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What Everybody Is Getting Wrong About FIRE

Fig 1: Suze Orman’s opinion of our lifestyle, as captured in a crazy interview on Paula Pant’s Afford Anything podcast.

In case you hadn’t already noticed it in the news, it seems we are hitting a  turning point in how the rest of the world perceives this lifestyle that you and I have been enjoying.

First, we were ignored. Then, there were a few stories that just focused on the strange lives of  Mr. Money Mustache a few other freaky magicians, cataloging our feats of extreme frugality like “spending less than 100% of your money on a car” or “occasionally eating food from one’s own kitchen.”

But time went by, and our numbers kept growing. And we weren’t just thirtysomething white male tech workers anymore, we were women and men of all ages and professions in all different countries, absorbing blogs and podcasts from a thousand different sources.

Vicki Robin, author of Your Money Or Your Life came out of retirement to write a new edition of her foundational book on the subject of financial independence* and some prominent filmmakers have spent the past year making a documentary called Playing with FIRE about all of this too.

And suddenly, instead of just a blogger or a few millennials here and there, the media is starting to call it the Financial Independence Movement. And this is a big deal, because when it comes to cultural traditions, perception pretty much defines reality.

But when you look it up by Googling the FIRE Movement, you still get a pretty mixed bag of arguments.

The New York Times article looks very positive. But there’s another one in there called “Why I Hate the FIRE Movement”, another that complains our ideas are a “Massive fallacy of composition”, and any number of others saying that we have got one aspect or another wrong.

There’s a tricky paradox going on here: the more people you reach, the bigger the range of misconceptions that will come up, potentially cockblocking your movement before it really takes off.

So, with that in mind, let’s clean up the biggest bits of WRONG that are preventing the latest round of several million new arrivals from fully enjoying the fruits of their own labor.

Because as soon as you stop making excuses for why these ideas can’t possibly work for you, you can start actually doing them and seeing the benefits – today.

1: This is ALL WINNING and there are NO DOWNSIDES.

If you think there is even the slightest flaw with the ideas behind FIRE, you’re probably just not understanding it correctly. Because the whole reason for doing any of this is to lead the happiest, most satisfying life you can possibly lead.

Sure, there are a few tricks behind the curtain – I’m going to make you occasionally tackle some moderately difficult stuff instead of the lazy, easy things you are accustomed to doing. But this too is a win, because a lazy life is a sad, depressed, unsatisfying life. We are going to lift you up OUT of that bullshit. So from now, you can assume that any objections can be solved. Zero complaints allowed.

2: It Doesn’t Matter How Much Money you Make

Sure, many of the people most passionate about FIRE tend to be tech workers and doctors who happen to make a lot of money. When people with lower salaries notice this fact, they tune out and assume the ideas won’t work for them. When in fact, they work even better, the further down the income scale you go.

When I tell a Google employee earning $200,000 per year that she should not burn through too many $10.00-plus-tip glassses of wine at happy hour, she can rightfully respond that each one represents only about ten minutes of her after-tax pay. But what about the guy getting by on $20k? A ten-dollar expenditure is ten times more of a blow to his finances, and an even bigger portion of his monthly surplus income, if he has any surplus at all.

I’m not telling low-income people that they can retire in five years. I am telling them that they can make their lives better, RIGHT NOW, by spending less money on certain things that don’t improve any of our lives. Ten dollar drinks are one easy example, but there are dozens of other ones that I’m suggesting.

And dozens of ten-dollar bills start to add up to real money pretty quickly, which is something most people don’t realize. The vast majority of wealthy people are the ones who have figured out that a millionaire is made ten bucks at a time.

At the opposite end of the scale, earning more income will rarely solve your financial problems: most high-income people are still within just a few paychecks of insolvency, because it is possible to blow almost any paycheck, simply by adding or upgrading more cars, houses, and vacations.

A fundamental truth in society is that most people are pretty bad at math. At the core, these FIRE ideas are simply about taking some solid math, combining it with principles of human happiness, and then distilling it down into a list of simple tactics that will get you way ahead in all areas of life. The benefits go way beyond money.

3: FIRE Is Not Really About Early Retirement

Everybody uses the FIRE acronym because it is catchy and “Early Retirement” sounds desirable. But for most people who get there, Financial Independence does not mean the end of your working career.

Instead it means, “Complete freedom to be the best, most powerful, energetic, happiest and most generous version of You that you can possibly be.”

Does this mean you will quit commuting through traffic into a lame corporate office to sit in meetings about products you don’t really care about? Yes.

But does it mean you won’t work hard at things that are important to you, for the rest of your life? NO!

The people who lob this “retirement is bad” complaint against us are often the lucky ones – a professor who loves researching and teaching, or an established doctor who loves saving lives and happens to enjoy the work environment she has created for herself. But in real life, over half of people are in jobs they genuinely do not enjoy, and which they would immediately quit if they didn’t need the money.

Early retirement means quitting any job that you wouldn’t do for free – but then continuing right ahead with work in something that works for you, even when you don’t need the money.

