The concept of financial freedom is an unattainable chimera

according to Gerd Kommer, H/T MeineFinanzielleFreiheit (My Financial Freedom) from Germany Austria – in both of these I sadly discovered that my German has degraded through disuse to below a sufficient standard to comprehend them freely1, so Google Translate was my friend. I am looking at financial independence from the other end of the telescope from My Financial Freedom (Google Translate version of MeineFinanzielleFreiheit). MFF is under 40, and assumes most readers are of a similar age, perhaps I do not have the optimism of youth and our Gerd is no spring chicken either, cynical old gits that we are.

Gerd had an interesting taxonomy of routes to financial freedom. I presume from the website that Gerd is what we would call an IFA, though my rotten German may mean I am missing some subtleties. Let us count the ways to financial freedom, with the soundtrack of Paul Simon’s Fifty ways to leave your lover (in this case The Man):

Financial Freedom method 1 – clever investing

Hmm, BTDT. This is the dream of every day-trader and spread-better, and while I avoided those particular pathologies, I was a get-rich-quicker in the halcyon days of the dot-com boom. Dividends, I don’t need no steenking dividends2, the aim was to buy and flip to a greater fool

what not to do – contract notes from my dotcom days. Do. Not. Churn.

Yup. Didn’t end well, because in the end I was that greater fool and ended up holding the baby. The existence of Warren Buffett probably proves that some people have hot hands and are good stockpickers, this is not widely spread in the population. If you want to make money from spread betting and trading, buy shares in IG Index. Most of us don’t have hot hands, and the odds are tough. Some of us have lukewarm hands, but the fat-tailed statistics of stock-market investing can be dangerous in that case. Those with lukewarm hands can do well to consolidate some of their gains into passive investments frequently, fiddling around the edges. The challenge is to recognise the presence of some ability but also of some mediocrity, and humans just aren’t wired to do that. I am sadly still at the stage where more knowledge seems to degrade confidence, the confidence high-water mark for me was in 1998…

Socrates said that “the more I know, the more I know that I know nothing” but the absence of that sort of self-awareness is widespread enough to have a special name

FWIW I don’t believe markets are totally efficient, and if you have a long enough time horizon than I would consider valuations and CAPE a possible route to market timing, but most of us are in too much of a hurry at the start. Making money in the stock market is deeply rate-limited most of the time and depends on opportunities arising that you can’t control, so doing more is not a recipe for success, unlike in many other fields of endeavour. You don’t have to be condemned to the returns of passive investing. FireVLondon3and TEA show it can be done. I would suspect Monevator does better too. I have been happy with my own performance though it is poorer than theirs and it is shifting closer to passive because I am getting more lazy and passive, when you have enough you have enough. The gains in my AVCs/SIPP were enough to carry me the eight years to normal retirement age because I started in 20094, when the market was in a deep hole.

Round one to Gerd. He’s got a point. By all means try, with money you can afford to lose, to see if you’re the one with hot hands. It’s very unlikely to be you…

Financial Freedom method 2 – downshift

Took me a while to boil down Gerd’s incredulous take on the sort of whazzocks that say

regain control of your life – don’t exchange five days of work for two days of free time. In the books and financial blogs, a curious recipe mix is ​​propagated to “breaking out of the hamster wheel”, “ending the treadmill of employee life”

I guess that’s me, Gerd. Oops, I even used this image on this post.

It’s a fair cop, Gerd – “micromanaging jobs and people in a never-ending treadmill”

I checked out of the middle class in 2009 to escape the workplace 8 years early. It’s going fine, thanks for asking, bud. But I do have to acknowledge a lot of luck on my side, holding a decent job for 23 years and being close enough to normal retirement age for my savings and gains to bridge the gap to company pension, plus investing into a stock market that was flat on its back cheered me on. You can’t design for that sort of luck when you’re 20. So let’s call that a draw, Gerd.

Financial Freedom method 3 – start your own business

This is the classic way – the business owner captures a lot more of the value the business adds to the inputs than, say, shareholders. That’s why the long-term average returns on a diversified passive portfolio of stocks are at best around 5% p.a., which isn’t enough to live or die with unless you start off with a decent amount of capital5, which you usually save from working at your job for somebody else, in most cases. Run your own business and you can do a hell of a lot better than that, capturing the entire added value, less taxes and then selling the business as a going concern.

The downside, of course, is that the odds against you being one of the successes are terrible. It’s the same hot hands problem as method#1 but in a different dimension – few have the hot hands for business success, and a decent helping of luck helps too.

Advantage Gerd

Financial Freedom method 4 – Frugalism

Originally popularised by Jacob from Early Retirement Extreme, although the current poster-child is Mr Money Mustache. It’s a variant of downshift, but usually adopted by those in the flush of youth and earning above average. When you are young and preferably single, you can screw your consumption down and put up with privations many can’t. But you will get older, and some of the ultra-frugal lifestyle may pall. Lock yourself into an ultra-frugal lifestyle too early and take advantage of that fact by not having to earn too much, and you may find your style cramped in mid and later life.

Both ERE and MMM worked high paying jobs, and frugality let them drive their savings rate up. If you can stick this for long enough you can retire early. A lot of personal finance blogs run along these lines (eg The Escape Artist), but if the writer is working in the City, then they have an income that is probably more than five times the average British wage. If you earn five times the average Brit but can run on the average outgoings, then you can probably get to early retirement in ten years6 rather than 35. There is more incentive to do that, because these jobs tend to be punishingly stressful.

Gerd is right in that most people don’t earn enough, but if you earn well over the norm then Gerd is wrong, this is a perfectly sensible way to do it. I had some of these advantages – I earned reasonably well and lived outside London so my costs were lower, and my employer contributed more to my pension than is usual now, so effectively my pay was worth more.

That’s a draw, Gerd.

Gerd is right for most people, you can’t get there from here

Whatever the drivers for FI, regrettably I am with Gerd that financial independence is an unattainable chimera for people earning average incomes. They’re unlikely to be able to reach FI/RE except in edge cases. It’s perfectly possible for MeineFinazielleFreiheit because he is a freelancer for an international service company, which puts him on a well above average wage I would imagine. I’d initially jumped to the conclusion that Dienstleistungsunternehmen meant a management consultancy rather than service industry, which is another sort of job like finance where going for FI/RE is almost mandatory because the stressful nature of the job burns people out early. Dictionaries and Wikipedia don’t support that interpretation, although oddly the sort of pictures Google Images comes up with do lean that way.

Gerd then goes on to ask an interesting question –

What makes some people value financial independence whereas it is generally a minority pursuit?

