Years after I first discovered the concept of FIRE via a Marketwatch article, the topics on financial independence and early retirement have become increasingly more visible in the mainstream media.
This is wonderful!
Realizing that I could afford to live the rest of my life in a different manner was life-changing, and I want more people to benefit from that message. I started a site of my own to help other people like me realize that they don’t actually need $10 Million to retire comfortably, and I’m grateful for the help from websites, magazines, and newspapers that get more views in a single day than this site will in a year.
It’s great that more people are learning about what it means to be financially independent. Daily commuters are discovering that it might be possible to stop commuting decades earlier than imagined.
However, too often, readers are turned off after only a few paragraphs or even a few sentences. Take the opening lines of the Wall Street Journal article entitled “The New Retirement Plan: Save Almost Everything, Spend Virtually Nothing,” that is, if you haven’t already rejected the concept based on the title alone.
“Sylvia Hall wants to retire at age 40. Her dream has a price: brown bananas. The 38-year-old Seattle lawyer is on a strict budget as she tries to hit her goal of amassing $2 million in assets by 2020. That means saving about 70% of her after-tax income and setting firm spending limits in every part of her life.”
Firm spending limits.
If this is my first exposure to the concept of financial independence, I’d say it’s for the birds. The birds that are cool with mushy, brown bananas.
No, thank you.
Mainstream Media Misses the Mark on the FIRE Movement
The articles I read in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and other highly regarded sources tend to repeat the same themes.
They highlight drastic measures made to decrease spending as if extreme frugality is the only way to find financial freedom.
Potential risks are emphasized as though early retirees have never considered them.
The benefits of a life less ordinary are paired with a gigantic asterisk.
Important details are left out. When the public realizes that the person profiled still earns an income or is married to a high-earning spouse, they rightfully feel deceived.
The wrong people are being profiled. Some effort needs to be made to find retired individuals or couples whose lifestyles are not at least partially funded by active or spousal income.
Straw man arguments are set up and quickly knocked down. Numbers are fudged. Facts are glossed over.
I see a bevy of problems throughout these articles, and I’ll attempt to address them one by one, and will suggest how mainstream media articles could be improved.
We are Very Different People
The articles tend to highlight how we behave differently than the average person, but don’t do as good of a job demonstrating how different FIRE bloggers and aspiring early retirees are from one another.
We are men and women in our twenties, thirties, forties, and fifties. Some are married; some are single. Some have no kids; others have five. Many earn generous incomes, but some choose to earn less. Some can’t wait to retire ASAP, and others hope to attain financial independence and never stop working.
Different things make us tick and we plan different budgets to keep ourselves happy. There’s the extreme of Early Retirement Extreme, the fatFIRE budgets that many of my readers plan to have, and everything in between.
We come in different colors, shapes, and sizes from all around the world. The WSJ article laudably led with a female minority, but focused on her extremely frugal nature, when her goal of $2 Million should support spending of up to about $80,000 a year, which is not exactly a barebones lifestyle, especially for one individual. It’s significantly more than most households earn or spend, with or without the brown bananas.
For the record, I don’t have a problem with brown bananas. There are uses for them; I love banana bread! I just don’t seek out brown bananas or buy them that way.
We are Not All Frugal
To retire decades earlier than our counterparts, we do need to save a much higher percentage of our incomes. Live on half of what you bring home and you can go from broke to financially independent in about fifteen years, depending on market conditions.
A high savings rate can be achieved in one of two ways: spending less or earning more (or a combination of both). A blue collar job may require some serious sacrifices in the spending department.
Conversely, a high-income job may allow for a generous six-figure budget while still saving most of one income. If there is a second income in the mix, economies of scale can make high savings rates even more feasible without budgeting or perceived sacrifice.
I reached financial independence with a stay-at-home spouse, two kids, and no specific goal or knowledge of the concept. Compared to the average American I lived pretty well, but compared to the average anesthesiologist, I spent quite a bit less. We have been relatively frugal, but only in relation to other physician families.
