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A Critical Review of the FIRE Community

Is the FIRE movement too good to be true? Are dreams of financial independence and early retirement a fool's errand? Discover where FIRE is destroying your wealth for their own benefit. #FIRE #wealth #earlyretirement #financialindependence #bloggers #personalfinanceThe first time I encountered the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) community I had an uneasy feeling. Sure, the people were friendly and nice, but their message sounded familiar, like I had heard this all before and it ran a shiver down my spine.

The original goal was to start a business partnership with a popular blogger where the income would be shared on an affiliate program unavailable to most bloggers. I had access to this program. Now I needed to find a blogger willing to work with me.

I discovered what is probably the most popular blog in the demographic and found his frugality appealing. 

I attended one of the now numerous camps in the FIRE community to meet the populist blogger. He took to my message and passion quickly, but didn’t want to participate in the affiliate program, a DIY online tax preparation alternative to TurboTax. 

Instead, he wanted me to be his tax professional. In a few moments this new offer would change my life in two fundamental ways. First, my small tax practice was swamped beyond human understanding by people wanting the same tax guy this blogger had, and second, I was thrust into the center of the FIRE movement, a movement never my own.

As an insider I saw things differently than Suze Orman. I didn’t hate the FIRE community for frugality and dreams of financial independence; I hated the FIRE community for what they planned to do with their new-found freedom and power.

 

Everything Wrong with the FIRE Community

Suze Orman felt the FIRE philosophy promised the good life with too small an investment account to enter retirement, especially the early kind. 

That isn’t even a problem with FIRE. Depending on your temperament and lifestyle, you can retire on almost anything, even nothing if you so choose. Nobody has the right to tell you your preferred level of expressed affluence is wrong. If you want to live life large, do so; if you want to live a Spartan existence, you have my blessing.

The real problem of FIRE is arrogance; the all-consuming desire to let the world know you are right and everyone else is wrong. There is no room allowing people to live life on their terms if it doesn’t fit the FIRE canon.

Perhaps the most egregious sin is the desire to turn the movement into a cult. Yes, one of the leading bloggers in the demographic brags he has started a cult!

This is a serious allegation and requires proof. Without calling anyone out, it doesn’t take long to figure out who I’m speaking of. A quick Google search should assuage your curiosity.  

The term cult does not imply good things. A dictionary definition begins with the religious connotations. Since a large percentage of FIRE members claim no religious faith these explanations can not be the ones implied.

The only explanation remaining is the “misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person.” 

Cults are never a good thing. Don't drink the Kool-Aid! Cults destroy your wealth for their own benefit. You do not need a cult to have a good life. #cult #money #wealth #finance #income #retirementCults are not pretty things. I thought it was cute or at least worth pursuing to grow this blog. The instant I crossed that line a reader explained to me what his family went through when caught up in a cult. I could never be something so evil. That was the last I desired to have a cult or cult-like following. I care about my readers more than that.

And cults tend to end badly. Think Jonestown, Heaven’s Gate and the Branch Davidians. Sane people do not want to belong to a cult.

I’m not picking on only one blogger, either. This illusion of helping people while helping yourself to an over-sized helping is not endearing, it’s sanctimonious. Another word with less than a honorable meaning. 

The fake-ness and hero worship bothered me from the beginning. Most in the community are wonderful people, yet too many acted in a manner I found disturbing.

There is a level of entitlement in the FIRE movement. There are bloggers who use their position to get as many goods and services for “free” as they possibly can, justifying the behavior as deserved due to their position. Sounds abusive to me. Sounds like a cult, all right.

Some handouts are okay. Getting free travel by working the credit card system is acceptable as long as you acknowledge you are not frugal when doing so; you are just shifting your spending to someone else. 

Many bloggers advocating frugality are far from it when you consider all the spending they do by getting other to pay their way. 

It is even worse when the attempt is to shift spending to someone who doesn’t want to make your payments. Banks trying to get your business want to issue rewards as an enticement for patronage. Individuals and small businesses are less inclines because it hurts more when forced to give in this manner. And if you act entitled to special treatment . . . 

Every expenses should be included when you review your budget. You are spending even when someone else pays! Acting self-righteous by claiming frugality when your carbon footprint is higher than the average of the highest polluting nation on the planet is not frugal; it’s vulgar. 

But all this is background noise to the greatest crime of the FIRE movement:

People in FIRE want to retire as soon as possible so they can demand others do a job they refuse to do themselves. They become the boss they would never work for. They lack humility, demanding respect because they learned to game the system better than most.

My mind is numb watching these people retire as young as possible to travel the world, sending a steady stream of photos to Instagram so friends and family — but mostly strangers — can have their faces rubbed in it. The news feeds are filled with these stories, encouraging the unhealthy hero worship.

Back in my day (I walked to school uphill both ways in snow) the equivalent was when grandpa brought out the slides and projector at a family gathering.

Slides are an old technology where pictures are imposed on a plastic slide, used in a projector to show the photos on a large screen.

Everyone dreaded the slides. Grandpa would go through a long line of pictures of their last vacation. Nobody cared and if they did it wasn’t to celebrate with grandpa, but to loath him. It was boring! 

Instagram is the modern version of the slide. The only reason people show up is because they want the opportunity to flaunt their pictures, too. It really is about bragging and jealousy. Life is too short for that.

I suggest people enjoy their round-the-world adventure. Keep the updates for close family and friends so they don’t worry about your well-being. If the rest of us wanted to go we would have. Write a nice article later, fleshing out the details (with photos), for people planning a trip to where you have been.

There is a hedonism in FIRE. I’ve enjoyed working with many people in the demographic. It amazes me the level of incredible people I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with. I am equally amazed at the level of solipsism. No humility whatsoever. Can this really be setting a good example for the world at large?

Let us not be desirous of vain glory. Provoking one another, envying one another.

 

Phalanstery

Pointing out the emperor has no clothes is a sure way to lose your card-carrying status within a community. The alternative is to deny the truth and be part of the problem. If I’m out, I’m out. At least I was honest.

This brings us to the scariest part of the movement no one wants to talk about: phalanstery. 