If you’re lucky enough to find a job this good early on in your career, then congratulations, you can have the benefits of early retirement even before you have the huge nest egg. But don’t fool yourself  – having the financial independence side of things is very powerful as well.

And because of this tendency of early retirees to go on through life and keep earning more money – at least occasionally – the issue of running out of money is even more remote. Most of us end up with a higher net worth every single year, even decades after turning in the keys to the cubicle.

4: You Can Be Happy on ANY Level of Spending

As a society, we’ve been trained to assume that having a bigger budget is always better, and cutting back always means some sort of compromise. The Suze Orman interview above is just dripping with that assumption. The amazing news in this department, which will save you millions of dollars, is that this is complete bullshit!

Happiness is your goal in life, and it comes from meeting certain core Human needs. The thing is, that there are many ways to meet each of these needs – some of them free and some of them shockingly expensive.

For example, improving your physical health is one proven way to be happier. But you can accomplish this with a $2500 per month personal trainer or a $100 set of barbells from Craigslist. Same happiness, vastly different cost.

And as it turns out, there is a similar hack for every single one of life’s major expenses. You can meet all your needs at little or zero cost – it just takes a bit of skill. At this level, you would be able to save almost all of your income.

Or, you can substitute a bit more money and a bit less skill to meet those needs in an (only slightly) more efficient lifestyle, like the one I try to lead. This might allow you to save half or two thirds of your income.

Or, you can spray money in every direction randomly, trying to meet an unfiltered list of wants and needs, and end up with a random but very expensive life, while remaining almost broke throughout the entire thing. This is what most people do, and it leads to saving almost none of your income.

All three choices are possible to do with great happiness. But in a bit of a paradox, the last and most expensive choice is the most difficult one in which to find happiness, because you end up with so many distractions and so little free time.

5: It Doesn’t Depend on A Booming Stock Market

I started this blog soon after the crash of 2009. Now we’re in the boom of 2018. Another market crash of epic proportions is coming sometime, probably pretty soon.

Our uninformed opponents think that FIRE-style early retirees are extra vulnerable to this. But in reality, it’s just the opposite: we are on a safe island, far above the choppy seas of the everyday economy. Because here’s how it really works:

  • We have low and easily controlled expenses – remember, we got here precisely by being good at controlling our spending.
  • The stock market always fluctuates, and crashes are an expected and healthy part of the system. Then Human ingenuity continues its magic, we keep on striving and inventing great things, and the market goes back up. Stock market volatility is already built into the math we used to design this plan. Relax.
  • Even in the event of a permanent collapse (for example the end of the US or world economy), the FIRE practitioner would still come out ahead: instead of focusing your energy on leasing BMWs or dressing yourself up fancy, you have learned to live happily and work on your skills, health, and friendships. It’s a package that will make you wealthier in good times and bad.

6: Education, Health Care, or High Cost of Living areas are Comically Tiny Obstacles

FIRE is simply about making smart decisions with your spending so that you waste less money.  This means that you have way more money available to work with.

The potentially costly monsters mentioned above are simply things that cost money. So if you get better at managing your money, do you think these problems will loom larger, or smaller, in your life?

For example, my son will be reaching University age in just five more years. I haven’t bothered to set aside any money for this part of his education, because we already had way more than enough before he was born!

On top of that, financial independence gives us many more options to handle any unexpected expense, whether it’s education, health, or anything else. For example, as a team my son and we parents could easily:

  • shop around to find the most cost-effective way to get any given degree (start with community college for the first two years, compare different schools, etc.)
  • earn more merit scholarships to get through even an ivy league school for free.
  • earn more money to pay for any cost shortage
  • bypass university entirely and simply start a business
  • move to another state or even country in order to qualify for local tuition rates or more reasonable medical rates
  • use personal relationships to get cheaper or free education or medical care in exchange for helping teachers and doctors with something they need from us.

These are just a few ideas. The point is, every problem can be solved, and financial independence simply gives you more mental and money power to solve these problems.

7: The Only Thing To Fear, is Fear Itself

In the interview, Suze Orman goes on and on about what might go wrong, and how you need an incredible amount of money saved to protect you, just in case. But this thinking is completely backwards – money will not cure your fear, as megamillionaire Suze proves so clearly.

If you are afraid of what might happen in the future, you have a mental problem rather than a financial problem. So you should work on that first, by training your mind and body:

  • Start each day with at least a one mile brisk outdoor walk – before you even attempt to work.  This drastically improves your hormonal balance and reduces stress and fear.
  • Read books about managing stress and learn about meditation using something like Headspace or Camp Calm.
  • Completely avoid the daily news cycle, especially on TV or radio. If you insist on being a world events junkie, just read the Economist once per week. Focus on optimistic sources of information – like this blog!
  •  Seek out and hang out with more optimistic friends. Remove negative or gossipy friends from your daily life.

