What the FIRE Community Gets Wrong – Talking with Karsten Jeske

What would you do if you ran out of money in retirement? It’s hard to imagine a scarier outcome, and yet many on the FIRE path may be at risk for this if they get their portfolio withdrawal rate wrong. In this episode, Eric + Jason talk with Karsten Jeske, the creator of the Early Retirement Now blog. Known by many as “Big ERN”, he is an economist who is well known to the FIRE community for his extensive work in characterizing safe withdrawal rates (SWR). In this episode, we dig into Karsten’s free, powerful SWR Toolbox, and discuss topics including the downsides of FIRE calculators, 100% stock portfolios, the bucket strategy, why dividend investors are wrong, and his own post-FIRE life. If you’re interested in FIRE, you can’t afford to miss this information-packed episode!

Show notes may be found below the video

Note: This content does not constitute investment advice and is being presented for informational and educational purposes only.


Show Notes

Essential Background
One of the key dangers underpinning the importance of safe withdrawal is Sequence Risk (sometimes called Sequence of Returns Risk). Sequence risk is “the danger that the timing of withdrawals from a retirement account will have a negative impact on the overall rate of return available to the investor” – for example, starting withdrawals in a period with several years of severe market underperformance. This is a topic we’ve discussed before but for those new to the topic, check out this post from Investopedia.

Key Early Retirement Now Content
We referenced a number of Karsten’s blog posts from Early Retirement Now in this episode. Below you’ll find links to that content, along with the main landing page for his SWR series. You’ve got enough reading to keep you busy!

But first a little guidance: given Karsten’s extensive knowledge and expertise on these topic areas, his approach employs analysis which some may find unwieldy or even a little overwhelming. Don’t panic! Skim the math and stick with the text, and you’ll find that it’s not essential to fully comprehend all the analyses to understand the messages being delivered.

The SWR Toolbox: This is the free, downloadable tool that Karsten developed and which we discussed in this episode. Part 28 is the post where the revisions to the original calculator are described and the latest tool is linked. To see the history of this tool, you’ll need to go back to Part 7 of the series.

  • Safe Withdrawal Rate series: This is the landing page for the SWR series for which Karsten is best known. However, it’s also a 53-part series (now; it will surely grow). So we recommend following the guidance he provides about how to get started. You might begin with a topic of interest found below or listed at this landing page rather than diving into the whole series – though it’s a great read if you have interest in going through the whole thing!
  • Equity Glidepaths are a type of dynamic asset allocation plan often discussed in retirement planning. In Karsten’s words, “if we start with a relatively low equity weight and then move up the equity allocation over time we effectively take our withdrawals mostly out of the bond portion of the portfolio during the first few years. If the equity market were to go down during this time, we’d avoid selling our equities at rock bottom prices. That should help with Sequence of Return Risk!”. He covers glidepaths in Part 19 and Part 20.
  • Dividend stock strategies are commonly touted in the investment community, yet are seemingly poorly understood. We talked about this idea in our episode, and Karsten has written several great articles on the topic: Part 29, Part 30, and Part 31.
  • How often should we rebalance our portfolio? This key topic is addressed in Part 39 of the SWR series. Rebalancing isn’t a panacea for sequence risk, but it’s certainly an important element to consider. As we’ve discussed previously, being consistent + avoiding market timing is essential.
  • Is it crazy to hold 100% equities until retirement? Eric asked this question in response to his portfolio moves earlier this year to change his allocation to include 30% fixed income (Two Sides of FI episodes: Part 1 and Part 2). See Part 43 of Karsten’s series for further detail on his position, expanding on what he said in this episode.
  • Bucket Strategies is a topic we’ve addressed before on the show, including our conversation with Fritz Gilbert (The Retirement Manifesto). In Part 48, Karsten tackles this topic as well. In the episode, Jason also mentioned an article by Michael Kitces on this.
  • Inflation is certainly a topic on everyone’s mind at the time this episode was recorded. In one of his more recent posts (Part 51) Karsten digs deep on this topic. Is what’s currently predicted for the inflation path within historical norms – and is our withdrawal rate modeling at risk? Read on to find out…
  • Bonus: If you haven’t had enough yet, we’d recommend Part 26: “Ten things the ‘Makers’ of the 4% Rule Don’t Want You to Know”. It’s written rather tongue-in-cheek, while still being packed with the insight we’ve grown to expect from Karsten’s style of writing. We touched on some of these points in the episode but there are a bunch more not covered that are very much worth reading.

You can find information on the tools we mention in each episode along with additional information in the Resources section of this site.

Healthcare is my Second Highest Cost in Early Retirement

Health insurance may not be top of mind in early retirement when you’re young and healthy, but it should be. In the US, healthcare costs are a significant line item in our budget. To help us decode what you need to know, we’ve invited a retirement benefits expert to answer our questions through the lens of those seeking financial independence and early retirement.

