Difference between Financial Independence Vs Early Retirement Vs Financial Freedom


Financial Independence Early Retirement Financial Freedom

The words like Financial Independence, Early Retirement and Financial Freedom are slowly but surely finding a way into the thoughts and vocabulary of us Indians.

Their numbers are still very small but surely, there are people who are not just asking ‘How much is enough to retire in India?’ – Instead, they are asking ‘How much is enough to Retire Early in India?’

The interest is definitely there as I myself got some coverage in leading Indian newspapers for aiming for financial independence (here and here).

Regular retirement vs Early retirement – some people are considering the latter. 🙂 And to be honest, it’s not hard to understand the appeal of early retirement or financial independence. Just ask this question a little loudly – How much money is enough to never work again in India? It sounds nice and liberating. Isn’t it?

I regularly receive questions like these on mail from readers – How much money is enough to retire at 40 in India? How much money is enough to retire at 45 in India? How much money is enough to retire at 50 in India?

So the interest is really there. But I have already written a lot about this topic earlier in FIRE – Financial Independence and Retiring Early.

In this post, I wanted to address the difference between Financial Independence, Early Retirement and Financial freedom as I see it. People use these terms interchangeably. But there are some differences.

I must also tell you that there are no perfect definitions here. So you can interpret these words as you like – as long as it helps you achieve what you are aiming for.

Difference between Financial Independence Vs Early Retirement

Financial independence and Early Retirement are 2 different things, but which are linked to each other in a way.

So let me try to explain it simply.

Financial Independence means having enough assets (or/and income generating assets) that you do not have to work for money again. Now here is the important part – you may still decide to continue doing what you are doing even after achieving Financial Independence.

Early Retirement, on the other hand, means actually retiring (and doing almost no income-generating work) because you have achieved Financial Independence.

For obvious reasons, if you plan to retire early and never work again, then you will need a much larger corpus than if you were to be simply financially independent.

Together, both FI (Financial Independence) and Early Retirement (RE) are referred to as F.I.R.E. but remember that there is a subtle difference between financial independence and early retirement.

That brings me to another aspect of FIRE.

Different Types of FIRE (Financial Independence Early Retirement)

One of the main questions when it comes to FIRE is ‘How much do I need to retire early?

As you might have guessed, the answer is different for different people.

People’s lifestyles, their spending habits, financial situations, their real ability to take risks and several other factors influence their perception of how much might be enough for retirement. And therefore, the amount needed to achieve FIRE is different for everyone. But still, there are two major types of FIRE that people use as references:

  • LEAN Fire – This is a low-cost approach to FIRE. The idea is to reduce your expenses to the bare minimum (become ultra frugal) and achieve FIRE as soon as possible. It’s about having a life rich on time but short on luxuries. Lower the expenses, lower will be the FIRE corpus needed and sooner one can achieve it. That’s the logic here. For people targeting LEAN Fire, achieving the freedom at the earliest possible age is the most important factor.
  • FAT Fire – This is at the opposite end to LEAN Fire on the spectrum of FIRE. The goal is to retire early but not at the cost of quality. People who aim for FAT Fire also want to achieve it in a way so as to have enough for a better lifestyle. The corpus required for this is higher than LEAN Fire.

Both of these approaches are at the opposite ends. And it’s a matter of personal choice as to which one is better suited for whom.

In fact, there are no strict definitions. You can even label the levels in between as FIRE Level 1, FIRE Level 2, FIRE Level 3, etc. and take an aim at what you think is more suited for you.

And if you do an online search, you will find blogs for various levels – early retirement blogs, early retirement extreme blogs, frugal FIRE blog and what not.

So after having discussed Early Retirement and Financial Independence (both Lean and Fat FIREs), let’s tackle something related…

What is Financial Freedom?

I must warn again that there are no perfect definitions here. But I will try to say what I feel.

With Financial Independence (assuming something between LEAN and FAT), you are more or less locked into your chosen lifestyle. So if you chose LEAN FIRE and call it a day, then you really need to live frugally all your life because your corpus is smaller. On the other hand, if you chose FAT FIRE and took early retirement, then you can live a better lifestyle.

Now comes the difficult part to explain. 🙂

Financial Freedom I feel means that you live a much better life than what was possible in LEAN-Fire but also have the ‘real freedom’ to do few unplanned things (and spend on them) which you may not consider doing if you had a frugal lifestyle. In a way, it’s like having a FAT-Fire but with more flexibility.

Let me try with a mathematical example:

Suppose you are planning to achieve FIRE and have the following expenses:

  • Basic Expenses (Frugal Living) – Rs 40,000 per month
  • Discretionary Expenses (Better Living) – Rs 20,000 per month

Now if you are going for the LEAN-Fire, then you are mathematically allowed to spend Rs 40,000 a month. So that’s Rs 4.8 lac per year.

