The Selfishness of Seeking FIRE

We have an expression in our family – “It’s not all about you ___”.

We use it when one of us is being selfish and not thinking about the other two. Demanding something or complaining about something without considering the wider impact.

Something that bothers me sometimes about my pursuit of financial independence and my single-minded desire to retire sooner rather than later, is the effect it may have on my children. I worry that it’s “all about me” because, well – it is.

All About Me

I’m doing this because I want to; because I’m burned out and tired and I need a break or (more accurately) a complete divorce from corporate life. It’s not about what is best for my family (although there will be both upsides and downsides for them). It’s all about me.

Putting myself so blatantly first like that is not something that comes naturally, as I’m sure it doesn’t to other parents. But like securing our own oxygen mask before helping anyone else (another thing that wouldn’t be instinctive), there are times when putting your own well-being first is necessary for the survival of the group.

Not That There Aren’t Upsides

There have definitely been some positive effects for the family from my quest for FIRE.

Witness the situation a few weeks ago when I was able to harness the power of my FU fund and assure my youngest that I would no longer travel for work. If anyone ever needs an example of “The Why of FI” let this be it. Being able to reassure your insecure child that you will be there every single morning while they get ready for school and not halfway across the globe while Grandma does her best to fill in. Having the courage to be able to say a big fat “No” to your boss because you have that stash of funds behind you.

Then there is their financial education. Financial independence and how to achieve early retirement was not so much a lightbulb moment in our house, it was more like having the entire Blackpool Illuminations shoot up in our own back garden.

It is a big deal. And such a positive potential lifestyle change that I talk about it a lot at home. Sometimes I wonder if I talk about it too much (I do have a pretty obsessive personality), especially when I see the eye rolls or when I realise I am performing a monologue rather than having a conversation. But I know they are absorbing everything – the eldest has aspirations to be retired by 40 – and they understand the fundamentals of how to get there.

But the Early Retirement Side? That Feels Like It’s All About Me.

University fees, a foot on the property ladder or a first car – these are all things I would like to help the children with in the future. (Not give them – but help them with).

Not to mention travelling at least once a month to watch his beloved football team play (for the youngest) and going somewhere warm on holiday (for the oldest) are the things they love and that I would love to keep doing with them over the next few years.

A Lean FI budget leaves no room for these things and that feels selfish.

I can’t help but compare myself to my father who worked in factories his entire life. Nobody works on a production line for over thirty years because they want to. He did it because that’s what you do – get married, start a family and work to provide for them. Working punishing shifts six or even seven days a week, I never heard him complain. He just got on with it and did what needed to be done.

Sometimes I feel pathetic complaining about the stress of my office job which is so cushy in comparison to his life. If he could turn up every single day to a noisy, smelly, physically punishing place of work for decades – can I not manage just another few short years for the sake of a better life for my family?

Of course I’m talking here only about the money and what the money can buy, not about the benefits of having a stay at home parent or even a parent that is not completely frazzled almost always.

My children are lucky so far to have experienced some of the good things in life that a big salary brings. Because I’ve always been a saver, there hasn’t been reckless spending and they certainly don’t have everything they want. But they have a nice house and laptops and phones and visits to exotic lands every now and again.

Then again, having to make sacrifices with some of the things they have so far taken for granted could be a valuable life lesson and leave them with more motivation to earn that lifestyle for themselves.

I read this week how Gordon Ramsey refuses to allow his kids to travel first class. He and his wife turn left; the kids turn right. He says they haven’t worked anywhere near hard enough to afford that privilege and I can’t help but agree. It’s a fine line between doing your best for your children and bringing them up spoiled and entitled.

A Compromise…?

It’s one thing quitting the all-consuming killer of a career. But somewhere in between that and early retirement is a less stressful job, perhaps in a smaller company without all the corporate BS, or – my preferred option – something completely different like working in a bookstore or a newsagent.