To protect against astronomical expenses resulting from unexpected medical issues it’s prudent to carry insurance and if you’re retiring before 65 (when Medicare kicks in) you’ll be responsible for covering those costs. What do you need to consider? What ARE the costs involved? What insurance shouldn’t you purchase? Are there other options for coverage? What about long term care insurance? These are just a few of the topics we cover in this hour-long episode.

Our sincere thanks to Amy Manning for sharing her time, knowledge and expertise with us!


Show Notes

In this episode we mentioned a number of useful resources primarily for US residents seeking healthcare that we’d like to share with you. Note that many apply whether you are on a FIRE path or traditional retirement age.

COBRA is an important bridge strategy for health insurance for many people in the US, just as it was for Jason. The linked page is a great starting point and points to a variety of other sources that you will find helpful. Please note that some states have additional information available, and may even have further extension coverage offered beyond the federal requirements. As one tip – the best time to research COBRA is before leaving your employer. Your HR benefits partner or healthcare plan administrator is an ideal starting point to gather more information about your company’s plan and coverage options.

Healthcare.gov is the best starting point when it comes to information about Affordable care Act (ACA or “Obamacare”) plans. In many cases, you will be directed to a state-run plan with its own website, but this is not always the case. Presently, a number of states have federally-run, state-federal partnership, or federally-supported plans. Where there isn’t a state exchange, you’ll see options and apply for coverage directly from healthcare.gov.

ACA plan subsidies are a topic worth a deeper dive than our time allowed in this episode. Many on a FIRE path plan on having incomes well within the limits where cost-reducing subsidies apply. Typically, as long as your household income is below 400% of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL), these apply. When you investigate ACA coverage options, information will be provided on your eligibility for these based on the income information you supply. Importantly, in 2021 and 2022, provisions of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) legislation made further improvements to eligibility, eliminating so-called “subsidy cliffs”.

Healthcare Sharing Ministries (HSMs) are an option of interest to many. However, neither of us are experts on the topic. We’ve looked into HSMs and decided they weren’t for us, as they’re not bound by the same requirements as true insurance plans. That said, this page seems to be a reasonable starting point for high level information on a number of options available. If you have interest in these plans, be sure to dig deeper. Many user stories are available online via Reddit and other sources. For information on the potential downsides of HSMs, we found this recent John Oliver segment very eye-opening. Caveat emptor, friends.

GoodRx and RxSaver are convenient tools to find out where you can get your prescriptions filled for the lowest cost via coupon discounts. A related tip for diagnostic testing + labwork is that for many insurance companies, it’s easy to use their website to confirm your options for in-network testing. Don’t be surprised by higher bills that come from using labs that are out-of-network! A few minutes of work is well worth it to ensure you’re getting the lowest cost options available to you.

Medicare.gov should be your starting point for researching healthcare coverage options for US retirees once they reach 65 years of age. It’s never too early to understand what this will look like for you even though it may seem far in the future. If you’re new to the topic, easy to digest summary information is available on this page. As you develop your retirement budget, this site will be a useful source of information to estimate those future costs.


You can find information on the tools we mention in each episode along with additional information in the Resources section of this site.

Talking with our Spouses About FIRE: 2 x Two Sides of FI (Parts 1 and 2)

Part 1:


Part 2:

Talking with a spouse or partner about FIRE isn’t always easy. In this two-part series, Eric + Jason bring their wives Laura + Lorri into the conversation to share their personal experiences. In part 1, they talk about getting onboard with FIRE, financial topics including budgeting and setting the FI number, as well as the emotional aspects of choosing the FIRE path. In part 2, they discuss how they share financial responsibilities, the importance of finding friend networks, talking to their children about FIRE, and their hopes for their post-FI lives.


Show Notes

After recording this episode, Jason realized just how right Lorri was regarding his (non-)efforts to make friends in their new town. That got him thinking about some of the events of the past year, leading him to write a blog post on the topic. We think it’s a good accompaniment to the conversation in these episodes and hope you enjoy it. Do you have any thoughts on making friends in a new town? Please share them in the comments!

A fun story for you (not so much fun for us!) – you may have seen the earlier picture of all four of us together, in one place. That, along with this episode’s thumbnail, was a real photo from Jason + Lorri’s visit to Eric + Laura’s house in Maine – not photoshopped! Naturally you’re wondering why this episode was recorded in our usual remote format vs. in person. Well…we did record two hours of content when we were all together in Maine. However, a few technical issues meant that we decided not to use that footage. It still exists and perhaps will take on a new life someday as outtakes or otherwise. We’re really happy with how this two-part series turned out despite it being in our usual remote format, and hope you enjoy it too!

You can find information on the tools we mention in each episode along with additional information in the Resources section of this site. To navigate to this material at any time, just click the menu button at the top of any page on the site.