8: Place Your Bets Where The Odds Are In Your Favor

Because my brain has a math side I can’t turn off, I tend to see the world in terms of numbers rather than just emotions. And this is incredibly helpful, because by understanding probability, it helps me set up my life to ensure a much more joyful stream of those happy emotions.

For example: many people avoid cycling because they have heard from friends that it is very dangerous. But by doing so, they replace bike trips with sedentary car or bus trips, which clog their arteries and compound into fat gain and other medical issues which really are dangerous.

A lifetime of bicycling in average conditions might give you a 0.2% chance of untimely death due to accident – which can be slightly higher or lower than car driving depending on where you live. But a lifetime of drinking soda and skipping your cycling and barbell workouts gives you at least 50% higher chance of dying ten years earlier due to medical complications, while cycling reduces those health risks (and costs) considerably. So which activity is really the dangerous one?

With this in mind, which of these activities is more risky?

  • working ten extra years in a job you don’t love so you can have an extra million saved up in case you encounter heath problems later.
  • quitting that job right now and investing those ten years into living a healthier and less stressed life with more exercise, better relationships, and a more diverse range of skills. Focusing on you instead of your bank account.

We’ll skip the spreadsheets for now and just boil this into a list of habits that really do give you the best chance at a good life: more happiness, better health and less negative stress.

  • Physical health FIRST: your brain is a system of meat and tubes, just like the rest of your body. The whole system will only perform well if you place its wellbeing first, before anything else. Salads and barbells every day, no goddamned excuses.
  • Mental health NEXT: feed your mind with happy input and learn to practice mindfulness, educational reading, and meditation daily, which is simply a workout for the brain.
  • Daily hardship and Learning: if you are not sweating and learning and doing something difficult and solving problems, you are not living fully. Find a way to scale back the pampering and achieve more with your own body and mind.
  • Indulge, but only with Moderation and Self-Mockery: this country is rich enough that you can become wealthy even without perfect self-discipline – even on minimum wage. But the moment you think you deserve or need whatever indulgence you are currently treating yourself to, you have lost the game. Luxuries and treats are just short-term pleasurable distractions, like any other drugs. Indulge if you can afford them, but you’re not missing one ounce of happiness if you choose to go without at any given moment.

So that’s the FIRE movement.

It’s a system of living your best life in all ways rather than just the financial, based on our best understanding of human nature, with a bit of math and science behind it. Like science itself, it’s not a dogma or a religion, but more of a self-aware system that invites questions and experiments. It’s always open for modification or improvement, but like science itself, there’s nothing for a rational person to hate. Who hates learning?

The reason it has spread to millions of people is that it works. People try it, they like the results, and so they share it with their friends, and the cycle repeats. There’s no stopping an idea or a movement like that.

 

 

*and guess who had the honor of writing the foreword for the new edition?

Note that I use Amazon affiliate links to point to any Amazon products mentioned, which allows this blog to earn money – so many thanks if you use them.

 

 

 

  • MKE October 10, 2018, 8:57 am

    One thing, among others, that can get to me about this “FIRE” idea is the chicanery, the salesmanship, the dishonesty. While MMM has some good ideas and some engineering characteristics, at heart he is a salesman and a promoter. This is what most of the FIRE folks are.

    The snake oil turns people off. As an example, I have made and lost friends who claimed to be “retired.” The retirement claim, at first, was appealing, but was later revealed to be false bravado. It created a lot of stress in their lives, and was the source of friction between us. Just say you work. Don’t brag about being retired and then BS about your availability.

    Once you start telling one lie, you have to tell a lot of other lies to support it. There were too many times I was looking to hang out and recreate with these guys (separate guys years apart), and they could not. They had to work. They could not stand to refer to themselves as self-employed. Instead, they lied and said they were “retired.” (Yeah, yeah, I know what you are thinking, “You are a jerk and these guys were just blowing you off.” Like anyone, they probably blew me off not to be around me sometimes, but I learned of too many specific examples of when they were working and lied to others and to me about it).

    They were caught up in the glamorous story of saying they were retired, and viewed working for themselves as beneath their dignity. Sad stuff. Sad in that they were lying about when they were working and when they were not, just because they felt compelled to say they were retired. They were in denial. It created too many awkward moments.

    All they did was replace the stress and unpleasantness of their salaried jobs with the stress and unpleasantness of lying about being “retired.” They couldn’t being themselves to say, “can’t join you on a ride today- I’m working.” Sure they had money, sure they had some flexibility, but they sure as shit were not retired. While they might not have had strangers “oohing and aahing” over them if they admitted to being self-employed, a little honesty would have helped them develop real relationships. Eventually people see behind the curtain.

    The overwhelming majority of the charlatans in the “FIRE” movement are self-employed. Just be honest about it. I can’t see how honesty would hurt the cause.

    Reply
    • snowcanyon October 10, 2018, 12:15 pm

      You make some really great points, and I have as yet to see a FIRE blogger who hasn’t monetized their blog or started a business selling the brand of FIRE. MMM is actually more honest and less mercenary than most. I think bloggers aren’t honest because they are selling a dream, and to admit that while perhaps they don’t HAVE to work, the money they earn is what makes their lives less stressful and more comfortable, would perhaps make the dream less marketable.

