Flexible FIRE

FIRE (financial independence retire early) is based on the idea that we can save and save and save up a large nest egg, then quit our jobs and then pull 4% indefinitely from that nest egg to live on. Except there is trouble with the 4% rule. Mainly, most people don’t want to pull 4%! To complicate things, people often find that they want to do have some productive hobbies or side jobs. Enter the idea of Flexible FIRE.

What if FIRE looked less like traditional retirement and more like Flexible FIRE:

  • Some weeks you are in a state of blissful relaxation. You are resting, reading, walking on the beach, hiking through the forest, traveling or slowly taking in the cultural attractions.
  • Other weeks you putter about at a reasonable pace. A few productive hours here and there. Doing some fun side jobs and tinkering with the things you like to tinker on.
  • A few weeks of each year you are knee deep in a passion project. It’s hard to count the hours because you’re in a state of flow. If it weren’t for needing three pesky meals a day, you might forget about eating altogether. All your time is in your core competency and natural skill set. The work you’re doing, you are deeply passionate about the outcome. And while this week is full, 90% of the time, this project fits easily into your ideal week.

How does that sound?

For most people that sounds like the dream. Hammocks are great (I own one and love it!), but I don’t lay there 10 hours a day, 52 weeks a year.

Most people take a traditional FIRE path of large nest egg with a 4% withdrawal. If “do nothing” isn’t actually the plan with your schedule, why is it the plan with your money?

What if instead of taking this off-the-shelf 4% plan, you did a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure plan?

Rather than focusing 95% of the planning on creating a large lump sum, you put equal effort into every element of your plan?

I mentor people through life transitions. Often they are stepping away from their main job and trying to figure out what exactly the next season will be.

Here are three things most people are looking for:

  1. Spend time on things they are passionate about
  2. Amazing work/life balance (maybe 3-6 hours of “work” a day, 30-45 weeks a year)
  3. Not stress about money

The traditional FIRE plan doesn’t really deliver those things.

To achieve traditional FIRE you need to be hyper-focused on your saving rate. Every extra minute and dollar serving that purpose. Then once you hit that magical number, you start pulling your 4%.

Traditional FIRE gives you this instead:

  1. No time, energy, money or bandwidth to investigate what you are passionate about and grow your skill set there before retirement.
  2. You go from 40-60 hours working a week to zero. Instantly. (See #1) There was little time to build something to fill the gap.
  3. You have to instantly switch from investing 20-70% of your income to……pulling from it. Which is stressful. The very opposite of “Not stress about money.”


You can create a better plan. A custom-built plan.


Choose Your Own Adventure


Think of this as a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book and build-your-own-pizza night had a baby.

There are three elements to pick from

  1. Fixed Expenses
  2. Passive Income
  3. Passion Income

In Flexible FIRE you create your custom blend of income and expenses. Instead of just saving a large lump sum, you can work towards building multiple sources of Passion + Passive Income to custom design your life.

In future posts I’ll outline the variety of Passion + Passive Income options. And how people mix and match them in a custom blend.


Passion Income comes from things that:

  • Are in your natural skill set and match your core competency
  • You love the outcome and feel like it’s making a difference
  • It gives space for everything else in your life (health, family, travel, friends, hobbies)



Passive Income takes the pressure off Passion Income.

It helps cover your fixed expenses, so you don’t worry about paying the bills. Passive income gives you a safety net for when the economy goes south, and the Passion Income turns into a trickle instead of a steady stream.

Here’s where Choose-Your-Own-Adventure/ build-a-pizza enters:

There is more than one meat, one veggie, one cheese option to choose from!

You can pick multiple Passive Income streams and multiple Passion Income streams.

The happiest retirees average eight streams of income. And it’s easy to see why. The more, the merrier. When one goes dry, or we decide we simply don’t like it anymore, we have seven other streams covering our fixed expenses and adding some cushion to our lifestyle.

The benefits of this are simple:

  • You get exactly the lifestyle you are after.
  • You enjoy spending the income coming in
  • And best of all…..It can happen much, much sooner than traditional FIRE.