At the turn of the 19th century the French utopian socialist thinker, Charles Fourier, created the term phalanstry to illustrate the arrangements for living in a future communal society. Dostoevsky alludes to this in Crime and Punishment*

Discover financial freedom where you can live your dreams. Cut your own path. Live life on your terms. #freedom #life #live #faith # discoverYou would think 200 years would lay such foolishness to rest. It hasn’t. 

There is a group within FIRE that wants to create small communities without roads, only  bike paths. The language and terminology of these plans is what finally triggered my memory. A quick search of my bookshelves verified my fears.

The FIRE community is made up of the most intelligent and educated people in our society. The same can be said by contemporaries of Fourier and Marx.

Need I remind you the utopia promised by these intellectuals gave us a 100+ million body count in Stalin’s Russia and perhaps as many as 130 million dead in Mao’s China. 

These utopian bike cities** could be the new Gulag Archipelago in the not so distant future. 

Before you protest this would never happen, remember that is exactly what was said in the 19th century. This new world order was supposed to bring in a worker’s paradise. FIRE promises a similar paradise of world travel, ecology, environmentalism and early retirement paid for by the backs of those outside the movement. It never turns out as planned when everyone wants to play and no one wants to work. Hedonism is a bad ingredient in any recipe.

FIRE saw its reflection in the water and fell in love with itself. Remember, this was a curse placed on Narcissus by Nemesis, the god of revenge. 

We must always be cognizant of Solzhenitsyn’s warning.

 

 

Hope and a Bright Spot

Everything wrong with FIRE still does not make it a deal-breaker. Spending less than you earn and investing for the future is the best financial advice you can receive. If it stopped there it would be a helluva movement. 

But it never stops where it should. Yet, in all the debauchery and self-aggrandizement there are beacons of hope.

Before J. Money sold Rockstar Finance he had a charitable arm to that blog. Even thought the funds were small they made a big difference. Best of all, they were given to people who had no chance of ever paying it back (the only real charity). 

J. Money isn’t the only one walking the talk. Several bloggers are paying-it-forward in heroic fashion without fanfare or chest thumping. It gives me hope in humanity.

Utopian bike cities will not solve the world’s ills if you hop on a plane and travel the world on someone else’s dime. The carbon footprint is still outsized. 

We need more J. Moneys. Giving without expectation (or possibility) of repayment is the only real giving. I wish a blogger with massive traffic would spearhead this. It would show real leadership. This blog manages an average 70,000 page views per month. If nobody wants to pick up where J. left off I will take the lead. It would be truly sad if the jet setters sending us constant Instagram updates didn’t make this a priority.

Of whom much is given, much is expected.

 

Membership Revoked

I imagine my membership in the FIRE community is revoked after this rant. I didn’t expect anything different.

My choices were to remain silent and allow the insanity to continue or to say what I think (and know) without calling anyone specifically out. 

We are all guilty of hedonism now and again. It’s natural. When it becomes your whole lifestyle and you flaunt it as “the only correct way” to live life you have crossed the line.

Believe it or not, I like most people in the FIRE community. Many are clients. My guess is I will not be welcome around the FIRE anymore. I’m okay with that. It was never my tribe anyway. I’m more of a country boy who enjoys a good card game Friday night with neighbors and family. None of them care a lick about FIRE and what it stands for, yet they are financial set. And it is a short 1 1/4 mile bike ride.

I’m not alone in pointing out issues with FIRE. No one has mysteriously disappeared for calling the FIRE community out on its cult-like behavior and utopian bike cities.

Yet.

 

Coda 

I’m serious about the benevolent fund built in a similar style J. Money used on Rockstar Finance. If we are so rich we need to show more gratitude by paying-it-forward to those who have no ability to pay back. That makes the world a better place than any self-serving bike city ever can.

If a big-name blogger doesn’t take this project I will quietly (no self-aggrandizement allowed) start the program myself. 

Jordan Peterson said the meaning of life is to end “needless suffering.” Viktor Frankl ended his book Man’s Search for Meaning with: the meaning of life is to help others find meaning in theirs. 

I could not have said it better.

 

 

* Note 7 of Part Three of the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation gives a short description of Fourier’s phalanstry in action, something that got Dostoevsky in trouble with the law.

** Of course bike friendly cities are a good idea. A city built with the environment in mind would also have retail and office space within walking/biking distance as well. If you want to see a city designed around sound environmental ideas and bike friendly go to your library and check out the April 2019 issue of National Geographic. Best of all, Nat Geo will not try to sell you something. Just good reporting.

 

Final Note: After finishing the rough draft of this post I sent out a trial balloon on Facebook to see the reaction to a post on Everything Wrong with FIRE. To my surprise the leading suggestion involved health insurance. Many felt FIRE doesn’t deal with the health insurance issue appropriately. 

I solved this problem some time ago for my family. I use health sharing. It does require faith, but shouldn’t we have faith in something?

In the Resources section below I have a link for Medi-share. It is an affiliate link.

After careful review, my family signed up with Liberty Healthshare. For $399 per month we get 100% coverage after a $1,750 deductible. That alone is enough to build faith in God. If you mention this blog I might (not certain how their referral program works) get a referral fee.

 

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

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Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Keith Taxguy

63 Comments

  1. Rid H. on July 24, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Hi Keith, Kudos to you for taking this issue head on. I have followed certain leading bloggers for some years now as well and agree with your take. Every great thing – and I believe the main message of spending less than you earn is great – can be taken to an extreme. History is full of such proof.
    While I am sure you will get lots of flak over this, you, I and everyone else, are entitled to our opinions.
    This community of people (I don’t want to call it a movement or a cult) has potential to do great things in both their lives and the lives of those less fortunate than us. Hopefully, your rant(?) will remind some of their potential and responsibility. All the best to you.

  2. Financial Gladiator on July 24, 2019 at 9:23 am

    I fully agree with you Keith. If you keep winning you need to share the spoils. I do travel the world, like a mad person. It is definitely not on the back of somebody else, however. Here is where we disagree but that is ok as everybody deserves an opinion even if it differs.