      If FIRE is a movement away from W2 jobs and towards entrepreneurship, that’s wonderful. If FIRE is a movement to promote frugality, great. If it’s a movement to promote a balanced life, also wonderful. If it’s a movement to teach people about compounding interest and the importance of saving early, that’s also a worthy goal. Any of these is worthy. All of these are worthy.

      But the movement and the bloggers need to be honest, and I see a movement I very much respected becoming just another example of slick marketing. Why is the Chautauqua so expensive? Can’t people practice what they preach and camp out? Why does every blog flog Personal Capital (maybe the $100 referral fee)? Why are the blogs so obviously and aggressively monetized? I thought people were financially free- is linking PC to the end of every blog post really their dream in life? Why are so many obsessed with highly monetized pursuits and so few with, say, learning to paint or writing a novel?

      I don’t begrudge people earning money as they see fit. I don’t care what people do after their W2 jobs end. I do dislike slick marketing, false advertising, and the aggressive denial many bloggers exhibit about their obvious intention to make vast amounts of money from their blogs, real estate courses, and other side hustles. It’s disingenuous, and I agree that being forthcoming would enhance, not harm, the very valuable movement.

      Reply
  • Lady Locust October 10, 2018, 12:09 pm

    Excellent post! Some of those comments are really quite comical. There have been a couple small morsels that you’ve suggested that I don’t agree with (personal beliefs) but the vast bulk of information you provide is rock solid. Why wouldn’t I use that vast bulk to my advantage? The results are far greater than throwing away the entire idea because I have one or two little glitches to work around.
    Have a great day.

    Reply
  • Kate October 10, 2018, 2:18 pm

    One complaint I often run into about FIRE is that it “hurts relationships.” People assume you become so stingy that you show up to group events empty-handed and always mooch off your friends.

    Have to explain: FIRE makes your relationships RICHER. Last weekend I had a dinner party at my house for 8 people that probably cost $20 in groceries and it was one of the best 6 hours I ever spent on a Saturday evening. Each of our friends brought a bottle of wine to share – no one spent more than $10 – and the evening abounded in good food, drink, and company. Alternatively, we could have gone to a restaurant where everyone had to spend $30 before drinks and we would have been rushed from our table after 2 hours.

    With FIRE, you help your friends, and they help you. My clown car battery died on a Friday night and instead of calling a tow company, a friend drove over and helped me jump it. The month before that, I helped those same friends move. Guess what – our relationships were strengthened by this mutual aid, and we all saved money.

    …obviously I’m preaching to the choir here. It’s just one other thing I find particularly frustrating. FIRE will only bring you new friends and make you enjoy your existing friends more.

    Reply
    • Tyler October 13, 2018, 7:45 am

      True up until the point that your much less industrious friends start to envy your lifestyle and resent you for it. A true friend wouldn’t do that but unfortunately sometimes human nature shows its nasty side regardless.

      Reply
  • KingZ October 10, 2018, 9:55 pm

    My first direction to FIRE was YMOYL in 2011, which then found me looking at personal finance blogs. Found MMM back then and also Dividend Mantra. Getting close to FI, and lived reading you did the forward on the new edition. I may just have to purchase a hard-copy for my reference shelf. I have recommended it several times, now I can lend it! I have a whole lot of appreciation for all of the education along the way.

    Reply
  • Carolyn October 11, 2018, 4:58 pm

    Ignoring the news is a form of white privilege. Not being informed on things “beyond your control” is a copout and lazy.

    It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to fight for social justice, yet so often the burden falls on them. It is a luxury and you are already rich indeed if you are able to tune out the world around you because the policies of your country don’t affect you directly, whether that is because of your race, gender, or sexual orientation.

    Just because you don’t have to see or experience racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination doesn’t mean it does not exist and that everyone else gets to ignore it, too. You don’t have to be glued to the news cycle to take in what’s going on with your fellow human.

    The key is probably media literacy (which can be learned!) so that you can sift through the information onslaught and think critically about what, why and how information is being presented to you (and who is presenting it). I went to journalism school and get most of my news by following an international wire service. Regional and local news is also important, however about 40% of news organizations in the U.S. are owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group, which you are welcome to read up on and form your own opinion about.

    Think it would be great if we all pushed ourselves a little harder. Ya’ll seem like the type of people that get it! Usually I enjoy most of this blog but I find the recommendation to “completely avoid the daily news cycle” disappointing.

    If you don’t understand what I’m talking about in my above comment re: white privilege I would recommend seeking out writers/educators/activists from marginalized communities and reading up on the matter.

    Reply
    • Tyler October 13, 2018, 7:52 am

      I don’t think racial and “privilege” concerns have anything to do with getting caught up in the daily news cycle. Daily news has virtually no impact on everyday living, and you’d have to be living under a rock to not notice the cultural, economic, or general sociological trends that are currently affecting humanity. If these trends don’t directly affect you, why would you need to be admonished for not paying attention to them?

