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The FIRE community doesn’t feel like my community

December 29, 2017

I started out firmly in the “personal finance blog” space, but found myself reading some FIRE blogs over the past few years.  This is mostly because they tend to cover topics that are useful for people with high savings rates and higher incomes, but I also enjoy the non-comformist perspectives on life.  There are a handful of FIRE-focused blogs I really love, but the community turns me off at times.   Part of this is because I lurked around on reddit (a disproportionately young, male, tech-bro crowd), but I see it other places.  I’m paraphrasing, but here are some things in the community that I’ve read recently:

  • “I just read the news stories about the Paradise Papers! Is there some way I can move my money off-shore and benefit from this concept?”  WHAT?  No.  That isn’t what you were supposed to get out of the news stories!
  • “I don’t donate to charity because I pay $X in taxes each year, which essentially is charities of the governments choice! That is sufficient, and who trusts charities to do any good anyway?”
  • “We make $300k and we are middle class.  Weeeelll, upper middle class, then! I pay a high marginal tax rate compared to everyone else, which is unfair and my taxes should be lower. We are just like the struggling middle class. If you think taxes should be higher, you should donate to charity or send more money to the IRS yourself.  Systemic change is not needed.”
  • “Divorce is really expensive and could hurt FIRE, so I don’t plan to get married.  We can just be in a relationship without entangling financially – what is the point of marriage? Too risky to my assets. Maybe I would consider marriage if I had a prenup that promised no alimony under any circumstance.  Not even just temporarily. It wouldn’t matter if she has sacrificed income/career growth to focus on raising children.  Also, dating/women are expensive!”
  • “I made good choices, and that is the main reason I’m able to retire early…. Oh, and also, I made a bunch of money in bitcoin. And got a tech degree, but I worked really hard for it.”
  • “I’m a college junior planning for FIRE, I expect to make $X when I graduate and retire by [date at least 15 years in the future].  Any advice?”  I can’t fathom pursing FIRE before you’ve even worked a job at all.  People skip from “personal finance basics” straight to FIRE. It is great to know about FIRE early, but… I don’t know.

So, this does not feel like the community for me.

The above is part of the “noise” and there are plenty of high quality FIRE bloggers out there.  Still, these attitudes are prevalent and a real turn-off.  I also rarely relate to the “personal story” of most FIRE bloggers.  I manage to learn about most of what I need to know about money from blogs that are mostly “personal finance”, heavy on the personal and sometimes with a side of FIRE.  (Exceptions: I read Our Next Life and Planting Our Pennies and really enjoy both, although PoP isn’t really completely FIRE focused.)

I also read almost exclusively blogs authored by women, although I visit a wide variety of blogs to answer specific questions or research topics. Male-authored blogs seem to be written from more of an authoritative/explain-y way and are less relatable for me.  (Exceptions: Budgets Are Sexy is the most super-relateable blog ever.  In early days, Get Rich Slowly felt relatable and was the first blog I read.  Even ERE was written in a way that felt relatable to me, which is weird because I would never do most of the extreme things Jacob did.)

I admire FIRE bloggers, and the community seems to have a lot of enthusiasm.  Yet, something about the ideas just don’t click with me.  I don’t think it would have been productive for me to start, at age 22, plotting a retirement date 15-20 years into the future.  I’m absolutely a planner, but I do best with goals on a  1-3 year scale and then more of a rough vision for what I want long term.  I don’t have the patience to come up with a 10 year plan that has so many assumptions that it will constantly be evolving.  At graduation, I never could have imagined the life we have now.  It wouldn’t have mattered what kind of long-term finance goals I set out, because I always just saved as much as I could – enough that it hurt in the early days.  Saving as much as you can is a great plan, and gives you the most options. You don’t actually need too many details about where you’ll be in 10 years as long as you already believe in the value of saving a lot.