He refered to Holger Grethe’s article about financial freedom (Google Translate). He references Steven Reiss’s book  Who am I?: 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Actions And  Define Our Personalities which offered some insight, his taxonomy of 16 values of motivation is as follows:

  1. Acceptance, the desire for positive self-regard
  2. Curiosity, the desire for understanding
  3. Eating, the desire for food
  4. Family, the desire to raise children and spend time with siblings
  5. Honor, the desire for upright character
  6. Idealism, the desire for social justice
  7. Independence, the desire for self-reliance
  8. Order, the desire for structure
  9. Physical Activity, the desire for muscle exercise
  10. Power, the desire for influence or leadership
  11. Romance, the desire for beauty and sex
  12. Saving, the desire to collect
  13. Social Contact, the desire for peer companionship
  14. Status, the desire for respect based on social standing
  15. Tranquility, the desire for safety
  16. Vengeance, the desire to confront those who offend

I’d lump some of these under the same class of thing – 4 and 13 and possibly 14 look the same class of thing to me, 10 and 16 look related. Reiss excludes traits that he does not find some hint of in all the respondents, I wonder if excluding the tails of the distribution makes this limiting. But heck, a hypothesis doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful. Reiss’s thesis is that there is a different balance between these motivations across people, but those motivations are fairly immutable in any specific case. The curious child becomes a curious adult who becomes a curious old man. Satisfying these desires is transient, you have to keep on doing something to sate them. Holger Grethe riffs on this –

“Anyone seeking financial freedom or “early retirement” is very likely to save an above-average need for independence in connection with the urge to save money.”

Conversely, other needs are more important for most people

For some, the quest for power may play a bigger role:

“Power motivates to willpower, the need for achievement and how much you want to work on it … Power influences your propensity to be a leader and to give guidance to others.”

For others, it may be status thinking that outweighs the need for independence:

“Status is the need for social prestige because of wealth, titles, social class or good origin. The satisfaction of this need evokes feelings of self-importance and superiority, while non-gratification leads to feelings of insignificance and inferiority. “

Those who retire from working life to enjoy their financial freedom can neither give commands to others nor bask in the glow of their professional position.

This helped me understand some of the observations I couldn’t really make sense of. Monevator has an extended and insightful blog about the things you need to do to become financially independent, and he served me very well, yet he has no desire to retire, even though he could

I’m pretty much financially independent these days, by my own terms. I once wanted to retire early. But I tried doing no work and discovered it wasn’t for me – or at least not yet.

My expectation now is I’ll earn at least some money for the next 30 years.

I’m incapable of understanding that, other than in a theoretical and intellectual way. I think that if I’d been rich enough to avoid working when I left university I would have done just that. Let’s hear it from Reiss on power

Power is the basic desire for influence or leadership. It motivates willpower, the need for achievement, and hard work. It motivates us to seek to influence people, events, or the environment. Power motivates the desire to lead and to give advice. It has been said of some powerful personalities that they cannot stand to see somebody go in one direction without urging the person to go in a different direction.

I got on okay with work for 30 years, it was just something you did. I’ve led teams, given presentations at international meetings, that sort of thing, but it was a means to an end, it didn’t feed a deep desire within me. In Reiss’s nomenclature I have a weak basic desire for power. I would challenge his claim that these are immutable, however, earlier in life I probably had a stronger or at least normal desire for this7.

Until I grew sick of the way work was going – all the management bullshit, the performance management targets, the needing to justify one’s existence every quarter, began to really piss me off, and then something snapped.

Yesterday was not soon enough to get out of the workplace and I never, ever, wanted someone to be able to hold that gun to my head ever again. It took three years and much slog, but I made it in the end. I have never worked since. I have earned some money, generally hit and run jobs with no ongoing commitment. I have never needed that money, and I have not changed my lifestyle as a result of it, and in some cases I have given it away to people who needed it more. The above average need for independence is writ large in all that. And yet that did not apply for 30 years of my working life – I had no burning urge to retire earlier than the normal retirement age of my company pension.

Clearly the quest for power and the status thinking were either weak in me or they were destroyed in the split second that I realised that a manager was trying to improve his numbers at the expense of my future and realised I had no power. Or perhaps it was the quest for power, but in its inverted image. Reiss presents power from the subject’s perspective – Power, the desire for influence or leadership. Making people do your bidding gives a guy a rush. But there is a corollary for the object of that exerted power. I never wanted to be the underdog again.

I can therefore never use money I would earn from employment, because as soon as I build it into my lifestyle I become a prisoner of The Man again.  No consumer shit tastes as good as financial freedom feels. It’s not like I live like an ascetic monk – I did buy the Naim 272 mentioned in that post, and I have been to Malta and the Orkneys this year in search of megalithic wonders. I could afford to go on more vacations. But I can do that from existing reserves, rather than new earnings, which would link me to The Man and his blasted hamster wheel again.

Not everyone who is financially independent can retire early

Skewed by my own experiences I assumed most people who reached financial independence would retire early, and this was supported by the common FI/RE8 acronym. Sure, five decades of living have taught me that there is much variation among individuals, but it puzzles me why somebody would go through all the privations of achieving financial independence if not to retire early, as TEA said, don’t just load the gun, pull the trigger.

Those who value influence and leadership (10), and those who get status from the work they do (14), and perhaps, in the case of men, the desire for peer companionship (13) may reach financial independence, but should reflect on whether they get something non-financial out of work that they might miss. The poster child for this is Jim SHMD, who appears to be working a job that bores him but delivers valuable side effects:

I really wasn’t looking forward to returning to the actual work that I do – but I was looking forward to catching up with the people there, both my co-workers and my customers.

I personally would be saddened if the best thing I felt I could do with my time was going to work, but that is because other motivations are higher – the curiosity (2) and independence (7). For me, independence and power are related – independence is the absence of people with power over me. However, that didn’t bother me for most of my working life, while I had enough bosses I thought were tossers I probably had more that I had some respect for. As management changed from values to processes I came to despise some later bosses and box-tickers rather than leaders, but that’s what metrics and performance management do to people, they turn good and mediocre people bad.

The boss that convinced me I needed to get out of that place  was intelligent and an expert in his own field but while fine in calm waters became a psycho under pressure. You don’t hire engineers for their great way with people, I suppose. I would challenge Reiss’s immutability theory. Power and status (10 and 14) mattered more to me earlier in my career, but independence (7) became more important than these as I grew older. Drawing on Carl Jung’s observation that what is true in the morning of life doesn’t hold in the afternoon, my self-respect shifted from what I did more towards what I am.

Reiss’s positive description of 10, Power, the desire for influence or leadership, isn’t totally absent in me – I do take on things where I have skills that aren’t in other people, and therefore indirectly lead or at least define. I don’t generally volunteer in the pure form, I always want the ‘customer’ of the work to pay something, because this world has an endless supply of wouldn’t it be nice if requirements when the cost is zero. But if the project is interesting enough or I like the people enough, then the job doesn’t have to break even, that is a different expression of financial independence.

Reiss’s book is a fascinating read

It was available on Amazon Kindle Unlimited for cheaper 9 than on Kindle and it was an interesting read – Reiss considers his 16-point taxonomy a deconstruction of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which is often cited in the PF scene.  I didn’t really expect to come across a reference to chakras, to wit:

Maslow’s pyramid is similar to Hindu scripture, specifically the Rig Veda, which refers to the chakras. This is a seven level energy system that maps to specific psychological characteristics.

