How to Face the Dark Sides of FIRE

MichaelCareer, Education, Family, FIRE, Misc35 Comments

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info.

FIRE (Financial Independence, Retiring Early) is a worthy goal to target.  There are a huge number of positives with this modern movement, but FIRE is a double-edged sword.

Yet, no one likes to talk about the dark sides of FIRE.  So, let’s buck that trend and do just that!

I’ll be discussing this from a retiring early point of view…

The Dark Sides of FIRE

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t live happily ever after once you reach FIRE.

Yes, there is life (ups and downs) even after FIRE.

Realize that FIRE is not an endpoint, rather it’s a transition point.  The reason why I know this is I’m heading into my 5th year of early retirement.

While there are many incredible benefits and advantages to FIRE, there are some dark sides to FIRE which need to be faced and navigated.

Here are a few which I’ve faced firsthand and how I’ve learned to deal with them.

Quitting Too Early

Sometimes you can’t time your exit from the workforce perfectly.  In my case, I was working for the company that acquired our IT support company.  Although I had a 3-year employment agreement, the parent company seriously misrepresented their values during the acquisition.  So, I found myself hating my new “job” which I had inadvertently created.  After negotiating a favorable severance agreement, I officially left (1.5 years post-acquisition).

It was a bit of a strange time because although I always intended on retiring early, I found myself wondering if it was too soon.  I would have preferred to have saved up an asset base closer to $2M instead of the $1.2M we had accumulated at the time.

Quitting too early is certainly a problem because you need to continually manage your cash flow tightly in order to maintain your capital base.  As an early retiree, I face more years of uncovered assets coupled with inflation than most.

Part of this solution was to create some side hustles.  And luckily for me, my wife didn’t have any desire to follow suit.  Supplemental income is important during FIRE to ensure you aren’t drawing down on your assets prematurely.

Oh, don’t discount timing luck.  By taking an early retirement at the beginning of one of the strongest bull markets ever (2013 – ???)  it’s allowed us to actually increase our net worth while I haven’t been working.

Finally, it’s helpful to become comfortable with a worst possible case scenario.  What if we lost 50% of our assets or more?  What if all of our supplemental income dried up?

The answer is that we’d be FINE.  We’d still have enough to support our family.  I could always go back to traditional work.  And, there’s always geographical arbitrage (living somewhere else with a significantly lower cost of living)!

If you’re getting close to FIRE, embrace the fear of quitting too early.  It can be helpful if you use it to plan and strategize, but don’t let it paralyze you.  Sometimes you just need a little financial faith.

Deciphering the Relationship Between Net Worth and Cash Flow

Another dark side of FIRE is related to Quitting Too Early.  You see, it’s hard to separate net worth and cash flow sometimes.

Net worth can give you an inflated sense of well-being.  However, it’s crucial to also watch your cash flow simultaneously.

In our case, we had a smaller $1.2M net worth in 2013, but our cash flow was strong with my severance, unemployment, wife’s salary, real estate investments, dividends, etc.  As such, we were able to save and invest the excess money for a good couple of years.

Fast forward to today and you’ll see that our net worth has increased healthily to past $2M.  However, if you’ve been reading our monthly financials, you may have noticed our cash flow has been weaker and even negative some years.

Net worth and a healthy cash flow are both important metrics to watch during early retirement and critical to reaching a comfortable FI base (aka critical mass).

I’m certainly glad that I’ve been tracking online every month as it’s been keeping me honest to watch the dynamics of our finances in real-time.

Killing Your Momentum

darker sides of FIREChances are if you are in a position to FIRE, you have built up some pretty good momentum with your career.  When you officially pull the plug on your traditional 9-5 to step into retirement early, all of that momentum of earnings, savings, and investing comes to a halt.  There are opportunity costs on both sides of the equation.

If your former career was a large part of your identity, you’ll have to re-invent a new identity that maintains your internal values.