All that said, I do expect I’ll retire before the standard retirement age of mid-to-late 60s.    If T gets tenure and continues to enjoy his job, he may be one of those really old profs that never retire.  Or maybe not.  I don’t have an age in mind for myself.  I really like many aspects of my job, and could imagine sticking with it and loving it when times are good.  When we have slumps (like we have now), I’ll have the freedom not to worry much about it and wait it out for good times to return.  Any major changes to what I am doing are far enough off or dependent on other major changes, so it it isn’t productive for me to spend too much time thinking about it now, other than exploring interests and ideas.

What about you?  Are you interested in FIRE?  What do you like and dislike about your blog community?

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31 Comments leave one →
  1. December 29, 2017 12:47 pm

    I was on the FI boat before starting full time work. A lot of that was born out of financial instability growing up. Given how many millennials have seen their parents get laid off or have a tough go through the ’08 recession, the movement’s appeal to the young not-yet-workers seems natural to me. Like a way to assert control in a scary capitalist economy (assuming you can).

    The gender, racial, and ablement skew in the community is as frustrating as it is unsurprising. Who else can systematically make enough money to retire early? I’ve stopped reading the Reddit and ERE forums due to all the retrograde gender and MBTI stereotyping. I find the Boglehead and the Early-Retirement forums to be much more pleasant. The FIRE blogs I do read are more personal and lean female/Asian, but even in the Asian community there are some more, uh, problematic figureheads.

    • December 29, 2017 3:51 pm

      FI / financial security is one thing, and the main reason I got into PF was also for control/security. When I started out, I didn’t feel that I had much of a safety net, so I worked on building my own.

      The RE focus before starting a career is what confuses me a bit, and people who want to quit after X years, with a focus on how to shrink X, but X is still like ~10+ years long. It just doesn’t compute for my brain. I need to keep my eyes mostly on near term actions while trying to keep the maximum number of options open in the long run.

      Saving as much as possible and seeking financial security does resonate – it just seems less relevant to me what happens after FI or even when I predict my own FI will be “achieved”.

    • December 29, 2017 3:52 pm

      Also, feel free to recommend good FI blogs that are more personal! I haven’t explored the community in depth.

      • December 29, 2017 5:22 pm

        Looking through my blogroll, I now realize I can’t remember who is actually FI-focused, high-income high-savings general personal finance, or working digital nomads. I just kind of assume the latter groups are a subset of the former but then again that’s not always true.

        Of the folks I’m 99.9% sure would self-identify with FIRE, I like:
        – Millennial Boss, Fiery Millennials, and their Fire Drill Podcast
        – The Frugal Gene
        – Gen Y Finance Guy
        – Done By Forty

  2. December 29, 2017 4:49 pm

    Great post and a lot I empathize with, albeit coming from a different perspective. I’m a young male, actually younger than the median FIRE blogger, but an extremely high earner.

    Thus, actually my needs are very different from the typical FIRE blog ($.5-2.5m in actual or target net worth) given my wealth is a multiple of theirs. My investment portfolio and insurance needs do and should look very different. So the investing and portfolio-allocarion, mortgage, debt-paydown, tax, parts of FIRE blogs are typically irrelevant to me.

    I also think many FIRE bloggers commit the following sins:

    Invest in dividend stocks without understanding the sustainability and quality of the actual businesses.

    Assume high real stock-market returns going forward, even from the current high valuation levels.

    Underestimate the mental fortitude that having a good job w/regular paycheck gives you in an asset downturn, considering we haven’t had a true asset downturn for about 8-9 years now.

    For the landlord FIREs, they systematically undervalue the cost of their time, labor, energy, and especially tenant risk. Maybe they just enjoy doing home repairs a lot more than their old desk job, but I definitely don’t.

    Some recommend overly-aggressive, immoral tax strategies, as you cite (including abuse of the home office deduction).