Gosh… He makes some big claims

People are more or less motivated by the same basic desires throughout their adult life. Maslow’s idea of human development — that values and motives change as we mature — is mostly an invalid, romantic myth.

Well, that’s the idea of individual human progress through the lifecycle done for, then. Nevertheless the art of reading is to open the mind to new ideas that don’t necessarily square with one’s own. On this point, he found a 19th century Oxford professor of philosophy, George Ramsey, who delivered  this wisdom in 1843:

“The same difference of feeling and dullness of imagination in men explain what often has been observed, that one half of mankind pass their lives in wondering at the pursuits of the other. Not being able either to feel or to fancy the pleasure derived from the other sources than their own, they consider the rest of the world as little better than fools, who follow empty baubles. They hug themselves as the only wise, while in truth they are only narrow-minded.”

That’s me ranting on about Calvinism then 😉 As a working hypothesis the quest for power and the status thinking isn’t a bad way of comprehending that working satisfies deep innate non-financial needs in some people, and it is likely that these people will appear ambitious, earn more than the average and be more likely to be in a position to get to financial independence.

They just shouldn’t retire early, in fact perhaps they shouldn’t retire at all. FI still improves the power balance with employers – I have never had the experience of not being a supplicant when applying for a job, and I stopped applying for jobs when I didn’t need the money. But it never harms your negotiating position when you can walk away without fear.

  1. Oddly enough after reviewing this and working through the Google translation which was a bit rough around the edges I was able to understand other articles in German reasonably freely, like this one wondering whether all PF blogs and their readers were under 40, not me guv ;) 
  2. These days if I add up all the dividends I have received since re-entering the stock market in 2009 they are about 14% of the current market valuation of my ISAs, dividends matter. The older Ermine is a very different animal to the youthful exuberant one. Dotcom flippers relied purely on the greater fool to buy the shares at a higher price, typical dotcom companies didn’t pay dividends, because they generally didn’t make any money. At least I didn’t buy or 
  3. FireVLondon is in Gerd’s category 3 not 4, his achievement in keeping a positive portfolio return is even more impressive given he didn’t work in finance
  4. I would really love to be able to say that I started in March 2009 because I am a frickin’ genius that monsters the market. In fact the reason was that it took that long for the financial crisis to crush The Firm’s bottom line that they introduced psycho management and ridiculous performance management metrics. I was desperate enough at the right time. I will claim being bright enough to read this and turn the sentiment into action. That was probably easier for me because I had no equity holdings that had plunged in value, so it seemed worth a punt. Success bred success, I learned to run towards fire and be fearful at times like now. If you want to learn what to do in the stock market, then start when it is down the toilet, not when it is high as a kite and everybody is saying how great it is. That’s a general rule for any asset class – equities, gold, bitcoin, housing. tulip bulbs. If it’s in the papers as a sure win, short it. 
  5. Let’s try the thought experiment. Using Monevator’s compound interest calculator and imagine our young fellow starting off saving a whole year’s worth of UK average wage at £20k that he somehow manages to not need to live off. After a 30 year working life of compounding at 5% in real terms without any platform costs or taxes he ends up with about £90k. A worthwhile improvement, but it’s not going to make you rich doing that as a one-off at the beginning of your working life, and subsequent savings have less time to compound. A successful business will compound much faster than 5%, and under certain circumstances can use other people’s money to scale up quicker. 
  6. 35÷5 is 7, but you are probably paying more tax earning >5x average salary than the average grunt 
  7. You don’t normally get to earn significantly more than the average with the traits of a weak desire for power, Reiss characterises that sort of individual After graduation from school, these individuals may continue to avoid hard work. They may have a tendency to underachieve their entire lives, not because they are incapable, but because they are motivated in different directions. 
  8. Financial Independence/Retire Early. Early retirement is in the name
  9. Kindle unlimited is best tackled on a hit and run basis – sign up and then immediately unsign up (so you don’t forget to unsubscribe). You are then a member of KU for a month for about £8, hit it for all that it’s worth. 

70 thoughts on “The concept of financial freedom is an unattainable chimera”

  1. Undoubtably there are many different motivations for FI, but even so I think we are still collectively the few, scattered black sheep you’d see in a field full of them. The others feel a kind of pain, akin to FOMO, to be doing something against the grain, whereas I feel physical discomfort at needing to rely on others, to the extent of preferring to do without non-essentials instead.

    I think part of this at least is innate; I saw a friend’s kid throw a strop quite surprising in its intensity at the perceived curtailment of freedom, in public when told not to cross the road. But when my buddy patiently explained the good reason for it, understanding, then acceptance, maybe even appreciation flashed across the little face. Dude, he was 5 years old, its hardwired.


  2. ONS reckons the median salary for a full-time employee in the UK is just over £28k, which translates into ~ £1900 per month take home pay. The mean salary is, of course, higher than that.

    Interesting that German pay is so much lower, particularly as there are relatively fewer dual income households. They have one of the lowest rates of female employment in Europe, and one of the worst gender pay gaps.


    1. It’s strange that the median salary is so similar to the median household income of £27,300, assuming most households have more than one earner. If we take

      Hans verdient 6.400 Euro netto, also viermal so viel wie ein durchschnittlicher deutscher Arbeitnehmer

      literally, I guess the average German earns 6,400/4*12=19.2kEuro, or £16,900. The OECD seems to think the household income per capita is about 23k in £, they list our HH income at £21,306 per capita. The OECD seems to say “Some 78% of men are in paid work, compared with 71% of women.” which doesn’t seem a terrible employment difference, particularly compared with the UK at “Some 79% of men are in paid work, compared with 70% of women”. Somewhere we’re not comparing like with like, I’d hope the OECD would use the same methodology within its survey.


      1. This Government document (sourced from ONS statistics) indicates that median gross annual earnings in 2017 in England was £23,700. After income tax and national insurance that would leave you with £19,500, or about £1625 in net pay per month.

        Click to access Earnings_December_2017.pdf

        Note that the figure in Germany quoted by Gerd Kommer is for net earnings (presumably after tax). However, his calculation may still be a substantial underestimate, since other records indicate that in 2017 the median employee salary in Germany was 2270Euros per month (just under £2000) after tax, significantly higher than in the UK.


      2. As with all statistics, you have to check you’re comparing like for like. The earnings figure for full-time workers is obviously higher than that for all workers. Just under 50% of people in the UK have a job, so the link between average earnings and household income is weaker than might be expected, once pensions, benefits, self-employment etc. are accounted for. There’s a whole load of data here – the council by council dataset is quite interesting.

        Germany has more women in employment than most EU countries, but is among the lowest for women working full time. (I’ve seen a recent comment in Die Welt than 7 million women earn less than 500 Euro per month.)


  3. I am glad I have this blog to calm me down from the hype of all the other FI blogs. They often give the message of, just spend less than you earn and put your money in the stock market and you will retire in no time.

    This is my favourite blog for finance, keep it up please 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I retired at 58 and at the time I suppose by then my wife and I were FI. I had the good sense to marry a teacher who retired with a great DB pension. I also was fortunate enough to get a smaller DB pension from Unilever.
    We are not frugalists but we always saved over and above our pension contributions. We recently had a new roof put on the house and our savings (well enough invested) paid for that. No worries.
    But I come from a different era. It’s hard to say how things would go if I were in my mid-20s today.


