Neither of us had ever heard the term FIRE before becoming a part of the personal finance blogger community.
This is pretty ironic, being as my husband IS financially independent and retired early, and I’m well on my way to being able to do the same (although it’s not my goal to retire super early). Plus, we’re both pretty savvy with money and voracious consumers of knowledge.
Although we clearly don’t know everything about money, the fact that we were unaware of the FIRE movement until recently does suggest that it hasn’t yet spread as fast as wildfire outside of those in the blogger community who claim to be pursuing it.
However, the more we read about the FIRE community and philosophy, the more we began to question it. Sure, amassing enough wealth to be able to retire early sounds like a great idea, but is that what’s really going on?
Are FIRE bloggers truly chasing FIRE?
Let us be blunt and say we don’t think they are.
What Is Fire?
As most of you probably know, FIRE stands for financially independent, retire early.
The movement was unwittingly started by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez in 1992 when they published their bestseller, Your Money or Your Life. The book charted the course for escaping the traditional 9-5 job, which many FIRE advocates follow today.
Essentially, the goal of FIRE is to accumulate enough wealth to be able to leave your rat-race job and pursue your own interests, thus, making you an early retiree. While there is no set age range for one to be considered early-retired, most FIRE enthusiasts strive for retiring ASAP, many in their 30’s and 40’s.
Being financially stable enough to leave the traditional workforce years early means you’re free to do what you want to do at a much younger age. Many retirees travel or take up a new hobby. Others volunteer their time.
But there’s just one problem with the FIRE bloggers’ concept of early retirement.
They’re not really retired.
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What Does It Mean To Be Retired?
We think FIRE bloggers aren’t truly chasing FIRE because they’re not really retired.
Yes, FIRE bloggers have left (or are striving to leave) the typical 9-5 workforce, but that’s not what being retired is all about.
In fact, the definition of retired is “having left one’s job and ceased to work.” Look it up anywhere, and you’ll get a similar definition.
Literally, you are retired if you’re no longer working for an income.
This means that you’re free to pursue travel, volunteering, hobbies, or anything else as long as you’re not working for money.
Well, guess what? FIRE bloggers ARE working.
Those in the community who have already left their job are subsidizing their lifestyle with the income from their blogs, and those that haven’t yet been able to leave their day-job are only sticking around long enough for their blogs to make the money to do so.
Even better, many bloggers make ends meet by partially supplementing their income through freelance writing and other side hustles.
That isn’t retirement, that’s trading one job for another.
Money Can’t Buy Happiness, so Why Pursue FIRE?
It’s a well-established fact that money in and of itself does not buy happiness.
It seems a month doesn’t go by before we’re hearing about some fresh tragedy involving someone who seemingly had it all. Celebrities commit suicide, star athletes disclose their battles with mental illness, and all of the above use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate their pain away.
If millionaires with the world at their fingertips can’t find happiness, then the answer is clearly much more complicated than money.
Yet, the FIRE community places much emphasis on money through gaining financial independence. They have to.
You need money to live, but be very careful that you don’t begin to live for money in your pursuit of FIRE.
But most of you already know that, and you know the money isn’t what you’re really after. Nor are you really after retirement because very few people can amass enough wealth at such a young age that they never need to work again (even if that’s what they really wanted).
We All Work for Someone
Many FIRE bloggers claim that they are pursuing FIRE so they no longer have to work for someone other than themselves.
Well, that’s not really true either.
Having the funds to leave your 9-5 and having the freedom to have more choice over how you spend your life is admirable and a worthwhile pursuit.
But don’t be fooled into thinking you’re completely free just because your income comes from your own business.
I was recently watching the movie McLintock! when this idea was eloquently demonstrated in John Wayne’s southern drawl.
Wayne plays George Washington McLintock, a self-made wealthy cattle baron who owns and controls most of the land around Mesa Verde. A hired hand develops an interest in his daughter but doesn’t think he has a chance because he’s just one of her father’s employees.
McLintock declares, “Everybody works for somebody. Me, I work for everybody in this United States that steps into a butcher shop for a T-bone steak, and you work for me. There’s not much difference.”
There’s obviously a little more difference, but the underlying concept still rings true.
We all work for someone.
Whether for a corporation or your readers, as long as you’re working, you are offering value to someone in exchange for money, even if you’re an “early retired” FIRE blogger.
But if early retirement, money, and not working for someone aren’t what FIRE is truly all about, then what is?
What are FIRE bloggers really chasing?
What Are Fire Bloggers Really After?
Plain and simple.
The FIRE movement isn’t about retiring early, nor is it about money or not working for someone else, it’s about gaining freedom.
Many people are dissatisfied with their careers. Maybe they feel trapped, unfulfilled, or just would rather be doing something else with their time. Whatever it is that makes you want to leave the traditional workforce, what you’re really after is the freedom to choose.
I read somewhere that FIRE would be better termed FIFE, because that’s what the movement is really all about.
Financial independence so you can have freedom early.
That’s what FIRE bloggers are really pursuing. Blogging allows them the freedom to choose where their income comes from, as well as the freedom to choose when and where they work. This freedom also allows FIRE bloggers to pursue more of their personal interests.
FIRE was never about money, retiring early, or not working for someone else, it was about having more freedom and choice.
FIRE bloggers aren’t truly chasing FIRE, they’re chasing FIFE.
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Moral of the Story
Hopefully, we’ve helped you FIRE enthusiasts to think more deeply about what it is you’re really pursuing, because it sure isn’t FIRE.
What you’re after would better be termed FIFE, or the pursuit of financial independence so you can leave the traditional workforce and have the freedom to choose how you make money and spend your time.
What you’re really doing is trading one job for another, albeit a job that allows you much more freedom and flexibility.
After all, financial independence and release from the rat race in themselves won’t give you happiness, but they will give you the freedom to pursue what you want in order to try and find what makes you happy.
Tawnya is a 34-year-old Special Education teacher in the sixth year of her career. Along with her partner, Sebastian, she runs the blog Money Saved is Money Earned. Tawnya has worked extremely hard to reach her goals and remain debt-free.
She holds an Honors BS in Psychology from Oregon State University and an MS in Special Education from Portland State University and has had a pretty successful writing career, first as a writing tutor at the Oregon State University Writing Center, and in recent years, as a freelance writer.
Tawnya and Sebastian have a wealth of knowledge and information about personal finance, retirement, student loans, credit cards, and many other financial topics. It is this wealth of tips and tricks that they wish to pass on to others.