Unhealthy habits and downsides of the FIRE movement
The reality behind the financial freedom grind and strategies for overcoming the pitfalls along the way
Working toward financial freedom—also known as the financial independence and retire early (FIRE) movement 🔥— is a bit like running a business. You are, in a sense, managing your revenue (your salary or income) against your profits and losses (savings and spending). You’re constantly prioritizing and re-prioritizing in order to make the best decisions and find the best strategy to reach your goals. It is hard freaking work. However, there are some necessary evils and sacrifices that must be made in order to make these strategies work for you and your lifestyle. The magic is in the balance.
Below are some unhealthy habits to keep an eye out for and lessons from my own mistakes on this journey.
Always talking about money
A friend once gave me some tough feedback that my partner and I talk about money a lot. Like, all of the time. At dinners with friends: “Oh my god look how much the salmon is on the menu. Well that’s expensive.” At family gatherings: “I got such a great deal on this new blender, it was only thirty bucks!”
Talking about money makes people uncomfortable. Not everyone is in on your financial investment strategy, and they don’t understand why spending or saving an extra twenty bucks this week is a big deal to you. I do believe that we should de-stigmatize talking about money—especially when it comes to managing debt and negotiating salaries because it can be very empowering— but there is a time and a place for it and it requires approaching it with a positive attitude instead of a negative one.
Don’t be a Debbie Downer. Let people enjoy their dinners in peace without dwelling on the price of your entree.
In other words, don’t be a Debbie Downer. Let people enjoy their dinners in peace without dwelling on the price of your entree. When a friend comes to you for financial advice or how to find the best savings on your purchases, then you can geek out on all the money talk. Or you can write blog posts about it like I do and let them opt-in to reading all about it. 🤣
Fixating on the numbers and not your goals
It is so easy to get caught up in the details.
How much did this cost?
How much did we spend on that?
Next month we need to save this much more!
You can start to lose sight of why you are hustling this hard in the first place. Instead of dwelling on the numbers in the spreadsheet, practice gratitude for all of your hard work and reframe how your spending habits are helping (or not helping) you reach your goals.
Wow, we are that much closer to our down payment to buy a house!
Yay, I can’t wait to go on this big vacation I’ve been saving for!
We had an amazing dinner out with friends last week, but this week let’s try a new recipe to cook at home so we can stay on budget.
All work and no play
Just because you are working hard to save for your future, doesn’t mean you can’t do fun things now.
Think about what brings you joy in life and be sure to keep those toward the top of the list.
For us, we have always prioritized travel. It’s just one of those deal breakers for me I couldn’t give up and I knew it would give me the motivation—and more importantly happiness—to keep working toward our longer-term goals. We do at least one big trip every other year. Over the years we have traveled near and far, from Machu Picchu and New Orleans to Pamplona, Spain and Austin, Texas. There are also travel hacks like speaking at conferences that will pay for your travel if you really want to get creative!
Everyone’s priorities are different. Think about what brings you joy in life and be sure to keep those toward the top of the list. As you are saving for your long-term goals, set aside short-term savings for a weekend trip or that item you’ve had your eye on forever. These small wins will give you the sense of satisfaction and reward you need to keep the momentum going for your long-term goals.
Getting anxiety about spending on basic necessities
Sometimes, even a simple grocery store trip gives me anxiety as I watch the number on the register creep higher than our weekly grocery budget target. But that’s the thing: it’s a target. You are not going to hit a bullseye every single time. Some weeks you may spend more than others.
Remember that life happens and you will need to be flexible and adjust your budget and goals accordingly.
Fighting about money with your partner
I’ll be honest. Behind the scenes, there has been a lot of bickering about financial decisions, risks, mistakes, learnings, and how to prioritize. We are spouses first, but we are also business partners. And this kind of dynamic can cause tension and conflict if we do not create awareness around our behaviors and the way we talk to each other—especially when it comes to money. Over the years, we have developed (and oh boy are we still learning!) boundaries, coping skills, and strategies for bringing our best selves to the money table.
Set expectations and be completely transparent with each other.
Discuss what your triggers and boundaries are with your partner. For example, we try not to talk about money first thing in the morning (I am not a morning person) or late at night (my husband doesn’t have the patience or energy for money talk when he’s tired).
Set expectations and be completely transparent with each other. If I know I am going to have a high credit card bill (which we pay off every single month) instead of hiding it, I flag it to my partner as early as possible. Does it feel like I am letting him down a bit when I tell him I spent a bit more than I expected to this month? Yes absolutely. But does he forgive me and help me look closely at the details to see where we (ahem—I) splurged and how we can do better next time? Definitely.
Always choosing the cheap option
I am almost embarrassed to say we are the biggest culprits of this one (and those of you that know me well are probably chuckling a bit because you know it’s true! 🙈)
Don’t forget that your time is money too.
There’s a big difference between being cheap and being frugal. We are finally learning this one and coming around. Sometimes the cheaper option is actually the more expensive one in the long run and it almost always causes more stress. It might feel nicer on your wallet up front and satisfy your monthly cash flow goal, but if the quality of the product or service is not up to par you will end up needing to replace it in the very near future and end up with the more expensive option anyways.
Also, don’t forget that your time is money too. Calculate your hourly rate (yes, do this for full-time, hard-working moms/dads/parents too!) and see how much it would cost you to do something for the number of hours it will take you to do it vs hiring a service or buying a product that will save you time and make your life easier. Create a benchmark for the hourly rate you are willing to hire someone to complete a task that is less than what your hourly rate is worth.
Getting stuck in a fixed mindset
Working toward financial freedom is a grind. Especially in the beginning, it can feel like you are working so hard (preparing your own lunch every single day— hello boring meal prep—and skipping happy hours with coworkers—goodbye social life) to save and reach your weekly/monthly/yearly financial goals for very little return (at first).
You are human after all, not a money making machine.
It is easy to fall back into a fixed mindset: that you are always going to live this way; that you are never going to have a social life. As with most things in life, good things come with time. It is important to have awareness around the thoughts that keep you feeling stuck. You are not just shifting your mindset from spending to saving, you also need to shift from a fixed to a growth mindset. Talk back to your fixed thoughts and start giving them a piece of your growth mind.
I am living this way for now, so that I can have the freedom to do more later.
I can still have a social life, it just might look a little different than it used to.
You are investing in your future, with every chicken sandwich you make yourself for lunch and every ice water with lemon you order at happy hour.*
(*Note: these are NOT the only ways to create more savings for your future, they’re just quick, easy examples for the sake of this article that most people can relate to. Do what works best for you.)
And when those fixed voices get a little too loud, don’t forget to honor them and treat yourself to something that will bring you joy and sustain you through all of your hard work. You are human after all, not a money making machine.