After much anticipation, I finally had a chance to watch the “Playing With FIRE” documentary that had been released in 2019. This is a documentary that follows Scott and Taylor Rieckens, along with their toddler daughter, as they get started along their FIRE journey.
The FIRE acronym stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. The math says that if you have a high enough savings rate and invest wisely, you can shave years off of your working years and have the option to retire early.
Others have already done the math and have achieved financial independence much earlier than a typical retiree. You can’t help but wonder….can I do this, too?
Although this seems a bit extreme, especially for those in the veterinary community who may not even start their peak earning years until their 30’s and 40’s, the FIRE framework does get people out of the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle in order to live more fully now AND in the future.
I don’t want to give away too many details, but here were some of the key takeaways that I took from the documentary:
BIG CHANGES START WITH YOUR MINDSET
At the beginning of the documentary, Scott and Taylor were very frank about their spending. They were like so many young families- they had graduated from college, became a dual-income household, had a child, and seemed to be living the good life. However, it was becoming clear that time and money were starting to feel scarce. Life wasn’t heading in a direction that they liked.
After drilling down on what they truly wanted out of life, they decided to take a bold step and move away from the pricey San Diego area. They spent the following year saving money by staying with relatives, meeting others in the FIRE movement, and figuring out where they wanted to land next. They wanted to build a future that better aligned with their values.
Without that fundamental shift in their money mindset and questioning the role of money in their lives, they would have never considered uprooting their lives and re-examining the direction they wanted to go. This is the power of an idea that is transformed into action.
BE PREPARED FOR A ROLLER COASTER RIDE
Many journeys start with a high level of enthusiasm, which tends to wane over time as you hit bumps along the road. They weren’t afraid to share their moments of doubt and fear. Were they truly doing the right thing? Was this really worth the sacrifice?
When it comes to increasing your savings rate, you inevitably come across some hard decisions. What are the expenses you HAVE to keep, and what are the expenses that you WANT to keep? Where do you draw that line? Do you feel like you’re depriving yourself in the process? How do you quantify happiness?
When it comes to your budget, the numbers are the easy part. The hard part is making these decisions about what you want your money to do for you. It’s about making priorities and coming to terms that tradeoffs need to be made.
This was also a window into a marriage. These choices were made jointly, for the good of the marriage. Money is often cited as one of the top reasons that couples argue and divorce. Having open and honest conversations about money strengthens relationships and marriages.
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY
When it comes to making big changes, you need your people to help you along the way. As humans, we’re hardwired to feel like we belong. Scott and Taylor decided to surround themselves with other like-minded individuals within the FIRE community. You’ll see them visiting Mr. Money Mustache and Vicki Robin, both well-known figures within the FIRE community.
Without a support system, this can be a very lonely and isolating experience. No matter how high your enthusiasm level in the beginning, your chances of following through and taking action can plummet without sources of encouragement and mentoring.
As a Korean-American who has lived all across the country (Northeast, Southeast, West coast, and Midwest), in addition to spending several summers in Korea, I am especially sensitive to differences in lifestyle between different geographical and cultural communities. Your immediate community (your family, friends, your neighborhood, your social circle), as well as the general culture of where you live, can have a very deep impact on how YOU choose to live.
If you are surrounded by people who appear well-off (bigger houses, luxury vehicles, etc), then it would feel much more natural to match this sort of lifestyle, whether or not you can actually afford it.
If your community consists of those who take pride in their frugality, then again, it would only feel natural to exhibit frugal behaviors. There is no right or wrong when it comes to having a luxurious lifestyle versus a frugal one. The point is that your environment (social and geographical) plays a much larger role in your spending habits than you may think.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
The Rieckens recorded the first part of their journey in this documentary, and the story will inevitably change over time. I can confidently say that no matter how this plays out, the concept of FIRE has permanently changed the trajectory of their future. Once you chart a different path, you WILL end up in a different place.
They demonstrated that ultimately, YOU are in control of your money and how you want to live your life. These choices may not have been easy, but they were made with intentionality and purpose.
The alternative? You follow a script that you didn’t necessarily write. You let life passively happen to you. Then you wake up years later and wonder how you got to where you are.
This does not have to be your journey.
You can’t help but notice that many of the interviewees were introduced as being “retired” in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. The traditional notion of retirement is that one is completely out of the workforce and no longer earning income.
In actuality, many of these early retirees that were featured are still earning income, whether it’s through blogging, podcasting, writing, or speaking (and of course, passively through their investments). They have all been open about this on their own platforms, but this did not get brought up during the documentary.
It would be more accurate to say that they have retired from their “traditional” jobs and reached financial independence much earlier than the average person.
For those that have no idea what FIRE means, this film is a good introduction. It gives you a window into the possible, especially if you’ve never been exposed to this idea of financial independence. No matter your flavor of FIRE (yes, there are different types!), you’re sure to find a community that resonates with you.
Will FIRE make you happy? As I’ve stated many times, just because you’re comfortable monetarily does not equate to happiness. There are many other aspects of your well-being that contribute to personal happiness, and your finances are just a component of your overall well-being.
But living more intentionally and with purpose, along with the knowledge that you’re using your money in a way that aligns with your values, is not a bad place to be.
You can catch veterinarians who are on their own FIRE journey here.
And here’s a review of the documentary by a fellow DVM!
Have you watched the Playing with FIRE documentary? If so, what were your thoughts? Comment below!