Being able to take my foot off the gas with regards to saving, means I could earn a lot less. And instead of the lean FI budget that would result from leaving work completely within the next couple of years, there would be more padding, so to speak.

And this is what I find myself contemplating now. Maybe some time off and then a move to the lower stress job is the compromise that assuages my guilt as a parent whilst giving me the relief from pressure that I crave.

Maybe…. (she says, reaching for the oxygen mask).

(946 days)

 

What do you think?

Is there a difference between what’s best for you and what your family want or need? How do you reconcile the two?

 

 

21 thoughts on “The Selfishness of Seeking FIRE”

  1. Hi Fire9to5,
    I read your blog post and can’t help but agree with so many things you raised. Working hard just to spoil your kids in the end doesn’t resonate with me. I don’t have kids yet but I am thinking ahead. I often wonder if even telling them about the little fortune I have built or pretend to live a simple life and spending the time to educate them how to save and still be happy. I don’t think taking care of yourself if selfish at all. In the contrary, I believe it is a responsibility to do so first and foremost. You can only take care 100% of others if you have taken care of yourself first. Similarly you need to love yourself to be able to love others unconditionally. The happiness that you feel will project onto your loved ones. I had a big smirk on my face reading about the bookstore job. I chose to dive for a ‘living’ but it is really just a thing to do which I am absolutely passionate about. It pays a simple life and I very rarely miss my corporate pay check. Having said this I am also contemplating to go back to corporate work after a two year break to enhance the buffer a little more. I’m a little more than lean FI now considering what I want from life but I would feel a lot more secure if I had a little extra cushion just in case of an unforesseable catastrophic event. I used to love my corporate job but at some stage it started feeling bad, I felt becoming unhappy, now that I took a decent break I could imagine kicking a few ore goals. Maybe it was burn it without me realising, though I have seen real burn out and I didn’t really think I was the case. Anyways, keep writing, love how your thoughts are resonating with me in so many ways. PS: I have to stop myself from monologuing evry once in a while, too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Financial Gladiator,
      Thanks for your kind words. It’s interesting what you say about maybe going back for a little while and that it could have been burnout. I think I may be in the same place and it’s a slippery slope from burnout to breakdown. I’m seriously contemplating doing what you’ve done and taking the break- great to hear that it helped you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I guess what is best for you is ultimately in the best interests of the whole family but I can relate to the comparison with your father…I think we have it much easier today then our parents/grandparents, I guess times have changed.

    Finding the right balance when you cannot just please yourself must be difficult. I am sure FI is much more achievable without the expense of children. As you say, maybe you will need to ease back a little until the kids are more independent without losing sight of the destination. Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an interesting conundrum and also a curious juxtaposition to where I’m coming from. I don’t have children, but I see my drive to reach FIRE ASAP as the greatest gift I could give my family (and they’ve said this to me). I’ve always chased promotions, better work/life balance and a nice COL, which has led me to live far from my family and most of my friends. Luckily I’ve been able to take my partner with me and technology makes it feel like my family and I interact a lot even if it’s not in person, but it’s not the same.

    I want to reach FIRE so I can spend longer than two rushed weeks a year with my family, so I can be a less stressed and more present person when I am with them. I don’t think about the trips I deemed didn’t have a high enough ROI (even if it’s with family…) or any other ‘sacrifice’ I’ve made to reach my goals as selfish (though maybe it is and I’m just fine with it 🙂 ). I’m doing this to get what me and my family want: as much time together as we can. I understand that you want to provide great things for your children, but I’m guessing they’d pick time with you over all of it 🙂 .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve never actually thought of it in those terms – being the greatest gift I could give my family. Certainly, it would let me spend far more time with my parents and siblings and their families who all live a few hours away. That’s a big upside worth considering – thanks!
      As to my children – well they are teenagers, so typically they want it all – time with me when I am not frazzled and short tempered and all the nice things in life too!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t feel FIRE is selfish. My goal has always been to take of myself, then take care of my family, then I will be able to exponentially help and positively impact others in a positive way. If I can’t get my personal finances together, I won’t be able to provide a sound foundation for my family. If my family isn’t taken care of (not spoiled but a roof and food and clothing etc.) Then how can I impact people outside of my family when lacking funds and most importantly the time. My father worked 70 – 100 hours per week. I promised myself that would never be me. I want to be able to build a relationship with my kids and when I retire this January I’ll have the opportunity to spend as much time with my 5 and 6 year as I want. That my friends is far from selfish.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Retiring when your children are so young is absolutely fantastic – a great achievement, well done! I think I would feel less guilty if mine were younger, when they crave time with their parents. As teenagers, the effect of being with them more is less obvious, deep down I’m sure it makes a difference even if they don’t show it.