We Recognize the Risks
Risk is inherent in everything we do. In one normal day, I risked slipping in the shower, crashing my car, being sued for medical malpractice, and slicing or burning my hands. In other words, I got up, showered, went to work, did my job, came home, and made dinner for my family.
These calculated risks are a part of our everyday lives. I’m not paralyzed by the fear that something going terribly wrong at any moment, but I realize that not everything will always go according to plan.
The same is true of those taking a chance on an early retirement.
If blindly abiding by the 4% rule of thumb, there’s a chance they’ll run out of money in about 30 years. If the day they retire matches the worst 3% of times to retire in modern history and they make no adjustments (like spending less or earning something), the odds are good that the money won’t last.
There’s also the risk that the future will look worse than any time in the last century. There is the risk of catastrophic unforeseen events.
How do we protect ourselves? We insure against the things we can’t easily pay for or afford to replace. We consider working one more year or several more years to build a larger safety cushion.
Some of us plan for a budget well above our current level of spending or look for “fluff” in the current budget that we know we could cut out. We know how we could take advantage of geographic arbitrage in lower cost of living areas.
We recognize other risks. The risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle sitting in a cubicle. The damage that a stressful can do to our hearts and minds. The risk of not being available when our kids need us most. The risk of running out of time to pursue the passions we hold outside of the workplace.
There is risk in retiring early. There is risk in working too long in a job we don’t feel called to do. The key is to balance those risks and minimize the likelihood of regret.
We are More Rigorous and Realistic With the Numbers
In a Bloomberg Opinion piece, author Jared Dillian describes his version of FIRE math:
“The FIRE folks have done the math and figured out that if you save that 50 percent and invest it in the stock market, using generous actuarial assumptions, that pile of money will grow even as you sell assets over time to finance consumption.
The goal is for you to bounce the last check you write.”
Which is it?
The pile of money will grow as you age?
Or that it will shrink until you die penniless?
These are two mutually exclusive and very different outcomes. You can’t have it both ways, Jared.
I plan to watch my portfolio grow most years and am planning accordingly, but I know people who subscribe to the “can’t take it with you” philosophy and plan to spend to zero.
And about those generous actuarial assumptions. In the footnote, he says that a 25-year old with $10,000 in savings putting aside $1,000 a month would need to earn 18% a year before taxes and inflation. If we’ve figured out how to save half our incomes, most of us are saving a hell of a lot more than $1,000 a month. And no one in their right mind is using 18% as a realistic return. It would be optimistic to expect half that.
Some assumptions from the articles are much more pessimistic. Another Bloomberg Opinion piece from London-based columnist Lionel Laurent demonstrates that saving £4,160 per year at 0% interest would result in £230,000 after 55 years. At 2% interest, you’d have £430,000. Most of us, however, expect investment returns to give positive real returns, particularly over the course of five decades, rather than assuming returns that won’t even keep up with inflation.
He recognizes that returns have been better recently, stating “even the S&P 500’s annualized total return of 14 percent over the past five years would only turn into a million dollars if there was $600,000 there in the first place.”
The rule of 72 (which is actually closer to 70) tells me that 5 years at 14% would result in a doubling of that money to $1.2 Million, and that’s without additions during those five years, which of course, someone striving for financial independence would be making.
There’s more “fuzzy math” in the first Bloomberg article.
“FIRE seems to work because the stock market has gone straight up. A bear market will change that. Even if stocks do return 8 percent to 12 percent over time, it’s not going to be any fun living on a shoestring budget and watching your nest egg decline in value by 30 percent to 50 percent. That will be the point in time in which most FIRE adherents get online and start looking at job ads.”
This assumes one is already living on a spartan budget, a fact that applies to a subset of early retirees, but certainly not all. And if an early retiree experiences 8% to 12% gains in the first 5 to 10 years of retirement, it’s going to be smooth sailing even with a 50% decline after that.
Having read every word my Ph.D. economist friend has written in his massive safe withdrawal rate series, I know the biggest danger is very poor inflation-adjusted returns in the first decade after retiring.
We’re planning a budget that could be cut dramatically in the case of a black swan event. Many of us who have managed to squirrel away tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars per year have skills that could be employed to earn money in some capacity again if necessary or desired.
