I’m reading an interesting and entertaining book at the moment, “Everybody Lies: What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are”. It’s about how Google searches tell us much more about people in general whereas relying on surveys, or Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – or even blogs! – is perhaps the worst way to understand anything about anybody because almost nobody “tells the truth” about themselves on these platforms.
Then, driving into work, I decided to listen to a podcast I haven’t for some time, the Dave Ramsey phone-in, a very American biased show about debt, money issues and how to deal with them (hint: buying Dave’s books, audio tapes and signing up for his courses helps).
Dave alway starts his shows with the adage that his is a world where:
“debt is dumb, cash is king, and the paid-off home mortgage has taken the place of the BMW as the status symbol of choice.”
Unfortunately though, having “a paid-off home mortgage” is one of the least symbols of status you could imagine. Look out your window. How many people in your street have paid off their mortgage? Exactly. You’ve no idea. Like the fabled “Millionaire Next Door”, you’ll never meet your mortgage-free neighbours unless they introduce themselves as such.
Similarly, on the internet, if everybody is lying, does that include Mr Moustache, Jacob Fisker or even little old me? Are we really walking the talk? Or are we just broadcasting a facade to the world for some ulterior motive?
After all, attaining FIRE is quite a status symbol, isn’t it? Or at least telling people you’ve attained it is. I’ll hold my hands up here and admit that I got a nice charge from telling people I had retired early. I was proud of this fact, although now having gone back to work I kind of wish I’d kept my mouth shut. Outside of pride and ego, I’m not sure what my motivation was for announcing it. I like to think it was something more than just to parade my own “status symbol of choice”, but I don’t know. I sometimes think that I had to tell people as a way of committing myself more to the idea of retirement and I do think there is a germ of truth in that. It’s just not a very big germ. Maybe I thought I’d be a bit of an inspiration to people, but that’s a pretty vain assumption too. Perhaps I felt it made me a bit of a curiosity, a slightly more interesting person who, as Dave Ramsey states, “lived years like nobody else to now live like nobody else”. Pride, vanity, ego. Surely there’s more to it (and me!) than that?
Well, one thing I could argue about why I told people I’d “retired early” was that I was definitely inspired and motivated by the FIRE bloggers who I’d discovered via trying to learn more about investing, saving and being cheerfully frugal as a lifestyle choice. If it inspired me, perhaps it would inspire others to adopt, what I felt, were worthwhile goals and objectives? There is an alternative to buying pairs of £500 shoes, if only more people knew what those were. I can’t say I wanted to be an “inspirational figure”, I just felt that maybe some people could learn from my example and experience of the FIRE lifestyle that seemed to be gaining prominence in certain circles. When you’ve experienced something positive in life, you’re kind of inclined to want to share it and I find that blogging allows me to do that whereas trying to “convert” individuals on a personal basis is, I find, being a bit more evangelical than I want to be. When if comes to my blogging, people can take it or leave it.
So, as my blog attests, the “retiring early” part of the FIRE equation didn’t work out and I wanted to write about that because I was fairly sure I wasn’t the only one out there discovering that I missed the workplace once I was out of it. All the same, I didn’t want to dismiss FIRE as a waste of time because the “Financial Independence” part was a massively positive goal that I couldn’t see a downside to. The difference between having to work for a living and choosing to work to enhance your living is massive, and more people should strive to allow themselves the opportunity to achieve it. I’ve seen quite a few bloggers describe this state of employment, where you’re not doing it for the cash, as having “FU Money” but when I see my salary drop into the bank for doing a job I’m choosing to do, it’s more “Thank You” than FU!