    I spent more than 100k in my 20’s and early 30’s to give away roughly 10% of my winnings. I won more, and more (all through good old hard work) and eventually FIRE’d before even knowing what the term meant or that there was such a thing as a movement. Now I blog to share my experience and inspire the youth, to do better than I did, hopefully.

    Whilst is wish there was a real community, ours is virtual, nobody lives together. Phalanstery aside, I believe our blogging efforts do have a real world impact, even if it is to limit meaningless consumption and preparing ones’ families for the unknowns of the future. I love the basics of FIRE, more do I love the strive towards financial independence. Retiring early is simply bull. Nobody who achieved FIRE actually retiree, ever! We keep giving back by blogging, inspiring, making the world a better place for those willing to listen.

    Like everything in life, FIRE has two sides. You illustrated the bad ones well in your post. I always prefer to work and drive towards the good side. Let’s leverage that.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 9:51 am

      FG, please understand I’m not against world travel, or travel of any kind. I believe travel is vital for our species to grow and even survive.

      And we do need to spend more focus on paying-it-forward. It is the right thing to do.

  3. Katy on July 24, 2019 at 9:29 am

    It is certain that utopias always fail because the fail to account for the full range of human behavior and the expression of free will that has small regard for responding predictably to stimuli.

    Health in any facet of life always seems to be found on the knife’s edge of perfect balance between extremes. I think there are many voices coming into the FI/RE space who are seeking this middle ground between extremist frugality and spending with little regard for the future. The “valuist” movement to me strikes a good note, spend your money in alignment with what you actually value, and value what you spend money on. These valuists seem to have a more balanced approach to work, seeing it as having value and the importance of valuing what you do beyond just the paycheck it brings.

    I’m surprised that one of the problems that came up wasn’t something along the lines of “if everyone FIRE’s no one can.” Basically seems to be if everyone is frugal and invests then eventually an economy based on consuming grinds to a halt and starts to fail. This is usually met with “yeah right, like normal people can do what we are doing.” And “the AI revolution is coming so the more people who don’t have to work to make ends meet the better, then there will still be jobs for those who need them.”

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 9:56 am

      Katy, well said.

      As to your surprise I didn’t cover the “if everyone does it. . . ”

      First, I left a lot out. If I covered every thought it would be a book and I wanted to spare the reader.

      Second, I think everyone CAN do it. Imagine if you said everyone can’t {fill in the blank}. We live better today than ever before with more propel living than ever before. We can all FIRE. We CAN’T all be hedonists without ramifications. Everyone, I repeat, everyone, can have financial independence. And we all retire if we live long enough.

      FIRE holds so much promise while squandering so much of the legacy away.

  4. C on July 24, 2019 at 9:31 am

    I think this view suffers from a lot of survivor bias. I suspect that for every high-rolling FIRE persona, there are at least dozen reasonable people trying to optimize and live intentionally, they just don’t run blogs or constantly shout at others about doing it wrong. I’ve seen a pretty wide spectrum — those that insist Real Estate/Bitcoin/VSTAX/side hustle/extreme frugality is the Only True Path To FI, and those that appreciate the numerous paths that can be tailored to circumstances and strengths.

    Don’t get me wrong – I noticed the cult-like undertones when a few podcasts started picking up steam too a couple years ago, and it kinda weirded me out. And it’s also picked up a _lot_ of dogma, which has made me tune out more and more. But when a sincere coworker asked me about using our company’s fantastic 401k to the fullest, it was wonderful to be able to explain and show the procedure, and seeing him open his eyes to the possibilities for him and his young family was an experience I’m proud to have. Finding the right balance with FIRE is the tricky balancing act as far as I can tell.

    What worries me about the group (other than the above) is the blanket advice to people who really truly have no idea what they’re doing. “Where should I open my VTSAX account? What should I invest my VTSAX in? Why use bonds when they’ve underperformed for the past 10 years?!” There’s a litany of questions that demonstrate people don’t know what they’re doing, and they aren’t being told to wait and learn what they’re doing before they do it. Probably makes for more tax fixups for you in the future though 🙂

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 10:01 am

      C, I notice this in the Facebook groups as well (referring to your last paragraph). There are a lot of blind followers and some leaders delight in calling themselves a cult. What could possible go wrong?

      And for the record, you do not have agree with me, C. I can be just as wrong as anyone. You even have the right to point out my faults. It’s the only way either of us can grow.

      • C on July 24, 2019 at 10:43 am

        I don’t disagree, I just think it’s more complicated than just the personas (same as anything – politics isn’t just the president, movies aren’t just the stars). I’m glad you’re willing to bring up a solid critique, and that you’re in a position (with actual readers) to maybe turn some heads along the way too 🙂 Being wrong _is_ the journey, as far as I can tell, so we may as well get used to it. It’s good to keep growing.

        Thanks for your thoughts. 🙂

  5. Hard L on July 24, 2019 at 9:48 am

    The WA has certainly changed his tune over the 9-12 months. Recommend he review past posts and update for self-awareness. The drill would benefit his efforts going forward, further away from collectivism.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 9:58 am

      Hard L, my tune hasn’t changed as much as you would think. In real life people have heard this from me for years. Until now I’ve withheld from regurgitating my more radical opinions from publication.

      I got it out so back to our regular programming. And good thing! I got a couple good tax-savings ideas for you that are not so bland or well-known.

  6. Karen Richardson on July 24, 2019 at 10:03 am

    Well said. Joe Dominguez of YMOYL was concerned about this and wanted people to follow his program, not him. Thank you for being honest. It took me a long time to achieve FI because it always seemed like someone else needed a bit of help.

  7. Robert on July 24, 2019 at 10:05 am

    Whether it’s sex, drugs and rock and roll, donuts or the FIRE community, the old axiom, “everything in moderation” seems to fit. Take the “best for you” out of any idea or system without going full obsessive and you’ll be just fine.

    And yes, Keith, we all have a basic duty to pay it forward the best we can. No fanfare, just pay it forward. Your inner self with thank you the most.