I wouldn’t go back to anesthesia after 5 or 10 years outside of the field, but I’ve already found another way to make money (writing), and I’ll bet I could come up with a dozen more if push came to shove.
We Don’t All Quit Working
The gregarious Carl, a.k.a. Mr. 1500 of 1500 Days was the headliner of the New York Times article “How to Retire in Your 30s With $1 Million in the Bank.”
Nevermind that he retired in his 40s with $2 Million in the bank and he and his wife now have more twice that.
I know Carl well and he’s always been very transparent about his income, luck, good job, and a continued interest in meaningful work. He doesn’t hide the fact that his wife Mindy, after staying home for years to raise their daughters, has found work she loves as a part-time real estate agent and writer and podcast host for Bigger Pockets.
In a New York Times article profiling a half-dozen families, every detail of his financial life is not going to be disclosed, but people take major issue when they learn of these details from his site or from hearsay.
Many FIRE bloggers earn an income online before and after they retire from their day jobs. Some are married to wage earners, too. I have no issue with them choosing to do so; I’m making the same choice.
The authors of these articles are choosing known experts in the early retirement space. They find them because they’ve written books on the subject, have earned six-figures from blogs and/or podcasts, and their articles appear at the top of the search engine results.
These are not the people that should be featured. Showcasing those who retired from one thing to earn significant income in some other manner only serves to make it appear as though true early retirement is a pipe dream and can’t be achieved without additional passive or active income no matter what the experts try to tell you.
If you want to learn about do-it-yourself investing, passive real estate, the backdoor Roth, tax loss harvesting, or generous, tax-efficient giving, I’m a great resource.
If you want to learn what true early retirement is like, don’t ask me. I’m retired not retired.
Find the True FIRE Walkers
While I’m happy to lend a quote and earn a link for any mainstream media FIRE article, the public would be better served to hear from those who have nothing to gain from such a feature.
For every FIRE blogger earning five or six figures from their online endeavors (there might be 10 to 20 of us), there are dozens earning little or nothing.
And for every non-monetized or low traffic FIRE blog or podcast, there are thousands of ordinary people who are well on their way to financial independence or already reaping its benefits in an early retirement of their own.
These people don’t appear on the first page of Google, but they’re hiding in plain sight online. You can find them on forums like Early-Retirement.org and Bogleheads. They’re Redditors trading stories on r/financialindependence, r/fatfire, and r/leanfire.
They’re on Facebook chatting on the ChooseFI, FIRE Drill, and fatFIRE groups. They’ve taken part in an anonymous Post-FI Notes interview on my site.
I encourage the journalists writing for popular media outlets to become familiar with these groups and look for individuals and families whom their readers will find more easily relatable. Those without blogs and podcasts. Those with more fascinating lives that don’t include writing roundup posts, reviewing roboadvisors, or mounting defenses against the pompous attacks of self-proclaimed personal finance gurus.
Use realistic math and demonstrate how the numbers can work for you if you understand and mitigate known risks. Recognize that frugality is just one of many tools in the toolbox and that FIRE aficionados are cut from many different cloths.
I enjoy reading about this movement from some of my favorite news sources, but I cringe when the first two lines are enough to turn almost everyone away from it before even getting a chance to understand it.
I’ve had your attention long enough. Now, please excuse me. I’ve got some banana bread to bake.
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50 thoughts on “Mainstream Media Misses the Mark on the FIRE Movement”
Good points. The media will always do a poor job trying to summarize a complex topic in a soundbite. But I think the public perception is also hurt by the fact that FIRE has no single definition – it’s a moving target for some, and defined in many ways. That doesn’t invalidate its ideas (saving, frugality, SWP, etc) but makes it easy to dismiss. Ex, the ones advertising themselves as FI often have been FI for little more than a year, or started supplementing with blog income, etc. It devalues the purity of the message.
I blog myself (not on FI) so I understand the need to use some affiliate links (blogging has hosting costs, and it’s a lot of work!) but some people go overboard and that leads to mistrusting the underlying message (people are really good at sensing when they’re being marketed to!).
