Minority Report

Over the last few weeks I’ve been delving back into the blogs, articles and podcasts posted by the FIRE community which I always find interesting, full of good advice and, occasionally, inspirational. But, after a month of it, I’m beginning to wonder if all that can be said about the subject has already been said? As ever, you can make anything over-complicated and repeat basic tenets in a million different ways, but it seems to me that FIRE boils down to a few simple concepts: avoiding debt, spending less than you earn (and the more you earn, the better) and investing regularly into passive Index Tracking funds over a longish term – so add to that the fact that the earlier you start, the better. Pretty soon it feels that it’s all rather obvious, common sense and hardly news to anyone.

Sometimes I have to pause and tell myself that no, hardly anyone is talking about FIRE and the subject is still a minority report. The evidence isn’t hard to find. List ten well-known blogs about FIRE – well, you could probably do that without too much difficulty. List ten well known UK blogs about FIRE and that’s a bit more of a challenge, although most of us on these sites could have a good go at it. I’m well aware, however, that I’m preaching to the converted here in the blogosphere – you’re reading this, no doubt, because you’re interested in financial matters and connected affairs.

What signs are there that the wider world is interested? A small test could be to go to the library and try to borrow five books on FIRE. Not Amazon, where you could easily find five books focused on the subject of the sex lives of Patagonian grasshoppers, but the local library. There will be a few books available that are devoted to investing and general money matters, but investing or being astute with money are not the same thing as Financial Independence, although they’re strongly connected.

As far as books on Early Retirement go, I’ve never found any at the local library. Sure, you’ll find a few books on retirement in general, but pretty much all I’ve seen are aimed at pensioners.  

What other sources do we have in the mass market that are talking about FIRE? At the weekend, I always have a good two hours reading the Sunday Times and have done this for years. After browsing the main paper I turn to the supplements, and my second choice of reading is always the Money section. I often wonder how many people do likewise, because when I visit the gym (where they stock free daily newspapers in their cafe) it’s generally the Money section that’s available to read, sitting unopened and unloved on the rack while just about everything else is either missing or well-thumbed.

For a few years now I’ve looked forward to reading something about FIRE within the Money pages, but it’s yet to happen. I wonder why not? To me, it’s an interesting and appealing concept and I know I’m not alone in this. It touches on loads of the subjects that are featured regularly in the Money section – pensions, investments, property, taxes and so on – but as yet FIRE doesn’t seem to have a mainstream market even within the broader financial community.

This may be changing. I recently wrote about our guru, Mr Money Moustache, being profiled in the New Yorker and he’s recently been interviewed in the much downloaded Tim Ferriss podcast. I’ve also seen him being interviewed on American TV, so if the FIRE movement is going to have a Buffett-like figurehead and cheerleader then it looks like he’ll be the one. Which is great, but I’m not so sure that the coverage will necessarily be as focused on the subjects that most of us are likely to hope it will be. TV is much more interested in image over message and style over content. Nobody will really care about how MMM reached his goal, they’ll be more focused on what it means in terms of what he has got – how big is his house? What’s he got in the bank? What does his wife look like? Does he have a big flat screen TV?

Recently, like some other UK bloggers, I’ve been approached by a UK TV company who seem to be interested in making a pilot about Early Retirement. I doubt I’ll participate, but I would be interested in seeing the output of the show, and I would hope they’d focus on the simple principles that underpin FIRE which I outlined in the first paragraph. It’s about clearing debt, spending less than you earn, saving hard and investing simply but astutely. Even I’d admit that these aren’t very sexy or appealing concepts. They look like hard work and they are hard work, done over a long term. There’s no quick wins, instant celebrity, millions to be made overnight. Nothing that TV really likes. I’d hope it would be a positive show, but I fear it could be a “Look at this guy, living on lentils and knitting his own socks in an effort to retire at thirty five”. (Either that or “Matched Betting Ruined My Early Retirement Dream”)

In fact, thinking about it, I’m not sure I’d want FIRE to become mainstream. Would I want to be bombarded by adverts in the Money section promising to help me retire at forty? Would I want to see Mr Money Moustache torn to shreds in some sort of “You’re alright Jack” expose that unpicks the financial underpinning and background to his story? Would I want the Daily Mail to reveal how FIRE is just an upper middle class dream that’s basically impossible for anyone earning the UK average wage these days?