In the next post, I will go over all the different “pizza topping” options when it comes to choosing your Passion + Passive Income. And it’s not a “pick one” kind of deal. You get to add lots of each in your custom build – a delicious pizza creation.

You might end up with five kinds of Passion Income, each covering a small slice of your budget. And three kinds of Passive Income that cover most of your fixed expenses. Plus I’ll show you different ways to combine all these elements.

I’ve been able to take a peek into many early retirees and soon-to-be-retirees income sources and the variety of options is amazing….and exciting.

The key to Flexible FIRE:

Start Here

First, you have to get clear on what you might like this next season of life to look like. There is no use pilling on pizza toppings if you have no idea what kind of pizza you want!

You can build a plan that accommodates this lifestyle and actively starts working towards that plan!

One of the reasons I LOVE mini-retirements is that they give you a chance to test and scale up some Passion Income! Sometimes we just don’t have the bandwidth to really pursue profitable hobbies and side hustles while working a full time job and all our other obligations.

My mentoring questions are a great place to start.

Read this one: Ideal Day/Week/Year.

When you sign up for my email newsletter, you get a whole bundle of free tools to help guide those conversations and gain a lot of clarity!

Once you have a picture of this new life, you can easily see how much money it will need and what kinds of Passive and Passion Income will be the best fit.

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23 thoughts on “Flexible FIRE

  1. Love this article Jillian! You’ve definitely hit on key things I care about.

    When I first heard about FIRE I was into it for about 4 weeks, and I quickly figured out that it wasn’t for me.
    1. I hated my job and couldn’t stomach working in it for another 6 – 10 yrs even if I could amass the money.
    2. I actually like working, I didn’t want to “retire and do nothing” like traditional retirement.

    So figuring out my own path to “Flexible FIRE” has been key. I definitely haven’t thought about it using the terms you lay out, but that’s been part of our strategy all along.

    Build a business around a passion that we care about, take earnings and build passive income so that we can continue the passion business while the passive income takes pressure off.

    Super smart, and I love how organized you lay it all out.

    Looking forward to the next few parts of the series 🙂

    • I stayed far too long at jobs I didn’t care for and always regret those decisions. Life is too short to waste most of your day on something that only pays the bills when there are options to find or build something better. And I find that very few people actually want the “retire and do nothing” plan, especially those under 55. But it’s harder to really plan and make progress on what that “do something” will look like. I think building that Passion Income takes just as much time and effort as building Passive Income but often gets a fraction of the attention.

      • Yes! Absolutely, not to mention, Passion income is sometimes easier to build emotionally even though the time is the same or more. You’ll be more motivated by it if you’re genuinely excited about the work.

        It’s much harder to get jazzed up about passive income if the means aren’t exciting.

  2. i’ve had a hard time figuring out the passion part. i like helping people with finances but for me the blog and some of the other activities i’m doing in my ample free time aren’t really what i would call passion. i envy mrs. smidlap who would happily produce art every waking second. until i figure out what that particular thing is and can make a plan to do it i’ll just keep going to work. good food for thought in this post.

    • I think finding and building the Passion Income is just as hard as creating the Passive Income. It’s takes a LOT of testing, trying, doing and experimenting and time to grow. It’s part of why I love mini-retirements! It’s hard to figure this all out at the start line, but if people have a year or two to test, they often stumble into something great!

  3. Love the pizza metaphor!

    My husband and I just added 2 new streams of passive income (basement renter and academic coaching side hustle) to our pizza!

    We’re looking forward to our mini-retirement in 2020 and your thoughtful insights keep the FIRE burning! Thank you for another worthwhile post!

    • That is awesome! And I think that mini-retirements are awesome ways to scale up and find other great streams of Passive and Passion Income!

    • Aw, good to hear! It took me a while to sort this one out from the next one which is already 1500 words and a bunch of graphics!

      It’s an awesome goal to have and with some time and planning, it can totally happen!

  4. Great article. I think that passion income is vital. In my mind, as a doctor, I imagine this meaning that I get to practice medicine because I want to and not because I have to. That day will be awesome for me. I love certain aspects of my job (that I could see myself practicing well into my 60s) and others that I’d like to drop off when I become FI in my mid 40s.

    The idea of flexibility and autonomy (being able to choose for myself) of having passion income is truly inspiring. This is exactly what I am looking for and, more importantly, exactly what I am trying to teach a future generation of doctors behind me to achieve.

    Thanks for putting a name to flexible FIRE!


    • That is so great! I think one of the great benefits of having more Passive Income is getting to make your regular work into Passion Income. I was working out some details of a freelance project and very honestly said: “I only do the elements that are really in my skill set and I feel I add a unique value to. If it’s not part of my core competency, I feel it’s better if someone else takes that part of the job.” It might seem “better than” but I think most employees would get a lot more done, faster and better is they more “great work” and less “good work.” Passive income for me means I get to do the parts I’m best at and love the most, which means I do those things faster, better and with more passion.

  5. Thank you for pulling this together Jillian. I am 55, burned out on the corporate world and in a major slump after switching jobs and industry last fall (thinking a change in scenery might help, but it is backfiring!). Cost of living here in NY state prohibits major change without some hardship (like medical insurance). But, I can’t stop thinking that if given the opportunity, I could find something interesting and fulfilling to do with my time. Sure, I could get a gig or two, but no guarantee that will be better or just working harder for 1/3 the pay and vacation time.
    I look forward to your follow on post to help think through the process of flexible FIRE.
    PS, no debt, college is 80% saved for and retirement nest egg is 2 yrs ahead of our “traditional retirement mentality” goal for retirement in 7-9 years. But, I don’t want to draw from our savings!

    • It takes real time and effort to find those things in your core competency, that you find meaningful and fits your life. I think it take almost as much effort as creating Passive Income. If you think it took 20 years to build up a good deal of investments, Passion Income is faster, but still takes time. I normally recommend people “test and sample” lots of options for at least 6 months before jumping into something and 2-4 years to really grow it.

      I’m going to try to put together a video for the next post about how to do Level 1 vs Level 10. I think I have taught it to almost every single person I’ve mentored through life transitions! Just remember that just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible. The only ones who say it’s impossible are the ones who gave up long ago.

  6. I really like the clarity of this post. I am planning on working part-time once I have amassed a nest egg covering the most basic expences. I love parts of my job but there is just too much of it. Thus: flexible FIRE with my job as a passion income. That sounds so much better than FIISRE Financial Incomplete Independence Semi-Retire Early 🙂

  7. Man if I could figure out how to get 8 streams of income I would feel like a king! At some point I’ll have a pension and (maybe) social security, and now I have 2 side hustle incomes but they’re far from passive. I’m ready to see your topping list 🙂

    • It takes some time and planning but so does saving a huge nest egg! =) I think having a nice mix between the Passion and Passive income is nice. It takes a long time to hit 100% passive, but the mix can come sooner.

  8. I’m in this camp too. Since I’m not a software engineer, it would take me years of nothing but sacrifice to retire traditionally, and it wouldn’t even be “early” since I’m already in my 40s. But, I can choose to have a little of both worlds. I’m striving to find that balance.

    • People sometimes mistakenly think that what an ideal vacation week looks like is what they would want the next 40 years to look like. But the more they think about it, there is generally a happy middle. A perfect blend that they would love to do forever. We are almost two weeks into our trip and I finally got a “work” day and was SO happy. One of my clients offered to cancel and I was like, “NO! I’m really, really looking forward to this!” That’s a dream job. =)

  9. I like this idea so much. I’ve often thought about moving back to passion work knowing we got old age retirement covered with our current savings. But I worry what would happen if I lost passion for that job as well, leaving me burnt out and no longer earning enough to save significantly. Leaving engineering for a few years is like leaving for 50, so I could go back. That and with a family to provide for I’m just too nervous to take the leap. Maybe when I’m 50% FI….

    • The next post might help give you some ideas. Plus I am really, really going to try to shoot a video with an idea that has been super helpful to all my clients.

  10. I’m all about that flexibility. Slowly winding down my career job and building steam with my side gig / passion project. Makes for a smoother transition compared to slamming on the brakes from 70 mph, which was basically my original plan.