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The FIRE Movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is Lying to You

By Spencer Haws |

I’m all FIRE’d up!

FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) is a movement that is all about making and saving enough money at an “early” age so that you can live off your investments for the rest of your life.

I’ll be honest that I’ve thought about this subject a lot.  In fact, I quit my job in 2011 (in my early 30s) and have been building online businesses ever since.

I sold my software company a few years ago for 7 figures and have had some other successful ventures.  

I’ve thought, “I might be able to just stop working and live on what I’ve saved for the rest of my life”.

I wanted to see what others have been able to achieve and see if this FIRE lifestyle was something I should pursue.

However, the more I researched the bloggers and influencers that say they have “retired early” thanks to their savings, the more I got annoyed.

And even a little upset!

Today, I want to share my thoughts on the FIRE Movement and why I think most of the influencers are lying to you. 

Are They All Lying To Us?

Yes.

Okay, not all of them, but most of the FIRE bloggers, Youtubers, and influencers are not being honest with you.

Here’s why.

I know how much work it takes to run a blog, a Youtube channel, and nurture an audience.  It’s been my full-time business since 2011.

I am FAR from “retired”.  Meaning I still have to put in essentially a full-time day to run my business.

So, knowing that a blog and Youtube channel, etc is a full-time job, I KNOW these influencers are working quite a bit.  (i.e. – They have not retired).

I also know a blog or YouTube channel with a decent following can make significant money.

So, I KNOW that these influencers make a lot of money each month from their online business.

Let’s recap real quick:

Most fire influencers still working + living on money they are actively earning = not living the FIRE life at all

There, I said it.

These people haven’t quit working and they are still earning money from their ACTIVE business pursuits, how is that retiring early?

See why I’m so annoyed?

A Couple of Examples…

I’m not trying to say that FIRE bloggers are bad, I’m just saying that they are not being completely honest with the audience.

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples and see if you agree.  The question I’m trying to answer with these people that claim they have achieved “FIRE” is two things:

Mr. Money Mustache

From his about page, he says, “Mr Money Mustache is a thirtysomething* retiree who now writes about how we can all live a frugal yet Badass life of leisure.”

So, he claims to be retired and lives a life of leisure.  But let’s take a look at his active business:

According to SimilarWeb, MrMoneymustache.com gets about 1 million visitors a month.  That’s a sizeable business and didn’t create itself.

The amount of time, energy, and commitment put into Mr. Money Mustache was significant (I’m a blogger, so I know how hard it is to create a blog).

The guy is working hard and that’s great!  But don’t call it retirement.

And with all of that, he is easily making over $50,000 a month from his blog (my guess).  

Again, I’m not faulting him for making money from his online business…that’s what I do!  I’m simply asking him to stop saying he’s retired and, to be honest, that even though he achieved “financial independence” and could live off his investments, he has chosen to keep earning money (perhaps as a cushion or to upgrade his lifestyle so he doesn’t have to live so frugally).

Is It a Matter of Definition of Retirement?

Here’s a rebuttal from Mr. Money Mustache (that I found on his blog).

Everybody uses the FIRE acronym because it is catchy and “Early Retirement” sounds desirable. But for most people who get there, Financial Independence does not mean the end of your working career.

Instead it means, “Complete freedom to be the best, most powerful, energetic, happiest and most generous version of You that you can possibly be.”

Whoa, so now you can just change the definition of a word whenever you want? (i.e. retirement).  Here’s a few definitions I found from Dictionaries:

Retirement refers to the time of life when one chooses to permanently leave the workforce behind. 

the action or fact of leaving one’s job and ceasing to work.

withdrawal from one’s position or occupation or from active working life

Call me old-school, but it still sounds like retirement is when you permanently leave the workforce and stop working.  I guess I could say I “retired” from Wells Fargo where I used to work as a banker, but I can’t say I’m retired (as in I’ll never work again).  I retired from Wells Fargo and starting working as an online business owner.

The FIRE industry just can’t take a well-established definition like retirement and suddenly say it doesn’t really mean retirement, it means you still work…but you enjoy that work.

People interested in FIRE are asking for an apple (retirement) and influencers are saying “here’s your apple!” while handing them an orange. 

It’s extremely confusing and disingenuous.

Mr. Money Mustache should stop telling people he retired from working.  Why can’t he simply say he quit his job and now runs an online business…like the rest of us?

How could he make me happy?  Simply say he is a “former-retiree” that came out of retirement to now blog about frugal living and investing wisely. 

Is that so difficult to admit?

Our Rich Journey

Our Rich Journey is about a married couple that saved up enough money to live off their investments forever.  They moved to Portugal and now live comfortably through Frugal living and investment returns.

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Or are they really just a couple that invested wisely and then quit their corporate jobs and have now started an online business to supplement their investment income?