      I think MMM’s point is that well-to-do people in “privileged” situations are still wasting their time focusing on negative events and things going on in the world that don’t affect them. None of this suggests that they still can’t be empathetic and do what they can to aid in certain causes but it doesn’t mean they need to be reading the news everyday…actually no one needs to be reading the news everyday unless a hurricane is literally about to pull up your house off its foundation.

      Reply
  • Simple Money Man October 12, 2018, 9:22 am

    My favorite part: “If you are afraid of what might happen in the future, you have a mental problem rather than a financial problem. So you should work on that first, by training your mind and body:”

    We shouldn’t plan and prepare based on fear. It should be based on the motivation to do what we really want in life. And we don’t have to wait. We can start doing some of it now! Thanks for the insight.

    Reply
    • MKE October 12, 2018, 12:58 pm

      If you are afraid of what might happen in the future, you have almost certainly experienced some trauma in the past. This is the “mental problem.”

      I once left my car in a lot without jumper cables. Abnormal for me. Zero degrees and I called a friend . He said, “I don’t think anywhere is open.” I was baffled, but eventually found out he’d never jumped a car in his life! What’s more, he had never, despite being in his mid-30’s ever experienced any form of car issue. He merely filled his tanks and the tires and changed the oil.

      For my part, I had changed out engines, replaced wheels, carburetors, transmissions, catalytic converters. Plenty more and note the use of the plural.

      Our historical buying habits were quite different. He saw a car he liked and bought it. I researched reliability in several ways, looked into vehicle history reports, and took potential purchases to mechanics for in-depth professional evaluation.

      Explaining this carefulness, what I think is minor due diligence to some people, it is apparent they think I have a “mental problem.” It didn’t work, anyway. Hopefully I never buy a car again.

      If life has been rose petals thrown at your feet and money stuffed into your pockets, you will likely expect it to continue. If a few banana peels have appeared underfoot, and grenades tossed into your window, you will come to believe that those things happen. I am not sure of Suze Ormann’s background – I am not a fan – but I would not be at all surprised to learn of financial trauma in her past.

      Reply
  • Tyler October 13, 2018, 7:42 am

    I’m a huge proponent of working hard/lifestyle design and this blog, but this always gets to me:

    “Sure, many of the people most passionate about FIRE tend to be tech workers and doctors who happen to make a lot of money. When people with lower salaries notice this fact, they tune out and assume the ideas won’t work for them. When in fact, they work even better, the further down the income scale you go.”

    Income will always matter. Whether the variable is time or sacrifice, more income means less of either. To be fair, I guess a high income person could be used to high spending so they would technically be sacrificing more, but the lower income person is simply forced to do without because of, well, lower income.

    There are no two ways about it: higher income ensures you meet your basic living expenses far quicker than lower income. Then you have way more time and energy because you’re less stressed to figure out what to do with the excess.

    And as hopeless as it may sound, I think anyone who pursues financial independence is a very self-selecting group. These people have already done the heavy lifting and put copious amounts of time into improving themselves or they wouldn’t have gotten the higher paying jobs to begin with. As you put it many times, all they have to do is be slightly less ridiculous in spending than the majority and they will still come out way ahead. As “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” puts it, quality begins with the person and how they approach anything will end up being how they approach everything. You can impact someone that’s already open ears and willing to learn and improve, but you can’t help someone that isn’t naturally inclined to improve and willing to listen. And people that are stuck in jobs they don’t like almost always fall into the latter so it’s not as simple as “get a better job”.

    Seemingly, someone in a much lower paying job than the majority here has the option of pursuing higher paying work and then they can omit the income argument. But in reality, it’s probably way too complicated than to boil it down to “work harder” in order to for them to improve and advance. Not saying it isn’t possible and doesn’t happen of course.

    Reply
    • dharma bum October 14, 2018, 12:26 pm

      I am truly amazed by the number of attempts to disparage or discredit financial independence.
      As it pertains to early retirement in the “Mustachian” sense, there really are no negatives.
      I truly believe that most detractors are trapped in a brainwashed state. They have not been able to experience the paradigm shift necessary to think beyond their societal pre-programmed construct mentality.
      Simply stated, they just don’t get it yet.
      MMM has addressed the naysayers’ arguments time and time and again with concise, logical, and illustrative explanations and clarifications. Yet the same old negativity about aspects of FIRE that have already been addressed numerous times keep arising.
      I guess those opposed aren’t very attentive or detail oriented.
      I still say that the masses are victims of mainstream brainwashing.
      Enlightenment doesn’t always come easy.
      Reality is harder to see for some than others.
      I also get the sense that MMM is getting somewhat tired of having to repeat himself by readdressing the same old faulty arguments over and over.
      Time to start paying attention, people.
      Paradise awaits!

      Reply
    • Ilona October 15, 2018, 4:59 am

      @Tyler re: “Sure, many of the people most passionate about FIRE tend to be tech workers and doctors who happen to make a lot of money. When people with lower salaries notice this fact, they tune out and assume the ideas won’t work for them. When in fact, they work even better, the further down the income scale you go.”

