I’ve been reading personal finance and FIRE (financial independence, retire early) writers for many years now. I’ll often focus on one writer or blog at a time, reading through all or most of the body of work and being inspired by their overarching story and experience, as well as nuggets of advice from the specifics of their journey.
Now that we’ve decided to dip our toes into the water, it’s worth thinking about what we have learned about the FIRE community.
Show me your rebel side
Purposefully living far below your means, leaving money on the table, downshifting, and turning down the glories of paid work, requires a certain ability to go against the grain. Independent thinking. Willingness to be the frugal weirdo.
As the FIRE community has grown, it may feel like less of an extreme, rare choice, but the reality is that opting out of the spendier conveniences of modern life is still regarded as a little strange by more conventional colleagues and friends. Being able to withstand the questioning gaze of friendly but confused people and carry on with your goals and principles with a simple, “no thanks!” is a necessary component of taking a different path.
Does this fit us? Yes.
We both have our stubbornly independent or rebel side. For Andrés*, it manifested as questioning of the system, institutions, and the idea that you have to follow a career path that is not your passion in order to provide for yourself and family. For myself, it often meant that, once I had decided that a certain principle was logically or ethically correct, I would follow it to its conclusion, in both personal and professional decisions. We both resist being told what to do and highly value having a certain level of autonomy in our work. (We do actually get along with other people quite well, I swear.)
Take lunch to work every day? Check. Buy a small home? Check. Buy our stuff used on Craig’s list or thrift stores? Check. Take hand-me-downs? Check. They’re steps on our path.
Willingness to talk dollars
Talking about money is still somewhat taboo. It’s something you take care of in private, without trumpeting it out to the world. Except in the FIRE community!
Understanding the economic forces that shape people’s lives (and our own), from large to small, is like pulling back the curtain. You can better understand why people make the choices they do and why our world is set up the way it is. But even Bernie fans** and economists don’t offer up the same level of transparency and detail that the personal finance and FIRE community provides.
Move for money
Making intentional choices about where you want to live, taking into account money as a key factor. Also known as geoarbitrage. Spending a year or more in Bolivia, where Andrés is from, is something we’ve considered, thought about, planned for, negotiated and renegotiated, since we moved to the US. It’s still an option on the table. It’s neat to find a community of people for whom the cost of living is a key factor in choosing where to live, and where living outside of the United States is a normal decision.
Do what you want
Underneath it all, what is most inspiring about the people who write about their journey to pursue financial independence and early retirement is that they do what they want – fearlessly. We all know that there are people who feel trapped or stuck who have high incomes and there are people who feel free and open while living on modest budgets. Giving in to feeling trapped is not something that characterizes many people on the path to FIRE. They build up savings (aka FU money) to walk away from bad bosses and toxic work environments. They change jobs to get solid pay increases. They take breaks from working or reduce their hours to create the work-life balance that works for them.
Does this fit us? Yes.
By taking work that we enjoy, by knowing that we are at work because we choose to, by working as an independent consultant, by taking jobs that allow us flexibility and dialing back hours to spend more time with our kids, by pursuing passion projects and even by starting to write here once a week, we are choosing to do what we want. And we think that will help us live more fulfilled, happy lives.
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* Hey there! We’ve decided to share our first names. We’re Lily and Andrés, nice to meet you. Mucho gusto.
** I originally started writing “advocates for reducing socioeconomic inequality” in this sentence but it didn’t pack the same punch. Some of my best friends are Bernie fans, union organizers, and policy advocates. FYI, those categories don’t all overlap.
(A final note: I did not use the word “movement.” As the FIRE OG Vicki Robin said on the Fairer Cents podcast, a movement requires a power analysis, and that overall, FIRE is a community. Although maybe there’s a movement within the community?)
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What do you think? Are these impressions an accurate depiction of the FIRE community? Where did we get it wrong? Do you share any of these traits as well?