Cannibalism in the FIRE Community

I wanted to cover a topic that has been concerning me a lot lately, and which should be concerning you, too. It’s a little distasteful, a little uncomfortable, and a little gross, but we’ve got to address it. That’s right, I’m talking about cannibalism in the FIRE community.

Cannibalism in the FIRE Community

Clickbait title aside, there really is a problem in the FIRE community when it comes to turning on our own. The New Yorker just published a piece on Mr. Money Mustache, and all across the web, people came out to feast. From Reddit to Bogleheads, everyone had an opinion, many of them unflattering. People across the web who self-identified as seeking FIRE devoured Mr. Money Mustache whole, ridiculing his parenting, his recreational marijuana use (in a state where it is legal), and even his choice to hang his laundry rather than purchase a dryer.  He was too obsessive about energy use. He makes too much money on his blog.

He stirs his peanut butter funny (seriously!).

Personally, I’ve always really liked Mr. Money Mustache. He was my introduction to the concept of FIRE and his message of self-reliance, minimalism, and radical individuality has always resonated with me. That’s why it’s always seemed odd to me that it’s acceptable for any highly visible member of our community to be successful, but only so long as they don’t become too successful, and as long as they aren’t weird while they do it.

Well, I’ve got news for you, dear readers. We are all weird. That’s true of human beings in general, and particularly true for the FIRE community. I sing alternate Taylor Swift lyrics to my dogs (“Barkers gonna bark bark bark bark bark…“). I dry fruit with a box fan. I’m a freaking weirdo.

Weirdness is literally a pre-requisite for achieving FIRE for most of us, because it involves diverging radically from the norm.  I spend less (“Isn’t it weird that he never comes out drinking and uses a five year old phone?”), I buy properties thousands of miles away (“Isn’t it weird how they haven’t set a date for the wedding yet, but he’s buying property?”), we travel to unexpected places when the opportunities arise (“Isn’t it weird that they actually wanted to go to Egypt?”).

I love my weirdness. I embrace my weirdness. My truest friends embrace my weirdness too. As for the rest? Excuse the language, but F those guys.

So, if I can embrace my own quirks and demand that society accept me on my own terms, why can’t the FIRE community do the same for each other? Does it diminish the truth of MMM’s message one iota that he may (or may not) be idiosyncratic? Does the fact that his blog is raking in $400,000 per year make him any more obliged to spend that money, to not spend it, or to put it towards a purpose of our choosing? If he spends the money he makes on his kids, he’s a phony. If he keeps it all, he’s a profiteer.

No. F those guys. FIRE is about choosing your own path, and being a visible proponent of it doesn’t come with any particular obligation to behave as the community desires. If FIRE is about freedom, and not just money, then we owe it to one another to not eat our own.  Be kind to each other. Learn something where you can, and pass over the stuff where you can’t. If someone’s personal lifestyle in FIRE doesn’t match your own imagining, feel free not to live that way.

Being a weirdo is tough enough without having to worry about cannibals.

16 thoughts on “Cannibalism in the FIRE Community

  1. TheHappyPhilosopher

    I love MMM and his message. Weird or not I’m very thankful for his writing. I accept the totality of the person with the understanding that all articles on people are only partially true (even from The New Yorker). I’ve seen his writing inspire countless others to be better humans and take control of their lives – including the guy I see in the mirror every day.

    Stay weird Pete…stay weird my friend.

  2. Brian @ debt discipline

    Anytime any blogger goes mainstream or has success the haters are going to come out to play. I’m sure MMM is going to continue to do his thing. Hopefully the article sparks an interest in someone out there to think a little differently or get their financially act together, but the internet tough guys will always be out there.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      Ha, Brian! I think “internet tough guys” is exactly the right term! You are right, of course… just thought I would call it out while it was on my mind. Sometimes it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees– FIRE is about doing our own thing, whatever it may be!

  3. John

    The point of FIRE is to live your dreams! There are certainly a lot of alternatives out there, many of which don’t appeal to me. But, of course, my choices wouldn’t appeal to many others.

    Live and let live, I say. Get a life of your own and don’t worry about what anyone else does with there’s!


  4. Eric

    While I’m sure MMM is more than able to handle or ignore the criticism after years of practice, it does strike me as odd that people who aspire to FIRE are among the first to tear down his accomplishments. Well, not the Bogleheads, it’s easy to see that those guys are just jealous because they all want the kind of security MMM has and he didn’t have to work until 55 to get it.

    But the Reddit people, I don’t understand. Maybe because they’re younger and are not comfortable enough in their own skin to be able to shrug off any parts of the MMM message that don’t fit with their lives. One guy kept going on and on about how MMM hates dog owners. Because of one post that pointed out that dogs are expensive. People are weird.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      You are reading my mind, Eric. It’s as if, on all sides, everyone is desperate to prove that it’s all too good to be true, and that the other shoe has finally dropped. I doubt I’d have the courage to let a reporter into my life to report on the everyday goings-on, no matter how much freedom or money I had!

  5. Tommy @ LeisureFreak

    I think that most of the haters are those who can’t imagine doing anything weird, freakish, or different than the traditional consumerist lifestyle. I believe they hate their financial situation and look for ways to improve it but at the same time hate anyone who has actually shared what worked/works for them. No different than workplace teammate envy of anyone who became passes then by and becomes more successful. Everyone wants a shortcut and in this polarized world of ours attacking different beliefs and lifestyles than their own is rampant. Unfortunately it is an overall human trend not limited to the FIRE community. I don’t agree with everything MMM preaches or his sometimes over-criticism of the consumerist herds but I believe he does walk his talk. I also believe that there isn’t one great plan or single way that will work for everyone. People should take the parts that they can use for their own FI benefit and create their unique FIRE sustainable plan and lifestyle.

    1. The Vagabond Post author

      I agree, Tommy, really well put. Case in point, my fiancée told me today that a work colleague told her she was “weird” for having some cavities filled while we’re in Thailand in a couple of weeks for a few bucks apiece. I told her that “weird” is just something people call us when we make them doubt or regret their own decisions.

  6. Daisy

    I think some of the haters are trying to prove they made the right life choices even though they’re faced with MMM’s unusual & successful life doing things way differently. When they can say “Ah, that works for you because [insert detail here that is completely irrelevant] but it wouldn’t work for me at all because in my state/home/family/situation/experience, [negative thought on said detail].”, it makes them feel justified in their own choices even if they’re closing their eyes to the main point. So it’s not really about MMM, it’s about them. They’re faced with a radically different solution outside their comfort zone & want to prove it isn’t applicable to them so they can feel better that they’re doing the right thing (& not feel threatened about changing their mindset).

  7. Ed

    I have gone to MMM a few times, go every few months to see what is going on, but overall I feel that he is a bit too tree huger for me. But to each his own.
    I have also heard a lot of the critics talk about how he isn’t really retired because he works on building and maintaining houses and there is no way he can live off $25k, yada yada yada. Again to each his own.

    The only thing I am curious about is how he seems to be a health nut but has no problem with smoking the ganja and drinking the alcoholic beverage. Both health conscious folks might tend to avoid. But again, to each his own.

  8. Liz

    Thanks for this post. Reading MMM got me started on the path to FIRE 3 years ago. I am not there yet, but I carry that mentality with me every single day and it makes every day so much better! I wish people would listen more and talk less.

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