My Parents Retired at 42: What I Learned Growing Up in a FIRE Family 🔥🔥🔥

[Good morning FIRE nerds!!!  Got a cool guest post for ya today from Mike who co-hosts the Friends on FIRE podcast. Mike had a unique upbringing as his parents both retired in their early 40s!  I think most of us want to achieve FIRE and teach the ways of financial independence to our kids… Well, that’s what happened in Mike’s family, and here’s a chance to hear more from the children’s perspective when parents retire early.  Enjoy! 👇👇👇]

 

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What I Learned Growing Up in a FIRE Family

If you’ve stumbled upon the concept of FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early), you wouldn’t be faulted for believing it was a new concept, a product of the Great Recession, or Millennials coming of age. The idea is attractive and inspires so many people. But the truth is that the concept of financial independence or retiring early has been around for a while. 

So if you’ve been reading that blog about the 20-somethings who retired and now travel in a van … or the 30-somethings who quit their white-collar jobs to pursue their passions … or the 40-somethings who retired from full-time work to be full-time parents … you might wonder: What happens later? It looks great one year into this so-called “retirement,” but what happens when the blog runs its course or the money runs out? What happens to their seemingly perfect family life? 

I’m going to tell you about the latter and what I learned as the product of a FIRE family. Let’s fast-forward 30 years, though. I co-host a podcast called friends on FIRE, I wrote a book about changing your relationship with money, and I have reached FI with my wife and two kids. And while this article is about my life, it’s about my life when I was a kid and what I learned as a result of it. My parents retired at 42, and perhaps they were part of the OG FIRE movement.

When my dad was in his 30s, he got hooked on the idea of financial independence. He had a good corporate finance job that he enjoyed. My mom worked with hospitals and held a variety of jobs working primarily with recovering elderly patients. They were both successful and happy, admired and respected. And when I was 10 and my sister 8, they both left it all behind.

I barely remember my parents working. They didn’t leave in the morning, get back late at night, or step away from dinner to take a call. They were full-time parents. And while I knew in my heart that I wanted the same and would lead a life of similar intention, I’m now at the same point in my life where my parents made their decisions. Upon reflection of my evolving understanding of life, I realize that FIRE isn’t just the best choice for me; it’s the only choice. 

Here’s what I have learned from growing up in a FIRE family…

Your Time Parenting Is the Best Gift You Can Give Your Children 

If you think about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once you can provide physiological and safety needs (think: food and shelter), the most valuable thing you can give your kids is your time. No amount of money can replace the impact a parent’s time and attention can have on a child.

My parents were always there. And I don’t mean at every lacrosse game, I mean at every practice, too. My dad helped start the team at my high school and was always around, helping make that experience better for me and everyone else. He was greatly appreciated and admired for it. That involvement was a critical factor in my passion for the game. In college, when I was playing at the University of Michigan, he came to every game, too. And he lived in St. Louis! He’d fly out to Arizona or Utah, Pennsylvania or Florida; it didn’t matter. He came to all of my games. Our parents were there if my sister or I needed help with something, whether it be homework, crafts, sports, or hobbies.  

You’ll Figure It Out 

My parents didn’t have some elaborate master plan for what to do with their time, but now after 30 years of not working, they’d tell you that they’ve been pretty darn busy! What many people contemplating retirement struggle with is what they’d do with their lives. My parents wanted to travel the world extensively with us, which they accomplished, but past that, they put themselves in situations to find meaningful opportunities.

If you go to an office for eight hours a day, the opportunities that come your way are someone else’s, or you’re too busy and tired to engage with the ones that aren’t. But if you are out in your community, place of worship, or neighbor’s BBQ, and you have time and energy, a whole new world of activities presents itself. 

It’s ok not to have a plan for every hour of your life, but when you have the time and the energy to explore, you’ll quickly be bombarded with an endless supply of opportunities aligned with your values and interests. As a kid, I was fortunate that the activities my parents found to fill their time quite often included me. I realize now that this was by design.

Do It While You’re Healthy 

I’m 39 now, and getting old sucks already. My parents are now in their 70s and starting to pull back on some of the adventures. But when they were 40, and we spent months traveling the world, they were superheroes to my sister and me. They seemingly didn’t need sleep, could carry everything on their backs, and found a solution to every problem.

If you’ll permit me a slight digression, a myth I encounter frequently is that working hard in a job teaches work ethic. I can tell you that for the few years I remember my dad having an office job, I didn’t learn a damn thing about his work ethic there. But when I saw my parents overcome obstacles, solve problems, and find success outside of work, I learned a great deal.

But parents need to be healthy to work hard. In the same way that you can never regain the past time with your kids, you can never have the health you once had. So if you want to embrace your life fully, the opportunities that come your way, and the time with your family, don’t wait.

