Is The FIRE Movement a Fad?

Is The FIRE Movement a Fad?Recently, I read a great blog post at Physician on FIREThe FIRE Movement is Here to Stay. Leif gave a great overview of the FIRE movement, then went over the current status and the future of the movement. It was a great read. Check it out if you haven’t seen it yet. My initial reaction was – yes, the FIRE movement is here to stay. Lots of people know about the concept and more are joining us every day. However, FIRE is an anti-establishment phenomenon. These movements rarely endure. It is just too difficult for most people to leave the mainstream culture. The majority will revert to the comfort of the norm. Eventually, a small core of believers will carry the torch and continue to promote the FIRE movement. That’s fine with me. I’m a nonconformist. I never enjoyed pep rallies, conventions, or big tribal gatherings. Today, I will share why I think the FIRE movement is a fad.

Intro to FIRE movement

First, let’s quickly review FIRE so we’re all on the same page. FIRE stands for Financial Independence and Retire Early.

  • Financial Independence is the ability to support your lifestyle without having to work.
  • Early Retirement means choosing to retire early and pursue your own agenda.

These two concepts are related, but they are not exactly the same.

You can reach financial independence and not retire. In fact, most people will probably be better off with just FI.

Conversely, you can retire early without reaching financial independence. You just have to figure out ways to support yourself and the family.

Of course, it’s better to have both FI and RE. They’re like burger and fries. One without the other is good, but the combo is unbeatable. That’s just me, though. I’m a FIRE blogger and I’m 100% onboard with both financial independence and early retirement.

FIRE is spreading

In recent years, FIRE has become a counter culture phenomenon. Today, the mainstream media often feature young retirees on their sites. Before that, FIRE books, blogs, and podcasts have spread the word for years. As a result, FIRE is now a full-blown movement. We’re no longer just a tiny tribe of weirdos.

FIRE movementFIRE has come a long way, it’s pretty amazing. A FIRE survey by Harris Poll showed that 11% of those surveyed are aware of the FIRE movement and 26% more know about the concept (but not the term.) That’s just a third of those surveyed. It doesn’t sound like much at first. In fact, that’s equivalent to millions of people who know about FIRE. If they took this survey 5 years ago, I bet less than 1% of the people would be aware of the concept. The FIRE movement has grown significantly since I started blogging in 2010.

Have we reached peak FIRE? I have no idea. The FIRE movement is full of attractive stories. Who wouldn’t want to retire in their 30s and enjoy life? Only about half of U.S. employees are satisfied with their job. (That’s a big improvement over the last 5 years.) I’m sure many of those employees would rather retire early if they can handle it financially. It’s a good story.

Here are just a few blogs to whet your appetite if you’re reading this from your cubicle.

  • Retire by 40 – That’s me. I retired at 38 to become a SAHD/blogger. See why I gave up on my engineering career.
  • Route to Retire– Jim recently retired. He’s moving to Panama with his family to take advantage of geo-arbitrage.
  • Free at 33 – Jason is enjoying life in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
  • Root of Good– Justin and his wife retired in their early 30s to hang out with their children, slow travel, and go on cruises.
  • Millennial Revolution– FIRECracker & Wanderer retired at 31 to travel the world! Are you envious yet?

You can see many more early retirement blogs on my blog roll – Early Retirement Blogs for Everyone.

Their stories are fantastic. These FIRE proponents are living a great life and they’re spreading the word. When a regular person reads these stories, they want to try it too. It sounds like a dream come true to many people. However, FIRE is not easy.

FIRE is difficult

The FIRE lifestyle sounds damn good, but it’s very difficult to get there. For a regular person, financial independence requires a ton of discipline. You have to save and invest a large portion of your income for many years to get there. You’ll have to live a lot more modestly than your coworkers and neighbors. Even if you save 50% of your gross income, it would take 15-20 years to achieve FI. It isn’t all under your control either. Your investments have to cooperate and perform well over that time or else it won’t work.

FI is difficult, but RE is even harder. IMO, most people can’t retire early. Early retirement sounds good in theory, but lots of people have problems with the transition. If you don’t have a nonconformist streak, early retirement will probably be difficult for you. Society does not want you to retire early. Your friends and families want you to be productive and make money. The country needs you to prop up the economic numbers. Even FIRE bloggers like making and spending money. That’s how we were raised. It’s not easy to break from tradition. Can you really turn your back on the American way and escape the rat race?

I used to think anyone can achieve FIRE, but recently I changed my mind. I think only a very tiny minority of us can attain financial independence and retire early. For a normal person, FIRE is virtually impossible. The execution phase is much longer than the planning phase. Most people won’t last.

FIRE is a fad

This is why I think FIRE is a fad. It’s a great story, but it is too difficult to execute. Eventually, most people will lose interest and go back to the established path. This has been proven again and again with many counter-culture movements.

Let’s look at the history of the hippie movement for example. It started small in the early 60s. Then it blew up and lots of young people joined the movement. By 1970, the hippie movement already started to wane. I assume many young hippies figured out they prefer having money. The hippie movement all but disappeared by the time Reagan became president. The subculture never died out completely and can still be found on communes and at festivals. However, hippies are not visible anymore unless you look for them, or live in Eugene, OR. There is an amazing hippie festival nearby every year – The Oregon Country Fair. It’s a ton of fun. Check it out if you ever have a chance.

Anyway, I think the FIRE movement is heading in a similar direction. Lots of people know about FIRE now. It sounds great and many are jumping on the bandwagon. However, FIRE is not easy to achieve. Like being a hippie, it is not an easy lifestyle. I doubt many people can commit to FIRE for 30 to 40 years. It is much easier for most people to work, save 10-15%, and spend the rest. That’s the pursuit of happiness, American style. Life is way easier as a conformist.

You know, I hope I’m wrong about this. FIRE is a great concept. Everyone should pursue financial independence. Life is great when you don’t have to worry about money. On the other hand, early retirement is optional. You need to be a little bit different to retire early. I love it, but it’s not for everyone.

