They call us snowbirds.
Every year as the the temperatures turn south, so does the traffic from the northern climes, bleeding into the sunny south on the latticework veins of varicose highways.
Mrs. Accountant and I have enjoyed warmer weather in January with a trip to the land where summer never ends for many years now. Some years we miss, but most years we take a pre-tax season gander south before the pace of a busy tax season sets in.
For several years we made the trip south dual purpose, mixing business with pleasure. The last time we did this we were walking the streets of Gainesville, Florida waiting for one of the various FIRE (financial independence/retire early) camps to begin.
The camp was outside town a few miles. These gatherings generally are a reasonable mix of fellowship and education. But this one was going to have a surprise.
One of the presentations had a slick offering of real estate. A small community was planned with narrow street for bikes only. Each house was small so everyone was forced to spend more time outdoors. Home was for sleeping and not much else.
A large centrally located community building had a community kitchen. Each night members of this community would dine together. Families would take turns preparing meals for the entire group.
I turned to Mrs. Accountant and she knew what I was thinking instantly. This project didn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades.
It was a nice presentation, but what part about the “I” in FIRE don’t you understand? These people value independence highly and this was the exact opposite of “more” freedom. These people would never think of buying a non-conforming home with massive community rules and a requirement to feed the town periodically.
Then I turned to view the reaction of the room. After I winched my jaw back into place I understood what had just happened.
The FIRE community had reached a critical mass and was prime for a fleecing.
Baa, said the Sheep
A few weeks back I published a critical review of the FIRE community. As expected, many readers agreed with my assessment, while a few disagreed. The disagree camp didn’t have a lot to stand on because their argument (in one comment) boiled down to ‘I was wrong because I made a spelling error.’ Of course, those who follow on social media knew I hid Easter Eggs in the post, noting there were several layers to unravel. (I needed certain letters!)
Ya also know ya hit the nail square when the arguments take those kinds of turns.
However, I was wrong on at least one account. My allegory of these communities as ‘communistic bike towns’ were off base and it wasn’t the message I wanted to convey. My connection to mid-19th century Russia was a stretch for sure.
But I wanted people to think about what they were doing! I saw a slick developer looking to pluck a relatively naive groups of potential investors.
Non-conforming homes will have a harder time holding value, especially in weak markets. The number of people willing to live in these communities also reduces the number of potential buyers.
And what about conflict resolution?
Well, they had an answer for that. The problem again is that this group of people looking for more ‘independence’ would lose a large part of that independence with a serious amount of their time and assets if they invested.
The old adage: Good fences make good neighbors, was forgotten by this crowd.
Two Problems FIRE Must Address
I saw a seasoned developer carefully carve the group.
The willingness of so many to embrace this concept without serious thought made me nervous. The only relevance we got from the developer was, “They are doing it in Europe with great success.” And since we are in Florida, I have some land I’d like to sell you, too.
One thing was clear. The FIRE community, the FIRE movement, has reached critical mass. There are enough people with cash available to fleece. The old Microsoft Support Scam and IRS Scam are peanuts to what can be pried from the fingers of this group.
Many who follow FIRE bloggers are quick to crack their wallets when a leading blogger thinks an investment is a good idea. This is a terrible idea! You understand many of these bloggers have something in it for them and even if they don’t there is no guarantee they know what they are doing. They might be retired, but they still line their pockets with blog revenue.
And I’m no exception! Everything I say or do should be questioned! I throw out ideas and tax strategies non-stop. My record of wealth creation is solid, no doubt, but I have no lock on smart investing. Remember, good ‘ol Warren Buffett is taking a shellacking on his Kraft-Heinz investment and he is probably the best investor of all time. The lesson: do your own research.
If the FIRE community is ever to survive it must address two serious issues.
First, many in the FIRE community are relatively new to the movement. They had their come to Jesus moment, crucifying debt and massively funding their retirement accounts. Then they start building their non-qualified accounts. And don’t think the shysters of the world haven’t taken notice.
The acolytes are fresh from foolish financial decisions and with a small amount of knowledge built serious wealth. Most are not millionaires, but sitting around with $300,000 incubating inside an index funds is a ready source of cash if you can offer the right deals these suckers, ah, fine young people take a fancy to.
The second problem is the neophytes now as a group command a serious amount of money. The old ‘invest in an index fund and forget it’ advice isn’t going to cut it.
FIRE members love buying real estate. Several bloggers act like it is all easy money. Well, it isn’t.
I have well over $40 million in real estate transactions in my own account. This is more than some real estate sales professionals ever sell. My stories include the good, some really bad and the down-right ugly. I live this stuff.
Real financial education is lacking. I know this because I get more consulting requests than I can handle. Maybe 10% get a hearing and I charge $350 an hour. People in the FIRE community are digging some deep financial holes and some are creating massive tax and legal problems for themselves.
What YOU Must Do
Neither you nor I can fix all the problems in the FIRE community. I can preach from my small perch of this blog, but in the end it is up to you.
The FIRE movement is such a desperately needed movement. People are so lacking in basic financial knowledge.
The illusion of saving half your income in index funds salves all financial woes is misleading.
The seasoned hucksters have noticed our quaint little group. They know exactly what to say to get your money. They will not peal a couple hundred dollars from your stack; they want six figures!
Since you managed to acquire a respectable nest egg you think you are an experienced investor. It is doubtful you are!
What you MUST do is step back from any new investment. If the deal needs immediate action you MUST take a pass. Don’t worry. Another deal will always come along. The hurry-up deals are all too often scams anyway.
Buying into an unconventional investment, which these bike communities are, should never happen unless you are very experienced financially and have the ability the lose 100% of your money without changing your lifestyle one iota.
I’ve been publishing more on investing lately. (It is outside tax season so I wanted to write about something else for a bit. More tax posts are coming soon.) The reason for this is the number of readers crying out for help.
You have no idea of some of the people on my desk I’m helping. These are serious issues; small fortunes completely destroyed unless I can find a way to preserve their wealth. I don’t always win.
To keep this short I will close with one last suggestion. If you can’t read and interpret financial statements like a seasoned accountant you have no business being in any kind of exotic investment, real estate included. Stick to index funds and money market accounts.
You might not shoot the moon, but you will not suffer a catastrophic loss sending you back to square one, as a neophyte in the FIRE community once again.
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