Knowing Yourself and What You Want Is a Critical Piece of the Journey 

Perhaps the most significant realization of my parents’ decision to leave work is that it’s deeply conflicting. I never thought about what my parents thought or felt making the decision; they were just there. But now I have kids and a career and feel all the same pressures and conflicts they felt. There are many competing narratives of what your life should be, delivered by companies, institutions, entertainment, and social networks.

There are certain pieces of those ideal lives that you can and should adopt, but your life is still your own. Employers want you to have a long, fulfilling career with them, but that’s in their best interest, not yours. Car companies want you to live free and play hard by buying one of their vehicles. Clothing designers want you to dress in the sophisticated manner they market to you and change every season to look the part of your place in society. But none of these things matter. And they drive you towards a life reacting to outside stimuli instead of pursuing what matters to you. The sad part is that for most people, you can’t have both. You can’t have a fulfilling career, drive a luxury car, dress to the nines, and be a full-time dad. I’m more than fine with the trade-offs and my parents have no regrets for theirs. 

You Won’t Regret It 

I’ve been following FIRE bloggers for a long time, and I always wonder if they’re truly happy. I like to think they are, but the difference between a fulfilling life and the appearance of one can only be found deep down in those individuals. I hope they have all found their purpose.

If you have kids (and you like being with them), you’ll understand that there is nothing better. There is nothing more meaningful, more joyous, more rewarding than spending time with your family and friends doing something you all enjoy. Sitting at baseball practice is probably not as fun, but real family time, in my humble opinion, is the meaning of life.

So if you decide to leave work, with its title and prestige and paycheck, you won’t regret it if you leave because of family. This isn’t to say that other reasons for leaving aren’t worthy; they most certainly are. Whatever your purpose in life, if you pursue it wholeheartedly, you won’t regret it. And your kids will thank you for it as I have thanked mine.

My parents retired when I was 10, and my whole life has been shaped by it. They’ll tell you it was the best decision of their lives. You might have only recently heard about retiring early, but FIRE isn’t a fad. It’s not a gimmick, and it’s not out of reach, although it does take discipline and focus to attain. We all want to live lives of meaning and purpose, but it can be challenging to do so in a society trying to make you broke. 

If you want to make a dramatic change in your life, don’t look at it as leaving a career or checking out; instead set your sights on entering a more intentional life. And trust that it’s the right thing to do.

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Mike and his friend Maggie host the Friends on FIRE Podcast — where they encourage friends to talk about money more so everyone can grow rich… together! Check them out on whatever platform you get your podcasts from. ;)

Have a great day!!

– Joel

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24 Comments

  1. KY Math November 8, 2021 at 6:48 AM

    Nice article, but give us some details like where did you and your parents travel and what do they say about their time now, thirty years after first retiring. Just to spice it up.

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 10, 2021 at 10:36 AM

      Thanks! Glad you liked it. Maybe Joel will let me do a follow up post to share those details!

      Reply
  2. Liz November 8, 2021 at 8:05 AM

    Thanks Mike! My dad being able to accept an early retirement package got me into FIRE. He worked for the same place his whole career, that just not possible. Pensions are a rare thing, so I figured I’d need to set myself up to handle something like that.

    It sounds like you had a great time with your parents, I hope your kids can enjoy their time with you.

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 10, 2021 at 10:38 AM

      Thanks Liz. You’re right, it’s so rare to spend an entire career somewhere. It’s great to see that motivate you to get into FIRE!

      Reply
  3. billy November 8, 2021 at 9:45 AM

    I enjoyed this article, I have been fired for a whole month at 39 years old, we don’t have kids but it was cool to read a bout a kid growing up in a fire family. I do have 2 happy dogs, I like to think they a happy to see me around more :)

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 10, 2021 at 10:38 AM

      I think it’s safe to say that your dogs are leading a better life with you around more. Glad you enjoyed the article!

      Reply
  4. Angie November 8, 2021 at 12:09 PM

    This is awesome, and your parents some incredible! I feel like growing up in a FIRE family (or starting one) is great, because like you said, one of the greatest things that a parent can give to their child is parenting.

    The memories that your parents created by being able to spend more time with you (because of FIRE) is something that can’t be possibly replaced by any amount of money or anything like that.

    It really seems like your parents has thus far lived a super ideal life of maximizing their ability to raise great kids and also being able to maximize their time having adventures, instead of being stuck at a desk until 65.

    Just reading this motivates me. Thanks much for this post!

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 10, 2021 at 10:40 AM

      I’m so glad this story is providing some additional inspiration. Thanks for the positive feedback.

      Reply
  5. Jason Brown November 8, 2021 at 3:24 PM

    My dad is a workaholic and I thought he would never retire, but he finally did at age 70. After removing the enormous stress and anxiety of the corporate grind and dealing with Atlanta traffic (he was getting up at 4 a.m. to “beat traffic”) he is a completely transformed person. All the stress has been removed and now he’s more busy than ever — with the difference being that he’s doing what he wants to do. It’s been inspiring to watch, however, my goal is to NOT have to work till 70 like he did.

