Let’s Talk About “Barista FIRE”

Coffee is love

“It’s a concept that can be coined Barista FIRE – not quite FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), but perhaps just a step below it. At Barista FIRE, your lifestyle is almost funded, and all you need to do is to make a few extra thousand dollars every year in order to survive. You can do that pretty much by doing anything, even just working as a barista a few days a week. For people like me, Barista FIRE might be just as good as regular FIRE.”

Barista FIRE draws a lot of flak, and I can understand why. For one, being a barista isn’t the easiest job in the world. With some comparing it to being a line cook, the term itself sounds privileged and disconnected, especially when people sustain their whole lifestyles “working as a barista a few days a week”. Nevertheless, the term has persisted, so let’s talk about it. Barista FIRE is much more reachable than most people realize. Some might even say I’m there already, working part-time at a liquor store and shooting $2,995 weddings on the side. For some background, here’s the breakdown on my current net worth (including the debt). Can someone be Barista FIRE and still have debt? You decide. As a concept, it’s a bit muddy to begin with, so feel free to embrace the malleability of the idea and move goalposts as you please. I certainly have.

Here’s an example: Let’s say you spend $2,000/month, a reasonable amount for pretty comfortable living. Minimum wage in BC is currently $12.65. Three 8-hour shifts a week brings you to $303.60, or $1,214.40/month. The current tax rate in BC for your first $39,676 is 5.06%, so you’re down $61.45/month for $1,152.95. Your investments need to generate $847.05/month to qualify for Barista FIRE, or $10,164.60/year. Assuming you make 7% reliably off US index funds, you’d only need $145,208.58 to achieve that! This is a reasonable assumption of what a Barista FIRE number should look like, and it’s much more attainable than a FIRE number. “A quick bit of math you can do to figure out your FIRE number is to take your annual expenses and multiply by 25.” If you spend $24,000/year for example, your FIRE number is $600,000. At 4.1x less than this FIRE number, our Barista FIRE number has already earned you the freedom to do whatever job you want! I’ve mentioned before that working forever might not be so bad – I hate the idea of someday signing off on work altogether, and just sitting back to consume, consume, consume – so this was like striking gold to me. Barista FIRE was a new milestone, and it was comparatively easy to reach. Naturally, this is all napkin math, but the results are hopeful. With my 99-year leasehold rented to two roommates, I’m currently generating $1,300/month. My day job, a fun liquor store position that keeps me active, pays me $100+/day. If I brought my expenses down to $2,000/month, that might mean I only need to work seven days a month. It’s all a work in progress, but in my mind, I’m nearly at Barista FIRE. For me, I don’t think I can comfortably call myself FIRE-anything while I still have debt, but once that’s gone, all bets are off. With $22,000+ invested in index funds too, I know I’ll be working-for-health, not-money soon. A future post will talk about that too.

Retirement can be boring, so you’re probably gonna want to do something. You too can retire from the grind and work your dream job. Teach piano, run photography workshops, become a freelance proofreader, start an underground dining operation, or walk dogs. Work out your own Barista FIRE number like so: 1) Figure out your monthly expenses. 2) Work out how much you’d earn working your dream job; e.g. $800 from teaching two $100 art lessons every week for four weeks. 3) Subtract item #2 from item #1. 4) The result is how much your investments need to earn monthly for Barista FIRE. Multiply by 12 for an annual figure, if that’s easier. This is now a clear milestone of when you can retire from a job that sucks, and retire to whatever job you want.

Can you do it? Your dream job awaits.

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What Getting Fired Can Teach You About FIRE

A fired you isa lot like aFIRE'd you.

I got fired in 2013. There’s not much to say about it – it was the result of a work-inappropriate tweet – but I’ve made my peace with it because I learned so much. In a way, I was granted an accelerated look at what life would be like if I were retired. If you have your doubts, click that link. Two years of barely needing to work changed my outlook on wealth and retirement, and I was only 25 at the time. Even then, I knew FIRE wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. If your FIRE number is your only goal, financial independence won’t make you happy. Only finding common ground between your values and priorities will. (Sorry for the hokeyness, but it’s true.)

