Financial Independence – Why I think it is unrealistic and unachievable.

Money – such a taboo subject. Most of us hate to talk about it, but really don’t mind reading or listening to stories about other peoples money. Its what my whole business is based upon. My positive and deeply flawed relationship with money. I write about the good and the bad, the sensible decisions and choices and the not so sensible.

I am also a person who believes in balance when it comes to money. Slightly at odds with my emotional life where I feel like I am constantly looking for balance and often experience highs and lows (with Seasonal affective disorder).

I struggle with the concept of FIRE

My balanced view means that I REALLY struggle with the concept of FIRE, which stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. I was quoted in the Guardian today talking about my views.

I interviewed Route2FI recently who explain the concept well and how he will be financially independent by the age of 36, yes 36!

To simplify it down financial independence is saving 60-70% of your monthly income to build a fund that is enough to provide you an income to be financially independent. So you need to 1) earn enough to be able to save 70% of your income 2) have cheap rent or low mortgage, low bills 3) likely not have children as they are truth be told expensive.

Financial Independence

I think it’s a concept aimed at very small percentage of people and believe that very few people can reach financial independence until later in life. To achieve it in your 30s or 40s is redic hard.

Also during your 20’s if you are child free, live your life enjoy yourself. Talking as some one who has three children. You CANNOT do the things you can without children when you have that responsibility.

Life to me is about balance. Enjoy your life before any big responsibilities some along as you never know what is around the corner. Absolutely save money in your emergency fund, put money into investments and pensions. But also enjoy life. Live for the moment and for today. 

Here are a few questions I answered for the Guardian, that didn’t make it into the newspaper.

Is FIRE realistic or do you have to be on a big salary and have no desire to have children?

FIRE is realistic, only, if you have a big salary, a low mortgage and no children or other expenses life costs.

Towards the end of my 20’s I was child free and earning around £50k including bonuses, working for Tesco as a commercial finance analyst. This was a great salary! My post tax monthly earnings were around £3000 per month. But I also had a big mortgage of around £1000 per month, living in Hertfordshire. Plus regular monthly bills, car and credit card repayments, maybe another £1,000 per month. Add in a 20s social lifestyle, eating out, nice holidays, not much was left for savings. I used to save around £200 per month. £200 FELT like a lot at the time. I was in my 20s and wanted to enjoy life, experience amazing things.

Wardrobe De-clutter and style session with Claire Wacey of CW Style

The circles I was moving in spent money, my friends did fun stuff that cost money. I bought my clothes from Ted Baker and Hobbs. Totally I can look back now with hindsight and think no you didn’t need those expensive clothes, holidays and bags. But it was my life choice. I was earning decent money and I wanted to enjoy life. I could have saved more but realistically I could maybe have saved £700/£800 per month if I really cut back and lived a frugal life. 

Life Events affect your financial decisions

A life event that I also have to point out which drove many of my financial choices during my life so far is that my parents died when I was a teenager (mum at 16, dad remarried then died when I was 19), by the age of 19 I was in the middle of a maths degree at university without any financial support or security. This actually drove me to do well at university and to get a great graduate job, paying me a very good salary.

I was determined to become financially secure as soon as possible. It also drove me towards a live for the moment life, my parents died when aged 58 and 63 and didn’t get to spend any of the money they saved (I didn’t inherit any money at the time). I can safely say it drove a lot of my spending in my 20’s and desire to experience life.

But then aged 30 I had my first baby and life was filled with family costs, three children later, maternity leaves, moving to a bigger house, bigger cars and a house extension. There was certainly no space for saving much money. And no spare money for FIRE.

extension is complete
The shell and roof is complete

Now I am 42 I have a slightly different outlook, as in I am working hard to put money aside, but still at this point putting around 15% of my turnover into pensions or investments. It is what I can afford as I have three young boys and I want them to experience fun things and life experiences.