    1. 58 isn’t a bad age at all to become FI, though I’m not there yet 😉 It’s tough to grade the opportunities in one’s mid-20s scaled now – we had decent educations and went into scientific/technical fields. OTOH there are many experience that weren’t open – I’ve never worked in a foreign country – I’ve done jobs abroad, but always employed in the UK. And a DB pension makes investing unbelieveably easier for us than someone starting now.


      1. Opportunities to put my STEM education into industry as a young scientist have been largely taken out of Canada unfortunately – thanks to the multinationals relocating R&D to the US. Even factories in the food industry have closed so there go the QA jobs as well.
        I think if I were doing it all over I’d look into becoming an optometrist or maybe an audiologist. I’d have to polish up my people skills but I could do it if I were making life better for someone.
        At the end of the day I never regretted working on scientific and Technical projects; it’s just that by the time I got into my late 50s I was spending most of my time sitting in project planning meetings with morons who didn’t understand science, or I was involved in goal setting BS that had no basis in reality. That I don’t regret leaving, nor have I ever wanted to work in an office ever again.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The first great secret of investing is to be lucky enough that at one or more points in your investing lifetime equities should beckon you to invest and later give you a clear signal to get out. The second great secret is to accede to those messages.


  6. I agree on the whole, I subscribe to the frugalist model of achieving financial independence but I’m quite aware that you probably need to be earning an above average salary and have some luck to get there. I am quite rubbish at being frugal myself, that is, I have very little willpower on a day to day basis, though I have at least automated saving month to month and got used to having less money to play with.

    On the other hand there are plenty of people who could achieve FI if they didn’t make such bad choices, so maybe they could learn from the concepts of FI. I do find certain bloggers a little patronising sometimes (not naming any names), especially when you consider their former earning power, so I try to avoid being the same, but it does seem to be those same bloggers who are most popular – it makes you wonder, do people like being told what to do? Maybe people just like the motivational aspects of said blogs.

    In any case, the prospect of financial independence has given me something to aim for and probably I’ve saved a lot more and taken greater control of my finances than I otherwise would have done. FI may well be a chimera, but for me at least it is a positive one I’d say. And I, like you, am pretty sure when I reach comfortable FI that I will be retiring to do other more satisfying things in life than work.


    1. I was also crap at being frugal for most of my working life. By far the greatest win to be had in the modern world is spend less than you earn, because too many people are telling you not to do that and Have It Now. Automating saving is a guaranteed win on top of that, so you are way ahead with those two IMO.

      Some of the motivational punch in the face rhetoric is good when you are making the change, I confess both of those helped me in the initial stages of turning my spending from “a shade less than I earned” to “the vast majority of what I earned”. There were times when I looked back and came to the conclusion that working made me spend badly. Sometimes when I stand in front of the Next Great Thing That Will Change Your Life I still need the mental image of the face punch to remind me of all the times when my life wasn’t changed by previous incarnations 😉

      I should also hat tip a company pension for doing saving a decent lump of my earnings for me from the age of 29. But as for working after you are FI, five years of research has failed to tunr up a good reason for that at all for me! The world is varied and interesting enough. Perhaps I am living Steven Reiss’s hypothesis – the curious child turned into the curious retiree, so I don’t need work to stop me getting bored.


    1. Jacob Fisker lived in a camper van for a period with his girlfriend, there’s precedent for high earners at Google to do the same for a high savings rate. I’d guess this is an area when the Germans win.

      Having said that, when I looked at what Grainger rents out in London, and rescaled it back to what I had been paying in London, it’s a bit more expensive but two people could share a better place for only a bit more money per head than I was paying, in real terms. However, in accordance with the title of this piece, I was earning above average money even when I was a studio engineer for the BBC in London, so the property issue is a fair comment for those on the average wage.


      1. For the sake of clarity Jacob said he spent $7000 p.a which would be £5250 (about £5720 now due to inflation). Okay so with a partner you could be running on £11,440 which looks like a tough ask with a mortgage – hats off to you sir if you can make those sort of ends meet! Even without a mortgage we would struggle now, although I would fully acknowledge we are more decadent that Jacob in his most intense saving phase.


  7. On the whole I think that it would be difficult to retire very early on an average income (I have managed to retire at 58, but was above average income although not massively so). I don’t think people should stop trying to improve their lot though, as even if you can only retire at pension age, but have some additional income to top up your post retirement income it is better than nothing.

    I believe that we should be trying to encourage investing at an early age, but not on the basis of make lots of money quickly, but to grow your money steadily. If you are investing for forty years it is likely that you will have a few winners to bump up your growth, and if you were receiving dividends as as you go I think it would then be possible to knock a few years off your time at work.

    In my opinion a lot of people are scared off the stock market as they see it as a place where you either make lots of money or lose it all, and don’t see it as a place where you can achieve long term growth to compound the benefit of early investing. Changing the get rich quick view would encourage a lot more people to invest and benefit.


    1. > I believe that we should be trying to encourage investing at an early age, but not on the basis of make lots of money quickly, but to grow your money steadily

      I fear while right, that ain’t gonna sell, because the young are impatient, and their short and highly change-full lives mean they haven’t seen slow shifts add up. Look at my first investing career – it was all about make money fast by doing lots, and I was in my late thirties 😉


  8. I must admit to having issues with parts of the FIRE community. Many of them are only responsible for themselves (perhaps with a partner). They have no children. That is a sensible choice, one that more people should be pursuing. Nonetheless, once you are responsible for children, your own priorities must taken second place. They didn’t ask to be brought into this world and to expect them to join in with your philosopy of being “frugal”, “downshifting”, “being Stoic” etc is pretty ridiculous. Of course some FIRE bloggers do have children but rather conveniently reverse engineer a philosophy that emphasies teaching their children to “stand on their own two feet”. This helpfully means that their kids don’t need private education, don’t need help with uni fees, don’t need a deposit on a house and don’t need an inheritance. Unfortunately, the world isn’t like it was 30-50 years ago. Children do need a network (private education), they do need a top 10 global uni (private education, uni fees), they do need capital to take risk (inheritance, house) etc. Without these, their children are very likely to be totally screwed.

    I could have retired at 35 with around £3mm and I despise working. Just hate ever boring but stressful hour of it. But I didn’t because I just coudn’t imagine how I would look my children in the eyes if my selfishness resulted in them being totally unable to FIRE themselves. I just can’t justfiy my own FIRE until I’m convinced my children will never have to work. It needs to be 100% optional.


