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Are you Turning the FIRE Movement into a Fad?

I think I say this often around here - I believe I have written the most unpopular article to date. I'm sure this article will twist several panties into a bunch. Prepare your soft feelings.

Are all these wusses saving 10-49% on the path to FIRE actually a part of the movement? Or are they just big softies ruining the hardcoreness of the Mustachian lifestyle that runs parallel with the mainstream FIRE movement? Spreading the gospel that FI is the answer and RE is the devil is complete bullshit. What the fuck people?

This post is part 2 of the continuation of "The Requirements of FIRE"

A book came out in 1989 explaining how to really not give a shit about your finances and still be fine for retirement. It was called The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton and it is the best selling personal finance book in Canada ever since. The book basically states this: save 10% of your income and don't incur any other debt besides a mortgage. Put your income into well run mutual funds (which we now know is outdated advice, you can simply read that as broad-based low-cost index funds) and otherwise work until your CPP eligible and enjoy an easy retirement with zero stress of money from the time you started "paying yourself first" (the 10%) until you die. Hurray for most but not for us.

Canadians loved this message and still do. Money isn't confusing when you put such an obvious psychological trick into your spending - that is paying YOU first. Afterwards, who gives a shit? Blow the money on whatever you want. You can buy Burger King everyday from now on because you're GOOD with money. Such free reign resonates with everybody because you're free to make whatever decisions you want and the best part is nobody can tell you shit.

I think this style of thinking, which I call 'Wealthy Barberism' is a fantastic way to live a simple life with money. If somebody told me they don't have any other debt besides their mortgage and shove 10% of their income into the Wealthsimple Robo advisor app and call it a day, I'd be happy for them. No need to preach FIRE, no need to complicate their lives unless they wanted more from their money situation.

This brings me to my problem - I think a lot of people on the path to FIRE in Canada are actually choosing Wealthy Barberism but calling it 'FI, not RE', or 'Slow FI'. This drives me up the fucking wall.

The FIRE movement was never designed to appeal to all, it was designed to lifehack to the original 9 to 5 grind that Wealthy Barberism is. Afterall, with Chilton's plan you'll still be working a 40 year career, give or take a few years. The FIRE movement wants you to work a 17 year career at the VERY most, and chances are any lifestyle that has you retiring early in 17 years won't take that long anyways.

Think about it: if you save half of your income, the countdown clock starts at 17 years according to Mr Money Mustache. To get to this superb savings rate can take a lot of time, sacrifice and even experiments in the scary/forbidden word: deprivation. Nobody can just hit that tomorrow if they've been following Wealthy Barberism, especially if you're the sole provider of your family. But at what point did somebody chasing the FIRE movement decide "You know what? Fuck this, my savings rate is at 23%, I can't see any other way of getting it higher, I'm just gonna call it FI because FIRE is stupid. I didn't wanna RE anyways, waaa waaa."

You should be proud, 23% is still amazing, you're clearly an adult with your shit together. So why are you pulling apart the strings of the FIRE movement just because you didn't achieve a 50% goal? Perhaps that's an arbitrary goal that this blog sets as a requirement to actually be on the path to FIRE yet I would argue somebody with a 23% savings rate is actually following Wealthy Barberism because they are ~35 years away from retirement!!!

That's not FI or RE (which are the same thing). You'll be eligible to collect CPP and OAS sooner (if not already, depending on when you started) and yet you want to be independent from all other income? No, it doesn't work like that. I'm not arguing you don't account for CPP and OAS into your financial plan but don't call yourself FI when you depend on the government for your money. Furthermore, don't go spreading your bullshit online that RE isn't the goal when you yourself have failed to meet that goal. That's your personal problem, not the FIRE movement's.

I think a 23% savings rate is fantastic and this individual has done an incredible job of providing security for his or her family. I'm not arguing that. It pisses me off when people bandwagon a cause and dress up like their a part of something when they really aren't. People do this all the time in real life with sport teams (Raptor's fanbase exploded once they were contenders for the Championship) and they even do it with diets and all the other fads that come along with radical lifestyle choices. Can you be a Vegan on Tuesdays and Thursdays only? Fuck no, you're just eating plants on Tuesday and Thursday. I think Vegans would be happy with your effort and that you're making progress but that doesn't make you a Vegan or part of their movement. FYI, I'm not Vegan I just thought that was an easy example.