  8. Kim McDaniel on July 24, 2019 at 10:21 am

    Well said and I admire your courage to address this issue. I think we can all get obsessed with an idea and I have seen this same “tribalism” occur in so many areas of life – churches (even within the same denomination); working moms vs. stay-at-home moms; you name it. For me, it all boils down to pride and self-righteousness (if we are willing to be honest). I LOVE the FIRE movement and I have been so blessed by SO many of these FIRE bloggers, podcasts, etc. I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus for sharing their journey. My hope is that those who may feel they were targeted by this post will take honest assessment and use this as a personal assessment. After that, they can decide if it applies to them or not. Looking back, I can see times that I came across too strong at some family gatherings and in a meeting with a potential new accountant and realize now that I don’t want to be “that guy/girl” in the future. I am sure you’ll get some backlash; however, this needed to be said and I thank you for being brave enough to share it.

  9. J. Money on July 24, 2019 at 10:48 am

    Let’s talk, man 🙂

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 10:59 am

      Sorry you’re the only name I used, J. Your work is so incredible I just had to call you out for your tremendous efforts making our world a better place, inside and outside of the FIRE community.

      • Cindy on July 25, 2019 at 9:32 am

        Kim nailed it! In so many areas of life there are those who take the “I’m better than you” attitude, I noticed this as a young working adult. However, if you follow them around for one day you will see the hypocrisy of their lives.
        Lets never forget 1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

  10. Matt on July 24, 2019 at 11:01 am

    Good news is if you do get kicked out of the community you can take solace in knowing you never belonged since you never REtired :).

    And to quote Florida Georgia Line: “We used to live on Instagram, Worry ’bout who all gives a damn
    ‘Bout where we’ve been and where we ended up’.

    Keep writing and telling it like it is.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 11:05 am

      Thanks, Matt.

      That was my thought, too.

  11. Jason on July 24, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    A handful of bloggers make up a very small part of the community. For every blogger with an oversized head, there are a hundred people who put into practice the ideas that work for them and leave out those that don’t. In a cult, people blindly do what the leader says without thinking for themselves. If any financial guru fits that description, it would be Dave Ramsey (also not a cult, but closer to the definition than what’s happening in the FIRE movement).

    Honestly, your article comes across as petty and does a lot of imaginary dot connecting. Comparing plans (that were never going to come to fruition) to build car-less cities to the atrocities committed by Stalin & Mao is a bit much.

    And if you can edit comments, you might want to leave this portion out: there are a lot of typos in the article. It looks like it was very hastily written.

  12. Yaacov Rothman on July 24, 2019 at 1:12 pm

    Keith, thanks for the thought provoking article. Did you refer to one specific blogger or a few?

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      When a writer writes he is always thinking of a specific person or situation. However, this isn’t about pointing out one blog or even a few. If a thought leader is solely focused on personal gain, I meant them; if a blogger/FIREed individual/Instagramer notices something family, I meant them too.

      My goal is always to get people to think. I don’t expect all to agree with me. I don’t even agree with all I publish because the goal is to create conversation that helps people grow. I can preach or I can get you talking and thinking. The later will lead to far more learning, while avoiding the issue of “I might be wrong”.

  13. Bob on July 24, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    The FIRE movie and numerous new FIRE books surely spell the demise of “the cult.”

  14. Stephanie on July 24, 2019 at 1:54 pm

    I think the arrogance Keith mentions, that occasionally rears its ugly head, is closely related to the trap of conflating one’s own personal preferences with what is “correct.” As in, “it is frivolous to spend money on…” “I can’t imagine why anyone would buy that [thing].” It is actually ridiculous to think you can know what another person truly values, and deeply disrespectful of them as well. Fixing this arrogance would go a long way to making the FI community truly inclusive- you may get value from spending $30 on some craft beer but gosh, I adore my $30 shower curtain and appreciate it every time I use my bathroom! This is one area where Marie Kondo really gets it right— she’s has no view on what “should” spark joy in you and doesn’t judge- she just thinks you should make this evaluation to help lead a more joyful life. For the sometimes-arrogant ones, I think they just have some blind spots, which I personally overlook for all the great ideas and information they’ve introduced into my life. I also agree there is a lot of self-selection happening here— those of us who enjoy quiet activities, mostly at home, just aren’t high profile types with “big” voices. But FIRE is actually a movement (not a cult) because it challenges real power structures. If more people had meaningful financial resources, fewer bosses could get away with poor treatment of employees. This would have positive ripple effects for workers with less financial cushion, also. On net, it’s not perfect (because really, what is?) but the FI movement is a really good thing.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 2:05 pm

      If more people had meaningful financial resources, fewer bosses could get away with poor treatment of employees. This would have positive ripple effects for workers with less financial cushion, also. On net, it’s not perfect (because really, what is?) but the FI movement is a really good thing.

      Yes!!! Well said, Stephanie!

      • Bill in NC on July 25, 2019 at 8:53 am

        Stole this from an online forum several years ago:

        “As an employer, I would prefer you to have your disposable income and savings tied up in slightly extravagant cars and housing instead of in a bank account.

        If everyone had six months of income saved, they might start getting a bit uppity and expecting things like ‘personal time’, ‘respect as a person’ and pay adjustments to keep up with inflation.”

        Just buried a relative (in their early 70s) who was laid off at age 60 & never secured employment again…they had to cash in their pension to make it to SS at age 62, and lived a very mean retirement (which also required borrowing most of the equity in their home) until they died few months ago after a short illness.

        For me at least the lesson is: “you’d better be FI because your employer might well decide you’ll be RE.”

        • Keith Taxguy on July 25, 2019 at 9:00 am

          Agree 100%, Bill! I consider FI vital for the reason you list at the end of your comment. Sometimes (as a self-employed individual all my life) I forget some people get to experience ER unannounced whether they are ready or not.

      • Marcus on July 26, 2019 at 3:49 pm

        Living a FI made a similar point years ago — financial independence makes at-will employment a two-player game (from https://livingafi.com/2014/07/30/the-job-experience-startupville-year-8/2/). That’s always been a main part of the draw of financial independence for me: the option to take a step back, leave an unhealthy situation, and take risks.

  15. Rebecca on July 24, 2019 at 8:18 pm

    I feel like this article is really bad form and was heavily targeted towards one blogger. I can’t help wondering if it has any correlation about being “let go” as his accountant. It seems awfully strange that the timing of this article came out as said popular blogger announced his new accountant.

