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What Is Barista FIRE? – Financial Independence With Part-Time Work


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According to current retirement statistics, the average retirement age is around 62 years old. This age makes sense since you can claim Social Security benefits starting at age 62. That tends to be the general age target many people set when they begin planning their retirement.

However, a new generation of professionals are going against this norm. The FIRE movement, which stands for “financial independence retire early,” calls for leaving the workforce behind much earlier than the traditional retirement age. After all, if you have enough money and investments for your nest egg, who says you can’t in your 40s or 50s?

But, like any movement, you can take things to the extreme. With Barista FIRE, or Barista FI, it’s actually possible to retire in your 20s and 30s through diligent saving and part-time work during retirement.

What is Barista FIRE?

Barista FIRE is a subcategory of the FIRE movement that involves using a part-time job and side hustles to supplement your income so you can retire earlier than normal.

Typically, Barista FIRE involves working a part-time job with health insurance benefits. Ideal post-retirement jobs are normally low-stress, pay a decent wage, and don’t require intense manual labor. Working as a barista at a company like Starbucks, which provides numerous benefits and perks to part-time employees, is therefore the poster child of the Barista FIRE movement.

Of course, you don’t have to work as a barista to pursue Barista FIRE. The idea is to retire much earlier than average by accelerating your path to financial independence with supplemental income and by keeping annual expenses low.

The math is quite straightforward. Traditional FIRE largely relies on the 4% rule. This rule asserts that withdrawing 4% of your nest egg is a safe annual withdrawal rate because historical market performance means your portfolio will likely grow by at least 4% per year. With this rule in mind, you can calculate your financial independence number once you know how much you spend per year.

For example, if your cost of living is $30,000 per year, you need a nest egg of $750,000 to retire if you live by the 4% rule, because this amount lets you withdraw $30,000 per year to cover your living expenses. The more you spend per year, the more money you need to retire. 

Plus, to be on the safer side and account for contingencies like a longer life expectancy and inflation, some FIRE advocates play it safe and save extra money for their retirement.

The major difference with Barista FIRE versus regular FIRE is that you have extra income besides your retirement investments. This means you don’t need as large of a nest egg to retire with because you don’t have to pay for all of your yearly expenses with funds from your retirement accounts

For example, if your barista-type job lets you earn $15,000 per year, the math for retirement changes dramatically. Suddenly, your investments only need to cover half of your $30,000 annual cost of living because your part-time job covers the rest. This brings your nest egg requirement down from $750,000 to $375,000.

Ultimately, this means Barista FIRE lets a lot of people retire in their 30s and 40s and is one of the more aggressive FIRE styles.


Pros & Cons of Barista FIRE

With Barista FIRE, you’re potentially cutting decades off your time in the workforce. But this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and there are also potential risks with pursuing such an aggressive retirement plan.

Pros of Barista FIRE

The main attraction of Barista FIRE is that it’s one of the fastest ways to leave the corporate “rat race.” Additionally, this lifestyle creates several advantages because you have more time to pursue what’s important to you: 

1. You Can Ditch Your Current Job

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, only 34% of U.S. workers report that their job is engaging. This is also the highest percentage in years. Historically, less than 30% of people feel a sense of engagement with their job. That means most people dislike their day job or feel uninspired by it. 

With Barista FIRE, you can quit an unrewarding or stressful job years sooner than the typical retirement age.

2. You Stay Active

Staying active as you get old is critical for healthy aging according to the CDC. And while potential health issues might not be at the forefront of your mind when reaching Barista FIRE at age 35 or 40, the fact that you’re staying active is a plus in the long run. 

With a part-time job, you still have a schedule, and you also get regular exercise and interact with other people in the community while at work. 

If you’re afraid of retirement because you think you’ll sit on the sofa all day watching television, Barista FIRE largely negates that risk.

3. You Can Still Invest

You don’t have to use all the income from your part-time job to cover your living expenses. Rather, you can tweak the math slightly to rely more on your nest egg and slightly less on your paychecks to cover everyday costs. With the extra cash, you can continue to invest and build your retirement savings.

Continuing to work part time can also be an effective hedge against sequence of returns risk, or the risk of a market crash early in your retirement obliterating your nest egg. Having new income that can cover some of your living expenses means you can leave more of your money in the market to wait for a rebound if you need to.

4. You Can Start Other Ventures

One major advantage of Barista FIRE is that you gain time through financial freedom. 

If you only work 20 hours per week and cut out a long commute and other professional responsibilities, that’s hours of extra free time each day. With this time, you can experiment with more entrepreneurial endeavors to further diversify your income. 

For example, you can try turning a hobby into a business or take on a new challenge like becoming a blogger. Ultimately, Barista FIRE gives you more control over how you spend your day and efforts.

Cons of Barista FIRE

Retiring in your 30s and spending the rest of your days lounging on a beach might sound like a dream. But the reality is the Barista FIRE still requires having a job. Plus, there are numerous trade-offs you make when you retire early that you should consider.