Anyway, it’s 2018 now, and I found myself out of a job again. I wasn’t fired, but being pressured to leave due to an interpersonal conflict is almost worse. I’ve already lined up my next step, but there were a few weeks where I felt listless and unmotivated. After all, putting three years of hard work into a place meant more to me than money! It’s okay though; these things happen. In the end, it even turned into a great learning opportunity!

At first, I’d honestly settled back into my old ways. I ate out to numb the boredom, drank more, and racked up a dumb amount of screen time. This didn’t last long before I started feeling like crap. Suddenly, I remembered I’d written articles about quantifying happiness in one’s pursuits and purchases. It turned out I was just completely lacking in purpose. With no professional obligations for the time being (which was like being retired), I had nothing to do!

In one way, this was horrible. It meant I’d mismanaged my priorities to the point that I didn’t have any, but it also gave me the chance to tackle these problems before achieving FI. (For my numbers and strategy, read this and this. There’s a chance some level of FI could come sooner than I think.) I suddenly saw my retirement, and I didn’t like it. I needed purpose. It turns out I actually need work, at least for now. It’s a value of mine to be productive, so I had to prioritize it. This taught me I might never need full-on FIRE though! Maybe barista FIRE was the target now! More importantly, this also taught me I needed other, better goals. These are all good things to know before becoming financially independent. I’m just a workaholic. What can I do to become more?

I’m sure we’ve all, at some point, been less employed than we would’ve liked. I’m glad I got fired once or twice because it helped me learn how I act when I’m suddenly regifted an extra eight hours every day. If you found this post through recently getting fired, here’s my challenge to you: Note down how you feel, what your new motivations are, what you now prioritize, and how fast you start itching to work in some capacity again. After the honeymoon phase of FI when you travel the world for months or buy guinea pig armour just because you can, you often find that an FI’d you is still… you. A fired you is a lot like a FIRE’d you. What do you want when you don’t have to work? Some of us are too busy to find out. Answer that question honestly, and getting fired might be the best thing to ever happen to your retirement.

Let’s Start a HouseFIRE!

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You already know about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retiring Early). Heck, you might even know about LeanFIRE and FatFIRE — retiring with the expectation of spending <$40,000/year or >$100,000/year, respectively. You probably even know about CoastFIRE! Well, allow me to add more fuel to the FIRE! This post is all about “HouseFIRE”, and why you should care.

So what is HouseFIRE? Simply defined, it’s the stage you reach when you can retire from work just by utilizing your available real estate for money. That link has loads of tips, but if you’re a Vancouverite, you might have to get more extreme. Since I wrote this post, Vancouver’s average rent for a 2-bedroom unit has ballooned to $3,130, and landing even 1,000 square feet for that is near impossible! If you want to attempt HouseFIRE, you’ll need actual space. For that to happen, high-cost-of-living areas won’t work great, but nearby neighbourhoods might. You may find yourself with lots of space for the same housing cost just one town over! Here’s how I do it.

My $170,000 99-year leasehold is paid off, and it’s mere minutes from Vancouver. I have it until 2087, and the total from strata fees and property taxes amounts to $650/month (which I know is high). It’s a 3-bedroom condo, but one bedroom is currently an office for my photography business. I have the master bedroom, and a roommate lives in the remaining room. His rent covers the $650 I mentioned. My plan now is to relocate my office to our underutilized living room, and I’m turning the old office back into a bedroom I can rent out. When that’s finalized in March, I’ll be collecting $600/month on both rooms for $1,200 total. My strata obligations will most likely be near $700 by then, but I’m still looking at $500+ in profit! If I could live like “A” did, I’d be HouseFIREd! (“A” was living on $700/month, and paying $200 for rent. $500 for her other expenses covered it all!)

There are even people in my family who could be HouseFIREd. Mom, for instance, lives alone in a 4-bedroom townhome. If she took the master room for herself and rented the other three rooms to students, that could mean $1,800/month! If they chip in for utilities, that reduces her expenses even more! I think $1,800/month is perfect to live on. That’s about in line with what I spend now!

This is a great strategy for empty nesters. Instead of downsizing, they can maintain the value in their appreciating property, and have a source of extra income. Instead of thinking about retirement in just dollars, consider HouseFIRE! Can you retire on square footage alone? I bet some of you already can. Do it.