Career Personal Finance

Feeling Guilty About FIRE

Ever since this pandemic started, I haven’t been able to shake off this nagging feeling that I would be working all the time.

For months I thought it was because I was afraid of losing my job, but that didn’t feel right. I knew that even if I were fired the next day, I’d be fine. After all, I’ve technically reached FI.

I was actually hoping I would be furloughed or laid off, since it would give me permission to take the break I’ve been wanting to take and an excuse to try something new.

But none of that has happened. Instead of thinking about why I’ve been wishing for job loss, I’ve been giving into the feeling that I should be working on nights and weekends and burning myself out in the process.

This week it got to a point where all I could think about was how I could justify a change. Do I need to save more money? No, because I want to work on things that I’m passionate about and will probably make money in the process. Is it bad if I leave after two years? No, because recruiters are trying to get me to leave now. Do I need to get a promotion first? No, because I want to leave this industry and don’t care about titles.

So I picked a date. Not an arbitrary one of course, but being the over analyzer I am, I had to optimize for bonuses, 401k matching, stock vesting, and health insurance.

The date? February 3, 2023

Once I wrote it down, I felt relieved. I could justify why it made sense to step away at that point.

At that moment I realized why I was looking for permission.

I feel guilty.

I feel guilty about wanting to leave a job that others would love to have.

I feel guilty about leaving money on the table.

I feel guilty about leaving safe for risky.

I feel guilty about having options.

I feel guilty about disappointing others.

When I got this job, I could see everyone’s expectations. My uncle said that I would become a director or VP someday. My cousin told me how lucky I was to get a job where I could work forever.

But when this job ends, there will be confusion, disappointment, and frustration regardless of the circumstances. The only reason I’m fine with the company ending my employment is because I’ve deemed a business justification as forgivable, but my own personal fulfillment as unforgivable. There’s something messed up with that.

I need to forgive myself because no one is going to live my life for me and I can’t live a guilt-free life because I wouldn’t be living at all.

FIRE will leave some ashes in its wake, but it’s from those ashes that new life emerges.

So starting today I forgive myself.

I hope you’ll forgive yourself too.

Career Personal Finance Real Estate

Thoughts on Becoming “Financially Independent”

This month I hit a milestone on my FI journey. I’ve become financially independent! (assuming a 4% safe withdrawal rate) In other words, I now have saved up 25x the total amount of money I spent last year.

Does this mean I can quit my job?

Technically yes, but I’m not going to.

That’s because I want my life after a traditional day job to look very different than what it looks like now and that’s going to take more than I’m currently spending.

Most importantly I want to buy a place to house hack, but given the high price to rent ratios in New York City, I won’t be able to cover the entire mortgage with rent from the other unit(s) unless I buy far into the outer boroughs. And I don’t want to do that.

That means I’ll be increasing my housing costs in exchange for the freedom to paint the walls, get a pet, garden, become an AirBnB host, do house swaps, and anything else that comes with the benefits of owning your own home.

Given the fact that my target FI number is higher than where I am now, it’s no surprise that reaching FI for my current lifestyle has been anticlimactic. But when I think about it, every FI milestone has been anticlimactic, and I’m beginning to realize that no amount by itself will ever make me feel fulfilled.

I thought that it would make me happier to know that I could walk away from my job, but that hasn’t been the case. Instead it feels like getting a “get out of jail free” card in Monopoly. Nice to have in my back pocket, but I really just wanted a house.

I wonder, instead of thinking about numbers like the first $100k or 25x spending, if it makes more sense to focus on the life events that happen like taking an mini retirement, leaving a job, or pursuing a new opportunity. After all, if money is just a tool, it would make sense that having it or the possibility of using it doesn’t bring joy, but actually using it to accomplish a task does.

Up until this point I’ve been so focused on getting to FI that I haven’t really thought about how I wanted to use it once I got there. It’s time to fix that now.

Personal Finance Saving

Why FIRE is Rational

If your home was by the ocean and the beach was slowly eroding away each year, what would you do? Would you ignore it and fill your home with more stuff? Would you expect the government or your community to do something about it? Or would you start moving your valuables to a home further inland and figure out a way to fortify the house by the water?