    1. I agree that most would go along with

      > Nonetheless, once you are responsible for children, your own priorities must taken second place.

      until they come of age. I confess I can’t see it as such a terrible thing to want to raise children who stand on their own two feet as adults. There’s an interesting chapter in a book I am reading, The Millionaire Next Door, a study of US households who had and hadn’t accumulated wealth from similar backgrounds. It’s titled Economic Outpatient Care, and posits that for parents that financially subsidise their adult children:

      Many of today’s distributors of EOC demonstrated significant skill at accumulating wealth earlier in their lives. They are generally frugal with regard to their own consumption and lifestyle. But some are not nearly as frugal when it comes to providing their children and grandchildren with “acts of kindness.” These parents feel compelled, even obligated, to provide economic support for their adult children and their families. What’s the result of this largesse? […] in general, the more dollars adult children receive, the fewer they accumulate, while those who are given fewer dollars accumulate more.

      I don’t have a dog in this race, and perhaps things are different now than they were. What I do know is I have observed the effect the authors describe, grit is forged in the crucible of personal experience in mastering the challenges of adult life IMO.


    2. “they do need capital to take risk … I just can’t justfiy my own FIRE until I’m convinced my children will never have to work.” That’s a bit of a contradiction, isn’t it?

      “Without these, their children are very likely to be totally screwed.” You’re over-egging the pudding.


    3. “Children do need a network (private education), they do need a top 10 global uni (private education, uni fees), they do need capital to take risk (inheritance, house) etc. Without these, their children are very likely to be totally screwed.”

      What a lot of bollocks, do you think everybody who didn’t go to “a top 10 global uni” is a failure?


  9. Wow, Graviton, you are selfless! Do your children know what you are sacrificing for them?
    After reading about the Kommer controversy all week in the German FI blogs, it was surprising to see it had made its way over to the UK. Do you regularly look at any German blogs, Ermine?
    I think the average German lifestyle would be considered crazily frugal by the average UK/US citizen. Understatement, modesty, sustainability and environmental friendliness are all pretty ingrained in the German psyche. I think the average German has the highest standard of living I’ve seen anywhere — one of the reasons we moved back to Germany after four (lovely!) years in London. We did it for our children. The emphasis on ‘network’ and ‘top schools’ is nonexistent here, in one of the smaller German cities. I wonder why German FI bloggers even bother sometimes — you are always assured a minimum existence here, and the system taxes wealth very heavily.
    In my native USA, on the other hand, I totally get why you would be on the FI train. You are presented incredible opportunities for tax-free savings, and the incentive (minimal safety net) is very high. Being a little bit countercultural/nonconsumerist yields huge gains in the US, while in Germany you are just going with the flow.
    Thanks for the blog, Ermine, I appreciate reading it.


    1. I was put onto the Kommer bunfight when I followed MeineFinazielleFreiheit’s comment on here, though my mother is German sadly my understanding of the language is only just enough to pick up the general meaning.

      Thanks for the interesting perspective of the Anglo-Saxon red in tooth and claw capitalism versus the perhaps gentler European model followed in Germany. There’s a double whammy in that the higher inequality means a smaller part of the UK population gets to make the choice of FI, and perhaps because these are more driven by the power axis they are less inclined to go for the retire early option.


    2. ” you are always assured a minimum existence here”
      Surprisingly I don’t think its quite as simple as that. According to eurostat the proportion of ‘unemployed at risk of poverty’ is higher in Germany than anywhere else in the EU at 70% up from 40% in 10 years.
      As a contrast, the less than stellar UK is about average at 46% down from 52% in 10 years.
      On the face of it I think perhaps the German bloggers have a feeling about which way the wind is blowing.


    3. The last thing I have ever been is selfless. I’m selfish. Classic only child. However, once I had children the selfishness was transferred to my children. I was surprised by this. Basically, I will do anything to ensure the playing field is tilted in their favour. Looking around at the parents at my childrens’ private school (hedge fund managers, investment bankers, McKinsey consultants and Magic circle lawyers), I see plenty more of that. Moreover, I’d also mention the policy at my last two firms is only to hire UK people from 5 unis (file the rest in the round filing cabinet). We have a self-contained ecosystem in the making. That’s the reality for good or (probably) bad.

      What I find difficult to handle is FIRE bloggers who basically act like they know it all. YoungFiguy who tells people that private schooling is a waste of money. Doesn’t he think that all the parents at my childrens private school don’t understand the trade off between the fees and the capital (the answer he seems to miss is you clearly provide both). Does he really think that someone like myself, PhD in quantum field theory, 20 years as an investment strategist and hedge fund manager, is not capable of quantifying this? Take TEA (a sort of poor man’s MMM). He’s got the nerve to ask people to pay for his investment advice. Nevermind he’s not FCA CF30 (Investment adviser) regulated. What experience does he actually have? None as far as I can see. His whole site is just a way to get exposure for his job as life coach. As for MMM, well he’s just running a blogging business.

      Now not all FIRE bloggers are like that. This blog isn’t. Monevator is good. Or take this guy ( He tries to do some actual analysis. This is the minimum level of analysis any blogger should be allowed to do before even mentioning the word SWR.

      I think the reality is that the proliferation of FIRE blogs are just a function of a 10 year bull run in all asset classes. The 2008 crisis really didn’t impact investment. It was such a rapid V-shaped bounce that it was just a way of averaging in at better levels. I think it would be rather different if we had something more like the slow painful grinding recessions and inflation of the 70s. I suspect the overconfidence of FIRE bloggers would deflate quite rapidly


      1. Woah there! If you read my post about private education it was absolutely not saying private school isn’t worth it! At no point did I ever say: “private schooling is a waste of money”.

        I even went as far to write a long disclaimer: “I’ve stuck purely to numbers here without taking in to account the non-numerical aspects. I’m not a crazy numbers-sociopath (or am I?) It’s hard for me to talk about some of the qualitative aspects of parental education choices as I’m not a parent! Many parents will strongly (and perhaps rightly?) argue that private schooling confers many non-educational benefits such as developing discipline, ethos etc. Likewise, none of this takes into account that the most important thing (in my view) is spending time with your children!”

        I’d argue that’s the complete opposite of a “know it all”. I thought I’d present some numbers in a way that had not been presented anywhere before (or that I could find). Now you may have 20+ years as some kind of investment manager, but when was the last time you delved into 15+ years of private school fee data?

        Besides, lots of people commented from various viewpoints. It was really interesting to hear them, especially ones different from mine. You are most welcome to leave a comment. But I suspect that’s not what you really want to do.

        I’m gonna be quite blunt here (I hope you can forgive me Ermine). But you come across as quite an unpleasant person. You’ve cast a lot of stones at specific individuals and types of people. Many unnecessary. I think Dearime is spot on in their reply, which is why I held-back earlier. For me, it’s negative and spiteful attitudes like yours that are the real (only) downer on the FI community.


      2. @Graviton Long ago I came to the conclusion that pets and children were the third rail of any critique. I read youngFIguy’s post and thought it reasonably balanced; on a strict financial basis starting a kid off with £780k might make for a more enjoyable and kinder life than the alternative. If you can provide both then you’re much better off than either of us and will have a different view of what a good life means. I’ve questioned the value of private schooling on here; certainly at the lower levels I would regard it as a misallocation of capital given what’s likely to happen to employment. If you can be a big hitter and go for the top tier like Eton, Charterhouse et al then as a way of buying into the ruling elites of future generations, yes, there’s probably a case to be made IMO. I did posit that grit is formed in the crucible of overcoming adversity, so even if a trust fund would solve the finacial equation I can see it might weaken the quality of the stock, which is largely the thesis of the Millionaire Next Door book.