    I have a spouse, a kid, and 2 dogs. Not a lot of FIRE from people with a similar family structure (though there are some, like Root of Good). E.g. how do you show your kids that they probably should work hard for decades, or find a career they are passionate about, if YOU yourself are FIREd??

    Personally I enjoy and am stimulated by my current job and view it as a net positive in my life. As opposed to FIRE, I would like blogs that analyze and judge personal spending (high-ROI vs low-ROI) habits in a detailed manner, as well as work-life balance, self-development/education, intelligent charity analysis, etc. for younger people with high earnings and a high savings rate.

    I think that many FIRE writers, especially the Reddit posters, would be better served in the long term by finding a better job or career that energizes or at least adds to their lives. Most of them still have years left until FIRE, and that’s a long time to work at a tedious job. Not to mention they may want to free up time in their lives to date or get married, which is not easy if working 14-hour days aiming toward FIRE.

    It’s ironic that few FIRE bloggers have (or had) incomes of $400k+. This would possibly be a more natural FIRE fit than pushing super hard to FIRE after years at $100k, but perhaps this high-earner pool is largely strivers (wealth, money) and self-selects out of FIRE. Or maybe they are superstars in their vocations and their employers pamper them and make sure they have a good working environment, decreasing the desire to retire. Or maybe their effective hourly remuneration is just so high that there’s little attractiveness to FIRE, given that you trade going to the office and ordering groceries online to shopping at the grocery store, and the job is probably more fun. Or maybe these people derive significantly more status and self-image from their jobs (including benefits from networking/pro contacts/colleagues) than the $150-350k/year Joe. Or maybe these guys are just too wealthy too want to blog (opportunity cost of time too high, risk too high if people find their identity, they don’t care about the potential to possibly make a mere $400/mo in ad revenue if traffic grows).

    Totally agree with you that it’s very difficult for me to read forum posts by the Bitcoin Brigade. Not because I’m envious, but because they are abetting criminals (by pushing up Bitcoin prices and pressuring regulators to allow Bitcoin) and also drawing more and more rubes into that Ponzi scheme.

    They also act like know-it-alls on Blockchain and databases and are some of the worst tax cheats out there. And they can cash out at a max of $10k/day (assuming they use Coinbase), so definitionally the ones who are really in Bitcoin FIRE status are only so on paper, anyway. Bitcoin is a >100% capital gain vehicle, as there’s a negative yield due to carrying and transfer costs. Thus, it’s essentially a speculation vehicle which is not very interesting to read about, either (speculation vehicles like gold or Chinese apartments that don’t really yield income are more like gambling or herd/momentum analysis, which is not an interesting topic to me).

    Anyway, in summary I appreciate the mentality that many FIRE bloggers bring to the table in terms of analysis of personal spend and appreciation for/sharing of a healthy lifestyle. And many have a healthy approach to consumerism and materialism despite highish levels of income and education, which I find refreshing and worthy of emulation.

    But there are many other aspects that, like you, bore me (or are of little relevance) or outright alienate me.

    • December 29, 2017 5:43 pm

      Thanks for the comment!

      I suspect there are few $400k+ income FIRE bloggers because < 1% of all people have that income, so it makes sense they'd be rare even in a community that can skew higher income. There are a few physician FIRE bloggers out there, but that's not until they are ~30 or so. Flipping it, I also suspect that << 1% of all people are interested in pursuing FIRE, which is why it isn't prevalent among your income peers.

      I take what interests me and attempt to ignore the rest, while trying to keep my mind open to different perspectives. Some of what turns me off seems to just be a lack of maturity, but much of it is simply valuing different things. That's fine, but I don't really want to read it. (And I probably should stop reading reddit – trying to figure out if I've actually learned anything new there that I didn't also see on my usual sources.)

      • December 30, 2017 3:00 pm

        Good point, $400k+ in HOUSEHOLD income would probably be only 1.3% or so of households (1.1% as of 2015). And even that would skew towards the 50-59 age bracket, which excludes “retire early.”