I’d take the last option and do everything in my power to avoid disaster, wouldn’t you?

Of course, maybe the beach won’t erode all the way to the house, or maybe a big storm never comes, or maybe the government builds a sea wall and moves the house further inland. But wouldn’t you rather be in a position of security, where that house is now a second home and not all is lost if you lose it?

While most of us aren’t in this situation, how many of us are one paycheck, one car repair, or one hospitalization away from financial ruin? With each passing day, unemployment benefits are being cut, cars are becoming more expensive, and medical costs are rising.

And there’s no end in sight.

I’m not saying that building financial security is easy or that the odds aren’t stacked against us. It’s difficult and they are. But while we hope for the best and fight for change, isn’t it still worthwhile to take action on our own situations?

This is why I save. This is why I pursue FIRE.

I know that one day I will be out of a job. I know that one day my car will break down. I know that one day I will be hospitalized.

But I don’t want that to be game over.

Career Personal Finance Saving

Why It’s OK to Forget About FIRE

It seems like the path to FIRE always starts with a spark – a blog article, podcast, or video that triggers a binge of information. How to save, how to earn, how to invest, how to optimize every aspect of your life in the pursuit of shaving off the years until retirement.

The information, however, is not a magic bullet, even though it may appear that way. That’s because unless you’re starting off with a lot of money, have a very high income, and can significantly reduce expenses, it takes roughly a decade to achieve FIRE.

While it’s still significantly shorter than the conventional path to retirement, the new found awareness makes it feel like an eternity. The fervent search for more information doesn’t help either. You start to obsess about every dollar and count the hours at work until you make yourself miserable.

So what’s the best thing to do once you learn about FIRE?


What I mean is that once you set up automatic saving and investing, cut back on any spending that doesn’t spark joy, go back to living life. Otherwise you might as well watch water boil.

If there’s anything to do at all it’s figuring out how to make more money, whether that means climbing the corporate ladder switching careers, or starting a side hustle. That’s really the only pedal you have to speed up the path to FIRE once you’ve gotten started.

But even then don’t stress out about that if it’s going to kill you. Sustainability is key and it’s worse to burn yourself out than to be slow and steady. FIRE is like a diet. Good, consistent, maintainable habits will always give better results than sporadic “cleanses”. Even when you reach your target number, it’s not like you can let all your habits that got you there fall by the wayside. There’s a certain amount of maintenance required, so if you don’t like the journey you’re not going to like the destination.

Of course I’m saying all this because I’ve experienced it personally. The obsession, the burnout, and the realization — you don’t need to add sparks to a FIRE that’s already burning.


Psst! Do You Have a Whisper Group?

It’s been several years since I switched fields and became a software engineer. I’ve made big leaps in my career since then, partly because of luck, partly because of hard work, and partly because of my whisper group.

What’s a whisper group? (I just recently learned the term myself)

It’s a group of people that have a shared professional interest and openly talk about anything related (or not) to that topic. The discussions don’t even have to take place in person! Most are virtual and often take the form of a group text or social media group.

Mine formed accidentally after the coding bootcamp as a way to keep in touch with classmates. Naturally we had a lot to share professionally since we were all going through similar experiences at the same time, but the topics of discussion and the benefits of participating quickly expanded beyond work. Over the years, these are the most valuable things I’ve gotten from the group:

