Daniel Straub
August 2018

Want to Catch FIRE? Why this Monetary Movement isn’t for Everyone

FIRE, which stands for Financial Independence/Retire Early, is a social movement that is mostly based online and has gained followers through a reddit page that has nearly 400 thousand subscribers. Many of the main tenets of this movement seem pretty plain and simple: save more, increase earning, make good consumer choices, and value the future over the present. However, the way they go about their business is a little more hardcore than a person might imagine.

FIRE members claim to routinely save over half of their paycheck. A major component of the FIRE movement is “credit card churning” which is not for the faint of heart or anyone who periodically forgets to mail important documents on time. Another major emphasis is placed on do-it-yourself projects, aggressive side hustle pursuits, and strong anti-consumer values. “FIRE walkers” are creating intense monetary rules that they self-impose. That’s fine for them, but maybe more people could utilize some of the lessons they preach if the tactics were scaled down for someone who doesn’t want to live off of a third of their income. Not everybody is willing to live out of a truck for a couple years while they work at Google. Not everybody gets to work at Google.

At first glance, it seems like the FIRE page on Reddit is like a repository of financial questions and answers by people who have made early retirement their main life goal. Maybe this is more of a social movement and less of an actual strategy. There is strength in symbols. The FIRE movement could be viewed as a symbol to highlight the extremes that people will attempt in order to escape the current socio-economic realities that most Americans face.

Is FIRE for everybody? What about the person from that poor neighborhood where most retail shops are vacant, schools are significantly underfunded, and crime and recidivism are out of hand? Is FIRE for that person? Obviously someone will need more money to retire in Manhattan, NY than to retire in Manhattan, Kansas. For some people, retiring early in life is not exactly the goal. The goal is often getting out of those bad areas. To FIRE in an area with a more expensive cost of living as a person from an economically poor hometown will be significantly harder than to FIRE from a more affluent area where schools have proper funding to help students progress in life and finds more readily available jobs.

After all, saving over half your paycheck for retirement is a privilege afforded to those who have the means. One pacific northwest writer, who achieved FIRE at 26, admitted that the movement is mostly a culture of “very entitled white men who are very proud of themselves when it wasn’t much of a stretch for them anyway.” Although being male is not a prerequisite to FIRE (the writer was female), privilege of any kind will help lead a person into financial independence.

Overall, the FIRE community has some strong arguments to make that may get drowned out amid the other talking points. Anyone can reevaluate spending habits and their earning potential. However, for many the concept of retiring at 30 years old is nothing more than a pipe dream – especially when the cost of college has created $1.5 trillion of student debt for about 44 million people.

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Daniel Straub

Danny Straub was born and raised in Petaluma, California where he learned to love all living creatures and hate all hatred. After some time on the road with a guitar and notebook, Danny earned an English degree from Sonoma State University. He has a lifelong love of literature, is a published poet, and likes to paint as a hobby. He lives with his girlfriend and with his cat, Hamlet, who is a jerk.

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