The haven’t FIRED at all, in my opinion.

Here’s what their About page says,

We’re a family of four from the San Francisco Bay Area. We were federal government employees until . . . one day . . . we both just up-and-quit our jobs! That’s right! In August 2019, we quit our jobs and RETIRED at the age of 39…we grew our stock market portfolio to an amount that allowed us to quit our jobs without ever having to work again.

(Bold and italics added by me to just clarify that they are claiming they’ve retired and never have to work again).

You don’t build a Youtube channel to over 275,000 subscribers without putting in a TON of work!  Not retired at all.

Financially Independent?  Maybe.  But they make a ton of money off their videos (easily over $20k/mth), so I think it’s disingenuous to say “We retired and never have to work again or earn money again!”  Because well they are doing both – still working and still earning money.

Oh, and they have a blog too…which again takes a ton of time (i.e. not retired).

Oh, and they have an investing course (a ton of work to create) and a financial workbook.  These guys are probably crushing it in their online business.

And kudos to them…I love online business owners!

But I also like it when people admit that they run an online business and likely live off the significant money they make from it.

Look it’s not that hard, I’ll go first, “I run an online business and I live off the money I make from that business!”  Phew, that was really hard to admit. 

Your turn Our Rich Journey.

Does it make sense why this is all annoying to me?  You read their about page and it says they retired and never have to work again. 

But in reality, you can see that they are clearly working and making a ton of money.

Am I Missing the Big Picture?

Look, I could probably go and find dozens of examples of people claiming on their About page that they retired and no longer need money, but in reality are still working and making money.

But no need to go down that rabbit hole even further at this point.

Some of the bloggers say that “Retire” simply means working on something you are more passionate about, instead of working a corporate job.  But as mentioned before, I think this is comparing apples and oranges.

I think many of the bloggers in the FIRE community are disingenuous with how they tell their own stories.

I thought maybe I was missing something, but then I ran across an EXCELLENT blog post on OurNextLife.com.  The best part is that Tonja is one of the biggest names in the FIRE community and I believe she agrees with me.

I’ll just share one quote and a few images from her post.  She says,

I encouraged readers not to listen to FI blogs, especially when it comes to the question of whether early retirement is sustainable, because too often they don’t tell that full story. (Bottom line: nearly every retired FI blogger draws significant income from their blog, and therefore isn’t actually testing the approach to early retirement that they espouse.)

So, I’m not alone!  Even one of the top influencers in the space agrees that FI bloggers are drawing significant income from their blogs and online businesses and therefore aren’t really living the lifestyle they espouse.

Here’s a couple graphics she made that I agree strongly with:

 

If you write about never working again, but you still make significant money from your writings…you aren’t living what you preach.

If you sell the “no more work” lifestyle, but you work and make more money, you aren’t living the lifestyle you espouse.

What About Other Small Business Owners that Do What They Love?

If you are doing what you love and making money that’s fine with me!  Just be honest about the money you are making.

I mean should we start saying that everyone that has left corporate America is “retired?”

There are millions of small business owners that are doing what they love and not working for someone else, but we never (and they never) say that they are retired.

I see zero difference between these examples and what the FIRE bloggers do.  All of them quit their jobs and now work for themselves and make money.

The fact that the FIRE bloggers might have been able to live off their investments is irrelevant because they don’t.  They make tons of money from their online businesses.

What I would be Okay with From FIRE Influencers

All I’m asking for is a small admission.

Mr. Money Mustache could simply say, “I’m a former retiree.  I came out of retirement to share my advice on saving, investing, and frugal living.  I make good money doing it.”

Our Rich Journey could simply say, “We quit our jobs to do what we love!  We now travel the world and share the investment strategies that have worked well for us.  We now work at what we enjoy doing and make money from sharing our advice with others”.

Notice the minor shift in messaging?

It’s an honest message that FIRE bloggers need to embrace.

Bottom line – you COULD have retired and lived off your investments – but you chose not to.  You chose to continue earning money and working.

There’s nothing wrong with that – thousands in the online business do the same!

However, you just need to be honest about it. 




Niche Business Ideas

By Spencer Haws

Spencer Haws is the founder of NichePursuits.com. After getting a degree in Business Finance from BYU (2002) and an MBA from ASU (2007) he worked for 8 years in Business Banking and Finance at both Merril Lynch and Wells Fargo Bank.

While consulting with other small business owners as a business banker, Spencer finally had the desire to start his own business. He successfully built a portfolio of niche sites using SEO and online marketing that allowed him to quit his job in 2011. Since then he's been involved in dozens of online business ventures including: creating and exiting Long Tail Pro, running an Amazon FBA business for over 3 years and selling that business, founding LinkWhisper.com, and co-founding MotionInvest.com. You can learn more about Spencer here.

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