Should I Think Less About FIRE?

My funemployment, as I suspected, has been far too short.

One of the surprising things I’ve found is this time has been how little I have been interested in money lately.

On an average day, I can spend my time reading books, going on walks, traveling to nearby towns I haven’t visited before and wouldn’t normally venture to. I have been singing a lot lately, something I haven’t done in years, and feel enthusiastic again about learning new things.

Without the obligation of employment hanging over my head, I am fully capable of letting go of my money anxieties. I’ve started to remember the core-YAPFB, the one that I haven’t really known since I graduated college. Core-YAPFB is super chill, not particularly ambitious, but is a pretty happy gal that likes good food, good friends, and good stories. I really like core-YAPFB. Rarely does core-YAPFB compulsively check Personal Capital, project out her FI/RE date, optimize her money-making and money-saving ventures, or even really care about running up her $ numbers.

That is, except when thinking about going back to work.

When I start thinking about work, my FIRE-obsessed brain goes into overdrive. If I let myself ruminate on it, the prospect of what has to be done, getting in the good graces of my colleagues, etc. is stressful. I’ve trained the pathway in my brain to go from the thought of work to the thought of work stress to the though of “oh my gawd I can’t do this for forty years” to FIRE.

But clearly, since I haven’t even started my job yet, work itself is not the issue. Rather, it is my method for dealing with low-level anxiety, i.e. obsessing about FIRE, that is the problem.

I find that when I am fully invested in my work, I am actually very good about both keeping my spending down and not even really thinking about FIRE. FIRE is something that instead occupies my mind during periods of high (often self-imposed) stress and ennui. Rather than directing my energies toward productive activities– getting what work I need to do or improving myself in non-financial ways– FIRE takes over what spare cycles I have, and often to a somewhat detrimental effect.

Given that I have the rough structures in place for FIRE– automatic retirement and investment contributions, rough outline of a budget, and the like– it really is a waste how much I think about FIRE when I could be focusing on literally anything else.

So I am going to add a new goal to my list for 2018: No more thinking about money unless (a) it is part of necessary maintenance to keep financial systems going or (b) relates to building a system in earnest for a specific and well-defined financial issue. No more idly beating myself up for spending too much on food. No more browsing /r/financialindependence out of boredom. Either decide to really adopt a system to fix already identified problems or move on. And if my anxiety brings me back to thinking about PF and FIRE? Use that energy elsewhere for something more important. Start building that life I want to live now.

Do you get overwhelmed by FIRE or PF-obsession? 

 

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14 thoughts on “Should I Think Less About FIRE?

  1. I’ve long used personal finance and playing with my spreadsheets as an easy outlet for anxiety. The Great Recession happened shortly after I started working, so that somewhat influenced my attitudes – the need to feel secure when I knew my only safety net would be one I created. I never got into projecting a FI (or RE) date, because I don’t find it very useful to me. I’ll know when we get there.

    Running is a far more effective-for-me anxiety outlet, but also takes more physical effort. 🙂

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    1. I just realized the other day that the Recession was like 10 years ago (or at least started around then). Weird to think that our generation is probably going to carry it around as a memory pretty much forever.

      Running is the best/worst. So good for reducing anxiety, but also weirdly an addiction in its own right (at least for me) and really effs up my joints.

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      1. I don’t really run right now – more hiking with the doggy while he runs and we walk. But running was really good stress relief when I was into it and it didn’t hurt my joints. Hiking is also good stress relief, but not strenuous enough for the “high” that you can can get. So, I have a dream of running again, at least very casually.

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        1. I should add my current obsession is planning for the baby, and also trying to shop for bargains. it has pretty much replaced my financial obsessing for now!

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  2. If you’re like me, it will be replaced with something else (not running though… that’s the last thing I will ever obsess over) and there are far worse things. But it sounds like you’re ready for something new!

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  3. Despite not having done any of the real FIRE math (and not having any particularly useful spreadsheets), I think I really relate to this. In me it just comes out as sort of pointlessly checking Personal Capital all the time. (The numbers generally haven’t changed that much since yesterday, or a few hours ago, and never in a way that is a surprise to me, but alas, I keep at it.) It’s definitely a way of dealing with anxiety, and graduating into the recession is definitely a factor, as well as choosing to go to law school despite knowing that, if the economy crashed again (which I didn’t think was too likely), that could be it for my ability to quickly service those loans.

    I don’t think I can really be completely free of the anxious money tracking thing until I’m much closer to paying off my loans. I think it’ll get a bit better once I hit net worth zero, then even better again once I have enough liquid cash to cover what remains of the student loan balance, and so on. Of course, there’s other things to get stressed about after that (that will probably start taking me in to the time period where I’ll start thinking about kids, buying property, etc. but it’s hard to imagine those things being scary in quite the same way as the student loans… which may be naive of me).

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    1. I became way less anxious about money itself after we rebuilt our cash / investment reserves after buying our place. I don’t think I check PC any less than I did then since my working-related anxiety triggers never went away. That said, I’m sure you’ll be significantly relieved once the student loans are gone.

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  4. Same as SP in broad strokes – though the timing is a little different. I started working a few years before the Recession and was paying off that massive load of debt for my parents, while living with them and fighting with my totally irresponsible brother to stop being a leech, so learning everything I could about financial management was the one thing I could truly control. Once it hit and I was laid off, it was definitely one of the few ways left to me to manage anxiety!

    I’ve weaned myself off a lot of the obsessive account checking that was a result of last year’s stress but I haven’t ever been not concerned about money in my adult life so it’s less about rediscovering who I was and more about learning who I can be when not thoroughly obsessed with money just to survive. I’m not there yet – because of my health there is a strong need for FIRE – but I can see a faint outline of the kind of life we’re working to build where I don’t have the anxiety to manage through spreadsheets galore.

    But I think I may always love spreadsheets and money. As a child I really enjoyed thinking about and playing with money.

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    1. Anxiety, man, once there it never really leaves you alone!

      I’m coming off a really bad checking Mint/PC every couple hours sort of period (both at the tail end of my last job and when I have to think about contracts and other paperwork for new one). If I can get to the point where I feel in control of money thoughts instead of vice versa, I’ll be thrilled.

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  5. I think that unless one is in the final stretch of FIRE, it isn’t worth obsessing over the numbers too much since so much can change. That said, I know it’s really difficult to not do that 😉

    I definitely use spreadsheets as an easy outlet for anxiety like SP, but I’ve definitely reduced how much time I spend fidgeting with them over the years. I only check my net worth and investments on the 1st of the month now, not weekly or daily like I did in the past. I do still check in on the budget/transactions/checking account/credit cards far more regularly. I don’t think my money anxieties will ever fully go away, but they’ve definitely substantially calmed down / shifted over the years.

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  6. I have really only started to think about it in the past few months (largely due to now working somewhere with generous employer retirement contributions and so having double digit percentage going towards the long term for the first time). But I’m unlikely to work here forever, and we’re going to have kids, and my husband has just started a business, so…. ?!?!?!?!

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