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Throwing ICE on FIRE

Image of ICE on FIRE. Fire and ice. The mainstream financial media’s portrayal of early retirement has always felt disingenuous, leading with “this 30-something retired” or some variation of that hook, then later highlighting that the “early retiree” is working a new job (even though they don’t need to), running a business, or has an employed spouse providing income and health insurance.

These bait-and-switch articles continue to attract clicks despite the FIRE movement having long passed its heyday.

I’ve been an “early retirement” blogger since 2013, having written my share of articles advocating for financial freedom and building investment income to escape the nine-to-five, fanning the flame, if you will. 

But I’ve never called myself retired — extinguishing my chances of a CNBC feature. 

I left my former IT career for self-employment. 

Self-employment and business ownership are fun and fulfilling. But it’s still a job, and I’m definitely not retired. 

The smarter I work, the more I earn. Still, now is the hardest I’ve worked since the summer of 1996 when I bused tables at Giovanni’s in Ocean City, MD.

I spent more than 20 years working for a paycheck and saving and investing with urgency to meet my retirement goal. 

But now that I’ve found purpose in my full-time work, it seems “ICE” may be a better acronym for me today.

ICE

Long-time money writer Jonathan Clements, who runs the website HumbleDollar (where I’m an occasional contributor), wrote a piece recently coining a fresh new personal finance acronym, ICE:

I’ll Continue Earning

ICE is the antithesis of FIRE — financial independence/retire early. 

Enjoying work, finding purpose in a profession, and remaining useful into retirement resonates with me more than CNBC clickbait these days. 

As a self-employed business owner and online content creator, I’m excited about my work today and what the future holds. That doesn’t jive with a rigid retirement date.

My original retirement goal at age 55 is still possible. But I don’t see myself wanting to be fully retired while my kids are still in grade school.

Travel and career malaise were my primary motivations for pursuing early retirement. But I won’t travel while our kids are still at home. And now that I enjoy my work, I’m less inclined to want to stop. 

Self-employment enables a more flexible lifestyle, unshackled from commuting, back-to-back-to-back meetings, and billable hours. That means I can be super-present in my kids’ lives every day. 

If I continue earning when they go to college, I’ll have more financial wiggle room to fund their education needs. Furthermore, a flexible career will allow me to keep earning while Mrs. RBD and I travel more extensively. 

For the foreseeable future, I’ll continue earning. 

I’m not alone. 

Of all the financial independence seekers I’ve met through blogging, nearly everyone still earns through a passion project or active income endeavor. 

It’s the irony of FIRE — it motivates those who have achieved it to work again. 

Root

Several readers have written me over the years about how they don’t plan to retire. They’ve found purpose in their careers and enjoy earning and building wealth even when they don’t need to. 

I’ve always deeply admired these people.

An equal number of emails have come from readers who aspire to retire early.

The second group usually has something in common with me — early in life, they fell into a profession that paid well but didn’t excite them.  

These readers have struggled to find professional purpose, working on tasks that feel unnecessary, repetitive, duplicative, needed to cover someone’s ass or fix someone’s mistakes.

They lack enthusiasm and feel out of place among their passionate colleagues.

Add commuting, not enough time off, mandatory office presence, and limited growth opportunities, and a career can start to feel like a prison.

The cell is especially claustrophobia-inducing when lifestyle, recurring payment obligations, and the legacy of an expensive college degree dictate earning needs. 

I’m fortunate that my parents paid for my college education; I’ve used debt conservatively and always prioritized saving and investing before spending.

Building a substantial wealth foundation over 20 years gave me a choice to stay or leave my IT career. 

I stayed so long because I thought my career was the path of least resistance to my early retirement goal. 

However, discovering a different way to earn outside of my day job was the first step in transitioning from an escape plan to a sustainable and picturesque pathway forward. 

Now that I’m running my one-person business, the desire to retire early has gone away.

With the urgency to leave an unremarkable career gone, I can plan for my working future using more pragmatic inputs, like when my kids graduate college and become adults or when I’m good and ready to stop working. 

Fuel

My early retirement goal from 2003 ignited an urgency to save and invest throughout my career. 

I made sacrifices, living in smaller homes, traveling light, drinking cheap beer, and approaching most purchase decisions with a bias toward no.

Those habits persist. Costco is my clothier, boxed is my favorite vintage, and a good deal beats luxury any day. 

My plan to stop working led me to start an online business and, ultimately, a career I have no desire to quit. 

At least, that’s how I feel today.

I could burn out, return to my other career, or cash out early and live entirely on investments. Situations change. 

If you’re in the category of people who genuinely enjoy their careers, I get it now. 

For those who want to retire early, consider what’s driving the urge. Do you simply want to retire to escape an ill-chosen career? There may be another way.

Start by reducing lifestyle expenses. Eliminate the spending waste to give yourself more options. Consider side hustles, which are plentiful and can lead to unexpected outcomes. 

Start a low-cost side business; it’s easier today more than ever. The internet gives us infinite ways to earn money, and the costs to launch are minimal — though it’s gotten more competitive since I started.  

Old-fashioned local businesses work, too, but avoid significant upfront investments. Test, fail, and try again until something sticks.

Income from endeavors outside of your nine-to-five will pad your savings and might lead to a more palatable full-time gig.

Even if you make it to some form of financial independence, the desire to earn may not go away after your career has provided enough.


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