“I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. I hate it.”
Ah….the famous opening dialogue between Suze Orman and the podcast host Paula Pant. This was Suze’s response to the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement that has been gaining a lot of press lately. If you’d like to listen to the podcast episode yourself, click here.
I have expressed my thoughts about this podcast episode on Facebook, but I thought I would go ahead and put my thoughts on my blog so that my readers know exactly where I’m coming from when it comes to FIRE. I feel like it has become misrepresented in mainstream media, and I want to clearly state what it means to me.
First of all, who is Suze? I remember seeing her on TV a while back, and her books are always on the bookshelf in the personal finance section (anyone else like to peruse this section like I do?). I may have flipped through one of her books in the past, but I mostly knew her as a rare female personality in the male-dominated world of personal finance.
When Suze started ranting about the FIRE movement, I immediately understood why. She was ranting about the RE part. She was assuming that everyone who pursues FIRE is doing it for the sole purpose of retiring early and sitting on a beach for the next 50+ years of their lives with a drink in hand. She said that they were taking a huge risk by not earning any income for the majority of their lives. She then went on to describe the millions of dollars that people need to retire comfortably and the numerous catastrophes that can derail your finances if you’re no longer working during your prime.
The release of this podcast episode led to some articles in the mainstream media:
Market Watch article: Retire Early? You need ‘at least $5 million,’ according to Suze Orman
The Washington Post: Do You Need $5 million To Retire? Suze Orman says so. But ‘FIRE’ devotees say no.
FOCUS ON FI. (RE) IS OPTIONAL/ELECTIVE
So let me just say here….the definition of retirement as Suze sees it is NOT what I think of when it comes to FIRE. And too many people immediately focus on the retirement part and ignore the FI part.
When I think of FIRE, I’m really focusing on the FI part. The retirement part should really be changed to Retirement Elective, as so eloquently described in this post by fellow blogger Chief Mom Officer. Please read her post to get an even more diverse view of what FIRE means to so many people.
I have written about my decision to pursue FIRE. It was only after learning about financial independence that I’ve designed our financial life such that Mr. RLDVM can CHOOSE to cut back earlier than typical retirement age. To me, FIRE is all about choices and freedom to chart this path in a very intentional way. Once I understood this concept, personal finance just seemed to make much more sense to me, because now it was about overall financial wellness, not just random numbers.
Going back to the podcast episode, here are some assumptions made during the podcast that I wanted to address individually:
Everyone who pursues FIRE wants to retire at 30 and never work again.
This simply isn’t true. If you’re wanting to retire at 30, you’re likely retiring from a job that you don’t like. Or your priorities and life goals change, so reaching financial independence sooner rather than later is ideal for your situation. This does not mean that you will never be employed again. Many of those that retire very early are still earning income, whether it be in a different career, passive income, or both. Some of the more prominent personal finance bloggers are making a very good living off of their blogs alone (yours truly is definitely NOT in this category- I have made exactly $0 through my blog as of this writing). And trust me when I say that when you take blogging to that level, it is most definitely a form of work.
So it would be really nice if FIRE wasn’t equated with retiring early in the traditional sense of retirement because the definition of the word “retirement” sorely needs to be updated.
They haven’t thought out potential financial pitfalls in the future; therefore they are irresponsible with their money.
For me, I have found that FIRE gave me the opposite effect. Discovering the FIRE principles made me hyper-aware of my finances. It forces you to create a financial plan in order to reach that state of financial independence. Since learning about FI, I’ve done the following:
- Determined a more accurate emergency fund number.
- Re-evaluated our insurance policies and made sure we were appropriately insured. We weren’t, so we canceled our old policies and replaced them with better policies.
- Calculated our FI number based on the 4% rule.
- Educated myself on investing and how to invest in such a way that made the most sense to me.
- Re-evaluated spending and saving in order to ensure that we are on track for FI. Now using an actual spending plan versus just tracking expenses.
- Found a financial advisor I could trust to give me their honest, unbiased opinion on our plan.
Without the principles of FI as a framework for my finances, I’m not sure how many of these financial tasks I would have been able to manage on my own. More likely I would have continued muddling along, trusting others to make these financial decisions for me. After learning more about the financial industry and how it works, I’m glad I didn’t go down that road because I hate to think of the possibility of getting bad advice.
You need $5 million to retire comfortably.
Suze was quite adamant that you need millions of dollars to retire. I thought this was strange, given that this would be mathematically impossible for a good portion of her audience. I’m not sure how you can be an advocate for personal finance when you’re insisting that people should reach for a number that isn’t possible.
So no- you don’t NEED $5 million. That’s equivalent to spending $200k a year. That would be in the “nice to have” column.
TONE VERSUS MESSAGE
I could have done away with her many declarations about her personal wealth (private island, anyone?) and self-proclaimed “Matriarch of Money” title. Her tone can be off-putting for many people, but I tried to ignore that as much as possible and focus on her actual message. Being open-minded is something that I’ve always strived for, especially when it comes to personal finance topics. I know that my experiences are unique to myself, and I’m genuinely curious as to how and why other people think differently. I personally found myself amused by her tone and simply thought of this as more a form of entertainment rather than a deep conversation about FIRE. However, I know that others simply couldn’t listen to more than a minute of the podcast and found other things to do with their time. To each their own.
Listening to Suze speak, I actually agreed with her on many points. She continually talks about preparing for the unexpected. I could relate to this because I personally know people that have been sidelined by disability, job loss, divorce, chronic and life-threatening medical conditions, and death. All of these issues are not pleasant to think about, but they do happen and they can be financially devastating. Pursuing FI actually helps you mitigate these risks because you’re preparing for financial security.
She also shares her own story about being a woman in the world of finance, and she feels very strongly about women advocating for themselves in this space. This is a message that I can support 100%.
One thing is for certain- she is a master marketer and she epitomizes the phrase “any press is good press.” She was on a media blitz promoting her new book, so she was successful in garnering media attention. There’s a reason she’s a household name.
Suze has since come out with an apology of sorts on a Facebook post, taking back her earlier comments about FIRE by saying that she was given “bad information.” As I had suspected, she was really hung up on the idea of retirement in the traditional sense, but now that she’s listened to feedback about FIRE concepts, she’s much more in line with the FIRE movement.
The term FIRE is so catchy, and I’m not sure that we can ever uncouple this term from what people envision when they think of retirement. The definition of retirement is different for everyone, and I believe that it will continue to change and evolve for society at large.
To me, FIRE is all about the FI part. In my opinion, that’s the only part that matters. To have a framework from which to base my financial decisions and goals has been life-changing for me. It is much more about the journey to FI, changing the way I think about money, and managing my money so that it makes my life more fulfilling and intentional. Money is simply a tool to live the life you want.
Even if you don’t identify with FIRE, my goal with this blog is that you can come away with at least one thing that will help you in your financial life. And if I’m the one to introduce you to the idea of financial independence, welcome to the club! I hope that it will bring you as much clarity about your finances as it has for me!
What are you thoughts about the FIRE movement? Comment below!