The FIRE movement has received a lot of attention recently in mainstream media. It seems as if almost daily someone from the personal finance blogging community is getting featured in a major news outlet. The fact that the FIRE movement is getting so much attention is great. However, I do wonder what impression these articles are leaving with people outside of the personal finance community.
FIRE stands for “Financially Independent, Retire Early”. The headline that gets readers to click is the RE part of FIRE. With so many people struggling to retire at any age, it’s intriguing to many how anyone could possibly retire in their 30s or 40s. In these articles, early retirees are often made out to be frugal extremists who accumulated wealth by commuting via bike, eating brown bananas, and living in a van down by the river.
I’ve mentioned in the past that the RE part of FIRE is somewhat misleading. Yes, it’s motivating to see people live life on their own terms after becoming financially independent. However, the reality is that nobody really retires. You don’t go from working a 50 hour a week job while side-hustling for 20 hours, to sitting on the couch surfing Netflix all day. These high achievers who achieve financial independence usually end up writing books or running small businesses.
The Media Needs to Focus More on This…
So what’s missing? I believe there’s a third component in addition to FI and RE that mainstream media fails to focus on.
Intentionally or unintentionally, FIRE articles portray FIRE enthusiasts as selfish when stepping away from a great job to “retire early”“. They may be right at times, but what I’ve experienced in this community is the exact opposite of selfishness.
Many people pursuing financial independence are incredibly generous. Maybe I’m missing it but I’ve yet to come across a mainstream article that promotes the generosity side of the FIRE movement.
Where is the attention on financially independent individuals who are going on missionary trips, donating thousands of dollars to important causes, or volunteering their time in retirement to help sick animals?
The Benefits of Giving
There are many reasons. For example, this post talks about the researched backed benefits of being generous. The benefits includes making us healthier, happier, less stressed, improved relationships, and longer lives.
Okay, but why does giving provide these benefits?
My simple answer is that giving is good for the soul. Giving reminds us that we are part of a much bigger, more interconnected world. It makes us appreciate the gifts that we have, especially for those of us in first world countries.
Finally, giving reminds us that we are only in this world for a short period of time and we don’t really own anything. We are just managing money on behalf of a higher power or if you don’t believe in that, the universe in general. Regardless of your beliefs, none of us are taking anything we own physically with us post-death.
When Should You Start Giving?
The answer is simple. You should start giving now. Only you can determine the appropriate amount or percentage to give. Even if you can only afford to give $5 a month, start by giving something to a cause you care about. It will help you develop a habit for when you have more to give.
I don’t agree with is the notion of, “I’ll give when I have more”. The reality is you’ll never quite have enough. Enough is a moving target that usually ends up being a little more than what you have today. Beginning to give when you have a lot of money is MUCH more difficult than giving a small amount when you don’t have much.
Again, giving is a habit much like saving or investing. When it comes to saving, putting a small amount of money away even when you don’t have much can create a powerful habit that builds over time. Once you start saving, you become inspired to reduce expenses or increase income. The same happens with giving.
Community Members Who are Giving Generously
Circling back to the original point of this article, if mainstream media isn’t going to cover the generosity of the personal finance community, then let’s do it here. My blog does not have the reach of major news outlets. However, below are several stories that need to be heard. These are examples of people or small businesses that are making a real difference in the world. I hope as inspired by these stories as I am.
Money with a Purpose: What Does Being Thankful Mean to You?
This post from Fred at Money with a Purpose provides his thoughts on the meaning of thankfulness and how we all can be more grateful. Starting small and thinking big will allow you to feel the pull of gratitude. Giving all starts with the right mindset. I love his point that living with an abundant and thankful mindset often allows money to move way down the list of bad things that happen to us.
Passive Canadian Income: Don’t Forget to Give Back
This article includes several examples of how to give back with your time and money. Examples include volunteering your time at an organization such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters; giving your money to your favorite charity; or even giving blood. As Rob closes in his quote from Gandhi, we should all try to “be the change you want in the world”.
Marriage, Kids, and Money: Why We’re Giving $100 Tips This Holiday Season
How awesome is this? Andy and his family are giving random hardworking people $100 tips. I remember when someone did this to me back when I waited tables. The impact it had on me was profound, especially during a time where I was living paycheck-to-paycheck after living on my own without financial support for the first time. My family participated #bigtiptuesday as well this holiday season inspired by Andy’s family. It was an amazing experience to randomly give someone a huge tip.
Physician on FIRE: Help Me Give Away $10,000
Here’s another great example of crowdsourcing charitable giving. The Physician on FIRE is giving away 100 donation of $100. Dozens of individuals posted their favorite charities in the comments, and my will be receiving a $100 donation as a result. What’s even more impressive is how Physician on FIRE gives away half of his blogging income to charity. I love this generosity!
Afford Anything: How Scott Harrison Brought Clean Water to 7.3 Millions People
Is there a more important cause than bringing clean water to people in need? Stories like this make me appreciate how much I take for granted in my life. Paula Pant at Afford Anything has raised nearly $20,000 for Charity Water, which will bring clean water to thousands of people world-wide.
Generosity in the FIRE Movement
I’m a believer that we should all find a way to give back in some way. This can be with money, time, or even blood (literally). The best time to start giving is right now. I know it’s not my business to tell people what to do with their money, but I believe that giving benefits greatly. You can click through the links above to get plenty of good ideas on where to give generously.
