FIRE is in My Blood

FIREThe first time I mentioned the revolutionary concept of financial independence early retirement (FIRE) to my mom a few years ago, I was met with a scoff. She applauded the idea of financial independence. But early retirement? It was met with pursed lips, a decided frown, or the click of her tongue behind her teeth every time I mentioned it. Try as I might, I could not levy enough evidence or anecdotes or blog posts to make her sweeten on the idea. Perhaps the concept was just too abstract. But then I took a step back and started to see my mom for who she really is. 

On the surface, my mom is a second-generation Italian-American who was raised by a single mother. She is an administrative assistant who never went to college. She and my father are both blue-collar workers through and through. That is the lens through which most people — myself included — view her. Of course, she would dismiss early retirement. An hourly worker, a timesheet puncher can’t possibly understand early retirement.

Except she can and she does. My mom is all of those things, but she is also so much more. She is, in fact, an early retiree. I just don’t think of her as one, and I know she doesn’t think of herself that way either. After spending a few of my late elementary school years home with me, she started volunteering. Then volunteering turned into a part-time job, and a part-time job turned into a full-time job. She’s been back at work ever since. While her short-lived foray into early retirement didn’t last, she’s been teaching me about money and financial independence for the better part of three decades.

Sacrifice for What Matters

When I was born, my mom switched her shift at work in order to spend more time with me in the afternoons and nights. That meant she was commuting into the city at 3 am in order to be home with me in the early afternoon. Sure there were a few mornings — most notably, picture days at school when my bow ended up clipped beside my ear instead of atop my head — when I wished my mom was home to do my hair instead of my dad*. But her early morning shifts actually led to one of my most treasured traditions. Each morning, she would sneak into my bedroom and leave a note on my nightstand. Sometimes, she would add a few stickers or a little trinket alongside the note. As impossible as it seems, she kept up this routine until I was in third grade, and I have no recollection of her ever complaining. Not once. Very early on, I realized if something or someone matters to you, you find a way to make it work.

Maintain Perspective

As much as she was constantly reminding me to save more money than I spent, she was also the queen of “enjoy it while you’re young.” Whether it was eyeballing a new purse or daydreaming about a vacation with friends, she never cautioned me away. Instead, she would tell me to squirrel away a little bit from every paycheck. In a lot of ways, my mom seemed to have an arcane grasp on the concept of YOLO long before it was a thing. To her, though, these “enjoy it while you’re young” moments were not opportunities to abandon savings goals or hard work. Instead, they were opportunities to create smaller, more immediate goals that could be savored along the way to the bigger triumphs. To this day, she still talks about balancing long- and short-term goals. Focus your efforts on where you’re headed, but make sure to enjoy day-to-day life as well.

Hard Work Never Hurts

Most parents in my town did not prioritize part-time jobs. However, I remember how excited my mom and I both were when we picked up my work permit from my high school counselor’s office my freshman year. My mom helped me cobble together a resume made up of babysitting gigs and volunteer work, and she proudly drove me to my first job interview. She had made it abundantly clear that my grades mattered more than any $5-an-hour job ever would, but she also wanted me to have the experience of working for what I wanted. My mom has always taken great satisfaction in her ability to work and work hard. Her determination to secure a union job as a teenager and her ability to develop a skill set that secured her spot in the office is what allowed her to retire before her fiftieth birthday with a full pension. It might not be easy. It might not always be fun. But in an age where everyone is hoping for an overnight success story, my mom is a constant reminder that hard work never hurts. In fact, hard work is hidden behind almost every success story.

FIRE Inside

On one hand, it seems like I have been responsible for cultivating my interest in financial independence. I have been devouring books, blogs, and other resources like those from Personal Capital about all things money for the past few years. I have even taken to writing about it for the past six months. But looking back on the lessons my mom has been teaching me and the examples she has been quietly setting for my whole life, it seems that maybe I’ve always had a little bit of FIRE in my blood.

