🐧 9 FIRE alternatives you need to know

INSIDE: Fractional Work, Barista FIRE, Mini-Retirement, House Hacking, Buying a SMB, and More
March 24, 2024

Today, in 10 minutes or less, you'll learn:

  • 😰 My Apprehension with FIRE
  • 🎱 9 FIRE Alternatives Including Fractional Work, Barista FIRE, Mini-Retirement, House Hacking, Buying a SMB, and More
  • 🙋‍♂️ My Exact FIRE Alternative Strategy

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🔥 8 FIRE alternatives you need to know

I have a confession to make.

FIRE is not for me.

While I’m a fan of some the ideas behind FIRE, I don’t love the obsessive pursuit of early retirement.

Part of me can’t help but feel it’s a bit like escaping one hamster wheel just to get stuck running on another wheel.

But what’s the alternative?

I went down the internet rabbit hole researching various answers to this question, and I’m excited to reveal the fruits of my labor. Don’t miss the surprise at the end.

In this newsletter, I will deep dive into what is FIRE, my apprehension with FIRE, 9 types of FIRE alternatives, and which alternatives I’m pursuing.

What is FIRE? 🔥

FIRE stands for Financial Independent Early Retirement.

It’s a movement that champions early retirement in your 30’s to 50’s and financial freedom instead of the traditional method of working until you’re over 65, then retiring.

FIRE seekers typically have a so-called a “FIRE Number,” which is measured by 25x your yearly expenses (4% safe withdrawal rate) and denotes when you’re ready to retire.

My Apprehension With FIRE 😰 

FIRE sounds good in theory. I love the ideas of financial independence and gaining more control over my time.

But here’s a few common traps I notice that FIRE seekers tend to fall into:

  1. Recreate What You’re Trying to Escape - Most FIRE proponents seem to pursue early retirement in order to escape the 9-5 corporate grind. But ironically, they end up working even harder to climb the career ladder and make more money, so that they retire early.
  2. Ultra Frugal - While popular FIRE advocates like Mr. Money Moustache champion frugality, this doesn’t quite resonate with me. For example, I believe there’s certain experiences (like traveling the world) worth splurging on in your 20’s and 30’s because they’re formative and timely. It gets much more difficult to execute some things later in life due to health and life commitments.
  3. The Working Parents Paradox - I loved this chart from Ernie Park. The takeaway is that if you’re shooting for FIRE, then you’re probably working really hard in your 30’s and 40’s—which is when you need more flexibility as a parent:

Yet, I believe Covid triggered a huge wave of shifting societal attitudes towards work and life that’s still being played out now.

Namely, people care about flexibility more than ever. They want to spend more time focusing on family, kids, health, etc. In December 2023, an all-time-high of 22 million Americans chose part-time work. While it’s partly due to market forces, I believe underlying this is as a society, our priorities have flipped.

So what exactly are the alternatives? Let’s jump into it.

Alt 1: Work Part-Time or Fractional Jobs 👪️ 

Instead of the all-or-nothing approach of FIRE, what if you could earn steady income and build your career while gaining more flexibility?

Part-time or fractional roles from 10 to 30 hours per week are an excellent vehicle for flexibility. Let’s take the working parent’s paradox earlier. By negotiating with your employer to work for 20 hours per week instead of 40 hours per week, you’ll carve out an additional 20 hours to spend with your family and raising your kid.

At the same time, you’ll still be gaining skills, expanding your network, and furthering your career. Sounds like a great balance to me.

Plenty of successful examples out there like Sergio Pereira, Bradley Jacobs, Elena Verna, or Alissa Riter.

Alt 2: Become an Independent Consultant 💼 

Similar to part-time work, but branching out as an independent consultant means you’re working with multiple clients. The upside is you get to set your own projects, rates, and hours. The downside is the stress that comes from not knowing where your next contract is going to come from and needing to generate your own leads.

Alt 3: Barista FIRE ☕️ 

Barista FIRE is a semi-retirement version of FIRE. Instead of quitting work 100% and living off your investments, you save until you reach a point where you only need to work part-time (or earn investment income).

It’s called Barista FIRE because this was popularized by people who chose to work part-time as a Starbucks barista to get health care benefits (one big gap with FIRE). Many Barista FIRE achievers end up choosing a less stressful job, hobby, or teaching that they wouldn’t have done if salary was a top concern. For example, after former Investment Banker Sam Dogen retired, at 39 he decided to become a high school tennis coach because it was something he enjoyed.

