FIRE is for the Few, not the Many

It’s a hot summer and the Ermine is in a grump. We have a man-child in charge of the country, and I’ve just come across a brand-new flag-waver of the It Could Be You FIRE myth. Sure, it could be you, but the prerequisites are not evenly spread throughout the community. In many ways the National Lottery’s It Could Be You is more honest.

Maybe FIRE is the the new modern myth for these times, where so much work is plain god-awful piecework where all the power is with The Man. It’s the new century’s replacement for the American Dream. Sure, in theory anybody could rise to become President. It just sort of helps if you’re from particular families. And male. And have a load of money.

I always seem to get into hot water when I critique the extrovert wing of the FIRE community, and I am sure I’m going to piss some people off with this. However, the Ermine spat into his coffee on reading this fine Grauniad article describing the life and times of a couple of successful Millennials. Here’s the puff piece

First things first – I am not denigrating this specific couple’s individual achievement. Absolute props to them for shifting themselves and taking effective action to better themselves. As a measure of their greater effectiveness than mine, if they retired at 31 then at the same time in my life I was growling into my beer about having been so goddamned stupid as to buy a house in the Lawson boom that I was eventually going to sell for half of the real value I bought it for. They are more successful that I was, I was to go on to work for another 20 years after they retired. Total hat tip. I am Tortoise to their Hare.

I’m obviously on a sticky wicket when the National Lottery is a beacon of honesty in a sea of charlatanism. The reason the Lottery is more honest than the FIRE message in this book is all you need do is to rock up and buy a ticket. It doesn’t matter if you are genius or moron, up to your eyeballs in debt or the millionaire next door, 26 or 96, Deliveroo rider or CEO. Same infinitesimal chance of winning per ticket. FIRE just ain’t like that. Your chance of FIRE depends primarily on luck, grit and smarts, probably in that order.

Simple economic logic will show that not everyone can retire at 30. We could in theory design a society where everyone can retire at 30 if the promise of AI and robotics is used for the common good and we can control our numbers. But that comes from a world somewhere to the left of Jeremy Corbyn, and it ain’t gonna happen.

So you need an edge. That edge consists of:


Most readers are from the developed world. There are opportunities available to you that many people don’t have. That’s not enough in and of itself.

Other sorts of luck exist. Markets are cyclical. The introvert wing of the FI/RE movement started in the teeth of the financial crash. Most of these guys have quit the blogosphere now.

The 2012 PF blogosphere. They weren’t all introverts, but many of them have fallen by the wayside. Probably retired, the idle blighters. Source is titsup too

The extrovert wing of FIRE started around the same time and have been riding the wave of a decade of rising asset prices and are now writing books saying ‘Look Ma, anyone can do it’. No. Just no. If you want to make these books work right for you, get into your underground lab and build a time machine. Set the controls for Q1 20091 and buy into the market like gangbusters.


Charles Dickens got there with the main prerequisite in the Micawber principle.

Spend less than you earn

That’s harder and harder to do. It was relatively easy for me to do in my 20s even living in London because:

  • I didn’t graduate with debt
  • London rents, while dear, weren’t anywhere near 50% of take-home. In those days, buy to let wasn’t a thing. Landlords used to actually have the money first to buy their rental slums.
  • I had a decent job
  • I grew up in a home where debt wasn’t the norm, with the specific exception of a mortgage.

Nowadays rents are higher, many jobs are more precarious, consumer debt is nothing to be ashamed of and many people start their working lives out with student debt, which normalises other types of debt.

You need a lot of grit to live very differently from your peers if you are going to try and save half your earnings. It’s the living like a monk in a brothel problem. I feel poor if I go to London because all around me people are spending shitloads of money on fancy stuff and experiences. When you are young, peer pressure matters more.

Above-average earnings

Look are the people who retire before 40, and what they work in. It’s a small pool – finance, IT usually. The second division are those that retire a few years early. These guys still earn well. I have never lived in a household with the earnings of the Shen-Leung crew, though I earned more than the UK average income for the majority of my working life.

How do you retire earlier than most people? Simples. Earn more than most people, and do the other stuff right.

Exceptions do not prove the rule

Every human activity has its outliers. These success stories lie many standard deviations away from the mean. They categorically do not prove that anybody can do it. Kristy Shen started from a much lower position of wealth and freedom than I did. She reached FI earlier than I did. I don’t have her grit or determination, born into her start in life I would have been roadkill. Most of us are closer to the average. Sure, I was fortunate enough to be born into a supportive working class environment when the economy needed more scientists and engineers than could be drawn from the upper and middle classes. I was lucky enough to be brighter than average, and this gave me opportunities that others didn’t have. But no way am I as exceptional as Kristy Shen. Her grit, determination and effectiveness in the face of adversity is to be totally admired.

But do not infer the general from the particular. She is an outlier, and the vast majority with her start in life do not end up where she is.

Myths are for motivation, they’re not a recipe

Humans need stories, many years ago Joseph Campbell described the narrative of the Hero’s Journey. Take these stories as inspiration, not recipe. Your Money or Your Life is recipe. Quit like a Millionaire is not. Let’s deconstruct the blurb to see why

From the vanguard of the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement, a bold, contrarian guide to retiring at any age, with a reproducible formula to financial independence–no gimmick, luck, or trust fund required.

You need luck. End of. To some extent the only actionable thing that you can do with luck is to also recognise it and carpe diem. An unacknowledged piece of luck in their case is starting 2008.

Quit Like a Millionaire is a bull***t-free guide to growing your wealth, retiring early, and living the life you’ve always dreamed of. As The New York Times recently noted, FIRE is “a growing movement of young professionals who are intently focused on quitting their jobs forever.”

Young professionals. The NYT nailed it. Amazon pickers, Deliveroo riders and Uber drivers need not apply, unless these are your side hustle. Quit Like a Millionaire had a combined income of CAD 170k in 20122, which is over £100,000 p.a. You gotta make it before you take it.

Kristy Shen retired with a million dollars at the age of thirty-one, and she did it without hitting a home run on the stock market, starting the next Snapchat in her garage, or investing in hot real estate.

Hmm, they started investing seriously in 2012. That wasn’t a terrible time to get into the market, either. I’d take starting at 2012 valuations over starting at 2019 valuations. Maybe not home run but still a decent innings. Yes, they talk of taking a $58k stock market bath in 2008. That is at the outset of their investing career. Total kudos for keeping calm and carrying on. Readers of the book can’t step into the same investing river now.

In Quit Like a Millionaire, learn how to cut down on spending without decreasing your quality of life,

Cutting down your spending always decreases your quality of life at the time. Money is a claim on future human work, having more people working for you makes life easier. It’s perfectly reasonable to say the view is not worth the climb in the long run, and no consumer shit tastes as good as financial freedom feels, but make no mistake. You will have to give up something, unless your spending is incredibly brainless to start with.

build a million-dollar portfolio, fortify your investments to survive bear markets and black-swan events, and use the 4 percent rule and the Yield Shield–so you can quit the rat race forever.

Ah, the confidence of the young and beautiful who have only known things go up and up. I was that person in 1989 – I started work in Thatcher’s ghastly 1982 recession, and had only seen the economy strengthen. So I inferred the general from the particular, and bought a house at a high income multiple of 4.5 times, because things only go up, innit? Until they don’t, because der liebe Gott sorgt dafür, daß die Bäume nicht ins Himmel wachsen. The housing market and the stock market are cyclical. Maybe all markets are cyclical for all I know. Do not infer the general from the particular, neither at the zenith nor at the nadir.

Their capital is about £600k. As long as they stay young and never get old they will be fine, but IMO that’s not enough to carry an individual from 30 to 80 or 90. If I read this wrongly and they are partners and that is their combined capital, then there is much hazard in their future. Even splitting up without any kids involved would leave each of them with £300k to last them another 50 years.

Perhaps we should all move to Canada. I would feel windy retiring at 31 on CAD1M in the stock market. I do appreciate they are living off the yield, using the concept of the ‘Yield Shield’ and yield is less volatile than the underlying capital value. But it’s still not enough IMO.

