movement. And he does it with deeply personal, honest, and captivating stories that keep the pages turning. If you’re at all interested in financial independence, retiring early, or just putting happiness ahead of money, you will enjoy this book.”
— Chad Carson, creator of the blog Coach Carson and author of Retire Early with Real Estate

“Scott Rieckens has done a phenomenal job of embracing the FIRE movement and making the hard choices necessary to radically alter his family’s financial future. His book should be an inspiration to anyone starting in a similar life position. If you feel stuck or feel that you are not able to flex your creative talents and live a life where you are in control, then Playing with FIRE might be just the book you need.”
— Scott Trench, author of Set for Life and host of the BiggerPockets Money podcast

“This is a fascinating, relatable, and heartfelt story about a couple’s transition from ultra-consumers to people who discovered that time is more valuable than belongings. It weaves together their personal journey with actionable information, and features examples of dozens of others who are leaving the rat race in search of meaning. You won’t be able to put this book down.”
— Paula Pant, founder of affordanything.com

“A truly inspirational story that proves saving is not a sacrifice. It’s a path to a life you love.”
— Grant Sabatier, author of Financial Freedom and creator of millennialmoney.com

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