        I do agree that the 10 year bull run is probably behind the expanded PF blogosphere, I found this infographic of how this run compares with past ones via Ms Zi You, and it explains why it feels a lot like the fin de siecle of the dotcom days, rather than draw my DB pension early I am happy to defer it to NRA because if I were investing for my entire retirement income from my SIPP and ISA I’d be tempted to buy some annuity income around now out of simple fear of being surrounded by greed.


      3. I think here there’s a lot of experience bias at work, on private vs public schools or “top” vs “normal” universities.
        I’ve no trouble believing it’s like that in finance. It most certainly isn’t in high tech, though, even at the supposedly very best and most selective companies (MSFT/Google/Intel level).
        I’ve been in that circle for around 15 years now, screened my fair share of CVs and interviewed my fair share of candidates: unless it’s a fresh graduate job, we don’t even look which university the candidate comes from, and, if it’s a fresh graduate job, we might give a phone interview chance to Ivy League students (or imperial/oxbridge in UK when I was there) really only if no other better candidate is around, with the hope that “you never know… they’re supposed to be good”.
        And for better candidate I mean somebody with a resume which shows actual interest in our specific field (courses, projects, contributions, internships, etc.) and genuine pleasure at tinkering (always a must), regardless of where they come from. It’s easy enough to figure out if a guy is smart with a 20 minutes face to face chat.
        The result is that in the these ~15 years, the teams I’ve been in have never hired a fresh graduate from the above “top” unis, and out of probably 20-25 guys, the only one (w/ experience) with a top uni in the CV was a master at Oxford… which he berates as useless every time you give him a beer and a chance to do so.

        (Btw, great blog ermine! Long time lurker here)

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved the article Ermine, I too can’t understand the desire to work when you no longer need the funds – I’m nearly 100% sure when I reach the number I will pack in working and take to the road.

    And here’s a question – do you only read male bloggers? Your references above indicate a bit of sausage-fest…


    1. There definitely seems to be a split between those who would go for the RE part of FI/RE and those who aren’t keen – it’s good to find a kindred spirit because I am starting to suspect that the early retirement part is a minority pursuit. Researching this post made me wonder if there is sample bias. Given you need to be earning more than the average to get to have the choice of early retirement, it is possible that those that can consider it are more driven/ambitious and identify with the power issue, which makes retirement less attractive.

      > do you only read male bloggers?

      I started reading about PF in 2009 when it was mainly guys, though I did read Cerridwen and Quietly Saving has been flying the flag for a long time. But I have got stuck in my ways since retiring, because I guess pure finance is less of a driver. However, it’s a fair cop and I will survey the field anew.

      There’s been a lot of churn in PF blogs over those 9 years – Some of the older ones (Salis Grano and Keeper of the Cauldron) retired and are doing something else with their time, I wonder if some of the others fell off the wagon or came to the conclusion that a better balance between YOLO and early retiring was to be had.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I agree, those that can make the money and are disciplined enough to save enough to be able to retire early are a real self-selecting group of disciplined high flyers. And as I get older, the more and I more I see power corrupting people, and people being unable to give up power. Not to mention most people define themselves by their jobs.

        So many of the blogs I used to read died as well, and I wasn’t the most disciplined in checking back with those that didn’t offer my prefered email notification. But I do *love* the fact that some that have given up blogging, like Cerrdwdin, achieved the aim and retired!


  11. Hi Ermine, an interesting post. It’s made me reflect on a few things.

    I don’t really agree that “The concept of financial freedom is an unattainable chimera”

    I think it’s easily possible to earn an above average income (although it’s quite hard). It doesn’t require you to be smart or even hard working. Gaining a profession, almost any profession will lead to ‘earning a good wage’. But it takes some patience and some knuckling down.

    I’m a chartered accountant, I had to go through the 3 years of working and studying. It was a bit of a slog. But I know that if I needed to, I could get a job tomorrow, earning an above average income. It’s the same for one of closest friends, a chippy. He went through the years of studying and working and learning on the job. Now he earns well above average, he has to turn work away as he’s so in demand.

    It’s overcoming that starting difficulty that separates people out. I don’t think that’s a financial thing – it’s a mental thing. I think it’s really about finding an opportunity or advantage and ruthlessly exploiting it. I read each of your four methods. For me, each one was about somebody finding an advantage and maximising it.

    That’s part of the reason I started blogging. I am entirely conscious I got two big leg-ups in life: my father passing away and inheriting some of his money early, and growing up in a family where education was strongly valued. Very few people will get the same opportunities that I did. But that doesn’t mean somewhere, at some point, they won’t get their own ones.

    Unfortunately, I think a great deal of the FIRE community makes out there is ‘one way’ to FIRE or that there is a strict definition for FIRE (FWIW, I know that’s definitely not how you see things). If you don’t follow the ‘rules’ then you kinda cheated. Earning more money; inheriting stuff; lucking out on a career isn’t cheating.

    It’s for that reason perhaps we see what backs up the thoughts of Gerd (most bloggers are under 40) or Ms Zi You (the paucity of female FIRE bloggers). FIRE success is narrowed down to a tight definition. But we all know, success is personal. It looks different to each person. That’s something I’ve understood more as I’ve blogged. People want to know about my story and journey. Even (especially?) if it’s very different to their own (and even though I’m pretty boring!).

    Sorry, I’ve definitely rambled. Don’t be too harsh on me!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. > Gaining a profession, almost any profession will lead to ‘earning a good wage’. But it takes some patience and some knuckling down.

      I agree that you don’t have to be smart, you can be hard working, and in certain circumstaces just plain luck will do. But I fear you underestimate the value of parental background. The head honcho of Ofsted put it better than I can. I was taught to read by my mother before I enterd primary school. It appears some parents don’t bother to toilet train their kids before sending them to school. The previous Ofsted chief said there’s an antipathy to education in some cases

      Her predecessor, Sir Michael Wilshaw, also spoke at separate conference event about the negative attitude towards education that can be prevalent in white British families.