This part of FIRE and retiring early has been challenging for me.  I fully transitioned to a SAHD (stay-at-home-dad) and love this role.  However, a piece of me misses the thrill of building a business day-in, day-out.

To compensate for this momentum shift, I’ve had to learn to slow down and be okay with things taking longer than before.  I had to learn to be okay with my new identity and stop beating myself up that I’m no longer performing a traditional male’s role.

Creating this blog has been a great way to re-create some of the lost momenta.  It’s not only a site to help others, but a place for me to self-assess and also to grow.  During the past few years, I realized that my number one priority is to be fully present for my family.  This includes being a SAHD, a supportive husband, and a good friend.  Secondly, comes all of my investing and entrepreneurial endeavors, including this blog, coaching, FBA, etc.  Time is one of my most valuable assets these days, so it’s important for me to direct it and create momentum in the places which I will find the most fulfillment.

One thing that I did right, in the beginning, was to take time for myself to “figure things out”.  I spent a lot of time self-reflecting on what was important to me and ultimately how I want to contribute moving forward.  Thankfully I have had a supportive wife, in-laws, and friends which made this process that much easier.

I’m still evolving, but I’ve removed a lot of former stress I had by focusing on things I can control and who I can serve.  This is where my momentum is building these days.  🙂

Having New Marital Problems

Being married can mean a lot of happiness.  And, on the flip side, there will be inevitable downs to balance things out.  You have to take the good with the bad if you want to make a marriage last.

Taking an early retirement out of turn with another spouse can bring special challenges, even if you both agree to it prior to pulling the trigger.

In our case, it was a strange transition when I had been the primary breadwinner in the family for over 15 years, and then suddenly I wasn’t.  Next, I became the primary caregiver (SAHD) for our young children and this inevitably changes the parental dynamic.

Intellectually this new life could make sense, but when your 3-year-old cries out in the middle of the night and doesn’t want Mommy, but Daddy.  Mommy can’t help but feel slighted.  This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it can create tension and lead to resentment unless addressed head-on.

It’s taken us awhile to realize what’s been the underlying issues, but persistence and love are the cure.

We have to make it a priority to take time for ourselves alone.  Thus, last year was riddled with alone time to travel different places and simply reconnect.  (BTW, if you’re married, you should be doing this during your pursuit of FIRE as well!)

Facing FIRE Anxieties

dark sides to fireOnce you step into your FIRE life beyond a traditional career, there is a good chance that others around you will still be working.  This throws you into a new realm of potential loneliness and social examination.

You may begin to miss socializing with your professional peers.  After all, humans are social creatures by nature.

The key to facing these dark sides to FIRE is to get back out and network.  Consider making a blog and joining the FIRE community of bloggers.  I’ve met so many incredible people both online and sometimes in-person.  Check out FinCon if you’ve never been.  It’s a blast and super helpful at the same time.

One of our deepest human fears is not being enough.  And, by entering into the realm of FIRE, you may face this fear head-on.  Not everyone understands what FIRE is, or how it happens.  So, you may even hear some of the ridicule about your current position in life.

  • Doesn’t that guy ever work?  What a deadbeat.
  • Who does he think he is?
  • He’s so full of himself.  All he cares about is money.
  • Must be nice to come from money.
  • He must be loaded if he doesn’t need to work, I wonder why he’s not more generous?

Here’s the thing to remember tho…

What you think of me is none of my business.  – Dr. Wayne Dyer

Finding and cultivating the emotional intelligence to navigate these insults and avoiding the creation of self-limiting beliefs is so helpful to finding joy in FIRE.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay if you find these negative ideas floating around in your head every now and then.  The trick is to recognize it and simply let it go away.

Isn’t it bizarre that we can have two completely opposing beliefs?  I say choose the more empowering one and keep discarding the others.

The next step is to raise your standards.  Chances are you are able to FIRE because you were willing to do things others were not.  You naturally have higher standards than most of society, so it’s your job to associate with those who will help you to at least maintain and raise your own standards consistently.  Find a new peer group that will support your current position and even enhance it.