No, I think I like it as it is at the moment, where the people interested in the subject are interested in it for the right reasons. After all, isn’t it true that the best clubs are the more exclusive ones, the best bands were always better before they became popular, the best books are seldom bestsellers and the best films are either indie, arthouse or foreign? The mainstream ruins everything, doesn’t it, so maybe we should keep FIRE to ourselves?

 

 

37 thoughts on “Minority Report

  1. As you say the principles of FIRE are simple, well known, easy to follow… and like most things that a probably good for us, largely ignored.

    The information is there for people to easily find, should they become open to the ideas. It is just like searching for a YouTube video demonstrating how to change a tap washer or repair a puncture, “just in time” learning.

    I agree the message needn’t be rammed down the throats of the populous at large. However a bit more basic financial literacy in the high school curriculum to hopefully avoid people sinking quite so far into debt before they get their act together wouldn’t go astray.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good post SHMD. As you say, the principles are simple and pretty boring and the vast majority of people just aren’t interested at all.

    I work with an office full of people who spend their time discussing the next expensive toy they want to buy and that is just their normal. Despite being senior and (relatively) highly paid I drive the oldest car by years. I get quite a ribbing about it, but I just play up to being a tight-fisted Northerner as an explanation 🙂

    I have actually written a (draft) post about the principles behind FI for my own blog, but it seems so obvious and dull to me that I may never publish it – plus I like sliding below the radar and I wouldn’t want to blow my cover!

    Like

    • I know what you mean. It is quite scary publishing stuff and I wouldn’t have published a blog in my previous employment. However, spreading the word is always valuable, I feel, so I’d encourage you to publish and be damned (or praised)!

      Like

  3. I’ve also thought that the wise-man is the one who digests and assimilates the (as you rightly say, simple) concepts of FI and moves on pretty quickly

    Its value is as an enabler to step up to the next rung on Maslow’s ladder

    Means you can then get down to some real work, i.e. producing something of value.

    That sort of activity tends to make people very happy, in fact, let me flip that around and say that being happy is the ongoing result of producing something of value

    Each individual is free to define ‘something of value’ in any way they choose.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you’d be exactly what the TV show producers would want: the contrarian. You’d be the fellow who reached FIRE and then rejected it, preferring to return to work. For the purposes of the show, you offer the viewers a “positive message” in your “see, it (FIRE) ain’t what it’s all cracked up to be”.

    Like

  5. Given that as you say, the principles of reaching FIRE are pretty simple in essence, it strikes me as somewhat counter productive that some folk (as I understand things) spend hundreds if not thousands of pounds / dollars on attending expensive jamborees where ‘experts’in the field of FIRE explain how it’s done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, it’s all a bit cultish and glamping, reflecting the essential middle class background and income that currently shores up the FIRE community. I’d prefer it if they stuck to the basics and kept quiet about the latest pow-wow in Guatemala.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m new to your blog, enjoy your writing and learning about FIRE. Do you have any advice, or know of any blogs, books, or other writings for folks who are already “of a certain age”, who know they don’t have enough socked away (20 years max) and are facing uncertainty about how to invest that very small nest egg? I’ve even heard that some folks may have panicked a while back and gone to cash. Would like to find some information on how a petrified investor might feel safe to get back into the stock market at some point. Or perhaps an alternative. Thanks for your blog.

    Like

    • The main book that inspired me was the Motley Fool UK Investment Guide. It’s dated now but the simple principles are here. It was the book that took the fear out of investing for me, and you can get a second hand copy on Amazon for about £2. Monevator is the best UK blog on investing. I also like the old Chinese saying that “the best time to invest was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

      Like

  7. I have tried to spread the word but generally get classified from boring to insane. Let’s just keep FIRE our dirty little secret eh, Jim?

    Like

  8. I like anything that challenges the status quo. I’m nowhere near FIREing but find the sage advice interesting, and something so totally absent from day to day life. The advice, when you stop and think about it, is so obvious, yet I know so few people who are tuned into not only living within their means but below them! I was brought up in relative comfort and have had few financial woes, but I was never given good financial advice, not by parents or education. Fortunately I came to the realisation myself and thankfully not after getting into horrendous debt, but I wish either the seeds had been sown or the realisation had dawned much earlier!