The FIRE movement needs more longitudinal case studies (examples). In the medical field, you wouldn’t try to say wine benefits health with a study that tracked outcomes for only 1 year (although media tries to do this!). Many of the “successful” FIRE examples are less than 10 years, which doesn’t really prove anything about whether the methods work in the long-run.
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I enjoyed the article very much. It points out that FIRE is more of a philosophy than a destination. While I am not retired, I could be.
For me, FIRE was a possible escape hatch, if all else fails. Knowing that it was there for me gave me the confidence to recraft a professional career in medicine, one more to my liking. FIRE gives me the courage to even explore new opportunities and take some new chances. FIRE allowed me to abandon the position that burned me out.
Well written article and direly needed- I hope it shows up high in Google searches.
Between a balanced & nuanced fully developed ideology vs. sensationalism – combined with short attention spans of listeners and readers – sensationalism wins.
What these people don’t realize is that real lives are involved here. And instead of spending time trying to find out facts, superficial description of viewpoints with brown banana type examples are given. Let’s call it Brown Banana journalism. This is an extension of need to fill space – started with 24 hours news cycle, and now useless garbage that passes for meaningless internet articles.
Thanks for the thoughtful article, PoF.
Prior comments said it all regarding FIRE in the media – not much to add.
I will, however, expand on the use of brown bananas:
peel a couple, break ’em in half, freeze ’em overnight, then toss in the blender
add enough soy milk to cover them
1 heaping spoonful of peanut butter
1 heaping spoonful of unsweetened cocoa powder
Blend to perfection. Favorite treat for the kids after they walk home from school.
yeah, we little guys never get any love. i did swing shift work in a factory but invested well to get here.
Epic post! A lot of great points here and judging by all the comments and responses, you stirred up a good conversation (:
While I for one do enjoy getting the occasional mention in the media, I try to share more realistic points. I actually covered this in a recent post about the need for more realism in the media when it comes to the FIRE movement.
I’m a sucker for any good Hawaiian danger sign…those usually should say “this is where the good stuff is!”
I think the “Retire Early” line drags people down the FI hole first, but its also the clickbait that causes harsh reactions from people who refuse to make the choice. Hopefully after a while, interested people discover what they really are looking for is meaning and purpose in life and can’t find it in their job (big surprise FIRE gets labeled with accountants, engineers, and finance folks). It seems physicians get up there too with all the administrative crap your profession now deals with.
People *can* feel hoodwinked when stories come out like Two Teachers Retire at 30 – then fail to mention years of triple digit investment returns from the once in a generation sale on Las Vegas Real Estate. You mention the other examples like glossing over a 5% income earning spouse.
There’s no cheating the math. It takes income, expenses, time, and investment returns to make FI work. FI is for everyone and what each person does with FI is for them.
I think some of the “backlash” is that FIRE goes against the “American Dream” which is to go for yours and get paid. In the words of the Wu Tang Clan: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. Often the picture painted is someone who’s got a decent 6 figure income who lives really frugally and now can retire early. I bet if you’re the person with a mid 5 figure income reading that article you’re thinking: If I had that income I’d do x, y, and z. not live like I do now and retire early.
As someone who hasn’t fully bought into the FIRE concept myself and definitely not saving anywhere near the 70% I do think there’s a bit of a snobbery from the “woke” FI people towards those of us that have a slight materialistic streak. For me I want to know that one day should I decide to drop 100k on a Porsche I can do it. (not there now LOL!)
That being said I think there’s a a lot to learn from the FIRE and the online personal finance community. I definitely owe a lot to WCI, your site and the others for helping me create a financial plan that provides happiness but is sustainable. I think the message needs to be that there are multiple paths to financial freedom and success and you have to chose what works for you.
Good points, PICU MD. I try not to paint myself too much into any corner by avoiding defining myself as someone who would never spend X on a vehicle or never fly first class, etc… to each, their own.
I can tell you what we’re doing right now, what we might do in the future, and the fact that our investments will support six figure annual spending if we so choose.