Either life in Canada is much much cheaper than it is in the UK or the Ermine crystal ball sees Work in these guys’ future. There’s nothing wrong in that. I feel a little bit bad pissing on the fireworks, but there needs to be pushback to this sort of thing

Shen is not your typical investment guru. She grew up in abject poverty in rural China, worked for a decade as a middle-class immigrant professional in Canada, and now travels the world as a retired millionaire. In short, she really walks the walk, and here she shares the mindsets she developed at each income level that launched her to the next.

You shouldn’t put an old head on young shoulders, and with that amount of grit and get up and go I am sure that if the market goes titsup this young couple will have the necessary to do what it takes. But this narrative is  inspiration. It’s not a recipe book. You are not them, and ten years of investment river has flowed under the bridge since they started. You cannot step into the same river.

Use it for motivation. But since the expected future value stream is inversely proportional to the purchase price you will get less if you do now what they did then…

It is high summer, but a sensitive mustelid snout twitches, as it picks up the scent of over-ripeness in the distance

There’s an old investing adage, when you can read about an edge in the papers it’s too late to use it. This book is published by Penguin Random House, which is about as mainstream as you can get. There is a smell of over-ripeness and incipient decadence in the air.

  1. Depending on you time-hacking skills you could go back further. I am assuming some sort of hyperspatial wotsit that only lets you go back in your own lifetime and use the resources you had then… 
  2. QLAM P290 appendix B 

103 thoughts on “FIRE is for the Few, not the Many”

    1. Awesome. I am a Blog Dog. Woof!

      I need to set up a Tarot reading stall in the next Chautauqua self-congratulatory PF whatsit. The Ermine cards and crystal ball will see one common thing in the future of these millionaires who want to retire before 40.


      I’d put money on it 😉


      1. I beleive they are already still working. they have a blog which brings in revenue and I read that Kristy has authored childrens books. it appears to be a misconception that people jump on that if you reach FI then you will just down tools and sit on a beach all day. more realistic and in the few examples I have seen, retired people take on challenges that produces income.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. > it appears to be a misconception that people jump on that if you reach FI then you will just down tools and sit on a beach all day

        Guess it’s the book blurb

        and now travels the world as a retired millionaire.

        that led me astray. It is possible that I formed my interpretation of what retirement meant in an earlier era. Normally I would classify ‘giving up one type of work for another’ as a change of career, as in – I used to be an electronics engineer but moved into software development. Rather than ‘I retired from electronics, and just happen to have all these screens open with code’.

        Liked by 3 people

  1. I think the story is quite powerful, and the extroverts tend to tell bolder stories that attract more attention than the introverts. Yes, most can’t do what they’ve done. But if it gets people thinking about how they spend their money so they just move from being in constant debt to consumer crap to not being surprised when Christmas rolls around every December 25th, that has to be a good thing.

    “You will have to give up something, unless your spending is incredibly brainless to start with.”

    Most people that I work with/meet do seem to spend every penny they have in the bank/overdraft at that moment and then be surprised into having to put car insurance/birthday presents/holidays on credit cards.

    “one common thing in the future of these millionaires who want to retire before 40. Work”

    Surely most of them are already working – writing books/articles to earn money and going on speaking tours is a job, no?


    1. > the extroverts tend to tell bolder stories that attract more attention than the introverts

      Hmm, excuse me if today in particular I hanker after a world with fewer bold stories of derring-do and more stories that are, well, true, or failing that, just possible would be nice.

      But sure, these guys aren’t in an important field of endeavour, so if people find them inspirational perhaps mythmaking is where it’s at.


  2. totally agree. the whole FIRE thing has gone a bit mainstream and much of it is bllsht peddling. The vast, vast majority of people have zero chance of retiring early. It’s just another case of making money from telling people how to do the impossible. Big yawn. I live very frugally but with a crap job and no kids will be lucky to give up before 60. My wife and I however have managed to go down to a 3 -day working week. Nobody has any clue how we can do it, even explaining to them is a waste of time.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Yes.
      Continuing with the theme of bold stories…. My general knowledge of China might be incomplete, but I always thought that those who grew up in abject poverty there did not, as a rule, benefit from the sort of education necessary to enter the labour market as a middle class professional. Perhaps there’s some poetic license there with the concepts of growing up (reaching adulthood) or abject poverty (what they show in documentaries about life in rural China)?
      Given my borderline OCD personality, I had no choice but to investigate. And voila! Her family emigrated to Canada when she was 8. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still an inspiring story of an immigrant family making a life for themselves in Canada, where the state has provided their children with good education and healthcare (and as we know, both these things level the playing field considerably), thus affording them a decent chance of success in whatever they choose to do in life. But this is not a story of a stowaway landing on Canada’s shore with a half loaf of bread and then retiring some ten years later with a million bucks by the virtue of being frugal and investing the monthly surplus of their McDonald’s team leader salary in some tracker funds.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. With £1.1 MM invested I haven’t given up the day job yet. I’m thinking actual final retirement will be about 53-55.

    Benefits of the job are free air conditioning in the office and almost nothing to do – it’s part time except for the pointless attendance.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. They got themselves to something like FI so they can do what they like – including the kind of work they like. Probably they will tick off bestselling author on their bucket list too. Fair play, it look me a little over a decade to reach FI (although I do have a mortgage-free home too). There was a lot of luck and frugality involved.

    Nothing wrong in marketing a dream. I’d already started on the path to a better work life balance, passive income and FI before I read the Four Hour Work Week, but it helped show that my path wasn’t completely mad as there weren’t many fellow travellers back then. But yeah – you wouldn’t necessarily repeat what this latest couple de jour did from this moment in time. But maybe they will share some useful learnings others can adapt.

    I’m baffled why they all want to go travelling to the same insta-destinations though. I’ve done my share (often with work), but I actually rather like being at home in the UK. The climate is goldilocks, it has beautiful countryside, beaches etc, the people are (mostly) nice and the food is a lot better than it used to be.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. While they might be largely FI, they aren’t RE, with all those side hustles. One thing to note is that travelling can indeed be cheaper than staying at home, which is unexpected if you have a weekend break mindset. If you can do a part-time job from a third-world beach, FI is much easier.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I suspect this is a core part of their plan – you can live quite well in parts of the world on less 1k USD per month, and with the Canadian stock index yielding north of 2% in dividends a ~700k portfolio will get you there without having to sell any principal in a down market.

      If we go through another bleak period where the dividends get cut, they might have to get some roommates in Quito or Tblisi while they ride it out. But if they can handle that, I bet they’ll be fine for the rest of their lives.


  6. One of your best articles yet, sadly I totally agree, FI/RE is now looking to be the exception that proves the rule. I also agree with those saying to not give up trying though and still do whatever you can, because every degree of freedom away from corporate serfdom is always worth it. But with any decently yielding investment now at the cost of ratcheted up risk most people don’t fully understand, my own hopeful independence deadline is constantly pulling away into the future like a mirage. (Just got burned on P2P, so will have to work more now)

    With central banks mismanaging the global economy mainly by printing money out of thin air, we will soon have ubiquitous insignificant interest on savings and investment, at the same time as inflation and job evaporation.

    The few young people I know doing great have on the slightest examination such a leg-up from their parents that they’re not even in the same race, doubtless most will think it’s down to their own genius and maybe write a blog about that one day 🙂


    1. Granted your side hustle is nothing short of remarkable!

      Are you also an outlier though?

      No-one else seems to come close to pulling in those MB figures..


      1. > Are you also an outlier though?

        Extreme outlier I’d say and most of it through extraordinary luck, starting MB at just the right time and the MBG blog gaining early traction.

        I know of several others pulling in similar numbers, and a few earning way more. They tend to not be as vocal about it though due to either running a small army of accounts or doing very high risk casino where a single site refusing to payout would cost them tens of thousands of pounds.


  7. My wife and I quit at 43. We still earn through non-traditional work (blog, books etc). We’re still saving 20% of our income, and have private pensions waiting in the wings. If we divorce, we’d need to return to work. Something else might crop up to force that too, who knows, the only way to be sure we ‘retired’ so early will be for both of us to die without being destitute.

    Anyway, I agree, full-on FIRE is for the few. I can’t see why anyone would argue. It’s an outlier thing through and through. This is the thing though:

    Being an Olympian is also a freakish thing, they’re outliers by definition, but it doesn’t stop us looking up to them as models, being inspired by them to be the best we can be as athletes, no matter how old or, well, crap we are at it. I wonder how this relates to FIRE? Without these exceptional stories, where is the inspiration to at least try?


