Why playing with ‘FIRE' can pay enormous financial dividends (Biz & Books review)

Author Scott Rieckens

Author Scott Rieckens

Your flame has been extinguished.

That's it. You're done. Burned out — from overwork, underpay, or burning the midnight oil. Your career's barely started and you're already counting the days until you turn 60-something and can retire but first, look ahead — way ahead — by reading “Playing with FIRE” by Scott Rieckens.

When you think about it, it makes the least sense: You work at a high-paying job so you can buy nice stuff that you don't have time to use because you're working. So how many minutes ‘til Friday?

Until a few years ago, Scott Rieckens and his wife, Taylor, thought that was the way things had to be. They had great jobs, a new baby, lots of grown-up toys, and they saved a few thousand dollars a year. They thought they were doing great, until someone told Rieckens about FIRE: Financial Independence Retire Early.

As he discovered, FIRE has one basic tenet: “save 50 to 70 percent of your income, invest those savings in low-fee stock index funds, and retire in roughly ten years.” It sounds easy but it's not pain-free.

FIRE is flexible, but getting to the end point means work. It means giving up unnecessary luxuries, as Rieckens' wife learned. It means fixing meals at home or brown-bagging; some FIRE advocates only dine out twice a year. It means asking yourself if a purchase you're eyeing is worth the work it'd take to pay for it. FIRE pushes the boundaries of comfort, especially if you like pampering yourself even just a little bit.

But the pay-offs are enormous.

Says Rieckens, with FIRE, you can travel more, spend time with family and friends, be an entrepreneur, volunteer, or study. You can pay cash for large purchases, saving on interest. FIRE teaches you discipline, and it works even when the market is down. Best of all, he says, it's do-able and it can work for anyone at any income scale.

But here's what you might not notice when you read “Playing with FIRE”: most of the people profiled in this book are in their ‘20s and ‘30s. That doesn't mean older readers can't use what author Scott Rieckens espouses, but if you're staring at just one or two decades of work (rather than four or more) and you'd still like to cut that considerably, you'll have some lines to read between here.

That aside, if you can adjust and if you're unfazed and challenged by changes that are possible, what you'll learn in this book is golden. Rieckens lays out methods and math for readers, and he's careful to include pitfalls and Plan Bs; reading his personal road to retirement also lends reassurance when inevitable missteps happen. Still, be prepared to do some research on your own: hidden issues such as insurance are discussed, but not much.

Overall, if you're imaginative, planning-flexible, and you want to sleep in, take back your time, or you just want a nice fat nest egg, get this book. When you see the possibilities, “Playing with FIRE” becomes matchless.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the reviewer behind “The Bookworm Sez,” a self-syndicated book review column published in more than 260 newspapers and magazines in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. She can be reached for feedback, ideas and links to reviews of books on a broad range topics at www.bookwormsez.com.


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