      He said families can let their children down if they “allow their children to do what they like in school, don’t support the behaviour policy, don’t read to their children, don’t care for them, don’t love them”.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I agree – it might be hard to reach FI on a (below) average/mean salary, but who says that ones career path is determined from birth or the time you’ll leave school? It’s just another part in the whole equation that can (and often must) be changed.
      Much was said about different kinds of capitalism between the UK and Germany, and the German system being less turbo and more social. One of the advantages of UK capitalism is that you can relatively easily get affordable education with very few obstacles paving your way.
      I am studying towards becoming a chartered accountant myself, so I know that the cheapest route of home studying won’t set you back more than a few £k spread out over 3 years. The entry requirements are minimal and open to (almost) everyone. That is a great opportunity to boost your income to a level where FI is possible, which is not something that is automatically given in other European countries.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I am surprised, though heartened to hear that. Initially I made the common assuption that you meant university, in which case I was going huh? given university is often free in Austria and Germany and lower cost than the UK where chargeable. But I have heard elsewhere that European countries often have subtle barriers to entry to many professions, while they have to accept EU-wide qualifications you still need country-specific accreditations to offer some services. Good luck with the accountancy studies, I hear those exams need dedication!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Good luck with the studies Claudia! I am of course biased, but I think becoming a Chartered Accountant is an excellent idea (I’m sure the Escape Artist would also agree!)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yep, attending unversity is definitely cheaper in Germany and Austria than in the UK (I am Austrian, by the way), but this is where the fun ends. Some examples:
        1. Back in the days when I attended uni (humanities, so I got out as much in salary as I paid for it), the numerus clausus (i.e. German students being permitted to attend uni based on their A-level results, and even then being assigned to a uni instead of being able to choose one) led many German students to move to Austria, where no such system existed. Given that Germany had ca. 80m citizens and Austria had ca. 8m, it was a bit of a stretch for the Austrian uni system. No idea how it is now, but ten years ago, the lecture halls were crammed like the 8am central tube, and limited seat courses were randomly assigned, forcing many students to add another 1-2 semesters because they could not get into the courses they wanted/needed to attend to get their degree. Not saying that this is the worse system than charging an arm and a leg, but it’s definitely not ideal either.

        2. The Austrian capitalist culture (if you wanna call it like that) seems to me like an overprotective, inflexible and controlling parent to their children. If you are unemployed or on a low salary, you will be taken care of very generously. If your rent is too high, you will get help. But good luck if you are behaving out of the norm. Wanna set up a side hustle? Welcome to bureaucracy hell. You will be treated like nobody ever tried to do this before. Being a 35 and still/again a student? Very unlikely that you will find a job in your new industry, too old, too odd (for comparison, I found an entry level accountancy role in the UK with zero experience and not a single exam under my belt). You are working in retail with several years of experience and want to work your way up the ladder to store management? Sorry, you will need to have a degree for that (Handelsschule). Wanna do the same in hospitality? Sorry, you will stay a waiter forever if you didn’t attend Tourismusschule. Wanna go to Tourismusschule when you are 40? Chances are high that the last chance for admittance is when you turn 30.
        In short: There are so many restrictive, pointless rules and obstacles. Basically whatever you choose to do when you are 16-18 (or even younger) will determine your whole life. And we all know that this is not the right time to decide anything 😉

        Liked by 1 person

      4. @Claudia – thanks for the enlightenment. I didn’t realise these restrictions were related to degree subject, which is a tough and expensive (particularly in time and opportunity cost) issue to fix. It does seem much easier to start companies in the UK. I established my multimedia limited company on the side with a little bit of form-filling, and after I left work registering as self-employed similarly involved a modest amount of fuss.


  12. Hi everyone,
    Thanks for referencing my critique of Gerd Kommer’s article – I never intended it to become a match between him and me, just wanted to point out Gerd’s somewhat overly general yet exaggerated views.
    For the sake of full transparency: I am not German but Austria, that’s very important to us Austrians 😉 Yes, I observed many readers of FIRE blogs below 40 but hypothesize as well that many of the older ones won’t be as outspoke in comments as the youngsters are. Every proof of the contrary is welcome!
    All the best
    PS: I guess I should start thinking about writing some articles in English…


      1. Google Translate is one of those strange combinations of human and machine that work better than either. I struggle greatly with Danish, because other than the word for beer I know zero Danish, so I am at the total mercy of Translate. But with German, because I have some knowledge, Translate helps me catch my own errors, and my rudimentary German helps me catch Translate’s errors.

        Having said that, it’s easier to read a foreign language in a restricted field you’re familiar with – after reading a few of your posts and some other German blogs I can leave Translate and still follow. As a teenager I used to read my grandfather’s Siemens electronics books in German and follow the learning, even though I couldn’t really speak German at a conversational level. Similarly with personal finance 😉


  13. Isn’t this just another case of a man posts inflammatory statement on the internet and the comments roll in?

    We have that in the UK but it’s always about Brexit.

    I’ve worked in Europe a bit for fairly long stints and FI is harder there because of higher marginal tax rates (including most particularly national insurance equivalents) but also annual wealth taxes in a lot of countries.

    Basically, because of the wealth taxes there are now a few countries in Europe I actively would avoid working in


    1. > Isn’t this just another case of a man posts inflammatory statement

      Well yeah, but Brexit gets old after a while, no? And [sotto voce] Gerd has more point that Brexiters… IMO and all that.

      They say gratitude is good for you, Brits FI/RE aficionados should be grateful for their good fortune in having a supportive environment for FI in the UK, as well as individually grateful that they are able to earn above the average and so have a choice. Some of that supportive environment probably comes from the fact that those lower taxes leave more fellow Britons in the dust than perhaps in other European countries. Which perhaps brings us back to Brexit, but another time, hopefully.


  14. Really enjoyed reading your article ermine. I recently did a post on the gratitude of being on the path to FI and I really do feel lucky to be in the situation that I am. Many people in the community at times seem to think anyone can achieve FI if they only di I’d x or y and had more discipline etc but it’s not so simple.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was a lovely post, Chris, and I think a bit more gratitude for our good fortune would sit well with the FI community as a whole. Remembering and appreciating the things and people and good fortune that helps us be who we are and achieve our goals is good for the soul – it is a lovely day, I will go for a free tour round a fantastic medieval abbey ruin in the sunshine this afternoon while many people are at work and then maybe walk down into some gorgeous pastoral landscale this evening and try and photograph the moon against a landmark, helped by the free Photographer’s Ephemeris. None of these are earth-shattering, but it’s fun and sure as hell beats working!


  15. Excellent post, Ermine, thank you.

    However you misinterpret my story. I never worked in Finance and I have generally spent my salary, and barely saved from it. Rather, I went down the ‘founding a business’ route, had an early windfall, and evolved from there.

    Based on your summary of it, I like Gerd’s taxonomy and think it applies pretty well.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. How many people would really want to buy the “ethos” of a private school where the parents ‘hedge fund managers, investment bankers, McKinsey consultants and Magic circle lawyers”? I wouldn’t want to throw any child of mine into waters infested by such sharks.


  17. Fascinating article Ermine; quick Q, in which of the 16 categories would Security sit?
    My journey to a kind of FI (mortgage free with a couple of years salary in the bank) started with a redundancy. I landed on my feet but was determined to pay down my mortgage and truly secure my home.
    BTW – as regards private education, I was fortunate enough to attend both a fee paying school in East London and a local comp’. The only difference I could spot as a thirteen year old were the parents. At the fee paying school it was standing room only at Parent Evenings and there was a strong cohort of parents pushing / questioning the teaching staff.


    1. > in which of the 16 categories would Security sit?

      I would put it under 15: Tranquility, the desire for safety

      I too paid down my mortgage in search of security – because I aimed to retire early as an indirect result of the financial crisis I concluded in hindsight that was a serious misallocation of capital. Probably much less so for someone starting now, with markets at highs compared to 2009.