    1. but it doesn’t stop us looking up to them as models, being inspired by them to be the best we can be as athletes, no matter how old or, well, crap we are at it. I wonder how this relates to FIRE? Without these exceptional stories, where is the inspiration to at least try?

      I suspect I am the outlier in that I am missing this gene. Sure, I can admire Usain Bolt, but as far as taking up running is concerned, nah, what’s the point? I can’t get there from here… I don’t find such stories inspirational when there’s an obvious piece of luck or talent I don’t have, ‘cos the story isn’t actionable for me.


  8. @Guy

    I’m feeling a little exposed on P2P, what’s the story with your burning ?


    I had to lookup /s, now I’m feeling old!



    1. @Boltt – Most probably Lendy I would wager? Still no word on how ERG’s mate Huw has faired as he was ‘balls-deep’ if his blog is to be believed..

      I just need Ratesetter not to fold in the next month or so and I should be alright. I’m cashing in. I’ve already minimised my positions in Zopa and Funding Circle.


      1. @The Ig – haha, I take it you’ve got a wedge in ratesetter? Don’t let me worry you, I’m not claiming any prescience over future events, I just need the cash (to buy a house).


    2. @Boltt, the few % of my investment portfolio I mentally put down to exciting experimentation was wiped out when Lendy went into administration. By the time I realised the ship was listing I could only pull out about a quarter of my allocation and it felt quite sudden. It was a nasty shock because the valuations were supposed to have left a wide margin of safety and hey, this is the UK, safe as houses, property, solid asset to sell to get your money back.

      Then I was circling the plughole like everyone else and if the regulator couldn’t help powerful creditors with Woodford (like entire councils’ pension funds) they’re irrelevant. I’ll now never take ‘FCA authorised’ as anything more than the cartoonish fake family farm labels on supermarket food packaging. It felt like stepping on a nail, it’s only a small part of your body suffering pain, but it still hurts so much, its the being scammed as well as any actual loss of money. They can declare it as legal as they like, but it still ended up playing out a pyramid scheme.


      1. The problem with P2P is people treat it like it’s a new ‘asset class’. It isn’t. P2P is just an intermediation process. The underlying assets, loans, have been around for ever and are a type of fixed income credit product. The problem is that the risk spectrum on loans varies from low risk to very high risk. Lendy was pushing about the highest risk loans you could imagine: speculative property development loans. Worse it was basing it’s valuation approach on LGDV when sensible investors in these types of loans use LTC (loan to cost). Using LGDV means that the borrower has no little or no equity downside in the project but participates, in a highly leveraged basis, on the equity upside. The borrower is effectively long an option on the development project. The lender is short the option, and makes a decent yield if the project succeeds but will lose badly if the project fails (since recovery values on failed development projects are poor). Based on reading the P2P independent forum, it’s interesting to see how few lenders ever really understood the investment proposition. They were far too complacent about the 12% yield. That in itself should have been a red flag (junk bonds yield 6%). They never asked why the borrowers were paying 20-30% to borrow and never really questioned why Lendy was taking about a 6% yield spread (plus 4% in upfront fees) on the transaction. It was effectively a pyramid scheme. The only way to profit easily was to trade the loans by buying them at 12-month duration and dumping them at 3-month duration, assuming that the ‘greater fool theory’ would hold and someone would buy them off you at that point. It worked nicely between 2015-17.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Great article Ermine. It’s refreshing to read someone who can comprehensively criticise someone’s conclusion while lauding the individual. The thoughtful nuances seem to be lost in most commentary. The ability to disagree with someone you like or agree with someone you dislike is a rare and underrated gift.


  10. I think it was Monevator who called it “FIRES dirty little secret”. Needing to have an above average paying job to get an earlier than average retirement.

    Well done for tackling when “early” is. I was more than happy to take retirement at 54. I considered that early compared to my cohort from the 1960s. I did have advantages that you recounted.

    I think young employees and students benefit is the wealth of information about potential careers. The couple in the article researched what paid best and decided against subjects they liked such as art.

    Careers advice was non existent in the 1970s. Engineering was suggested to me because I was good at maths and physics. By the time I graduated there were no jobs and I fell into something else. I never practiced as an engineer.

    At the time I was considering a career, the reducing industrial base must have been obvious to my teachers. Yet we were still fed into degrees that served no purpose.


      1. I didn’t take it too hard, wondering what the heck I did for 30 years 😉

        But yes, I thought early 50s isn’t too shabby. I probably could have done it at 50 had I jumped to this whole FI thing earlier.

        > young employees and students benefit is the wealth of information about potential careers

        Certainly compared to earlier generations yes, but conversely those careers are much less stable and accumulated experience counts for much less now than it used to, because things change faster.


  11. I agree with your sentiments. It feels as though FIRE has now become quite commoditised, really.

    In this case, the heavy lifting seems to have been done by this young woman’s parents – getting the family to Canada, providing sufficiently for the children so that they are able to continue to tertiary education. So, good job to all concerned, but (as so often in life) the true picture is rather more complex than the headline.

    It seems that geo-arbitrage is a big part of their FIRE strategy, and they don’t own any sort of home. Kind of a perpetual gap year. That’s terrific while they’re (relatively) young, but those of us who are older realise that it’s not sustainable (or even enjoyable) forever.

    It’s a bit like that young couple who wrote the book about how they ‘retired to the woods’ in New England – except that they aren’t retired; they simple moved to the country and went self-employed and home-working respectively. But that reality does not make for such a good headline or book title…

    I think that for many young people in the UK, the FIRE reality is working towards some form of full or partial FI – so that they are not hostages to fortune, and have some options when times are hard. I know that’s what my millennial daughter and SiL do; they want a modest but adequate home that is paid for (in London), and robust savings to insulate them from the vagaries of the economy. There are many sacrifices to be made to achieve that, which they are prepared to make (definitely no weekend breaks in Barcelona for them, and the avocado toast is made at home using Wonky avocados ;)). The RE part is not really feasible for them in the financial and employment world that exists now.

    And I’m very glad I’m not the only one who is puzzled by what the heck a ‘Chautauqua’ is…


    Liked by 1 person

      1. It seems to have quite a storied history

        Get rich, young man, for money is power and power ought to be in the hands of good people. I say you have no right to be poor.

        Russell Conwell, Acres of Diamonds, Chatauqua frequent speaker before 1925

        The FI variant is here

        That’ll be £2300 of your Earth Great British Pounds to tell you to spend less than you earn and invest over decades in passive global funds. I am glad that I don’t have the need inspirational stories gene. I got this from Monevator and the investment of an hour of my time in trying to work out why he was full of shit and failing in the enterprise.

        Still, rah rah optimistic talk and boosterism is the order of the day now. Those mustelid whiskers are still twitching with the faint scent of over-ripeness and decay wafting in the air, and I hear the distant sound of thunder on the horizon.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. @zx/rhino/ermine – selling a lifestyle is easy – much more glamorous and easy to pad with filler content than: “don’t do stupid things with your money”. For those coming across ‘FI’ today, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just another faddy lifestyle movement.

      @zx – I was sharing my thanks on Weenie’s blog on some helpful pointers you gave to me on p2p. As you mention the red flags on Lendy were there on the independent forum (and in the FT).


      1. > For those coming across ‘FI’ today, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was just another faddy lifestyle movement.

        I think that’s what really grates about this metamorphosis for me. The introvert wing gave its information for free and more or less said this is what we think and this is what we are doing, test this, DYOR etc etc. They acknowledged their fallibility and insufficient knowledge in the face of uncertainty with a humility that doesn’t seem any part of the new crew.

        FI isn’t just about investing, and perhaps now the investing side is less rewarding in terms of future income stream. But FI isn’t all about investing. It is about self-mastery, asking yourself tough questions about what you want in life, to know what your values are and what you stand for. You can gain control of your spending and hammer needless debt even if the stock market is way up in the Gods . You can improve your resilience against the vicissitudes of the jobs market.

        Investing seems to the story du jour, crowding out everything else. The absolute #1 thing for most people is get rid of their goddamned consumer debt ASAP. Monevator sorted that one in 2007 with a superb follow-up as to who exactly you are borrowing the money from. And yet all we hear about in these books is people who did very well on the stock market starting ten years ago and you can do this too.