Okay, let’s revisit this topic in 10 years and see if the FIRE movement is still popular. I really doubt FIRE has legs. Like the hippie movement, there will be a few core people to carry the message and some people will be on the journey. However, the media will have moved on to the next fad. Unfortunately, most regular people won’t be able to achieve FIRE and they’ll revert to the mainstream. That’s my prediction.

What do you think? Do you think FIRE is a fad? Or will it endure and thrive in the long haul?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

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104 thoughts on “Is The FIRE Movement a Fad?”

  1. Consider the opposite of a “fad.” If FIRE becomes widespread (pun intended), it will be bad for everyone. Consumer spending will go down, personal debt levels will go down, experienced workers will be hard to come by, etc. This will likely lead to long-term depressed stock market returns and wage inflation as employers chase a shrinking pool of workers. Ultimately this will lead to invalidation of the 4% rule.

    For our own benefit, we should hope FIRE is a fad.

  2. I think you’re right – that the FIRE movement itself may very well be a fad. At least, that’s my gut feeling simply based on the notion that you point out that “FIRE is hard” and only a small fraction of people have the fortitude to stick with it.

    However, I think that an equally interesting question is if the *principles* behind the FIRE movement can/will be absorbed into mainstream culture. Principles like living below your means, prioritizing both your spending/time, and creating more options for yourself. We’ve already started seeing this to some extent – even the shift away from the “work at the same company for 40 years then retire” trends in the same direction as the FIRE movement. (Note that I’m not saying that FIRE caused this trend.) It’ll be interesting to see if FIRE helps influence any cultural norms, either directly or indirectly.

  3. Refined by F.I.R.E.

    In truth the F.I.R.E. movement is about self-discovery, our authenticity, experiences and our journey towards personal mastery. The mastery of being able to better define, develop and live our own authenticity and to add value to others.

    Living each day in truth and expressing “our way of being”, we not only improve our own quality of life. We fan a universal flame and legacy for the F.I.R.E. movement, inspiring others throughout the world as a living example how we CAN make it a better place for all and our children’s children.

  4. Great article and I can easily see what you’re saying happen. Just want to add that even the people that phase out early will likely still have shaved off 5-10 years for the early effort. So, they do actually succeed even if it’s not a full-throttle result.
    Also, the ppl who phase out, I imagine, will be more inclined to return once they get a little older and realize how close they are getting. Those ppl already conquered the first barrier to entry – financial literacy.
    Really appreciate this group. Thanks everyone

  5. Hmmmm .. a few things :
    – I don’t think Fire as a movement/idea is a Fad – some people will try it and give up but others will take it up and succeed. Also it’s always better to split FI and RE … most can probably achieve FI but not necessarily retire in the traditional sense. Also, not really sure if being a Hippie is a good comparison but not too sure as I wasn’t born yet during the era. Anyway – not sure if you can be a Hippie in all stages in life (teenager, single professional adult, married couple with kids) however you can practice Fire while being all these things. My image of a hippie is from movies – riding vans, smoking pot – if this is true then this is why it failed, you can’t do those things while working a permanent job or being a responsible parent ( no offense to any hippies here).

    – Second – you mentioned this “Even if you save 50% of your gross income, it would take 15-20 years to achieve FI. ” and this “I doubt many people can commit to FIRE for 30 to 40 years. It is much easier for most people to work, save 10-15%, and spend the rest.” .. I always have a hard time when people say this – that it’s easier to spend, that it will take several years as I always think of the counterpart – which is not saving until your old and then what happens – how the heck do you retire? Not sure the first bit is even mathematically correct- if someone saving 50% will still need 15-20 years for FI – what chance does a normal person who doesn’t save to even retire at all !!!

    AND this is why I don’t think FIRE is a fad – people who practice it probably won’t agree with these 2 points and have thought of what will happen if they don’t save at all. Anybody who just thinks of these will try to practice FIRE.

    And last, I know people who practice FIRE without even knowing it. Myown parents (70++, long departed) taught me to save, avoid debt, pay my house as fast as I can, invest (in banks / long term deposits as that’s what they knew back then) – when I was little (some 30++ years ago) 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment. I think committed hippies work alternative jobs, not office jobs. They run bakeries, souvenir shops, and that kind of things. Pot is legal now in many states so it’s not a taboo anymore.
      Good luck with FIRE!

  6. Hi Joe, great blog and a thought-provoking piece. I think it you make many astute observations and it hit the nail on the head on many points. FIRE is a counter-culture that itself has gained traction as paper assets have approached current valuations. Those who have been invested have done well to make the RE a reality. However I think that the next crisis which inevitably put a big dent in the plans & projections of many, and worse, many will be panicked and dump their holding at the bottom, and once again there will be a deep mistrust of the market which will spread like , ahem, fire. Everyone is banking on the stock market to fund their retirement, and history shows that when too many people get on board then that is when the market is most vulnerable and ends up disappointing. FIRE won’t die completely, but it will lose many adherents once stocks are no longer seen as the sure-fire safe bet.

  7. Thanks for the mention, Rby40! I’m in Thailand right now and eating ALL the things 🙂

    Interesting that you compare the FIRE movement with the hippie movement in the 70s. I kind of think it’s like that too–except the hippy movement fizzled out when cold hard reality hit and people realized they needed healthcare and infrastructure, so living in the woods without money isn’t a long term solution. And some people who retire early after reaching FI might do the same thing (ERE comes to mind). There’s no shame in that. You gotta do you right? But I do think the FI part is here to stay. The idea that you could be free to pursue whatever you want and not be holden to your employer is very attractive to Millennials–which is biggest segment of the population. Give our problems of unstable employment, overpriced housing, outsourcing, etc, work is going to become more mobile and location dependent. I see the future as partial FI (because, as you said, it’s really hard to get to FIRE) + digital nomadicism. It’s not so much a choice as a necessity because jobs are getting less stable and there’s less need for people to work in a fixed location/office.