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  5. Everything we see in the world was dreamed up by people that were no smarter than you or I – all the rules and expectations of society. Sounds like your father followed those diligently, as did mine. The effect of those rules tend to accrue to the benefit of those who created and expound them – those at the top of the societal hierarchy, or manufacturers who need us to believe that driving a new car makes a whit of difference.

    In my dad’s day he had to work that his family had a decent life, and today we’ve ‘progressed’ such that it’s normal for two (or more) to give up all that time. You’ve not only mentally worked your way around that system, but put in the hard work needed to actually make your alternative ideas happen. It’s really hard to throw off the mental shackles that we should work as hard as past generations (I’m working on that myself!), but the truth is we’ll be putting just the same effort, only for things that we deem worthwhile.

    Not only that, but I suspect that will be the best version of you for your kids – not only physically there and having time for them more, but less stressed and serving as an alternate example of how life can be lived. I’d say spectacularly well done you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John – are you a counsellor in an alternate life? People would pay to have your perspective on things I’m sure! I love what you wrote here and have been mulling it over for days now. You are right on both counts and I especially like the thought of showing the boys an alternate example of how life can be lived. Thank you.

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      1. No counsellor, but seems INTJ can’t help but see patterns and interpret meanings in things – actually I used to think that was how everyone saw the world! Primarily though your writing is really “human”, you make things feel things feel very real, and that sets me ruminating on such things.

        We come into the world, and there are ‘the rules’. No-one sets them out, but we pick them up from parents, teachers, TV, newspapers – this is how the world works. Get a job, work hard, try and have a life, get a pension. It works, but capitalism owns us and our time. No-one explains that instead we can own capitalism. Learn about FI, follow that path instead and you can control your own time.

        Looking back there is an incredible amount that I now know that I dearly wish someone had educated me on when I was younger – much of it revolving around money, how it is created, how it works. We spend SO much of our lives studying subjects trying to make money, but there is no education on how it works, or how to preserve / invest it. Maybe that’s like the infamous George Carlin sketch – our economy runs on frivolous spending, and therefore doesn’t really want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking.

        Your approach is creating well-informed, well-educated kids, capable of critical thinking – far from being selfish, it’s hard to think of a better start you could give them.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I feel the same – I wish I had been educated financially at a much younger age. I think I would be already free by now if that were the case.
          I’m coming round to the idea that I’m showing them a different way…. well I’m swaying between that and the guilt – but it’s becoming clearer all the time thanks to some helpful perspectives here.

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  6. This is a very interesting point about the pursuit of financial independence. I personally do not have any children so I can’t relate from that standpoint. But I think that you will be able to give your children a better version of yourself by doing what makes you happy. And you also are passing on strong values that they can apply to their own lives down the road. Further, I believe that working for things for yourself builds character. I guess it’s about finding the right balance that works for your family. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m selfish and I’m unapologetic about it. I’m planning for lean FI with no children, family or relationships. I live for myself and no one else. I didn’t choose to be put into this world where I’m forced to spend half of my waking hours working in order to be able to survive, and it’s not my obligation to contribute to society in any way. FIRE is just me building a life that would actually be worth living.

    Liked by 1 person

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