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My First 2023 Rant

Richard Quinn

I’M ANNOYED BY the financial independence-retire early movement, otherwise known as FIRE. Most annoying are the FIRE bloggers who present their fantasy world of radically early retirement, but don’t like to be questioned, challenged or criticized. As if I’d ever do that.

FIRE folks typically have a few things in common. They were high-income earners before “retiring” and their households usually had two incomes. They’re willing—indeed eager—to embrace a frugal, nontraditional lifestyle, sometimes outside the U.S. Many aren’t retired, in my view, because they work to generate consulting income. Oh yes, upon dropping out of the nine-to-five life, many are instant experts on all things financial and frugal.

Some of them like to present a rosy but limited view of their lives. They start their FIRE blogging by presenting their great “forever” lifestyle—and then disappear or stop updating their blog. A bit suspicious, I’d say.

Several of the ones I follow sell their expertise, yet state that they aren’t experts and have no formal qualifications. Others write books, broadcast YouTube videos, record podcasts or gain notoriety in the press. I liken them to sideshow barkers.

Their pitch goes something like this: “Hey, if I can save half or more of my income, retire at 33, raise three children and put them through college, you can, too. I’ll show you how—for a fee.” FIRE is big business.

Even Suze Orman says she hates the FIRE movement. Am I in good company?

You and I often lend a helping hand to the FIRE folks. In some cases, they keep their income so low that they receive taxpayer subsidies for health care and other services. One blogger I follow gets free cable TV and a heavily subsidized community college education. I don’t know about you but, at age 33, we were one of those paycheck-to-paycheck families, grabbing as much overtime as possible.

Some of these bloggers have “curmudgeon blockers” on their sites. What else could it be, as I’m often ignored or have my skeptical comments deleted? My most recent encounter was with the Frugalwoods blogger. She posted that she buys nearly all of her children’s clothes second-hand at garage sales or thrift stores, including shoes.

I pointed out that shoes were important for young children, and it’s not a good idea for them to wear shoes shaped by another person’s foot. My comment was deleted. Or did I get on her bad side when I mentioned that her reported monthly spending includes $100 to $200 for beer and wine?

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I’m also not popular with the Root of Good blogger. A recent post says, “We kept busy in October with a ten day cruise to the Caribbean, plus several parties for family and friends. I need a vacation! Ha ha…we are two weeks away from our next big trip. We fly to Portugal for a week-long adventure around the Lisbon and coastal areas of Portugal. Then we depart on a transatlantic cruise back to the US of A in the middle of December.”

Oh yeah, this family of five spent the summer traveling Eastern Europe. In January 2023, they’ll leave on another 10-day cruise. For a fee, he will tell you how you, too, can live this frugal fantasy.

The Root of Good blogger claims a net worth of $2,718,000, including the value of his home. He deleted my comment when I asked for the value of the house. His annual spending is budgeted at $40,000. Guess what? I don’t buy it.

Is it me or aren’t American families with three children at that income level among those struggling financially and unable to come up with cash for an emergency? The weighted average poverty threshold for a family of five is $32,885. Yet it seems it’s possible to travel the world while just scraping by.

What do seniors have to complain about? In 2021, the median income for households age 65 or older was $47,620. Time to book the next cruise, I’d say.

The bottom line: If you aspire to retire in your 30s, you can get a head start by selling your car, saving at least half your income, giving up any semblance of luxury, shopping for used everything and maybe living off the grid. Nothing to it. Just be prepared for a radical lifestyle change. To survive, you may also need to sell your newfound expertise—and hope that you avoid any personal or financial crisis for the rest of your life.

Richard Quinn blogs at QuinnsCommentary.net. Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. Follow him on Twitter @QuinnsComments and check out his earlier articles.

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Debbie D
Debbie D
7 days ago

Enjoyed your rant. Nice to read from someone else who also sees the bright and shiny as a bit too much. I used to read a FIRE blogger out of San Fran then he annoyed me so I stopped reading. Later learned this guy returned to work a few years later. I’m sure he spun it.

SCao
SCao
13 days ago

Thanks for the rant, Mr. Quinn. Personally I am a huge fan of FI, but not the RE. I see your points about if some of those FIRE folks are free riders of our society, in term of getting sudsidized health benefits, etc.