        IMO anyone starting now with FI needs to lighten up about the stock market and get the basics right. Improve resilience and emergency preparedness for the lean years that lie ahead.

        Liked by 3 people

  12. You’ve nailed it again. The original FIRE community was made up of introverts blogging to diarise their journey and work through their own thought processes. The new FIRE community is (albeit not exclusively) made up of extroverts who see blogging as a way to create a lifesytle coaching business. It’s full of cargo cult science and pop psychology. Perfect for a the Trump/Farage world where hard empirical data and scientific method are just so unnecessary. It’s all about “belief” now. You just need to believe in yourself, be optimistic and everything will be great. Unfortunately that’s just BS. In reality, the critical element is luck, luck, luck. I’m not implying that grit and hard work cannot also be important. The problem is that the concept of meritocracy based on hard work/grit has been totally overblown in our society. People tend to forget on how essential the luck element was.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Factors that determine how well someone will do in their life:
    1. Date of birth
    2. Country of birth
    3. Family of birth
    If you’re born in a slum to newly landless peasants with day-labour jobs in the nearest city outskirts, are somehow healthy, willing to work hard and have the IQ of Einstein, you still have the same chance of success as if dropped off in the middle of a minefield, handcuffed with a blindfold on. Alternatively, you can have the charisma of a cardboard box, the morality of a pimp, the skill workset of a maggot, but a billionaire father and you can buy the US presidency, by just not losing most of the startup capital/obviously never paying taxes.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. @ermine The gurning jollity of that FI chatawacka would be enough to send me running for the hills even if it were free. The photos are useful as it enables me to immediately see that I have nothing in common with any of the attendees. I note the subjects of your OP are centre stage. Most likely at the expense of the non-celebrities in the crowd.

    @zx the issue with FIRE 2.0 is that there isn’t much content any more. Its all fluff. Its dull in that respect. I feel a bit like I’ve stopped learning anything. You’re right on the subject of luck. All I can do is just pray I’m going to stay lucky. I’ve had a good run, but it can’t last forever.

    @norfolk +1 (which is a first for me and your comments)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s quite a lot more where the good folks at MMM forum attempt to square the circle of the FI Chautauqua. Unsuccessfuly IMO, though the ride has entertainment value.

      One of the benefits listed on the website is

      Meeting your FI tribe

      Eek. You can’t make me 😉

      > Most likely at the expense of the non-celebrities in the crowd.

      There’s only 29 of ’em, so it’s a heavy load to carry. There’s more than a whiff of the Tony Robbins to this game…

      Spend less than you earn. If possible earn more. Invest steadily over decades in global passive index funds, using pensions where appropriate. Diversify providers and fund houses.

      £2700 saved. I will accept beer for the favour…

      Liked by 1 person

  15. gauging by the number of comments here (35 and counting) this has touched a nerve or lightning rod.
    There’s a side of the FIRE argument that I don’t think many people realise – that many many people in the professional classes are already FI. I probably know many millionaires who have managed to still spunk loads of cash on toys and fun over the years while I think that I’ve got the moral higher ground by being a tight b*stard.
    On the other hand there are lots of people who genuinely don’t have enough money for what they need/want and are trapped in 101 types of debt. If they are lucky/smart they can get benefits to ease them along but these poor people will “always be with us”.
    Even the poor in the UK / developed world are in a better position than 90%+ of the rest of the world – it’s all relative but also oddly not.
    If I want to embrace FIRE, there’s no point in me thinking of how so and so is better off than me or has a 6 point plan for making money in bitcoin or whatever.
    Focus on your own situation and forget what else is out there.

    We’ve never before lived in a world where there is so much wealth and our work is so well rewarded but also surrounded by so many ways to spend it. We can’t all retire young, just as we can’t all wear £300k trainers – but it comes down to choice – choose FIRE.


    1. > that many many people in the professional classes are already FI

      I have to disagree, they are not FI in any sense of the term that I comprehend. I was that guy once. Someone said to me you have to be mad working here past 45 or was it 50. Save in AVCs etc etc. He was right, but I didn’t follow his sage advice until I had to.

      I had too much mortgage, too much spending. Although I did climb one more step up the greasy pole just before my three-year push for FI, believe me, I know only too well the difference between the professional that could be FI in theory and the professional that is FI. That difference is buying into one stupendous stock market crash and three really tough years of an extremely high savings rate. That difference is real, and it’s absolutely no fun at all.

      The people you are thinking of may earn enough to become FI in principle. But they won’t. FI earlier than 65-67 is very unusual. To be different you have to do different.

      Oh and that guy who told be about pension AVCs? He’s still with The Firm. His wife and kids were rather attached to that middle class lifestyle and didn’t fancy giving it up. He is the walking wallet.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe the people I am thinking of have large amounts of equity in houses with cheap mortgages and has rode a boom in shares over the last few years.

        Succumbing to the status quo is almost irresistible


      2. Right again about professionals potentially being FI just by being in the right place. Although having addressed “early” in these blog perhaps “independence” needs a squint at the too.

        Are you actually independent if you’re monthly income is from and DB scheme and you don’t live off the capital you have to saved (in whatever form)? Especially if that is a government or similarly scheme.

        I was in the right job at the right time and lucky to be out before the scheme was changed downward. It was hard work but I did not do much financially other than ride a very small gravy train. Is that still FI?


      3. > Are you actually independent if you’re monthly income is from a DB scheme and you don’t live off the capital you have to saved (in whatever form)?

        Yes. Although people don’t normally shout it out loud, the independent in financial independence is independence from selling your effort for money, ie working. IE if you don’t earn anything from the fruits of your labour, can you keep the wolf from the door? Trust fund, DB pension, Fergus Wilson’s BTL empire*, gold mine under your land all count 😉 Even living off the capital counts, as long as you die before it is all gone.

        Normal retirement is also financial independence, some couples with a paid off house have just the State pension and if that’s enough for their lifestyle then they are FI too in my book.

        Most of the brouhaha of the FIRE movement is because people want to retire early, and often support a higher spending lifestyle than that.

        A DB pensioner with enough pension to live on is FI without needing to worry about the safe withdrawal rate (though they do perhaps have to worry about high inflation)

        * There’s some argument that BTL involves Work in terms of maintenance and wrangling tenants


    2. +1 for disagreeing. Many professionals may have more on paper wealth than me, but they also have huge debts and and lifestyle expenses which taken together puts them behind. Plus the loss of status in taking my FI route would likely to be too great for them to bear. I used to see this at lot among London acquaintances and friends in the 2000s, they had £750K+ of housing equity and could have sold up, cleared debts, moved somewhere cheaper and lived off the rest comfortably. Zero chance of them ever doing so.

      The Millionaire Next Door book is instructive on the difference.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. It is the status things that keeps you trapped (either real – keeping up with the Jones’s or imaginary – Kardashians)
        The trend that i see is that once you have kids people want have them activities that move them in the right circles.
        18 years of pony lessons and stable fees will probably by FI for anyone.

        Or family holidays that cost £10k for a 2 week holiday because Bali is better than Bognor


      2. But they could much more easily convert to FI. One reason alone is that your typically largest expense is the house that you have hundreds of thousands of pounds of unearned tax free money sitting in.
        (Unless they have mewed to maintain the lifestyle)

        Liked by 1 person

      3. > But they could much more easily convert to FI. One reason alone is that your typically largest expense is the house that you have hundreds of thousands of pounds of unearned tax free money sitting in.

        I am uncomfortable with the logic of that, too. A house is an investment that stops you paying rent to slumlords. You can’t just off that cost-free. You get to pay rent – either to landlords, or you get to rent the money from a bank in the form of a mortgage. By no means do you have to own a house to become FI, but you then need roughly a house’s worth of capital paying you a return to pay your rent for you.


        > your typically largest expense is the house

        is not true as you get older. You pension savings should be more than your house by then. Even in my case my ISA which excludes my main pension (OK at current hyper-inflated values with a stock market being high, although some of the ISA is more defensive now) is worth more than my part of the equity in my mortgage-free house. Obviously the house is in the provinces so it is worth much less than a Londoner’s house, but by the time you get to retirement if your house is the largest part of your net worth it may be tough to utilise that.

