I just got back from a week off and had some thoughts around this whole concept of "taking a break". We often take a break from our professional jobs, which is highly important (I'm sure you'll agree). But we also take breaks from other things in our lives, for example:
We have days off from our workout routines or incorporate lighter sessions.
We allow cheat meals or treats as a part of our diet plan.
We have breaks between academic terms, either ourselves or our kids.
We even sometimes take a break from our hobbies for a short while.
So the question I have is... should we take breaks from our pursuit of financial independence?
Why do we take breaks
There are many benefits to taking a break from whatever it is we're doing as it allows our minds and our bodies to focus on resting and recovering before we get back to the task at hand.
People in general don't have good attention spans, and even if you did, you'd still be susceptible to fatigue over time.
A 15 minute break during the work day can allow you to step away from a task that you were struggling with, so that you have a slightly fresher mind when you get back to it later.
A day off from the gym allows your body to recover, so that it is stronger and more ready for when you do your next session.
A break between academic terms gives students an opportunity consolidate what they've learnt so far (usually by taking tests), and the free time between terms allows them to relax their minds so that they're ready to absorb the lessons from the next term.
And a week or two off from our jobs allows us to switch off our email inbox, take some time back for ourselves and our families, so that we feel re-energised to take on the onslaught once we get back.
But why take a break from FIRE?
We will eventually feel drained and even bored of the things we constantly do, even if we love doing them or know they're good for us.
For example I love playing video games and can really become absorbed, especially if they are online MMORPG style games.
But eventually I will feel unmotivated to play; not because there is a lack of things to do in the game but because I've been playing it for too long every day, over a lengthy period of time.
Reading is another real example for me. I love absorbing new knowledge and insights from books and have them to thank for my personal growth over the years. But there will be days where I just can't pick up the book, or press the play button if I'm listening to the audio version.
Same reason as video games, I've been constantly doing it for an extended period of time and I need a breather.
Personally I don't see why the journey towards FIRE wouldn't be the same.
We're constantly watching our budget and probably the stock markets too, among other things such as doing side hustles or reading up on new information and trying out different ideas to optimise how we've lined up our wealth so that it will grow over time.
We do it because we have a deep interest in achieving financial independence and it's pretty obvious that the goal is something that's good for you.
But, even if it takes a few years, I think we will eventually feel fatigued and need to take a break.
How do I take a break from FIRE?
There's no set rule on how to take a break from FIRE as long as you end up feeling re-energised for the journey once you get back to it.
There are some obvious things however... like don't buy an expensive sports car under the guise of "taking a break from watching the budget".
For myself, the approach is that I'm allowed to do things that will inevitably slow down my progress during the break period, but will not intentionally set me backwards.
One of the most important things is to figure out why you want to take a break. Based on your reason you then decide how you want to approach your break, and what you'll do as a result.
Here's a few examples:
If your reason is to have a break from the constraints of your tight budget, an approach might simply be re-allocating more money to your free-spending bucket by investing a lower amount each month.
If your reason is to have a break from worrying about the markets due to being a regular investor, an approach might come in the form of not investing any new money for a while and putting that money to use elsewhere.
If your reason is that you're tired of constantly calculating, forecasting, and tweaking the numbers to figure out if you can retire two weeks earlier than what you figured out last month, just stop. Give all that time where you're plotting charts and estimating future inflation rates back to yourself so that you can enjoy it on life in the present.
I could give many more examples but all approaches can be summarised as "just make sure your 'budget macros' (needs, wealth, wants) are healthy and you'll be fine."
Benefits of taking a break
The thing about working towards financial independence is that there's this "constant-ness" to it, much like adulthood.
This is why it's tiring, because even when you complete one thing there's always another thing that follows.
So the obvious benefit of taking a break is that it just lets us take a breather and go through a small portion of our life without the burden of FIRE. It's an opportunity for our motivation to recuperate without being under constant attack.
But there's also another benefit that I can see.
If we've been on our journey towards financial independence for a while it's natural for us to fall into a routine. In fact, this is a good thing as we want to establish repeatable actions that lead us towards success.
But the drawback is that routines need to be updated over time since our own personal circumstances and desires will evolve. Similar to how an athlete needs to make adjustments in their training routines in order to keep making meaningful progress.
By taking a break we get a chance to step back from the routine we've been following and finding opportunities, even if they're just small ones, to make adjustments that fit our present day selves better.
As a result, when we get back on the path towards financial independence not only would we have a fresher mentality from the break, we'd also have a bit of a motivation boost thanks to some of the adjustments that we should be excited to try out.
When I take time off from things I often spend the first part of it thinking and analysing, rather than just coming to a complete standstill.
Am I happy with the way I'm working on my job or do I want to try some new methods?
Have I been reading too many books from the same genre or topic? Should I dive into something different in order to freshen up the material?
Do I really need to be saving and investing this much money considering my financial circumstances today, or can I prioritise present day life a bit more?
It may sound like more work because I haven't quite allowed myself to just "sit back and relax", but I find it highly useful.
If I've spent a few days plotting a new course towards my goals I will feel a sense of calm, which allows me to spend the remaining time off actually relaxing and building up my energy instead of dreading the day where I need to get back to work.
So, do you think you need to take a break from FIRE?