The Pursuit of FIRE and/or Debt Freedom: Worth the Work?

Ya’ll have Mrs. Picky Pincher to thank for this post. On Ruth’s recent article regarding her series of unfortunate travel events, Mrs. Picky commented that she’s been hearing that the pursuit of FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is pointless. 

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that about debt freedom as well (and thought it myself for many years). People, when they hear you are pursuing one or the other of these lofty goals will comment with sentences such as:

“Everyone has debt. It’s no big deal; it’s just the way it is.”

“Why would you live like that (i.e. super frugally) for so long? You should be enjoying life now.”

“You’ll never make it. It’s not possible to be debt free/reach financial independence” etc.

Anyone pursuing a financial goal that requires strict limits on spending and extra hours making money has probably heard one or more of these excuses. But is it worth it? Is the time and sacrifice to reach (or maybe reach) an astronomical goal like debt freedom or financial independence worth it?

Let’s talk a bit about the benefits vs the downsides of pursuing these types of goals.

Everyone Has Debt/No Savings/Can’t Retire Early

Yep, most everyone does. Most everyone is also miserable about their financial situation. The latest reports show that 76 million Americans are struggling financially/just getting by. That’s a large chunk of the U.S. population’s adults. But as my mother used to say back in the day, “If ‘everyone’ jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”

The truth of the matter is that any type of a goal that deviates from “normal” is going to require that you swim upstream. And most people don’t like that. Nobody likes to be alone in their misery. It’s much easier to make excuses for a bad financial situation if there are a large number of people around you in the same bad situation.

Those who break out of their bad situation and go for something better upset the apple cart in that they bring to light the lie that debt freedom/financial independence cannot be achieved.

Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t give up on your financial dreams. I promise you’ll like it better there.

Live for Today (You Only Live Once, After All) or Sacrifice for Later

The problem with this excuse is that for most of us, “later” will come. I turned 50 this summer and I’m still in shock and how quickly the past 30 years have gone.

So the real question becomes: Do you really want to live in this same financial hellhole thirty years from now? If so, keep on spending and not pursuing financial freedom and debt freedom. However, if you’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, get to work and change things up.

I have a feeling you’ll find as we did; that the things we were spending on didn’t bring us as much joy as we thought they did.

On the other hand, the sacrifices we’ve been making have been improving every area of our lives. As our financial stability has improved, so has the rest of our lives.

Debt Freedom/Financial Independence is Not Possible

Says who? Brian, who paid off $109k in credit card debt in under 5 years? My partner in crime here on Fruclassity, Ruth, who is nearly free of $250k in debt in just over five years? The list is endless. Spend any time at all in the PF blogging world and you’ll come across hundreds of people who share their stories of debt freedom.

The difference between those reaching their financial goals and those not reaching their financial goals is simply the commitment to do something different.  

No one who has reached an astronomical goal like paying off thousands in consumer debt or saving enough money to be financially independent did it without sacrifice and hard work. It’s time to trade in today’s “I want it, so I shall have it – and NOW” mentality for something better: true financial peace that will allow you to see the world outside of the lens of “Should I, could I, can I afford the payments?” 

Money in and of itself cannot buy true happiness, but when you live a life where money is not a consideration in the decisions you make, you’ll likely find you’re making much more intentional decisions for the right reasons instead of the “can I afford it?” reasons.

What do you think? Is the pursuit of debt freedom/financial independence worth it?

20 comments on “The Pursuit of FIRE and/or Debt Freedom: Worth the Work?

  1. This is exactly why I like to spend a surprising amount of time for a finance writer talking about happiness research. The “everyone else does it” argument is built upon the idea that the consensus must be on to something. The “live for today” argument is built on the idea that spending more actually makes you happier. I think both of these are wrong.

    If you’re spending more than you earn because you want to be happy like everyone else, then someone needs to shake you and show you that everyone else isn’t that happy! There is a lot of research on the limits of material purchases in producing happiness. People may feel like they need their current lifestyle to be happy, but that’s only because they’ve gotten used to their current baseline. Cutting back and being more strategic in spending feels tough at the beginning, but ultimately will make people happier.

    1. Matt, awesome comment!!! You could write an entire post on that comment!! I cannot even begin to explain the rise in our peace level and happiness as we’ve drastically cut spending in order to pay off our debt. SO worth every dime we don’t spend on entertainment, etc.

  2. I agree with Matt! Both the “everyone else” and “live for today” arguments miss the point… we are all unique and we are all seeking happiness in some way. The world will bombard you by telling you happiness is here, now and in things! But some of the happiest people in the world are also those who free themselves of “things” and focus on freedom and the ability to chart their path. And working towards that freedom is worth it to me!