I have realigned my work, I quit the employed finance world in 2015 to set up my own business Mrs Mummypenny, a personal finance website. This has taken a few years to build but is giving me the financial freedom I desire and ultimately financial independence. I am aiming for a £500k pension fund and another £500k in investments. So far I am 5% of the way there, £50k in my pension pot. A long way to go!

Is it sensible to try and work and save hard when you are young (and maybe should be having fun) just so you can ease up later?

It is totally sensible to save more when young before too many big costs hit. But also life is for living. I was always aware that my 20’s were child free and I wanted to enjoy them having fun. Travelling the world, eating amazing food, going to concerts, the theatre and experiencing life. I knew if life was going to plan, that my 30s, 40s and 50s would be taken up bringing up my three boys so my 20’s was my time to enjoy.

Isn’t there a big danger you could end up just being stingy (and boring)?

Totally, but it is all about who you choose to socialise with. If your friends are all into frugal/free fun activities there is less pressure on you to do the same. My uni friends and work friends had fun and spent money, and this cost money. So I did the same. And don’t regret it.

The only thing I do regret however is that I opted out of my pension during my 20s, and cashed in pensions when I moved companies. This unfortunately means my £50k pension pot now is far less than it would have been if I had opted in and left money sat in pension funds.

What about financial emergencies? What if you have to return to work later – will this be easy after a long break?

A concern about financial emergencies is a point well made. Life changes are common, illness, death and divorce being a huge cause of financial problems. A long term illness, particularly if not insured is crippling in terms of cost. And death again doesn’t always mean an inheritance. And divorce means that assets have to split and money that you might once have considered jointly yours is no longer yours.

Returning to work can be a huge challenge. I know that even now, I have spent four years being self-employed, I would struggle returning to the employed world. I love my flexible life, control and choose my own hours working patterns. It would be a huge struggle to return to the ‘9to5’ (or 7am to 7pm as it used to be!)



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Lynn Beattie

Aka Mrs MummyPenny

Personal Finance Expert

I write about personal finance made simple, lifestyle choices that will save you time and money, as well as products and services that offer great value.

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18 Responses

  1. You really don’t get the FIRE movement at all, and this article proves it! You explain how FIRE isn’t achievable based on you earning a decent salary in your twenties and blowing it all on an expensive house, holidays and clothes – which is the complete opposite of the FIRE movement lifestyle… Of course it is achievable, so many people have done it. And they didn’t have huge salaries, and many did have children. I’m struggling to see why you wrote this other than to jump on the bandwagon and get some website traffic…

    1. Ah what ‘kind’ words from someone who wont even leave their name?! Fire blarney….interesting name. The blarney stone??

      1. Who cares what his name is? It’s the point that matters. Your reponses to comments is rather childish. Do you want “kind words” or the truth? Grow up.

  2. I don’t like the acronym FIRE mainly because those who do achieve it end up working in jobs they want, not retiring! It should be financial independence, do what you want, but FIDWYW is not a great acronym, clearly. The “movement” encourages fiscal responsibility at it’s lightest, and at it’s most extreme, hermits saving all their spare pennies into a fund so they can be free. Personally it’s made me think beyond the next few years and helped me save enough money that maybe I’ll retire at 55 or 60 (I’m currently 30). With the worrying stats we see about low pension take up and people my age scraping by month to month, getting people thinking about the future, however it’s done, can only be a good thing, can’t it?

  3. Clearly not a “personal finance expert” she doesn’t understand FIRE at all and clearly used this article for clickbait.
    You don’t need to save 70% of your income, you just need to be sensible and you don’t even need to retire, the early levels of FIRE simply provide the security so you can survive for X months if a crisis happened.


  4. So if you blow all your money, have 3-4 children, and choose a “balance” where you buy what you want, then you can’t retire early? I’m shocked.

  5. This is one of the most self serving, pointless finance articles I’ve seen. So by spending all your money and not saving, you can’t retire early… How on earth have you been quoted in national newspapers for that incredible insight?