Final Thoughts

It’s true that playing with FIRE can sometimes get you burned!  But, it’s not enough of a reason to end the pursuit of it.

Facing the dark sides of FIRE is an opportunity to grow.  It’s a chance, to be honest with yourself and to realize money is simply a magnifier of who you already are inside.  You are not defined by FIRE one way or another.

I suspect there may be more FIRE challenges down the road, but I’m going to have to rely on my financial faith that I’ll get through it just fine.

I hope you decide to continue down the path to FIRE, and for those of you already here, be willing to teach and share openly.

Readers, what are some dark sides to pursuing FIRE?  How have you dealt with them?  How did it (will it) feel when you’ve reached FIRE, or a portion of it?

Follow me


Hi, I have been blessed to take an early retirement in my mid-30's so I can focus on becoming a better father, blogger, and investor.

My goal is to help you find your personal path to financial freedom, and to enjoy the entire journey.

More about me
Follow me

35 Comments on “How to Face the Dark Sides of FIRE”

  1. I can definitely see these being issues. My wife transitioning to a stay at home mom has been a major dynamic shift in the family. She as a career oriented engineer is experiencing the same issues as you in many ways.

    1. Making a shift is quite a challenge sometimes, and also well worth the effort. It takes a little getting you used to, but I’m sure you guys will be fine once you settle into a new routine.

  2. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts, Michael! I think cash flow and marital problems are two things I’ve been thinking about when it comes to FIRE. Having enough cash flow each month and not going crazy spending too much time with my spouse will need some further thought and planning hehe.

    1. Haha, yes, it’s still important to have your own personal space! Being together is great, and it’s also nice to grow independently at times too. 😉

  3. Hi Michael, thanks for sharing your thoughts about making a marriage work. When you guys traveled alone together, who took care of your kids? I think we finally found someone we like and trust, but it’s taken a while to get there. Thanks

    1. We have been rather fortunate to have my wife’s Mom and sometimes Dad come down to watch our kids while we travel. We’ve left them with them for up to a week and they always have a blast with them. Better yet, my wife and I can reconnect completely undisturbed.

      We use a babysitter for quick date nights, etc. And, yes it does take some time to build that trust. In the meantime, we have nanny cams all over.

  4. Interesting take on the dark sides of FIRE. I could totally see “killing the momentum” an issue with me if/when I decide to pull the trigger. My profession is a big part of my identity. And I can imagine it being very difficult to transition from seeing my net worth grow rapidly in my working years to seeing it being slowly chipped away during FIRE.

    1. I think in cases like yours, or anyone who loves what they do, there’s no reason at all to quit. Just knowing you have the resources to do so is quite liberating and of course, you’ll be able to reach the next stage of excess FIRE that much quicker.

  5. I’m retiring at 60 in about a month and your blog struck a chord with me. Leaving a secure, high paying high tech job has been giving me some anxiety. But I keep telling myself that although I enjoy my work (and the benefits!) it is not my passion. There are other activities that I would rather spend my time on. I also quit using the word “retirement” because as you note, it has the connotation of an “endpoint”, or being put out to pasture. “Transition” is a much better option!

    1. Congratulations, Mark! I think you’ll find your “transition” quite fun and fulfilling. Throw some extra challenges into there to keep your fire burning and you may find that creates a lot of smiles.

  6. Hey Michael,

    Thank you for sharing this awesome post. I like hearing and learning from others who’ve achieved financial independence.

    I’ve thought about FI for a while and I always wondered how it would impact a person’s social life if they left the traditional 9-5 for good. The idea sounds great and we all want freedom. But despite how much our coworkers drive us nuts, something tells me that we would probably miss interacting with them once we pull the plug. Humans always want what they don’t have, right?