My thoughts on my pending retirement have evolved since I first discovered FIRE. I won’t be able to keep up the current publishing pace on this site while considering myself a retired person. I’ll be “retired not retired.”
>>For me I want to know that one day should I decide to drop 100k on a Porsche I can do it.
There are two ways to look at this 100K “math problem”.
1. If you have 2.5M+ in assets, it will generate 100K PER YEAR. You could pay cash for one of those cars every year (and technically it would be less than 100K in future years, because you could sell the previous year’s car).
2. If you don’t have 2.5M in assets, and you drop 100K (even if you pay cash), you are now losing the compounding value of that money. Conservatively speaking, that 100K can double every 10 years. If you do this at the age of 40, by 60 (20 years later), that 100K purchase costs you 400K!!! (because 100K would have turned into 200K in 10 years, then doubled again to 400K in 20 years). This is not hypothetical either… this is real math. Oh… and by age 70… 30 years later, that car cost you 800K.
This is the math of FIRE… really FI. If you put the work into saving the money early on, your assets will buy most anything you want later.
Excellent article, loved this one. FIRE needs more positive publicity!! 🙂
POF this is a great post! One of your best yet IMO. I am not a doc (Big Law atty) but I enjoy your writing and site. It has been a pleasure to follow along your journey. Working two jobs with a family cannot be easy. Keep writing. Keep inspiring. Keep spreading the FIRE msg to high income earners. Cheers.
It’s hard to please everyone with the big time articles and I get that. However, like you mentioned if buying brown bananas was my first interaction with FIRE I’d be ashes. The articles try to steer towards FIRE or away from it. I get some of that derives from needing clicks and pageviews from a big company but, they are missing the mark. A lot of it seems like piggy backing off the success of other articles and pushing a post out quickly to ride the wave.
Thanks for the fire drill Facebook group shout out! Note on Sylvia since she was on our podcast and I know more of her story. Her $80k budget reflects spending that she does to support family members. She’s working a few years past her personal fire number so she can help family with medical and personal expenses in retirement as she does today. I love that they chose her as the headliner and wanted to provide that background since she’s a rockstar!
That would be This Episode: Including Family Support in your FIRE plans with Sylvia Hall
I’m sure there’s a lot more in her story that would have been great for the WSJ article.
Thanks for sharing!
I saw your link on reddit and thought I’d comment which I never do but the article and premise struck a chord.
One of the biggest problems is that people don’t want to hear about people amassing wealth. Deep down many people want wealth and riches, but hearing a rich person earning a lot of money talking about earning more money to retire isn’t going to work for a lot of people.
It may work for a select group on the fatfire reddit (and even then there are weird, rude comments) or people who read Barrons but not for the majority.
I am actually going through FIRE fatigue in a way. I am tired of how the movement doesn’t showcase international stories, I am tired of the lack of showcasing of diversity and people of colour and I am also tired of how some bloggers clearly have been able to retire because of blogging not because they magically are eating brown bananas.
I read the Journal article and I was excited to see that one of the key sources was African-American and a woman. As an African woman, this spoke to me. However, it predictably became about not having a family, not eating properly and not living life.
There has to be a balance for people who are high achievers and want to be financially successful. I am hoping Fat Fire can be this. We will see.
Thanks for the great read! I needed to see something more level headed after the slew of poorly researched FIRE articles that are popping up.
There are a lot of people that make poor assumptions about how we live in deprivation, or have some fantastical ideas about future market returns. It’s a shame that these authors have been running with these assumptions without doing any real research. They do a disservice by focusing on old bananas and sharing Netflix accounts when lifestyle changes like that hardly factor into the equation.
It’s too bad they aren’t doing more research, because who knows, they might actually want to jump on board 🙂
So….50’s still count as FIRE? Somehow, I never saw that in the media headlines. Thanks for the shout-out. Great post. (BTW, I’m supposed to be in USA Today on 11/7, will be interesting to see the slant).
Tomorrow? I look forward to reading that, as well.