So please, unhitch yourself from the FIRE movement if you have no actual desire to achieve a state of financial independence and therefore early retirement (aka - the choice to do whatever the fuck you want). Branding yourself as FI not RE to disguise your marketing objectives is even worse because you're just capitalizing off a movement that intended a much different lifestyle than the one you're selling to all the other bandwagoners out there. You're not original, David Chilton described your methodology long before you began watering down the FIRE movement for your own selfish purposes.

Ryan Myricks

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  1. Oh Ryan. You told me I'd be upset with this post and now I know why! LOL! I do love your outspokenness on all things, even when I don't agree.

    My two cents: if someone identifies with and follows the tenets of the FIRE movement, but only saves 23%, I'd still say, "Welcome to the community."

    The FIRE community should be inclusive and supportive. This is how we help others become better with their money—by welcoming and supporting them. Not by creating an exclusive clique.

    Besides, savings rate is only one piece of the FI/RE pie. There's so much more to it than that: consuming less, investing in low-cost ETFs, DIYing, cutting expenses, increasing happiness, trading spending for freedom... I could go on.

    The point I'm trying to make is that there is no one 'right' way to FI/RE. There are no hard and fast rules, and those who want to be part of the movement or community should feel welcome.

    Re: Slow FI, I actually identify strongly with that term! Some of us, me included, will not reach FI at a very young age. But we are still aiming for FI and will still reach FI long before traditional retirement age.

    Part of the reason we won't reach FI in our 20s or 30s isn't because we're not saving 50% or more. It's because we've made intentional decisions to slow the journey for the sake of our happiness on the way to FI.

    The Fioneers, who coined the Slow FI term, in fact save 56-58% of their income. They also follow the tenets of the FIRE community and are definitely not Wealthy Barbers in disguise! So why would you say they can't be part of the community?

    You know I respect and value your opinions very much, my friend. But I have to argue back at you on this post!

    1. What can I say Chrissy, I warned you! Thanks for reading through, your tweet and leaving your comment. If you don't mind, I'd like to counter a few of your points as nicely as possible (which I suppose isn't nice at all!).

      #1 - "FIRE should be inclusive" - I would agree. A lot of people who don't meet my threshold aren't automatically disqualified from pursuing FIRE but I would like to see an honest attempt at achieving the 50% SR. Judging by the amount of SUV's, poor investing advice and otherwise pro-consumer culture choices I see all the time on "FI" forums, I am making an assumption (and that's key to not taking my opinion to heart) that people on the FIRE path are actually not, much like perpetually dieters aren't actually dieting. That leads into point #2.

      #2 - "Slow FI is about making intentional decisions now to place happiness as the main goal and financial independence as a second goal (or simply used as a tool to get happiness)" - I would argue that with a low SR you are still deep in the depths of consumer culture and by choosing a "slower path" you are simply not willing to give up the things that you think make you happy such as SUV's, cable, and drive-thrus. Make your top 10 list of things that make you happy on a weekly basis, I bet none of those make the cut. If they do, sure toss 'em in but guess what? Your top 10 list shouldn't destroy your SR to below 50% if you're serious about FI.

      #3 - "Reaching FI in your 20's or 30's must mean sacrifices that will lead you to being unhappy/deprived" - This is where almost everybody gets it wrong. FIRE may appear age-biased but that's simply because the movement was founded by young people and you get to hear the unicorn stories over and over again. FIRE is biased towards the naturally frugal with high incomes, not the age of said person. Relying on your own investment portfolio is the only qualification of being at FI. So when people have low SR's and then rely on CPP/OAS and probably their home equity to retire with their same annual spending - THAT IS NOT FI. If lowering spending in retirement seems like an obvious solution, then you could've been doing that all along and achieved FI a long time ago but you were too convinced you'd be unhappy to do so. So you either embrace frugality now or you embrace frugality when its forced upon you in retirement or you spend money until there's nothing left to spend and then see what happens.

      I don't follow the Fioneers but I have heard of them before. I believe I've read that post on Slow FI but I might be mistaken. Either way, I've made the decision to group the Wealthy Barbers and Slow FI folk into one crowd because a sexy label like FIRE is bound to be better than Wealthy Barberism or whatever people want to call financial stability.

      I respect your opinions to and I wouldn't want there to be dead silence between us anyways. I'm always willing to admit I'm wrong but so far I've received 4 or 5 replies in various parts of the internet and I haven't been convinced yet. Ya'll can keep trying though :P

  2. FIRE is slowly becoming a fad IMO. Because the media interview the same people over and over, the media is painting a picture that FIRE is about saving up so you can retire as quickly (and early) as you can. But FIRE is more than that. At the core of the FIRE movement, it's about creating a better financial future for yourself. If you're saving 23%, great you should be high fiving everyone!

