There is a new couple in town. They moved in a few blocks away, into the smallest house on the street, with their used Subarus, and thrift store clothes. You’ll see them riding bikes to work, never going out, and declining to attend the neighborhood cookout that costs — gasp — money.

Meet Mr. and Mrs. FIRE. They work in engineering, tech, or finance. Their salary is higher than you could ever dream of, but they’ll make sure to point out it’s “average”.

And if you question their lifestyle, or point out how it isn’t for everyone, then Mr. and Mrs. FIRE go on the defensive. They’ll tell you about the few people they know who are not six-figure earners, who do not work in tech/banking/insert high salary job here. The FIRE family is convinced everyone can achieve their status.

FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. The goal is to work hard, make a great salary, invest the rest, and ultimately to never work again. It is about shunning consumerism, debt, the status quo, and giving Corporate America the middle finger. The core of FIRE is to live on less, go against the grain, and eschew the typical American path of working 40+ years in a cubicle.

Actually, the core of FIRE is great. Mr. and Mrs. FIRE buck the typical American dream of a new car every five years, a 3,000 square foot house, and cocktails out every night. That is something we all should be doing: consuming less, saving more, and going against Corporate America. Being more conscious about money is achievable, on any salary.

But retiring at 30? Is that possible on any salary?

My problem with FIRE

I have a spreadsheet that tells me when I’ll be financially independent. I make $44,000 a year, my husband makes $42,000 a year. No kids. We make great money, we’re beyond lucky to have the salaries we do, and we can save about 40% to 45% of our salary every month. We funnel roughly $24,000 a year into investments. At this rate, we can retire in 20 years. At age 46. WHAT?

Our numbers are assuming we never have kids, a drop in salary, or any major life event. Basically, our numbers are best-case-scenario, dreamland numbers. And our best case scenario, dreamland numbers are 20 years away.

And what do Mr. and Mrs. FIRE tell us to do to speed this process up?

Grow your income

Here is the reality: It is not always possible to increase your salary. If it was easy to make six figures, we’d all be doing it. The FIRE followers say to work in a lucrative field. Great idea. My husband just moved into a business analyst job, and I landed a finance job. Again, refer back up to those salaries. Not lucrative.

Why don’t we grow our income through side hustling? We did some math, and if we worked part time somewhere, we’d make about $120 a week after taxes. But then we’d have no free time, spend money on gas to get there, etc. There are people out there in lucrative side hustles — great for them, but to work two jobs for the next 20 years is not sustainable.

Growing income is possible, don’t let this deter you from working toward a higher salary, but it takes a lot of hard work and a dash of luck.

Cut expenses

Are there things in your budget you can and should cut back on? Probably. There are things in my budget I could definitely eliminate. I have a car payment (put down the pitchforks and torches, it is 0% interest) and sometimes I purchase a latte out. There are always extras to trim from your budget.

But I don’t have cable, I keep our house super cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and we bought the cheapest place we could afford. Our mortgage is $846, including taxes and insurance. We live in Nashville, not the suburbs, but in Nashville. Mr. and Mrs. FIRE keep telling us to downsize and cut out everything, cut your budget to the bone.

But you cannot cut out what you don’t have.

The mainstream Mr. and Mrs. FIRE say they save so much by downsizing, giving up international travel and moving to a lower cost of living area. A lot of us can’t just up and move to a cheaper city, we need our jobs in the city. And we need a vehicle to get to our jobs.

Don’t get engulfed in the flames

I’m a firm believer that everyone can do better with their finances. The FIRE movement is an extreme movement but has made being fiscally responsible more mainstream. Kudos to that. We should all be more conscious of money, minimize debt, and save for the future. But do you have to retire decades earlier before your peers to be good at money? No.

It doesn’t make you a failure if you aren’t making six-figures and saving 70% in your 20s or 30s. It is OK to work until your 60s and retire at conventional age. You can still be great with money if you’re paying off student loan or credit card debt in your 30s.

FIRE is not the only way to be content with your life and improve your finances.

Steph is the author of the personal finance and personal improvement website Simplistic Steph, she paid off $38,000 of student loans in three years. This column first appeared on Your Money Geek. It has been edited and republished with permission.

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