    • Enjoy! Thai food is awesome.
      I agree, you can try FIRE and be flexible. If it’s better to go back to work, then go back to work. It’s not set in stone. FI + part-time self-employment is close to perfect. Better than full retirement for the most part.

  8. Ever look at the chart of the Nikkei 225? From 1970 to 1990 it was like throwing gas on a bonfire. The market soared from 2000 to 40000 in just 20 years. Look at what happened after 1990. 30 years of deflation. If you retired in Japan living off Nikkei 225 proceeds you went broke decades ago. You can’t sustain 4% return on a 50% 30 year loss unless you started with quadruple what you needed. That means save 100x subtract 4% and that’s just for 30 years of living. Japan has rule of law, capitalism, good social order, and is the third largest economy in the world, yet the verdict is deflation and permanent loss of wealth. We happen to live in a time and a country that is expanding but don’t presume on the past. If you retire at 30 but live to 90 in the face of deflation, that’s a lot of dog food to eat. The dot com bust caused permanent loss of wealth because people were investing in smoke and tulip equivalents. 2008 did not result in permanent damage, but only because Hank Paulson and company moved all that bad debt to the FED balance sheet, otherwise it would have been strike two. The FED 10 years later is just now releasing that bad paper back on the market AND we are 22 Trillion in debt. At age 40, added together you’re 1 up for 2 at bats, and you suffered the bad SOR BEFORE you accumulated anything. If you ain’t got nothin you ain’t got nothin to loose. This is the perfect SOR. At age 40 you got 5 decades years left. What’s the odds of pulling the Royal Flush in the next 5 decades? It’s a proposition FULL of “if statements”. Die-hard or not, FIRE is at best a hobby, and FIRE participants are not the masters of the universe they envision but at best like a flea traveling on the back of a dog. You go where the dog goes, PERIOD. Like ol’ 31 yo Firecracker loves to say, just MathShitUp. If you don’t GIGO the equations the probabilities will turn you red. Whip it out and somebody is just bound to come along and cut it off for ya.

  9. Just to add, my thoughts on the polls that talk about job satisfaction. 50% job satisfaction does not equate to the desire to remain employed. I answered those surveys at work many times and indicated I was in fact, very satisfied with my job over a 30 year career. However, if they would have asked me if I would choose RE over continued employment if I was financial able, RE would have won hands down. Also, looking within that half of the working population that is satisfied with work, what fraction would pursue FIRE once exposed to the concept? My guess is a a good portion would embrace it, which would represent millions of workers. So, I think there is furtile ground that remains untapped to continue to fuel the FIRE movement.

  10. Yeah like anything contrarian it’s likely that FIRE will be still be relatively small. I think a certain type of person can be attracted to FIRE and be in a position to execute it. I found out via Twitter randomly and started reading MMM. Then got tempered with reading other blogs, books, etc. I’m like you, I’m tired of corporate BS and want to build my own stuff which I’ve done since high school. I have worked hard to build out skills that will let me exit 9-5 and still make as much or more than I could working for someone else. I think that’s key. That means, FI is a way to achieve the FU money I need to execute that strategy and do the work I want to do. So I won’t so much be RE but like you said, pursue actual meaningful work. All the tools you learn to achieve FI can be used to fund a lifestyle change, which is why I do like the FFLC moniker emerging lately in the blogs, because that’s exactly what I’m going for. We’ll see what the future holds but all I know is that pursuing FI will only make me stronger financially than I was before and that’s important whether or not I fully FIRE ever.

      • FFLC = Fully Funded Lifestyle Change

        What does FFLC mean? Instead of retiring early or being financially independent, FFLC means you have built up enough of a cash cushion to indefinitely subsidize a lower paying but more satisfying lifestyle which includes employment (often full-time too). Tired of a stressful job such as a Wall St. trader? Save your money and in a few years, you change jobs to something less stressful and more fulfilling like being a rutabaga farmer.

  11. Great post, from an official FIRE pioneer! I don’t think FIRE is a fad, I think millennials (even those younger than me) are always looking for ways to be ‘out of the box’ or ‘hack the system’ and not work the 9-5 grind, even if that means Dog Rovering, Side Hustlin’ and Airbnb-ing!

  12. Freedom while young has more appeal than working till your youth is gone. The sustained effort to achieve FIRE is where most will fall off. Many will prematurely proclaim FI. Then they’ll post about their success thus spreading the dream. Only the truly honest will later post about their returning work a few years later.

    I’ve had 3 sabbaticals. Each time I found that getting back into my old field was difficult. Tech is ever changing. Skills date quickly. The person interviewing you will be concerned that your pattern of quitting will continue after they invest in you. Think twice before assuming you can always return to your old work.

    I enjoyed my sabbaticals. But I must say that they’ve ultimately delayed my FI. Very realistically I am about 12 months from true FI. Greed and security will have me working about 1 year past that time. I’ll be in my late 50’s and finished with work forever. Not the dream of retiring young, but a very sound path that doesn’t have the high fail ratio younger FI plans.

  13. I don’t think it a fad at all. In fact, I think the movement will keep growing stronger with the years. The advent of the internet helps information spread instantaneously now and the abundance of resources at your fingertips (literally). All you need to do is to seek it out. Ask and you shall receive.
    Of course, the majority of the population is not going to be seeking out “saving” and “being frugal”; they only know how to spend since all they want is instant gratification. But that’s how they were taught, raised and learned from their parents, teachers, peers, and our society.

    We just to need to slowly help change their mindset and show them that FI is possible. That’s what we are here to do: to help spread the FIRE to everyone who is seeking it. I see lots of comments about recessions. If anything, IMO being in another recession will make people even more financially aware, even more frugal and save even more!

  14. Fad or fringe? For me, it seems to come down to goals and how bad we want them. Most will probably lose interest, mostly because they aren’t sure what they want. It seems most are lost in the paycheck to paycheck cycle, just trying to stay ahead of the next emergency. For that reason, I think FI is more of a fringe group, as opposed to a fad. I sincerely hope there will always be people who want to get off the treadmill of paycheck to paycheck.