    On the flip side, you can always meet new people (i.e. your blogging fellows) and maybe some strangers at the coffee shop when you pull your laptop out to blog, lol. But I suspect that would be an odd transition at first, wouldn’t it be? It would probably take some time to adjust and get used to. It’s like starting from scratch (which is not a bad thing at all)!

    I agree with you that net worth sometimes gives you an inflated sense of well-being. I wouldn’t want want touch my nest egg at such an early age, so I think it’s important to have sufficient cash flow. For most, the easiest form of cash flow is their day jobs and I think I take it for granted sometimes 🙁

    Still, it would be great to become financially free and do the things I really enjoy doing. I assessed my situation, and I think I will have to work a bit longer (and pursue my passions on the side to not go nuts) before pulling the plug. So for now, I’ll stay put until I feel more confident.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective. It really helps readers like me who are on the fence 🙂

    1. Fin$savvypanda… that’s a cool name! I’m glad you found this post helpful. I wanted to write about the realities of FIRE because we usually only spotlight the positives. That’s why I’m a huge proponent of balance and self-reflection. I find that’s when I’m the happiest, and that’s my ultimate goal.

      You are right. The “grass is always greener on the other side”! I do miss the adult interaction some days from my former office mates, but I have learned to interact with other bloggers as you mention, and have a good time hanging out with other local parents as well. Best wishes on your way to FIRE and beyond!

  7. Michael,

    Loved this blog as I’ve experienced some of the same things you wrote here. I retired at age of 43, still young but not as young as you, of course. Still I’ve faced some of the similar issues, especially when it comes to finding your own self worth after retiring and the social aspect of it.

    As you well said, not everyone understands FIRE and they make their opinions of you. My wife also work, and on top of that we have no kids. So it’s party all the time for me, at least that’s what most people would think.

    However, what they don’t know is that I still work hard, but I work for myself increasing our cash flow through investments. I also blog, which greatly helps me on the social network aspect. I think without my FIRE friends and blogging, I would feel very isolated.

    In any case, I’m glad I found you. Will stay in touch.

    Take care

    1. Nice to meet you, Mr. ATM! 43 is still quite young to retire. I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who has experienced these issues. 🙂 In the end, we can’t change people’s perceptions, but we can change our own. As long as we’re happy with what we do and how we’re living that’s all that really matters.

  8. Thanks for sharing your honest thoughts Michael. My husband will be working part-time and being the SAHD during the weekdays while I got back to work full time in a few months. I’m a little worried our toddler at that time will ask for mommy instead of daddy haha but that might be what happens.

    1. Not to worry, GYM. Kids will naturally love both parents even if they express a preference over another. As they get older, there seems to be less favoritism.

  9. Your article is ever so timely and you’ve brought many things that the community does not focus on. My thoughts and trepidation are nearly identical. I’m standing on the threshold on the RE side of FIRE. To prepare for the transition as you call it, I started a countdown clock (399 days at this moment). The purpose of this is to begin to work through what you wrote about, including the worst case scenarios. What the real challenge is how do I fill the need for social interactions and working toward common goals.
    Besides my wife, there is no one else to play with during the day as everyone in my demographic is still working because they have to catch up on their retirement savings due years of abuse on their savings and net worth.(yes, I heard those several of the ridicule statements in your post). No apologies.

    The narrow social circle is my challenge as I continue to work on the after FIRE plan which really are unchartered waters.

    1. That’s great you have a countdown clock going. 399 days is going to go by quickly! And even though you may not know exactly what awaits on the other side of RE, chalk it up as an adventure. The internet is a great way to bridge geography and demographic constraints. Find your tribe and stick with ’em! Enjoy the final push. Cheers!

  10. I can definitely attest to surrounding yourself with those who at least maintain my standard levels or raise them.

    For the most part, we are ALL a direct reflection of the people we surround ourselves with. If we surround ourselves with those who like to spend everything they make, we will also spend everything we make. If we surround ourselves with those who enjoy saving and investing, then we to will become interesting in savings and investing. If we surround ourselves with those who think long-term over short-term, we also will begin to see our life’s choices and how they affect the long-term.

