Most people who criticize the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early) base their arguments on misconceptions that simply aren’t true. If they took the time to fully educate themselves, they’d quickly realize their gripes with FIRE are incorrect.
As a FIRE blogger and podcaster, I’ve seen, heard and read it all when it comes to the FIRE movement. Given my fanatical passion for this topic, I get a little riled up when I see half-truths and outright falsehoods being spread!
As a member of the FIRE community, I see it as my duty to help others learn about FIRE and what it’s really about. Instead of allowing the naysayers to tell our story, I’m more than happy to take them on and set the record straight.
That’s the goal of this post; I’m tackling the 10 most popular misconceptions about the FIRE movement, starting at number 10 and working up to number one. Can you guess what it is?
If you’re already a FIRE fanatic like me, I hope you enjoy the read. If not, I hope you’ll take away some new facts about FIRE and be encouraged to learn more. With that, let’s get started.
10. FIRE bloggers are the only ones who really reach FIRE (and that’s because of their blog income)
Oh, if only it were that easy! Every year on my blogiversary, I share my blog earnings, and it’s not pretty! Spoiler: I’m barely breaking even. But that’s not saying much, given how inexpensive blogging is!
It’s true, some well-known FIRE bloggers earn very good income from their blogs. However, they’re few and far between. The rest of us continue to blog simply because we love it, enjoy connecting with others, or just want to document our journey.
Two of the ‘lucky ones’ who manage to make good money from blogging are Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution. They’re very aware of this misconception, so they’ve split their investment portfolio in two:
- Income earned from their former day jobs. This is what they actually live on in retirement.
- Income earned after retiring (blog income, book royalties, speaking engagements, etc.) These investments are only for business expenses, self-improvement, gifts and one-off ridiculous luxuries.
Kristy and Bryce do this to show that they’re truly able to live on just their original investments. I think that’s solid evidence to bust this silly misconception!
9. FIRE’s only for high-income earners
It’s commonly believed that you must earn a high income to even consider FIRE. While it’s true that high income helps, it’s not a requirement. Many people do reach FIRE on average incomes.
In addition, earning a higher income doesn’t automatically get you to FIRE. More important is the gap between your income and expenses. The bigger the gap, the faster your progress to FIRE.
For example, someone earning $50,000 per year and spending $25,000 (a gap of 50%) will reach FIRE in 17 years. On the other hand, someone who earns $150,000 per year and spends $100,000 (a gap of 34%) will need 25 years to reach FIRE.
The takeaway? By widening the gap between your income and spending, then investing it wisely, you can reach FIRE; even on a moderate income.
8. FIRE seekers are missing out on life
The implication with this misconception is that FIRE seekers are too focused on reaching FIRE. Because of this, they forget to enjoy life now. Admittedly, there is a kernel of truth here.
Indeed, some people take it too far. They avoid socializing, obsess about every dollar, and suck the fun out of life, all to reach FIRE sooner. One popular FIRE personality, Brandon the Mad Fientist, is well known for being that guy.
However, now that the FIRE community has matured, I come across very few stories of people who blindly race to the finish line. More often than not, a slower approach is embraced and encouraged.
Brandon and many others now advocate for a slower, more sustainable approach to FIRE. Smelling the roses on the path is just as important as the eventual goal.
7. All FIRE seekers hate their jobs
Unfortunately, this misconception does apply to some FIRE seekers. They hate their jobs, and that’s their main motivation to pursue FIRE.
However, as someone who’s fully entrenched in the FIRE community, those who hate their jobs are far outnumbered by those who are satisfied or thrilled with their jobs.
In addition, those who aren’t happy with their jobs, but not ready to FIRE, will typically find new positions instead of sticking it out to the bitter end. This is thanks in part to the FIRE community’s focus on personal growth and happiness throughout the journey.
So yes, there is some truth to this misconception. But it’s a stereotype that doesn’t apply to the majority of FIRE seekers.
6. FIRE means working non-stop and saving every penny
There’s an erroneous belief that you can’t reach FIRE unless you work non-stop and put away every penny. FIRE detractors claim that this is the only way to reach FIRE, and if you’re not willing to do it, you’re destined to fail.
Thankfully, this is another misconception. In reality, very few of us work towards FIRE in such a miserable, unhealthy way. It’s very much possible to reach FIRE, even while working part-time, even if you don’t save every penny.
To learn how dozens of people are doing this, check out the Slow FI interview series at The Fioneers. These individuals have deliberately chosen to work less and enjoy more of their money on the path to FIRE.
5. FIRE with kids is all but impossible
I hear it all the time, “Well, of course they can FIRE, they don’t have kids.” This is yet another misconception that’s completely false. I’ve lost count of the parents I know who are well on their way or already at FIRE; my husband and I included.
Yes, kids can slow the progress to FIRE. But they do not make FIRE impossible. Kids don’t have to be the enormous financial burden that mainstream media makes them out to be. My friend Court proves this time and time again on her blog, Modern FImily.
Parents can even have one partner slow down to raise the kids and still reach FIRE. I call this ‘Spouse FI’. It’s a lifestyle option that can offer couples many financial and lifestyle benefits, even before reaching full FIRE.