    The lucky ones will stick with FI, in my opinion.

  15. I think FIRE will always be the professional end goal for a number of people. That population of people seeking FIRE hasn’t reached its peak yet. But I believe it will remain a small percentage of the overall work force population. So, I think Financial Independence, Retire Early is not a fad but will be here to stay – only for a minority of the population. Also, my prediction of the movement taking hold for the majority of the workforce one day and the future model of work is Location Independence, Time Enjoyment (LITE). I think people want to be able to work where they want (at home, on the beach, at the local iHop) and do what they enjoy with the freedom of choosing when to work. The gig economy and telecommunication arrangements, as well as blogging, are steps in the work LITE movement.

  16. Hi Joe,

    I totally agree with you. It will be a fad for the majority of the people but possible for the people who strongly believe that FIRE can be achieved. I encounter such circumstance which is common in the country which I am currently residing in. The Government has been advocating for the citizens to work as long as possible in their 70 or 80. I won’t be surprised if the figure is raised to the age of 90. This is common with the message delivered that one will become senile if he/she quit working. I think that such message is well-received by the citizen of my country,

    I believe that I am one of the few who deviate from the norms. Each individual is entitled to their decision and views. There is nothing wrong with such mindset. I believe that it is best to leave it to the well-said phrase of “To each of their own”.

    Personally, I am of view that FIRE is very relevant and important to me. Having options at any point of time is great and I will cherish such circumstance with strong desire.


  17. I agree it’s probably a fad or at least niche. Most people just don’t have the discipline or desire to retire early. But I do remain hopeful it indicates a more general push towards a more financially awake public. People always point to fire and the market rally as cause and effect. I personally believe it’s much more related to people avoiding the pain of the 2008-2010 years. Kind of like children of the Great Depression had a hoarding tendency as a result of rationing. One has to wonder if it will be strong enough to survive when 2008 is a distant memory.

    • I think the great recession produced a ton of frugality blogs/sites. That combined with the last decade of great stock market gains produce FIRE. It’s good that people are more financially aware. We’ll see how it plays out when the next recession hits.

  18. “Is FIRE at its peak?” I don’t think so. Once the documentary comes out, then maybe it will be.

    As far as if the movement will last, I’m pretty sure the concept of being financially independent has been around as long as currency. I’m sure that FIRE bloggers are a fad and will fade away with time, but I think there will always be people with enough money to have the option to retire early.

    I think humans have a need for purpose, and it’s hard to feel purposeful when you aren’t helping the world in some way. The easiest way to contribute is to work a job. Maybe we can popularize volunteering on a bigger level.

  19. I actually agree with you RB40. FIRE is not for regular people at all. I have a friend who started a year ago and gave up already despite of wanting it badly at first.
    Only few of us will be around in 10ys to check this out and most of whom will get there is because they are half way there or have saved/accumulated a good amount of money.
    It’s a petty but I also think it’s a fad although I don’t want it to be

  20. The idea of financial independence and early retirement has been around for a long time now. When I was growing up, my parents instilled the idea of “save money when you can, so you can retire early one day.” That was certainly before the FIRE movement was prominent. I guess it helps that my dad retired early in his 40’s. 🙂

    IMO it’s a fad, just look how many new blogs nowadays have the word “FIRE, FI, etc.” When I started a few years ago, seems that dividend was the rage as many blogs had the word “dividend” on it. 🙂

  21. Honestly, the concept of financial freedom and independence has been around a lot longer than the FIRE movement. We just have a bunch of blogs talking about the idea now. That’s the only difference.

    People have been retiring early for decades, before blogs ever existed! This really points to the longevity of the ideas. While I do think some of the media coverage will disappear when the next recession hits, I think the ideas of financial independence are far more universal than a fad.

    • That’s true. But there were just a few people who did this back then. The movement is much bigger now.
      FIRE is still in the expansion phase, but we’re probably getting to the peak. In 10 years, there will probably be a lot less attention on FIRE and less people working on it.

  22. Alrighty – so you have two separate questions in my mind. Will FIRE as a movement fade away as a fad, or will the name FIRE fade away.

    I don’t have a problem with FIRE as a name fading away. I think it might and a new name will come along and replace it.

    However I disagree with the concept of FIRE going away, in fact, I see it growing significantly in the upcoming years. The reason is you already see it in other parts of the world, but due to many things, including American entrepreneurial spirit and Socialism. I am not trying to get political (left or right), but want to state facts. Americans want to get theirs and be happy. They will bust their ass to get comfortable. If you are able to get comfortable fast, and then “retire” then more power to you. However when you apply that to what is what other people come down the pipe in terms of socialized medicine (a big reason people stay at their current employers), socialized salaries, higher taxes, etc. Why work? A larger part of their salary is taken in taxes, they cannot get too far ahead as what they earn doesn’t provide more than they can already get with just getting by with the bare minimum.

    People used to work for the same company forever, and they got a pension for their devotion. Companies cared about their employees (not as much as the bottom lines like you see now days) and wanted to take care of them. Someone had a bad year they were not immediately fired. We are in a job rental economy for the last 30 years. Your job is a what can you do for me now? If you don’t produce to my level, you are gone and we will find someone else. While some of that is “just business” it also is a shift to working at the same company your entire life. You are in it for what the company can provide (salary, benefits) and if someone else is better in a few years, I will switch easily. Same from the company, if they don’t see their worth in an employee, they are let go and find another.

    Anyways, my point in this missive, is that with the employers looking for the lowest bidder, employees wanting to be the highest paid, working with little time off (compared to other cultures), people are looking to find enough to be comfortable be comfortable forever. This is what the movement will become, and seeing how society changes will show how people will change with the FIRE movement.

    • Thanks for your input. The drive toward productivity created this mercenary mentality. I think it’s screwing up the joy of working. Now, it’s rare to enjoy working for a company. That’s terrible. We’ll see what the movement will become in the coming years. Hopefully, the work environment improves in the future.

