Flash FIRE warning: When FIRE Chasers Become FIRE Fighters

Fire is a passionate and unforgiving substance.  It keeps you warm, heats your meals, and provides light in the dark.  When wielded carefully, it is a force to be used for good.  Financial FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) is no different. We all remember what it was like when that FIRE lit up the dark cave in which we previously lived.

It was a true light bulb moment.

Set for Life InsuranceOn the flip side, fire can also be destructive and deadly.

Anyone who is chasing after financial independence or the ability to retire early remembers the first time they shared their passion for FIRE with the wrong person and got burned.

These interactions make us shy away from having the same conversations in the future.  It forces us to use caution when discussing FIRE. Otherwise, the FIRE we chase might just burn us like the dog who finally caught the tire.

Today, we will discuss how to avoid becoming FIRE fighters by avoiding those who are most likely to burn us.

The Basic Premise:  Talking FIRE Produces Heat

There are three required components to produce a fire: heat, a fuel source, and oxygen.

Oxygen is present in any conversation.  The fuel in FIRE conversations involves various groups of people that will be discussed in the next section. That’s two of the three necessary items for a fire.

Where does the heat come from that burns us when we discuss FIRE?

It comes from the two components that allow us to achieve FIRE and then embolden us to want to talk about it:
1) saving a high percentage of your income (> 25-30%) to build wealth
2) living a frugal life and keeping your expenses low.

To obtain these two components, any conversation about FIRE will discuss two important topics, which are the real sources of heat that cause a combustible conversation with the groups below.

The topics are:

Now that we know the sources of heat, it will make more sense which  groups of people are more likely to burn us if we discuss our FIRE plans in public.

Let’s dig in.

Group 1: The Joneses

It’s hard to keep up with the Joneses.

The Joneses have it all!  Awesome cars, the house, private school for the kids, designer clothes, and they eat lavish meals and travel on the regular.  They fly first class, of course.

Why does this crew get burned by FIRE discussions?  Because it’s so damn hard to achieve FIRE when you are upside down in debt, which is normally the case for most Joneses.

This may come as a surprise to you, but spending money does ≠ wealthy.  If you are in training or a newly minted professional, read that last sentence again.

In fact, spending a lot of money on stuff usually means the exact opposite – people are failing to build wealth.

The Joneses’ net worth is usually and unsurprisingly very low.

This group of people will get upset with you if you discuss frugality in front of them.  They’ll tell you to “live a little!”  They support the notion (despite the study shown below) that spending more money makes you happier.

It’s tough for the rich.  Someone much wiser than me once said it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for the rich to reach the promised land.

They’d have to give away all of that stuff that doesn’t build wealth first!

Share FIRE with the Joneses, and you better believe your friendship will get burnt to a crisp!  Avoid the conversation, or you better have that fire extinguisher handy.

Group 2: The Inefficient Investor

This group could be subdivided into a few others.

That division would include: the person with a “financial guy,” those that are “too busy,” and the ones who think they have it all figured out and, yet, are investing in individual stocks, actively managed funds, or some extreme portfolios.

We can argue the merits of using someone else to help with your finances, but the truth is simple.  If you can learn to do it yourself, it’ll save you money.  That’s unless you don’t have the mental fortitude to stick to the plan in a down market.

If you save $50,000 per year and gain 8% in the market, a 1% AUM (assets under management) will cost you over a million dollars in a typical thirty year career.  It’ll cost you north of $5 million dollars  in retirement.

Let that sink in…. $6 million bucks over your life.  Still think you don’t have the time?

Oh, and using actively managed mutual funds with an expense ratio of 1% will do the same thing when compared to index funds.  It’s the same math.

Doing both (the AUM financial advisor and actively managed funds) really puts you even further behind the eight ball.

Investing can be quite simple (and efficient), if we want it to be.

The investing efficiently side of the FIRE argument (typically in low cost index funds with expense ratios <0.1%) really burns the inefficient investor.

When the discussion starts, they will stop you short and tell you they simply don’t have time to work this stuff out.  The irony is that they would have a lot more time after they retire early if they would just put in a small amount of work now.

Sharing FIRE concepts with this group is unlikely to change their mind, and much more likely to tarnish your friendship.

Don’t get burned.

Group 3: People ahead of you on the journey

Fire Breather
If you are going to breathe the fire, be prepared to put it out.

This one should be obvious.

If you are sharing how you plan to FIRE when you are 45 and the person you are talking to is 50, then there is a high chance for that conversation to go south!

No extinguisher would be powerful enough for this conversation.  Just avoid the it.

It makes sense, though, really.  You are telling these people they missed the boat and did it all wrong.  If I were in their shoes, I’d get offended, too.

Don’t be a jerk.

Just be considerate and avoid having a FIRE conversation if people substantially older than you are around.  It’ll save you the pain and loss of friendship.

Group 4: The moral imperative group.

I’ll readily admit that I focus much more on the FI (Financial Independence) than the RE (Retire Early).

So, this group doesn’t get all hot and bothered by my financial discussions as often as the other groups.  However, it’s still an important group to mention.

When I get to my FI number, I’ll simply cut out the parts of my job that I don’t love.  That should happen around the age of 45.  Maybe sooner. But the current plan is to keep working until 50.

You should know, though, that there is a group of people who feel you are doing something morally corrupt by leaving the workforce early.  Particularly if you have a job in medicine.

You spend ALL of those years obtaining specialized training in order to help people.  Wouldn’t you feel bad if you just gave it all up and stopped helping?

What will all those people do? Who is going to fill your shoes?

The simple answer is that I plan on cutting back, not quitting all together.  I have some specific things I’d like to retire to, and some of them include still doing medicine for people who really need it. Likely on the mission field.

If you really do plan to retire early, FIRE topics will turn heads and create some judgement.  Be prepared to answer how you will contribute to society if you plan on leaving the gig early.

It’ll save you from pulling the pin on that extinguisher.

So, who SHOULD I talk with about FIRE?

You should discuss FIRE with people coming behind you on the path or currently on the path next to you.  This may prevent them from making many of the same mistakes that others have.

Otherwise, they end up being one of the Joneses with lots of stuff, but little wealth.

It also helps them make a strong plan to build wealth by shedding the debt they have, preventing further accumulation of debt, and saving efficiently.

Financial independence is important.  For me, I feel like I can truly be a better doctor when my financial situation does not feel like such a burden.

My family and I have a plan, and I know if I stick to it that we will get to our goals.

Once financially independent, I get to practice the parts of medicine I want to because I choose to and not because I have to.  That’s a sure way to job satisfaction.

That’s powerful!

Take Home

The take home here is simple.  Be careful who you share your FIRE with.  It may kindle a spark in our younger medical trainees or younger colleagues, but will often light your relationships at work on FIRE in the groups described above.

It is hard keeping such a powerful secret to yourself, but sometimes it is worth it.  Find the right outlet.  You’re currently reading mine.

Otherwise, share FIRE at your own peril and be ready and willing to become a FIRE fighter.

Have you ever shared FIRE and gotten burned?  What would your advice be to others on this topic?
Who told you about FIRE and how do you initially receive the idea?  Leave a comment below.


24 thoughts on “Flash FIRE warning: When FIRE Chasers Become FIRE Fighters”

  1. Hello TPP,

    My own husband laughed at me when I first told him about FIRE. He said “why would anyone want that?!’” When I “retired” about 12 years ago, I told literally NO ONE. I just stopped booking at the clinics and that was it. I am a Canadian family doctor so it was pretty simple.

    Absolutely no one wants to hear about frugality when you are an MD. Many times you will be laughed at. I recall once mentioning in an OR that I took books out of the library. The operating surgeon stopped operating and started laughing at me and describing in great detail how dirty books were from the library. Of course I shot back “look dude it’s not like I’m licking the library book”. Like good grief already.