        Yes, a trusted blog is a much better return on time than Reddit, and causes less frustration as well.

        Another thought on your post – I think planning for 10-20 years out makes sense for people in some extremely well-defined careers. But most of these would be blue-collar (e.g. union employee of a power plant) or government (e.g. state bureaucrat) jobs with extremely high job security and stability as well as low probability of changing employers or locations.

  3. December 30, 2017 8:30 am

    People go into extremes for everything. FIRE in theory sounds very nice, but it is not for me ultimately because I actually enjoy going to work, working, using my brain and don’t want to retire early.

    I also don’t want to get into that mindset of: omg, I’m going to do WHAT IT TAKES to save a ton of money and never have to work again, screw everyone around me, everything, and I am going to sacrifice my life for this

    That isn’t living. It’s sad that someone doesn’t want to get married because they see they don’t want to get divorced. Is that life?

    I guess I do kind of qualify to be in that income range of a FIRE blogger when I work but I just.. don’t want to be like that. Just want to live, spend money, be normal, and learn what my values are rather than just focusing on money money money

    • December 30, 2017 9:20 am

      I’m mostly with you here!

      I have learned more about tax strategies and why I can save in tax sheltered retirement accounts even if i have enough for age 65+. But I’m more of the “millionaire next door” type of FI than Mr. Money Mustache. Similar goals, different approaches.

  4. December 30, 2017 10:14 am

    Very interested in FI (and have achieved if if we’re not picky about where we live), not at all interested in RE.

    I think right now my blogging community is extremely small, being mostly just people who comment on our blogs with the occasional drive-by if something on a blogroll or in a tweet interests me. I just don’t have the time or inclination that I used to have when everything was shiny and new and I did more websurfing on the desktop computer than on a phone.

  5. December 30, 2017 12:05 pm

    I can’t even imagine having FIRE. I think I’m just being realistic about my situation. I’m no longer young, I’m single and self-supporting, and that impacts the options open to me in a big way. I expect to work until standard retirement age and then some. Likely I’ll need to work part time doing something when I’ve moved out of full time work my SS retirement age of 67. If I can manage to do that and maintain my current standard of living I think that’s good enough for me.

    I still read some PF blogs, but most of the blogs I read are more balanced than just covering PF topics.

  6. December 30, 2017 4:34 pm

    I love my career and current job and have no interest in a life of leisure. I suppose the only appeal to retiring early would be to volunteer for causes I support. But most organizations manage their volunteers poorly! So I would rather contribute on the job by (for example) trying to maintain a just workplace for my employees. I have a high savings rate and it will protect me if my job is ever at risk. The antisocial comments you found are not surprising, but it makes me sad to think so many live without compassion for other people. I tend to read frugality blogs if they aren’t too sanctimonious. I like The Non-Consumer Advocate, Give Me Back My Five Bucks, A Gai Shan Life, and Canadian Budget Binder.

    • December 30, 2017 9:33 pm

      Yes, careers can add a lot of meaning to life, different from the (usually more important) meaning we get from relationships and hobbies. It is lucky to have a career you really love, and that seems like the best solution!

      I like a couple of those blogs as well, so I’ll check out the other ones!

  7. January 2, 2018 10:28 am

    Igh, yes, this morning I saw “I voted for the winner who lowered my taxes” on Twitter and tried to triple block that person. We don’t make nearly $300K, are in the Bay Area, and I absolutely consider us in the upper middle class. Not because we’re living high on the hog but because by most reasonable measures, we are very well off.

    Reddit is a bit of a cesspool, though, so I’m not surprised you saw as much gross as you did.
    The refusal to get married to avoid expensive divorce is a little bit like those parents who won’t let their kids have pets solely because they don’t want to explain death. But worse! Death is inevitable whereas you COULD choose a partner wisely and work hard at making your marriage work.

