Who Started The FIRE Movement? The History Of Financial Independence

Who Started The FIRE Movement? The History Of FIRE

The desire to retire early and live a financially independent life has been around since the beginning of organized labor. Let's see who started the FIRE movement and how it has evolved over time.

In 1992, the book, Your Money Or Your Life, was published by Joseph R. Dominguez, Monique Tilford, and Vicki Robin that helped encourage people to choose their lives over grinding away at work forever. Joe unfortunately died in 1997, and the book really didn't get mainstream until the rise of the internet and blogs in the early 2000s.

It wasn't until 2007 and 2009 when two personal finance sites started to popularize the idea of Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) to the masses. Early Retirement Extreme and Financial Samurai.

Who Started The FIRE Movement? Modern Day FIRE

First Modern-Day FIRE Movement Blog

The first blog I'm aware of that started regularly talking about FIRE was Early Retirement Extreme by Jacob Lund Fisker in 2007. Jacob discussed extremely radical ideas such as living alone in a trailer in the woods off less than $8,000 a year to achieve financial independence.

A lot of folks, were in disbelief at his lifestyle. But his frugality helped encouraged his readers to live way below their means. He helped question whether we were frugal enough.

From 2012-2015, Jacob was lured back into full-time work as a quantitative investor at a private equity firm. Subsequently, he stopped writing about FIRE regularly. Despite his lack of posting, his website still gets a decent amount of traffic as people find his older work through search.

Sadly, today, most of the content on Early Retirement Extreme has little-to-nothing to do with FIRE and trying to become financially independent anymore. Some topics include: What Spatula Would A Marine Use? and Upgrade Your Music With Quality Headphones.

Second Modern-Day FIRE Movement Blog

The second site that really helped ignite the modern day FIRE movement is Financial Samurai. Sam started Financial Samurai in July 2009 with the motto, “achieving financial independence sooner, rather than later.” Over 100 million readers so far have resonated with his message as they tried to make sense of the financial chaos during the recession.

Three years after chronicling his FIRE journey, in 2012 at the age of 34, Sam retired from his full-time job in finance. It was a difficult choice to walk away because he was making a base salary of $250,000. Back then, retiring early at such a young age was unheard of. He credits being able to negotiate a severance package as a key catalyst.

The severance paid for a full five years worth of his current living expenses. He argues that if you are going to retire early, you might as well try and negotiate a severance since you have nothing to lose.

Helped His Wife FIRE As Well

In 2015, Sam helped his then 34 year old wife negotiate a severance package to reach FIRE as well. He chronicles the experience in the post, How A High Performing Employee Can Negotiate A Severance Package.

The concept of engineer your layoff in order to negotiate a severance is slowly becoming more and more popular among the FIRE crowd. After all, if you're going to quit your job, you might as well try to see if you can leave with money in your pocket.

A severance package is instrumental for FIRE proponents because it extends the financial runaway or creates a nice financial buffer during the transition period to early retirement. If you are going to retire early by quitting anyway, you might as well try and negotiate a severance.

Financial Samurai Continues To Be The Leading FIRE Movement Blog

Sam made a promise when he started Financial Samurai in July 2009 that he would publish three times a week for 10 years. Sam not only kept his promise, but continues to publish FIRE-related topics in 2023 and beyond.

The great thing about Financial Samurai is that the site discusses a wide variety of topics beyond FIRE. Financial Samurai focuses on investing, wealth management, family finances, career, education, entrepreneurship, and more.

In addition, Sam has a popular podcast and a large weekly newsletter that discusses everything FIRE and more. While other FIRE blogs have given up or reduced the amount of content, Financial Samurai keeps going.

The Modern-Day FIRE Movement Today

As of 2023, both Sam and his wife are still FIRE and still not working traditional day jobs. Their retirement income generates over $300,000 a year since 2020, which provides for a Fat FIRE lifestyle for four people in expensive San Francisco.

Below is Financial Samurai's latest FIRE portfolio for 2023. To keep up with inflation, Sam has an objective of earning $400,000 in passive income by 2024.

Financial Samurai passive income investments 2023

On average, Financial Samurai currently attracts over one million organic pageviews a month and is one of the largest FIRE-related blogs today.

What makes Financial Samurai unique is that he not only writes about achieving financial independence early, he also writes about various topics including: real estate, career strategies, wealth management, investing, family finances, education, relationships, travel and more to keep things interesting.

Sam believes that once you achieve FIRE, there's no need to keep talking about FIRE topics. Life just goes on. With two kids under six years old now, Sam is busy being a full-time dad with his wife. Kids have increased the value of FIRE tremendously.

On April 12, 2012, almost three years after Financial Samurai started, Financial Samurai invited a new site, Mr. Money Mustache to do a guest post on Financial Samurai entitled, Early Retirement: It's Not As Risky As You Might Think.

This guest post helped propel Mr. Money Mustache into one of the most popular FIRE blogs today. Although MMM doesn't post much, his forum is an active place for many FIRE followers to congregate.

With the rise of MMM based in Colorado, many other FIRE blogs started sprouting out in the Midwest and Southern parts of America where the cost of living is cheaper.

As of 2023, there are very few FIRE blogs, other than Financial Samurai whose writers have kids and live in an expensive coastal city such as San Francisco, LA, New York, and Washington D.C.

Other popular FIRE or FIRE-related blogs and podcasts include:

There are supposedly over 2,000 FIRE blogs and podcasts today. There's really something for everyone, and the list is growing by the day.

For as long as people want to live a life with less financial stress and more freedom, the FIRE movement will only continue to grow.

