If you’re the type that wakes up every weekday feeling the blues, then you probably should check out this blog post.
As Singaporeans, we are commonly mentioned as being one of the most unhappiest workers in the world. The reasons cited are many; poor job satisfaction, being overworked, undesirable work cultures, among others.
This reasons seem to be strongly felt, particularly among millennials, who generally tend to expect more from their jobs, due to the prevalence of social media, their upbringing, and the economic conditions they grew up in.
Unlike the previous generations which toiled hard and enjoyed relatively good prospects and job security, millennials have been dealt a poorer hand, and face common issues such as long working hours, and higher costs of living in today’s Singapore. Add in the Covid-19 pandemic, and retirement is really starting to look like a pipe dream for many.
No wonder then that lifestyle movements such as FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) have taken root, especially among millennials seeking a more fulfilling life. The prospect of an early retirement can be a convincing siren call drawing in burnt out workers who have been slogging away for years, and are searching for a way out.
For this article, we’ll be sharing 5 types of FIRE, allowing readers to choose the approach which complements their lifestyle, giving them the flexibility to achieve financial independence on their own terms.
Setting The Stage
As a guide to work on, we’ll be using the illustration of an adult individual who already has a home (fully paid for, or staying with parents), and does not own a car. He or she would likely have a monthly basic living cost of $1500, or an “enhanced” living cost of $2500.
Obviously, this estimates do not include big-ticket items such as holidays, and expensive consumer goods, therefore do adjust your costs accordingly as required.
FIRE in it’s original form involves the accumulation of 25 times your annual expenditure, while pursuing investments which give back at least 4% in passive income or dividends. Based on this formula, the individual would therefore be able to receive adequate income to be able to cover his or her’s annual expenditure indefinitely without drawing down the original capital.
Using the enhanced living cost of $2500 per month, an individual’s annual expenditure would be around $30,000. Therefore,in order to achieve traditional FIRE, he or she would have to save and invest 25 times of that amount, or $750,000. At that point, work becomes fully optional.
Thankfully, living in Singapore does have it’s benefits. Our government does not levy taxes on dividends received or capital gains from stocks. To achieve this 4% return requirement, an investor would likely choose to invest in REITs, or other solid dividend-paying stocks such as banks. Higher-yielding corporate bonds would also be an option once interest rates recover.
The concept of Lean FIRE basically revolves around working with a lower cost of living. Lean FIRE means your income can only cover your basic necessities like food, transportation, and insurance. Individuals who pursue Lean FIRE are usually frugal and minimalist by nature. This enables them to work with a smaller investment portfolio because of their natural tendency to spend less money.
With a basic living cost of $1500 a month, a individual would need $18,000 dollars a year, or $450,000 in total capital to achieve Lean FIRE. The big question then becomes: can you live off $18,000 dollars a year in retirement? Ill argue that it’s definitely possible if you play your cards right but the emergence of certain big ticket items such as healthcare costs might force you to dig into your initial capital.
Furthermore, unless you are agreeable to the notion of a frugal retirement (which most are not), Lean FIRE alone might not be the most desirable form of financial independence for you.
Barista FIRE is having enough income that can cover a portion of your current expenses today and supplementing the difference by working a lower stress, part time job.
For certain jobs, another added advantage is the ability to tap into corporate benefits such as healthcare and insurance plans which can lower the cost of living. The concept initially originated in the US from the idea of working at part time at Starbucks to qualify for their corporate healthcare plan.
You would ideally have attained the stage of Lean FIRE or more, and is open to working part-time, doing freelance work, or pursuing a dream career that is less well-paid. It gives you the choice of working for pleasure rather than working to live.
This strategy would also allow those who aren’t so sure about full retirement to try it out first before committing, or work on interesting side hustles or personal interests for more fulfilling work.
For those who are still relatively young and able to save aggressively from the start, Coast FIRE might be suitable for them. The concept involves building up your initial capital as quickly as possible in the beginning, then easing off gradually, allowing the initial capital to compound and grow gradually over time, with the compounding gains “coasting” you to your ultimate target retirement nest egg.
Ideally you should be already pretty close to your retirement target, hopefully somewhere around 80% or so. You would also need to partially invest in growth stocks which are more likely to achieve capital gains over time.
This strategy is more suitable for younger employees with a longer investing time-frame for compounding, or commission based workers who can achieve higher income payouts in the beginning. The targeted savings amount where your investments take the lead should also be realistic enough to be considered achievable.
If you’ve been on life’s treadmill for too long and refuse to give up the luxuries of life, then Fat FIRE is the approach for you. By setting a higher bar as your monthly expenditure, or saving and investing way beyond 25 times of your annual spending, a individual can receive passive income much higher than what is normally accepted as the average cost of living.
This would give you the financial bandwidth to continue to pursue luxuries such as oversea holidays, personal vehicles, and expensive hobbies. You would not need to cut back or watch your spending habits in order to stay within your retirement budget.
Being on Fat FIRE would also mean you have more spare cash to handle unexpected costs such as healthcare and home maintenance or repairs. Or even continue to build up your capital for future generations.
It’s good to have more cash; that’s for sure. However it will likely be quite difficult for everyday Singaporeans to accumulate such a large amount of capital to kick-start Fat FIRE without either having a big paycheck or investing aggressively and smartly.
In truth, FIRE is really just a concept which serves as a rough and executable guide to financial freedom. Savvy practitioners of FIRE can even combine two complimenting strategies such as Lean and Barista FIRE to achieve the most desirable lifestyle for themselves.
With Singaporeans having access to the SGX, which contains many dividend paying stocks and REITs that are able to meet the requirement for a 4% yield, we are definitely in a good position to utilize our funds to invest and live off passive income.
Nevertheless, readers should do their due diligence in researching which REITs or stocks to buy. This is so that they do not buy into REITs or companies with poor performance metrics or operating in declining industries, as this would likely affect their share prices and impact their capital negatively.