In the personal finance blogging world, it seems there is a race to early retirement. Yet, no matter how hard I hustle, how much I focus on our savings rate, or how often I think about financial independence and retiring early (FIRE)…. early retirement is still a decade away for my family and me. And that is a minimum length of time. It might prove to be more like 12-14 years.
Life often teaches us that moderation is the key to satisfaction. Can we apply the logic of moderation to the philosophy of FIRE?
Enter here Partial FIRE. Partial FIRE is the point at which you have enough financial freedom in your life that you can reduce your current workload and pursue part time work. While normal FIRE entails socking away as much money as you can until you can enjoy a full and early retirement, partial FIRE is a softer version filled with part-time work at an earlier stage.
Partial FIRE will look different for everyone. However, it will usually consist of less time at work and more time doing what you want. It comes at a cost of creating a slightly slower trek towards traditional FIRE, because a lower income usually means we save less money.
Is the work-life balance we find through Partial FIRE worth it?
Here are four reasons partial FIRE might be helpful in your route to financial freedom.
1. Better Career Fulfillment
Physicians often talk about their limited time. The fact is that the current culture of medicine is happy to overload physicians not only within a given shift, but with the total number of shifts that we are required to take. This is a large part of the reason I created my Hell Yes Policy. I’m the Anti Fan-Boy of forced overtime.
Time is our only truly finite commodity on this earth. No matter where you are in the milestones to financial independence, you only get 24 hours in a day and 365 days in the year. This is true whether you are the hospital custodian or the CEO. Time is the most valuable commodity we have. We should not give it away easily.
For this reason, we must use the hours we are given to pursue our true passions. This also means that when we have a limited amount of time to pursue our passions, our career fulfillment can suffer. It reduces the amount of time we have to pursue our passions.
Perhaps you want to spend some time on a research project or quality improvement initiative. Maybe you want to create a personal finance curriculum for medical students. Whatever your passion, partial FIRE can provide you the time you need to pursue them.
Imagine having one or two days off each week that you could use to devote to a worthy cause. Maybe then you’d have the time to finally chase after that goal you’ve kept on the back burner.
I don’t know what goals or projects you would pursue. However, I am fairly certain you’d find an increasing amount of career fulfillment through the time provided by partial FIRE.
2. Reduced Burnout and Moral Injury
The factors that lead to physician burnout seem too numerous to name. However, I hold that many can be summed up in just a few words. Lack of autonomy.
This lack of autonomy involves not being able to control our lives and our patient care the way that we would choose. We are forced to see patients in 10 minute intervals. With each day, there are more buttons to click in the electronic medical record system. And when we decide an appropriate course of action for a patient, we are told that the insurance company will not cover our treatment plan.
This inevitably leads to burnout and moral injury.
Imagine if your version of partial FIRE involved negotiating with your hospital to see your patients over a longer time period. Perhaps you bartered for 20 minute visits, because you didn’t need the additional money from a heavier clinic volume?
It could also be simpler than fixing your daily schedule.
Maybe additional time off through partial FIRE might allow you to have more time to recover from your demanding work life. After all, there aren’t many people who feel the same level of burnout and moral injury while on vacation, at the beach, on the golf course, or getting a mani-pedi.
3. Better Work Life Balance
After sitting down with my wife and going through The 3 Kinder Questions, I realized that a big motivation for our financial independence is to be able to spend as much time as I can with my kids.
After going through the questions, I was reminded of the great quote by the Dalai Lama when he was asked about the most surprising thing about humanity:
Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.
I don’t want to die having never truly lived. And I really don’t want to die having never spoken truth into the lives of my three kids. I want to attend every single tee ball game, recital, art show, performance, and golf match. My cell phone will be in my pocket and my eyes will be on my kids. I want to be present and intentional with my time.
I refuse to wait until my kids are old and gone to enjoy the freedom that financial independence provides. Instead, I’ll Partial FIRE through part-time work so that I can be there for my kids as often as is humanly possible.
This will provide a better work-life balance for my family and me.
4. Fixing A Broken System
Many posts on this site have focused on our broken medical system and the burnout it produces. Traditional FIRE provides an escape hatch for burned out physicians. Yet, it also has the power to deplete medicine of a lot of really good doctors.
One of my dreams for medicine is that there will be a cadre of financially literate physicians who will not only stay in medicine, but will endeavor to fix the broken system that currently exists.
Partial FIRE would provide the time they need to make the changes that a full-time clinical schedule does not allow. In addition, it would allow physicians to stay connected enough to clinical medicine that they could still relate to the people on the front lines – which is a big problem for today’s administrators who hang out in their C-suite offices without ever meeting the people that they lead.
Imagine a world full of physicians who choose to practice medicine because they want to, and not because they have to… that would provide the power for change.
Take Home: Partial FIRE
Partial FIRE holds a lot of promise for many of the problems that ail today’s physicians. Even if you are still years away from traditional FIRE, you might consider the moderate option of part-time work after obtaining enough financial freedom for it to become an option.
If you do, you just might find that you fall back in love with the job in a brand new way, find a better work-life balance, and have the time and motivation to fix our broken medical system.
Have you ever considered partial FIRE? In what way would it improve your current situation? If you are already there, how has it changed things for you? Leave a comment below.
Partial FIRE has been working for me for almost 2 years now. It has its complexities for sure, but I’m going to keep enjoying it till I no longer enjoy it.