  1. Salary Information — For software engineers, even with online resources like glassdoor, r/cscareerquestions,, Blind, and StackOverflow’s annual survey, it can be hard to know what the going rate is for someone with your skill set and experience. By sharing our salaries, bonuses, raises, stock options, and stock grants with one another, we’ve been able to understand what the market rate is for the industry and how it differs between small start ups and large companies.
  2. Negotiations — Traditionally all the knowledge and power has been held by the employer, but when you can tell a recruiter that your friend got an offer of X from the same company last week, the conversation usually goes a little bit differently. We also share past negotiation experiences and tips on how to approach negotiations for a better outcome. Besides compensation, this also applies to working remote, professional development, and paid time off.
  3. Interview Preparation — There are so many resources, premium subscriptions, and paid courses on how to prepare for interviews, but nothing beats hearing about what other people used and what they thought was most helpful. It’s tough enough finding the time to study while working full time so this type of curated content is so valuable when job hunting.
  4. Job Openings — Bad jobs and layoffs happen. But when they do, we’ve been able to point out which companies are hiring and suggest ways to get a foot in the door. We share contacts and fight over referral bonuses, but ultimately benefit in the large size of our combined networks.
  5. Friendly Competition — After graduating school, it can be hard to figure out if you’re continuing to grow at a good pace. By sharing promotions and new jobs, we’ve gotten to see what kind of growth is possible within the industry. It has also encouraged many of us to explore new opportunities even when we’re perfectly comfortable in our current positions. Not that we encourage keeping up with the Joneses, but no one has turned down a higher paying job yet.
  6. Emotional Support — Not every day is a catered lunch and a game of table tennis. Sometimes you just need to rant about something technical or talk about how you’re not feeling motivated to study problems on Leetcode.
  7. New Ideas — In addition to new developments in the industry, the group also talks about a random assortment of topics like FIRE, remote work, travel hacking, fitness, etc. It’s been rewarding to see everyone pursue personal goals outside of work.
  8. Friendship — Even though we don’t see each other on a daily basis anymore, we still meet up and travel together pretty frequently. There’s something special about having friends that understand your professional struggles beyond a surface level.

I can’t imagine where I would be career wise without this whisper group, but I know that it has helped me tremendously in speeding up my FIRE journey while also making me more resilient to any obstacles I may encounter in the future.

What about you? Do you have a whisper group? I’d love to hear about the different ways you benefit from them in the comments below.

Career Personal Finance

How I Tripled My Income and Got a Six-Figure Job in Four Months

A few years ago, I was in a rut. After graduating from college and getting let go from my first job, I found myself bartending once unemployment ran out. It was supposed to be temporary just until I could figure things out, but temporary turned into a year, which turned into two years. I knew that I couldn’t last much longer since my legs were aching even on my days off, but it seemed like every other job I could see myself doing meant going back to school for a very long time and taking out lots of student loans.

At the time I also knew about FIRE, but gave up on it after my first job since I was earning so little. On the plus side, my schedule was flexible and whenever I found cheap airfare, I begged my coworkers to cover my shifts so that I could travel. I hated having to come back for work and wondered how I could find a job that would let me travel whenever I wanted.

During my travels, I noticed that a lot of the young people on the plane were working on their laptops and usually had one of three things on their screens:

  1. Spreadsheets
  2. PowerPoint
  3. Rainbow colored text on a black background

The first two made sense to me, but the third didn’t. I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask them what they were doing so I just filed it away in the back of my mind. It wasn’t long before I figured it out after reading an article in the New York Times that profiled people turning to coding for a career change.

I still wasn’t convinced though. It seemed too good to be true. Could I really take a three-month course and land a job making six figures? I always wanted to learn how to code and build apps, but I tried computer science at college and it was a struggle to put it nicely. Why would anyone want to hire me to do something if I didn’t major in it?

Soon after reading the article, I got a few signs. One of my coworkers also saw the article and shared it with me, saying that he thought of me while reading it. I also met a college friend who mentioned that his girlfriend was doing a coding bootcamp. Then I ran into a childhood friend that had recently done the same coding bootcamp and was working at his first job. That’s when I decided that I was going to give this a chance. It was a low risk, high reward opportunity after all. Even if the program was going to cost a semester’s worth of college tuition, I knew that I could pay it back and do something else after a year if I really didn’t like it, that is, if graduates really got jobs at the salaries they were claiming. At the very least, I would have some of those “coding skills” that all the articles said were increasingly important in the workplace.

So I started researching the various bootcamps in the area and decided to first apply to the same bootcamp that I knew others went to since I was risk-adverse. Most of the programs also didn’t allow you to reapply so I wanted to make sure I didn’t blow all my chances by applying to all of them at once. I studied before work and during breaks using the sites they recommended like Codecademy and was so nervous through the entire application process. I practiced talking aloud and explaining my thought process as I went through the practice exercises. Fortunately I made it into the first program I applied to, but I was prepared to start the process with the other bootcamps.

Once I got in, I told my manager and coworkers I was leaving. They were sad to see me go, but happy that I was leaving for a good opportunity. The program I was going to attend was full-time and I wanted to devote all my time and energy to it. Fortunately I had saved enough to cover my living expenses for the length of the course and then some. I was grateful to my younger self for continuing to save and live within my means even though FIRE seemed like a pipe dream at that point.

The program itself was intense and well structured. My friend told me that his biggest regret was not taking it more seriously, so I took that advice to heart and stayed late every day to prepare for the next day and came in on weekends to catch up on anything I couldn’t finish that week.

After three months the course ended and I started my job search. This was the biggest unknown since it could take anywhere from a week to a year. I was told that it was just a numbers game so I cranked out 300 applications in a month and schmoozed with every alum that walked through the doors of our classroom. This led to a handful of phone screens, a few on-site interviews, and an offer that I was able to negotiate up to six figures with the help of my bootcamp. In between applying and interviewing, I was constantly practicing my elevator pitch on why I was making a career change and white boarding data structures, algorithms, and problems from Cracking the Coding Interview. I almost worked through the entire 706-page book by the time I accepted my job offer.

I was nervous about not knowing enough for my first job, but those fears quickly went away once I started. The course was well tailored to the actual day-to-day responsibilities of my job and I could see why even some computer science majors went to bootcamps before transitioning into the workforce.

It’s been a few years now and I’m still coding, but have since moved on from my first job. I’m still glad that I made the jump and have helped others do the same. It’s not for everyone though and I know that I had some advantages that not everyone else will have (like having an emergency fund already saved up and living at home without paying rent), but it’s not a cakewalk for anyone. Having said that, the two things I think are the most important to being successful at a bootcamp are 1. saving enough to cover you through the course and job hunt so that you aren’t distracted by finances while learning and can wait for the best offer, and 2. taking it seriously because there’s a big difference in starting salaries ($60k vs. $120k) and how long it takes to get a job (a few months vs. a year) between the unmotivated and the motivated.

Of course if I could go back all the way to college, I’d stick out the computer science major and intern at big companies during the summers, but the coding bootcamp was really the next best thing. It’s helped shorten my timeline to FIRE and feels like an insurance policy in case I ever need to go back to work to make money. This is also why I think that making more money is just as important as cutting back expenses when pursuing FIRE aggressively.

TL;DR I went to a coding bootcamp.

Books Personal Finance Saving

Walden: 8 Things that the FIRE Community Can Learn from a 165-Year-Old Book

Thoreau’s Walden isn’t a FIRE book in the strictest sense, but it has many themes that relate to the FIRE movement. I never read it in school and I’ve seen it referenced time and time again by the community so I decided to give this 165-year-old book a chance and I’m glad I did.

I always thought that Walden was an example of how many principles of FIRE were mainstream in the past, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thoreau was considered a weird guy, his ideas were considered weird, and the FIRE community can learn a lot from his experience as a result.

  1. Living below your means was never the norm and probably will never be. Even in the 1800s, Thoreau describes that most people spent what they earned and that most farmers didn’t own the land they farmed.
  2. Society will always think that you are strange for pursuing FIRE. People thought that it was strange that a man would voluntarily move into a cabin in the woods, just like people will think that it’s strange for you to downsize your home or downgrade your car.
  3. Detailed accounts of income and expenses will always be interesting. Just like how people were interested in how much it cost to build Thoreau’s cabin and pay for food, people will always be interested in money diaries and income reports.
  4. It’s hard to separate FIRE from food. Thoreau advocates eating mostly vegetables to save on food costs and therefore reduce the amount he needs to earn.
  5. Not everyone will want to live just like you and that’s fine. Thoreau tries to convince a neighboring Irish family that they should give up meat and butter in order to reduce their expenses, but they’re resistant to the idea.
  6. Pursuing FIRE alone is one thing, but as a couple it’s hard if one person isn’t on board. In the interaction with the Irish family, the husband seems intrigued by Thoreau’s thoughts, but the wife isn’t convinced.
  7. Check your privilege. You have advantages that allow you to pursue fire that others don’t. One of the main criticisms of Thoreau’s experiment is that he didn’t pay rent or own the land he lived on. His friend Ralph Waldo Emerson allowed him to live on the land for free.
  8. Practice contentment. Thoreau both demonstrates and explains that it doesn’t take much to live a rich, full life.
Personal Finance Saving