      An interesting observation about the schools, concentrating parents that care more education (and are rich enough to pay). Fee-paying schools will concentrate the children of such parents


      1. Thank you for the response Ermine. It will be no consolation but I made the same (possibly worse) error. I had an incredibly generous mortgage deal with the Britannia Building Society, from when they were trying to compete with Northern Rock.
        But that is all water under the bridge now and rather than pushing on for true FI we are enjoying a middle aged gap year teaching English in Japan.
        I say a year, we’re due back in March 2019, but something about that date that worries me!


  18. Those motivations are interesting.

    I am with you on having a non-existent requirement for status and power. Its just not genetically present.

    However, I have a requirement for independence bordering on pathology.

    I find it almost physically impossible to outsource. Its torture for me to not to be able to do something that needs doing. I really have to work at this to be able to live normally, i.e. get things done in a to quality and in a timely fashion. Much as I may feel a need to, I can’t do everything myself.. Its too inefficient.

    I probably mentioned it before, but you should have worked for an SME at some point or as a freelancer (my assumption that you didn’t may be wrong though) – its totally different to working in a large organisation. I’ve done both and the former suits me down to the ground whereas I was dismal at the latter. As such its really easy for me to want to carry on working similar to TI. For me, its the opportunity to do more complex (and expensive) things that would be hard to achieve/justify on a hobby basis. I love building things/solving problems and thats why I like working.

    I’m not happy with the traditional 5/2 work-week split though and will taper that down over time.


    1. I worked for a 10-man band at the very start of my career, for about a year. The lack of opportunities to advance were the main issue there, and I was an objectionable squirt in pointiong out that a virtual earth is a low-impedance point in the optical receiver they had trouble with breaking out into oscillation. I’d had some analogue background, and this troublesome device had been developed by their lead digital designer. Oops… Shut yer gob, young ermine, FFS…

      I ran a multimedia job on the side which was contract based, I really, really, hate selling, I had just about enough talent and gravitas to overcome that but it was always on the edge. Did OK finacially though, it was strange running an operation that basically sold mind, very little cost of sales on the input.

      > For me, its the opportunity to do more complex (and expensive) things that would be hard to achieve/justify on a hobby basis.

      I can understand that sentiment, and I would probably have felt very similar in my 40s. Maybe my approach to this is skewed by the fact I am within five years of the time I would have expected to retire in the normal course of things, I feel I’ve done that side of things. OTOH perhaps I’m just idle 😉


      1. I can understand that sentiment, and I would probably have felt very similar in my 40s.

        I await with interest how my views evolve over the next decade then.


      2. > I’m not happy with the traditional 5/2 work-week split though and will taper that down over time.

        I’d say the straws are in the wind, then, the Carl Jung quote about what is right in the morning does not hold in the afternoon of life and all that.

        That could be a deeper problem, because when it comes to working with other people who are working 5/2, part-timers are less effective if there is real-time interaction required IMO. One or two you can live with, more than a quarter on the team, meh. Writers, solo creatives etc fine, but as a full-time employee I really dreaded finding out anybody mission-critical on a project was part-time – the only greater dread was to hear it was a job-share 😉 A blazing volcano at work has to be full-time in most cases IMO, else the fire will yield to younger sorts hungrier for the prize.


  19. Read the german blog and it starts with something like if i had to choose between Fire and my cleaning woman i choose my cleaning woman (at 1200 e a year) that triggered a “dead man don,t wear plaid” FIRE reaction with me

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Uber-interesting post as usual ermine!

    Re: the argument on whether your motivations change over life or not I can see that both may be correct on that one.
    For example I can remember having a very strong independence drive even as a young child, and as I got nearer to work age having a strong aversion to it (and taking orders at school, and so on). However as you get older you just accept that this is part of life, it doesn’t go away, it’s still there either deep down or maybe not so in some cases! But if money weren’t a thing and you could choose your ideal life it would probably be different to what you are living.

    Also what are deeply driven motivations are one thing and how you interpret them at each point of life (due to differing life conditions) may be something completely differen. So although it might seem like you change throughout your life, as people unquestionably do, it may not mean that the deep down motivations have actually changed. For example let’s look at Jim from SHMD, I would imagine he had an above average desire for independence but also an above average desire for status and the other things that a job would satisfy. When in his job they are already being satisfied so the thing that stands out to him is the motivation that isn’t being satisfied at that time in his life. So he concentrates on that. Just like physical desires, if you have recently eaten but haven’t slept for 24 hours, you certainly wouldn’t be thinking about food at that point. Once he quits the job and the freedom desire has been totally sated, he now realises that actually yes he does have a desire for that other stuff as well. He just didn’t realise it until it was taken away. So his underlying motivations haven’t changed at all it was just how he perceived them.

    Short summary: it may take a lifetime to know your true self, although either way I think FI is a great shortcut to get to that place, there is nothing like having extra time on your hands to turbo charge some introspection!

    Like you I’ve always been curious and that will never go away (at least I hope it doesn’t). As well as the independence streak I think this is a very important characteristic of FI types because if you aren’t curious enough it is likely you won’t ever stumble across the concept in the first place? Maybe not so nowadays as there are more and more mainstream articles highlighting the concept but if you are not curious enough you probably won’t read any further into it.

    One final random thought – despite Germany being maybe not so great to get to FI, it sounds like a great place to actually FIRE in especially if you have kids. Their family allowance is something ridiculous like 10K Euros/year*, which probably explains the lack of full time working mums over there!

    *Source – a comments discussion with the guys who run the Whatlifecouldbe blog (although they actually moved from Germany to Romania after they FIRE’d but that was for other reasons e.g. much lower cost of living etc…)


    1. Hmm, whisper it – and of course it’s only an ermine opinion, I only know Jim from his writing, but I would say Jim’s conundrum is a result of refusing the Jungian turning inwards at midlife, his sense of meaning is still projected upon the reflection of his actions in the outside world. Work validates that well if you get into some types of office work and above. To wit –

      “Thoroughly unprepared, we take the step into the afternoon of life. Worse still, we take this step with the false presupposition that our truths and our ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning, for what was great in the morning will be little at evening and what in the morning was true, at evening will have become a lie.”

      but then of course that presupposes a change of these set-points in life, so if you disagree that such change is possible, logically Jung would be wrong too.

      > However as you get older you just accept that this is part of life

      I fear I never managed that. Which of course supports your hypothesis that fundamental change across the life-cycle is low. I did get better at concealing it, I guess, and more politically adept.

      I’d totally agree that just about any Western European country is probably more family-friendly than the UK, but then they generally have a stronger form fo the welfare state – things like unemployment benefit look shockingly generous to me in France, for example, where you seem to be able to skulk on something like half your erstwhile pay for up to three years. These, of course, go along with the higher income and wealth taxes than make it harder to get to FI. before Brexit, there was perhaps an argument for the polyglot to get to FI in the UK and then move to Western Europe to soak up the lifestyle, although wealth taxes could erode your stash, I guess. But it’s all a moot point, now.


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