Keep us updated on the progress! I am probably not too far behind you on the path.
I am definitely in the partial FIRE stage of my career right now, already taking a day off a week (hoping to increase that even further later on).
It helps quite a bit to recharge my batteries and has lessened (but not eliminated) burnout.
I am fortunate that by the time burnout started really getting a grip on me I had achieved a level of financial independence that allowed me to take a day off without worrying about the financial impact. It is much harder to do so earlier in your career and we all have seen burnout hit all ages.
Yeah, my burnout (work-life imbalance may be a better term) hit early. That said, I think that partial FIRE is an option for many so long as your lifestyle is far enough below your paycheck that you can take the pay cut while earning less. I think partial FIRE has the ability to help a lot of people.
I am happy to read an article that shows that considering partial FIRE is a solution and not an unappealing notion. I wasn’t a burned out Dr. but I was certainly a burned out engineer. On call 24x7x365 is no way to live. I was one time paged away from being in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland with my family and had to return to our hotel room to log in and help fix a stupid problem. Unfortunately there was no acceptance of a partial retirement where I worked so I left and created my own phased retirement plan. I retired early and work where, when, and for as long as I want to. I believe retirement is the absence of needing to work, not the absence of working. I think partial FIRE is just a different way to talk about having enough saved to take better control of our lives without having a multi million dollar portfolio.
“I believe retirement is the absence of needing to work, not the absence of working.” <-- This is golden advice. I just can't deal with having to wait until the finances say that I can go part-time. If we can find a way to provide enough value to our employers (or to take the self-employed route as you have), we can leverage more than we realize. Glad that this message applies to multiple lines of work!
I’m a teacher and I’m going part-time next year, only working 3 days a week instead of 5. Here, the school year ends just before Christmas so I have just under 6 months to go.
I look on it as a glide-path towards retirement, hoping that spending less time at work will stop (or at least lessen) burnout. I have expensive renovations I want to put in place to the house before I pull the pin and I’d prefer to get them done while I still have an income.
But who knows? One more helicopter parent might just push me over the edge…
My wife is a teacher. So, I can relate vicariously through her. Fortunately, she found a coaching job that is paid for outside of the school system, and gets to enjoy the parts of the job that she loves while avoiding the helicopter parents and difficult administrators that fail to stand up for the teachers that they supposedly lead.
Keep up the good work!
This is the goal for me, and I like that someone put a name to it.
The one wrench in this whole plan is the loss of employer-sponsored HC insurance once you drop below X dollars per week. It’s not unique to Partial FIRE, but I hate the idea of still working and not getting my insurance subsidized.
Yeah, I think every employer is different. Mine doesn’t lose my health care insurance until we are less than 75%… which would amount to three days per week of work each week or something close to that.
That said, losing health insurance (and group disability insurance for me in particular) would be quite costly. It’s certainly a big part of the decision.
Greater autonomy and freedom comes when you shift to a business structure that includes your own PC. Then you are directing and control your own benefit plan through your own company, including insurance. This gives you the maximum portability and flexibility in regards to partial FIRE. Yes the benefits still cost you money, but you can leverage this expense through your own business structure. Staring your own PC, is a fundamental step in reaching partial FIRE. https://doctorincorporated.com/the-doctor-who-happily-lost-a-million-dollars/
When my child had a serious illness I cut back to half time following 4 months of FMLA. I’ve done half to 3/4 time for now 6 years. That change kept our family functional, allowed me to keep health insurance and allowed us to concentrate on health, memories and family. We are all well past the crisis and everybody is reasonably healthy and functioning. I found joy in medicine again because I wasn’t juggling everything at intense levels. My goal for the last few years has simply been to live beneath our means. If we finish the year $100 ahead I considered it a success. Not trying to do it all has actually resulted in essentially managing to do everything that mattered. Simple goals worked for us.
It’s strange that when choices are limited, sometimes we can find it is better. Not out of choice, but out of necessity. I’m sorry that you had to go through all of that! But glad that you all made it out on the other side in reasonably good health. Finding the balance can be tough!
I think this concept makes sense for a lot people. I can’t imagine going part-time just yet, but part of the value of FIRE (full or partial) is that we can have more choices. It’s really valuable for physicians to have the freedom to be able to say no when an opportunity comes to them that they don’t want. Your “HECK yes!” policy is a great concept, made more realistic by achieving financial independence. Great stuff!
This is a great post! Thank you. I think most physicians actually like the idea of partial FIRE more so than FIRE. We enjoy helping patients with their health needs. The key is autonomy as you mentioned. When our autonomy is restored, then the joy of practicing medicine increases. Add in FI, and it becomes a beautiful combination.
My full time already included Fridays off but still was feeling burnout. I was able to drop Thursday’s too in April 2019 ( so 2.5 to 3 days per week instead). Made a huge mental difference and after doing a variety of creative work for a few months, I settled on pursuing a low volume, low overhead private practice 2.5 days per week, and this has been very satisfying to my medicine soul ( not a money maker but was not the intention ). Would not have been able to pursue this dream without going part time but too risky financially to try it if I left corporate medicine completely! I no longer feel burnout!
That’s amazing! Your story is a familiar one. Once we find the balance between our passion at work and the time off we need to recover and focus on things at home, it is amazing how quick the burnout can resolve!
Really happy for you!