Keeping Up with the (FIRE) Joneses

Comparison is the thief of joy.     

 – Theodore Roosevelt

Anyone that takes even a vague interest in personal finance blogs or the personal finance community on Twitter can’t fail to have noticed the recent hype about FinCon.

You’d have to be living under a stone to have escaped the buildup during the last few weeks, the action from the event itself and now finally, the debrief. I don’t say this negatively – quite the opposite. It brings to mind my days of feverish excitement when new tour dates for Take That were announced 😊

The thing is, an event like this attracts many of the “big players” in this community. These are the people whose books and blogs I have read and whose podcasts I have listened to. I owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their generosity in sharing their knowledge and spreading the word, so that the rest of us can learn. Everything I know about FIRE, I learned from them.

But the intense coverage of FinCon is a bit like the FIRE Oscars. And watching the fun play out over Twitter and a hundred blog posts, I can’t help but wonder why it holds such a strange fascination.

I look up to these people. I respect them. I want to have what they have. Having lived my forty something years immune to the concept – have I finally succumbed? Do I want to keep up with the (FIRE) Joneses?

Just like in life, where a colleague’s new car may spark a jealous streak for some, that’s where the problems start. Because I think my FIRE set up is just fine until I look at how other people are doing this thing and then a wave of inadequacy drowns any feeling of achievement. At least for a minute.

Here’s what I’m not doing.

Writing the Next Big Thing

I am happily typing away on my little corner of the internet knowing I’m never “going viral”. I don’t write the right sort of articles for that; mine is more of a diary than a “how to”. I just commit my thoughts to the page and am satisfied with the creative fulfilment it brings.

So I’m not creating a major blog that will sell for thousands or that drives an income from ad revenue. I’m not going to win a Plutus Award or get a publishing deal because so many people read my words. But my ramblings have forced some perspective and have cleared my head and for that purpose it works. Pressing “Publish” means it’s helped a few others along the way and so that works too.

Travelling the World

Travel seems to be high on the list for many early retirees. For me, it’s about spending more time at home. Being forced to travel for business when life circumstances made leaving the family really hard, has pushed me to the other extreme and for now at least, I don’t want to go anywhere.

I follow the bloggers who travel the world in an RV or hopping between AirBnBs and think wow, that’s amazing! And then I look at myself and my lack of drive to get out there and wonder if I’m doing it all wrong.

When they look back at their lives they will be able to tell such a fantastic story of how they worked hard and saved their money so they could wave goodbye to the corporate world and disappear into the sunset. While mine might read that I worked hard and saved my money so I could wave goodbye to the corporate world and settle into….. what?

Is it so bad to be a vicarious adventurer? I love seeing their photographs and reading about their travels, but I also love my home and the stability and safety and oasis of calm it provides. I am embracing a simple life but I don’t want to fit all my worldly goods into a backpack any more than I want to stand in the rain all day at a Take That concert.

It occurs to me this difference I see between what I’m doing and what they are doing might have something to do with age. The people that get the most coverage are often the youngest – those that achieved financial independence in their thirties. It’s an incredible achievement; no wonder I put them on a pedestal. But they also are at a different stage of life. Maybe I just have to accept that I am middle-aged! 😀

Saving the World or Tackling the Big Issues

The people in the FIRE headlines can be vocal. Articulate and passionate for their causes, many run podcasts or organise events (or both) and often appear on panels or are being interviewed regularly. The very traits that allowed them to succeed in their careers and led to their financial independence are applied to their passion projects, sometimes with a vivacity that leaves me in awe.

In comparison my ambitions are small. I’ve written before about finding fulfilment in early retirement; my choices are local not global. I’m not going to bring a voice to a worthy cause but I can contribute to a community in my own quiet way and every little helps.

Don’t Compare Your Weaknesses to Someone Else’s Strengths.

Ok, so I’m not writing the next big thing, travelling the world or tackling the big issues of our time. Sometimes I feel a bit inadequate with my simple aspirations. I am hopeless at keeping up with these Joneses! Reflecting on this I’m reminded of the  quote:

Don’t compare your weaknesses to someone else’s strengths.” – Anonymous

I’m not doing those things because that is not where my strengths lie. I’m better in a very small group than a crowd. I would never voluntarily make myself the centre of attention. I can better apply myself to the low key in life, that nevertheless can still make the world a better place.

What I have learned is this: It’s ok to work hard and be clever with your finances and get yourself in a position to have choices, but you don’t then have to change the world. You don’t have to use that freedom the way that anyone else does.

You don’t have to keep up with the FIRE Joneses – they would be the first to tell us not to.




16 thoughts on “Keeping Up with the (FIRE) Joneses”

  1. Very interesting! The thought that there are FIRE Joneses helps articulate something I’ve been feeling since FinCon: If I attended I would be doing so because everyone else was. Not because I want to be LIKE them, but because I’m curious about meeting my ‘internet friends’ in person…but that’s not a reason (to me) to shell out over a thousand dollars, especially since I can meet people 1:1 (my preferred method) throughout my life and retirement. I wouldn’t be going to attend the talks or grow my blog or monetize anything since that’s not what my blog is about (it’s similar to yours in that I’m cataloguing my journey instead of creating how-to articles as you say).

    As for you wanting to stay at home: I may be biased, but that seems to be what most of the early retirees I read are doing. It seems like a rare breed that are traveling in RVs or globe trotting full time. Personally I’m planning to semi-globe trot (moving every 3 months), but fully acknowledge that at some point I’ll probably want to slow down or settle down into one place for a prolonged amount of time. People change and everyone’s goals are different. Great job not keeping up with the FIRE Joneses.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Same here – I’ve thought fleetingly about attending but I can’t justify it.

