Share your FIRE with others!
If you’re a regular reader, you’re already familiar with the concept of FIRE. If you’re not, then a) welcome! and b) pull up a chair, eh. FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early. This movement got a lot more popular thanks to the internet. There are different types of FIRE, ranging from lean to fat: I wrote about them over here. (Personally, I’m a big fan of lean-FIRE, since that lets you peace out a lot sooner, and at a much younger age.)
Let’s say you’re on board with the FIRE mentality, and you want to get your friends and family involved, so you wouldn’t be alone in this journey. This is the part where things get tricky… It’s possible to get others interested, but it’s very difficult to get them to go in all the way. Here is why.
First, there’s the strong taboo against discussing big money issues with those close to you. If they’re worse off than you are, then your advice may not be applicable, and showing your cards might generate envy and damage your relationship. That’s partly why I kept my mouth shut about my own lean-FIRE journey until I actually accomplished it: as social embarrassments go, publicly admitting that you failed your retirement dream is tougher than, say, admitting you still haven’t finished writing your novel.
It may be different in other countries, but in my personal experience, our society has made it awkward to discuss your money goals and dreams, aside from maybe complaining about high gas prices and/or credit cards. Merely mentioning the idea of early retirement might mark you as an eccentric (or a weirdo) for bringing up such a strange topic.
Secondly, not everybody wants to escape the rat race. There are some very rare (and borderline mythological) people who love their jobs and want to spend as much time as possible doing them. (I know, I too find it hard to believe they exist.) There are far more people who are either neutral or not happy about their jobs, but whose programming runs too deep. From the moment we’re born, we’re bombarded with our society’s blueprint: go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, work till you’re 60-something, then enjoy 10 years of retirement, assuming you’ve saved enough. (And many people don’t…)
Not everyone gets bombarded by these messages equally, and not everyone takes them seriously. For some of us, it’s easier to break out of this one-size-fit-all model through some combination of cynicism, brainstorming, entrepreneurship, or following other people’s examples. For me personally, the catalysts were the excellent blog Early Retirement Extreme, and Tim Ferriss’s groundbreaking book, The 4-Hour Workweek. (Full disclaimer: that’s an affiliate link; the proceeds help run this blog.) That book taught me the concept of geographic arbitrage, which is how I ended up living in Quebec City, at the edge of the world.
Those who are still stuck in the consumerism Matrix might be bewildered by the notion of living lean, of not chasing the newest iPhones or cars, of saving and investing. When people outside my friend circle hear that I retired at age 34, they laugh as if it were some bad joke, and wonder what kind of scam I’m selling. (The Wall Street Journal comment section was not kind to me. Heh.)
You can’t save them all. In many ways, the FIRE movement is a bit like a cult, though probably not a religion. That goes double for lean-FIRE: we have strange beliefs, we eat simple food, we shun flashy displays of material wealth, etc. (Not unlike Puritans, though usually much more openminded and accepting.) I would love it if our society gave the FIRE crowd a bigger megaphone, a better opportunity to reach out to others and move the Overton window in our general direction. Alas, until and unless that happens, walking up to others and trying to sell them on the notion of retiring early through a lot of hard work and sacrifice could be mighty hard. Not impossible, mind you, just hard.
The third obstacle is that even if someone is open to discussing money, and even if they can escape the mind trap of consumerism, their end goal might not be FIRE. I’m obviously a bit biased, but I think that FIRE, and especially lean-FIRE, is one of the hardest accomplishments one can achieve. It’s at the very end of the bell curve – a radical lifestyle that requires deliberate sacrifices and long-term planning. It’s not for everyone.
It’s possible (and perhaps even likely) that even if you get another person on your side, they won’t want to go all the way to the FIRE land – and that’s okay. Merely learning how to achieve a positive net worth, or how to save their finite time on this earth, will still be a big improvement. Besides that, FIRE is a wishy-washy, ambiguous term. Typically, the “RE” part means retiring much earlier than the world expects you to. (In my case, at age 34.) But if someone retired at age 60 instead of 65, that’s also technically FIRE. My blog is aimed at the younger crowd, but if someone, somewhere, adopts these principles to claw back even just one year of their life, it will be worthwhile.
Truth be told, I personally haven’t converted a single other person to FIRE, but a lot of that is simply because I didn’t really try to. (Social taboos, remember?) Some of the stuff I wrote and said might have helped a few folks in my social circle. When I sent out the “goodbye forever” email to Amazon’s investing mailing list just before I quit, I got a lot of positive replies. Some of them claimed that my advice helped them simplify their finances, though they ultimately remained in the rat race. Who knows, maybe you’ll be more successful at converting others to FIRE than I was.
Last but not least, there are romantic partners. There are some folks out there who tackle their FIRE journey as a team. Unfortunately, they’re somewhat of a minority: from what I’ve observed, most FIRE enthusiasts walk this path alone: either single, or with their partners still in the rat race. (Or maybe the happy FIRE couples just keep an unusually low profile, in which case good for them!) Getting your significant other on board could be relatively easy, especially if you already have a lot in common. On the other hand, if your partner’s happiness depends on extrinsic factors such as new gadgets and cars, that might actually break your relationship. Ho hum.
To summarize, there are a lot of obstacles and hidden trip wires in your way if you decide to get others to join you in your FIRE walk. Perhaps you will succeed where I have failed, and maybe even start a local FIRE enthusiast group. Have you tried that already, and if so, how did that go? Let me know in your comments – I always love hearing from my readers!
Safe travels, FIRE friends.