If you are going for FAT-Fire, then it allows you to live a life of Rs 60,000 per month kind of lifestyle (Rs 40K basic + Rs 20K discretionary expenses). That’s about Rs 7.2 lac per year.

Remember, having a FIRE corpus means that these kinds of expenses should be possible for you (with increasing inflation) for the rest of your life. And for early retirees, this means several decades!

Now comes Financial Freedom…

If I have the financial freedom, then mathematically, I should be comfortably able to spend annually:

  • Basic Expenses – Rs 40,000 x 12 months = Rs 4.8 lac, plus
  • Discretionary Expense – Rs 20,000 x 12 months = Rs 2.4 lac, plus
  • Another level of (optional) discretionary expenses = Rs 20,000 x 12 months = Rs 2.4 lac
  • Some unplanned luxuries (or unexpected expenses buffer) on an annual basis – Another lac or so

That’s real financial freedom! You can spend extra on few things here and there without having to spend sleepless nights thinking whether your corpus will run out before you run out of years or not. It also provides you with the buffer to spend in case of emergencies.

Achieving financial freedom also gives you the freedom from worry about money. And that’s the real freedom I guess.

So if I have to summarize, the timeline for corpus achievement goes like this:

LEAN F.I.   —>   FAT F.I.   —>   Financial Freedom

Early Retirement is up to the individual as to when he wishes to quit in between these levels. You can even look at these 3 levels as follows:

  • How much do I need to retire early?
  • How much do I need to retire early comfortably?
  • How much money do I need to retire early and never work again? 🙂

More Thoughts

I know a lot of people feel that FIRE is just about cutting your expenses and saving more. But that is not rightly completely. I would say that its also about simplifying and redesigning your life, which obviously gives you more time to focus on other things.

Aiming for FIRE helps you test your relationship with money. And it’s like asking yourself as to ‘What would you do if you didn’t have to work for money ever again?’ It also helps you decouple the idea of happiness from owning material things. It’s amazing when you actually realize it.

And one more thing. Achieving early retirement (and not just financial independence) not just requires cutting back on expenses. It also requires you to have a decent income from which you can save a lot.

If you are serious about achieving financial independence, then you should begin early. There are various thumb rules for financial independence and early retirement (FIRE). One such rule is that depending on when you wish to retire, you should have about 20-30x your annual expenses in your FIRE corpus. But let me tell you that thumb rules are good to begin with. Once you start your journey and are making progress, you need to ask more serious questions like:

  • How much money (Corpus) do I require for financial independence and early retirement (FIRE)?
  • How long will my corpus last?
  • How much can I draw from the corpus each year?
  • Can I draw more than what I answered in the above question, atleast in some years?
  • What will the inflation be in my retirement years?
  • What are my expected returns?
  • What will be the impact on your corpus if markets enter a bear phase just at the start?
  • What if I need to spend some money on unplanned and unexpected emergencies?
  • How will my other financial goals be tackled?
  • Have I saved enough for these other non-retirement financial goals?
  • And several other questions

Early retirement is an alluring goal or dream. No doubt about that. But to be brutally honest, very few aim for it. And even fewer can really achieve it. Most people are generally too late to begin with.

And apart from money, what does it take to retire early? …It takes a lot of focus and determination and a thick skin. And that’s because if you discuss these things with other people, you are sure to find many who will ridicule you. But if you are serious about it, then it means you will be going against the crowd and you will have to give a f*** to societal norms. If you don’t, then be ready for a regular retirement. That’s good and traditional too. 🙂 And there is ofcourse more to life than just money.

People feel that early retirement is a sort of hack to sort out their life! But I feel that retired life has too many other important aspects than just money. You really need to find out what you will do with all those years?? 🙂

If you are asking or searching for answers to questions like ‘How to plan for early retirement?’, then please beware of all the self-confessed best early retirement blogs, financial independence retire early blog, online resources, early retirement calculators, retirement corpus calculator India, financial independence number calculator, etc. Everyone has a different need and hence, the Financial Independence number and the Financial Freedom Plan will be different for everyone.

Time to end this article now.

In the debate of Financial Independence Vs. Regular Retirement, I would say that I prefer the FI. …But that’s my choice. If you feel that even the regular retirement is fine for you, then obviously that’s right for you and you should stick to regular retirement planning. You should never be forced to take a side because of the undue influence of others. Your life, your choice.

How to retire early at 40? How to retire early at 45? How to retire early at 50? What year can I retire? – Before you begin asking these questions, just stop and think for a moment as to is this really what you want? Or you are running away from something?

As for me, my aim is Financial Independence (and Financial Freedom). As for Early Retirement, I am too much in love with what I do (Investment Advisory and Goal-based Financial Planning) to currently think about retirement. 🙂 And that is the reason I focus on Financial Independence over Early Retirement.

But do not be disheartened if some of what I say seems too difficult to achieve. If you are willing to do what is necessary to achieve financial freedom, then let me tell you one thing – IT CAN BE DONE. I repeat. IT CAN BE DONE.



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