Playing With FIRE

I went to see this movie on Wednesday with my wife. It was in Tampa 2 1/2 hours distant. I had a second ulterior motive. Tampa is now home to a recently opened Hot Dog chain from Chicago. Obviously someone retired from the Chicago chain to Tampa and built a couple stores as a side gig. It’s named Portillo’s and my wife LOVES Portillo’s Italian Beef sammy’s, on a croissant, with sweet roasted pepper, French Fries and Root Beer. We used to go when I was a resident in Chi but her experience predates our meeting so it’s a long part of her history. t was so fun to spring that on her on the way over and then watch her light up at the experience. That alone was worth the trip. I like me some Portillo’s too.

The movie was a disappointment and pretty disturbing. It was pitched at “retire by 30” and was a cross between Tony Robbins, Crossfit culture, Amway and a time share sales pitch.

The story was about a couple and their absolutely adorable baby living in a San Diego beach community in a 1.4M crib with Beemers, a $2000/mo food budget bla bla bla. One of the shots is the guy in his speed boat fishing in some San Diego bay with a gorgeous sunset caught on drone footage. The guy makes video and the wife telecommutes and they haul like $150K/yr, already something doesn’t compute. The guy catches wiff of FIRE on TV and gets a hard on. He badgers his wife into ripping up their life and they leave SoCal to go stay on their parents couches “to save money” first the wife’s parents then the husbands parents. The husband is from IA so they are living in rural IA fishing in creeks and such “saving money”. Still fishing no boat. (should have bought a rural IA crib for 25K and saved some real money)

The wife is paying the bills with her telecommuter job working 8 hours a day. Her goal is to spend time with her baby but that becomes Grandma’s job. Hubby is supposed to have some kind of “remote job” never spelled out so pretty much he’s a dead beat with big ideas, while his wife pulls the train and the parents foot the rent and babysit.

Eventually he starts flying around visiting (and filming) FIRE types and flying to conferences and goes to FIRE camp where they sit around the campfire and squawk about being retired by 30, and the FIRE types are quite happy to pitch him. All the luminaries are there, but wait there’s more! He goes to see MMM and get’s video of him riding his bike “to save money”. ALL of these FIRE types are running huge media empires to supplement the 4 x 25. He has a lot of drone video of Vicki Robbins palatial estate on a Washington State island with the caption “retired by 26”. It’s such BS. It’s like saying Dave Ramsey is “retired”.

Eventually they wear out their welcome at the ‘rents place and fly to HI with the kid for a vaca sleeping on their friend’s couch. There’s a typhoon or something and the place floods and they have a “bad time”. Man what a gyp! They go house hunting and wind up in Bend Oregon, a well known destination for Cali ex pats, and buy a new crib. Downsizing to these people is buying a half a million crib in Bend and trading the Beemer for a perfectly functional Honda. The guy buys a bike and a trailer so he can ride 2 blocks to the piggly wiggly to shop and “save money” and returns to his mortgaged half mil crib and they make a months worth of breakfast burritos and freeze them “to save money”. Oh the Pathos!

They meet JL Collins who advises put every dollar you can into VSTAX AND NEVER SELL so we get to see them stuffing 3K into a brokerage account and they keep flashing their “emergency fund” balance of $12K and keep flashing how much they are saving and how many years to retirement. The wife is pretty miffed at this nonsense having given up her previous life but eventually comes around to the “frugal life” WINNING! All of it is geared around retire by 30 and even making the movie is an obvious sop to this guy trying to create a payday out of cliche’ (nice alliteration ehh?) It’s all boiler plate. Millennial Revolution hawks their party line (her book was released only the day before I saw the movie, (I’m sure her rags to riches story is ripe for movie picking) MMM hawks his line, JD Roth his line, Mad Fientist, Vicki Robbins (retired at 26 and now lives in a multi million crib in Island WA) hawks her line, and so on and so on and scooby dooby dooby.

The audience was full of kids trying to find out how to retire by 30 so they too can live in Bend Oregon with a half a mil crib and 2 paid cars and a bike. AMWAY!!! AMWAY!!! AMWAY!!! I’m all for people living their dreams and building their futures with their own two hands and creating their own narratives. God knows I did it, but because I did it and I get what’s really involved and I think it does the community harm hawking this nonsense. I wonder how these jokers are going to fund their kid’s college? What about health care? So much risk so little insight. Just once I’d like to read the tales of people who flunked FIRE. Suzy Orman tried to convey some of that in he Pound interview from letters she’d received about failure, but she was shouted down. You’re not allowed to fail and if you do, YOU DID SOMETHING WRONG! Not sure how something like getting cancer is doing something wrong. Not sure how 3K in a brokerage 12K in emergency and a half a million mortgage constitutes FIRE.