The New Minority 30-Something

A recent New York Times article poses a riddle:

How does anyone, even those with a stable, upwardly mobile job, let alone a family, afford to live in places like New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco or Washington, D. C.?

To which the supposed answer is:

Many are bankrolled, to varying degrees, by their parents.

There’s truth to this statement, and I’ve noticed this phenomenon first hand amongst my peers and my NYC Money Diaries analysis.

The thing that irks me, however, is the one-sidedness of the article. The only examples presented in this article are 30-something millennials that receive support from their parents, or those that are not and thereby feel stuck.

What’s missing? How about showing some 30-somethings that aren’t supported, but are still able to “keep up” with their peers? And how about describing the choices they have made in order to do so? The omission of what I’m calling a “new minority” type of 30-something just perpetuates the idea that it’s impossible to get ahead without parental support and downplays the agency each individual has over their own personal finances.

While I’m not a 30-something yet and can’t claim to have never received “help” from my family after graduating college, I graduated debt-free because my need-based aid covered 100% of my costs and I am planning to purchase my own home in New York City this year without any help from my family, which I also help support financially. It has required considerable sacrifice to do so, but it’s possible.

This is also why I’m writing this blog. It’s not just a reminder to myself, but also to tell the story I think isn’t being told enough. Upward mobility is not straightforward these days, but it can still be achieved with ingenuity, sacrifice, and fortitude.

Thank you for reading and I hope that you find some encouragement while you’re here.

Books Personal Finance

Book Review: Playing with Fire

Yesterday, after walking to the library to pick up Playing with Fire, I stopped by an open house on my way back home. When I walked in, the real estate agent greeted me with, “Hey you’re too young to be here! You’re still borrowing books from the library! How old are you, seventeen?” I was surprised at the way she greeted me, but I smiled and explained that I liked reading, all the while thinking: 1. How is that any way to talk to a potential buyer? 2. Since when is there an age requirement to buy real estate (besides being of age)? 3. What’s wrong with the library? 4. How do you think I’m saving up, lady?

The whole exchange felt like yet another time I stuck out like a sore thumb on my path to FIRE. From this one I gathered that normal people don’t read books (or if they do they buy them) and they don’t buy homes until they look a certain age.

Once I got home and started reading Playing with Fire, however, I was reminded that this type of experience is not unique to me. In the book, Scott tells the unique story of his family, but somehow their journey feels just like mine. There are so many relatable experiences, feelings, and realizations for everyone in the FIRE community that make the pages fly by. That’s why I feel like this book is best for people who are in the slow accumulation phase of FIRE and need some emotional support or are just getting started.

Scott also introduces a lot of FIRE concepts with newbies in mind, but it’s been so long since I started that I can’t make a fair judgement on that content. I did like how Scott included some profiles of other people, which showed some of the diversity within the community, but I don’t know how someone completely new to the concept of FIRE would respond to this book.

I have a feeling that the documentary will be the same story told in the book, but I’m still looking forward to it. I think it will help spread and normalize the concept of FIRE like Marie Kondo’s Netflix series.

If you read Playing with Fire, what did you think of it? I’d love to know!

Personal Finance Real Estate Saving

Money Diaries

I love money diaries.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, these are unfiltered accounts of how people earn and spend their money. I love how much they reveal about a person, their life, and their values, no matter how much hand waving or rationalizing they do to explain certain purchases.

It’s also clear that I’m not the only one. In the past few years, there has been a profusion of blogs, articles, and videos (of mostly millennials) laying their finances bare for the world to see, which I think speaks to the demand for this type of content.