1. Career Growth Stalls

If you leave a position at a promising company to pursue your FIRE plans, you’re putting career growth prospects on pause. Additionally, if you leave the workforce for several years, there’s no guarantee your former employer — or other employers in the same industry — will hire you if you decide to return to full-time work.

2. You Can Miss Peak Earning Years

According to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women on average earn the most money from ages 35 to 44 and men earn the most from ages 55 to 64. Therefore, if you retire early and pursue Barista FIRE, you may be giving up some of the highest-income years in your career. 

The advantage is, of course, that you gain more freedom. But you should still weigh the pros and cons of leaving the workforce early and how that impacts your net worth.

3. Lifestyle Creep Is A Risk

Another reality of FIRE is that you’re partially chained to your financial independence number. In other words, if you calculate your annual cost of living is $35,000, you can’t stray too far above this number without putting your savings accounts at risk of running out of money. 

This means you have to resist lifestyle creep, even if it’s tempting to go on more vacations, buy a new car, and move into a more expensive home.

4. Returning To Work Is Challenging

Stagnant career development aside, returning to a full-time job after years of semiretirement can be physically and mentally challenging. Plus, if you’re experiencing serious health problems later in life, the last thing you want is to reenter the workforce full-time. 

Ultimately, the risk of running out of money and going back to work is why many FIRE advocates oversave to provide a larger cushion of cash to fall back on.


Common Types of Barista FIRE Jobs

As the name suggests, working in a coffee shop is the model Barista FIRE job. You typically get regular hours, earn minimum wage or more, and enjoy benefits like health insurance and even life insurance and disability coverage if you work for a company like Starbucks.

But there are plenty of other jobs that suit the Barista FIRE lifestyle. Depending on your skills and work environment preferences, different jobs are more suitable than others. Additionally,  some jobs have higher income potential, meaning you can work fewer hours per week than if you stick with a minimum wage job.

Some prime jobs for Barista FIRE include:

Some Barista FIRE advocates also focus on developing different passive income sources, such as investing in real estate or running a blog, to create post-retirement income.

The bottom line is that there are plenty of part-time job opportunities, and you can also create your own income sources if you go down the freelance path.

The goal is to find a job that provides stable pay, a flexible schedule, and as many benefits as possible. 

Health insurance is an especially valuable benefit for early retirees who don’t yet qualify for Medicare. If your job doesn’t provide benefits, you can look into health insurance options for self-employed individuals, seek coverage from a spouse who’s still working, or purchase coverage on the federal health insurance marketplace at Healthcare.gov.

Finally, remember to find a job you actually enjoy. There’s little point to Barista FIRE if you hate the sound of your alarm clock going off in the morning, so consider what type of part-time job still provides an engaging, rewarding workweek.


Barista FIRE vs. Other FIRE Strategies

At its core, the FIRE movement is a way to retire early and to gain more freedom. But Barista FIRE is just one strategy to achieve financial independence and early retirement. It’s also one of the more extreme options because you can possibly achieve semiretirement in your 20s and 30s depending on how quickly you build your investments.

If you like the idea of FIRE but want to pursue less extreme paths, you can consider Lean FIRE, Fat FIRE, or Coast FIRE:

Lean FIRE

With Lean FIRE, the goal is to reach financial independence as quickly as possible by cutting down expenses. 

Frugality is a given, but Lean FIRE advocates often find other ways to save, like living in an inexpensive country or more affordable U.S. cities instead of expensive areas. 

Lean FIRE can also involve house hacking and maximizing credit card rewards, or using tips like living with roommates or renting out a spare room on Airbnb to save.

Fat FIRE

Fat FIRE is the alternative for people who want to reach financial independence earlier than the average retirement age but don’t want to restrict their lifestyles to do so. 

Fat FIRE followers can still be frugal, but they won’t necessarily downsize their home, avoid travel and other non-necessary expenses, or settle on a low annual cost of living in order to retire early. 

This usually means people on the Fat FIRE path work longer so their nest egg can support a more extravagant retirement lifestyle.

Coast FIRE

This FIRE style requires getting your personal finances to a point where your investments can grow enough to cover retirement expenses without needing extra contributions. 

In other words, with Coast FIRE, you invest aggressively into various tax-advantaged accounts like a traditional or Roth IRA. As your portfolio appreciates, it can eventually reach the point where you can coast into retirement without needing to make more money.

What’s the Difference? 

The main difference between different FIRE types is how much money you need to retire. 

Fat FIRE is the most lavish type of FIRE and requires a fully funded retirement account to support your current lifestyle or a more luxurious one throughout retirement. By contrast, the other types of FIRE require smaller nest eggs than Fat FIRE because you have a lower annual cost of living or a supplemental source of income.