    While I have no tolerance for arrogance or cult leaders, I feel like I can learn something from everyone. I don’t have to be best friends with them or even like their personality, but I don’t need to criticize them publicly.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 24, 2019 at 9:04 pm

      Don’t read too much into it, Rebecca. If you recall I only named and linked one blogger, one blogger only. And for a good reason. I know how WordPress reports back to bloggers.

      As a result J. and I scheduled a meeting Friday (update to follow). The things I point out as wrong are easily corrected. These are not existential issues.

      The goal was to move from where we are back the J’s Community Fund and expand from there. What started this post was a conversation with a client a few weeks back where I basically ranted this entire post. The client agreed with my assessment (or at least I felt they did) so I said I will probably write a post on it soon.

      A few weeks of thinking it over (because it can’t be a rant without solutions) and I knew what the solution was: bring back the Community Fund.

      My wish came true. A blogger with more traffic will help push the Community Fund forward.

      But it will still be a team effort. J works his tail off. However, he said he was excited to see someone still cared about his project from years back. J will allow me (us) to move forward without reinventing the wheel; we can build on earlier success.

      I’m sure J has plenty of ideas; I know I sure do. This round we can stay small like before or have a collective of bloggers willing to walk the talk. (I hope we go large.)

      Steve Jobs asked John Sculley if he wanted to change the world or spend the rest of his life making fizzy water. It is practically a meme today.

      I ask a similar question: Do you want to keep publishing (blogs or podcasts) of the same material the rest of your life or change the world?

      We can and should rise to the challenge. This demographic is massively blessed. We need to show gratitude; all of us. And our voices should be raised when our potential is unrealized.

      We can continue making excuses or do something about it. I hope J and I can hammer out a plan where we take the first steps toward leaving a legacy. Otherwise it is all self-serving and hedonism. I refuse to accept that.

      Look for the update soon. And re-read the post several times with special attention to links. There are layers of meaning. Note how it correlates with Peterson’s and Frankl’s parting words. Then you will really understand who I was talking to. (Hint: Steve Jobs was talking to all of us.)

      • MrDag on July 29, 2019 at 10:04 am

        Keith,

        Your blog is a fine way of ‘paying it forward’!

        I suppose I’m getting jaded in my old age, but I just cringe when I hear about any ‘Communty Fund’. Sounds a lot like a program that my wife’s employer had to help fellow employees with medical bills. It was disaster, and finally ended when one of the recipients taking the money for a foot operation blew the money in a casino – and then submitted her own name again as a needy recipient the following year!

        There is that great saying about teaching a man to fish, and you will feed him for life. Have we not learned yet that giving away fish justs feeds people for a day? I know we feel so good about feeding people for the day that we forget about tomorrow. But tomorrow always comes, and we’re right back where we started.

  16. Josh on July 25, 2019 at 5:25 am

    This is one of many reasons yours is the only “fire” blog that I actually am a subscriber (and regular reader of). Your writing is provocative and questioning; challenging norms and keeping readers thinking for themselves.

    Independence is an individual pursuit, not a collective one. Ideas can be shared, though knowledge and truth come from individual agency. The world of Tony Robbins and FIRE are similar in how they prey on this self-motivation to sell books and tickets to their expert life-hacking consultations. It’s rather circular in nature.

    It seems as though the internet is now full of how to hack this that and the other thing. How to achieve perfect efficiency in your investing or just washing your clothes. (We’ve been doing it all wrong!) just throw your laundry in The toilet and flush a few times. Perfectly efficient cleaning!

    Maybe perfect can be the enemy of the good?

  17. Tony on July 25, 2019 at 7:44 am

    Great post! I’ve been interested in FIRE for the past year. However, the more podcasts I listen to or blogs I read I do notice the vibe of “you must live this way.” It’s nice to see a counter to the prevailing opinion of those pushing FIRE.

  18. Roger on July 25, 2019 at 7:52 am

    “People in FIRE want to retire as soon as possible so they can demand others do a job they refuse to do themselves. They become the boss they would never work for. They lack humility, demanding respect because they learned to game the system better than most.”

    Huh? So you can read the mind of every person that FIREs and know that their true motivation is to “demand others do a job they refuse to do themselves”? I became financially independent and retired 7 years ago at age 52. I assure you that I didn’t do it so that I can demand others do my job. I did it because I wanted the freedom to do whatever with my time when my job no longer held much interest for me. I actually thought of it as free up my job so that some other person would have an opportunity to work when the economy was still weak.

    I push back against a society that believes that work and workaholism is the ultimate goal of life. To me, FIRE = Freedom to do whatever the heck you want to do with your life.

    I know the blogger you are referring to and he was one of the first FIRE bloggers I found after Early Retirement Extreme. Both bloggers made me realize that it would be possible for me to retire early if I wanted to. For that, I’m eternally grateful. Otherwise, I would have followed the conventional BS and stayed working when I could be free to do with my time as I choose.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 25, 2019 at 8:18 am

      Roger, I’m no mind reader. You can see the response of others in these comments and social media who noticed the same things I have. It certainly should not be considered a stereotype (referring to your comment into). If you watch closely you’ll see what I mean. Some individual (blogger or not) busts tail to reach ER and then turns diva. If you don’t see any of these people just open a social media account. Example: I get 30 or more requests per day on Facebook Messenger where these ER folks ask for tax advice, all for free of course. It’s exhausting even saying “no” so much. And they refuse to pay a professional for their time. They’re demanding and sometimes rather insistent. sometimes too. The worst thing I can do is respond. Then they fire a half dozen question per day until I get rude.

      As to your last paragraph: I made it clear on social media (and later here) this post has multiple layers of meaning. Of course I’m referring to MMM when I express my disapproval for treating FIRE as a cult. It isn’t. And shouldn’t be! This isn’t a unique opinion, BTW.