        When you are younger the house is the big capital expense and large relative to everything else. Perhaps for Londoners it still is on retirement because of high price to annual earnings valuations of > 5 there. But in that case they would do well to move out of the city to turn some of that capital into revenue.

        Monevator took me to task repeatedly for it, but I still don’t regard house equity as part of my networth. It is possible that the experience of seeing home equity halve early in my working life convinced me that this a particularly capricious and ephemeral type of capital, every other Brit regards residential property=money tree. But up and down the land you see enough old biddies who are asset-rich and income-poor – they may have enough money in the round, but the balance stinks and makes life miserable for them. But the greedy children won’t help them fix that because it’s their inheritance, innit?


      4. > The Millionaire Next Door book is instructive on the difference.

        That book is a great exposition of the difference between wealth and income. Income tends to wear its heart on it’s sleeve, it is flashy as hell, it’s the one with the fancy cars and the big house, because they are worth it. Wealth is stealthier, you can’t tell it so easily from the outside. By definition, if it is splurged on the outward trappings of a rich lifestyle, it isn’t wealth any more, it is turned into wasting assets.

        It’s very important to understand this difference in achieving financial independence. In the initial stages, if it looks rich, it isn’t wealth.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Very interesting read, both the main article and the comments. Karsten over at Early Retirement Now ( has written what I see as a fairly robust rebuttal of the Yield Shield concept.

    I’m definitely no math whiz, but I find Karsten’s arguments compelling and his series on safe withdrawal rates has been very important in my planning.

    The Yield Illusion: How Can a High-Dividend Portfolio Exacerbate Sequence Risk? (SWR Series Part 29)

    The Yield Illusion Follow-Up (SWR Series Part 30)

    The Yield Illusion (or Delusion?): Another Follow-Up! (SWR Series Part 31)



    1. The more I read about that story the more I come to the conclusion these guys don’t have enough. Particularly if that CAD1M is between them rather than each. They need the extra income from yelling a great story from the rooftops, guest fees at Chautauquas and the book sales.

      Half of my investments are shares, and most of that is a high-yield portfolio because the earlier me found the story behind just spending the dividend rather than the capital more comforting, as was the fact that the volatility of the dividend part is less than the volatility of the capital. My personal experience of index investing wasn’t as good, because I switched to buying the index when I can’t see clearly what to buy. That is at high general market valuations.

      Even in my HYP days I saw that there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and that the higher yield is likely to be balanced by lower capital appreciation. Where you have a portfolio of individual shares you have to decide which shares to sell to free annual income. A high yield would save me from those decisions. So a HYP makes some sense where someone holds individual shares.

      Selling of units of an index is a better alternative, as earlyretirmentnow deconstructed. I am probably being irrational in holding the HYP. But I can afford the poorer return for the feelgood of not selling down capital. Realistically my investment horizon is 30 years absolute tops, taking the income is easy, and I can afford the irrationality, which allows me to ignore the market value and sleep better. Young folk like Quit like a Millionaire can ill-afford that sort of irrationality, because the drag on returns will compound over 30 more years for them than it would for me. The peace of mind bought by a Yield Shield is expensive over sixty years, and this is their entire pension savings. My irrationality applies to only part of my retirement savings, and will compound for fewer years. I can afford the performance drag where they can’t IMO.


  17. I needed this post after reading the Guardian article. Full respect to them for what they have achieved, I am not disputing that it would have taken some hard work to get where they are (although all “hard work” is relative in comparison to the mother who has to walk 5 miles in order to get get dirty water). What I am disputing is the entire essence of their “personal brand”, which is “Look at us! We’ve done it, we’re millionaires, anyone can do it! Just buy our book and see how”. Not everyone can be a computer engineer or a stock trader however, so not quite.

    It’s the increasing takeover of the FIRE movement by the above types which means I have become more and more disenfranchised with large parts of it. The only FIRE content I still regularly browse is that which emphasises the anti-consumerist, thoughtful living aspects of it, and not the other content which increasingly resembles something like Tim Harris would write.

    Again, none of this is aimed as put-down to them, but just at a what I believe is a lie which is gaining more and more traction.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m reminded of the following business advice I picked up from somewhere and am about to royally bastardise:

    Tell the truth to someone who wants to hear it and you’ll do OK.
    Tell the truth to someone who wants you to lie to them and you’ll go bankrupt.
    Lie to someone who wants you to lie to them and you’ll make a fortune.

    This story fails the sniff test but the worth of FIRE lies in whether you can do it, not whether everyone can.

    Can you save and invest 55% of your income? Then you can FIRE in approx 15 years (terms and conditions apply). Can’t earn enough relative to your bills? Then you won’t do it. Not prepared to cut your spending enough? You can’t do it. No willpower / stamina – you won’t do it. Fall victim to any number of chance life events. You’ll be set back for years.

    Jacob @ ERE FIREd in five years on a modest 5 figure salary. But only because he was prepared to live in a trailer park and eat lentils every day.

    I don’t know what any individual’s story proves though. The maths checks out, more or less.

    If you can survive the tests above then you can do it. Have you ever cared about anything in life only after checking whether everyone can do it? You just gotta make it work for your life.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. > Jacob @ ERE FIREd in five years on a modest 5 figure salary.

      I admire ERE’s story and he gave me hope to make some changes myself. But he was young and he was single. As you get older you want to have enough in hand to get others to do things you can’t or don’t want to do yourself. I don’t want to chop wood in 10 years time. I don’t ever want to decorate a room again – ever. I don’t ever want to drink homebrew again. I will pay people to do those things for me.

      The maths should allow for some increase in spending else you’ll lock yourself into the sort of graft that’s fine in your twenties but not so much in your 40s +

      As it was ERE went to work doing something else ISTR. He changed as he got older and partnered up. It happens – a life that can’t adapt to internal change is not living well IMO. ERE is also part of the old guard if not the ur-FIRE exponent. The material was all out here to read before the book came out.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, we take inspiration from the stories that appeal to us and adapt them to our personal situations. Everyone needs role models. Jacob made it clear that he was offering a strategy not a bunch of tips you could cut n paste.

        Incidentally, he jacked in that job after a few years.


  19. I have to say I disagree.

    I’ve never had a high income, but had enough redundancies to know that you can’t blindly spend your money.

    Prior to finding Mr Money Mustache I already had the savings habit, but I didn’t have a plan. Retirement at 65? 70? 75?? All seems a bit abstract, but he prompted me to do the sums and was pleasantly surprised. Will I be able to retire in my 30s? No, but ill be able to retire in my 50s, and more than that, its given me a reason to save, which I consider to be immensely valuable.

    Now, I’m a dour Yorkshireman so the FIRE style isn’t my thing, but it got me started so I cant really complain that much. The messages are simple and actionable, not buying more house than you need, not buying more car than you need, those 2 have probably already saved me 10s of thousands of pounds already, and I don’t really remember either of those things being espoused by non Fire bloggers before.

    And finally I disagree that cutting spending always decreases quality of life. Worrying about money decreases quality of life, knowing that both you and your partner need a job paying X decreases quality of life. Knowing that you’ve got enough in the bank that you can pay that unexpected bill, can afford to be unemployed for X months, or one of you indefinitely, that does wonders for your mental health and quality of life. And they’re middle class money worries, not loan shark, need a credit card to fix the boiler money worries. A ‘poor’ person may never retire early but if a FIRE approach prompts them to build a £1k rainy day fund, rather than spending it on fags and booze, ‘cos what’s the point?’ That’s good? That’s FIRE for poor people?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You may not have a ‘high’ income, but I’d hazard a guess you have more than the median. Or atypical lifestyle elements can shift an average income to be more effective. Not living in London or the SE, not having children and pets can also reduce outgoings.

      But you are already better off than poor people from what you have said:

      > not buying more house than you need, not buying more car than you need, those 2 have probably already saved me 10s of thousands of pounds

      Poor people don’t buy houses. They rent. These days they don’t buy cars either, it seems, PCP is renting, though dearer than simply owning a string of beaters.

      > A ‘poor’ person may never retire early but if a FIRE approach prompts them to build a £1k rainy day fund, rather than spending it on fags and booze, ‘cos what’s the point?’ That’s good? That’s FIRE for poor people?

      Apart from being neither financial independence, nor retiring early 😉 I have occasionally described to people in CC debt how buying things on credit cards and paying interest means they can end up paying 120% of the sticker price. People can follow the arithmetic, but often having it now matters more to them, particularly if they are already in that hole, would have the take the no elective spend suckout to pay down the loan and then the no elective spend suckout again to save up for the next item.

      You had some of the benefits and mannerisms of FIRE already. These were focused by a decent FIRE story, but the focus is only possible if the story is actionable for you.


      1. At the moment house hold income is a bit below average, that’s an outlier as I’m a stay at home dad and my partners on maternity leave. Peak household earnings were probably £40k ish before tax, and will probably be £25k -£30k going forward. So a bit above average, but not ‘rich’.

        Re house and car savings. I nearly made the same mistake you did of buying the maximum house the bank thought I could afford, we ended up getting a house £80k less. Car, we are a 1 car household, those have taken us from stretched on 2 incomes, to comfortable on 1.

        “actionable for you”
        That’s kind of the point, its actionable for most people on some level. Most people aren’t ever going to be able to retire in their 30s, so if that’s all fire is to you then fine, but to me its a little bit personal finance, a little bit money saving, with a little bit on environmentalism/ personal improvement, that just seems to work well, but any two legs of the stool seem to work well together.

        Financial independence is a moveable feast, people can’t even agree on what retirement is these days. If we consider it as a continuum (having the money to take a month/year of work are in some sense financial independence?) between abject poverty and Billionaire, you can certainly move yourself to the right.

        Id liken it to the diet du jour. The people plastered on the posters for the Ermine Diet posing with their massive trousers are the outliers, most people can’t hope to lose 30st on any diet, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t benefit, even if all they get out of it is a sense of agency. The couple in the article are skinny people standing next to enormous trousers, pointing out that people who only want to sort out their bingo wings can’t hope to lose that much weight kind of misses the point.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. > I nearly made the same mistake you did of buying the maximum house the bank thought I could afford

        I really wish I could blame the bank, but the damnfoolery is entirely mine. I was able to overpay because I had a 20% deposit (after I added a decent wedge borrowed interest-free on a credit card, but most was savings). That was unusual at the time. No banks conspired against me whatsoever. There was a side-order of flippin stupidity that I was awed by an endowment expecting to return 100% profit at the end of term. Whoopee-doo.

        Think about it. After a 25 year term. Using the Rule of 72 that Kristy Shen teaches us in Quit like a Millionaire and transposing her example, I need an average yearly inflation/interest rate of 72/25 =2.9% to double my money in nominal terms over a 25 year term. What was the UK inflation rate from 1989 to 2014 according to the Bank of England? 3.2% p.a. – £10 in 1989 would have been £22 at the end of term.

        So I took all that risk associated with a with profits endowment for the projected gain on the value of the principal to – drum roll – slightly fall behind inflation.

        All my own work and foolery 😦


  20. I agree there is now a breed of FI blogger who does come across as rather superior and almost smug. Saying anyone can do it if they only tried. The charitable view is they are so passionate about their life story they just want to share it. To be honest im dubious because when you meet evangelists over any subject in real life, they are often a pain in the a***

    To me its totally obvious that FI is not for everyone that wants it. In the same way that any other life goal is not for anyone that wants it. So many things can get in the way, some of which the individual is responsible for and some of which is just life getting in the way. Then there is the middle ground – say you want an elderly relative in an expensive care home. Is that life chucking you a curved ball or an individual choice?

    FI is a challenging concept i think because everyone has their own definition. Am i FI if i could sell up and move with the family to the third world? Am I FI if I could cash out and live on 4% yield but the kids never get a birthday present? The zealots will respond with you need to reject consumerism and give your children the gift of frugality.

    Meanwhile back in the real world where spreadsheet arithmetic only takes you so far, I think the best most of us can do is save and invest wisely, dont spend on crazy junk and keep an eye on the fact that you can be turfed out of your job at short notice.

    By some measures I am FI already. However I wont be writing a book because my journey has been completely dull. Years and years of going to work and investing in SIPPS and ISA and paying off the mortgage. Lots of luck, a modest level of talent, and the long passage of time and 10 years of a bull market for equities and tiny interest rates on a large mortgage.

    Anyone could do it if they were as lucky as me.


  21. I completely agree. In the UK the state pension is still unaffordable, even after recent changes delaying it until 68 for some. If the entire work force suddenly retired at 30/40 or even 50, there would be a massive hole in the public finances that would have to be filled by higher taxes, loss of tax breaks such as ISAs and Pensions etc. Luckily for the government, most people don’t even consider retiring early. In fact, most don’t really consider retirement at all until they are in their 40s or 50s and by then its a case of scraping together what they can to have a decent retirement in their mid 60s. Added to the fact that people are conditioned to spend money not save it due to our consumerist society and I think people who retire early will remain in the minority.


    1. Even though you suffered investment misfortune with your first real estate purchase, sir, you enjoyed great fortune with your employer’s defined-benefit pension scheme. Almost no-one in the 1980s and 1990s understood what an enormous benefit for workers, what a tremendous cost for employers, such a scheme would be. The employers certainly didn’t, at the time.

      A working life with a large national firm from that era would having a capital-equivalent transfer value far in excess of the Shen pot – and a defined benefit which simply won’t run out.

      Sir, you are quite right to warn the over-optimistic Shens of the danger which lies ahead – their huge-sounding pot simply isn’t big enough.

      Liked by 1 person

  22. “Your Money or Your Life is recipe. Quit like a Millionaire is not. Let’s deconstruct the blurb to see why”

    Call me old-fashioned, but I always think that book reviews are more accurate where the reviewer has actually read the book…not just the cover.


    1. You will observe the internal reference QLAM P290 appendix B (regarding the track of their increasing networth over time in the accumulation phase) comes from the book. It’s not unreasonable, however to take the claims in the blurb as a pithy summary of what the publisher thinks the book is about, it has the advantage that my readers don’t have to buy the book to verify the asserted claim.


    2. Critical to be able to judge books by their covers or you spend your life reading shit books 😉

      Lets not forget that YMOYL espouses living off the (10%!!) return from US Treasury bonds (and owning nothing else) – That idea hasn’t fared too well. What a shit book 😉

      I’ll never know whether Quit Like a Millionaire is a good book (I already do know really because I can judge books by their covers)

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Like the article…Love the comments. Really tickling me…A bit of UK realism vs US hype maybe (FI only given our other issues). Let me slightly adjust an extract of the said guardian article from an undetermined future point in time….

    “To begin with, their friends and families were skeptical, expecting them to return penniless after a year. Travelling cost them less than spending a year at home in Toronto, however their investment portfolio has fallen 45% since a significant stock market correction following the longest bull market in history, which means they unsurprising have shat their pants and got the first high paying job they could find…Traffic to their and other FI blogs has since plummeted like a stone meaning all their affiliate income and finding my tribe drivel has also gone out the window as well. Winter has come and now wannabe FIRE people are chopping firewood to save on heating with frugalism taking on a whole new meaning.”

    A number of the US bloggers have said that they are generating enough affiliate income to pay for 100% of their expenses hence the Tony Robbins type guff emanating on a continuous basis.

    I v like Early Retirement Now’s blog. But even his recent post indicated some concern with the minor end of 2018 / 2019 stock market wobble (long since forgotten already). And a lot of the readers seemed to be marginally panicking back in Jan. And not surprising, if you’ve stopped earning…all you’ve got is your capital. A fall like 2003 / 2008 would not be terminal but I reckon would scare most people back to work. A sustained fall like the 1970’s would probably be terminal for anyone > 30 years retirement plans unless their SWR is

    And as for this side hustle rubbish in case it goes wrong…haven’t a clue and it wouldn’t matter how many POP UP business seminars I paid cash to go to…I would never find anything paying a fraction of what I can in UK Financial Services.

    On the other hand the bit which is constantly eroding is time. And none of us know how much longer we have therefore just how precious it is. Someone once said at the end of your life for many people they just have their few friends and family around them and then they are left with just their own thoughts. I guess we should try to minimise as many regrets when you get to that point as possible through living your life as well as you can and creating positive experiences, which in so many cases cost next to nothing.