I’ve always wondered though, if there’s anything else that can be gleaned when looking at everything in aggregate. One of the richest collections of diaries is Refinery29’s Money Diaries series, which started a little over three years ago. Fortunately for me, a large portion of these diaries are written by those that live and work in the New York City area.

So, like any rational person, I decided to compile all the data from the diaries and do some analysis. It wasn’t an exact science though. I excluded some outliers like full time students and a couple at the high end (I’m looking at you, hedge fund managing director and real estate mogul) and did my best to split up the finances from diaries where finances were mixed.

Given that, these are some of the things I found interesting:

  • Older doesn’t mean wiser financially speaking. While salary generally rises with age, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between age and what percentage of take home pay is spent on fixed expenses such as housing, transportation, subscriptions, etc.
  • Lifestyle inflation is real, but fixed expenses don’t increase in proportion to salary. It doesn’t look like discretionary expenses do either, but that’s hard to confirm since almost all of the diaries are only a week long.
  • You’re more likely to blow your budget for the week when you make less money. Even though that seems kind of obvious, I was surprised at how seldom diaries at the higher income levels went above their weekly disposable income ((Take Home Pay – Fixed Expenses) / 52 weeks) given the distribution of utilization of disposable incomes.
  • It’s easier to save when you make more money. Again, kind of obvious, but I think the interesting thing is how slowly the savings needle moves.
  • There doesn’t seem to be a heavy editorial hand in the Money Diary series. There’s a heavy tail distribution in terms of salary and utilization of weekly disposable income (defined above), which fits the general population, so it doesn’t look like they’re trying to sensationalize the series or spotlight a certain type of spending profile for the most part.

In addition, some interesting medians from the data set are:

  • Age: 27
  • Salary: $70,000
  • Housing: $1,164
  • Housing as a Percentage of Take Home Pay: 29.8%* (Assuming single filer taking standard deduction and single exemption depending on tax year)
  • After-Tax Fixed Expenses (Including Housing): $20,117
  • After-Tax Fixed Expenses as a Percentage of Take Home Pay: 42.5%
  • Percentage of After-Tax Non-Fixed Income Spent: 94%
  • Projected Yearly Savings: $2,738* (Assuming that the one recorded week represents an average for the year)

If you made it this far, clearly you’re not bored by numbers and probably have a few questions about my methodology. That’s a good thing. I will be the first person to admit that this is not scientifically rigorous and should not be taken at face value and I’d love to hear your suggestions on how to improve this analysis. That said, I hope the following will explain the reasoning behind my decisions.

Who was excluded?

  • Anyone who was a full-time student because they represent a different kind of financial population in the series
  • The two diaries that were making over a million a year and both over the age of 35 because the sample sizes were so small at that end of the spectrum and not reflective of the general population. (Because I know that 100% of New Yorkers > 35 do not make at least a million dollars a year)
  • Anyone that didn’t work in New York City because even though Northern New Jersey and Long Island are close and also expensive, they’re still different enough from the rest of the sample group.

What about taxes?

For my own sanity, I applied the tax rates for the year in which the diary was published and assumed that everyone was filing single, taking the standard deduction, and one personal exemption if applicable in that year. I also assumed that diarists living outside the five boroughs did not have to pay any city income tax.

Why are you using take home pay?

Two reasons: because some millennials receive an allowance from family, although this was not as common as the media would like you to believe, and because of the different tax rates. The most common forms of familial support came in the form of no education debt, not contributing to a cell phone family plan, and not contributing to family entertainment subscriptions.

How is it fair to use one week of spending to extrapolate to an entire year?

It’s not, but given the fairly normal distribution, I felt that the median number would still provide some color. If you work at Mint or Personal Capital, I’d love to talk to you though.

What about purchases that are clearly once in a blue moon or later going to be reimbursed in some way?

Yes, I agree that those should be taken out and adjusted, but it seemed like very little additional clarity for a great amount of work. Volunteers welcome!

What about inflation?

Yes I thought about that too, but it’s three years of data. I didn’t adjust any of the calculations for inflation, but I’ll consider it for v2.

That’s it for now, but I’m planning on revising this data. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment!