Instead of stopping work entirely, could working differently be the change of pace that you need?
This post speaks to me, because, essentially, this is the transition that I made. While I initially set out to retire in my early-to-mid-forties, by the time I got there, I had developed this website and online community and was not remotely ready to give it up.
However, working remotely has been a blessing. The flexibility in terms of time, location, and commitment has allowed my family and me to spend weeks and months traveling in Mexico, Spain, Europe, and more.
With the right kind of job, working “from home” or wherever you want to be in the world, could be a great alternative or transition to full retirement. Obviously, this is not a workable option for many physicians at the moment, but it’s certainly becoming more common, particularly for clinic-based doctors and radiologists.
Jay Wu, the author of today’s guest post, is the founder of Money Knock, an online hub for remote workers and finance nerds. Jay has over a decade of experience in finance and is well versed in making remote work sustainable and productive.
Jay’s Disclaimer: The content presented is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial, investment, tax, legal, or professional advice. The content is provided ‘as is’ without any representations or warranties, express or implied.
The FIRE movement has long held the holy grail for many in the rat race. We all want total control of our lives, and FIRE gives us exactly that.
The biggest issue is that for most, even high earners, FIRE is not easily achieved. You often have to make sacrifices to be able to save to a point where your nest egg can generate enough returns to cover your expenses. If you have a family, achieving FIRE can be even more difficult depending on where you live and your family’s desired lifestyle.
Even if you do achieve FIRE, it is not without its drawbacks. Early retirees have reported that FIRE actually takes a toll on your mental health. To an extent, having a work schedule gives us a sense of routine and stability in our lives. FIRE is not necessarily a means to stop working, it is a means to stop having to work.
With that said, the recent COVID-19 pandemic has changed the lay of the land significantly. A large number of people who were forced to go into an office every day now found themselves with the freedom of working from home. This was traditionally one of the great advantages of FIRE. It is now also achieved with remote work.
Remote work soon became the norm for many companies. People were saving hours each day from commuting, saving money on buying lunch, and even living in different places throughout the year. Now is the perfect time for us to take a look at whether remote work can be a viable alternative to FIRE.
Comparison between Remote Work and FIRE
Two of the most desirable things in life are freedom of location and control of our time. These were also two major driving forces behind the FIRE movement.
Let’s take a look at how these two factors fit into the context of FIRE and remote work.
A similarity between FIRE and remote work is not being tied down to a certain location. Remote work is not just working from home, it is defined by being able to work from anywhere. As long as you have an internet connection and an excellent laptop for remote work, you have all you need.
Feel like working in the West Coast for half a year and the East Coast for the other half? Nothing to stop you from doing it with a remote job.
Location freedom has greater implications than just being where you want when you want. Remote work enables you to not worry about your job when deciding where to live.
No longer do you have to worry how far your commute is to the office. This unlocks abilities to move to an area with a lower cost of living or somewhere that’s better suited to raise a family.
The major difference between remote work and FIRE is that you still have a job to do. As such, when it comes to control of time, remote work still can’t completely replace FIRE. There is typically some sort of time commitment as long as you have a job.
Even so, there are jobs that don’t require you to sit in front of your computer for 8 hours a day. Some companies offer flexible work schedules as long as an employee gets their work done before the deadline. There are also careers that offer relatively flexible schedules. For example, real estate agents typically can set their own schedules.
A way to gain significant control of your own time while working is to become a freelancer. During the pandemic, the freelancing industry became the perfect alternative to a traditional career for many people. It allowed greater control of time and also the ability to work on projects closer aligned to one’s interests. Some full-time freelancers are able to generate more income than their day job.
My Thoughts on Using Remote Work as a viable Alternative to FIRE
I personally think the remote trend can be a good alternative to FIRE. For those who still wish to achieve FIRE, remote work can serve as a bridge to FIRE.
Advantages of Remote Work as a Replacement to FIRE
Barista FIRE is when a FIRE person takes on a part-time job, like being a barista, for extra pay and benefits. Well, why not just work remotely and make a full income, keep your benefits, and still have control over location?
The biggest advantage that remote workers have over FIRE is that remote workers are still bringing in income. To achieve FIRE, most recommend growing your nest egg to a point where a 4% return covers all your expenses. This is easier said than done.
For example, If you have an annual expense of $100,000, you’ll need a $2.5 million nest egg according to the 4% rule. While there are creative ways to leverage your existing investments to generate additional income, these methods often come with their own risks as well.
Typically, the traditional way FIRE is achieved would be through earning a high income, making significant investments and ventures that work out, controlling expenses, or a combination of all.
For many, building your nest egg to achieve the 4% rule is not something that can be realistically done before retirement age. But let’s look at the compromise that remote work would bring. You would still be bringing in your full income while having freedom of location independence and an improved freedom of time.