1silverloon
1silverloon
13 days ago

Richard, rather than spending your precious retirement life time trolling these FIRE bloggers and inserting your (not appreciated and not welcomed) curmudgeon comments, I recommend you let it go and move on to other more productive positive things. Those FIRE bloggers are preaching to their own choir. They don’t want anyone joining who sings out of tune. They don’t want you, and they don’t care about you, so it’s time to move on. Everyone (like those of us here who subscribe to Humble Dollar) we have common sense and we know that whatever appears to look shiny on the surface … underneath lies a different story that the FIRE bloggers are not telling. Me? I retired at 60 and I have better things to do with my life than troll and yank on their (purchased used at a garage sale) rug, I’m not going to be an unwelcome curmudgeon in my retirement. Life is too short to dwell on negativity.

R Quinn
R Quinn
13 days ago
Reply to  1silverloon

A troll is a person who intentionally tries to instigate conflict, hostility, or arguments in an online social community. That I do not do, but what I do is ask the elixir salesmen what is in the bottle.

Bloggers who see themselves as influencers and experts and who provide – sell – advice need to be fully honest. Many people accept them on face value. An honest question deserves an honest answer.

My interests vary greatly, but I have a particular interest in retirement and things related so to me it’s not a waste of time. Unfortunately, common sense may not be as wide spread as you assume.

I never thought of myself as unwelcome except by those who have something to hide so that’s okay.

Whatever those better things are you have to do, enjoy them and I’ll enjoy playing Andy Rooney. By the way, talking about wasting time, today was an off day so I wasted my time watching documentaries on country manor houses in the UK and a history of the Vikings.

Last edited 12 days ago by R Quinn
planedoc
planedoc
14 days ago

I will admit, that I got a lot of useful info from *some* of the bloggers. But as I looked into it, I found that many (most?) either had significant income from another “job” (income from ads on blogs, construction work, etc) or their spouse was still employed full-time.

No doubt there is benefit from working at a job you enjoy, and a benefit from a degree of frugality.

Financial responsibility, and Financial independence are important, but the principles are available for free. You don’t need a “course”.

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
14 days ago
Reply to  planedoc

When you read other blogs, I’d encourage you to distinguish between advertisements and affiliate marketing links. The advertisements that HumbleDollar runs are served up automatically, so there’s no way we could customize content to drive you to click on those ads. By contrast, with affiliate marketing relationships, bloggers know what relationships they have and they often drive readers to purchase the goods or services involved. It’s a massive conflict of interest and makes a site’s content entirely suspect — which is why HumbleDollar doesn’t have any affiliate marketing relationships, and instead relies solely on ads and donations. Ads, unfortunately, are far less lucrative than affiliate marketing links, but I’d rather sacrifice income than risk the site’s reputation.

R Quinn
R Quinn
13 days ago

You’re sure right about that. The blogs I referenced and others are full of such marketing links.

R Parker Slayton
R Parker Slayton
14 days ago

Work gives me purpose in life.

I am a big fan of FI, just not FIRE.

I would go nuts with FIRE. I enjoy working. It is unhealthy to have a perpetually stressful job…….. but it is also unhealthy to FIRE.

R Quinn
R Quinn
13 days ago

Nothing wrong with financial independence, but I sure wouldn’t want to be reduced to buying my family clothes and children’s toys at garage sales to show the world I’m frugal and can retire at 38.

ryangibsonclever
ryangibsonclever
5 hours ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I think a lot of your comments are valid but I don’t really understand the issue with buying clothes and toys at garage sales.

Kids go through an obscene amount of clothes and when young they can have limited use. A child who is 2 can grow out of clothes within 6 months. Why would you buy brand new when you could be getting clothes for a fraction of the cost which have hardly been used? Not to mention the environmental impact of creating those clothes again. It makes zero sense.

It’s also estimated that 80% of toys end up on landfill. Why would you buy new and not from a garage sale/charity shop if you can get the same toy for a fraction of the price?

I understand your overarching point but this one Is lost on me a little.

Reducing consumption and reusing where possible is not a bad thing and can save families at all ends of the financial spectrum money and it just makes sense in every way.

Warren Tunwall
Warren Tunwall
14 days ago

Regarding FIRE and folks who claim to retire in their 30’s, they are severely impacting the SS benefits they’ll be able to collect beginning at 62. (SS calculated based on your 35 highest earning years). I didn’t consider retirement until I had 35 years completed and retired at 58 which I considered ‘early’!

