So, lately the FIRE community’s been up in arms over the recent episode on Paula Pant’s Afford Anything podcast.
In this episode, Paula asks bestselling author and self-proclaimed “Money Matriarch of the World” Suzy Orman the question listeners are dying to know: “What do you think of the FIRE movement?”
At the time, while listening to the podcast I was making breakfast.
One second, I’m whistling to myself and flipping eggs, the next thing I’m whipping my spatula across the room.
But before we get into why, please go to Paula’s podcast and listen to the episode entitled “Why I Hate the FIRE Movement.”
To summarize: Suze summed up her feelings on the FIRE movement by saying “I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.” And then goes on a 20 minute tirade why all of us don’t know what the Hell we’re doing and need to get back to work ASAP.
So have a seat, get comfy, and put on your rain gear because my truth-hatchet’s coming out and she’s looking mighty thirsty today.
Bad Things Could Happen!
Suze spends a lot of time on the episode listing out all the horrible things that could happen to you over the course of a 50+ year retirement. You could get cancer. Your parents could get sick. A mudslide, or a tornado, or a forest fire could destroy everything you own. She’s been in the business a long time, as she repeatedly reminds us, and she’s seen it all! The world is a scary place, and it could happen to YOU.
We realize that the world is a scary place and big, expensive disasters could swoop in and decimate our life savings. But the solution to that is not to never retire, the solution is to buy insurance.
If you own a home, we absolutely agree that you should insure it. If you live near the water, get flood insurance. If you’re older and live in the States, get Long Term Care Insurance, as Suze herself recommends. And never, ever go without sufficient health care insurance, as we write about here.
Suze’s concerns have nothing to do with the FIRE movement, they have to do with insurance coverage, and on that point the FIRE community actually agrees with her. Make sure you’re sufficiently insured and budget for it properly in your annual expenses.
You’re Losing Out on Compound Interest!
She then spends another big chunk of time lecturing Paula on this magical thing called “compound interest.” Money, you see, invested at an early age will grow exponentially over time, because there’s this magical thing called “compound interest” that will make it grow beyond your wildest dreams!
Does she think we made it to millionaire status by not understanding how compound interest works? And does she think that the moment we retire we’re selling everything, putting it all in a suitcase full of cash and then just spending it down?
We’re investing it! We invested it in a balanced diversified portfolio when we were working, and we’re still investing it in retirement! The vast majority of our money is still invested, it’s still compounding, and that’s why 3 years after retirement our net worth has gone up rather than down. We’re richer now than when we retired, all thanks to the magic of compound interest!
Again, the FIRE community is not in disagreement with Suze on this. So why does she think we don’t understand such a basic principle of money?
Doing Nothing Will be Super Boring!
She then spends another insanely long time explani-bragging about her life after she left her show. Sitting on a private island, flying around in her private jet, and how the boredom eventually drove her to return back to the air, on the Oprah Winfrey network no less! Retirement, she explains, is boring and pointless. Why would you want to do that to yourself at such a young age.
We tried it, we tested it, and we reported back on how important it was to create a new identity. You can’t just retire to get away from something, you have to retire to something, and that’s why we advocate finding something to be passionate about, because if you choose to leave your job (a completely optional part of FIRE, as we continuously remind everyone) you can actually pursue that passion full-time.
That’s why we didn’t retire and sit on a beach. We volunteer for a non-profit. We started this blog. We’re speaking at Chautauqua. We’re writing a book. We starred in a movie. And we’re loving every minute of it, because FIRE allowed us to pursue something we were passionate about rather than be stressed out of our minds about money. Just like Suze, in fact.
Read the F*cking Blogs
Suze, we appreciate you coming onto Paula’s podcast and talking to us. We really do. Because an idea as radical and important as FIRE needs to be questioned, tested, and attacked from every angle to see if it will fall apart. Only then do we know how strong it is.
But unfortunately Suze, you didn’t do the due diligence. You didn’t read the blogs, you didn’t go onto the Reddit threads. In short, you don’t know anything about us.
Which is fine, but you can’t attack a movement you know nothing about. Your knowledge of our movement seems to be limited to the phrase “Financial Independence Retire Early,” and the misconception that we’re all naive little young people who don’t know how the real world works.
The truth is, the people in this movement have seen some shit, yo! Some of us came from abject poverty, and still made it. Some of us retired right into the greatest financial crisis in our generation, and still made it. Some of us have been retired for a decade, and are now richer than ever. And some of us have been retired for decades, survived cancer in the American health care system, are actually older than you, and have still made it out all right.