      Not true. I was working as a scientist and then became a nurse. I also completed a master’s degree. Each career change meant time off work and decreased earning potential. Today, if my employer/company blew up and I did not have a job, I would be just fine and would NOT need to find another job. Why? following MMM ways. My stats: max earning 80000 (Canadian dollars, to boot); house is mortgage free; pension plan fully funded; RRSP (aka IRA) almost fully funded; Tax Free Savings Account almost fully funded; self directed mutual funds looking pretty good. I’m thinking of going from full time to part time –> I don’t want to stop working because I like my community nursing work (very rewarding), my clients/patients seek me out over other colleagues, I have seen my clients achieve their optimum health despite obstacles, I am working with overdose prevention and cannabis prevention for youth and young adults (Canada legalizes marijuana Oct. 17). In conclusion, I am FIRE ready, happy, healthy and sleep well at night. And I am not a doctor or tech. worker :)

      Reply
    • Ms Blaise October 16, 2018, 5:54 pm

      there are real life case stories in the Barefoot Investor of people on low incomes gaining financial independence.

      Reply
      • TO_Ont October 17, 2018, 9:05 am

        I don’t doubt at all that it’s possible. But I frequently hear people argue, with a seemingly straight face, that it’s equally difficult. Which is deeply insulting, both to everyone’s intelligence, and to the people working ten times as hard to make it work by living on minute incomes that are a tiny fraction of what most FIRE people consider minimal.

        Someone who has a 90k income and wants to live on a third of it does not have any actual practical problem whatsoever. They purely have a psychological challenge. You simply can not say the same about someone who is aiming to live on a third of a 25k income.

        Possible, maybe. Worth aiming more towards even if they don’t succeed all the way, yes. To be celebrated, sure.

        But the same? ‘Equally difficult’??? Just as easy??? That’s either willfully stupid or just insulting.

        Reply
        • Ms Blaise October 17, 2018, 4:07 pm

          I think maybe we ought to remember that even lower salaries still make us amongst the wealthiest few percent in the world.

          Reply
  • Michael CPO, From The far side of the planet October 14, 2018, 5:05 pm

    Would be interesting if you did a piece on long term nursing home care retirement costs…options for FIRE folks like ourselves? https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/23/nursing-home-care-can-quickly-deplete-your-retirement-savings.html

    Reply
  • cscs October 15, 2018, 1:41 am

    Seems like the awareness is rising since about 2012/2013, now at roughly 3x since then.

    https://trends.google.com/trends/explore?date=all&geo=US&q=Financial%20Independence

    Reply
  • ANN V CROWLEY October 15, 2018, 7:12 am

    The only point of disagreement from me is you can get those barbells on Craigslist for free- another $100 saved.

    Reply
  • OvertheRainbow October 15, 2018, 8:04 am

    I think Suze makes good points. MMM overlooks the cost of healthcare when it comes to having retirement planning as he has only catastrophic insurance which would not necessarily save a person from having their portfolio wiped out if something bad but not necessarily devastating comes along. Also, educational costs are out of control. Your typical state school is starting to become cost-prohibitive. To call these costs “comically tiny” shows just how out of touch MMM is.

    He also is overly optimistic about market returns. Many so-called FIRE people would not have survived a 2008 crash and would have been forced to pick up some sort of job to create a buffer for their portfolio, hence defeating the purpose.of being supposedly independent.

    That said, I will say that Suze is also out of touch. No one needs 300k per year to live and while I can see needing a larger nest egg that can generate greater than 100 percent working income to offset market downturns or cover murphies, I don’t think it is anywhere near as high why Suze thinks it is.

    Both are pushing their own agendas as both have large sums of income at stake.