    I only spend time on specific FIRE-type blogs like ONL, Done by Forty, Retire by 40, and so on who are worthwhile humans as well as decent writers. I don’t know if Tawcan is self identified as FIRE but I like his blog as well, and I also like Felicity at Fetching Financial Freedom, mostly because she’s fun 🙂

    I don’t feel like a fit with the FIRE community but I do want to FIRE. I don’t know that it’s truly likely but it’s still a goal I’d like to make happen. Partly because I don’t feel like we have enough time in the day to do all that we want to do and dropping work seems like the best option but also because of my health. I don’t see RE as an entry to a life of leisure, though, just one where I can reasonably enjoy our lives and do good in the world.

    • January 3, 2018 9:29 am

      I think part time work would be pretty ideal. I’m not feeling my job right now, so FIRE is somewhat attractive at the moment. But the real solution is to reshape my job a bit, because I generally get quite a bit of good stuff out of my career.

  8. January 2, 2018 2:27 pm

    I totally agree. I blogged for a while a decade ago (and now am sometimes getting back into it) and I am conscious of my spending and want to save and plan for the future but I’m turned off by the extreme judgment of some FIRE fans. I think that’s true of social media in general too, in that no one is interested in an everyday story about money, you need to be extreme in some way.

    • January 3, 2018 9:27 am

      Welcome back to blogging 🙂

      To me the judgement doesn’t necessarily bother me as much as the arrogance. Obviously this is “not all FIRE bloggers” and really, not even most FIRE bloggers. Also, some of it is just differences in politics and values that manifest in writing, and really have little to do with FIRE.

      Yes, everyday normal stories seem outdated in the blogging world, but what I enjoy.

  9. January 4, 2018 8:47 am

    Get Rich Slowly stopped resonating with me when I realized he made a ton of his money from selling the blog. While some people can do that, it’s not realistic for most people. I’m hoping he can get back to a good message with reclaiming the site.

    I like working fine but am also interested in retiring early (like maybe 10 years “early”) and using my money well. I don’t make a lot of money but do save well, so FIRE blogs also turn me off with the idea that “anyone can do this.” Um, I’m a teacher who makes $40k. You SAVE more than I make in a year. Realistically, I’d have to change my career to FIRE, and I enjoy my career. I tried reading a teacher blog about FIRE, and the amount of weird tricks he went through to make it work were insane. And not something we have available. And I’m still not sure that he didn’t have some other money lurking somewhere to pay some living expenses, and I say that as a really frugal person.

    • January 4, 2018 9:47 am

      I agree. It is more about savings rate than savings amount, but with more modest salaries and the need to spend SOMETHING, it is hard to get the savings rate super high.

      We’d want to move to a more reasonably priced area at RE if we really wanted to RE very early. We do sometimes talk about it, but in an offhand not-serious way.

  10. January 4, 2018 4:33 pm

    Would you be open to sharing a list of the female authored blogs you follow? I’ve also come to feel distanced from the broish/DINK focus of many PF blogs, and would appreciate the suggestions.

    • January 4, 2018 5:17 pm

      Sure. It is a relatively short list, and several are commenters here. My blog roll should cover many, but:
      – Gai Shan Life
      – Yetanotherpfblog
      – Leightpf
      – Grumpy rumblings
      – Planting our pennies
      – Our next life
      – Give me back my five bucks
      – Bayalis is the Answer
      – save spend splurge
      – luxe strategiest
      – mrs. money bags
      – Give me back my five bucks

      That is most of them. There are a few more that I sometimes check in on, mostly from finding commenters or link love on the above blogs.

  11. January 4, 2018 8:24 pm

    Great post, and it sums up a lot of the feelings I have about the FIRE community. I think it’s great that people can hit an early retirement goal but many make sacrifices I’m just not willing to make. And that’s ok because I also enjoy working and my goal isn’t to retire within the next few years.