Sam Dogen

Alt 4: Phased Retirement (Flamingo FIRE) 🦩 

Flamingo FIRE is phased retirement strategy. There’s 3 phases:

  • Phase 1: Accumulation - This where you work full-time and aggressively save 50% to 75% of your income for retirement. After you reach half your FIRE number, then you enter…
  • Phase 2: Semi Retirement - You stop investing or contributing to your nest egg, but work part-time to cover your living expenses. Meanwhile you wait for your investments to double in value. You can calculate this using the Rule of 72: Divide 72 by the expected rate of return of your investment portfolio. E.g. Assuming a 7% return (the average stock real rate of return for the past 200 years), that means you’ll wait 10-11 years until your investment doubles in value. As you can see, this is heavily dependent on how the market performs).
  • Phase 3: Retirement - You can choose to stop working entirely and start drawing off your nest egg.

Alt 5: Mini-Retirements 🎨 

Mini-retirements, retirement in installments, sabbatical, break from work, whatever you want to call it. These are all some flavors of the same concept, which was popularized by Tim Ferriss in the 4-Hour Work Week.

The idea is you switch off between periods of time where you work and go on mini-retirement. For example, Sam Bleckley is a software engineering consultant in Michigan who works full-time 6 months each year then spends 6 months drawing, painting, hiking, and reading.

Alt 6: Geoarbitrage 🌏️ 

Geoarbitrage is the practice of exploiting differences in price, cost of living, salary, taxes, and currency in different markets or locations to save or make money.

For example, by moving from US to Singapore, I took home net positive earnings from lower cost-of-living and taxes. The upside: aside from the savings is exposure to new surroundings and people. The downside: upending your whole life is overwhelming for most people.

There’s many success cases of digital nomads and expats who moved from a high-cost-of-living country to low-cost-of-living country. Amon and Christina Browning are an American expat couple who retired at 39 and 41 respectively and moved from the US to Portugal with their 2 kids to take advantage of lower cost-of-living.

Amon and Christina Browning with their 2 kids

Alt 7: House Hack 🏡 

House hacking is where you build a portfolio of rental properties that stream rental income for you that covers your lifestyle costs and grows your investments.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of rental properties because of the return on sweat. But there’s no denying that during Covid, this alternative blew up in popularity, especially on social media.

For example, Sharon Tsueng and Sean Pan generated over $5,000/month of profits on their 3 Airbnbs while they travel the world for a year.

Alt 8: Start a Lifestyle Business 🕴️ 

While running a business can be intense, this doesn’t have to be. If you don’t focus on growing the business as much as possible, then you can tailor the business to your lifestyle instead.

For example, Alaa El Ghatit worked in IT while building his side hustle, LifeOnRecord, to over $100,000 annual earnings. Then, he took it full-time as a business but still adapts it to lifestyle flexibility for family reasons. This journey took him over a decade, but he seems quite fulfilled with the path.

Alaa El Ghatit and his family

Alt 9: Buy a Small Business 🤝 

Finally, buying a business is an emerging alternative. This is particularly the case in the US where there’s a huge wave of retiring boomers, leading to more business ownership changing hands.

The idea here is you invest a certain amount of your money into purchasing a cash-flowing small business with long history of performance. The upside: you continue to grow your skills, network, and career while generating cash-flow. The downside: you’re probably not going to be as hands-off as you envisioned.

For example, Doug Johns, a former business executive, and his wife were looking for something new to keep them occupied after his kids left the house. And so they decided to buy a plumbing business that’s grown to $2m EBITDA.

My FIRE Alternative Strategy 🙋‍♂️ 

I’m pursuing a semi-retirement (Barista FIRE) that’s enabled by part-time work, buying a small business, and geoarbitrage.

Why? I enjoy working. I want to continue growing a portfolio of beautiful businesses that I’m proud of. I get deep satisfaction from impacting customers, learning new skills, and contributing to an industry.

In the meanwhile, I want to gain life experiences that I enjoy (like living internationally) and build a lifestyle amenable to starting a family eventually.

What FIRE alternative are you pursuing? Reply to this newsletter with your thoughts. I read every email.

🌐 Beyond your borders

🇯🇵 Japan to Launch Angel Investor Visa, Ease Investment Requirement for Entrepreneur Stream (link)

🇸🇬 Passport-free travel in Singapore is here (link)

🇺🇸 Who Still Works From Home? (link)

💪 The Best Way to Get Things Done (link)

🏠️ r/FluentInFinance: Is renting better than owning? (link)

📆 How I can help

That’s all for today!

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how I can help you:

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Dexter Zhuang

Dexter is the founder of Money Abroad, an online education platform helping high-performers design their independent money path. He has 10+ years of experience building products and teams at public companies (Dropbox) and scaling startups (Xendit) across the US, Asia, and Latin America. His work has been featured in global outlets like Business Insider, CBS, US News & World Report, and Tech in Asia. He graduated from Dartmouth College.

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