R Quinn
R Quinn
14 days ago
Reply to  Warren Tunwall

58 is early but not extreme. What amazes me is many claim they live comfortably, travel, etc. on $40,000 a year or so, a few even with children. That’s less than 60% of the median household income in the US. I guess comfortable life style has a wide range of definitions.

Purple Rain
Purple Rain
13 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

One Canadian couple who consistently mocks homeownership and spent a few years travelling around the world on 40k a year, plus hawking books and affiliate links, have been back in Toronto because of a serious health issue in their extended family and I imagine 40k does not go far in Toronto rent.

Jon Daley
Jon Daley
13 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I know some people who travel a lot and say the credit card points pay for it, etc. but I’ve never figured out that part.

My family (of 9) lives quite comfortably on $50k, so I’m equally amazed at how some people can spend so much money. I have always lived in relatively low cost of living locations (western PA and NH) so that is part of it, though my co-workers and neighbors almost always spend more than me.

My income went up this year and we’re now saving 40% or so and our charitable giving has gone up a lot too which is pretty fun. And we have even more for extras than we did before.

I’d say we’re careful with our money and not “lean Fire” or anything, though retiring early is now on the horizon (module college expenses that we’re now starting to work on).

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
13 days ago
Reply to  Jon Daley

Lots of info on collecting and using points here: https://thepointsguy.com/ But I keep it simple – I have an American Airlines Citibank MasterCard that I use for almost all transactions, and I use AA miles on AA and affiliated (One World) airlines for most international travel. I have done a lot of long-haul flights in business class on FF miles.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
14 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Depends on where they are living and where they are traveling. The property taxes in NC are very much lower than those in NJ, for instance. And there are a number of countries where you can be comfortable on much less than in the US, especially if you stay put for a bit.

R Quinn
R Quinn
14 days ago
Reply to  mytimetotravel

True, but even in NC the median family income is
$60,516

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
14 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Which means half the population is below that. And again, it depends on where you live. In Raleigh the highest zip code is $106,022, but the lowest is $16,616, while in Asheville, up in the mountains, the highest zip code is $42,263 and the lowest $20,804.(From zipatlas.com)

AnthonyClan
AnthonyClan
13 days ago
Reply to  mytimetotravel

We wary of income stats. My town’s average income is low, why, because we are a college town with 50K students that make little or no money! In fact we are one of the wealthiest towns in the state. Expecially if one considers that many of the no-income students have access to the funds of their upper middle class parents (I wish I could afford many of he cars in the student parking lot!).

JRobi
JRobi
14 days ago

I’m new to your blog and enjoy the content. Most of the information I obtained to be able to retire in my early 50s came from a handful of the FIRE community posters, along with Dave Ramsey. I can’t say that I agree 100% with any of those I followed, but I am grateful for them, and the information you and others provide.

R Quinn
R Quinn
14 days ago
Reply to  JRobi

When you say retire, is that in the traditional sense – no working for income? You are living off of your investments? Curious as to what information was helpful in allowing you to meet your ER goal.

JRobi
JRobi
14 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Yes, I no longer work for income and am living off of my investments. Eliminating debt, living below my means, and a variety of investment approaches (index funds, real estate, dividend-paying stocks) was probably the best advice I received along the way. As I settled into retirement, it shifted more towards withdrawal ideas and creating the optimal day to continue to be productive and healthy.

John Goodell
John Goodell
14 days ago

Richard, you nailed it. All of it (and thank you). I once had a well known blogger change something I’d written in a comment into a racist rant, so I presume he could generate controversy and more clicks (he only removed my name after I threatened to sue, but he left the manipulated comment up I’m guessing because it had already generated much click bait drama). That was when I began to look more discerningly at the claims made on these blogs, and have found that many simply don’t add up.

Last edited 14 days ago by Jonathan Clements
Michael1
Michael1
14 days ago
Reply to  John Goodell

Wow. Sorry this happened to you 🙁

Jonathan Clements
Admin
Jonathan Clements
14 days ago
Reply to  John Goodell

That is horrifying — and beyond unethical. I’m sorry that happened to you, John.

John Goodell
John Goodell
14 days ago

Thank you. It was really shocking to me when it happened and deeply troubling.