Another thing that bothers me is who pays the bills? America and FIRE is predicated on productivity. If America isn’t productive your bank account won’t last 10 years. You are not a tycoon, you are a flea living on the economy’s ass and you go where it goes. If productivity tanks it’s game over. We are the most productive people in history. Were do the taxes come from to pay for the roads and schools and military? The reason we are the reserve currency is because of our military who protects that store of value and the military is dependent on our productivity. The whole pitch was about “I got mine!!!” You only got yours till the government confiscates it. You can watch the Sound of Music for more details.

All in all it was a good time. We had a good time hanging with each other, a too fun meal, a nice trip over and a nice trip home and some interesting discussion dissecting the movie. My wife is not a FIRE type at all this was her first official foray into the topic but she’s naturally parsimonious and she knows BS when she hears it. I tweak the finance she tweaks the budget. I think this over selling and zealotry is why virtually no one pays attention to the FIRE rap. The flaws are too obvious

6 Replies to “Playing With FIRE”

  1. FIRE is a marketing niche, helped by the long equity bull market. The risks are rarely acknowledged by those who write online about retiring early on small portfolios. I get it, work isn’t satisfying to most. I can see maybe taking a chance if one has some assets, no dependents and a family safety net. Healthcare and long term equity returns against current valuations argue against it. As does declining human capital which you have written about.

    Early Retirement Extreme ( was my introduction to the concept. The blogger eventually went back to work, and his wife had never stopped. Still, it opened my mind to the idea that someone could live something like a bohemian middle class lifestyle on less money by using thrift. I’m hoping to get out early, if I can.

    1. The problem is the projections of need. IMHO to properly project one should have a line item for each year you expect to live and an item for each year a surviving spouse lives after the first dies. To make the line item you need an accurate budget to budget against. You need to include inflation. You need to include some form/s of risk management. You need to understand healthcare as that’s a special kind of inflation, If you have kids you need to understand how they are getting paid for including college. Kids get more expensive as time progresses so some inflation needs to be added to that. If you have debt like a mortgage you need to account for that and when that debt will subside. YOU NEED TO ACCOUNT FOR TAXES an often missed category because it’s hard to do Once you do all that you will have some pretty good idea how much a normal retirement costs. You also need an extra-ordinary account to cover disaster like a Roth. It’s a far damn cry from 4 x 25 BUT it is do-able using he same techniques. My retirement is projected to be 2.7M @ 108K/yr spend down inflation adjusted over 20 years. My ordinary income comes from a small 500K TIRA and SS plus some brokerage money. The ordinary income is designed to keep me in the 12% bracket for 15-20 years and I can calculate my presumptive taxes over that time. Taxes may change but at least I have some idea and have saved some money for them and have the ability to re-optimize if they do change at least to some extent so flexibility is somewhat built in. Things like RMD are not flexible and designed to eat your lunch by costing more in taxes. Once you have the cost worked out you can work out the funding. Funding is related to leverage. Unless you have the cost 100% covered you will be leveraged which means you carry more risk. The more levered the greater the risk and he more likely you will fail. Length of retirement is another increaser of risk. The inability to see the future is another increaser. No body knows what it’s going to be like 50 years hence so even if you have 100% of the money today it may not be enough.

      If you compare what I just wrote to the typical blog plan you can see the typical plan is dishonest. It typically is a fantasy. You can bolster the probability of success with a job in retirement, be that self employment or W2 or 1099 work but all of that is nebulous. If it’s 2008 and they’re hiring at Lowe’s and there is a 45 yo plumber or electrician looking for a job and you’re 60 yo 10 year retired out of date software engineer who’s going to get hired? People quit stopping by your blog. You get sued. You get divorced. You get a stroke or are in a big deal car crash. 50% of the businesses that survive 10 years go OUT OF BUSINESS. In this economy 12,000 businesses will close this year. Business itself is all about risk. So that’s the animal we are dealing with. If you correctly respect it, it will probably leave you alone. If you disrespect it it will eat your lunch.