    1. Glad you agree. If somebody aims for 50% SR and plateaued around 23%, there's no shame in that. You're just not going to realistically FIRE with that SR and to assume your financial picture is that of the FIRE movement is incredibly misleading to others and especially to your retirement plans.

  3. Good stuff Ryan. I don't have much else to add to your rant :)

    I've always considered ourselves (wife and I) working towards financial independence, long before any marketing moniker came out (FIRE, FI, FI/RE, whatever). That desire was in fact triggered by the seminal Chilton book. In my 40s now, that was the first personal finance book I read. It inspired me then to be good with money and it continues to inspire me now with simple, practical messages. We have and will continue to pay ourselves first. We live our lives after that. That's 80,000 personal finance books in a few lines right there. Done :) I know you agree...

    The FIRE movement is a funny beast. It's very easy to see past the marketing and drama with some sites. I really don't care too much about them - if they want to hustle a blog, a book, a podcast, a course, and make money by selling any one or more of those things I have no problem with that.

    What I care about and what I try to support are those sites and people that add actual value to others. Those are things I can get behind.

    There will always be folks that hustle hard in any industry. I try not to waste too much energy fighting that. I care to surround myself with folks that actually care about others and their well-being. Those are the people I like to interact with and therefore put my energy towards. If they make money off that genuine approach, happy to support them. Always will.

    The folks seeking fame off a tagline, well, who cares.

    All the best and stay in touch more in 2020.


    1. Great comment Mark.. and thanks for the shoutout in your newsletter!

      I love that you bring it back to pre-FIRE terminology. In the end, all the really matters is your ability to prepare for retirement - early or conventional or something in between, who cares? You have to do what you think is right and not blindly follow advice, brands and sales pitches that promise FI or any of its variations. Going with your gut and making informed choices are the two most sensible decisions one can make for their happiness.

  4. I see a lot of watering things down in the community and myself am not one to allow people to enable one another. I will employ the specific amount of accountability to people with what they identify.

    FI ~ well sure you want to work longer but you still want a thrifty consumer lifestyle, but you are not FI unless you can walk away from your income for a few years with zero worries. I think this still allows people to get caught up with the masses and feel ok to spend without guilt or accountability. They should still be held to task if they put themselves out there. A long way to go to retirement and definitely not adhering to the original premise.

    FIRE ~ you need to be dedicated and have a very clear path. You need to know 100% what you value and only dedicate funds to the highest ROI items that allow you to maintain a happy life but there is a strong voluntary frugality going on here.

    I do agree though if they are merely saving 10% and have no debt, sure you are wise but you are not on a path to retiring outside of the machine. You still are 100% into a full on consumer lifestyle and want to continue to live that life after working until 65. Sure hope they are healthy and fit to enjoy retirement at 65 after letting the 20 years you could have retired earlier pass you by.

    I was always a huge fan of ERE and bought Jacob's book for a reason. You don't get away with

    The only thing I should state is I don't care if you hustle a little or have fun with hobby income after retiring. (I hate the word retire anyhow, how about not chained to 9-5 ever again) Last year I made a bit of money while FI writing and taking photos. What I made in income wasn't even 1/6th what I paid in income tax alone prior to leaving my career of 20 years. I know FIRE'd at 43 isn't special but shit without finding MMM or ERE I would be working outdoors freezing on the Prairies in that -40 and probably some hefty debt still. But hey, I would still be saving 10% lol.

    1. You are speaking my language!! I couldn't agree more, I think the Wealthy Barbers have not rejected consumer culture, my second requirement from part 1. In fact, they place the "pay yourself first" trick to intentionally NOT be more mindful of their money, its nearly the opposite of the lifehack that is FIRE. I think this trick resonates with so many Canadians because it truly is easy. It's easy not to care about what you truly want because getting that is hard. Just go with what society says and let the government social security catch you when you as a primary plan or as a back up. Oh well, enjoy the 9 to 5 grind but don't brand it FI or FIRE.

  5. Ryan, great post! I must agree you are nicer on the podcast Haha! Have you discussed or written about calculating your savings rate? I am having trouble warping my brain around the mix of pretax and after tax savings.

    1. Thank you! :)

      Yes, as a matter of fact I do have a post coming out soon about how to calculate your savings rate (SR)! It can be a bit confusing with employer sponsored programs and mortgages but I think its worth the deep dive. Coming soon to a blog near you!


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