The other day the famous Sir Mix-A-Lot song came on the radio. The lyric about Cosmo made me wonder if the magazine is still around. I admit that one of my guilty pleasures of my early twenties was reading my girl friends’ Cosmopolitan. It was very different than anything I would typically read. It was certainly not close to Money or Kiplinger’s.
I don’t know if it was pioneered by Cosmo, but one of the signature things in seemingly every issue was a quiz. Usually, it was something like, “Are you compatible with your man? Take the quiz and find out.” By answering questions honestly, you scored points and at the end, you added up all the points and gave you the result. I imagine they still have this kind of thing today… if anyone is still reading magazines.
What if we adapted the concept to FIRE? Here’s one attempt at creating a FIRE quiz. It’s only five questions, so it will be quick and easy. Add up your points and we’ll see what your FIRE score is at the end.
What’s Your FIRE Score?
I’m going to be asking you some questions about income and expenses. Answer as best you can and just try to be truthful with yourself. There’s no judgment here and this is all in good fun.
What’s your income look like? Are you much wealthier than the average person in your area? Do you make a lot less money than the average?
10 points if your income is very high
8 points if your income is high
6 points if your income is average
4 points if your income is below average income
2 points if your income is far below average income
Income is easy, it’s just one number. I want to break expenses down into various areas:
Housing costs are typically the high expense anyone has. For that reason, I’ll start here and points for frugality are worth more here.
4 points if your housing costs are very low
3 points if your housing costs are below average
2 points if your housing costs are average
1 point if your housing costs are high
For example, if you live in a tiny house or have roommates or another kind of house hacking, you can probably give yourself 4 points for this. If you might describe yourself as living in McMansion or “house rich and cash poor”, you get 1 point.
Transportation is the second biggest expense, so you have a chance to earn a lot of points for frugal behavior here.
3 points if your transportation costs are very low
2 points if your transportation costs are below average
1 point if your transportation costs are average
0 points if your transportation costs are high
If you buy a used low-end reliable car and drive it into the ground your transportation costs would likely be very low. If you are a one-car family that’s likely to be very low too. If you use public transportation and/or a bike most places, that’s a low cost of transportation as well. If you lease a new car that would normally cost 6-figures to buy, your transportation costs are expensive.
Next up in the expense hierarchy is food. If you live on rice and beans you can score extra points here. If you buying organic, artisan foods from Whole Foods you won’t get any points on this one.
2 points if your food costs are below average
1 point if your food costs are average
0 points if your food costs are high
You may need to subtract points if you have some extra expenses. One example could be student loans. We don’t have student loans, but we do pay a lot for private school for the kids. I’ll have to subtract some points here.
Add Up all the Points
The maximum amount of points you can score is 19, but that’s very hard to do. The minimum score is 2, but that’s a very poor financial situation to be in. If you have a priority of FIRE, you probably want to be in the 12-15 range.
Let’s see what my scoring is:
My FIRE Scoring
Income – 8 points – I gave us 8 points here because my wife does well as a pharmacist. I’m much more average in income. We aren’t doctors or CEOs so we don’t fit in the 10 area. We are better than average though so 6 points didn’t seem right either.
Housing – 3 points – I could have maybe gone with 2 points here – it’s borderline. We bought our house for $400K about 10 years ago. With a fixed 15-year-mortgage at very low interest rates, it is less expensive than it would ordinarily appear. Also at 1800 square feet, it isn’t a McMansion for 4 people. Zillow says it is worth around 600K now, so people getting into the housing market have a much higher expense. That helped sway me towards a lower than average housing cost.
Transportation – 2 points – This one could have maybe been 3 points, but I rounded down on this one to make up for the housing expense above. We have two cars that are paid off, each 7-8 years old. The Subaru Forester (my car) was cheap, while my wife’s Acura MDX was a little more luxurious. We don’t walk or bike or do anything else to lower our transportation costs much. Most days, I just drive the kids to school and maybe go to the grocery store. We put few miles on our cars unless my wife is commuting.
Food – 2 points – I’m the master of shopping for cheap food at Aldi and the military commissary. With a chest freezer, if I find a good deal on meat, I can usually stock up for a long time. We don’t eat a lot of organic foods. For health reasons, we should probably be spending more on quality, but that’s a topic that is outside the scope of this quiz.
Final Total – 15 points
But wait, I didn’t add in the adjustment for the kids’ school expense. I think that’s going to cost me a couple of points, so my real final total is probably closer to 13 points.
This will also change over time. When my wife retires our income will be average (she’ll get a pension). When we finish paying off our mortgage in about 5-6 years our housing expense will drop to a very low number earning us another point there. When major life circumstances change, it may be worth revisiting and seeing where you stand with this quiz.
There are a lot of limitations with this quiz. For example, I didn’t include a lot of expenses. I also didn’t include investing. It’s a Monday, so I wanted to make it light, easy, and (hopefully) fun.
I think five questions were about the bare minimum that was needed to get a meaningful result. If you leave some suggestions on how to make it better, I might make this more comprehensive with a FIRE Score version 2.0.