For example, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the median family income in the U.S. is $78,500. If you pursue Fat FIRE and live on $78,500 per year, you need a $1.962 million nest egg according to the 4% rule.

In comparison, if you cut your annual cost of living to $40,000 with Lean FIRE, you only need a $1 million nest egg to reach retirement. And, if you pursue Barista FIRE or Coast FIRE and cover half of your $40,000 annual cost of living with a part-time job or passive income, you only need a $500,000 nest egg; nearly four times lower than the Fat FIRE plan.

Of course, you can blend these FIRE ideologies together depending on your lifestyle and goals. 

For example, you can still pursue Lean FIRE but decide that living with roommates or giving up all travel plans isn’t for you, and adjust your target cost of living upward a bit to accommodate. Similarly, you can decide to stay in the workforce a few extra years to build a larger nest egg and pursue Fat FIRE without moving into a mansion.

Regardless of your income and lifestyle, supplementing your income through Barista FIRE is generally the fastest way to achieve semiretirement.


Considerations

FIRE isn’t for everyone, and Barista FIRE is one of the most aggressive early retirement plans. If you’re starting to plan your retirement and are thinking about Barista FIRE, there are several considerations to note.

1. Plans Change

One difference between Barista FIRE and Lean or Fat FIRE is that you can usually make the decision to begin living Barista FIRE earlier because you don’t need as large of an investment portfolio.

But life can change quite significantly depending on when you decide to leave the full-time workforce. And, with significant life changes, your annual cost of living can increase and throw off your retirement math.

For example, if you decide you want to start a family, your budget has to factor in the cost of raising a child and possible college education for your kids. If you have aging parents, you have to consider whether they might require financial support in the future. And, what if you get tired of working a part-time job and want to pursue full retirement after 10 years of Barista FIRE?

The bottom line is, no matter how well you forecast your life and spending habits, things change. Lean FIRE and Fat FIRE help insulate you from change because there’s a larger nest egg to fall back on, so adapting to change is part of Barista FIRE.

2. Life Expectancy is Increasing

According to a 2018 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, lifespan is continuing to increase between generations, and the trend isn’t slowing down.

Advancements in technology, health care, education, and various other socioeconomic factors all play a role. But retirement years are increasingly capturing a longer portion of life if you retire by the average age of 62. If you retire earlier through FIRE, your retirement is even longer.

Ultimately, a longer retirement span means you need to have secure financials to support yourself and your potential health care costs. And at some point with Barista FIRE, you probably want to ditch your post-retirement job and retire completely. 

When calculating your FI number and planning how long you intend to work for, consider erring on the side of caution and padding your nest egg with extra money for greater security.

3. Inflation & Volatility are Risks

When financial advisor William Bengen came up with the 4% rule in 1991, the rule was forecasting a safe rate of withdrawal over 30 years. But if you pursue Barista FIRE in your 30s or 40s, you’re potentially looking at 50 or even 60 years of semiretirement living. The 4% rule simply wasn’t designed with a 60-year retirement in mind.

Critics of the 4% rule also argue that the strategy is too rigid to completely rely on for retirement planning, especially in today’s world. Additionally, relying on average rates of return and an investing strategy of roughly 50% stocks and 50% bonds, as outlined in the 4% rule’s original model, might look much different in the future as the stock market changes.

Inflation can eat into retirement savings, especially if you’re potentially retiring for many decades, so it’s important to protect your nest egg as much as possible. But if you choose investments to protect against inflation, such as a rental property or commodities like precious metals, you’re drifting further from the original 4% rule asset allocation strategy.

In reality, the 4% rule might be more of a 3% rule. If you’re going to pursue Barista FIRE, consider working an extra year or two at least to pad your portfolio with more money.

4. You Can Conduct a Trial Run

Deciding to quit your job is a big decision. And it might be difficult to return to your position and same income level in a few years if you decide Barista FIRE isn’t for you.

Taking an extended leave of absence or sabbatical are two ways to test what life is like when you leave the workforce. Similarly, if you start a side business, try taking a short break from your day job to see what life would be like if your own business was your only responsibility.

Ultimately, you need to be honest with yourself and your long-term goals. If you believe Barista FIRE is the route to greater happiness and health, jump right in. But if you’re unsure, test the waters slowly.


Final Word

The FIRE movement represents a newer generation of thinking that values time and freedom more than pursuing a traditional career followed by a traditional retirement. But, like any movement, FIRE is a spectrum of beliefs, not a rigid formula.

At the end of the day, you need to do what makes you happy and lets you provide for yourself and your family. 

Additionally, FIRE is a way of thinking, but it’s not always the right solution. For example, if you hate your day job, you might find that landing a job you love suddenly brings new meaning to your career and that you no longer feel a burning need to retire at 35.

But, if you want to fast-track retirement, it’s hard to beat Barista FIRE. If a part-time job is what you need for a healthier work-life balance, take the jump. Just ensure your finances, insurance, and lifestyle are ready for the change.

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