    The physician blogging arena is very healthy. I certainly did not have these when I FIRE. I do enough work to keep my license active. I look at my current work as my way to give back a bit to the patients. I barely make any income from it on purpose.

    Take good care of your precious FI plans TPP. Sometimes when you have something precious, others may want to take it away from you. The concept of FI is more precious than ounces of gold.

    • Completely agree. This online community and those in hiding while in public are supportive. Otherwise, it’s a toss up whether you’ll get laughed at or yelled at.

      I need to heed that last advice! When I first found out, I wasn’t bashful about sharing it at all. Hence the experience for this post.

  2. I haven’t shared my semi-FIRE with many, just my closest friends and my Mom. And with my friends I still danced lightly around the money-talk. Money is sooo darn taboo.

    “When I get to my FI number, I’ll simply cut out the parts of my job that I don’t love. That should happen between 42 and 45. ”

    Exactly my situation. Stopped being a manager and just working 2 hours a week now. It’s awesome. I hope I can keep the situation going but my job still has rules.

  3. A lot of truth in this article. I was fortunate in that while I was working towards FI, basically the rest of my entire department at work were all on the FIRE train. I’m still not sure if that had more to do with the personality type the job required or the really poor work culture that was driving people to look for a way out.

    At any rate, we had lots of excellent conversations and email chains over the years. Iron sharpening iron. But outside of that group, it’s been pretty touch and go with discussing the topic with folks in the real world, even family.

  4. I am much more cautious talking about personal finance with people in real life. There is to much emotion wrapped up in money and it’s very easy to offend people. I pour my energy into my blog and commenting on other like-minded PF blogs. Much more fun that way.

    • Agreed. It’s complicated in life and it seems that personal finance gets a little too personal in that space.

      Online there is room to disagree and be okay with that. It seems like more of that in real life would be a good thing if it could only be cultivated.

  5. I have brought up the topic with all kinds because it is so exciting to me. I try not to emphasize the retire by a young age part of it. I tell people I came across the savings rate chart that tells you how much to save if you want to retire in a certain number of years, emphasizing that we can choose how frugal we want/need to be depending on our situation. For older people it is good news because they can make a lot of progress in the final decade or two of their career even if they feel behind now. So far the conversations have all gone okay, but they are very delicate. At least 3 of my friends have begun investing in retirement accounts after talking with me, so I think it was worth it.

    I have shared The Simple Path to Wealth and Early Retirement Extreme books, and several blog posts with friends and family. I am sensitive about any piece that implies people should have started earlier of shouldn’t have indulged in a luxury. It is all about empowering those whom you would like to hang out with more after FI!

  6. Great post. I learnt early on not to talk about FIRE to many of these groups. I just talk about it to my partner and close friends, definitely never talk about it at work.

    Often what I hear are things like, live in the moment, live a little, you can’t take it to the grave, ect. I have learnt that it take an extraordinary long conversation to change these peoples views. But when I do find someone truly interested in eh subject it is amazing to see the FIRE in their eyes.

    • Completely agree.

      That FIRE in my residents eyes is what pushes me to keep spreading the word. They are so hungry for this stuff. It’s like giving starving man water for the first time in months. Except, in this case, they never knew water existed.

      The thirst for more information once the light is turned in is almost insatiable.

  7. We are quite transparent in our FIRE plans. Therefore, we share our blog with our friends and families. If interested, they can reach out to us, otherwise, we don’t take the initiative for fear of offending people. They already know what we’re thinking from reading our blog 🙂

  8. Not sure I completely agree with you about point number 3.
    Older people can often be extremely supportive of someone wanting to go an alternate way. It depends on whether they’re open-minded and like to see others succeed.
    Those qualities are clearly not dependent on age. There are some miserable so-and-so’s in their 20’s, and some free spirits in their 90’s.
    Suss people out before launching into the FI/RE world.

    • You know, you may be right. I still think it’s kind of obnoxious to be talking about financial independence at a young age in front of people that probably haven’t achieved it.

      But you are certainly right that some crummy and miserable 20 or 30 something’s certainly exist!!

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