    Often it feels like FIRE bloggers are the pinnacle in the PF community but there’s plenty of value in different models of success. Thanks for reminding me of this 🙂

    • January 14, 2018 11:35 am

      Yeah, FIRE has really taken off in the last 5 years. I wonder if that correlates to the crazy stock market gains? Back in 2009, no one was talking much about FIRE!

  12. January 5, 2018 7:51 am

    Thanks for your perspective. I try not to be scummy. This gets easier as I get older and more comfortable financially. When I was focused on FIRE, I just put everything into it.

    I agree with you about really young people getting into FIRE. They need to work a few years first and figure out their options. It’s not good to start a job with that mindset. I didn’t consider FIRE until 14 years after working.

    • January 5, 2018 9:34 am

      There are lots of great FIRE blogs out there too!

      I just can’t read too many at once. Personally, I’m too impatient to focus on FIRE when it takes so long to get there. I pursue FI in the background, but ruminating on it is not great for my mental health when there aren’t so many actions I am willing to take to help pursue it any faster.

      FI is a great goal for a young person, but RE should be considered more carefully, in my opinion.

  13. January 10, 2018 3:43 pm

    Hey you!! I haven’t talked to you in FOREVER – thanks for stopping by the blog today! I remember reading your blog 10 years ago when I first started mine – so cool you’re still rockin’ it – I don’t know many others that are from back in the day 🙂 And I’m so happy you find my blog relatable too – thank you! And for saying so publicly too – hah!

    • January 10, 2018 4:13 pm

      I don’t blog on any sort of consistent basis, but in the last several months I have been in a phase where I’m more into reading and commenting! And sometimes writing, but really, only when I feel like it. 🙂

      Thanks for having a relatable blog!

  14. January 11, 2018 4:46 pm

    The thing that drives me nuts about the FIRE reddits is “Hey, I’m 29, male, tech degree, make 85k, have 500k assets, Im gonna just do this, next year ill make 100k and retire in 5 years, what do yall think?”. Id be able to retire in five years too, if I made that much money. Ive been working since I was 17, 32 now and have started learning and thinking more about it as a way of life that may be suitable for MY future, in my own way.

  15. January 13, 2018 10:25 pm

    I read the quotes you posted and I can see what turns you off about it. That said, I do like the good content, knowledge sharing, and motivation some blogs do bring to the table.

    You mention you don’t plan to RE, which is a little surprising. What kind of work do you do that you enjoy so much?

    I didn’t really think about FIRE directly until recently, however I’ve always been focused on saving a ton for “later”, whatever that meant. So, I suppose I’ve been focused on the RE part indirectly for a decade now.

    • January 14, 2018 11:30 am

      I totally agree there is some great content/motivation. And if I want to know about a specific topic, there is always a blog that explains it in detail. I love that too.

      So, I say I don’t plan to RE for a few reasons.
      1) I’m an engineer (not software) and work on development projects (i.e. not just building the same thing over and over). I think my job is pretty cool, but the details are more specific than I want to be. I enjoy working on big, complex projects with smart people and it is good for me to have a career. I could certainly be happy w/out a career, but since I enjoy my career and it pays well, it seems sub-optimal to strive for RE. Double bonus: My commute is < 5 minutes or a nice 25 minute walk.
      2) My husband is an academic (tenure track but pre-tenure), which is not an easy career but something of a lifestyle career. This is what motivates us to be in a high cost area (plus we like it here). So, RE isn't high on his radar either.
      3) Perhaps most importantly… It will be long enough before it is even an option that it is unproductive for me to consider it as my plan. (This would be much less true if we were willing to move to a lower cost area. We could be nearly FI in many US locations within a short period of time.) This is just a personal thing, I would drive myself crazy with impatience if I focused on it. So, it is partly just a mental thing. When/if RE becomes an option, I will evaluate more seriously. For now, FI is very important and we save as much as we can.

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