The first time I mentioned the revolutionary concept of financial independence early retirement (FIRE) to my mom a few years ago, I was met with a scoff. She applauded the idea of financial independence. But early retirement? It was met with pursed lips, a decided frown, or the click of her tongue behind her teeth every time I mentioned it. Try as I might, I could not levy enough evidence or anecdotes or blog posts to make her sweeten on the idea. Perhaps the concept was just too abstract. But then I took a step back and started to see my mom for who she really is.
On the surface, my mom is a second-generation Italian-American who was raised by a single mother. She is an administrative assistant who never went to college. She and my father are both blue-collar workers through and through. That is the lens through which most people — myself included — view her. Of course, she would dismiss early retirement. An hourly worker, a timesheet puncher can’t possibly understand early retirement.
Except she can and she does. My mom is all of those things, but she is also so much more. She is, in fact, an early retiree. I just don’t think of her as one, and I know she doesn’t think of herself that way either. After spending a few of my late elementary school years home with me, she started volunteering. Then volunteering turned into a part-time job, and a part-time job turned into a full-time job. She’s been back at work ever since. While her short-lived foray into early retirement didn’t last, she’s been teaching me about money and financial independence for the better part of three decades.
Sacrifice for What Matters
When I was born, my mom switched her shift at work in order to spend more time with me in the afternoons and nights. That meant she was commuting into the city at 3 am in order to be home with me in the early afternoon. Sure there were a few mornings — most notably, picture days at school when my bow ended up clipped beside my ear instead of atop my head — when I wished my mom was home to do my hair instead of my dad*. But her early morning shifts actually led to one of my most treasured traditions. Each morning, she would sneak into my bedroom and leave a note on my nightstand. Sometimes, she would add a few stickers or a little trinket alongside the note. As impossible as it seems, she kept up this routine until I was in third grade, and I have no recollection of her ever complaining. Not once. Very early on, I realized if something or someone matters to you, you find a way to make it work.
As much as she was constantly reminding me to save more money than I spent, she was also the queen of “enjoy it while you’re young.” Whether it was eyeballing a new purse or daydreaming about a vacation with friends, she never cautioned me away. Instead, she would tell me to squirrel away a little bit from every paycheck. In a lot of ways, my mom seemed to have an arcane grasp on the concept of YOLO long before it was a thing. To her, though, these “enjoy it while you’re young” moments were not opportunities to abandon savings goals or hard work. Instead, they were opportunities to create smaller, more immediate goals that could be savored along the way to the bigger triumphs. To this day, she still talks about balancing long- and short-term goals. Focus your efforts on where you’re headed, but make sure to enjoy day-to-day life as well.
Hard Work Never Hurts
Most parents in my town did not prioritize part-time jobs. However, I remember how excited my mom and I both were when we picked up my work permit from my high school counselor’s office my freshman year. My mom helped me cobble together a resume made up of babysitting gigs and volunteer work, and she proudly drove me to my first job interview. She had made it abundantly clear that my grades mattered more than any $5-an-hour job ever would, but she also wanted me to have the experience of working for what I wanted. My mom has always taken great satisfaction in her ability to work and work hard. Her determination to secure a union job as a teenager and her ability to develop a skill set that secured her spot in the office is what allowed her to retire before her fiftieth birthday with a full pension. It might not be easy. It might not always be fun. But in an age where everyone is hoping for an overnight success story, my mom is a constant reminder that hard work never hurts. In fact, hard work is hidden behind almost every success story.
On one hand, it seems like I have been responsible for cultivating my interest in financial independence. I have been devouring books, blogs, and other resources like those from Personal Capital about all things money for the past few years. I have even taken to writing about it for the past six months. But looking back on the lessons my mom has been teaching me and the examples she has been quietly setting for my whole life, it seems that maybe I’ve always had a little bit of FIRE in my blood.
*My dad is the toughest, most stoic person I’ve ever met. But he always made a valiant attempt to master bows and later scrunchies.
So Tell Me… Who set the greatest financial examples for you growing up? Do you have FIRE in your blood?