    Reply
  • WinterSky October 15, 2018, 8:13 am

    Hey there MMM,
    I’m a pretty average Complainypants in most ways, but I’m still super glad that I came across your blog (via hearing about it from a fellow software engineer, of course) and wanted to thank you for existing among the endless pile of well-meaning advice that never bothers to critique the underlying way we view money and spending.
    As someone who’s pretty young, it wasn’t too long ago that I went through my first round of retirement planning, but alas, I did not come across MMM, and instead I found the far more common advice like Orman’s, the 50/30/20 rule, and such, and I went on my way planning for 40+ years of working and spending 30% of my income on… ???
    Even the retirement calculators I’d used had me saving up to some arbitrary fraction of my pre-retirement income (read: somehow needing more annual income in today’s dollars *than I currently earn*).
    And it’s just amazing how much all of that income-based, lifestyle-inflation-assuming advice warps your perception of spending. I’d thought of myself as pretty inexpensive as someone who wasn’t constantly replacing my wardrobe twice over every year or whatever $15,000 of random shit per year would look like, but with that “minimalist budget” in my head, I did stupid things like buy stuff I didn’t even want that badly “because I can afford it.”
    It was just *assumed* that this chunk of my money *existed to be spent*, so I should buy anything I even remotely wanted until I hit that ceiling, because obviously there are always *things* with *price tags* out there that would make you happier if you found them and bought them.
    It didn’t feel right, but I never saw it so clearly stated until I found MMM. Why am I calculating my lifelong spending needs in terms of a salary I just got a year ago? Why am I assuming that I’m going to work 40 years and might as well make the best of it? Why am I assuming that spending 30% of my income is required to “make the best of it.”? Why the FUCK was no one calling me out harder on BUYING SHIT I DIDN’T REALLY WANT JUST BECAUSE I “HAVE MONEY.”
    And then I found Mr. Money Mustache. Mr. Money Mustache will be having none of those bullshit “wants” that are really just shopping impulses, and he will even take aim at those things you considered “needs” and revealed them for what they were: conveniences I am actively choosing to buy.
    And while I am far from Mustachian, seeing what a real example of frugality looks like has helped me reframe the choices I’m making. Mr. Money Mustache has illuminated the contrast between excessive consumption and minimalist spending, where instead of assuming that more spending means more happiness, no purchase should be made unless it can pass the test “Will buying this contribute more to my long-term self-fullment than NOT buying it?”
    And though I do not strive to be Mr. Money Mustache, I feel like I am going forward with far greater awareness of the lifestyle choices I’m making and the cost that comes with them. I may still choose the new car, the air conditioning, and some random shit here and there, but it will be without the illusion of a “reasonable budget.” They are not “required,” and choosing them will be why I retire older than the Mustachians. Or maybe in a few years, I’ll decide a used car sounds pretty good. Or I’ll find a job closer to home. Not because Mr. Money Mustache told me to, but because he gave me all the tools I needed to evaluate that decision for myself in a way more meaningful than “What’s the most I could spend without burying myself in never-ending debt?”
    So, thanks, Mr. Money Mustache and all the Mustachians out there, for proving that the standard Complainypants lifestyle is not the only choice out there. Don’t let the critics get you down. Just seeing that you all exist is enough to have the rest of us start questioning all the assumptions about spending and retirement that we’s been taking for granted.

    Reply
  • M October 15, 2018, 8:41 am

    I have never been a fan of Suzie Orman, I think she’s trying to deflect the interest in FIRE that has been gaining over last months in the hopes people will still buy her crappy outdated books. She’s supposed to be a “financial expert”, but I read she was ripping on early retirees because they wouldn’t be earning money in the decades after they stopped earning. It’s called compound interest, it’s magical and is completely at odds with her advice.

    Reply
  • SimonP October 15, 2018, 2:47 pm

    You have to give SO credit for figuring out a clever business niche, built around people’s bad habits and poor math skills. She helps people with their financial problems, but she only helps them a little bit so their problems remain chronic, like a virus. A person who has a car payment, a student loan, and no savings and wants to take a resort week in Hawaii is not told to rethink the big picture. Instead he’s just told to build up an emergency fund first, and then take the trip. A person who doesn’t know how to save for retirement is given a confusing lecture about Roth 403bs and how to avoid taxes. That’s certainly the right financial advice if you want repeat business from those people, although maybe it’s not helping them very much.

    Reply
  • Married to a Swabian October 15, 2018, 3:21 pm

    I picked up the New York Times this weekend and was reading through the Sunday Business section, when it REALLY became clear to me, “Holy shit, there are people out there that flush their money down the toilet on a daily basis!”
    The article was about a successful business called “Rent the Runway”, where women can pay $159/mo to rent up to four pieces of designer clothing. If that weren’t anti-Mustachian enough, the article went on to say that customers could get a deal on a fancy wool designer sweater that normally goes for $1275!! For the low low price of just $765!
    Suze must be drinking the cool aid at businesses like this, thus the need for the cool $5 million nest egg.

    Reply
    • TO_Ont October 19, 2018, 9:10 am

      I have met people who know they are throwing money away, but are happy to do it. Sometimes they have enough savings that it’s not dangerous, sometimes they don’t.

      But it’s not really ignorance in the people I talk to, it’s an emotional thing. Some of it is just craving the things the money can buy, but it’s not just that. Being deliberately wasteful with money makes them feel wealthy. It literally gives them pleasure to see themselves being wasteful.

      It’s obviously a value that causes all kinds of problems in society and in individual lives. But it’s not primarily a question of intelligence or education, that I can see (other than maybe more intelligent or financially educated people are more likely to make sure they have savings first before they start burning money).

      But the problem isn’t that people don’t understand they’re being wasteful. The problem is that for many people (in many parts of the world, not just north america) waste is something intrinsically enjoyable for its own sake.