    FI can help give you that if you are ‘lucky’ enough to be able to achieve it. Freedom that if the car breaks down, close family need medical attention, you need to spend more time with the young ones as they grow, maybe buy the best education (yes unfairly) if important and keep a decent job, see close friends and stay close to them, take proper holidays, help the children out with a bit of a start in life once they are older, things geopolitically go bad (to a degree)…you can do what you need to do and keep cool knowing your hopefully ok.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Slight correction to the quote: der liebe Gott sorgt dafür, daß die Bäume nicht in den Himmel wachsen 😉

    I had completely forgotten about that quote – thanks for the reminder.

    I agree with what you say, but I don’t quite understand the wrath that seems to come with it. I’m pretty sure no one on minimum wage will think they can achieve that without mountains of luck and drastic changes. I tend to see it more as thought provoking for upper income earners which is still hundreds of thousands of people in Western Europe alone.


    1. I should have got Google on my side to get the quote right 😉 Thanks!

      The reason for the snarl? I don’t like bullshit and when people say ‘anybody can do this’ when it’s patently obvious a lot of the population can’t then it’s also just being mean.

      When I was working the social range of people I knew was quite narrow. They could pretty much all have done FIRE, though the vast majority didn’t.

      Since retiring I have seen a wider range of human lives. I personally know some people who have debt problems. One I very, very carefully suggested get in touch with StepChange*. Very carefully because I did not want to be that arrogant bastard that says anybody can do it, and while I could diagnose the issues I was totally out of my depth because this was a world I did not know. But I went out of my way to find out where more able assistance might be had.

      So no. Not everybody can do it. The role of luck is greatly underestimated, and the whole anybody can do it is victim-blaming the significant proportion of our fellow-citizens who were dealt a tougher hand, didn’t have good early examples, or simply ran into tough life-circumstances.

      * Another source of assistance in the UK is the Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Be aware that not all CABs deal with money issues, phone first.

      Liked by 2 people

  25. Hi Ermine

    May I ask another question?

    I’m intrigued by this topic, it’s something I’ve tried to work out for a few years now: just how we (my wife and I) ‘managed it’ when so few others do, including many well-paid peers and friends. Two very obvious answers:

    – It had never crossed their minds
    – If it had, they weren’t interested (fair enough, horses for courses)

    There are a ton more reasons of course, this is IMHO a complex area. Anyway, I digress. My question:

    If FIRE (the acronym grates…) is for the few, who are they? And if I can expand, how many of Britain’s population (in your opinion) could retire in their 40s, say? Are we talking a few hundred, thousands, tens of thousands? Can you quantify it? Just what does “for the few” mean?

    Cheers, Jay


    1. > just how we (my wife and I) ‘managed it’ when so few others do, including many well-paid peers and friends.

      It mattered more to you, and/or the costs of living a lower material lifestyle than your peers mattered less to you.

      You can divide the community into those that have no hope of FIRE and those that can, but don’t have to. A normal working life in the UK is 30-40 years. Do 30 years at the median household income or above and you can entertain the idea of retiring in your 50s, earn from 80 to 100k+ and you can consider the really early retirement. That much you can see from the successful FIRE bloggers and a bit of understanding of incomes of various jobs. FireVLondon has a good taxonomy.

      In theory, according to ERE, FvL’s experienced white collar and up can do it. Not so easy in the UK – while some young Googlers live on campus in vans that’s tougher in Canary Wharf.

      Some lifestyle changes can make a positive difference to the norm:

      Being child-free
      Being older – the GFC blighted the prospects fo a generation
      Having a professional job outside London. London has nearly all the prime and high-flying finance jobs, but earning a respectable wage in a place with a more reasonable cost of living can put you in the second tier, the 50+ retirees
      Not getting divorced, particularly where children are involved

      Some pieces of luck can let you hit it out of the park:
      Inheriting money young – a lot of the debt young people need to accrue can be dodged
      Having wealthy parents – commenter Steve‘s link for why

      > Just what does the few mean

      Roughly those above the 70% post-tax income decile IMO. There a millions – WP says there are 4.6 million in the 10th decile (top 10% post-tax). You’d have to trawl the ONS data or the IFS wheredoyoufitin site for more. It’s not necessarily a minority sport, over 4 million is not a few. But it’s certainly not the many.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for a really interesting response. Food for thought.

        I’m divorced (early 20s), have no kids, parents came from poverty and were working class, inherited nothing, was first in my family to get any education above O level (degree level) and had modest student loan debt. My main accidents of luck were (I think) to (a) be born in the East Mids with low housing costs but good income opportunities and (b) marrying someone (the second time) who is highly diligent with money.

        Our earnings were up in the sorts of numbers you’re referring to, but only when we went freelance in our last 2 years of work. Before that we both worked our way upwards and had good incomes but not quite that high. We were just not that bothered about the money, it was always more about security than the status I think.

        I wonder. If there are 4 million who could make the full early retirement goal, how many can benefit in a smaller way? Referring back to my previous analogy: seeing Kipchoge run a 2 hour(ish) marathon doesn’t mean I will ever get under 3 hours, but I am inspired to try. And with it my risk of heart disease etc is reduced with knock-on effects for wider society. If these guy’s book is Kipchoge for some few thousand Canadian readers, it seems a worthwhile cause?

        Did the book itself actually say ‘everyone can do this’ or was that the marketeers getting carried away?

        If you don’t reply, thanks again for the previous answer, appreciated, Jay


      2. > Did the book itself actually say ‘everyone can do this’ or was that the marketeers getting carried away?

        In the introduction, Shen says

        [her editor] She told me that it was valuable because I didn’t get rich with advantages or luck. This means my journey is accessible to anyone.

        This post is more generally about the lie peddled that anybody can get to financial independence and retire early, not about this specific book. However, these guys grated particularly because extreme early retirement (before 40) is a really tough ask. Retiring at 31 rather than, say, 51 means that not only do you have 20 years less money earned, but you also have to carry yourself for an extra 20 years. I greatly doubt that they have enough to last two people another 40 years without any money coming in. They will be fine, because they have grit, but to say they retired rather than ‘taken a long sabbatical’ or ‘downshifted’ is stretching a point.


  26. I don’t think they have enough money with only $1 million Canadian dollars. If they had 25 x average family income plus an average property with no debt then I would think that they did have enough. I calculate that would mean having about $2.3 million Canadian dollars. The same calculation for the UK suggests that you need about £1.1 million UK pounds. This couple made a good start but should have worked a few more years in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Accumulator

        Can you share a little more, less that £1.1m seems high risk – unless you are much older than I thought. (Inc or ex housing?)

        My number was 1.2 ex property ex pensions.


      1. There is the angle that the financially independent should run very hard from places like Toronto where there are loads of jobs, which jacks realestate prices up. I can get that down to C$490k in Victoria.

        The trouble with locking yourself into a peripatetic lifestyle when you are young is that is likely to get less attractive as you get older. But young’uns are invincible and they know they will never get old, ’twas ever thus and is as it should be.

        But it’s rough to get stuck with a young person’s dreams and lifestyle in an older body and mind 😉 Different things matter more to you as you change, and if you’re not changing over the arc of life you aren’t doing something right.


  27. “more generally about the lie peddled that anybody can get to financial independence and retire early”

    Fair enough. I’m stood on the shoulders of giants. My old man’s parents were drunks, he didn’t eat for days at a time and left home as soon as he could to start working as a farm hand, later ‘graduating’ to the coal face. Mum worked making clothes, later on as a home help. To get me to the position I’m currently in took 20 years of work (me), preceded by 40 years of hard graft by him and mum. To me it’s a miracle my folks managed to get themselves out of the grip of poverty into a good standard of life (with significant later-life health impact mind you); the idea they could have shifted from such a disadvantaged starting point to financial freedom in their 30s or 40s is, I think, beyond reason. In other words, I couldn’t agree more: not everyone can do it.

    Cheers, thanks again for the reply, Jay


  28. I don’t share the sense that the FIRE community is generally peddling a lie that anyone can do it. There are some fishy stories out there for sure, but most of what I read goes into considerable depth about the requirements. If bloggers didn’t do that then they’d really struggle for material. My intuition is that people coming to it cold are more likely to be put off by the litany of frugality this / sacrifice that than think “Wahey! Freedom here I come.” That’s why the mainstream media articles on FIRE tend to attract a long tail of disbelieving / abusive comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Great post.

