Barista FIRE is a fun version of FIRE, designed for those without enough money to officially call it quits. With Barista FIRE, you quit your normal job, begin to draw down on your savings, and get a new, more enjoyable job that pays enough to cover the difference between the amount you take from your savings and the amount that you spend.
How it works
Sue makes a good living at her current job, but isn’t happy and longs to do something different.
- Sue earns $100k a year at her technology job.
- She’s 35 years old with $400k in savings.
- She spends about $50k a year and has no debt.
- Sue decides to Barista FIRE, and gets a job at Starbucks where she earns about $35k a year after taxes.
Assuming a 4% withdrawal rate on her savings, she’ll withdraw about $16k a year. This balance coupled with the $35k a year she earns from her new job enables her to spend $51k a year (just over her normal annual spending rate).
Benefits of Barista FIRE
The benefits of Barista FIRE are pretty obvious, you leave a job you dislike for one you enjoy.
This may be transitioning from a high skilled, high stress position to a laidback role that offers more flexibility and less stress. This transition could have a large impact on both your mental and physical health.
To quote the movie Office Space, “Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.”
Well said Peter. Well said.
Improved Mental Health
Workplace stress occurs for a number of reasons. Increasing job demands, inflexible work hours, micromanagers, harassment, and job insecurity are just some of the things that can make a workplace miserable. These in turn can lead to burnout, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.
Leaving a toxic workplace for one with less demands and more control can help alleviate stressors and make your quality of life significantly better. This can be a massive benefit that comes with Barista FIRE.
Improved Physical Health
No one gets ripped sitting in a cubical all day. In fact the opposite happens. Sitting in front of a computer for long hours day after day is terrible for your body. In fact sitting for long periods of time has been linked to heart disease, obesity, diabetes and several forms of cancer.
Leaving an office job for one that is active can have real health benefits. Moving during the day, whether you’re making coffee at Starbucks or showing a customer to the lighting section of Home Depot, offers a whole host of benefits such as burning calories, helping you sleep better, improving memory, and more. Additionally working less hours allows more time for physical activity outside of work too.
Challenges of Barista FIRE
In order to effectively Barista FIRE, one should be able to easily access their savings penalty free. This is easier said than done.
When most people begin working, they contribute to a 401(k) or some other type of retirement savings account. These products are great when retiring at 55 plus, but they can be a curse for individuals looking to retire early.
In order to prevent people from tapping their retirement savings before they actually retire, the government imposes a 10% penalty tax on all distributions before 59½ years-old (*some exceptions apply). This is obviously “no bueno” for people pursuing Barista FIRE, as they’ll be penalized for early withdrawals.
Therefore if you know that you plan to FIRE early, it makes sense to save outside of these types of retirement accounts, so that you can access your funds anytime penalty free. Of course in doing so, you’ll be forfeiting the tax advantages that come with using a 401(k) plan to begin with.
This challenge applies to most versions of FIRE, and especially Barista and Lean Fire.
Risks of Barista FIRE
Barista FIRE can be risky as one does not have much of a financial cushion to fall back. You are more likely to run out of money before you die following this path then some of the other FIRE options. Common pitfalls include “spending for fun” and “spending on emergencies”.
Let’s look at Sue again. Her friends decide to go on a trip of a lifetime to Europe, and they invite Sue to join them. The trip costs about $3k.
Spending for fun
Most people in Sue’s situation will probably decide not to go, as $3k is a lot of money for someone in her situation. As someone who is Barista FIREing, not going on this trip is the right choice.
But this is a once in a lifetime trip with some of Sue’s closest friends. Plus she has $400k in savings.
Because of her savings, Sue can easily afford to go on the trip if she chooses to. The problem with this is if Sue decides to go on the trip (and possibly more down the road), she’ll begin to draw down her savings at a higher rate than she originally anticipated when she FIREd.
This type of behavior is also habit forming. Sue tapping her savings for a vacation this first time makes her more likely to do it again. Then if she does it for a second time, she’s more likely to do it a third time. So on and so on.
This slippery slope could leave Sue broke and poor down the line, late into her “early retirement”, when her savings run out, and she’s still only making $35k a year at Starbucks.
Spending for emergencies
Similar to the situation above, emergencies can easily eat into savings. The difference between spending for emergencies and spending for fun, is that spending on emergencies isn’t easily avoidable.
While Sue could have decided to save money by not going to Europe with her friends, she doesn’t have that luxury when it comes to an emergency surgery. Or a flooded apartment. Or a broken down car… you get the point.
Emergency spending can be necessary and easily eat into savings. While this is not a reason to not pursue Barista FIRE, it is something everyone should consider when going this route.
Alternatives to Barista FIRE
Other types of FIRE you may want to consider before Barista is Coast FIRE and Lean FIRE. Both are close to Barista in net worth, but they usually require staying in your current job (which may not be ideal).
Coast FIRE can be seen as a stepping stone to Barista. In Coast FIRE, you continue to work, but no longer save in retirement accounts. Often you have enough already squirreled away in 401(k)s and IRAs, for a normal retirement at 65. If you’re aiming for Barista FIRE, it makes sense to continue to save, but in non-retirement accounts, once you hit Coast FIRE.
Lean FIRE is a step beyond Barista FIRE. Shooting for Lean would likely require you to work longer in your current role, but then when you quit, you fully retire.
Barista FIRE is a great way to change careers if you can afford it. This fun version of FIRE provides a lot of flexibility to those looking to move to a less demanding job and enjoy life.
The Barista FIRE lifestyle comes with both a number of benefits and challenges. Some benefits include better mental and physical health. While challenges and risks are accessing saving and spending too much for fun and emergencies.
Many decide to follow this type of financial independence, early retirement and never look back. If that’s you, we wish you the best of luck. Cheers!