      The bike cities comments are pointed more at the fringe of the community. I first saw this concept at a Florida FI Camp several years ago. I was surprised at the receptive response at the thinly veiled attempt to pry money from a group of people who worked so hard to save theirs. FIRE should be smarter than this. BTW, I LOVE!!! the idea of encouraging (even forcing) cities to add and expand bike trails in our cities, towns and countryside. MMM runs point on this and I fully back the effort. As for the bike cities/communes? I stand my ground. Phalanstery! People need to do a deep dive on this before being so sure of the outcome. Many comments are almost a copy and past of mid and late 19th century arguments.

      Let’s recap: Cults are a comment on one blogger; bike cites on a wider group of people inside FIRE and those trying to sell to them; and the Instagram opinion is focused on even a wider group. The positive to negative feedback ratio justifies my post (at least in my own head). This blog isn’t perfect either. I don’t get cranky when a tax theory gets shot down or a nuance is pointed out. If you are in the public you will take hits now and again. It ain’t fun, but it is the way it is.

      And if I managed to get you thinking about some of these things I did my job. Even if I am wrong (which happens more than I like to acknowledge).

  19. John on July 25, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Back in late 2014 I became very sick and had to quit my job. I was a workaholic and I was surrounded by mostly workaholics. It became my identity. It fed my ego and I would defend my lifestyle to the teeth because that’s what my ego required.

    When I got sick and had to quit, it destroyed my identity, my ego. I was depressed, full of anxiety, cared too much what other people thought because it was ingrained into my identity at my job. I was dealing with debilitating symptoms at the same time. We live in culture where busy and material wealth is a sign off success to family and peers. I was so deep into this thinking that I thought my family and friends thought I was a loser.

    After about a year into the hell I found mindfulness, meditation, minimalism and the FI movement. During my physical health recovery, I spent two years rewiring my brain and mental health. The combination of these two events changed me for the better. I’m not the same person. The FI movement made a huge impact on my life. I’m never going back to the ego driven workaholic life.

    When I first started my career, an accountant suggested I max out my 401k. So I did and then I forgot about it. My wife is also frugal. We saved a substantial amount of money. While I was sick, living on one income was easy because are debt free and savers. Had I found out about the FI movement earlier, we would be in even better financial shape. My wife still works full time but recently based on the numbers, she now has the opportunity to go down to 28 hours of work and keep the health insurance benefits. She’ll pull the trigger this fall.

    I’m fully recovered and will most likely do something part time in my old field but for now I’m out exploring nature and concentrating on my mental and physical health. I feel content and bliss most of the time. I can’t imagine returning to work to work 60 plus hours a week so I could prove to my ego and others that I’m a bad ass. Most of the time no one really gives a shit. Only your ego gives a shit.

    I’m surprised to see your complete 180 turn against the FI movement. I’m not sure if you’re doing this to create more traffic, have a serious workaholic problem or deep down your ego/workaholic problem is driving this post? What’s the real motive here? I was honestly disappointed after reading this.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 25, 2019 at 10:10 am

      In response to your last paragraph, John:

      I have never had an issue with FI and remain a strong proponent. RE is another story. (I’ve published plenty from day 1 on my disagreement with the RE end of the equation.)

      I have added critical concerns periodically (especially on social media, in the office, at home and when among close friends) in previous posts. Not every thought or private utterance deserves publication for a wider audience. As you should understand, I even held back most of my thoughts in this post. Who wants to read an info-dump?

      Another thing to consider, John, is that the FIRE community has changed the past few years. There are so many fast-buck artists setting up “Camps” all over the country. These are cash cows they then use to sell real estate developments and bike city ideas. This isn’t the FIRE community I remember. These are relatively new developments with dire consequences for the financially illiterate and even seasoned pros.

      And there is a serious difference between many in FIRE and me. I came from deeper inside so saw things most haven’t. I guess I could keep my mouth shut and let people figure it out themselves (suffer the consequences), but I really take Peterson’s challenge to end “needless suffering” seriously.

      Finally, FIRE has grown large enough to be a phenomenon a large percentage of the population has heard of. Any group that can’t handle criticism is unworthy of existence. And that would be a shame. FIRE has done so much good and has so much to offer. It is disheartening to see the message polluted as it has recently. What surprises me is not a single comment has mentioned the Community Fund. The focus of FIRE is all wrong if the most important part of this essay is considered irrelevant.

      • Mr. Hobo Millionaire on July 25, 2019 at 10:25 am

        These “camps” and other “sell-sy” items have been bugging me a bit, too. Mainly because most of these folks keep pushing “Retire Early” part, and this isn’t retirement… this is full-blown business. This isn’t even “side hustle” stuff. An “at-cost” camp would be one thing, but these aren’t at-cost. This is Tony Robbins style hype-me-up get-togethers where often other things are sold (just like you alluded to). I have no problems with entrepreneurship and starting a business. I do take issues with taking advantage of people by hyping dreams and “the good life” and taking easily-influenced people’s money. It reminds me a lot of “wealthy” churches where the pastor is living a rich lifestyle as though he created a small business — but that’s my rant for a later time.

    • Adam on July 28, 2019 at 5:54 am

      Funny blog post. Your membership is not revoked as you’ve not fire anyway. So no loss! Your site is more finance / investing.

      My issue with some fire advocates is it is selling the dream on monetised blogs. More about marketing and selling than actually walkingvthecwalk

  20. jen on July 25, 2019 at 9:53 am

    great post- I live south of you in Ozaukee county- , self-employed (I’m a dentist) with two young kids, how long have you been with the liberty health care plan? (“some time ago”?) As you know, health care costs in Wisconsin are ridiculous and am interested in this, just wondering if you had any hiccups using it.
    thanks

    • Keith Taxguy on July 25, 2019 at 9:54 am

      Liberty has been good to me, Jen. But! I haven’t had many claims either.

  21. mike on July 25, 2019 at 10:25 am

    I’m sure when MMM mentioned being a cult, it was tongue-in-cheek. Even so, your criticisms are real.

    Though I wouldn’t think you’ll be kicked out of the “group-think” early retirement community, (I don’t see it as some kind of monolithic think tank), productive criticism should always be welcomed.

    I got kicked out of MMM’s forums long ago, and he does pick and choose which comments to allow, but overall, his thoughts have been a force for good. Now Google/Facebook is a different story.