Thanks for the great prospective. I have found that those who have not done what I have done, like to point out that it is because of some outside factor. It is never because they spend too much money. In my case it’s because I earned more than them, I didn’t have their student loan burden, I don’t live in a high cost of living area like they do, I didn’t “have” to put my kids in private school because of living in a “bad” school district, and the list goes on. It is never their own fault that they are behind.
I remember speaking up in a meeting saying that I relieved stress in my life by paying off all my debt and becoming debt free. One guy came up to me and actually got mad at me and was cussing at me during the break like I was some horrible person for paying off my debt early. The only thing I could figure was he was jealous because he couldn’t figure out how to do it himself. He was nearing retirement, just got a divorce and had not enough in savings. But why was he mad at me because he doesn’t have enough? I guess I make a good scapegoat.
I would think people would be happy for you if you can FIRE. Many times though, that is not the case. They instead will throw rocks at you.
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Thanks for such a great overview on this topic. Money is, and always will be, a very emotional topic.
I really wish they would focus more on the FI part rather than the RE, but of course, they wouldn’t get as many readers.
It seems that the WSJ piece has now been reduced to talking about brown bananas. Which is really unfortunate, because brown bananas don’t get enough love. In fact, I have a bunch of bananas that are in the process of browning right now….the kids are eagerly awaiting their chocolate chip banana bread later this week!
I mentioned it in the comments above, but we unintentionally end up with brown bananas all the time. Those go to the freezer and are eventually turned into bread. Try some toasted coconut in there sometime.
Wait a minute. What’s wrong with brown bananas??? The browner the banana, the sweeter the fruit!
Just don’t eat rotten bananas!
Yeah, I think the mainstream fake news media want to sensationalize everything. They’ll show the extremes to get people interested and highly emotional on these touchy subjects.
Funny thing is, my blog name is Dr. McFrugal, but my household annual spending is definitely on the high side. Gotta live life and enjoy it. Being selectively and relatively frugal is good enough for FIRE for most physicians!
Thanks for the fun read!
This is a really important distinction. I live in a neighborhood where people who are making $700,000 can’t take a $400,000 job because they have fixed obligations of cars, schools, mortgages, home projects, and habits that tie them to a $700,000 job they hate. Forget retirement, for high-income folks, making a few changes could allow them more job mobility and an ability to write their own ticket in a dream job.
There are a lot of reasons to pursue financial independence beyond RE. The above is one.
Great article. The media does what they do. Accurate reporting is not the goal. Creating controversy sells ads and keeps readers engaged. Sins of omission are rampant. Convenient details are usually omitted. Most stories on FIRE only represent a small portion of the community.
I have my issues with the retire early portion of the FIRE formula. That seems to be where the media spend their time. They point out that folks aren’t really retired. Well, duh! Do you think a thirty-something person is going to sit on the couch for the next fifty plus hears eating bonbons and binging on Netflix? I don’t think so.
But that’s a much better story than telling how people prepare to spend their time doing what they love and creating multiple sources of passive income while preparing. How boring!
The click bait works. I had 3 separate friends send me the articles. They all know my philosophy of financial Independence being key to so many other things. It was nice of them to send it but I could not help thinking the same things you were. That this is an inaccurate representation of so many people out there.
Maybe I will ponder it more. Today is my first day on a 2 month hiatus. We are off to New Zealand today.
I wonder what crazy people attempt to retire with 5 kids? That doesn’t seem like a wise idea…..said more people than I can shake a stick at. 😉
I’ve said it before, after 30+ years with the same company, they handed my dad an early retirement package before retirement age. That’s the risk I’ve seen first hand, and the early retirement bet I’m hedging for/against. When someone younger will do the role for less money, why hire someone who will probably leave in a few years, and will want tons of vacation time (based on previous company and years worked)? If I save and invest well, like my parents did, if that happens, I have a back up plan.
I work in a different industry than my dad, and have seen buy-outs, change overs etc that show me even more clearly that I am unlikely to have a 30+ years with one company career. When there were rumors of layoffs, everyone was super stressed. I have my emergency fund and found that job, I was confident that if it was my time to go I’d be ok and find another job, because I’m working on the Financial Independence part. Peace of mind is wonderful.