*My dad is the toughest, most stoic person I’ve ever met. But he always made a valiant attempt to master bows and later scrunchies.

So Tell Me… Who set the greatest financial examples for you growing up? Do you have FIRE in your blood?

FIRE is in My Blood

12 thoughts on “FIRE is in My Blood

  1. I wish I had paid as much attention to what my mom was doing as you have.
    My mom went back to work after my parents divorced, and transitioned through many jobs and a masters degree. She often disliked her work.
    BUT she really knew how to make the most of her opportunities. Despite being single for most of her earning years and earning not so much, she invested regularly and saved for retirement, and was able to retire at 60. I wish I’d learned more from her. That’s good, because despite an extremely healthy lifestyle, she still died at 70 of cancer. She enjoyed her retirement immensely, and filled it with volunteering, travel, crafting, a hiking group and lots of other fun activities.

  2. My mom was definitely my biggest financial example. She was tremendously frugal, but like your mom she also believed in splurging once in a while — as long as it was somewhat planned for. (We’d go to the arcade, but using quarters that she and my dad had thrown into a small bank. Sometimes she’d add $10, which was a huge treat.)

    Unfortunately, I also caught a bit of her financial knee-jerk terror about anything other than saving saving saving. But I’m getting better about it over the years.

    Alas, FIRE is not an option for my husband and myself. Maybe if we were both healthy, or at least both able to work jobs… But that’s not the case. We’re actually very behind on retirement savings because things were so precarious. I’m going to do my best to start catching up now that we’ve saved enough for Tim’s dental implants. But we’ve definitely lost out on a lot of compound interest. Still, we’ll do the best we can.

    I’m hoping that I can at least go down to part-time in my 60s. Assuming that, after having subsisted on a disability check for several years, I’m ever able to loosen my death grip on a full-time paycheck.

    1. I have two favorites in this comment, Abigail: First, I love that arcade story. How special to get the $10 bonus! Planned fun makes for such a delightful splurge. I also really love how you and Tim haven’t given up. I know some people that think they “missed the boat”, so now they’re just resigning themselves to basically working until the die. Your blog is always so inspiring about muscling through the toughest of situations.

  3. We both have FIRE in our blood, but for totally different reasons (military retirement at age 55 on one side, disability forcing early retirement on the other), and ours came without nearly so many of those great life lessons. So cool that you took the time to reflect on all the ways your mom’s approach benefited you. Love it!

    1. I hope that if I decide to really commit to blogging that I can share this with her one day soon. It’s so funny to me that I never initially thought of her as an early retiree. And she’s so sour on the concept still – mostly because she loves her current job. On the rare days when she gets stressed out, though, she loves to be able to say, “Maybe I worked my last day after all.” To me, that freedom is what it’s all about! 🙂

  4. This is such a lovely story about your mom, Penny! I am a full on believer of hard work never hurts. I think both of my grandmothers set some of the greatest financial examples growing up. They were both widows at fairly young stages in their life, but both financially independent. Both lived in modest houses & took care of all of their family members and grandchildren. I do believe that their generations were much different in terms of handling money, but it is very awe inspiring!

    1. You are so right about older generations having a much different sense about money. Grandparents are the best. I normally give all of my credit (and my blog name!) to my mom’s mom. But I finally can appreciate the example my mom never really meant to set when she retired early.

    1. That’s hard. But sometimes non-examples work really well, too, don’t they? I definitely had an advantage with my parents having quite a bit of financial savvy. They both have it in different ways, though. My mom will go to four grocery stores in a week (or a day!) to save $10. My dad would shop at the corner convenience store and never use a coupon if his life depended on it. It always makes me laugh when they try to team up for errands.

    1. That’s so awesome that you’ve teamed up with her. No one likes to make mistakes, but if we or others can learn from them, that definitely puts a more positive spin on things. I’ll check out your blog!

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