Last edited 14 days ago by John Goodell
JRobi
JRobi
14 days ago
Reply to  John Goodell

That’s insane…so sorry to hear this happened…

Olin
Olin
14 days ago

I used to read ROG several years ago and lost interest as he doesn’t depict the norm. I know he and his wife were attorney’s, but I’m not so sure they are really living the good life. Do bloggers make much money if they charge a fee for their secrets?

I’m not a FIRE example, so I don’t waste my time reading any of those.

mytimetotravel
mytimetotravel
14 days ago

I haven’t read any of these blogs, not sure why you do, but please don’t lump everyone who retires early together. Admittedly, I waited until 53, not 33, so maybe that doesn’t count as FIRE, but on the other hand I retired on a pension that was 40% of my final year’s income. I got in a lot of travel, too, you can travel quite comfortably on not a lot of money if you stay away from posh hotels and Michelin starred restaurants.

R Quinn
R Quinn
14 days ago
Reply to  mytimetotravel

I don’t think retiring with a pension at 53 is the same as claiming to retire at 33 and living off accumulated investments the rest of your life.

Paula Karabelias
Paula Karabelias
14 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Have you, or anyone you know , know someone personally who retired at 33 permanantly ? I know a lot of young people , and none have. They only seem to exist in cyberspace, and as you mentioned, tend to disappear after a while. I think they are akin to “social media influencers”. I read a few blogs for awhile out of curiousity but stopped.

Arnold Hold
Arnold Hold
14 days ago

Always wondered how FIRE claimers could feel sated with their everyday life of perpetually vacationing. Well put, and some of these bloggers sound like they are not retiring, but merely dropping out.

Brent Wilson
Brent Wilson
14 days ago

I think the truth lies somewhere between FIRE bloggers and Suze Orman.

Michael1
Michael1
14 days ago

Thanks for this idea to supplement our own income. Apparently we can start a blog and if we get followers we can get advertising. This isn’t new news, but I hadn’t stopped to think we can just delete comments we don’t like, so we don’t actually have to know what we’re talking about.

Mike Wyant
Mike Wyant
14 days ago

I avoid all so called ” influencers” and ” lifestyle gurus”. Life’s too short to go down that rabbit hole. My social media is limited to friends and family and Facebook groups I’m interested in, such as pickleball, rv travels and sites like HD.

Guest
Guest
14 days ago

I feel the same as you about these folks but the difference is I don’t bother reading their silly blogs. That’s one reason I don’t get frustrated with their idiocy. And don’t get me started on how loony Orman is.

Last edited 14 days ago by Guest
M Plate
M Plate
14 days ago

I eventually soured on FIRE bloggers for the reasons that you mentioned. Funny, their “radical” strategy of living below one’s means, is actually timeless.

R Quinn
R Quinn
14 days ago

Here’s an update. The Root of Good blogger shows his investment “income” each month and annually and states 3/4 comes from his retirement plans. I asked how he did that at his age while avoiding a 10% tax penalty. My post was deleted.

AJ
AJ
13 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

I’m sorry about the poor netiquette you’ve received from this blogger, and for the record, I agree with your critique of the FIRE movement, particularly its penchant for selling early retirement advice to fund early retirement. However, I did find an answer to this question in his most recent December post. He mentions using a Roth IRA conversion ladder (explanation) to access tax deferred accounts early without penalty. Essentially just doing Roth IRA conversions in annual chunks to later be withdrawn as contributions without penalty. The main catch is that you have to wait 5 years for each converted amount to be considered a contribution eligible for withdrawal.

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
14 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

What a ridiculous question to ask, Richard.

(/sarcasm of course)

Nate Allen
Nate Allen
15 days ago

Aah, Richard Quinn; our favorite neighborhood curmudgeon here on Humble Dollar.

Glad to see your first rant of 2023 is back to true form! Looking forward to many more to come.

R Quinn
R Quinn
14 days ago
Reply to  Nate Allen

I was thinking about one on old men who think they know it all and life experiences give them the right to be critical. Then I looked in the mirror and decided, nah. 😃

wtfwjtd
wtfwjtd
14 days ago
Reply to  R Quinn

Not just the right, but the obligation! I mean, c’mon, someone has to call out these charlatans on their nonsense, might as well be you 🙂
I mean, seriously though, a family of five traveling the world via luxury cruises and quixotic trips (for six months out of the year!), saving for college, throwing several big parties a month, all on $40k a year–nothing ridiculous about jamming that square peg into that round hole, amirite?!

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