    One of the aspects of this topic I particularly like is the interplay with other areas of interest I have and that’s something that not many people seem to be talking about. I like the principals of minimalism (I’m not talking as far gone as only owning 100 things), but owning what you need and get enjoyment from and removal of all the pointless crap that clutters our lives. The more mindful approach to buying and owning stuff. This stems from an interest in the environment and the realisation that the endless pursuit of growth on a finite planet with finite resources is a bit potty but also nothing is being done to slow the momentum.

    I best stop there, I could go on all day…

    Like

    • Thanks, your post inspired me to do something I’ve been meaning to for a while – clear my wardrobe! Anything not worn for a year or more goes to the charity shop this weekend. If only my DOH could be inspired by this act…..

      Like

  9. I think you’re right, everything that needed to be said about FIRE has been said, multiple times, and frankly anyone could achieve it with either a copy of the Millionaire next door, or “your money of your life”, books that are getting pretty ancient.

    This is why most of the FIRE blogs are less about the investment strategy (which is dead simple once you get used to it), and more about lifestyle. The finance part is maybe 10% of the content of these blogs. The remaining 90% is about what they do with their newfound freedom.

    I feel this includes your blog as well (which, since livingafi has stopped posting, is probably one of the blogs I read the most diligently as I like some of your dark humor/honesty)

    Like

    • Cheers Stockbeard, thanks for the positive feedback. I was surprised when LivingaFI stopped posting, not long after I discovered him, and I liked a lot of what he wrote about too. Although I’m back working at the moment, I still think a lot about what I learned when I took a year out and what it means for me going forward. You’re right, it’s the lifestyle and psychology that FIRE supports that is the more interesting part of it.

      Like

  10. I read FIRE blogs for companionship more than anything. It’s a long and lonely road sometimes, so it’s good to meet some fellow travellers and hear tales of how good the destination is.

    Like

      • Tales of how good the destination is… or how bad when I come to SHMD 😉 I’m being flippant but really I mean this in a positive way. It’s important to hear the voice of caution too. Actually, I’ve lost sense of how you see things going in the future – are you planning a middle way between full retirement and full employment?

        Like

  11. Simple though the FI fundamentals maybe, actually knowing the option exists isn’t. I can’t remember anymore how I first stumbled into this world, but I wasn’t actively looking for it because I didn’t know it was possible. I remember being astonished by the revelations on earlyretirementextreme – guy on middle income retires in 30s.

    Like

    • For me, it was a totally random find of a Motley Fool Investment book in a Bristol Temple Meads bookshop before a long train journey north. Four hours later and my financial life had changed completely for the better. I still wonder if things would have gone differently for me if I hadn’t bought that book.

      Like

  12. I’ve compared being on the FIRE path as being a member of a secret/underground club, much like the Fight Club (or FIght Club).

    “The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club”

    I can’t ever see FIRE becoming mainstream. Many people just would not bother to read beyond the click bait headline.

    Like

  13. If automation turfs billions out of work then FIRE will become mainstream (at least the RE bit). What form that will take, god knows, but in a positive version of the future we’ll devise cultural mechanisms that encourage more work sharing, less hours and less concentration of the rewards. In that potential timeline, FIRE as it currently exists becomes neither necessary nor possible.

    Like

    • Y. I agree. I think the simple concepts behind FIRE will become more and more maistream. In fact I think they already are for the reasons you mention.

      Also don’t forget that the FIRE online community is a bit of a wealthy middle class ghetto. There are millions of prudent people out there already on modest incomes who pursue FIRE principles simply as the most effective way to achieve a modicum of financial security and quality of life with not much money.

      Personally I have taken a slightly different path. After years of grinding away working 60 hour weeks to pay off the mortgage and save I have had enough. I now job share. Two of us split the job for 50% of the hours and pay. A very pleasant arrangement. Not as good as FI but more realistic unless I want to sacrifice all my relative youth.