  11. I slightly early retired 2 years ago. The only hard thing I faced was leaving money on the table. My pay went up 50% 3 years before I left and went up another 50% my last year and by walking out I was literally leaving millions on the table. For a frugal guy who saved agressively it is hard to walk away from a fountain of cash. But that’s a trap. It is time that is running out, money is not the problem.

    Because I consult a couple of days a week I haven’t had an identity issue. I do have trouble with the, “what do you do?” guestion. I feel like I’m retired but also working. When I say I’m semi-retired they sometimes look at me like I’m a Walmart greeter who must have never saved money to retire instead of someone who has no need for money but enjoys side gigs. That is shallow I know, why should I care what others think? It is just that I am a celebrity in this area, everyone knows me, they all think I’m rich because of my very public career, and they can’t imagine a wealthy guy choosing to work in retirement. It also puzzles some of my very rich retired friends and makes some of them jealous.

    1. Wow, 50% is a huge increase! You’re right though, time is the ultimate resource. It’s awesome that you have a balance of part-time consulting and retirement. And, I completely understand the “semi-retired” stigma! You wonder if people view you as a deadbeat… haha.

      As you and I both know now, work during FIRE is a luxury taken because we are free to do so. Service to others during early retirement is the best way to find fulfillment.

  12. Great post! Although I’m no where near ready to make the “transition” I’ve thought of many of the dark side issues you’ve mentioned above. Being single, I don’t have to worry about a spouse or kids, but it comes with similar challenges/fears.

    My main concerns are losing momentum and losing a social circle, although I have several other things I’d love to spend my mental energy on besides typical work, and I think a lot of other activities I don’t have time for now would open up new social circles to explore. Still very valid concerns, and the biggest issue would be doing this outside my personal friend circle as none of them would be in a position to join me on FIRE adventures as they’ll sadly be working till who knows how long.

    1. You’re thinking well about this potential outcome… new focus and energy will lead to different social circles and friends. It doesn’t mean we have to leave our loved ones behind, but we can surround ourselves with new friends who push us forward. I’m interested to hear how a single guy’s FIRE life differs. 🙂

  13. Hi Michael, thoughts on having your wife retire now as well To both enjoy the early retirement lifestyle? What are the reasons why she continues to work given your net worth?

    I’m pretty sure she’ll find something to do an early retirement that makes her happy and can also help out with the kids during the day.



    1. Hi Sam, it’s interesting. I’ve asked her if she would consider moving to a lower cost state like Texas and not having to work anymore. However, she prefers working and always had. I think it’s because it’s a strong part of her identity now. She loves teaching. She teaches A.P. Bio and has had a phenomenal pass rate with her students (94% last year). So she finds a lot of fulfillment here and I’m here to support her 100%.

      We have discussed her doing a 2/3’s schedule which she would consider.

  14. Good stuff. Our journey is very similar. Mrs. RB40 was a bit resentful that Junior always looked to me first when he was young. Now, I’m stricter than she is and we’re about equal in that department. You need to be a bit meaner to the kid. 😉
    The biggest problem for me is reduced social contact. It’s not really a problem because I’m an introvert and I don’t really care. However, it’s probably not very healthy. I need to talk to more people…

    Good idea about taking some alone time. That’s been tough for us as well.

    1. Yeah, alone time always sounds great in theory, but it’s much harder to practice in real life.

      I agree that as they get older, they start doling out love in a much more equitable fashion.

      Will you be headed to FinCon this year?

  15. I stopped working a few months ago (humanoids call it “retired”), and I can attest that it certainly changes the relationship one’s spouse. In many ways. I’m home many more hours in the day that I used to be. I could go on…

    I might consider myself fortunate in that my last boss still wants me around, so I work two days a month. Gets me some added cash with little work responsibilities, and social interactions in a work environment (which I seem to like). So that’s OK.

