Should you tell others about FIRE?
Participating in Financial Independence / Early Retirement (aka FIRE) movement can become a substantial part of one’s life or even identity. At the same time the number of people in the movement is still small and, thus, most of the time we talk to people who have no clue whatsoever about FIRE. As a result, one wonders quite often whether they should share their FIRE story and explain the concept. Let’s see arguments for and against.
Before we start - a little disclaimer. The life is very complex and multidimensional and obviously the precise answer whether to share FIRE concept depends on a lot of factors especially on the person who you consider sharing to. Thus, treat this as food for thought and consider each situation on case-by-case basis.
“I have a lot of money”
Reaching FIRE requires a substantial amount of money, which people outside of FIRE usually don’t have. Even if you don’t tell this explicitly, a person can easily deduce this fact from the concept itself. Basically, FIRE = “save a lot” and when you say “I am into FIRE”, the other person can easily conclude that you want to have a lot of money and you are on your way there.
Publicly announcing having a lot of money can backfire. In the worst case the question can be even about physical safety (highly depends on a country and the setup). In mild cases this may give a wrong incentive to the other person. E.g. “oh, this person has a lot of money, I should hang out with them, perhaps they are generous”. I.e. they could start liking your money more than you and it may be tricky to distinguish the two.
This is especially tricky in relationships. In many countries there are implicit assumptions that one party has to contribute more financially. If this person happens to be into FIRE and their partner - not, this may sound like a jackpot for the non-FIRE partner. Basically, from their perspective it is like “hey, I don’t plan to work and since I am considering spending my life with you, you probably won’t need to work either”. Even when one does not have such dramatic malicious incentives, they can still be appealed by your financial security and stability. Again this does not sound right - one should like the person, not their financial state. At the same time it is perfectly rational for them. If they want a good life for themselves and their kids, having a very financially stable partner is the best. Thus, I do definitely understand their perspective.
Here we can conclude that you should not tell that you are into FIRE to people who you know poorly to avoid becoming a fruitful target for scams. If you are in a relationship, consider delaying telling this too. The idea is to be sure that your partner would be with you even if you were not into FIRE.
At the same time, I think that you have to eventually tell your partner everything. First, otherwise it will be extremely hard to explain your lifestyle (I can’t even imagine any plausible attempt at this). Second, if you can’t tell this, then you just don’t have enough trust and this suggests that the relationship has intrinsic problems. Obviously, your case can differ.
It is also important to remember that trust begets trust (which I read from “Search Inside Yourself” book, here is my summary). Thus, by sharing such an intricate and important detail of your life, you can improve the state of the relationship and create a positive feedback loop of trust.
From this perspective you should eventually tell about FIRE people close to you and who you reasonably now and trust. Especially in a relationship.
Unhealthy reference point
Oh, I started to use this concept of reference points for happiness quite a lot recently. I discovered it in “The Science of Wellbeing” course (my summary), I also recommend to take the course, it is life changing). The idea is that people are bad at absolute evaluations, so they compare relatively, e.g. when they decide how good their life is. As a result, when they happen to have unfortunately high basis for comparison (e.g. rich friend or neighbor or even some movie actor), they become unnecessarily unhappy.
I get the same impression about FIRE. On the one hand, it can be like a blessing in life. The move from blind consumerism and working until state pension to having a concrete goal and plan can improve one’s life greatly. On the other hand, it can be a curse. For some people it can be very hard to rich FIRE for various reasons. They could be okeyish with their current state. E.g. they just have accepted it and got used to it. And then you tell them that there is this way to not work and live happily and so on. This can revive their inner struggle about their state. This can also set unhealthy reference point for them: “Hey, my friend can reach that, so I should be able too”. As a result, just knowing about FIRE existence can make them unhappy.
It is also peculiar that reaching FIRE can actually be demanding in many ways. One has actually to learn a lot, to control themselves, to manage their finances, to plan everything for many years in the future. All of these can be tricky. One can also easily become an outlier and lose their friends and even their partner if they happen to disagree with the FIRE lifestyle. Thus, by sharing the idea of FIRE, you may in some way force the other person into all these difficulties.
At the same time we are all grownups and theoretically should be able to make our own decisions. Having one more option in life, one more theoretical way to move forward, shouldn’t hurt that much. In the worst case, we can just drop the idea. I think our brains are good at coming up with not always rational reasons to explain whatever we want (this was mentioned during the “Science of Wellbeing” course too).
I personally learned about FIRE by chance and extremely happy about it. Not sure how I would feel about someone else convincing me. I would probably assume that it is some Ponzi scheme or other scam.
Thus, from this perspective, you may try to see how useful the idea of FIRE will be for someone. If they will likely pursue it and be able to achieve it, it should be ok to share. If they will just drop it as nonsense, this is fine too. If they are likely to get stuck in the middle - the idea is reasonable, but not achievable - consider not sharing.
I personally would rather not share and not “convert” people. It is also partly due to reasons above - by sharing the concept I will also tell others that I am into FIRE, which I prefer not to do.
Fortunately there are FIRE oriented meetups, where everyone already knows the concept and is in approximately similar situation. Thus, if you want to discuss FIRE (e.g. roast your plan), you should consider attending something like this. I did this couple times and it was very refreshing experience after years of silence regarding FIRE.
Happy FIRE discussions (or silence)!