      When it comes to taking chances I play the lotto with the best odds every week 2 bucks. I can afford to lose 2 bucks. Some times I win a little soo I’m actually closer to losing 1.25 but mostly I enjoy the experience of actually experiencing the odds.

  2. Disappointing to hear that the film was more illusion than reality. I met the guy briefly at FinCon, enthusiastic and just learning, clearly intoxicated with meeting his heroes and starting down the road, so I gave a few bucks on the kickstarter fund.

    Do you think there’s any redeeming value as an introduction for the diligent FI crowd who might use it as a basis for deep dive and continued self-education of risk mitigation down the line, or do you fear most will simply drink the Kool Aid and end up like the rest of Jamestown?

    Like Robert, ERE was my gateway drug and Jacob’s iconoclastic approach to finding authentic meaning in work you value (irrespective of whether it pays) by reducing needs seemed completely responsible in that it never promised a simple formula to secure wealth in old age, only a sane plan to reduce needs and wants to enable creative pursuits.

    Last I read/heard, Jacob was quant working in finance in Chicago…

    1. People believe heart disease is CAUSED by cholesterol and saturated fat. The science shows heart disease is likely caused by poly unsaturated seed oils and carbohydrates and the inflammation of plants. Studies that show the NIH recommendations were wrong, were suppressed and not published, the AHA got on board full force with Dietary guidelines and now a nation of metabolic syndrome is the result. We don’t change things because there is way too much prestige and money invested in the status quo. Just go walk the aisles of Walmart if you want to see the results of enforced religion over science. I’m in cardiac rehab twice a week and we just had a module yesterday with literature from Mayo proclaiming the dogma. The dogma came from Ancel Keys who worked up the road from Mayo at U of Minn.

      Playing with FIRE is similar. It’s the expression of a particular theology, the MMM theology. It’s also like Protestantism v Catholicism. Protestantism resulted in 30,000 + variations in Christian doctrine all in reaction to a 16th century reaction to Catholicism. Playing with FIRE is one man’s take, early in his enthusiasm, embracing a particular strain of theology. It assumes success and never considers failure. It is very much marketed like MLM and I’m sure the cinematographer will line his FIRE coffers with some money and parlay himself into yet another expert, with his own brand of soap to sell. He was already featured on Doc G’s podcast for example. WCI for example makes no bones he’s in it for the money, not to diss his content. He would be the first to complain about some AUM making half a percent for offering advice. Why is his method of fleecing the masses legit and some perfectly legit AUM stealing?

      Like I wrote in bogglehead time the FI movement adds order to disordered finances. It has an investing model almost assured to work as long as the market keeps going up, and the participant is diligent in his application. I’m less convinced of the wisdom of the spend down and the tipping point between accumulation and spend down. Failure is a statistical certainty. How much and how often remains to be seen. Likewise success is a statistical certainty the same caveat applies.

  3. >>The science shows heart disease is likely caused by poly unsaturated seed oils and carbohydrates and the inflammation of plants.

    Interesting. Can you elaborate on this (inflammation caused by plants)? And what exactly do you eat on a daily basis (in general) to support your heart health?

    1. You can go to the internet and see many videos on the advantage of meat based diets and the disadvantages of plant based diets. The latest research tilts heavily toward meat based diets as healthier from a metabolic and immunologic perspective. I’d prefer not to turn the blog into a diet blog since everybody is an expert and virtually nobody actually knows he science, what they know is the politics.

      One thing on polyunsaturates they are poison. They were created in the late 1800’s as substitutes for machine grease. They are not food. How they are processed by the body is a cause of overeating and obesity when mixed with glucose and starch.

      My diet for most of my life was the SAD standard American diet. Fruit veggies grains meat fish dairy sugar. What it got me was diabetes heart disease hypertension and all the sequela of those including obesity and inflammatory disease etc. I fought it for years with ADA and AHA diets to no avail. 1 year ago I switched to a pure meat diet, no sugars and only water. I lost 60 lbs, my diabetes disappeared, my hypertension disappeared, my joint disease went away, my exercise tolerance improved, and my tendency for injury due to exercise evaporated, plus about 10 other benefits. Unfortunately 60 years of SAD and “healthy eating” had taken it’s toll so I wound up on he wrong end of a scalpel.

      Here are a couple examples. If you really want to understand look at some of these. The data is stunning.

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