The FIRE Movement Critics

With the emergence of any popular movement, there will always be critics. Here are some of the main criticisms of the FIRE movement:

  • FIRE bloggers are simply trading their time making money from a day job to making money for themselves through blogging, podcasting, writing books, and selling e-courses
  • The majority of FIRE bloggers and FIRE adherents have only invested during a bull market since 2009 and do not know what it's like to experience a downturn. See: DIRE: Delay, Inherit, Retire, Expire
  • FIRE bloggers are predominantly white males and females who lack diversity and representation of Americans today.
  • FIRE bloggers and adherents are predominantly based in the Midwest and South, despite half the population of America living on the coasts.
  • Many FIRE followers are not really FIRE because their investment income does not cover their best lifestyle expenses. you can say they are fake retirees.
  • Many FIRE bloggers are too inexperienced and/or don't have kids. Therefore, they haven't fully calculated how much their lives will truly cost.
  • Many FIRE bloggers have just rebranded themselves and are simple stay at home dads or stay at home moms.
  • Many FIRE bloggers are simply regular workers who aspire to FIRE, but are nowhere near financial independence.

Analysis Of The FIRE Movement Criticism

Many of these criticisms have merit. However, only you can decide what's financially best for you and your family. The entire goal of FIRE is to live your life on your own terms because of the financial cushion your investments provide.

If you want to work as a greeter at Walmart, go ahead. If you want to write about your journey in a blog, go ahead. Everybody should have a website and plant their flag online. It's the internet age.

If you want to pursue a brand new profession that interests you or if you want to get your Master's degree, go ahead. That's the beauty of the FIRE lifestyle. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want.

10 years after leaving his day job in 2012, Sam has embraced his fake retirement. “After all, these posts and books don't write themselves. Neither does taking care of two little kids!”

In 2023, the FIRE movement is becoming obsolete thanks to work-from-home, better lifestyles, and stronger male egos.

Sam Dogen Giving Up On FIRE And Returning To Work

In April 2023, Sam announced that he's giving up on early retirement and going back to work.

His reasons include:

  • The end of COVID and a return to normal life again
  • Both children in school full-time
  • The fulfilled promise of being a stay at home dad for at least five years (has done six years so far)
  • The desire for more camaraderie and social interaction
  • Body no longer able to play tennis and pickleball everyday
  • More work-life flexibility due to work-from-home acceptance
  • The need to make more to pay for large upcoming college expenses in 12-15 years
  • The inability to receive good financial aid for college due to too much assets outside of retirement accounts

As one of pioneers of the FIRE movement, Sam's desire to return to work was a surprise to many. But he had a fantastic 11-year run where he did everything he wanted to do in retirement: travel, start a family, grow his website, and write a bestselling book.

Sam encourages everyone on their FIRE journey to plan for the future while staying flexible. At the end of the day, the desire to FIRE is to lead a more optimal lifestyle.

Sam Dogen, Financial Samurai is the pioneer of the FIRE movement, Fortune profile if him wanting to go back to work

Different Types Of FIRE Lifestyles

There are three main FIRE lifestyle subtypes. These FIRE subtypes have all evolved to better suite the descriptions of various FIRE proponents.

The first subtype is the Fat FIRE lifestyle. The Fat FIRE lifestyle allows FIRE adherents to live in the most expensive parts of the country or the world. Fat FIRE folks really live it up in early retirement.

Then there's the Lean FIRE lifestyle, as mentioned above where some people choose to live extremely frugally to live a life of freedom. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this lifestyle, so long as the person isn't constantly stressed about money.

Then there's the Barista FIRE lifestyle, which is a hybrid of Fat FIRE and Lean FIRE. The Barista FIRE person choose to supplement his or her retirement income with part-time work out of necessity. But the part-time work is enjoyable.

Less Popular Financial Independence Retire Early Definitions

Baristas at Starbucks famously get healthcare, which is a big cost for many FIRE strivers. For example, Sam from Financial Samurai pays $23,800 a year in healthcare premiums to take care of his family. Barista FIRE is very similar to Coast FIRE, another iteration of the FIRE movement.

Many FIRE followers end up living the Barista FIRE lifestyle. It may be do to needing a part-time gig to keep things interesting. Often times, these interesting things lead to revenue.

Finally, there's now Slow FIRE, which is for folks who are closer to the traditional retirement path, but who want to feel included in the FIRE community. So much about achieving financial independence is psychological. The stronger your money mindset, the better.

See: How To Get Healthcare Subsidies For Early Retirement

Investment Income Is The Key To FIRE

Every person looking to achieve FIRE must build an after-tax investment portfolio that generates passive income. It's good to max out a pre-tax retirement account like a 401(k) or IRA. However, to retire early, an after-tax investment portfolio is a must since one can't tap their 401(k) or IRA before 59.5 without a 10% penalty.

Financial Samurai wisely introduced the post, Ranking The Best Passive Income Investments, to help FIRE followers strategically develop their FIRE portfolio. He uses a five factor model to rank the eight best passive income investments.

It doesn't matter who started the FIRE movment. As long as a FIRE-seeker is steadily building investment income, achieving FIRE is an inevitability. Save aggressively and save often. There's only one life to live. Better make it a good one!

Read The Best Financial Independence Book

If you want to learn more about FIRE and living the life you want, check out Sam's new book, Buy This, Not That: How to Spend Your Way To Wealth And Freedom. BTNT is jam-packed with all his insights after spending 30 years working in, studying, and writing about personal finance. 

Building wealth is only a part of the equation. Consistently making optimal decisions on some of life's biggest dilemmas is the other. BTNT helps you minimize regret and live a more purposeful life as you build more passive income.

You can buy a copy on Amazon today. The richest people in the world are always reading and always learning new things. Learn from those who are already where you want to go.

Buy This Not That Book Best Seller On Amazon on how to achieve FIRE

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