I know that writing about generosity doesn’t get the same level of engagement as retiring early. However, it’s frustrating that the generosity of this community isn’t discussed more often. Early retirees generally don’t want to sit around and be a leach. Instead, they usually go above and beyond to give back generously.
Join the movement and give generously!
Mark is the founder of Financial Pilgrimage, a blog dedicated to helping young families pay down debt and live financially free. Mark has a Bachelor’s degree in financial management and a Master’s degree in economics and finance. He is a husband of one and father of two and calls St. Louis, MO, home. He also loves playing in old man baseball leagues, working out, and being anywhere near the water. Mark has been featured in Yahoo! Finance, NerdWallet, and the Plutus Awards Showcase.
I’m 45 and FI. I don’t go on missionary trips, but I do donate to an organisation that promotes secularism. Which I guess is connected. I also write and code for free, and give lots of advice. You’re right – being generous when you stop earning is satisfying.
Congrats on reaching FI! You are exactly the type of person we typically see in this community. Generous and grateful. I appreciate you taking the time to comment.
great post and thanks for including me…
It definately feels better to give than to receive. Christmas is a great example of this.
Definitely! Nothing better than being able to give generously.
Tread Lightly, Retire Early says
I would so love to see bigger news outlets tackle this one! Seems unlikely though due to the non click baity nature of giving in this sense.
Agree. We all say we want positive and uplifting stories but the reality is it’s the clickbait that sells, weather positive or negative.
You know, I hadn’t really put much thought into it, but I suppose I do have plans to be able to do more volunteering in “retirement.” Right now it’s hard to feel right spending time at an animal shelter. But, if I’m purely doing what interests me to keep active and kill time, that would be high on my list.
My actual money giving tends to be in odd spurts, to specific causes. I’ll go some years and not do it at all, and in others do it quite a bit. I don’t really have plan around it, just when I feel compelled to.
In the meantime, I look out for volunteer opportunities and giving my time with local groups – often hobby based. I try to offer to help with membership initiatives or offer to get involved in educational events.
I can only imagine that I’ll be doing a lot more of that if I get to the RE stage.
We all choose to give in different ways at different times. I think it’s great that you do so with both your money and time.
If I ever make it to the RE phase I’ll be excited to give much more of my time to important causes. Being able to give generously is so fulfilling.
James T says
I love this! I’ve been looking for more blogs/posts that highlight the benefits of generosity. The FIRE community tends to focus so much on the path to FIRE that I feel like generosity often is left out or would be seen as a detractor to getting to FIRE (even though I know a lot of FIRE bloggers are very generous).
I’ve actually be considering started a blog focused on generosity. The benefits of it, weekly challenges for people to try out. How to figure out what your are passionate about so you can be generous in those areas. Interviews with different ways people are using their time, talent, and money to be generous. I’d love to track “Net Giving” instead of “Net Worth”.
James, I love this so much. I may steal your idea of net giving. What I’ve experienced is that many in the FI community are extremely generous. However, giving doesn’t get he headlines.
I also think that writing about generosity can be tough because it comes across as self serving. Giving shouldn’t be something we brag about, but if we don’t talk about it how do we encourage others to do the same? It’s certainly something I struggle with.
Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment.
The Frugal Fuyanger says
Very cool! I just redid my debt paydown budget to including giving back to people who have supported me over the years (some personal, some through charities), so I found this hugely encouraging.
That is awesome! Even better to give back to people or groups who have helped you along the way. It’s great to see things come full circle. Happy giving!
The Frugal Fuyanger says
Chris Roane says
Great article on being generous. I found it difficult when having crushing credit card debt to want to give. I felt I was giving to something before taking care of my families finances. I did give some money, but not nearly as much as I wanted to. But I know that is an excuse.
When I think about it, being in constant debt made all things finances related stressful. I’m not using this as an excuse, but crushing debt brings a kind of misery that is hard to describe. We finally are going to be debt free in a month!
I also think being generous is also more than just donating money, and is more a mindset. It is learning to help your neighbor, and helping serving others in different capacities. I’ve worked on a local arthouse cinema website for free, and I found that to be rewarding. But I would like to do more and this great motivation to think about what we can do now.
Congrats on being debt free soon! It sounds like it’s been a long journey for you.
Completely agree on generosity being more than just donating money. For people who don’t have anything to give, finding opportunities to give time can be equally as rewarding. Regardless if time or money, being generous helps me feel more connected to the world and issues that I care about. It makes me feel like I’m making a small difference which in turn drives me in many other ways. A generous mindset is so important.
So slightly off topic, but I think the entire FIRE movement is misunderstood by almost everyone! When the majority of people hear the word “retire”, that means you either don’t work or work a minimal amount of hours (think less than 8). I’m finding that most FIRE people are not retired, they moved from the corporate world to self-employed. They have the FI part down, but instead of commuting to a job and get a salary they work for themselves. So, just addressing the first few paragraphs of your post I think FIRE is inherently a dishonest for the majority of those that claim to be there.
Totally agree. I have a love/hate relationship with the R in FIRE.
I love it because it think the term has helped take the movement mainstream. People are genuinely curious when they hear about someone retiring in their 30s.
I don’t like it for the reasons you mention. I think it’s a bit misleading. Like you say, nobody seems to really retire. However, people do have much more control over their time as a result of being financially independent. That’s why I say that we’re pursuing financial independence not retiring early.