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Losing Friendships to Your FIRE

Okay, so it goes something like this.

You discover FIRE. You poke around different blogs, podcasts, mainstream news articles, etc. You’re pretty pumped. Look at all these people optimizing! You’ve never learned this much about investing. ETFs are the future.

A few days, weeks, or months pass.

“Whoa, who knew phone bills could be this cheap? You’ve got to tell your buddy Gagandeep! And Melissa would love this too, she’s always complaining of ‘never enough’ money. I bet they want to learn all the things I’ve just learned! I have so many resources! I’m so much happier optimizing, I’m sure they will be too. I can’t wait to tell them so we can all get better at the same time!!!”

And so you’ve crossed the line with that very statement.

Unfortunately, unbeknownst to you at the moment, your friends are actually going to be highly repelled by your helpful information for the following reasons:

  • Your personal growth is not for them to actually care about; they’ll nod approvingly and say things like “sounds great!” but that’s the extent of it

  • Friends don’t typically attack each others identity - and trust me, people’s possessions and life choices are their identity

  • You will come off as selling a product/scheme in a world where literally nobody trusts ‘the salesman’

  • Nobody likes being preached too

When you begin to optimize so many different facets of your life, it’s difficult to contain all the fun to yourself. Following the recipe of increasing your income and reducing your expenses (whether or not you belong to the FIRE movement) has always come with bragging rights in our society. People love hearing about these types of justice stories where you called the big bank and got your money back or demanded a raise from the big boss or cancelled a service because they were ripping you off! Fuck yeah, stick it to the man!

So less dramatic efficiencies being undertaken in your life such as cancelling cable, finding free activities outside or optimizing multiple credit cards are less sexy. Some outsiders might find your progress arousing but I can assure you most won’t (but the average FIREwalker might get a little hot! lol). 

They’ll give you blank stares followed by small smiles with a “what a simple person” nod. And that might not be a bad thing since you’re showing personal growth.

That is the name of the game after all. FIRE done correctly means personal growth and a lot of it. You will become a simpler person and for the better you do so. It’s okay to be misunderstood and even condescended too - going against the grain has its price after all.

How are you supposed to expect colleagues and arm's-length relationships from understanding your mindset? These conversations are best saved for people with a vested interest in your well-being. Perhaps your optimizations will still be boring to them but they will certainly engage you a lot more and you’ll enjoy having someone trustworthy to tell.

Here’s where the loneliness can kick in because some close friends you thought were close friends might not actually reciprocate your positive mental vibes about your personal growth. Some of your friends might want to change the subject quickly or moan loudly about their own personal woes. Or they’ll be glued to one particular optimization and stop there. You saved ‘em a few bucks, now let’s go shopping already!? And try as you might to be understood or help and support them, it just might not go anywhere.

Sadly, FIRE has a tendency to do this. It ends up eroding friendships that you thought had a solid base. Friendships you thought were friendships are actually just colleagues with get togethers outside of the workplace or educational environment. And if your “friends” are only at your job... ugh. Being stuck together in an office or wherever is a terrible place to think of actual friendship. At my old workplace, we used to have a guy that was all talkative, smiles and jokes but when it was time to go home, he made a beeline for his car and never looked back. He didn’t show up to any get togethers outside of the job. Do you think he was my friend? Do you think he considered me his friend?

“So I’ll just tell them my numbers! Visualization outta spark it!”

Your insult to injury will be made twice as lethal if you start sharing your account balances. Investment choices, spreadsheets and financial products are BORING and sound like a different language to the typical Canadian. Now imagine you’re telling someone you have a friendly relationship with that all their choices are inefficient in comparison to your optimized and finely tuned financial engine. And because you’re richer (visual proof was just provided), you’re better. I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m saying you’re an asshole.

I’ve tried this before and guess what, it doesn’t work. Showing people money makes them feel inferior, not motivated. There are few exceptions so in general you should go with the flow here, keep your numbers to yourself, your spouse and people you trust with your last will and testament.

I have maybe 4 people like that in my life. Myself, my wife, my dad and my stepmother: 

  • Myself: it’s ultra-important to be content with yourself. You should be able to look in the mirror and smile back knowing you’ve personally grown and that your wealth is well earned from years of hard work and sometimes even sacrifice. Reject the guilt and beware the imposter syndrome. You’ve earned your pile of money, trust me.

  • My wife: my sober second-thought, she doesn’t know nor does she care to know the differences between ETFs but when I say we’re buying one she laser focuses on why rather than how. I can’t hide any risks from her. Make no mistake, she’s smart with money and manages the day-to-day finances. I haven’t logged into my credit card statements in years, she does all that and maintains one big spreadsheet of all our numbers.

  • My dad and stepmother: These two are my safe space. Talking between spouses can get a bit silly, like she and I keep patting each other on the back over financial success. How elitist. So we need somebody to speak to and my parents are exactly this. They are both financially independent and proud of my financial accomplishments. They understand the life I’m trying to build and as they are the financial foundation there is no risk of telling all.

    • In case you’re wondering, they don’t tell me all. Quite a bit, but not all. Nor do I want them to. The safe space is for me and perhaps I’m unique that way. 

In the beginning of this ramble, I mentioned personal growth, identity, the salesman and preaching are the 4 barriers of communicating FIRE to friends and maintaining relationships after FIRE. The first two I’ve covered pretty well up top and the last two are easily understood.

We live in a world where advertising and marketing are the norm. The apps on our phone, before, during and after the podcast and the blogs we read (not this one! Sort of) are all blaring with ads. So when a friend sits down at the lunch table and just wants to talk casually, the last thing they want is to be sold to. Consumer culture strikes another blow to human decency.

Preaching to the choir (as they say) has always been the easiest. Convincing others your way is the right way is one of the greatest challenges humans face when setting out to accomplish anything noteworthy. Hence, the realm of politics. It’s a difficult job and unless people come to you asking for help, just don’t preach FIRE. If they notice you’re happier than their coworkers or abnormally quiet during debt-bitching circles and they capitalize on those subtleties, you have yourself a likely candidate of the FIRE movement. I’d approach with more boldness than somebody asking for cheaper phone plans but slow and steady wins the race.

If you want a killer line, say this:

“I’m trying to build wealth over the course of my life time, very slowly, by making small but meaningful changes where I see fit and building financial stability for me and my family along the way.”

If that doesn’t work, I hear bitcoin's at an all time high.

Ryan Myricks

Picture: Photo by Tobias Rehbein on Unsplash


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