  23. I commend you and other FIRE followers for the financial independence pursuit. Since there is no or very little personal finance education in our system, the bloggers and articles written will hopefully inspire younger people to save more. If the RE part is the carrot, so be it. But saving up “enough” and then supplementing with a series of temporary jobs wasn’t always thought of as something to aspire to. Most of the young people that my husband and I consider as friends are too busy earning great money (mostly in IT) and starting families as they spend their winnings on building equity in CA or on more lifestyle enhancement. Not one of them ever mentions the idea of RE to us, but they do understand that their significant paychecks and bonuses can go a long way towards eventual independence. But they are most likely anomalies, as their incomes are staggering (especially in dual income families) compared to the average wage earner.

    I think you write from the heart, and put out some good content to those who want to follow the path to FI, but as long as your wife works a traditional full time job, I still consider you a SAHD. True FIRE is much more illusive.

  24. I don’t think the FIRE movement will ever get super popular. The discipline required is beyond the reach of most people. Besides, the idea of “retirement” is open to interpretation. For many, it means stopping work completely. For some, it means finding a second career (usually self-employed or freelance) that gives you more flexibility and enjoyment. Humans are wired to find something to do and stay busy so complete retirement is hard. My parents officially retired last year just to find themselves in part-time work a few months after! It is not easy to suddenly have to find ways to fill 8-10 hours of daytime when normally you just wake up and go to work.

  25. You make great points and comparisons. The historical pendulum swings wildly and there is a Bull Market Herd Fad Element to the resurgence of FIRE. We can only hope that, when the fadish bubble side of the movement corrects to the mean in the next crash, the cultural Jones genetics continue to mutate and we evolve away from destructive consumerism.

  26. Great insights. I do believe that FIRE will lose popularity over the coming years, but that there will still be a smaller percentage of FIRE forever.

    I also believe it will be harder to make money in the coming years than it has in the past, but who knows when or where the turning point will be. I’m not a pessimist, but it will become harder over time to make money since the global economy is becoming more fragile because of war and natural disasters. Natural disasters have been increasing and will continue to increase.

    Might take a few decades, but it’s going to happen. And we should all do our best to save now and help others.

  27. Provocative piece, Joe. Given the financial state of the average American, I think fully funded traditional retirement is already a challenging goal. FIRE even more so. That said, I hope the FIRE movement’s advocacy of mindfulness and intentionality are lasting memes and that the community’s recommendations for best practices in personal finances become a common place discussion. More people achieving Financial Intentionality as a milestone would represent a huge improvement to the status quo irrespective of whether they also reach financial independence or early retirement. Intentionality and decrypting personal finance and investing may be the legacy of the movement.

  28. I respectfully disagree. The growing epidemic of job dissatisfaction in our society is getting worse, not better. As long as this continues, more and more people will be looking for a way out. Enter FIRE.

    On top of that, technology and social media will likely spread FIRE ideas. More people will develop FOMO and realize that maybe there’s a better way to live compared to their current situation.

    Another thing. I think there is a false equivalence to comparing the FIRE movement to the Hippie movement. The Hippie movement is primarily a youth movement that people grew out of once they got older. On the other hand, the FIRE movement is a not a youth movement; rather, it’s a movement that EVERYONE can eventually grow into as they get older. It may be difficult, it may take longer for some people, and the pathway may look different for others, but I think FIRE is a viable destination for people who truly want it.

    FIRE is not a fad. It’s a movement. Just my two cents.

    • Job satisfaction improved a lot over the last few years. I think from around 30% to 50% now. Maybe it’s just the margin of error, who knows.
      FIRE is a great way to live, but I still don’t think people are willing to do what it takes to get there. It will be viable for people with high income. FIRE is a great alternative for doctors, engineers, finance professionals, and other careers that comes with high stress and high income.
      Thanks for the dissenting view. I hope you’re right.

  29. i think i agree with you, joe. you see lots of younger people writing about getting started down the path and throwing the acronym around on the blogs and all. a lot of them have only seen the fastball and rising markets but the curveball is coming eventually. i still think it’s a positive to start saving and investing even if that doesn’t mean early retirement but maybe some mid-career flexibility and FU money. life happens fast sometimes and maybe something else new and shiny will come along to grab the attention. it’s an endurance contest, as you know.

    • I’m not looking forward to the curveball at all. We went through 2 big recessions and I’m still scared. Hopefully, Mrs. RB40 stays working until after the next recession. That will improve our financial outlook quite a bit. Thanks for your comment.

  30. Hey, Joe – first off, thanks for the shout-out… truly appreciated!

    For a normal person, FIRE is virtually impossible. The execution phase is much longer than the planning phase. Most people won’t last.

    I think you nailed it there. I struggled a lot with the duration it took to get to be able to retire. But for me, the alternative of continuing to work for at least another couple of decades was out of the question.

    I think that anyone can reach FIRE, but that lack of drive holds most people back. Like you said, they’re happier spending their money today. Delayed gratification is a big hurdle to overcome.

    In the meantime, I’m already enjoying my time without the old 9-5 ball and chain. And if other folks in my personal life ask, I’m always happy to share what I know. Most won’t do anything with it, but I’ll help keep a little spark of the FIRE movement alive here. 🙂

    — Jim

  31. I retired at age 51 and my husband at age 56, and our friends and family consider us early retirees. But the FIRE concept and fad seems to focus on a much earlier crowd, which like yourself and the others you highlighted, left the workplace much earlier using a huge 50% or more savings rate. So, my question is whether what I did was FIRE or not?

    If we’re talking about the goal of retiring in your 30’s, if that’s what the FIRE “movement” is, then yeah, like a few others have pointed out, once the market turns south, so will this.

  32. I don’t believe in FIRE as for people like me I believe it’s important to work as long as you can provided you enjoy the work that you are doing. I do believe in the importance of FI and achieving it as quickly as possible because that is when you get your freedom back and the fear goes away. I think we should pull back on how we use the word retirement and replace it with FI. The banks should be encouraging people to save towards FI instead of retirement. When is the financial services industry going to wake up?

    • Exactly, that’s why lots of people can’t retire early. Most people who reached FI aren’t keen to retire. It seems like you need a different personality to achieve these two things.
      I like the idea of replacing retirement with FI. That’s a great idea.

  33. Yes and no. I think the furor is a bit of a fad, but I think the community will remain more ardent than, say, the hippies. But I think Americans aren’t great at things that take hard work over the long-term and a lot of people will burn out pretty early on and decide it’s too hard. Still, if it gets people working on saving up money, I say more power to ’em!

    • Right. The media will move on to something else pretty soon. That’s what happened with frugality. It was big a few years ago, now it’s all about FIRE. I wonder what’s next. If we get a big recession, I’m sure frugality will make a comeback.

  34. I think FIRE is here to stay, but the amount of people clued into it will, of course, change as our economy changes. I’d love an article about the children of successful FIRE folks. Are there enough successful FIRE people with children of working age that you could shed light on how FIRE parents parent differently? Some of the blogs you mention in this article are people who once they’ve achieved FIRE are traveling and cruising slowly, will those children, who might not remember their parents working hard, not really be able to conceive of just what they need to do to succeed? I’m genuinely curious, as a large part of what formed my work ethic was seeing my parents work so hard. It’s also what makes me want to work hard and save smarter.

  35. Definitely a fad. At the first big downturn in the economy/recession most will be going back to work (at least the ones that declared FI in the 30s).

    Look at that one lady that declared herself the youngest retiree in Canada at age 30. Unbelievable.

  36. I don’t think FIRE will last either, however, I think FI will last. There are a lot of folks out there that are focused on saving now, after seeing the market crash in 2008/09 and it’s changed our mindset around saving. As a result many people are searching out Financial Independence without the RE, or as I’ve heard it called on the choosefi podcast: FIOR (optional retirement).

    I definitely would recommend that podcast, they have many guests on that share different perspectives and stories that have helped me with my journey to FI! I’m not there yet, but hoping to be FI by 45.

    • I hope FI will last. Everyone wants financial security. However, FI in this context (FIRE) probably means accelerated FI.
      Lots of people will be FI when they reach 65 and receive Social Security benefits. FI is different, in this case.
      I’ll check out ChooseFI. Thanks!

  37. The FIRE movement relies on an underlying society and economy which is increasingly and incredibly mercenary, where workers are focused on maximizing W-2 wages and corporations focus almost exclusively on delivering value to their shareholders.

    It wasn’t always thus (anybody from an older generation whose employer actually treated them well…isn’t interested in FIRE) and it’s becoming increasingly clear that this is not a tenable situation. People aren’t happy, and we’re doing a lot of damage. It won’t last, and when things change, FIRE may become a lot less en vogue

    • The working world is evolving rapidly. It’s not the same as it was 20 years ago. I worry for our son.
      The future will be tough. You need to be flexible and react fast. We had it easy.
      So you think the working environment will improve? I seriously doubt that. It’ll be up to the individual to figure out how to improve their working environment. Self-employment works for me. Lots of people found a way to have more autonomy in their work place too.

      • I don’t think things will improve QUICKLY. But you already see people start to carve out niches for themselves, you have organizations which are starting to focus on the community and employee wellbeing, and, for better or for worse, an increasing awareness of how f***ed up our financial industries are.

        Personal opinion, these things go in 30-year cycles. I think we’ll eventually look back and see the late-70s through the late 00s as a failed business cycle brought on by greed, and the late 00s through the late 30s as the “oh crap we’ve got to fix everything cycle”. Meaning that there’s an entire generation that’s SOL, but at least we’re solving the problems…or trying to.

        • Interesting viewpoint on the thirty year cycle. I wish this was true, but since people have forever been slaves to many forms of systems, I’m somewhat more pessimistic about things changing very much anytime soon. Henry Ford said a hundred years ago there would be a revolution if people understood the financial system. I’m still waiting.

          I think the truth lies in the middle: FIRE will stay for good while the hype will fade. I myself have been on FIRE for two years now and just recently decided I go back to go to aim for FatFIRE. There’s a middle ground. Always. I think Justin put it nicely with the future holding mini retirements and more frequent breaks in between jobs. I think that’s the way to go for most people in the future.

          • I’ll agree with your middle ground. Of course, the real reason is that people still don’t understand the financial system 🙂 Ask 100 people how bonds work, and you’ll see the sad truth.

            My perspective is the result of working in the retirement industry. I’ve seen the value of pensions, argued passionately that 401(k) plans could work if employers didn’t use them as a back door to cutting benefits, and designed hybrid systems. I’d argue that the largest component of the 1950s-1970s growth of the American middle class was old-age financial security, which gave younger folks more financial freedom to build wealth. I’d also argue that it’s no coincidence that as retirement gets less secure, the middle class starts to struggle.

  38. In addition to the points above, I would ask how do you define “Early Retirement?” I agree that the movement to retire in your 30s (and maybe 40s) may not be a sustainable mainstream movement. However, I do think the desire to retire before the traditional age of 65 is here to stay, and while retiring in your 50s is not early by FIRE standards, it would be early by the traditional retirement standards — my 401(k)’s online retirement planner does not even contemplate one retiring before the age of 55.

  39. Hi Joe, very good point. FI is probably more an accepted concept. It gives people the freedom to leave the rat race, and do whatever they like to. But for RE, it depends. Some people love it, but some don’t. Some just don’t want to retire, either they love the job, or they are emotionally attached to or dependent on the job.

    I like both FI and RE. My retirement life has been very good in the last 4 years. I would love to keep it this way the rest of my life, if possible.

  40. It’s definitely a fad – give it some time and it’ll fizzle out. I didn’t consider myself a pure fire blogger… people just smooshed me into it based on savings rate and I went along with it because…the cool kids are doing it?! Plus I didn’t have a full plan at the time like I do now so I thought…well no one’s gonna argue against financial independence soo ?. I always had a problem with the RE part but that might be because I’m 20-something. I can’t buy into that, the ingrained Chinese work ethic/programming is too strong ?

  41. I’m pretty sure as soon as there’s a 1-2 year slump, a ton of people will be going back to work or seeing the reality of things.

    But given all is good for now, why not just make the post of it and make lots of money right?


  42. Hey, I’m a weirdo too, and prrrroud of it, ha,ha!
    Xrayvsn brings up some very valid points. That hippy life got a little old for some. And if everyone did FIRE, this would be one strange society/economy.
    This generation is: working harder, longer, doing the work of 2-3 people, living in a revolving door job market, it’s, nuts. No wonder FIRE appeals to many. What hardworking person out there doesn’t feel the need for a decent reward or two at times? Toy$, trip$, etc.
    But throw in a kid or two, major medical expenses, or other setbacks, costing tens of thousands of dollars, into the mix and maybe FIRE doesn’t work out so well for some.
    Fascinating post!

    • Great! I’m a weirdo too and I learned to enjoy it. 🙂
      You’re right about this generation. Although, doing the work of 2-3 people? I’m not sure. It’s a lot of busy work that didn’t exist 30 years ago. I think FIRE is more difficult when you have a complicated life too. Kids, parent, medical problems, and more. These all make the journey much more difficult.

  43. I think you are correct! And my guess is that we are close to “FIRE PEAK”. I base this loosely on all the new blogs that have been created recently, and that it is getting so much media attention. Also the fact that the economy is good and have been for quite some time, so there are a lot of people with a lot of money wanting something else. But this is all temporary.

    A lot of us, myself included will continue the path. For myself I have always like to work, but would like to do it on my own terms, my own hours etc. And now I have started to do just that, not 100% but getting there and have also seen that the changes I have made actually matter to my life. For me it feels like I have been about FIRE all my life, but did not get it until a couple of years ago, and did not understand what was possible.

    In general I think FIRE is going to stick with more people, but we will see it in different cases. The world, as it is, still continues to evolve and I think technical advancements, now as in the past will create more and more opportunities and increase welfare. Even to the
    point where governments will implement next step of welfare, also known as basic income, or universal basic income, currently on trials here:*wmfYi8-9O4Bxo4Z8k5GZyg.jpeg

    This will render some of the FIRE obsolete aswell, but actually creating FIRE for more people. I know this is off topic, but according to the link above something happened when trying out this UBI:
    “Entrepreneurship quadrupled in one place and was three times higher than control groups in another. Recipients worked more hours, and earned more additional income. And disproportionately positive effects overall were seen among women, the elderly, and the disabled… in other words, the traditionally marginalized.”

    Too early to draw any conclucions..but giving people the basics actually might make them more inclined to be friendlier, and more entreprenurish. I think we already see this in some of the FIRE community, independent “I do not need to work” work anyway for the greater good.

    Humans..we are pretty awesome!

  44. It probably is a good thing that the FIRE movement doesn’t become mainstream. If everyone FIREd it would actually cause a lot of economic issues. The people who FIRE can do so only because the majority of people continue to conform and work.

    I think the FIRE movement has a better chance of sticking than the hippie movement but I agree there are a lot of similarities. The hippie movement died down because, as you stated, the appeal of money and the things you can get, is just too great. FIRE on the other hand is accumulating enough money to support a lifestyle without work. That is an ideal life for many but the issue is the dedication to get to that point.

    • Maybe you’re right. The economy isn’t endangered by FIRE. It’s just too difficult. We’ll always be a tiny minority of the population.
      The hippie lifestyle sounds cool. I wouldn’t mind living that way for a couple of years when I was young. But now, I’d rather have some money. Being poor limits your freedom.

  45. It’s a fad. The core concepts are sound, but as you say it’s too hard for everyone to do. Maybe with the widening wealth gap half the people can FIRE while the rest fight living paycheck to paycheck. Ugh.

    The other thing is that I’m not sure many of the FIRE bloggers are actually RE. I’m not trying to be the “retirement police”, but many seem to be self-employed (even if they are with passion projects). There are a lot of people who could say they’re “RE” if they made 30-60K (or more) through side gigs and websites. I’ve been doing that for 12 years now and I don’t think anyone would say that I’ve retired.

    I’m still trying to figure it out, because I do think of you as retired despite the income from this website.

    • The wealth gap is a big problem for future generations. I just hope our son will be able to get on top of the pile. It’s going to be tough.
      As for RE, I’m going to write another blog post about that. Or maybe just update a previous post. IMO, if you say you’re RE, then you’re there. 🙂

      • Totally disagree about “if you say your RE then you’re there. For most bloggers, it’s in their self interest to say they are RE to legitimize what they write about. They think it makes them more an ‘expert’ on the topic. I’m sorry but writing countless articles and monetizing a web site for the purpose of making money is simply self-employment, like thousands of other self-employed individuals. If it’s such a passion project, don’t monetize the site so much. Let see how you draw down your nest egg. That would be a truly interesting read.

        • Money is addicting. Nobody wants to stop making money especially when the project is enjoyable. Someday, I’ll donate all profit to charity, but I’m just not there yet. Hopefully, I can do that in 10 years or so. BTW, side income has always been part of my withdrawal plan. You can read more here if you’d like.

          Anyway, I’m a lot closer to retirement than when I was an engineer. I’m working much less and life is good.

        • It seems the FIRE community simply believes that working in an office equals working and not working in an office equals retirement. The RE portion of fire also bothers me. Is a housewife “retired” when her husband still works and brings home an income? Is someone who quits a 9-5 job to run his own company retired? I run my own company and my wife doesn’t work. I guess we are RE then! I choose my own hours, say no to work when I want (much like a blogger) In most people’s opinion, your not retired until you are drawing down your nest egg (maybe supplementing a bit with odds and end work, here and there) I think most would agree with me

  46. “For a normal person, FIRE is virtually impossible. The execution phase is much longer than the planning phase. Most people won’t last.”

    This is the key to your argument, and I mostly agree. The formula is pretty simple, but the execution is hard. Really hard. Like losing weight. It takes constant discipline. You can make some minor mistakes here and there, but major mistakes and moments of weakness (BMW 5-series anyone?) will set you back.

    I say that I “mostly” agree because I still think there are more folks out there who can achieve it, and hopefully will. But I think the % will plateau. To me, there’s probably only a certain percentage of the population that can resist societal peer pressures enough to live differently. I don’t know what that % is, but I think it can still go up from where we are now.

    • Thanks for your input. I think it takes more than the ability to resist social pressure.
      I’m going to start a new series of blog posts soon about that. You need something extra to FIRE.
      Luck? Everything has to fit together just right.

    • FI ….AGREED FI is easier maybe with FAT FIRE or semi~retired in the mix… many of my builing … neighbors have Audi Q5/7, various Mercedes …. and BMWs like the BMW X5 SUV … the brother~in~law has a Bently, Mercedes S 500, Porsche etc etc in his collection … I am debating a Ford Edge Titanium … but these cars cost double here overseas… but the BMW X5 is my favorite so far … what cars do others like?

  47. Joe,

    Good stuff. Thanks so much for including me up there. I’m honored to be among great company.

    As for the fad thing, it’s tough to say. I’m not sure if I’d say it’s a “fad”, per se. However, I have been pretty vocal about FIRE not being for everyone – or even most people. I think most people are, for better or worse, built to have jobs and fall in line with whatever culture/society they’re in. Most people are good at taking directions and carrying out given tasks. We’re social creatures. It’s atypical to blaze a unique (and difficult!) trail like this and go in your own, isolated direction. Even though it’s more popular than it was when we first started back in the day, FIRE is still not exactly a mainstream idea. I don’t think it ever will be. And I’m saying that from Chiang Mai, which you think would be a GREAT place to find people interested in this stuff. Frankly, I’m OK with that. I like doing my own thing and having this cool story to tell. The world would be awfully boring if we all lived the same way and wanted the same thing. No reason to be dogmatic about FIRE (or anything else). Do you. Be happy.

    Best regards.

    • You’re welcome. You’re consistently producing great content. Great job.
      Right. When we talked, you mentioned about 50% of people don’t have the right mindset for the FIRE lifestyle even after they achieved FI. I think it’s much lower. Life is much easier on the beaten path. If it works for you, why make it tougher for yourself.
      For some of us, FIRE is the way to go, though. Thanks for dropping by!

  48. Even though, as you pointed out, more people are now aware of FIRE, I suspect the number actually taking the steps to make it happen is still pretty low.

    I wonder if the future is in a slightly different direction. Instead of retiring early, people continue to work until a more “normal” retirement age, but they have mini-retirements/sabbaticals, more flexible working times or shorter working along the way.

    • I think you’re right. I’ll go over the Harris poll in detail soon. It’s a pretty good poll.
      More mini-retirements sound like a good alternative. Young people are changing jobs very often anyway. They might as well take 6 months to a year off to explore their interest.

      • The Harris poll will overstate the awareness of FIRE. All respondents are 45+ with at least $250k invested AND HALF of the sample is financially independent. People who are FI or have investments are far more likely to be aware of finance/investment news/media. I agree that we need timeseries data to have better evidence. As I mention on Twitter, I think you inspired me to write something about this topic… if only I was already RE. Nice post!

  49. You’re probably right about FIRE being just for the extremely dedicated weirdos 😉

    I think there is a middle ground though, where you are living deliberately and saving 30%+ or so. Your goal is not necessarily FIRE but rather to live below your means, be more financially resilient, etc. and have more choices. This also tends to be a more environmentally friendly option. I hope it will be more popular in the future.

    That’s the focus of RetireJapan at the moment. Not FIRE but FS/FR (financial strength/financial resilience) 🙂

    • 30% is a nice middle ground. Most people should be able to achieve that without having to sacrifice too much. 50% is much more difficult. You have to make a great income and don’t spend like your neighbors. That’s tough.
      Financial resilience is a great goal.

  50. Shouldn’t we talk about the fact that the markets have been extremely good for a decade? I think we’ll loose a lot of people in this movement when markets turn sour (for prolonged periods). It will be more difficult to stay the path, and less rewarding along the way.

    • I don’t know if that’s really a huge deal. The FIRE movement will lose some people, but the hardcore believer will continue. The old-timers like Vicky Robins and the Terhorsts and went through many economic conditions. You just have to build in some margin and adjust. It will be more difficult for newcomers if the market turns sour, though. That will probably deflate the movement a bit. Thanks for your comment.

      • I think I actually agree with Tom here – it’s a heck of a lot easier to achieve FIRE when you see inflated returns. That said, FIRE in some sense has existed for a long time now and I expect it will, though I doubt it will ever become mainstream (and will likely lose the mainstream attention it’s gotten lately).

  51. I like your comparison with the hippie movement and see a lot of similarities as well. However, economy is a core value that a lot more people relate to. What they choose to spend their leisure time on after reaching FI is up to them.

    With the internet and fast booming technology it’s easier to invest than ever. New investment vehicles are rising (crypto, crowdlending etc.) and makes it more likely that there’s an option that fits the need of almost everyone who has the desire to grow a nest egg. The stability of the investments, yield, regulation and ease of taxation will probably determine the lifespan more than anything.

    There’s definitely some hype going on at the moment and the speed of which new people is joining the movement is crazy. It will fade at some point but I don’t think we are there yet.

    • Thanks for your input. I’m not sure about the new investment. Personally, I wouldn’t invest more than 10% in them. I’m a lot more conservative now and I’d rather stick with the tried and true investment like the stock market. Even that is volatile already. Economy is a big piece of it. Hopefully, most people will build in quite a bit of margin.


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