Also, as much as we love to imagine ourselves doing nothing for the rest of our lives, it’s not the complete truth. Perhaps a more accurate way to put this is we love to imagine ourselves not having to work for the rest of our lives.
Remote work still provides a sense of duty and accomplishment, and is even better if you actually enjoy your job. Two complaints about FIRE are the lack of passion and purpose. Working remotely can solve both of those problems.
Remote work also keeps you fresh and sharp. Some people who retire early look to re-enter the workforce if they find an appealing opportunity or even want to start their own business. Working remotely allows you to maintain your work skills and network.
As a Transition to Easing into FIRE
Remote work can also serve as a stepping stone into FIRE. If you are on the cusp of FIRE, you can give remote work a shot first because it could provide you the perfect balance of controlling your time and location, while also providing fulfillment.
If you still wish to continue on your path to FIRE afterward, working remotely would not have slowed you down as you would have brought in income during this time.
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Current Landscape of Remote Work
Growth of Remote Work
There has never been a better time to move into the freelance or remote work sectors. We’ve seen the Great Resignation that took place during the pandemic as people realized the options that were out there. A lot of people even quit their jobs when their companies ordered them back to the office.
Companies have certainly started to become more lenient with remote work, especially in tech sectors. The pandemic proved employees could be just as efficient working from home than in the office. Some companies even took the opportunity to cut ties with physical offices to save money on rent and facility costs.
Another major benefit from remote work for both employees and companies is that employees now do not necessarily need to be local anymore. Companies can hire the best talent from anywhere in the country or even the world. For people overseas or in remote areas, it has provided them with a much wider spectrum of employment opportunities.
Joining in on the Action
So how does one jump into the remote work sector? Technology has really made it quite simple. If you are just looking at the bare necessities all you really need is a good computer and a strong internet connection. [PoF: And the right type of career! I don’t know any anesthesiologists working remotely.]
It also helps to have a professional-looking workspace at your home for online meetings. Consider external hardware like a good monitor or a solid mechanical keyboard, as you’ll be spending a significant amount of time on your screen and typing.
It has also never been easier to become a freelancer. There are sites and platforms that can help you connect with people who are looking for your exact skillset. Access to the necessary tools are readily available these days for those who would like to test the waters.
For a long time, FIRE has been the ultimate goal for the rat race. With the growth of remote work, perhaps it’s time to look at it as an alternative that could be viable for a much larger portion of the population.
Remote work could provide the perfect work-life balance most desire, or at least serve as a bridge to FIRE. In the future, maybe the desire for FIRE will be replaced by the desire to have a great remote work career!
Could your job be done remotely? If not, would a transition to such a career be possible or desirable?
4 thoughts on “Remote Work: A Viable Alternative to FIRE?”
Totally agree! You can retire and walk away or find a new way to do the ‘work’ you love – for me personally I would find it hard to walk away from something I don’t feel is finished – there is so much more we can do regardless of the financials involved. I feel a sense of obligation to those we serve to ‘finish’ the job….but that does not mean I need to be in a highrise 5-7 days a week working 8-15 hours each. I’ve done that – and now choose differently based on freedom of location. Great post! – Jon with Contract Diagnostics
Hello, I am a 54 year old Family Medicine physician, and I switched to remote work only about a year ago. I am really enjoying the freedom! I have not achieved FIRE, but I have saved enough so that if I just let it grow until age 65, I should be able to retire comfortably. I agree with most of your article, however, the one thing I have found is that it is not easy to make the same income as a remote worker as it was working in an office. I am doing mostly telemedicine and these visits do not pay as well as in-office visits. Plus, I am not getting the volume I would need to make up the difference. You need to get licensed in several if not many states to make it worth it, which I am working on. It may be different for other specialties, but I thought I would just let your audience know about my experience.
Thanks for this. Very timely and it resonates with me big time. I was remotely working for several years pre-COVID and was still thinking about FIRE but mostly because that company was and still is a sinking ship. I recently changed companies and actually got into the medical device (radiation therapy machines) industry and the position is fully remote… at least indefinitely. This is a company where they actually make you feel valued and want you there too, so obviously the company you’re at, even if it is fully remote, does make a huge difference (my last company told all of us that they were trying to create attrition… I don’t know of a better way to create a toxic working environment).
That said, this has definitely reframed and made me rethink my perspective on FIRE. Sure it would still be great to not have any timelines/deadlines or have to answer to someone but I would agree that it’s both a great alternative and transition, and one step closer to what most of us are all looking for. I think the flexibility and freedom to choose (at least when and where to work… in some form or capacity) is huge here.
A family friend went the remote to retired route as a data verifier. They were able to reduce from full assignments to slowly dropping to 2 weeks then 1 week per month. There was finally a realization that the stress of rush assignments wasnt worth it vs their non work weeks. The decision to fully retire was easier.