      Reply
  • Randolph Hawkins October 16, 2018, 5:00 am

    I have to say I hate FIRE and I Love it too. Sometimes though I get really really depressed. I’m heading into a point where I’m now responsible for others (wife and hopefully kids soon). I’m realizing how poorly I handled my money the last several years. I’m realizing I could’ve have two to three times what I have in assets if I hadn’t of pissed away so much money. I’m realizinf I’m trapped at my job because of debt and that it will take 10-15 years more if I want to even sniff at FI. It’s the most depressing thing. I wish I knew about this 11 years ago. I used to pat myself on the back for having a 401k cross the six figure mark in my early 30s…then I saw that I wasn’t even close to the level people here are on the path to FI and that if I hadn’t of been an idiot I would be too. I love the possibility of what my eyes have been opened to. I hate the desperation and sadness I feel at not having been aware of it earlier

    Reply
  • Caroline October 16, 2018, 7:33 am

    The further out an idea spreads, the more there will be dissension and alternative opinions — that’s just the numbers. I do think Suze Orman missed a lot of key points about FIRE but if I focus on the good (and I find that’s always helpful) I see that it was a great marketing coup on both sides. The FIRE topic (and Afford Anything podcast) got spread to Suze’s fans, who may not be aware of it, and Suze got exposure to the growing FIRE audience. I don’t listen to a lot of podcasts but when I read all the blowback from the interview I had to listen — that’s good marketing.

    Reply
  • Deanna October 16, 2018, 8:05 am

    I appreciate this article to address Suze’s criticism of FIRE. I believe all of us in this movement are unlikely to be deterred by her beliefs. What concerns me is that for those considering the movement or even just folks considering how much to save for a retirement in their 60’s, I believe her message does a great deal of harm. When people feel like a retirement number is not achievable no matter what they do, it is discouraging. Why save even 5, 10, or 15% for retirement when you know you will never achieve some crazy net worth of $10 million? I am glad the podcast appears to have reinvigorated (not that we needed it) our passion for FIRE; I just hope she hasn’t demotivated others on a different path.

    Reply
  • Mike October 16, 2018, 1:35 pm

    MMM — I believe I see the disconnect here. Once you strip away the scare-tactics and outrageous numbers from the discussion, there is some valid underlying criticism. However, it’s valid only because of the way the FIRE movement is being implemented at the individual level, not due to a fundamental flaw with FI, as you have correctly pointed out. The reality is that there are a lot of scarcity-minded FIREees that are running away from work, toward something they haven’t thought through yet. You’ve seen the issue pop up multiple times — the MMM forums are full of posters who hate their jobs but won’t change them, you just tweeted about the LinkedIn article about “exhausted and anxiety-ridden workers”, many well-known bloggers learned about early retirement because they hated their jobs, and the biggest red flag of all: the NYTimes follow-up FAQ article from 9/11/18 says “Instead of leaving the work force, why not find a more rewarding job? We posed this question to several FIRE adherents, and the short answer was, they didn’t consider that option.”

    So the signs seem pretty clear. While there are a number of well-adjusted, curious, and thoughtful people fixing their lives and increasing happy abundance, there are at least as many scarcity-minded, defeated people who say “wow I only need to be miserable for 15 more years instead of 40? Sign me up! Work sucks!”.

    I believe this is the biggest confusion in the whole FI space, and it’s one that would be great for you to address directly. Taken as a whole, your blog is very clear on this subject, but it still needs to be spelled out clearly and directly for the community. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  • JWo October 17, 2018, 7:01 am

    Hi MM,

    In number 6 above you mention “move to another state or even country in order to qualify for local tuition rates or more reasonable medical rates”. aren’t most of the tuition rates and medical rates based on taxes? If we all quit paying taxes where will these nice amenities come from in the future? There are a lot of people on welfare, which I hate paying for. What will happen to them? FIRE works great, but aren’t we all supposed to be on the team? If we all flock to another state/country it puts pressure on their system because we haven’t been putting into it. How does that work?

    Thanks,
    JWo

    Reply
  • Colleen R. October 17, 2018, 10:20 am

    Thank you, Mr. MMM, for another fabulous post! I agree with many of the comments which mentioned that the “RE” part of “FIRE” is what gets a lot of people outside the movement riled up. After all, how could Suze, or anyone, really, argue with achieving FI? As many comments have stated, FI is a huge risk reducer, it gives you a cushion, options, breathing room. Of course, it’s the “RE” part that makes for a good story, a la the NYT article. A story about someone who achieved FI and just kept working wouldn’t be as interesting to the average reader, as opposed to some interesting story about a millennial who “retires” at 30. We became FI several years ago. Since then, we have been careful with our money and my husband has continued to work, because he enjoys it, we value the company health insurance, etc. However, he recently negotiated a LOWER salary than offered in return for certain concessions. I am mostly a stay-at-home mom, but pick up part-time contract work from time to time doing projects that interest me. FI has given us the luxury of doing this.

    Reply
  • Dave October 18, 2018, 10:49 am

    FYI for those of us that prefer some science behind the happiness goal MMM has been teaching us for years, the #1 requested course amoung students at Yale University, which has been adapted to the MOOC platform Coursera.com, is The Science of Well-Being tough by Yale professor Laurie Santos. It’s research based proof of what FIRE can be from a happiness maximization perspective. Check it out: https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being/home/welcome (free!)

    Reply

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