So, take it from a parent who’s on the path to FIRE; you can have your cake and eat it too. Kids and FIRE do go together.
4. FIRE seekers aren’t prepared for emergencies and life changes
When interviewed by Paula Pant on Afford Anything, this misconception was one of Suze Orman’s biggest gripes about the FIRE movement. She believed that FIRE seekers haven’t thought about the mishaps, catastrophes and life changes that could befall them.
Suze could not have been more wrong. Few people are more prepared for emergencies and life changes than those of us in the FIRE community. We analyze, predict and plan for every ‘what if’ we can come up with.
We do this regularly, year after year, and likely every year until we’re old and grey. We know that we’ve got a lot riding on our FIRE plans, and we do everything we can to make them as bullet-proof as possible.
So, thanks for your concern, Suze, but this misconception is unequivocally busted.
3. FIRE is only for white tech bros
Like misconception #8 (FIRE seekers are missing out on life) this myth is based on a kernel of truth. In the early days of the FIRE movement, the most well-known FIRE personalities were, in fact, mostly white men who worked in the tech industry:
They were, and still are, extremely well-known and popular. I’m not detracting from these amazing bloggers. They’ve shared so much valuable info with the FIRE community. I’ll be forever grateful to them for changing my money mindset and, as a result, my life.
However, the unfortunate consequence of their sameness is that it appears that white ‘tech bros’ are the only type of people in the FIRE community. I hope it’s pretty clear these days that this is totally untrue. This group of superstar bloggers does not represent the community as a whole.
If you need further convincing, look no further than yours truly! I’m an Asian graphic designer turned stay-at-home mom. For more examples of diversity in the FIRE community, here are a few for you:
- Paula Pant from Afford Anything
- Kiersten and Julien Saunders from Rich and Regular
- Bob from Tawcan
- Court and Nic from Modern FImily
- Kristy and Bryce from Millennial Revolution
- Women Of The Financial Independence Movement
- Lauren from cFIREsim
I also encourage you to check out my podcast, Explore FI Canada. On our show, we interview everyday Canadians who are at or on their way to FIRE. Nearly all of them have ‘regular’ jobs with fairly typical, middle-class incomes.
2. FIRE requires extreme frugality and deprivation
It’s assumed that all FIRE seekers strictly adhere to these two approaches to FIRE. Yes, some FIRE seekers are truly this hardcore and frugal! However, most of us do not take it to such extremes; though some would argue they’re not all that extreme.
Even so, for those of us who do follow Mustachianism or ERE, we’re doing it consciously and happily. Mindful frugality and low consumption align with our core values, and we don’t experience any deprivation.
My oft-repeated advice is this: if you’re feeling deprived, you’re doing FIRE wrong! That’s a sign that you’ve cut back too far on something that you love and value. You should instead reevaluate where your money is going. Ruthlessly cut back on things that are less important so that you can spend more on things you love.
To learn about the many ways FIRE seekers are happily practicing frugality, with no deprivation, check out my How Much Does it Cost to Live the FIRE Life interview series. It’s eye-opening, revealing, and just plain fun to take a peek into the financial lives of FIRE seekers all over the world!
1. FIRE seekers just want to retire and do nothing for the rest of their lives
This is the mother of all FIRE movement misconceptions, and it drives me bananas! It’s the reason why I mostly use the term ‘FI’ instead of ‘FIRE’. I find the debate about the ‘RE’ part of FIRE to be an annoying distraction. It takes away from the true message.
The goal for most FIRE seekers isn’t to be free of work for the rest of our lives. Instead, we want freedom and options to choose how we spend our time. This often includes some form of work, both paid and unpaid.
That’s right! Contrary to popular belief, many FIRE seekers are happy to continue working, even after reaching FIRE. That’s because it’s by choice and/or we’re pursuing work we’re truly passionate about; even if it’s for little or no pay.
There is, of course, a group of FIRE seekers who truly have no plans to do work of any kind. However, that doesn’t mean they do ‘nothing’, as the naysayers claim. Purple at A Purple Life is the perfect example of this. Despite her self-proclaimed goal to live the ‘Slug Life‘, she’s been far busier in retirement than she ever expected to be.
Even with her best efforts to live a leisurely, work-free existence, she’s continuing to learn, grow, socialize, and even travel. Sure, she spends plenty of days very self-indulgently, but that’s not even close to 100% of her days.
People who are as driven as FIRE seekers have far too much ambition, ideas, and energy to sit still forever. I declare this final and most-repeated misconception BUSTED!
Whether you plan to pursue FIRE or not, I hope this article helped you to understand more about the FIRE movement and what it’s truly about. While I may seem to disparage FIRE naysayers, I actually welcome healthy debate and fair criticisms. That’s how we, as a community, continue to grow and improve.
However, I take great issue when people don’t spend the time to fully understand FIRE before taking shots. If you want to make a point or prove us wrong, start by getting informed about FIRE and what it’s really about.
Should you come across others who share FIRE misconceptions, please direct them to this post. At worst, they’ll have a more accurate picture of FIRE. At best, they’ll decide that the FIRE movement is, in fact, something they can consider. To this, I say, “The more the merrier!”