Back in October, Paula Pant’s interview of Suze Orman blew up in the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community. It was… an interesting interview.
Suze was angry, condescending, and just plain ignorant of the FIRE movement. She made many unfounded, incorrect assumptions about FIRE-seekers, and attacked us with baseless fearmongering. While she offered some sound advice, her highly unpalatable delivery overshadowed all of it.
It was hard to listen to Suze’s tirade. But after the dust settled, we realized that she actually did us a favour. Suze not only got mainstream media talking about us, but she also helped us see something critically important…
We have work to do
Paula sums this up in her closing remarks for that interview:
“… when I listen to the objections to FIRE, it becomes clear to me that the people who object to FIRE are ones who misunderstand it. I suppose as one of the voices out there who advocates for FIRE, I am partially responsible for that.
Apparently I’m not explaining FIRE as well as I could be. Apparently this message is getting distorted somewhere along the way. I know my mission now: I am going to keep advocating for FIRE, because FIRE gives you choices. Why would you not want choices?”
As our numbers swell and FIRE/FI moves into the mainstream, more curiosity-seekers will come our way. The more we share our stories, the more likely that newcomers will learn the facts about FIRE.
This post aims to dispel the myths and clarify what retirement and FIRE/FI really mean to our community.
What is retirement anyway?
Clearly, retirement means different things to different people. Let’s start by taking a look at the viewpoints we typically encounter:
Retirement according to Suze Orman
Suze believes that FIRE means retiring early and becoming a passionless, purposeless beach bum. She says (in reference to her multi-billionaire friends):
“… they would feel sorry for the people that want to retire early, because they don’t have a passion. They just want to retire… just sitting and doing nothing will get to you after a while.”
Retirement according to the Internet Retirement Police
“… you can only participate in certain pre-approved retirement activities such as beach-sitting, staring out the window, and receiving visits from your grandchildren.”
Additionally, the IRP stipulate that, if you’re retired, earning money and doing anything job-like is off-limits.
Retirement according to the FIRE community
The FIRE community vehemently disagrees with Suze and the IRP. For us, ‘retirement’ is a nuanced, flexible thing. Any of the following situations could mean you’ve ‘retired’:
- Reaching FI, then continuing to work at the same job because you choose to.
- Reaching FI, then quitting your job to do other work (paid and unpaid).
- Reaching FI, then quitting your job to travel/raise your kids/indulge in hobbies.
- Any combination of the above.
In the FIRE community, retirement encompasses anything you choose to do after you reach FI—even if it’s a 9 to 5 paid job! Why? Because ‘work’ post-FI is of our choosing and fully optional.
FIRE vs FI: Where do I stand?
I take no issue with the term ‘FIRE’ (financial independence, retire early). And yet, I mostly use the term ‘FI’ (financial independence). Why?
It’s because confusion about the word ‘retirement’ is a roadblock. I’d rather remove the confusion and make things clearer.
We’re all better off spending less time arguing with others about retirement, and more time striving for FI. (Which is what’ll actually allow us to retire!)
Dispelling the myths
In addition to their erroneous definition of the ‘RE’ in FIRE, Suze, the IRP, and mainstream media propagate other myths about FI-seekers. Mostly, they believe we’re uninformed, careless risk-takers; liars who tell tall tales; or just the lucky few who ‘made it’.
But in the FI community, we know they couldn’t be further from the truth. Here are the myths and realities of FI:
FI-seekers carelessly throw caution to the wind, retiring whether they’re ready or not.
FI-seekers are oblivious to the catastrophes that could befall them.
We’re well aware, and plan ahead for the inevitable catastrophes that life will throw at us. In fact, FI-seekers are more likely to be prepared for such catastrophes than the average person—both pre and post-FI.
FI-seekers quit their jobs because they have no passion for their work.
Many of us are passionate about our work! And some of us will continue to work post-FI because we choose to, not because we have to. FI gives us the freedom to pursue our passions—whether they’re paid or not.
FI-seekers are no longer contributing members of society.
We continue to contribute to the world in valuable and deeply meaningful ways. Paula Pant is a great example of this. She podcasts, blogs, and vlogs to help others learn to be better with their money. And she raises money for charity: water. Not contributing? Think again.
FI-seekers reach FI by being ridiculously frugal and choosing a life of misery and deprivation.
Most of us, Mr. Money Mustache included, actually live abundant and comfortable lives. Those of us who choose frugality typically do so in less-meaningful areas of our lives (for example, the type of car we drive or the size of house we own).
FI’s not possible. All these early retirees are bending the truth or just making this stuff up.
FI’s most definitely possible—do the math and see for yourself! Additionally, why would we lie?
Sure, some of us make money by telling our stories and getting traffic to our blogs. But most of us (me included) lose money blogging!
We talk about FI because we genuinely want to help others and make the world a better place.
FI-seekers who make it are just lucky and/or had high-paying jobs.
While being born into the ‘right’ income class or scoring a high-paying job could be considered ‘lucky’, I have two points to make:
- Being ‘lucky’ doesn’t automatically lead to FI. (Look at all the lottery winners and pro athletes who go bankrupt.)
- Many in the FI community aren’t ‘lucky’: some of us grew up poor; others have/will never earn a high income. We have the same life struggles as everybody else.
BUT you could say FI-seekers do reach FI by ‘luck’ if this was your definition of luck:
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
In the FI community, ‘preparation’ = working hard, living far below our means, and saving the excess. And ‘opportunity’ = investing our savings in assets that grow our money.
So… maybe luck does contribute to FI success—it’s just not the kind of luck most people think of!
Conclusion: What FI means to me
- Like Paula Pant, I believe that FI means choices: our strong financial footing allows us to choose the happiest, most fulfilling life possible.
- In the FI community, the term ‘retirement’ is interpreted in many different ways (and can include paid work).
- Instead of ‘FIRE’, I mostly use the term ‘FI’. This keeps things clearer and saves me from having to argue with the Internet Retirement Police.
- There are lots of FI myths out there, but don’t let the fearmongers scare you off! Do your own research before deciding if FI’s right for you.
What does FI mean to you?
I want to hear from you—even if you completely disagree with me! Let’s talk about what FI/FIRE means to each of us. The more we talk, the more we can show a diversity of opinion.
This can help more people relate to FI and decide to pursue it. And the more people who make that choice, the happier and better off our world as a whole becomes.
So please—comment and debate away!
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