    • Mr. Hobo Millionaire on July 25, 2019 at 10:32 am

      Mike, I’ve seen the filtering of comments there, too. That’s just plain lame, and a sign of insecurity. If you’re going to run a blog, you should allow all but the most blatant spam to be posted. I’ve seen this on Financial Samurai, too. After it happened a couple of times, I stopped commenting and reading for that matter. To Keith’s credit, he seems to allow most anything.

      • Keith Taxguy on July 25, 2019 at 11:02 am

        I allow the spam filter to clean the deck of spam. Outside that, unless a comment is an ad hominem attack, contains personal information that could be used for identity theft or is a violent threat, it gets published. I also must accept criticism or I don’t deserve my professional designation or position. If it hurts I need to reconsider my position because it might hurt for a reason.

    • Keith Taxguy on July 25, 2019 at 10:57 am

      I’m glad you are still reading, Mike. I was thinking of you when I wrote I toyed with calling this blog a cult for a while. I got the idea from a MMM interview I watched about creating a cult following on a blog and thought it would be good for traffic. If you remember you contacted me when I added “cult” to my homepage, strongly discouraging the behavior. I took it down shortly thereafter because you were right. It might be tongue-in-cheek or it might not; I can’t make any claim there. But some things are not funny if it has the potential to harm others.

  22. Brian McMan on July 25, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Hello again taxguy,

    Hope you find some peace.

    Best wishes.

  23. Joseph k on July 25, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    Good stuff taxman. Or should maybe say anti-taxman.

    Have to say you make good points. The online FIRE faithfull have kind of done the ingrown toenail analogy and become a circular function (am a fellow accountant and excel minion) repeating same ol’ stuff because they don’t have much more to add. They can get snarky in comments though. But I myself am painting with a wide brush; I feel the vast majority of readers are like myself, just bystanders cherry picking helpful hints and philosophical tidbits that aid in each’s means toward their end. The biggest negative thing that has always stood out however is the minimal charitable / philanthropy in the budgets published online. Being proponents of compound interest it is surprising the lack of recognition that compounding applies to non-financial things too.

  24. Jerry on July 25, 2019 at 10:43 pm

    Didn’t realize you were MMM’s accountant. That must mean you know he’s been making tons of money from his site for many years! Any idea how much? 🙂

    And do you think you really lives on only $20,000 a year? Or is it just a schitck to bring traffic to make more money and spend more than he claims?

    • Keith Taxguy on July 26, 2019 at 7:16 am

      Jerry, client information, past or present, is confidential.

  25. Ckarion on July 28, 2019 at 4:31 am

    I will be forever greatful to MMM and ERE for showing me a different path than the standard work-and-consume. If some of the widely known FIRE proponents takes advantage of their fame, it is of course regrettable but does not invalidate the ideas.
    The odd parts of your rant to me is:
    (1) that you seem to assume people who are FI would refuse to pay it forward. I see a lot of bloggers and commenters who makes a point of charity not being sacrificed to frugality, and
    (2) that you see a bike city as totalitarian. In Europe there are several citys with large parts banned to cars. Apartments there comes with the condition of no car ownership. It works perfectly well. The result is a human-centric safe environment without noise and pollution, which is great for everyone and especially kids. I can assure you that the areas has not fallen to dictators and there has been no beheadings.

    • Andrew Leigh on August 14, 2019 at 7:51 am

      Agree that bikes being totalitarian raised an eye brow on my end. I yearn for one american city that is bike friendly…

      • Keith Taxguy on August 14, 2019 at 8:32 am

        Make sure you understand my post. Bike cities are not totalitarian; communistic living is. The bike cities , as they were presented to me (for purchase, of course), involved everyone living in very small homes with shared community building for almost all life activities. Supper each evening was experienced together as a whole community. Each household took turns preparing supper for the whole community. SE Asia still has plenty of cities where bikes rule the roads. There is a reason they all want to have cars, too.

        • Andrew Leigh on August 14, 2019 at 9:53 am

          Ah yes – in that light it makes sense. I think communal living can work on a small scale, but is definitely a lifestyle choice that’s not for everyone and i’ve definitely followed a bit of reporting around some of the more anarchist communes out there that ultimately fall apart because tribalism is inevitable at a larger scale (channeling michael poole here).

          Thanks for clarifying.

      • Mr. Hobo Millionaire on August 14, 2019 at 9:12 am

        Hi Andrew,

        >>I yearn for one american city that is bike friendly…

        Check out NW Arkansas (Bentonville), home to Walmart. The Waltons (Sam Walton’s children and grandchildren) have been spending (donating) MILLIONS to lay miles and miles of both paved and mountain bike trails. All trails are free, and the mountain bike trails are like having a free nature amusement park. The paved trails connect from city to city (Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers). It’s stunning what they’ve done up there. And Walmart is building a new world headquarters that will encourage biking to work.

        https://corporate.walmart.com/newsroom/2019/07/19/we-have-a-goal-for-10-of-home-office-associates-to-commute-to-work-on-bicycles-by-2023-lets-ride

        There are also a number of videos on YouTube to see the mountain bike trails in action.

        • Andrew Leigh on August 14, 2019 at 10:11 am

          I’ll have to read more about it and check out all your links! Right now I’m up in Boston working for one of the larger tech companies and one of the more life changing (albeit harrowing) aspects has been a shift toward using my bike to get to work. It’s a lovely way to start and end your day, so once I get to a financial point in my life I’d love to switch careers and find a city that’s more orientated toward something like that.

  26. Jason on July 28, 2019 at 5:49 am

    I can say that I really appreciated this post. While I am a personal finance blogger I am certainly not to the level of the different big wigs out there, nor do I strive to be. However, I have gained great knowledge from many of the folks out there, including yourself. What my whole ‘problem’ with the FIRE movement has been (and I do plan a post on this myself) is that to truly define itself as a “movement” you have to some larger goal. You have to be moving toward something. I think certainly most people would say the movement is trying to get more people to be financially independent however you define that. And that is a wonderful thing. But my concern is then what? I mean if these financial bloggers have all of this knowledge, time, and money, don’t we have an obligation to give back? Don’t we have an obligation as fellow human beings to pay it forward than just simply talking about optimizing ideas on Facebook groups and blog forums?