      Like

  14. Since so much of the FI philosophy is common sense, I reckon most people know this deep down to some extent but don’t want to put in any sacrifice. I’m also guessing they probably think it’s a lot more painful to achieve than it really is. So the continuation of these blogs/sites is still well worth it because a lot of naive people can still be turned onto the whole concept but find it hard to access the information. I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad at 30 and was champing at the bit wanting to get going but was frustrated that there seemed to be nothing to really give any traction on the ‘how’ to do it. If I’d stumbled on some of the info around today I’d be doing a lot better today for sure.

    Which takes me to the point that the more of this info is around, the higher the odds of people who are willing to change coming across it and converting. It was only when I average salary) worked out some projections using the Monevator site that I realised I could still do it, before that I’d assumed I’d have to have a 6-figure salary in only one of a few select occupations, despite being already multi-degreed.

    Finally, since the powers-that-be are constantly manipulating the laws on taxes, various regulations and other areas seriously influencing our finances, seemingly on an annual basis these days, having this amateur but quite diligent forum analysing the changes to stay a step ahead is always going to be useful.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Two things make it hard: It goes against the grain and it takes long-term discipline. Not a compelling combo for most people.

    Glad the job share is working out Goldghost. There are lots of ways to solve the problem. I’m going for full-on grind.

    Interesting point about frugality as necessity versus lifestyle choice. I think that low income living can lead to quite different levels of wellbeing depending on context.

    FIRE frugality creates a safety net, options and purpose which I think of as empowering. Whereas scraping by can be draining, stressful, lead to low esteem and so on.

    Great podcast here about how scarcity of something (time, money, social contact) can induce a short-term panic with disastrous long-term consequences: http://www.npr.org/2017/03/20/520587241/the-scarcity-trap-why-we-keep-digging-when-were-stuck-in-a-hole

    Like

  16. I think The Accumulator is right – many of us are on here for companionship, or to reinforce our beliefs. A sort of Alcoholics Anonymous for savers.

    And good writing on a topic you’re interested in is always a pleasure to read and if you’ve heard it all before well, that’s fine too. A bit like rewatching a good film.

    I think that the reason FIRE is still under the mainstream radar is that it’s dull and a bit mathematical and…retirement is a long way off…isn’t it?

    A quick spreadsheet tells me that if you save 1/3 of your net income every year for 30 years you will have nearly 25 times your annual spend in the bank. This assumes 3% (stock market) real return after fees.

    I doubt that there’s 10% of the population that could do that calculation, and an even smaller portion that would want to. (Someone check my maths – I might be in the 90%!)

    Lots of variables / unknowns but…on average returns, everyone could retire at 50 with 25 years’ worth of expenditure in the bank. Add on the tax relief uplift if you’ve put some of this in a pension and add on the state pension that you’ll get in 15 or so years’ time. Plus occupational pension(s). That should see you through quite well, especially if you’re a couple…at least until care home fees bite.

    But living on 2/3 of your net income for the whole of the best part of your life, and the whole working part of your life will be difficult. Fine if you’re very well-paid and disciplined. Less so if you’re on average wage and have a partner and two children to support. Not to mention the mortgage/rent. And the annual holiday. And we need the car. And you surely don’t mean give up the iPhone? Or the dog? And Jocasta just HAS to go to Pony Club. I think I’d rather work until I’m 75…

    FIRE only works if you’re wealthy (in a real-world sense, not in a City frat-boy or trust-fund Tarquin sense). Or you and your circumstances are unusual. I suspect most of us in the FIRE community are both relatively wealthy and relatively odd. I know I am…

    Like

    • I’m by no means wealthy but I became ‘wealthier’ as a result of learning from the FIRE community.

      And yes, my friends (and family) think I’m odd! 🙂

      Like

  17. It never occurred to me that there’s a FIRE community!! I follow a blog call Mr FIRE and thought it was an acronym he made up! I was fortunate enough to FIRE last year, thanks to property (again) but it only worked because I made quite a big change to move to a low cost country – Taiwan – which I am quite familiar with. I haven’t had to sacrifice my standard of living too much (ie I can’t afford £100 per head meals anymore) and my quality of life has definitely improved. I will definitely look more into this topic now. Thanks for making me aware that this is quite a common thing.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s