    I do get to focus more attention on things I like to do instead of office politics, deadlines, rush hour commuting, etc. Things Ilike to do like reading blogs and commenting (ha ha).

    I thought I would be anxious about money when not working, but so far I am doing OK.

    1. Cool, it sounds like you’re transitioning just fine! Isn’t it nice to not have to deal with office politics? Enjoy the coming “retirement” and exploring the next phase of life. It’s quite an adventure!

  16. Michael, you offer sound and very accurate insights into the ups and downs of a FIRE lifestyle. I think one thing people need to realize is that preparing for the transition, just like preparing for anything else you want to accomplish in life, is very important. You need to really create a plan for how you want to spend your time once you pull the cord for good. I left a corporate job the first time when I was 55, rather than agree to another corporate relocation. My wife and I made a decision several years ago when we purchased our current home that this would be where we would retire and if push came to shove, I would leave my role rather than move again.

    I was always interested in startup companies and this gave me an opportunity to join one and see what that life was like. I spent a year learning the ins and outs of startup world, raising money, launching an MVP, managing through a pilot program, etc. In the end, it didn’t work out and I did wind up going back into a new corporate role for 2 years but the entrepreneurial fire had been lit. I retired from the corporate world for good in 2015 and have spent the last 3 years in a new startup. We are about to merge our business with a larger business and this will allow us to scale our venture much more quickly. I may transition to an Advisor role for this company and continue to work with other startups in a similar fashion. I belong to our local Angel Investor group and that has opened up a whole new world of interesting contacts. This is my new life and second career. I’m financially independent but have found my niche to keep me busy and productive until my wife is ready to retire in her career and I can join her for good. She is 4 years younger than me and not quite ready to let go just yet.

    I have a lot of freedom and able to manage my time without too much outside interference. I feel retired even with a few added responsibilities. I’ve found a good balance between my second career and other things I enjoy doing. My stress level has definitely decreased and I’m getting comfortable with being happy again 😉 It may take some time to figure out your plan which is why I think it makes sense to do your best to lay it out before you actually walk out the door for good. It will make all the things you mention in the downside of FIRE much easier to deal with as you transition.

    Great article and great site. Congrats!

    1. Paper Tiger, yes it sounds like you’ve got a wonderful balance right now. You must be enjoying life a lot! That’s fantastic that you continue the entrepreneurial drive. Best of luck as you transition with your merged company.

      I think you hit upon a key strategy in your comment. You and your wife decided the outcome prior to your work asking you to move. Too many people don’t plan far enough ahead (even if it’s a last resort plan b), and when life’s unexpected events hit them they are blindsided.

      Thanks for being a great role model on how to “FIRE” right! 🙂

  17. Thanks Michael, I know you are a fan and frequently comment on ESI Money. If you are interested in our complete journey to FI, my story is part of his Millionaire Series, #27.

  18. We’re far enough away from FIRE that we have time to deal with some of these issues starting now. As I said a couple weeks ago, it’s important that we can work on building the money foundation that we need to stop working but that we also work on the life that we want to retire into ( It doesn’t make sense to focus so wholly on the money part that the transition is a drop into a hole of new worries and problems!

    If we organically build our community here starting now, if we start adding the hobbies and interests that we want to be doing in retirement in small manageable chunks over the next several years, if we work on our marriage now, it should be a much smoother change.

    We’ve always tried to share our parenting duties equally, no matter who is spending more time hands on with the kiddo. It’s normal for them to decide they want Mommy or Daddy instead of the other parent at random times, it’s not just who is at home with them. I was home with JB for months and ze always always wanted Daddy. It took over 2 years for zir to want me, and then it hurt Dad’s feelings who had gotten used to being the favorite! 🙂

    I always tell newer parents not to take that personally, it changes over weeks and months. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

Leave a Reply