Retirement

How FIRE Movement Followers Do New Year's Resolutions

Retiring early may not be a goal (yet), but maybe there's something we can all learn from those who are on their way.

New Year's resolutions have become a rite of passage for many as we pass from one year to the next. They usually involve food (eat better) and exercise (as in, doing it with some regularity).

But for one group—the FIRE community (which stands for "financial independence, retire early")—the top goal is to save more money. And their enthusiasm for saving is catching on with the mainstream. According to market research company YouGov, saving money was tied with exercising more and eating well as the most popular New Year's resolution for the past year.

FIRE enthusiasts are all about lowering costs and increasing passive income so they can live free from the traditional 9-to-5 grind. As we head into the new year, we spoke with several people from the FIRE community about their plans to grow their wealth and increase their financial independence in 2019. While their circumstances may be vastly different from yours, seeing how others think about savings, investments and budgeting may be the spark to help you make some small but impactful changes to your own financial outlook in the new year.

Marc Andre: max out retirement accounts and invest in real estate

Marc Andre, 40, a blogger and founder of VitalDollar.com, has been pursuing financial independence for several years. He told us he has two resolutions for the new year.

First, he plans to max out his retirement contributions to his individual retirement account (IRA) and individual 401(k)—also known as a solo 401(k)—which he owns since he's self-employed.

If you're self-employed and under 50, the most you can contribute to your individual 401(k) in 2019 is $56,000—up to $19,000 as an employee deduction and the rest as an employer contribution, since you're technically both. But the maximum amount you'll be eligible to contribute as an employer may be lower, depending on your business' gross income. Check out the IRS' guide to calculate your own solo 401(k) limits.

Andre's second goal is to create passive income. "I'm looking at investing in real estate," Andre said. "That could be a rental property in my local area or investing through one of the real estate crowdfunding platforms." While there are no plans to retire in 2019, "I hope to reach financial independence within the next five years," Andre said.

Samuel Zhou: buy property

Samuel Zhou, 32, blogs about personal finance at Credit Cardio. He's been working toward financial independence since he was 25, and by his estimate, he's about 30% of the way there. "I used to focus on my money one day at a time, but as I've gotten better at [managing my] finances, I've looked at the future and planned months in advance."

Lately, Sam has been eyeing the markets, and he has a singular focus for his 2019 New Year's resolution: buying property. "My financial independence-related New Year's resolution is to save up to 50% of my net income for real estate," Zhou said. "I believe there will be a recession coming up, and there will be many opportunities to buy real estate or stocks at a reasonable price."

Zhou already owns a duplex, but if the real estate market cools as he expects it to in the coming year, he plans to purchase property in mobile home parks out of state to diversify his portfolio.

Todd Kunsman: save more and pay off student debt

"My current savings rate is closing in on 60%," said Todd Kunsman, 30. "I'm aiming to get that to 65% to 70% in 2019. This will help me continue to reach savings milestones and have money to invest in my future."

Kunsman started taking an interest in his finances four years ago, but he didn't know the FIRE community existed until last year. This past June he launched Invested Wallet to document his journey to financial independence and to help others. He doesn't plan on retiring early—he enjoys building and running websites too much—but he does plan to have more than $100,000 saved or invested in 2019—and enough to know he could retire by age 45.

Kunsman's second New Year's resolution is to pay off the final $5,000 of his student loan debt. "I will be completely debt-free at that point, and that extra cash can go toward saving," he said.

Like Andre and Zhou, Kunsman is also interested in real estate, although he doesn't plan to make as big an investment in 2019. "To get my feet wet, I'm looking at Groundfloor or Fundrise for real estate crowdfunding. Since I'm not an accredited investor, these are some of the best options I have. I won't be going all in, but using 5% to 10% of my total cash for this."

Kunsman recommends that those new to the FIRE community start by tracking their net worth. "I actually ignored this for a few years," he said. These days, Kunsman actively tracks his net worth and tells others to as well. "Don't be afraid of your net worth. Embrace whatever the number is and start improving it," he said.

Nick Le: build more revenue from my blog

While Nick Le, 23, is new to the FIRE community, he said, "I've always had the FIRE mentality, and have always tried to build side hustles that would allow me to be financially independent and eventually retire early."

About two years ago, Le, a photographer and filmmaker from Ottawa, Ontario, launched Gridfiti, a photography blog, and now he's working on building it into a full-fledged business. "It started off as an Instagram account that now has more than 100,000 followers, and I eventually created a blog which is now growing every day in organic search traffic," he said.

"My financial independence-related New Year's resolutions focus on creating more revenue-driven content for my blog," said Le. "This photography blog is my side hustle since I work full time for a startup right now." Le said that now that he'd earned some revenue from his blog, he could identify what pages would drive growth and double down on that. "This is something I've been doing for the past two months and have seen significant growth, so I'm looking to scale this in the new year."

Currently, Le reinvests all revenue from his blog back into the website to further grow it. "If I can continue to create more pieces of content like this while scaling the creation of these posts and driving more traffic via my social channels, I should be able to be financially independent by the end of 2019."

Leif Kristjansen: free up a line of credit for investments

Leif Kristjansen and his wife, Lina, are FIRE role models, even though they didn't know the community existed until about a year ago. While he enjoyed his job, Leif realized early in his career that he wanted to be financially independent and free to partially retire if he chose to. Lina, on the other hand, disliked her job and wanted to retire as early as possible. By buying and managing a number of rental properties, the couple reached their goal in just five years, and now they blog about it at Five Year FIRE Escape.

Like Zhou, Leif told us he's keeping an eye out for a future market downturn, but he's preparing for it differently. "My New Year's resolution is to pay off a line of credit I use to make investments," he said. "My reasoning for the goal is so that when there is a market crash someday, I have an empty line of credit sitting around to buy up a bunch of cheap stuff. It's one of the ways I invest since I don't like to have cash lying around waiting. Given a good opportunity, you can always do better than what you get charged on a line of credit."

A word of caution, though: Investors should be very careful about taking on debt to make an investment (apart from a traditional mortgage or business loan). But since the Kristjansens have already reached FIRE and they have a steady stream of passive income, they can afford to be a little more flexible.

"It lets me be very opportunistic," Leif said. "Even though I already hit FIRE, I still invest. It's just a part of my brain that I haven't figured out how to turn off yet. I guess it's for the best."

Daniel Caughill

Daniel is a former Staff Writer at ValuePenguin, covering insurance, retirement and other personal finance topics. He previously wrote about compliance and best practices for K-12 school districts at Frontline Education.