A few weeks ago at FinCon, I was excited to see the trailer for the Playing With FIRE Documentary. At FinCon in 2017 there were already rumors about an upcoming documentary about FIRE – something everyone was interested in seeing. The trailer was amazing and left me wanting to see it right away!
When I got home, I immediately showed the trailer to Mrs. Minafi. She had a different response:
Is that healthy FIRE?Mrs. Minafi
The question referred to Scotts journey in the documentary from a full-time employee to becoming financially independent. Before jumping into the answer to this question, you should probably watch the trailer.
If you haven’t seen the trailer for Playing with FIRE just yet, you should check it out! It features so many names from the retire early community in only 3 minutes that I couldn’t list them all without missing someone.
The story follows Scott and his family as they make a number of major life decisions in the pursuit of FIRE including leaving his job, moving in with parents and finding more frugal ways to live.
Mrs. Minafi’s question about “Is this healthy FIRE?” sparked a conversation and got us wondering: what does “healthy FIRE” even mean?
Our path to financial independence is focused around a specific ideal:
Build the life you want then save for it.MrLlamaSC on Reddit, thread on this topic
That is “our healthy”. For us that means a number of things:
- Thinking about what will make us happy long-term first, FIRE second
- Including expenses that make us happy in our FIRE budget
- Planning life goals and having dreams independent of FIRE
The focus in this is to find out what makes us happy, excited, exuberant human beings and then save money to where we can do that for the rest of our lives.
Life is about more than money. If you’re pursuing FIRE first above all other things in your life, then it’s possible some other area of your life is suffering. Does that sound at all familiar for your life? What could you pay more attention to?
Build Your Life
One quote from the Reddit post stands out to me:
I built my savings, but I never built my life.MrLlamaSC on Reddit, thread on this topic
This is “unhealthy fire”. This idea of attaching your concept of self with money and building wealth. There is so much more to life than investing and money, and those things will be the bedrock of what makes you happy long-term.
I personally struggle with attaching my identity to my work far too often. When asked “who am I?” the first idea that pops into my head is always my role at a job, my position, the company I work for, or the creator of something I’ve worked on.
None of these things are me. Being “financially independent” wouldn’t be me either. For me, having enough money or being financially independent is about one thing and one thing only: earning time.
It’s having time to explore and do everything I can in life. It’s travel, creation, family, food, exploration and more all wrapped into one idea of time.
This isn’t a time in the future – it starts today. All of those areas don’t start when you retire. They start today. If you’re waiting until you retire to finally “have time” then you’re missing the present.
There will be things you can’t do if you’re working, sure. Not many employers are going to love it if you take 6 months off to hike the Appalachian Trail. Taking a few days off for a multi-day camping trip with friends could give some of the same feel and help understand if your dream of hiking for 6 months is something you would actually enjoy, or more of a romantic ideal.
Unhealthy FIRE is often portrayed in the media as extreme frugality. When I read articles about cutting extreme corners to retire early they don’t resonate with me. It seems as though the most common target demographic for these articles is people who hate their jobs and want to see what corners they can cut to quit as soon as possible.
If you hate your job my advice is to find a new one rather than unhealthily obsess about FIRE.
Back to Playing with FIRE
So what about the documentary – is that healthy FIRE or unhealthy FIRE?
My guess is that Scott and his family do have many dreams, life goals and ideas on what will make them happy, but that just doesn’t make for a good movie trailer. Trailers are about a conflict that draws you in, which is much different from day to life.
One of the major conflicts in the movie is how many things Scott and his family are trying to change at once. They’re cutting spending deep, getting a cheaper car, freelancing from home and learning all about the FIRE movement (all while making a documentary!).
Would he pursue all of these life changes at once if not for a documentary being a catalyst? I’m not sure. For most people, I wouldn’t recommend it. For some, it will be necessary though. If you lose your job or can’t work then these tradeoffs for FIRE quickly become tradeoffs just to get by.
I’m super excited about the documentary, and I can’t wait to see it. I’m crossing my fingers it gets into the Sundance Film Festival here in Utah to be able to experience with a large group of people who have never heard of FIRE before.
Motivations for FIRE
One common misconception I hear about FIRE is that it’s for people who hate their jobs and just want to leave. I don’t get that impression from Scott from this documentary, but I do hear it enough.
Being unhappy in a job can be a great motivator to help you save and drive towards change in your life. That can be a chance to other careers, change to save more and a chance to explore other things that could make you happy.
It’s when the conversation never gets past “I just need to leave this job, then I’ll be happy” that I get concerned.
This reminds me of winners of the lottery. The overall happiness level of lottery winners is not fundamentally changed by winning millions of dollars. Happy people stay happy, unhappy continue to struggle. FIRE is the same way.
If you’re unhappy now, taking steps to find a way to increase that happiness should be a priority. Consider talking with a mental health expert (it may even be covered by your insurance for free!). Try journaling. Talk to your friends and family about what makes them happy. Find ways to practice gratitude. Make a list of goals you want to accomplish.
There is no prescription for happiness, and FIRE isn’t one either. Find what makes you happy and find a way to do that the rest of your life.
What would you describe as healthy fire or unhealthy fire?