      Maybe I feel like there are more travellers and you think there are more home-birds because that’s the opposite of ourselves, so they stand out. Just a thought.


  2. Love your post! You are actually very articulate yourself and able to convey your feelings and emotions in a way that I simply have to keep reading. Well done 🙂

    I do understand what you mean, but this is not about weaknesses and strengths (although it is a strength to express yourself the way you do). Some FI people will travel the world and document every step for us to see. That’s awesome, but also part of their strategy I figure. It generates income. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I admire anyone who creates a living for themselves, one way or another.

    My goals and strategy are simply different. Sure, travel is high on my agenda as well, but the #1 activity on my list is ‘doing nothing but reflect’. And read novels maybe. I’ve been working full time for a long time, made countless business trips all over the world, worked hard, seen a lot…. but hardly had time to process and reflect. So that’s what I am going to do. Contemplate, reflect, read, listen…. at home.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. “You don’t have to use that freedom the way that anyone else does.”

    Well said!

    The great thing about financial independence is it provides the freedom to pursue whatever floats your boat.

    Regardless of whether that is sailing solo around the world, climbing tall mountains, playing xbox all day, or simply pottering around in your own back garden then providing it makes you happy (and isn’t hurting anyone else) then go for it I say.

    FinCon is great for what it does: providing the opportunity for money geeks to meet like minded folks (and some of their imaginary friends from the internet) in person. Instead of feeling like a frugal martian amongst the consumer masses, attendees can spend a couple of days mingling with fellow martians. Whether that is worth the price of admission is for the individual to decide.

    One thought I would offer to go with your very astute “FIRE Joneses” observation is to maintain a healthy skeptisicm. Anyone who writes a blog (or hosts a podcast for that matter) is playing a character, no matter how personal their story appears to be. The anecdotes are carefully selected and worded, the image portrayed to the world carefully cultivated.

    Everyone shares Instagram worthy photos of happy smiling faces. Nobody writes about the “real life” stuff: the rainy holidays stuck in a caravan; the endless airport stopovers caused by attempting to link together travel hacked reward flights; the missing out on some big event because the kids got gastro; and so on.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That comment made me smile 🙂
      You are absolutely right, keep some healthy scepticism – things aren’t always as they are presented, “carefully cultivated” as you say.


  4. Very good read! I feel I am on the fence between the described two worlds. I feel like settling down, start a family, build a house in a foreign country :-). On the other hand I love to travel, getting out there, meet people, learn from them. So for me it’s no longer about either/ or. I just make sure I do both in a way to spend each day fully: ensuring the future family is safe and taken care off (a lot of thinking goes into this right now!), physical activity, not getting stressed, working on leaving a small legacy for society, growing the family’s financial security to be prepared for the unknown, and learning. I am making sure I can work on all these either at home or while traveling slowly.

    I can totally see your viewpoint about enjoying the oasis of home, I am picturing my future oasis already!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Excellent post, FT9T5 – know how you feel totally, the feelings of, shall we say ‘inadequacy’ sometimes when we compare ourselves to others.

    I wrote a similar post a while ago, whereby comparing myself to the ‘heavyweights’ almost stopped me from aiming for FIRE in the first place, as I didn’t think I could do what they were doing because I was nothing like them – in age (they were all in their 30s or younger), sex (all male), jobs (engineers or in IT or entrepreneurs) or earning power (they earned double or triple what I earned!).

    Once I got over that first hurdle and onto my own journey to FIRE, I couldn’t help but compare net worths, savings rates, side hustle income, dividend income, levels of frugality, size of pot, etc, etc – you know them all already! It took me a while to realise that the only comparison worth doing is to compare my own progress in accordance with my own plan. I still compare a bit but only as a matter of interest.

    I know for a fact that I’m unlikely ever to attend FinCon – for me, I already get all my inspiration from the internet, blogs, TED talks etc. That’s not to say that I couldn’t learn something new and useful at FinCon, I absolutely would without a doubt but I personally couldn’t justify blowing my budget in a spectacular way to attend. Even attending the London meet would affect my savings rate!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad it didn’t stop you from aiming for FIRE in the first place! Think how many people you have influenced in your years of putting your own journey out there? The more diverse voices in this field, the better we all become. If I hadn’t been reading your blog and a couple of others like it, I don’t think I would have started this myself. So – thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post! I always try tot remember that the FI world we see is only a small part of the group of people that are working towards FI. Mostly the more extravert people, who use FI to enjoy what they like and is high on their list: travel and meeting new people etc. My list looks a lot more like yours; reading books and spend (more) time with my family.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Cleo!
      Yes you are right – I forget that sometimes – we only see a fraction of the people that are working towards FI. I think Tanja at ONL is working on a large-scale survey – it will make interesting reading to see what comes out of that.


  7. This sums up a lot of how I feel.
    I have lots of travel with work and im a bit sick of it.
    My wife would love to travel more in Re but I am not so sure.
    And the best cup of coffee is from my coffee pot anyway.

    Maybe the silent majority of FIRE are not heard.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You put into words so eloquently what I have been thinking for several years. Bravo! You have a new fan. Maybe I’ll even help this article go viral? lol! I’ve been PF blogging for six years and I still don’t have that superpower! But how about a twitter share? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: