10M is enough to retire
Carried out at 40
The Fire movement propagates a new way of life: Save a lot of money quickly - and then enjoy a modest retirement. Oliver Noelting shows how it is done.
When Oliver Noelting retires, he will primarily want to go skateboarding. Not a classic discipline for retirees, but Noelting is not going to be a classic pensioner either. He will then not have a long working life behind him and no mid-life crisis. If everything goes well, Noelting can retire after less than 15 years of working life. He would then be in his early 40s.
It's still almost ten years until then. Noelting is 29 years old now. Tall, slim, goatee and baggy shirt. You could well imagine him in a philosophy seminar, but Noelting is a media computer scientist, he has a part-time position as a software developer, and he works freelance or not at all, as on this day.
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The sun is shining, Noelting is sitting on the balcony of the apartment he rented with his girlfriend. Two rooms in a 1950s building in Hanover List. “We don't need anything else,” says Noelting. A sentence that also explains the idea of retirement, as well as the way to get there.
Oliver Noelting is part of a new movement called “Fire”, short for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”, in German: financial independence, early retirement. Instead of going through the stages of a usual career, the Fire supporters want to reduce the working life to ten or twenty years, and extend the pension to five or six decades, financed by passive income.
In the 19th century there were already privateers and rentiers who lived solely on their, mostly inherited, assets. In contrast, the Fire supporters earned their own money. Often it is not enough for yachts and fast cars, but for a moderate life without being forced to work.
The 4 percent rule assumes that you can generate a 4 percent return on invested assets in the long term.
When Oliver Noelting first heard about Fire, he was in a life crisis. He had almost finished his studies, but the prospect of sitting at a desk eight hours a day frightened him. "I didn't want this hamster wheel," he says. A regular salary, Christmas bonus, none of that was important to him. As a student he lived cheaply, he wanted nothing more. For a long time, Noelting says that he has not brought this frugality on the one hand and financial independence on the other hand together. But then came Mr. Money Mustache.
A Canadian programmer has been writing a blog under this name since 2011, in which he reports on how he managed to retire at the age of 30. Mr. Money Mustache has become something of a pioneer of the Fire movement, he has fans all over the world, including Noelting's former roommate. "I always said: retirement at 30, that's nonsense," says Noelting. But at some point, at the insistence of his roommate, he too surfed the site of Mr. Money Mustache. «It clicked immediately. Suddenly everything came together, ”says Noelting.
Mr. Money Mustache's retirement is based on the 4 percent rule, a kind of cornerstone of the Fire movement. It assumes that if you invest wisely and in the long term, you can generate a 4 percent return on your invested assets. This money can therefore be withdrawn without affecting the share capital.
Every euro that he earns gets him there faster.
There have long been sites on the Internet that use this rule to calculate how much wealth you need in order to be able to live on the interest - and the abstract concept of “pension” is thus transformed into something tangible. Retirement no longer depends on age, but on an amount that needs to be reached.
In the case of Mr. Money Mustache, the end result was $ 600,000. According to the 4 percent rule, he gets around $ 24,000 a year, not a lot, but enough for him and his family, he says, provided you don't have a car, don't buy new things all the time, and are thrifty.
Oliver Noelting recognized himself in all of this. Following the example of Mr. Money Mustache, he calculated his need for money, the result: 300,000 to 400,000 euros. That was four years ago, and since then an Excel list has accompanied him on his way to financial independence, green the income, red the expenditure, yellow the savings rate.
In 2017, the average was 70 percent, so of his roughly 2,400 euros income, around 1,500 euros were invested in ETF funds and government bonds every month. Noelting has already saved 100,000 euros. Every euro that he earns gets him there faster, which is why there is a column in his Excel list in which he enters the bottle deposit and the money he finds. At the same time, every euro spent is a step backwards, which is why Noelting saves as much as possible.
Freedom from security
Noelting has already made use of his frugality in several radio interviews, television reports and magazine articles. Mostly he is portrayed as a savings fox, as one who turns over every penny twice. This annoys Noelting. One time, because it's not true: he goes out with friends, he buys food for an average of 100 euros a month, goes to a restaurant for 40 and goes on vacation. He doesn't live like a monk, but still like a student, that's the difference.
It is not about thrift at any price, but about getting out of the consumer madness. Noelting rides his bike, not only because it saves money, but also because it keeps you fit and he wants to protect the environment. He buys used clothes because there is way too much of it. And a new cell phone is only available when the old one is broken. In the end, retirement and financial independence are just a consequence of this lifestyle.
Part-time, home office, sabbaticals, anything is possible, but that's not enough for Fire fans.
How many Fire fans there are in Germany is difficult to say. There is no association and no central organization. On Facebook, however, new groups are constantly emerging in which interested parties can meet and discuss whether 4 percent interest rates are realistic or not. There have long been meetings in real life, in the USA sometimes thousands come to such events.
Fire is particularly successful with young people. There are people in their late twenties like Oliver Noelting who think about how to say goodbye to this phase of life at the beginning of their working life. At first glance, that might seem strange, as companies like Google, but also start-ups, propagate the interlinking and reconciliation of work and leisure, and thus attract young employees.
Part-time, home office, sabbaticals, anything is possible, but that's not enough for Fire fans. For them it's not just about retirement, it's about a different life, apart from consumption and the duty to work. Limits to growth, time instead of money, unconditional basic income: All of these economically critical approaches are mixed up at Fire - only to then put them into practice with the help of ETF funds, banks and real estate speculation. Criticism of capitalism with capitalism.
«I thought: That couldn't have been all, could it? That is my life?"Ankur Garg, fire pioneer
For Germany, Ankur Garg is something of a pioneer for Fire. The 37-year-old has been financially independent for a few years. Garg looks like a banker on vacation, well-groomed three-day beard, shirt unbuttoned. He has just returned from a spontaneous five-day bike tour. “It was never planned that I am financially independent today,” says Garg. He was 22 when he came to Aachen from Delhi, after completing his degree in electrical engineering, he started at an electricity company, Garg carried out needs analyzes, he earned a good income, but was dissatisfied, overweight and stressed.
«I thought: That couldn't have been all, could it? That is my life?" And so he thinks about how he could generate passive income. Rents in Munich are rising, but interest rates are low. In 2009 he and his wife bought an apartment, and in 2012 another on credit, which they rent out. Suddenly they have passive income, the couple buys another apartment, one more and another, mostly on credit, they rent it and after deducting the interest, there is enough money left over to theoretically make a living, says Garg.
He has given up his job and instead runs a blog about financial independence. More and more people write to him asking for tips. "I always reply that there is no general recipe," says Garg. "We were very lucky with the real estate, today the situation is very different."
"Fire is about getting control of your finances and what is really important in life."Oliver Noelting, Fire fan
Garg isn't really retired anyway. He takes care of the apartments, stocks and bonds. "After the constraint is no longer there, I enjoy my work." Oliver Noelting doesn't want to do anything after retiring either. He wants to skateboard and work on projects that interest him. Fire, he says, can make everyone's life better, even if you don't retire right away: "It's about getting control of your finances and what is really important to you in life."
He's not afraid of a crisis. If interest rates fell below 4 percent, he would still have time to look for a job thanks to his savings. But what if he gets sick? “Freedom is more important to me than security,” says Noelting.
The question remains: is it not immoral that some can live on the interest on their savings while others have to work for the rest of their lives? No, says Noelting: "It would be more immoral to keep working, to pollute the air with a fat car and just to consume constantly." Of course it is crazy that he no longer has to work at 40. "But it is even more insane that not many more people retire as early as I do."
Tips, calculators and links
Oliver Noelting writes regularly on the topic and gives tips on his website: frugalisten.de. You will also find a requirement calculator there. An alternative to this is: fireagecalc.com. Fire fans with their own website are also available in Switzerland. Marc Pittet, for example, would like to accumulate 1.25 million francs and then live on 4200 francs a month with his wife. He reports at: mustachianpost.com. The 22-year-old Thomas Kovacs not only runs a website, but also a YouTube channel: sparkojote.ch.
This text first appeared on July 6, 2018.
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