Keeping It Up

I noticed a tweet from Mr Money Moustache the other week that an article about him that appeared in the New Yorker magazine was one of its “most read” in 2016. He couldn’t quite believe it, but was happy to shout about it with a #Humblebrag handle to show he was proud, if somewhat abashed (I think), with this success.

Good for him, though. He is the preeminent writer on FIRE in my opinion and must have inspired tens of thousands of people to think about the way they are living and to make changes to both their finances and lives, inspired by his example. He wasn’t my original inspiration, though. That was Jacob Fisker with his book and blog Early Retirement Extreme, which I somehow came across back in about 2010, giving me almost five years to think and plan on how to get out of the workplace a lot sooner than I’d ever previously considered.

Fisker’s book, to be fair, can be quite heavy going and almost preachy. You can tell – and he often lets you know – that he’s a pretty smart dude. So smart, in fact, that he clearly pined for more intellectual stimulation than his Early Retired life was giving him, and returned to work as a Quant in finance, or something equivalent.

I often feel I struggle to put into words exactly why I went back to work when I probably could have stayed retired. I often ask(ed) myself if I just didn’t have the imagination, motivation or smarts to keep myself occupied? So I take solace from the fact that Jacob returned to work after literally writing the book on Early Retirement. There’s something about paid work as an employee that offers something different to both self-employment and Financial Independence. One day I’m hoping to be able to begin to formulate an idea of what that might be!

If Fisker is the philosopher of FIRE, Mr Moustache is the populist preacher, but what they have in common, from a British perspective, is that their blogs are very American in both content and tone. I hankered after something that related more to my own situation and cultural background and soon found the Monevator and Simple Living in Suffolk sites which, in addition to some great content, seemed to have a much more “British” take on FIRE. (I’ve listed some of the others I regularly read on my Blogroll and Books page.)

It was through Monevator that I recently learned about the demise of my favourite UK forum on the Motley Fool UK website. This was like a blow to my heart, because it was The Fool’s original book The Motley Fool UK Investment Guide that inspired me to take control of my own finances and start investing. They taught me about Index Trackers and passive investing which, prior to that point, I’d never heard of. They wrote with such an easy style and “You can do this!” attitude that I was totally inspired to take their advice. The fact that I was latterly able to financially afford full retirement at the age of fifty, more than fifteen years after I’d picked up their book, I put totally down to the simple core advice they gave: invest regularly in tracker funds and let the markets and compound interest (and one or two other factors) do their work over time.

It seems I wasn’t the only one dismayed about the demise of the Fool’s forum because a couple of regular contributors immediately set up an alternative, The Lemon Fool. The boards there are already quite active, and I was pleased to see that one of the most popular threads on the Retirement Investing forum is about FIRE. As Mr Moustache found in the New Yorker, there is definitely a lot of interest in this subject out there.

It’s funny though – I can sit for hours browsing the Fool’s forums or the investment advice in Monevator, or tracking back through ERE and Mustachian posts, but when Ros Altman (ex Pensions Minister) tweets a link to yet another dreary, but no doubt important, article on pension issues, I quickly lose the will to live. I know that, at the moment, populism is getting a bad name, but it is the blogging “investment poplulists”, including some of my own favourites that I’ve mentioned here, that have had a big impact on my life. Here’s hoping that they continue to flourish.

23 thoughts on “Keeping It Up

  1. For me, the start of my “daydreaming” about early retirement was the book, “Your Money or Your Life”. There was also a good one-off TV program called “Affluenza” that struck a nerve for me.

    I find MMM and a lot of the FIRE sites to be fakes, making money off the *notion* of FIRE in order to proclaim they are such. I can’t accept that they have commercialized the idea…

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      • My take on this is that for a site like MMM to survive, it actually *needs* to be self sustained (and therefore generate some income). My blog also generates a negative figure, and I was threatened by a lawsuit last year from a lovely insurance company in the Isle of Man, after an article I wrote about my experience with them. The costs of defending myself would have been enormous compared to just taking the article down, so I caved in (I am not allowed to name that company). In parallel, MMM, which generates enough to pay for laywers, had no issues keeping his voice up about that same company when they threatened him. As a result, I know that MMM is a safe haven for people who want to discuss/review/criticize bad investments. If his site didn’t have that kind of money, the truth about that company would still be hidden.

