The financial independence
wiki page is now significantly improved with the rough spots pushed to the back of the article. Now moving on to the FIRE movement
page. I thought the page was wide open for editing but there has been some drama in the last day where wiki editors have been shutting down an anonymous person’s attempts to add some (unpolished) meat to the article. Because of this I’d like to ask for YOUR help in constructing the narrative for how this movement grew to its current state. Of course, it has to be completely defensible using quality secondary sources.
This is how I view it: the main ideas have been available for at least decades. For the frugality part, Tightwad Gazette is probably the most notable. Simple living has been in mainstream consciousness thanks to Walden being considered a classic. Due to the low interest rate environment and excellent stock market performance from 2009, Bengen’s SAFEMAX concept and the Trinity Study were borrowed since 4% WR makes FIRE a lot easier than assembling a perpetuity from TIPS yielding 1% or accumulating 50+ years of expenses to last the rest of one’s life.
YMOYL was the most successful book to combine these ideas (frugality, simple living, investing, early retirement), though the 100% LTT asset allocation was a product of its time (1992) and later revisions attempted to address this weakness. There were others which generally had similar ideas (e.g. How to Survive Without a Salary) but YMOYL is credited most by FIRE bloggers as a source of inspiration.
There are a bunch of old PF blogs dating from around this time but none strike me as really part of the history in terms of innovation or popularity. Maybe Nords and his military guide to retirement? There’s also the E-R forums and Bogleheads which continue to be very active but serve a more geriatric audience.
Really easy to be left out of the annals of history...
ERE came along in 2008 and made the following innovations. First, identifying savings rate as the critical parameter governing FIRE. This made it possible to quickly calculate time to FI instead of using a spreadsheet or computer program to work out a numerical solution for each income/expense assumption. Second, establishing or at least popularizing the current convention of expressing NW in terms of “years of expenses” instead of absolute dollars which is kinda meaningless without knowing expenses. Third, the FIRE equations in the ERE book which is the first published mathematical proof
that extreme early retirement is possible. Good luck finding someone who actually gives credit to Jacob for these things in the news.
There’s also more that can be said about systems thinking, web of goals, Wheaton levels, but wiki is not going to care about this (it will be promptly deleted as not noteworthy).
MMM started blogging in 2011 and quickly became the de facto figurehead of the movement. Although he may have come up with some of these ideas independently (to some extent) his main contribution is making these concepts accessible to the mainstream, e.g. his famous shockingly simple math post. MMM’s legacy also includes advocacy for bike transportation, linking stoicism to FIRE, and drawing the line between “frugal” and “cheap”, and fun terms like “car clown”, “facepunch” and “complainypants”. For such an influential figure I am having trouble coming up with specific examples so that would be helpful. He did write the foreword for JL Collins’ book as well as the new YMOYL which is more proof of his influence but not how he got there.
There are also bloggers in the FIRE in-crowd such as Mad Fientist, JL Collins, Go Curry Cracker, etc. Too many to list, any examples of contributions or mainstream notoriety would be appreciated. The ones I can think of are JL’s stock series (later became his book The Simple Path to Wealth
), which established 100% VSTAX as kind of a default FIRE portfolio. White Coat Investor IIRC wrote a very popular post on backdoor Roth contributions. Not sure who figured out or popularized the Roth conversion ladder for FIRE, but these are details in the grand scheme of things. Two events stick out: 1) Mad Fientist’s interview of Vicki Robin
which marks VR’s return to the spotlight as the godmother of FIRE. 2) Paula Pant’s highly discussed interview with Suze Orman
where the latter person said some controversial things about FIRE. This appears to be a watershed moment for the FIRE movement in general (things have progressed to the “...then they fight you” stage) along w/ the appearance of the Prudential billboards targeting millennials interested in FIRE.
Back to the topic... how did we get from there to here? Were there any particularly influential events that brought FIRE to the mainstream? Like MMM’s 2016 article in the New Yorker or his TED talk? It’s really hard to point to something and say “this is the moment FIRE entered mainstream consciousness” but there are plenty of examples of media coverage to show that it’s being talked about. Your thoughts, and particularly links to quality secondary sources appreciated.
Edited to add: Should also note that online forums have been really important in concentrating like-minded humans into a sort of FIRE community. This should be part of the narrative. We have the MMM forums and Reddit (which added leanFIRE to our lexicon). And because we are here, the ERE forums. News is only going to mention MMM and Reddit though.
Additionally, the FIRE movement has made extensive use of alternative media formats such as blogs, podcasts, YouTube, etc. It’s probably a sign of the times more than the movement, but the best ideas are being generated and presented in these formats (+forums) as opposed to traditional publications such as books, journals and TV shows.