    I guess that is where the rubber meets the road for me and while will never RE. I feel like the job I do does give back in many respects. I feel like the knowledge I have received should serve somebody and I have an obligation to spread that message, help educate others, and promote greater financial literacy. Of course, that starts at home, but it has to be more than that. I don’t see how some people have a truly “meaningful” life without paying it forward, without helping others. And it seems to me that many in the FIRE movement, when that fateful date of FIRE comes, are done with that. They don’t care about it or at least don’t provide the perception they care. They have worked at their miserable jobs for 20 years, saved 50% of their income, and now are going to FIRE and not do much more. Don’t we (e.g. humanity), particularly the privileged few, owe the world more than that?

  27. Social Capitalist on July 28, 2019 at 8:44 pm

    Hmmm, interesting to say the least. As for helping others I am in total agreement; as I think my threads on your blog imply. But the rant- well, this seems to come from more of the sleep deprived place of a couple of your previous posts, WA.

    I agree cults are dangerous and that part of the FI has been to shift costs (mostly for luxury such as travel tho, so it shifts cost to others that can afford it) but the comparison of a biketopia to Stalinism is a bit of a reach. And we must dream of a better world, even if it is in our own image.

    I seriously doubt you lose FIRE cred as most of the bloggers are diverse and accepting in spite of your carbon footprint shout-out (which is primarily true due to the travel). Your advice and suggestions both about tax (401k RMDs)and non tax items. (Buy a freezer) are too valuable.

    I look forward to your blog but I am seeing a lot of the strain of a man overworked within in it. Not that you have not always been leery of RE but now you seem downright antagonistic – I think the purpose of FI is the choice (and morally to help others); your views and blog are more influential, but is it any different to decry a utopia than to promote one?

    Still loving the blog; hope things are calmer.

  28. Bluenote on August 8, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    FIRE was a nice little subculture and it grew to the point that the “fans” and sociopaths have, as usual, shown up and essentially made the average FIRE person more average. It used to be that a FIRE devotee was typically a really intelligent, long term thinking person with a bias towards independence and frugality. The typical FIRE person now is much closer to the average person in general and yeah there are gong to be marketeers mining the vein of well intentioned people who don’t at all fit the mold for FIRE (get FIRE quick, like get rich quick doesn’t work). MMM was extremely successful in propagating FIRE. However he didn’t invent it, originate any real original ideas AFIK. He was just really good at promotion and ultimately communication. Communication being the ability to put something into someone else mind in a way that accurately reflects the intentions of the communicator. MMM was fairly good at that and is one heck of a bandwagon catalyst, I don’t know him personally but nobody can deny he’s a great writer and is very influential and has used that to grow the FIRE population as much as he could, for better or worse. I like both WA and MMM and don’t really like JP that much, it seems like the author may have OD’d on JP when they wrote this article.

  29. Andrew Leigh on August 14, 2019 at 6:56 am

    Agree on many of these points. I find that the movement has grown extremely judgmental, arrogant, and focuses on money to the detriment of all else with cult-like personalities commercializing it for the most part. I’ve unsubscribed from a ton of podcasts/facebook groups/blogs and have trimmed it down to people that I learn something from or find myself disagreeing with a good faith argument and being forced to think through why.

    I guess while I would be capable of fat FIRE by the time I’m 50, I really like the principles of sustainability and focus around what you need vs. what you want associated with the lean FIRE movement. This is probably driven by all the discussion around climate change and the existentialist challenge it poses.

    Either way – thought I’d write in and say you’re not alone and that I enjoy your content – especially when it takes risks or is something I may disagree with because it operates as a foil for self reflection.

  30. Bernard on August 15, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    It’s human nature to presume that we are doing it right and that other people do it wrong. That leads to preaching and not everyone may have open ears for that. You can’t turn the entire world vegan within a year, but you can set an example by cutting out red meat once a week. Some people will follow, others won’t. Same with the issue of Mustachian clown cars. That alone has a negative connotation toward our family, friends, and coworkers who drive to work. Who wants to be called a clown just because he drives to work? I’ve noticed on the MMM blog that one poster asked how to convince his coworkers, the “suckers,” that biking to work is the sh*t. Well, start by not referring to them as suckers is a great start. I pointed out that everything is a matter of perspective. I may try to convince you that biking to work is healthy and saves me auto related expenses, and you might respond to me that you make $350 per hour and couldn’t, or don’t want to, afford spending $700 per day on your 2-hour bicycle commute, or $14K per month. And we would be both correct. I think if we do what we feel is right without preaching to others, unless they approach us and ask for advice, we are on a great track.

  31. Curmudgeonly Yours on August 22, 2019 at 1:00 am

    You sound like an angry right front elitist in this rant. I don’t claim to know you but this is a very salty perspective.

    • Keith Taxguy on August 22, 2019 at 8:28 am

      Hey, Joe. Good to see you still lurking about.

  32. Steve (NWOutlier) on September 8, 2019 at 3:41 pm

    I think I have a different take on this post; I would say there is a lot written that I did not consider. Based on my background and life experiences, I “used” the FIRE movement to get my savings priorities in order so i have a decent retirement (started late, I’m 51 now)…

    Outside of that – I would agree with you, I’ve followed a lot of the FIRE bloggers for many years… and while the market was growing strong, the posts were equally exciting.. but all the ‘top bloggers’ have really become stale, selling books, increasing ads on their site… when I started reading it was pure advice and illustrative practice on what they did to ‘accumulate’ … which is what I needed. I never focused on living on 7,500/yr (early retirement extreme) nor the 20-24k-ish (MMM)… I focused on the message they sent, live on less, invest the rest… that is what will save me… I never read a blog and chose to live like them.. I merely listened to their story and applied it to my life and life style… “how will this work for me”….

    I hit the FIRE blogs @ 2013 luckily and it’s done extremely well for me…. but, tax implications, withdrawal strategies, sequence of returns and more.. so much to learn – it’s not “simple math”.. (well it is simple math, but when applied against our tax system – it becomes complex)….

    anyway – I prollly was not coherent – but – I posted my thoughts.

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