        More importantly, I have now realized that if my own blog doesn’t generate its own money, it is actually a big financial liability, not only for the server costs, but due to the legal risks. To be clear: that life insurance company threatened to sue me for 200,000 pounds. Taking that into account, especially for you UK bloggers where anti-speech laws are the norm, if you’re not making money from your blog, you might as well consider closing it, unless you can guarantee you will never ever be sued for defamation (it does not matter if you did not actually do any defamation on your blog, what matters is the cost of proving it). The alternate is to have a very politically correct (useless?) blog that nobody will be interested to read?

        Many of the blogs you read on FI are getting money one way or another. I agree it dilutes the message, but I largely prefer MMM, which is clear and honest about where the money is coming from (mostly credit card deals), than many, many other FI blogs that pretend to give real life advice when in reality they are affiliates for personal capital, bluehost, or some life insurance company. That to me is less honest than selling a book or admitting you make money.

        With all of that being said, to me it makes sense that FI bloggers try to monetize their site: It’s part of the Early Retiree DNA to generate multiple streams of income, for many of us that’s how we got to FI in the first place. NOT monetizing a successful FI blog would almost feel like a waste to some of us, and almost be contrarian to what some of the FI community preach: “I don’t need more money, but why would I reject it if it comes to me?” kind of attitude. I’m not saying it sends the right message, but I can see how for many of these people it’s how they are wired.

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      • I’m not against monetising sites (quite the reverse) but I didn’t initially want to clutter up my site with ads that relatively nobody would click. You do make an interesting point about watching what you say on the blog. I’ve written one or two posts that I haven’t published because I’ve taken a swing at a celebrity or organisation. You tend to forget that some of the columnists you admire have banks of lawyers checking every opinion piece they write. Unfortunately I think people do want to read strongly opinionated pieces, as you say, so it is a bit of an issue you need to be aware of.

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  2. ‘There’s something about paid work as an employee that offers something different to both self-employment and Financial Independence. One day I’m hoping to be able to begin to formulate an idea of what that might be!’

    I think the answer to that is being an employee generates income with next to no liability. Thats probably why it is so attractive. Maybe the analogy is the difference between renting and owning a house?

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    • Maybe it’s “generating work with no liability”! I mused about starting my own business when I retired and found the thought totally daunting. People who do freelance work have my absolute respect, generating their own leads and employment on an almost daily basis. Having “work” presented to you to achieve against is simple in comparison.

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      • Maybe it’s “generating work with no liability”
        yes – that too.

        Its easy to make some pretty concrete, hefty losses running a business and/or running a portfolio

        Losing pounds and pence is not very abstract and the even the thought of it can induce sleepless nights.

        Losing a bunch of time as an employee is much more ephemeral – Its more difficult to worry about

        I think part of the FIRE process is forcing yourself to recognise the equivalence of time and money and treat those two imposters just the same.

        Once you’ve fully internalised that, being an employee should hopefully induce just as much stress and anxiety as running your own business or living off a portfolio 😉

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  3. Stockbeard: sorry you got burned by your interaction with that insurance company. I don’t think, however, that become a substantial entity capable of defending itself against lawsuits is the answer. If it is, then you’ll have a bootstrap problem in that no new little guys an ever enter the market. I suspect/hope there was another answer to defending your website’s material that you did not discover.

    There are loads of MMM-like websites. There are websites that teach people how to become another MMM-like website. “Follow your passion!” “How to monetize your content!!” “Exploit social media to grow your market!” ad nauseum….

    Marketing companies are targeting bloggers (of all readership levels) so they can send them free products so that the bloggers can review them and write “candidly” to their followers. (Read http://josidenise.com/dear-mommy-blogger/ , although I’m such a cynic that I wonder if the writer did this solely to get MORE followers…sigh…)

    So much fakery out there.