Sorry Suze, but we’re not the naïve little snowflakes you think we are. We didn’t just throw up our hands with no backup plans and say “it’s probably going to be fine”. We’re engineers, doctors, lawyers, film-makers, entrepreneurs, etc, etc, etc. We come from all walks of life but the one thing that binds us all together is that we’re smart, we’re good at math, and we’re really, really cautious. We wouldn’t have gotten this far otherwise.
And as we’ve discovered, when we dig into the issues you raise and the problems you’ve identified, we aren’t at odds on the vast majority of them. In fact, the advice you give your audience and the advice we give ours actually matches up most of the time!
But one big point of disagreement we do have is what you suggest we do instead…
Just Get a Job You Like
Just get a job you like.
Boy does this “advice” get my blood boiling.
As Millennials, we are endlessly pilloried in the media for being privileged and out of touch, but the truth is, whenever some Boomer tells us to “just get a job you like,” that is by far the most privileged, out-of-touch statement I could possibly imagine. Just get a job with good pay, good benefits, work-life balance, a cushy pension, and is so secure that it won’t ever be outsourced or eliminated!
THEY DON’T EXIST ANYMORE.
Don’t you think that if we could have signed up for these fun, easy, enjoyable, secure jobs that will employ me until my 60’s that I would have f*cking done it by now?
We’re not doing this FIRE thing because we’re lazy and hate working. We’re doing this FIRE thing because we have to.
On the podcast, you warn about the coming apocalypse of A.I. making all our jobs unstable. Well guess what, lady? They’re unstable now!
The job market that you grew up in is not the job market we grew up in. Gone are the days that employment was based on silly things like “merit” and “work ethic.” Fun and enjoyable jobs that we “like?” Don’t make me laugh.
For our generation, it’s not uncommon to work your butt off, pull all sorts of overtime, successfully get a project in, and then be immediately laid off the next day.
I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen people get blood clots from stress. I’ve seen my co-workers collapse and almost die at their desk.
And when it comes time for the company to come through on their end of the bargain, when it comes time for them to take care of us in exchange for all the hard work we put in towards making them rich, they throw us under the bus. Every. Single. Time.
Suze, I know this is hard to imagine from inside the bubble of your private island, but having a job you like that will take care of you is no longer an option. And it hasn’t been an option for some time.
No. We have to find a way to take care of ourselves. “Just find a job you like and never get laid off” is outdated advice. It may have worked for you, but it sure as shit ain’t working for us.
THAT’s why the FIRE movement exists.
Play with FIRE and you WILL get burnt
Suze ends the interview with this line. And first of all, before I fully react to it, let me just say:
Damn. What a great line!
I mean, putting aside my personal opinion about the interview, and my thoughts on the matter, that is a HELL of a line to close an interview on. Truly, if I were some copywriter trying to come up with the perfect tagline to attack our movement, I would be hard pressed to come up with anything as succinct and cool-sounding as that. Bravo, Suze. Bravo.
Here’s the problem.
Throughout all of human history, any idea or invention of any significance, whether it’s airplanes, the Internet, or, as her rather brilliant smack-down suggests, fire (actual fire, not the acronym), can have some serious downsides if used improperly.
If you light a fire and don’t know how to control it, then yes. I agree with her. You could get burnt very, very badly.
But fire is a great example, because nobody can disagree that discovering fire has impacted humanity tremendously positively. How was this possible? Because we learned how to control it.
FIRE (the acronym now, not actual fire) is just a concept. But the FIRE community is the real hero in this story. Because the FIRE community, through its network of bloggers, authors, podcasters, and film-makers, is learning how to control it. We’re learning how to build a Yield Shield, and a Cash Cushion. We’re learning how to build a portfolio that will ensure you never run out of money.
And most importantly, it’s working!
And you know what? Every time a new, possibly dangerous idea, comes out. There’s always a phalanx of the “old guard” that thinks it’s a load of phooey.
But the truth is, history is never written by the cowards. It’s written by the people who saw the challenges, stepped up, fixed the problems, and said “let’s do this.”
Suze has decided to align herself with the cowards. We have decided to align ourselves with the fixers.
So here’s to FIRE and all the revolutionaries in this community who aren’t afraid to make a change and give themselves choices, rather than follow the status quo.
Here’s to helping each other and supporting the movement to enrich our lives with more freedom, choices, and security. FIRE isn’t just an idea anymore. FIRE is a movement. FIRE is about helping each other build a life we can be proud of and find happiness. We’re all in this together.
To wrap up, let me leave you with this quote from famous misfit Steve Jobs.
Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things – they push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
I’d much rather be crazy enough to change the world with FIRE, than be scare-mongered into staying with the broken status quo in Suze’s cult.
How about you? What do you think? Let’s hear it in the comments below!
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