    I’m very sorry about your parents, but your conclusions are completely illogical. They died before being able to spend any of their money, at just below traditional retirement age. Isn’t that exactly the reason to aim to retire earlier?

    For the record, I’m 32 and started out of university making less than minimum wage in internships, and didn’t break 20k until I was 26. My wife moved to the UK at 19, without a degree, to work in a pub. We have a 2 year old and a second on the way. Last month we celebrated breaking 100k in savings, and have a savings rate of around 50%, despite paying almost £1,000 a month for childcare.

    Your choices around money are on you, but if they are that poor, don’t try to tell other people how they should be dealing with theirs.

  6. The FIRE concept seems to evoke a lot of heated discussion so I’ll add my story. I’m 47 and according to my trusty spreadsheet I’ve reached Financial Independence. I also have a 5 year old son. Part of my FI attainment is luck and part is hard work. The luck part is due to being born in a time where University education was (mostly free ) so I wasn’t saddled with large tuition fees. I did my degree in Business Studies ( with a paid placement ) year so I actually graduated with no debt. My placement employer hired me straight after graduation. I later moved to an employer with a Defined Benefit (DB) pension scheme and spent 14 years there ( that’s my second big lucky break ). I was then made redundant a couple of months before my son arrived and had a year off work with him ( supported by my redundancy payment ). I then returned to the work force ( at a 50% pay cut) and have spent the past 4 years working up to getting back to my old salary. In the good years of employment (2003 – 2014 ) there was lots of overtime available and I was single so I worked as much as possible. That enabled me to clear my mortgage in 5 years ( house purchased in 2003 and mortgage cleared in 2008 ). All the “spare” money I had from having no mortgage payments was then channelled towards saving and investing. I later met someone and settled down in a new family house that we paid cash for. Fast forward to 2019 and I personally own one fully paid off house ( now rented out to a colleague ) and half of a fully paid off family home, I am totally debt free. I also have a pension pot currently valued at approx £750k which will most likely hit LTA before 55 without having to make any further contributions and a decent amount in my Stocks and Share ISA ( you need to use that annual allowance or lose it ). My salary has generally been around the £40 to 50K mark in the best years so nothing too excessive. I’ve travelled a fair bit and we get 2 holidays a year ( subject to having enough annual leave ) so I don’t think we’ve ever missed out. The key points that have got me to FI have been watching what I spend ( being frugal but not a miser ), keeping track of where the money is going ( the cost of child care was truly horrifying ) and ensuring I’m financially literate ( after all you work hard for the money so make it work hard for you ). I’m now planning to do another year or two in my current job so that I can give my son a good start in life either by pension provisions or a property. However, I am comfortable in the knowledge that ( barring any major disasters ) I could hand in my notice tomorrow and then choose if I want to take paid employment again. FI isn’t for everyone but then again neither is being an Astronaut, Head of a multinational corporation or brain surgeon. Howe ever, that shouldn’t make people think that nay of these goals aren’t possible.

  7. I have two kids, a home worth $1.2 million, and everything else I want, and achieved retirement at 45. It’s true I have an IPhone 5 and a 2007 Honda Civic, and no fancy clothes, but I spend on things I love, like building a crossfit gym in my garage. This was achieved through aggressive saving, and investing at the right times and paying down debt, including the mortgage immediately. My income was decent at $80,000 and my wife’s was similar so not outrageous for living in the GTA, we just make sacrifices in our daily spending. A defined pension plan helps, but won’t begin until age 55.

  8. Wow, that was awful. Never listen to anyone who says ‘I believe life is about balance’ – what they are really trying to do is justify their poor choices in life.

    What a real shame to think only your 20s is for enjoying.

    How this person can claim to be a finance ‘expect’ is hilarious. 3 kids, tons of debt and £50k in the her pension. WOW.

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