    1. So true!!! Happiness is indeed being free of things!! I wish more would take a chance on finding that out. Thanks, Mrs. AR!

  3. I’m much happier out of debt than I was ever in debt. Sure spending money I didn’t have on a purchase or a vacation made me immediately happy, but there was no lasting effect. Since we have paid off debt, we lead a less stressful life. We don’t fear the unexpected. Overall we are much happier, with fewer peaks and valleys.

    1. Yes! No lasting effect indeed!! No more stress worrying about paying unexpected expenses, etc. It’s wonderful!!

  4. I have a kind of symbolic example of this. The other day I was searching for an artificial flower arrangement for my parents’ grave site. I’ve tried the real ones and in the long run, haven’t been happy with the results. So anyhoo, I found a great arrangement, but I just keep getting the feeling that I needed to wait. So a few days later I was in a Big Lots store, which I maybe go to 3 or 4 times a year, tops. On my way out, having found nothing to purchase, I saw a display of artificial flower arrangements with a giant 90% off sign. I found the perfect arrangement on sale for only 88 cents. 88 cents people! I was going to pay over $20 a few days earlier for something I didn’t like even half as much. So, in essence, we can always take the easy $20+ road, OR, we can take a little bit of time and find the 88 cent alternative and be just as happy if not more so. If we apply this on a regular basis, there’s a ton of loot to be saved. And my mom would have been pleased because she LOVED a great deal. 🙂

    1. Om my gosh – what a GREAT story!!!!! I’ve had similar things happen before too. One time when we were really struggling our oldest needed shoes. After praying and waiting, I found a great pair of tennis shoes at her fave name brand store – for $2. 🙂 It’s awesome the deals that will come your way when you are truly committed to stewarding your money.

  5. “The problem with this excuse is that for most of us, ‘later’ will come.” Later comes for most of us for a lot longer than it ever has before. It’s ironic that this YOLO attitude has developed as we’ve reached the highest longevity rates ever.
    It’s strange for me to read that you consider me to be “nearly free of $250 k in debt.” I don’t see that “nearly” yet. We’re approaching $200 k though. Looking forward to that milestone! And has it been worth it? YES!

  6. There are a lot of cool things about turning 50 this fall, one of which is that I care a lot less what other people think and what’s normal and worry a lot more about what’s right for me and my family.

    But I realize that not everyone has that epiphany, and there are plenty of folks who get even more rigid about societal expectations and appearances as they age. And there’s plenty of folks who’d rather make judgments than make changes.

    I’m glad you, Mrs. Picky Pincher, and so many others in the PF world are willing to be different.

  7. The best thing I’ve had going for me is that I’ve never thought that normal was something to strive for. I never wanted to be just like other people, I knew very well that what made them happy wouldn’t necessarily transfer to me. I wasn’t smart enough to know this about their outfits and hairdos, but at least I had it right for life choices 🙂

    I always thought that if I was conservative about spending in order to save later, what’s the worst that would happen? I die early, miss a few experiences in life, didn’t get to go eat all the sushi in Japan? Ok, I’ll be dead and can’t really care, can I? If I don’t, if I live 50 more years, the result of not saving would be an outcome that I had to live with. That is a *much worse* prospect.

    Even if I don’t ever make it to FIRE, even if I only make it part way, I’ll have done it by practicing a better way to live – not over consuming, finding ways to be a good steward of this planet we live on, trying to make the best of our situations. Can you really lose by being mindful of these things?

    1. AWESOME comment!!! I love what you said about even making it part way to FI being a great thing. Having been super deep in debt and struggling to make it every day, I agree with you. Even part way out of a bad situation into a better situation is a blessing and worth the work. I think sometimes people see these things as “all or nothing”, and all seems too difficult, and so they stick with “nothing”. 🙁

  8. I just read another blog post that reminded me of this quote and I’ll put it here again…

    “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Teddy Roosevelt

    I really agree with his point of view. I always admire people who do something difficult, like paying off a pile of debt, or saving more than normal to reach FIRE, especially when it requires sacrifice and tough decisions.

  9. For myself, to truly achieve FIRE would mean to give up many things that provide me with community — things that I am currently willing to spend a bit of money on, like supporting my bike shop’s events. But I still have that target in mind – because why not?? If I can picture myself with a million dollars in the bank, paying bills from dividend income, writing by the lake and volunteering on my own time, then envisioning myself “simply” debt free is now super attainable 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *