John Greaney, forgotten pioneer of the FIRE movement

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Fish
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Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:09 am

John Greaney, forgotten pioneer of the FIRE movement

Post by Fish » Sat Feb 02, 2019 11:02 am

This post is the result of my own research into the origins of the FIRE movement. I am writing it because the EarlyRetirementDude’s historical record of FIRE has a glaring gap in the 1996-2002 timeframe. Hopefully he will review the evidence and incorporate this new information into the history (and maybe credit me for the many hours of research that it took to uncover this?). Enjoy the read! -Fish

John Greaney is the best-kept secret in the history of early retirement. His retirement story is familiar. A former civil engineer, he retired at the age of 38 in 1994 by saving a huge chunk of his salary(Note 1) using “Millionaire Next Door” techniques, and growing it in the stock market. His post-retirement career was even more notable: he would go on to start the longest-running website on FIRE (still alive today after 20+ years) and its first significant internet community, which coined the acronym “FIRE”. All the evidence is in plain sight, but strangely, he is all but forgotten in the movement he helped bring about.

His website, Retire Early Home Page (REHP, retireearlyhomepage.com) looks like it belongs in a museum, with its Web 1.0 charms dating to its 1996 founding when it was hosted on Geocities. Just below the plain logo, an impossibility: his online magazine has published another regular update---in the year 2019, its 24th in existence. This place is no longer the center of the online FIRE universe as it once was, but Greaney doesn’t seem to mind.

Although he likes engineering, he doesn’t like working in engineering. He says that his motivation for early retirement was kindled just five minutes into a pointless three-hour business meeting at his first job. During his working career, Greaney resented his bosses’ demands for “face time,” the practice of showing up to the office for the sake of appearing productive. He maintained a policy of “3-for-1” time, where he goofed off at work for 3 hours for every 1 hour of uncompensated overtime he was required to work. While his colleagues were busy working evenings and weekends, Greaney would instead learn about investments and personal finance, laying the foundation for his early retirement.

The studies would continue even past retirement, leading him to start REHP as a means to share what he had learned with other early retirement hopefuls. The year he quit his job coincided with the publication of William Bengen’s pioneering work in safe withdrawal rates known as SAFEMAX. Greaney researched this subject and built a tool to allow his readers to backtest the viability of their portfolio for early retirement. This Excel spreadsheet would later be extended and improved upon by one of his readers, Bill Sholar (also known as “Dory36”) to become the well-known and indispensible FIREcalc program.

Needing a place for the growing REHP community to congregate, Greaney started the “Retire Early” discussion board at The Motley Fool’s website in May 1999. Posting as “intercst” (pronounced “inter-cost”), he acted as the discussion board’s leader and brought ideas and news items for the community to consider. The discussion board was popular, getting nearly 10,000 posts in its first year of operation and the rate continued to increase as more followers poured in from REHP and elsewhere. Some of the initial discussions are a product of the times (such as this news item asking the feasibility of a 8% inflation-adjusted withdrawal rate in 1999) while others are timeless, such as this thread questioning the meaning of being retired and other wondering what would happen if everyone pursued early retirement.

On January 19, 2001, a momentous occasion: the acronym “FIRE” was coined on the REHP discussion board. It caught on very quickly.

The Motley Fool started restricting discussion board access to paid members in 2002. While some members, including Greaney, were willing to pay for access, others were not which fractured the growing community. Early-retirement.org was started by Sholar in June 2002 as a free alternative to the paywalled TMF discussion boards. With this move, the FIRE community’s focal point very gradually migrated to early-retirement.org, where it remained until the explosion of early retirement blogs such as Early Retirement Extreme and Mr. Money Mustache. By the time the TMF paywall was rescinded in 2007, Greaney was out of the limelight and the REHP discussion board was a former shell of itself, having devolved into politics. But the FIRE movement, and the REHP, continue to live on.


Note 1: During his working career, Greaney saved 50% of his pre-tax income, which works out to a 70% after-tax savings rate since he was paying about 30% in taxes. He recognized early on that savings rate was the most important parameter for early retirement, publishing this result in an August 2000 retirement report entitled “Drive Your Financial Advisor's Porsche and Retire Before 40 -- The simple arithmetic of saving and investing.”

The Old Man
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Re: John Greaney, forgotten pioneer of the FIRE movement

Post by The Old Man » Sat Feb 02, 2019 1:32 pm

https://www.newsweek.com/retiring-early ... ide-124127
Article about John Greaney from 2004.

Fish
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Joined: Sun Jun 12, 2016 9:09 am

Re: John Greaney, forgotten pioneer of the FIRE movement

Post by Fish » Sat Feb 02, 2019 5:29 pm

The reason I’m geeking over Greaney is 1) we finally know where FIRE (the term) came from, and 2) he conveniently bridges the FIRE chronology gap between the late 1980s-early 1990s FIRE gurus (Terhorst and YMOYL) and the early/mid-2000s where we have e-r.org, FIREcalc, and Nords. We can finally complete the narrative!

Before, all of those 2nd gen internet resources were appearing from nowhere and there was no continuity w/ the past except that YMOYL was cited as inspiration even though the state of the art for ER theory and tools (savings rate, SWR calculators, etc.) had advanced greatly since 1992. Based on my reading of the REHP boards 1999-2002, it also seemed there were more mentions of Terhorst than Robin-Dominguez, even with the out-of-print “Retire at 35” costing $100 on the secondary market.

plantingourpennies
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Re: John Greaney, forgotten pioneer of the FIRE movement

Post by plantingourpennies » Sun Feb 03, 2019 4:34 pm

Very nice job Fish!
Fish wrote:
Sat Feb 02, 2019 11:02 am
On January 19, 2001, a momentous occasion: the acronym “FIRE” was coined on the REHP discussion board. It caught on very quickly.
Marking this on my calendar-from now on 1/19 shall be known as FIRE day.

EdithKeeler
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Re: John Greaney, forgotten pioneer of the FIRE movement

Post by EdithKeeler » Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:25 pm

I'm pretty sure REHP is how I found my way over here to ERE.

BlueNote
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Re: John Greaney, forgotten pioneer of the FIRE movement

Post by BlueNote » Mon Feb 04, 2019 9:55 pm

Thanks for pointing out REHP. That site is very 90's Web 1.0 (in the right way), right down to the lack of an RSS feed. I found that site a few years ago and totally forgot the guys name and site URL and couldn't find it again when I went looking.

BTW he has a review of the ERE book on his site.

tjh
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Re: John Greaney, forgotten pioneer of the FIRE movement

Post by tjh » Fri Jun 14, 2019 7:44 am

I too remember reading that website, likely early 2000s. I am going to read through updates this morning.

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