I’ll be writing an entire post about risk, but I missed a big one that you highlighted. The risk of relying on a job, which may not be as secure as you think.
I thought I was very secure in my first “permanent job,” until the place fell on shaky financial ground and ultimately went bankrupt.
I was at a place where our results were improving but the board of directors weighed the cost of our progress with liabilities and it was a balancing of the budget, not anything else that got the site shut down.
Ever since then, emergency fund, and and idea of which friends or family I could stay with the night before an interview at a new place if it’s needed has kept me confident in weathering whatever comes my way. 🙂
When I told my wife about FIRE she had the same response as one of these journalists. Unbelieving and skeptical. Skeptical of everything. It took some time to show her the beauty of striving for FI.
Now that I think on it, people like MMM and ERE were huge turn offs for her. I found their stories fascinating and parts I would emulate. She thought they were all crazy people. Austere. There was nothing there she could relate to so the FIRE story didnt take.
You are highlighting a similar complaint with how these articles are written. It seems that the journalists themselves are skeptical and even scornful of FIRE and so cherry pick examples that will surely show a more extreme version that is harder to relate to. Plus the outright misinformation you highlighted with their math is deceicing!
FI is a lifestyle choice. We choose to live on less than we earn. With doing so it is pretty much guaranteed that we will Find FI, it is just a matter of when.
I can identify. I was struck by the FIRE concept but also realized that I wasn’t going to lead a life that looks much like that of the bloggers you mention.
I started this site to help people more like me realize that FI and RE are entirely possible without drastic changes. You can live better than the average family and still reach rapid FI with a physician’s income.
Like a lot of FI adherents, I’m a big proponent of personal responsibility. It’s an intoxicating feeling and I love it. Unfortunately, it’s also what causes a lot of us to seem “arrogant” to others. Differing perspectives on personal responsibility is a root cause of conflict between people.
My wife is comfortable reacting to life rather than taking charge. She’s also nurturing and much more empathic than I (doesn’t have such high personal responsibility expectations of herself or others).
I embrace FI and the community like every day is Christmas. My wife’s nature is to nurture and make a life out of reacting to external circumstances. My nature is to be free and in control.
Last night we realized that, much like POF’s article on Frugalism vs Minalism, my wife (frugal) reluctantly follows along my (minimal) FI path using negative deprivation thoughts to get there, while I use optimistic thoughts. I’ve walked through the door and she’s stuck in the doorway. I love it on the other side (no feelings of deprivation), but can’t seem to convince her to walk through (on so many different topics).
Wife: It’s too (cold or hot) outside.
Me: It’s so (cold or hot) outside. I love it. It makes me feel alive.
Wife: That blouse is so cute. I really want it and I waited a week like FI says and I still want it but I didn’t order it because, I guess I agree with FI that rampant consumerism is wrecking our environment. But I still want it.
Me: Good thing you still have a 100+ other blouse\top choices. I personally love my wardrobe of a couple pair of shorts, a few tshirts, and chaco sandals. I never think about clothes. One less burden.
It seems there are strong biological\societal forces at work. For reluctant FI women, it is the hard to watch other women\families being taken care of by a spouse who seems to love nothing more than to provide materially in abundance without asking why. These reluctant FI women are left wondering why they and their family are not worth being taken care of with abundance also…without the burden of having to ask why.
It’s rare, but I love it when I see beautiful smart women who have every biological\societal reason to expect to be provided for at a high level, but embrace and thrive living intentionally at a much lower level. For FI men of logic and reason, we want our women to be “above” the biological\societal urges.
We hate that our wives would think they are less worthy and we really don’t like being thought of as substandard providers. We clearly see the fallacy of playing the conventional game and we want our wives to see that fallacy also.
For reluctant FI men, it can be blissful ignorance, but I assume it’s usually ego and societal expectations…not wanting others to think of us as sub-standard earners\providers. There’s no doubt driving a big truck rather than a Prius pushes some primitive biological buttons for us…and for a lot of women too.
The FI path and marriage can be difficult to navigate. This is very timely given my own empty nest marital strains and MMM’s divorce news (https://twitter.com/mrmoneymustache/status/1069573918124531714?s=12).
