FIRE Advocates Fired Up Over Economic Turmoil

For many leaders of the penny-pinching FIRE crowd, ambitious projects are suddenly on hold.

FIRE stands for “financial independence/retire early,” but even if the goal is to get out of the 9-to-5 grind, spreading the word is a business of its own -- and like almost every other business in the U.S., the coronavirus has brought things to a screeching halt.

Grant Sabatier, who writes the “Millennial Money” blog, had to postpone a 1,000-plus attendee “Financial Freedom Summit.” Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus, who dub themselves the Minimalists, had to postpone a West Coast speaking tour, as well as production on a Netflix film.

It’s a tough moment for some FIRE followers, too. The movement is based largely on the idea that you can live on less and save more through intensive financial planning, and an 11-year bull market made the possibility of hitting their numbers seem well within reach. That’s gone now.

The market turmoil and an economic downturn that could send unemployment as high as 30% by some estimates will cut the legs out from under many careful calculations of how to achieve financial independence. Early retirees may find finances strained, and efforts to rekindle former careers frustrated. Those who benefited from a growing economy offering myriad ways to cobble together income streams may find those avenues shutting down.

“I’m sure there are people who retired in the past six months who are freaking out, and I feel truly bad for them,” said Tanja Hester, a former political consultant who retired about two years ago at age 38 and writes the “Our Next Life” blog. “This will bring hardship to the FIRE community like it does to everyone else, but far less because by and large we have insulation.”

‘Own Terms’

Sabatier, 35, sheltering with his wife in upstate New York about 150 miles away from their Brooklyn home, said these unsettled times could swell, rather than shrink, FIRE’s ranks.

“FIRE to me has always meant living life on your own terms,” he said. “From that perspective, the core philosophies and values and principles of FIRE are more important than ever.”