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 10, 2021 at 10:41 AM

      I’m happy to hear that about your dad. Some people struggle with retirement and that loss of purpose, but it sounds like he’s thriving!

      Reply
  6. David @ Filled With Money November 8, 2021 at 8:58 PM

    “I’ve been following FIRE bloggers for a long time, and I always wonder if they’re truly happy.”

    I don’t know if it’s just today but from one FIRE blogger, I can tell you I’m not happy. I don’t feel sad, but I don’t feel happy either. This, I suspect, is what’s typical of people who are in the grinding phase of their lives.

    I hope that I’m not feeling happy because I’m working so hard to make other people richer. I am waiting for the day until I can start working on my passion projects.

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 10, 2021 at 10:42 AM

      Sorry to hear that David. I hope you get the opportunity to pursue your passions sooner rather than later.

      Reply
  7. Frank November 8, 2021 at 11:16 PM

    Great post. I’d be keen to understand the journey and things your parents did to retire at 42.
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 10, 2021 at 10:44 AM

      Thanks Frank. You might be disappointed to learn that it wasn’t anything special. Or maybe that’s more inspiring, that it’s pretty basic to do? My dad was and continue to be a capable and enthusiastic investor, so while he obviously saved a lot of money, he’s been actively managing and growing it for decades. Perhaps Joel will let me do a follow up post to share some more details!

      Reply
  8. Dividend Power November 10, 2021 at 6:39 AM

    Nice story and sounds like you had great parents. My Dad worked until he was 81 and a couple of years later his health started to slide. Not sure that is the right answer.

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 10, 2021 at 10:47 AM

      Thanks for the feedback. My grandfather had a similar story, which definitely impacted my dad’s decision to stop working earlier.

      Reply
  9. Matt November 12, 2021 at 12:34 PM

    I LOVED this piece. I’m a finance blogger myself and read FIRE blogs all the time, but I’ve never come across one like this. Thank you.

    My wife and I have four young kids. About three years ago, when I was 41, we achieved a significant milestone of financial independence. At the same time it hit us that our two oldest children were over halfway done their time with us before they’d head out on their own. That hit us hard.

    I quit my job, we sold our house and most of our stuff and we traveled around the world for a year (pre-COVID) as a family. Now we’re in a small town with low expenses. We drive used cars and have a modest house but are rich in the most important way: time. Life didn’t get easy, but now I spend my time on the things that matter the most to me, which is my family + the projects that I choose to work on.

    I know the kids don’t “appreciate” what we’ve done, but it’s really heartwarming to hear your reflections on the benefits of this unusual approach to mid-life and parenthood. Thanks again.

    Reply
    1. Mike O November 16, 2021 at 9:56 AM

      What amazing feedback, Matt. Thank you! It’s amazing that you were able to make this lifestyle change. Your kids will definitely appreciate it!

      Reply
  10. Dan November 14, 2021 at 7:30 AM

    Joel, let Mike do a follow-up post :)

    Reply
    1. Joel November 14, 2021 at 4:45 PM

      Haha thanks — I definitely will!!

      Reply
  11. Mrs B @ TheFireJourney November 14, 2021 at 7:58 PM

    This is an amazing story! We are currently 30-years old taking an 18 month mini-retirement after the birth of our daughter. Our goal is to achieve FIRE by the time we are 40. Our daughter will be 10 at that time. This post really resonates with me to know that some day it will mean so much to her!
    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  12. Matthew Allen November 20, 2021 at 6:01 PM

    I literally fell asleep while reading this post. No joke. I dozed off and took a short nap, then woke up and read the rest. Lol

    Not because the article was boring or bad. I enjoyed it. I just re-read the tagline under the logo for the site – “A personal finance blog that won’t put you to sleep.” – Benjamin Franklin – and I quite literally fell asleep while reading this personal finance blog.

    Personally – I’m not a FIRE guy at all. I don’t get it. I think it’s cool that others have that goal. For me – I find it fulfilling to do work that I enjoy and plan to keep working as much as possible because I truly enjoy my work. I still have plenty of time to spend with my family and we spend our time together very well.

    Reply
    1. Joel November 20, 2021 at 6:51 PM

      hahaha! I’m gonna change the site tagline… “this blog will literally put you to sleep” — Matt Allen.

      I get what you mean about enjoying work and no need to FIRE. You’re lucky! Keep it up :)

      Reply
  13. John Reading December 6, 2021 at 1:09 PM

    I FIREd at age 41 (now 58) although I think of it as more of a 10 year sabbatical. My wife and I raised our 4 children (ages 1 to 12) at that time and home schooled them for most of it. They were home schooled up to Grade 9 and then High School.

    I went back to work and will now FIR next year; can’t call it RE as I will be 59.

    Best thing ever for my children, my wife and I. We raised extremely independent kids. They would disappear right after 12 noon when school was done; either hopping on their dirt bikes or snowmobiles depending on time of year. They traveled well.

    It is now the active conversation in our family as to how they will lead their life and FIRE.

    Reply

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