    So, MMM is retired? That’s B.S.

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    • I agree Ed, I’ve been approached by some finance companies that I see on other FI sites, offering cash if I link to them. I guess if my readership was higher, or if I could be arsed marketing this blog, then I’d receive more. But then I’d maybe feel a bit like Ry Cooder when he was asked to write a piece of music for the Disney organisation. “I don’t twang for the mouse”, he replied.

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    • Hi Ed,

      MMM retired legitimately as FI and then decided to start a blog and carry on with his construction stuff as he enjoyed it. The blog then was a runaway success (which let’s face it even he could never have predicted!) and he has made lot’s of money on it by monetising it quite subtly (I find at least) and has since started donating a lot of that money to good causes.

      Are of the mind that once people declare themselves FI they should stop all endeavours that they find enjoyable but that also might earn them some income at some point?

      And are you also of the mind that clearly good hearted people like MMM should leave money on the table for other crappier blogs to come in and keep for their own, perhaps evil desires? 🙂

      I agree there are a lot crappy websites out there that are just blogging about blogging to earn money blogging etc… but come on, MMM and a lot of the decent FIRE ones (such as this fine we are both reading here) are not to be included in this, simply because they monetise their site.

      I’d steer clear of the “mom” blogs as well if I were you 😉

      Cheers

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      • “Are of the mind that once people declare themselves FI they should stop all endeavours that they find enjoyable but that also might earn them some income at some point?”

        Yes. I find it hypocritical for anyone to do otherwise. Besides, the income that they earn will come at some cost: typically, a change in editorial content. The most obvious one is the pushing of credit card where he makes about $100-250 for the cards he recommends. I hope you don’t believe that he has been able to “stay pure” while he pushes the plastic….;-)

        “And are you also of the mind that clearly good hearted people like MMM should leave money on the table for other crappier blogs to come in and keep for their own, perhaps evil desires?”

        LOL! In fact, I *prefer* if MMM would leave the money on the table so that it’s clear that he’s not another one of the con men out there.

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      • Hi Ed,

        Thanks for replying! It’s certainly an interesting conversation to have.

        Well, you sure are a cynical son of a… ain’t you? 😉

        I get that you think it’s hypocritical for him to be pushing the plastic but on a more general point why can’t people do activities that earn money post retirement? I don’t get why that is hypocritical? Say I really like golf (in fact, I do). What if, after retirement or reaching early FI, I got so good I got onto the PGA or Champions Tour (or let’s be more realistic just a more local tour where you win money when you win a tournament) and started to earn money. Would that be hypocritical? I don’t get why it would be. I would be doing something I loved and happen to get money for doing it. Or is it only owners of FI based blogs that you think shouldn’t do stuff like that because then they are hypocrites? If that were the case their lives would be more boring and it would make becoming an FI blogger not very attractive at all!!! Why not live out the fun and enriching lives that you are telling people about is possible once they hit FI, to show them what it can be all about!

        I don’t think MMM needs to leave money on the table to prove he isn’t a conman (Although he does have the post where he gave up $7000 a month or something like that as Chase credit cards tried to get him to edit content – I’d imagine you think he just made that up or something like that though?).

        Just by reading his posts, it is clear to me he coming from a point of honesty and is credible. I guess you disagree on that point and that is fair enough 🙂

        Just like to say I am in no way an MMM uber fan. After reading for 3+ years there are certain things that grate about him and it is clear the image he presents is an embellishment of his real life self/life (but really so what even on that point? What would we really expect from the internet?) but to throw him into the same bucket as the smart passive income conman et al is really rather harsh I think.

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  4. “…there is definitely a lot of interest in this subject out there…” I also think that the concept of FIRE is very slowly starting to become more mainstream. To demonstrate and of course I acknowledge its anecdotal but just this week I was contacted by a production company who are looking to make a pilot with the working title “How to Retire at 40” where they hope to explore the world of FI and those that are in the process of achieving early retirement. Even back in 2007 when I started on my FIRE journey there were few places talking about it on the internet let alone in the MSM.