    No not everyone can do it. As a former debt counsellor it’s easy to recognise the dream of FIRE but the reality of achieving it depends on many elements including skill, luck and starting capital. Everyone’s experience will be unique and I am sure we are all aware of someone who has achieved FIRE. But the reality for most of us is that it’s a long hard slog. Stickability is the key, when your investment in a stock goes badly you have to keep going. This is no get rich quick scheme. Avoid debt as much as you can (other than a mortgage) and invest what you can, take advantage of any wins along the way for example pay rises and inheritance. Know also that you may lose a job or face health problems along the journey so having a fund that you can fall back on is comforting.

    Let’s hope we don’t start to get invites to seminars on FIRE and how you can follow these x simple steps to achieve financial freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. > seminars in FIRE

      You’ve just missed it, but there’ll be another one next year 😉 Could be an interesting one if the markets throw in the towel, though that’s be a great time to start climbing the wall of worry…


  30. @ Boltt – I don’t seem to be able to reply directly to your comment, but I’m assuming a 45-50 year timespan:

    Income requirement = £25K for 2.
    If you accept 3% SWR rate = £833,333 capital requirement.
    Personally I can accept the risk of a 4% SWR = £625,000

    The reasons I can accept the risk of a 4% SWR are outlined here:

    Apologies Ermine if posting the links is offside. Give me a slap if so.

    Not included in the above is the State Pension riding into town sooner or later. Two full State Pensions would account for 68% of the £25K income requirement. So if the main stash is going down the tubes, we’re bailed out by the pension money. I don’t include the State Pension in the main calculation because it’s Plan B. Selling house / reverse mortgage is Plan C. Value of house not included in the above, but housing costs included in the income requirement.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Something that looks like self-employment and Class II NI are your friends. I ‘earned’ £1000 on a few days’ one-off job last year and paid over 10% of my earnings to HMRC as Class II with alacrity.


    1. Looks a convincing case to me. Perhaps I am over-cautious, although I note your figure excludes the price of the house. I’m sure The Investor would have something to say about that sort of thinking. But I share your prejudice, although it does take you to a higher total saved figure.

      You’re not retiring at 31 though. The extra years working shift the balance greatly. I recally producing endless spreadsheets trying to convince myself I could get out in less that three years, starting from a good base. But the change in viability with time was brutal, and in the end I had to suck up the three years.


  31. Totally agree on years in the saddle. I couldn’t have FIREd at 31 even if I’d heard of it at the time. Retiring at such a tender age requires exceptional income / windfall, drastic lifestyle change (trailer park plus) or subterfuge (e.g. I’m still working really). Actually, now I come to think of it, even Jacob did a few hours copy-editing here and there to earn a few extra shekels before the Quant job.
    I also doubt the wisdom of bowing out in your twenties or early thirties from a self-development perspective. I guess the truth is people don’t really retire at this age. They earn the time and space to live life on their terms and to pursue interests the rat race can’t compute. Can’t argue with that.
    Re: house. We could put it on the spreadsheet in the back-up plan column. Thing is, I actually want to live in it 😉


  32. @ The Ermine, the photo you lead this article with is of a bright-eyed, dashing young specimen, radiating good health, congratulations then on the summer coat in its full glory, I am not for a minute suggesting it is from an earlier year 🙂

    It looks like your nightmare of being ruled by Britain’s very own poundshop Berlusconi have come to be, so commiserations. We now have to buckle up for a roller-coaster ride as he’s assembled the finest unicorn-hunters in the land in his quest for the Holy Fail. I feel trapped in a monty python film and just want to go home now. Perhaps a silver lining is that the UK’s fusty image globally will be blown after No. 10’s first bungabunga party. (he missed a trick there on starting a new one from scratch like The Nigel, lots of people would vote for the Bungabunga party once it was explained it wasn’t foreign)

    The only hope left for anyone wanting boring sanity is that enough of his intrepid crew don’t have a brain cell to trouble them, their heads being as empty as a desert. The Italian Job II may yet fail with this lot on the doors 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  33. Hi Ermine, not sure I agree with the following statement “Cutting down your spending always decreases your quality of life at the time.”. On our way to FI many of our money saving escapades had a second positive benefit. A good example would be heating the house with free wood (rather than coal, purchased wood or electricity). I had to put the effort into cutting and stacking it, therefore free excerceise. Another example, our Honda Jazz needed pads and discs all round. A quick look at YouTube, I did the job in less than 2 hours with basic tools. I didn’t pay any garage bills (never have) and it took less time than dropping the car off and picking it up again. Anything that we own that breaks or needs attention, we try and fix it. We succeed 90% of the time. Two benefits, we save cash, we learn something on each job. Also less shite to landfill. We live a life of absolute luxury on very little now.

    FI isn’t for everybody (for the reasons you stated). Myself and good lady were very very lucky over the years. We both earned well above the national average but somehow resisted lifestyle inflation. As I mentioned in a comment some months ago, people need to focus on financial robustness rather than independence.

    Anyway, that’s my ramble over.


  34. Thanks so much for this post! I was starting to think I was the only one who was super wary of the whole FI/RE movement. I started my blog a year ago because I’m naturally frugal and just wanted to blog about the little things I do to keep myself on budget. But starting the blog also exposed me to all the other money blogs on the internet and oh boy their attitude just made me hate the whole community. I had to take a moment and actively search to find more like-minded people who weren’t desperately trying to sell me something.


  35. A very late comment on this post. The publicity for the publication of ‘Quit Like a Millionaire’ attracted my attention and I bought the book. I found it a decent read, for the insights into Kirsty’s mindset, influenced by her culture and status as an immigrant. I skipped the sections on Roths and US pension rules, but the basic messages of minimising fixed costs, regular saving and keeping costs low shone through. The point about spending time in low cost locations to make retirement income go further was not lost on me either. Their strategy of accruing credit card sign-up bonuses and points earning to fund travel was also useful. The Shen’s pragmatic approach to calculating alternative scenarios is fascinating – they consistently make the case for renting over buying by demonstrating that maintenance and refurbishment costs eat up capital appreciation.
    Their insights have influenced our thinking as we plan to retire. Our home is a store of value that we will be selling (too big/expensive for just two of us) and we plan to live somewhere warmer in the cold months of the year (geo-arbitrage). Whether we downsize to one or two 2-bed flats is still up in the air.


    1. Hmm, while I respect that what you find inspirational is of course up to you, and I am two years older and more curmudgeonly that when I wrote this, I reread it and figured the charge should be that I was not cynical enough 😉

      Covid put the kibosh on all that globe-trotting geo-arbitrage for a while, and challenged the old stock market somewhat, although if they kept their heads they will have been OK. But FFS,

      £600k. As long as they stay young and never get old they will be fine, but IMO that’s not enough to carry an individual from 30 to 80 or 90. If I read this wrongly and they are partners and that is their combined capital, then there is much hazard in their future. Even splitting up without any kids involved would leave each of them with £300k to last them another 50 years.

      There’s a reason many Lottery winners end up boracic lint. £1m ain’t enough to carry an individual to the grave from 30, unless there is Logan’s Run or Work in their future.

      There are other issues, too. As you get older you want some of the finer things in life and the frugality hair-shirt begins to itch somewhat. I’d still make the case this isn’t actionable, because it’s not doable in that way. Indeed, I am not so old that it’s unreasonable for me to live long enough to see the fireball of the Shen’s fragile situation. Not only that, but doesn’t the stock market frighten anybody, just a teeny bit? Current valuations scare the bejesus out of me, but at least I have had a pretty decent run, so I can give up 50% and still come up for air. Whether I can do that without screwing up royally is yet to be determined.

      Sure, there’s much good stuff there, but more in narrative, rather than recipe. The tragedy is that not everybody who fails to retire at 30 is a spendthrift wastrel, and it’s not those punters’ fault either. I’d also say the Shens are at best semi-retired. There’s nothing wrong with that and perhaps the modality suits younger people better anyway. So having reread the post, this bold claim in the book

      a bold, contrarian guide to retiring at any age, with a reproducible formula to financial independence–no gimmick, luck, or trust fund required.

      gets the Ermine paw middle digit bollocks to that command. Not reproducible, and I’d say luck is mandatory and trust fund would be a great start 😉


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