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 .
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.
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 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?
I’m also not popular with the 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.
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.