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    • Hi RIT, I think – and hope – you’re right. I’m always reminded, however, by an article Monevator penned about trying to interest a non-financially inclined relative in financial matters. He found it an impossible task. Finance is Marmite, you love it or hate it. The media have managed to make things like property renovation or buying houses abroad more mainstream and I hope they can do the same for finance. Investing should be much more approachable than it is.

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  5. I was discussing something similar to this with Huw just the other day. From my perception; alot of the smaller blogs have died off while the bigger ones have become more commercialised. There seems to be far less medium sized blogs (more than just direct friends & family reading, but not thousands of daily visitors) these days compared to when I started getting interested in personal finance sites 5 years ago.

    I enjoy reading MMM for all it’s glitz and glamour, and almost preaching type content.. however for me, a fairly average chap living in the home counties and working 9-5.. the actual practical content isn’t that relevant. However the content that IS relevant comes in the form of dreadfully dull government funded white papers on UK pension planning.

    We need more of those medium sized blogs. UK ones, written by real people on real journeys with content the average wage slave can relate to and be inspired by,

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    • Couldn’t agree more Guy. I think the main reason I was ensnared by The Motley Fool book was because I felt it talked to me as a beginner without a deluge of intimidating information designed to give an illusion of complexity. I felt I could relate to the authors and believed that they had undertaken the journey I was about to embark upon, and could help me with it. You’re much more likely to be inspired by your peer group than by distant figures. I think if all my mates suddenly improved their 5-a-side skills, I’d be much more inspired to do likewise than I would by watching videos of David Beckham. I need to know that I can do it. That’s what I like about the blogging community, these are ordinary people like me making headway and it inspires me to keep it up.

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  6. I’m amazed I keep reading all the blogs you mention. But I’m addicted. All their contents might be summarized in a single blog post eg. don’t buy stuff you don’t need and invest the surplus you save low cost. But I love to read every variation on it and agree (the time I could save if I wouldn’t do it anymore … if someone would start a blog on that I probably would read that too). I really like your blog and I’ll keep coming back.

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    • Thanks Alex, and I know what you mean. To me, part of the attraction of blogs is that I feel they’re more “real” than what is served up by the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, politicians and the media “stars” who have to write something every week or have an axe to grind. I’m more inspired to jump on my bike because MMM says I should than by watching David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn “cycle to work”.

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  7. I still read MMM as it was THE blog that opened my eyes to FIRE. I never treated his writing as gospel, unlike some of his most avid followers/readers – just adopted some of what he wrote which I thought were good ideas and knew would work for me.

    I’m glad that there are a lot more UK FI blogs these days, although a few which were around when I started blogging a couple of years back have died off already and are no longer updated. Hopefully, there will be new ones to fill those spaces.

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  8. @firestartercookuk: (responding “down here” to you from “above”):

    I’m always on guard when it comes to people professing to help me with my money matters. Bloggers pushing plastic certainly don’t adhere to the “fiduciary rule”….(BTW, thanks to Trump, that rule is out the window for most financial advisors in the U.S. so I’m adding a second lock to my wallet.)

    MMM’s blog is certainly better than most, but, IMO, it’s important to keep a cynical eye when reading. I have personally been “conned” (a bit harsh of a term, but a better one escapes me right now) so many times by bloggers pushing their credit cards, their Amazon kickback links, their referral links to “this new awesome product they just discovered”, etc., etc. (“Conned” because I was persuaded to follow a deal that might not be the best one out there…fiduciary rule…) Yeah, it makes me question the motivations of even the cleanest of bloggers. BTW, MMM gave up $7K a month!? It’s a ballsy—and shrewd, trust-building–move for him to write about how beyond reproach he is! 😉

    Writing about FI when you are already FI is fine, IMO. But making FI into a for-profit business after you are supposedly FI is a kind of twisted logic.

    I certainly can’t speak for MMM and whether or not he is motivated by a pure love of his fellow FI’er or not, so I’ll leave it at what you wrote: I’m certainly a cynical SOB about it. 🙂

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