The kid years were the best for my wife and I. The four of us moving as one coherent unit was the best time of our lives. Take advantage of these years. Travel often.
I was prepared for our kids to leave the nest eventually, but what I didn’t realize is that they emotionally leave much much earlier as they try to figure themselves out…all the while still physically living among us. It’s brutal. I’m an NPR listening, enlightened, non job focused, non sports focused, motivated communicator and was confident “we” could navigate this. What I mistakenly assumed is that all parties involved would be interested in trying.
Our photos randomly rotate through on our screen saver in the kitchen. My wife and I constantly comment on the photos. We love it. I call it my Harry Potter mirror and I can watch it for long stretches. Our kids never comment on the photos and are reluctant to be pulled into conversations about them. It makes them uncomfortable. Like when someone they haven’t seen for years tells them how much they’ve changed. They don’t relate to the “kid” versions of themselves.
Having kids are wonderful but often strain the marriage. Fathers want more time and energy than they are getting from their wives and often see time and energy as a choice. As the kids turn to teens, fathers expectations lean more towards moving teens on and out with adult like personal responsibility expectations. Mothers strain to nurture and shield the kids from the fathers grown up expectations, creating even more strain in the marriage. Then there’s biology and all kinds of external factors. It’s a challenge.
Mainstream media, just like any entity involved in publicity, wants the catchy headlines and controversial titles.
Very few want to give an honest description of any subject because it likely would not generate views, clicks, Nielson scores, etc. Publicity, good or bad, sells. When it effects the bottom line, then editors will push for titles that attract attention like Lawyer Needs to Eat Brown Bananas to Retire.
Public perception of FIRE hopefully does not solely rest on these flashy titles. Hopefully the takeaway is that as a society we are spending too much and delaying or jeopardizing our retirement because of it. Those that get it won’t we be dissuaded by mainstream media. And those that don’t likely never will regardless of what source they read.
I’m guilty of clickbait titles, too, but I do my best to deliver content that presents ideas in a fair light. Weigh the pros, the cons, and show how FIRE doesn’t have to mean shopping for 10 cent bananas.
To be completely honest, we do use brown bananas. We buy bunches of yellow bananas a couple times a week and not all of them get eaten in time. The brown ones go in the freezer, and we make banana bread when the pile gets to be large. I say “we,” but it’s almost always my wife. I did make a tasty batch with some toasted coconut once, though. She likes to add chocolate chips. And my boys eat it up.
I think FIRE as a concept has always been around. The internet has allowed us to find each other. FIRE is a threat to consumerism which supports a large chunk of the economy. Hang in there.
Completely agree. We live on 30% of our income (about to become 40-50). While I am a high income earner I’ve never felt like we lacked to anything.
And I think that one way to financial independence is earning passive income that’s stable. A great example of this is real estate. Why is it heresy to earn money and have enough invested away – or some combination of the two?
And I completely agree that these people need to talk to other people that are on the journey and are more relatable than the examples that they often give.
Thanks for reminding us of all of this,
I think these negative pieces in the big media outlets are staring because they see the movement as a threat. They looked into it and see that most of us use index funds as a strategy. Low fees equals less money for them. And we also, for the most part, tell folks they don’t need a financial adviser. These things, if they expanded to the masses, would hurt the “financial industrial complex” (I made that up).
How refreshing: getting to read the PoF posts right after they’re published, thanks to the different time zone in Australia! In any case, thanks for this post! Exactly my thinking but you put it much more eloquently. I sometimes wonder if the features of FIRE in the popular media help or hurt the public image of the FIRE community. Thanks for the mention of my FIRE SWR series! We certainly do a lot more careful analysis than Suze O. who’s just making up numbers!
So you retired on “only” $3 Million or so, and are now traveling the world with your family? Spending without earning? Is it possible?
Just be careful of those crocodiles, scary snakes, and poisonous spiders. Danger and risk are lurking everywhere down there.
And thank you for your careful analyses. They have helped give me the confidence to follow in your footsteps next year.