As I was trying to find a release date for the upcoming documentary “Playing with FIRE,” I came across an interview that Scott Rieckens did with Forbes contributor Tom Anderson in October. I’m incredibly excited for the documentary to finally come out and am extremely curious how it will be received by “normal people.” As I skimmed the text, ignoring most of what I scanned in search for a date, I couldn’t help but catch words like extreme, and tight-fisted. Even the title of the interview (New Documentary To Show How Far People Go For Financial Independence) hinted at the FIRE movement’s alleged distance from the mainstream.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise. We, as a culture (the mainstream), spend more than we make, rack up crippling debt, and end up ill-prepared for retirement. In short, we are addicted to consumerism. So, it should be no surprise when the FIRE movement is labeled as such.
I recently found something called The FIRE movement survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of TD Ameritrade from November. The survey polled over 750 Americans over the age of 45 who were either financially independent or on a path to be. The findings are extremely interesting. They don’t point to financial independence as a fringe movement of penny-pinching misers. In fact, quite the opposite. According to the survey “To achieve FIRE, strong financial discipline on spending and investing is crucial. Lifestyle sacrifices are less common.” That doesn’t sound so extreme to me.
So, what is the difference between those in the FIRE community and everyone else?
After I graduated college, I began my Navy career by moving to Pensacola, FL to begin flight training. My annual salary that first year was around $35,000. I lived with 3 other pilots in a house, each paying $300 a month in rent. I didn’t have a car payment so my only real expense was food. I should have been able to easily save over 50% of my income but after a year, I was still living paycheck to paycheck.
The reason was my lack of intentionality. I just didn’t think about it. I didn’t have a plan. It was fun to drink at the bars. It was easy to eat at restaurants or order takeout.
After a year-and-a-half of wasting my money, I’d had enough. I changed. I made a budget. I started cooking meals (or at least buying groceries and eating at home). I opened a Roth IRA. I maxed it out almost immediately. I saved more. I invested outside the Roth. Eventually, I started investing in real estate.
This is the difference between the FIRE community and everyone else. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a 25% savings rate or a 75% savings rate. Those in the FIRE community are making deliberate choices about what they value and how their spending should reflect that. They’re being intentional. FIRE isn’t about delayed gratification. It’s about knowing what will and will not make you happy and refusing to sacrifice your family’s future for false happiness. It’s about putting a value on your time. It’s about deciding what brings value to your life and what is preventing you from pursuing those things. It’s about being intentional. Not only with money, but with time, with people, and with your life.
Money won’t buy happiness, whether it’s spent now or saved and invested for the future. However, money will allow you the freedom to spend your time the way that you want to. And it will allow you to do the things that make you happy with the people who make you happy. So make a plan. Be intentional.
Tell me what you think about the FIRE movement and the way it is either portrayed or received in the comments!