Some label the FIRE movement a cult and some find it life-changing.
US finance writer Suze Orman hates it, while FIRE bloggers and podcasters hide their identities so their bosses won’t know.
And now there is a powerful documentary about the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) movement called Playing with FIRE.
If you have ever read a blog post written by the colourful, cycling Canadian writer Peter Adeney aka Mr Money Mustache, you have probably heard about the FIRE movement. He features in the documentary.
Adeney turns consumerism on its head, taking simple living principles to the extreme by advocating a hyper-low-consumption lifestyle.
He practises what he preaches; he retired with his wife at age 30 to live a simple yet meaningful Colorado existence that involves lots of cycling and time with family and community.
No waiting for a gold watch after decades of service for him – he’s got his cake, and he is eating it now, albeit homemade and in small slices to make it last.
The film features interviews with Adeney, and several major FIRE movement influencers such as Kristy Shen (who saved a million dollars by age 31 and now travels the world with her husband), and Vicki Robin (author of the 1992 classic, Your Money or Your Life).
These influencers have a strong message about how FIRE is not only possible but is part of their lived journeys.
But the main narrative is the story of 35-year-old Scott Rieckens, who convinces his wife Taylor to make a radical FIRE life change after stumbling across a FIRE blog.
Pre FIRE, Mr and Mrs Rieckens lived a seemingly perfect, modern Instagram-worthy life – good careers, a beautiful home and luxury cars. The sort of lifestyle that many people were taught to aspire to, and if I’m truthful, the sort of lifestyle I once aspired to.
The problem was they were so busy working – and spending – they didn’t have enough time to spend with their toddler. So, they set out on a year-long journey to understand and test FIRE principles. It’s an extreme path, even by the standards of most on a FIRE journey.
The Australian premiere, organised by Australian emerging FIRE fintech Pearler, featured conversations with four Australian FIRE and money bloggers (Dave from Strong Money Australia, Pat from Life Long Shuffle, Miss Balance from All About Balance and me, Serina from The Joyful Frugalista). A special guest is director Travis Shakespeare.
Shakespeare is not just fascinated by the FIRE movement – he is part of it. While still a Hollywood executive by day, he travelled to Ecuador in 2015 to join a large financial independence gathering referred to as Chautauqua.
This is the annual mecca for FIRE devotees. There, Shakespeare met and became friends with Adeney and other influencers in the movement, which inspired him to choose a frugal path.
Although I’m already a proud frugalista, I can feel the movie is going to challenge my beliefs and inspire me to save even harder. It comes at a time when I am struggling with a sense of purpose in my profession, compounded by a strained relationship in the office.
All is not well in Australia’s work culture. One in four Australians suffers anxiety (much of it work-related). Australians on average take an hour to commute to work and then work six hours of unpaid overtime a week.
Yet Australians are trapped beneath a burden of record-high levels of consumer debt. We need to have conversations about why we work, how long we plan to work, the health and wellbeing effects of stress and long hours, and the social and environmental impact of our spending.
The FIRE movement is more than just a numbers game; many of its members are passionate about freeing themselves from the drudgery of the rat race so they can make a positive difference in their communities – and dare to follow their dreams.
Not everyone is sympathetic to the FIRE movement, with many confronted that young people choose to retire during a time when society expects them to be the most productive in their career.
Aussie millennials were already the target of disapproval for audaciously wanting to both brunch on smashed avocado and buy a home, and now FIRE followers face criticism for opting out of society. Is it any wonder that most millennial FIRE influencers in Australia choose to remain anonymous?
The Australian premiere of Playing with FIRE screened at the University of New South Wales on August 14. Pearler will donate some of the proceeds for hosting to Kiva, and the rest to supporting the distribution of Playing with FIRE to other locations in Australia.