The Five Stages You’ll Face When Discovering FIRE

By Todd Kunsman

Financial Independence

Published on

Updated on

Five Stages of FIRE

Discovering the concept of Financial Independence and Retire Early can be a life-changing experience. However, it’s often not a smooth road.

When figuring out that life is not constrained to the hamster wheel we are familiar with, the emotions can be difficult to deal with at first. This especially holds true when you focus on the financial independence and retire early movement.

Ready to dive in? Below are the five stages you’ll probably face when discovering FIRE.


Denial is the first of the five stages of understanding FIRE. It helps us to survive the greatness of the discovery.

In this stage, the world of FIRE seems made up and overwhelming. Financial independence makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We refuse to believe that a person could live happily on $40,000 a year. We go numb.

We wonder how we can go on with our working lives, if Retiring Early is an option. Are we able to go on working each day and spending as we have? And if we can maintain this life, why should we, when we know the alternatives exist?

We try to find a way to simply get through each day at the office. Denial and shock help us to cope with our working lives. They help us to pace our feelings of discovering that Financial Independence is out there.

It is natural to only accept as much new information as we can handle. As you accept the reality of FIRE and start to ask yourself questions, you are taking the first step down the road to a new life. You are becoming stronger, and the denial is beginning to fade.

But as you proceed, all the feelings and questions you were denying begin to surface.


Anger is a necessary stage of understanding Financial Independence and letting it in to your life. Be willing to feel your anger, even though it may seem endless.

However keep in mind that anger is personal – while healthy expressions of anger may help, the comments section of the internet is not likely to provide cathartic release. There are many emotions and questions under the anger and you will get to them in time, but burning bridges with friends, family, and potential mentors is not a healthy step.

The truth is that anger has no limits. It can extend not only to your friends, your accountant, your family, and yourself, but also to your boss – who isn’t paying you enough for this wonderful new life.

You may ask, “Where is my wealth in this?” Underneath anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel cheated and as if you have missed out, but we live in a society that fears anger as much as it condemns discussions of money and finances. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the fear of discovering Financial Independence.

At first, discovering FIRE feels like waking up in a desert with no oasis in sight. Then you get angry at someone, maybe an ex-partner who encouraged you to spend spend spend, maybe a person who is holding you back at work, maybe someone who found FIRE first. Suddenly you have a structure – – your anger toward them. The anger becomes an oasis, being angry feels better than being lost in the desert alone.

While denial was easier than anger, denying that you’re in a desert doesn’t help you unfuck your finances and the oasis can only sustain you for so long.


Before discovering the concept of Early Retirement, it seems like you will be going to work every day until you turn 65+. We can’t imagine a world without the need for work, and we do anything to get through the day.

After learning about Financial Independence, bargaining can be like trying to find excuses for yourself.

“What if I enjoy my job though? Retiring early isn’t important if I enjoy going to the office” and “If only I had picked a different career, I’d be wealthy now.”

We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what it was before we knew about Financial Independence, or we want to skip ahead to the finish line.

We want to go back in time: discover FIRE sooner, spend less, invest more, pick a different career that we truly love…if only, if only, if only. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if onlys” cause us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently.

We may even bargain with the discovery. We try to argue that people we see ‘retired early’ on the internet aren’t really retired, their spouse works, or they draw an income from their blog, or they’ve launched a photography business, or they stream on Twitch.

We argue they’re still making money so they aren’t really retired, no matter how small that income, how optional the ‘work’, or how large their investments. We will do anything not to feel the disappointment of wasted time before financial independence. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way to wealth and freedom.

People often think of the stages as being a linear progression. In truth, the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.


After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and disappointment takes over. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. The depression makes us feel as if we can never escape our cubicle. We lack the energy to pick up a budget, to challenge our ingrained way of thinking and to push for change.

We withdraw from life to save money, refusing to see friends and family because of the costs. We ask ourselves if there is any point pursuing FIRE at this late stage.

Others have retired in their early 30’s, perhaps it’s too late for me? Existential dread kicks in, and we feel like we’re chasing a big pile of money with no end in sight.

The first question to ask yourself is whether or not the situation you’re in is actually as insurmountable as depression would have you believe. Feeling trapped in a job we don’t love is very depressing situation, and depression is a normal and appropriate response. To not experience depression would be unusual when our career takes us away from the people and things that we love.

The realization that we can’t take back our previous spending habits is understandably depressing. It is one of the many necessary steps along the way to changing your life and embracing a new reality, where peoples financial freedom isn’t dependant on a paycheck.


Acceptance is often confused with drinking the koolaid, and being 100% on board with a frugal, financially independent lifestyle. The posterchild for financial independence is retired, frugal and handy – often brewing their own beer, renovating their own house, raising insects for money and cutting costs to the bone.

This is not the case. Many people take on their own flavour of financial independence – whether that means full retirement, self-employment, moving to fewer hours, or even a career change.

Some people work harder, discovering a passion on the way to FIRE, but everyone who discovers and embraces financial independence builds themselves a new reality. Once FIRE is accepted, you can begin to build a life where you spend time and energy on your happiness, and save money.

In this new life of FIRE, your savings and investments give you the freedom to make choices that weren’t available before. Events that would have before spelled financial ruin, are now annoying inconveniences. Opportunities that were closed to you because of work commitments can now be considered.

Once FIRE is discovered and accepted, we can step off the hamster wheel, we can take risks, challenge ourselves, uplift others and embrace living a full, financially independent life.

The above guest post was written by FIRE By Thirty-Five. Show her blog some love, there is some great content on there.

Final Thoughts

While I’m not specifically in love everything about FIRE, I thought this was a really interesting take on the movement. I also haven’t shared many thoughts on FIRE personally, other than this post which does seem to resonate a bit.

But I hope you found this guest post interesting, relatable, or maybe it is completely different from how you feel about FIRE.

So, what do you think? Are you facing any of these stages currently in your FIRE pursuit? Did you feel any of the above when you first started? Let me know in the comments below.