Why FIRE Never Would Have Worked In The Past

The latest buzzword in the personal finance community is FIRE.  Many of the most successful blogs now talk about FIRE.  For those that don’t know, FIRE stands for Financial Independence, Retire Early.  The blogging community now has many blogs where people achieve financial freedom at a young age, and can retire well before traditional retirement age.  Many boast of retiring in their 30’s.

This is a pretty cool movement, especially in the age where Millennials are breaking many of the molds created over years past.

I started thinking about it.  I came to the conclusion that FIRE probably wouldn’t have been embraced by generations past.

Here’s my take on what I think generational mindsets are regarding FIRE.

Millennials (born 1980-2000s)

I think that millennials are the heart of the FIRE movement.  Many don’t want the traditional life that they witnessed grown up.  This stands to reason that many millennials are at the heart of the FIRE movement.

Generation X (born 1965-1979)

This is probably the dividing line between acceptance of FIRE and skepticism.  Many in our generation have gone through enough recessions that we know things can change.  We’ve seen good times and bad.  The idea of FIRE sounds great, but many may see it as ‘too good to be true’.

Others in our generation still fall in the mindset that each generation should strive to be more successful than that prior.  This has been pretty hard for our generation.  There’s a lot more competition in the job market.  We’re the first generation that saw most of our parents get a pension, but very few of us will.  We have healthcare costs that previous generations did not.  For many in our generation, just trying to keep up with our parents is hard enough. Adding in the goal of early retirement can seem even further out of reach.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964)

The baby boomer generation was fueled by consumerism and prosperity.  A lot of wealth was built by boomers.  While making money wasn’t ‘easy’, boomers who worked hard found money flowed in.  For many boomers, making money and achieving wealth was the goal.  The big one.

Simply put, I think many boomers would have asked why they would give up making money when there was money to still be made?

Greatest & Silent Generations (born 1910-1945)

These generations were both impacted by the Great Depression.  Because of this, FIRE would simply not have made any sense to them.  Many here saw what it was like to struggle.  To have nothing.  Many people immigrated and started with nothing.  The idea of retiring early would have been unheard of.  For many in these generations, not having enough money was a giant fear.  Even if they had enough, there was always the fear of what could happen.  Why? Because many here had seen what could happen.

I think many in this generation would have been scornful of FIRE.  To people in this generation, if you were able bodied, you worked.  That’s just the way it was.

The Late 19th Century

In the late 19th century, everything was changing.  Machines were making things easier and creating worldwide growth. Cities and population centers were exploding.  There was so much to do that everybody had to pitch in.  The demands of the world were plentiful, and everybody was expected to pitch in.

I think in this era, anybody who would have attempted FIRE would have been laughed out of whatever town they lived in.

Tribal Days (Going Way Back)

Hundreds of years ago, when we lived in tribes, everybody contributed.  Many tribes expected every person to contribute.  If you couldn’t, many tribes expelled you.  Or worse.  There would have been no FIRE here.  If you had tried to stop working, the tribe would have taken what you have, and sent you away (or thrown you off a bridge).

Kind of makes working seem like a pretty good alternative, no?

FIRE Across The Generations

There’s my take on the generational acceptance of FIRE.  I think that FIRE is a big thing because it truly is a new concept for many.

What do you think of my thoughts? Do you agree on how prior generations would have looked upon FIRE?  What generation are you and what do you think of FIRE?  Let me know in the comments below.



16 thoughts on “Why FIRE Never Would Have Worked In The Past”

  1. I hate to argue, no that’s untrue I love to argue, but you do know that Benjamin Franklin FIRE’d off long ago at age 42, right? As a boomer I know people who retired in their 30’s and 40’s to pursue whatever interesting thing they wanted, but it did not include a 9 to 5. FIRE has always been around and it has always worked. While it certainly did not catch on like it has now, its always been a thing.

  2. I’m a FIREd Gen-X person.

    I think it all depends on the individual.

    There is a lot more talk about FIRE recently, but that’s because there are a ton of bloggers writing about it. There are much fewer readers actually following the guidance. I doubt we’ll see a generation of people retiring in the 30s or 40s.

  3. I think you’re right. Millennials are more plugged in and they are more open to the alternatives. They’re also young and more idealistic.

    Gen Xers are receptive too. We are going through a big change in career and work. Corporations are more demanding now and many jobs are unpleasant. If you’ve been diligent about saving and investing, then FIRE is a good option. I think this generation is open to FIRE also.
    The Boomers are the real FIRE trail blazer, though. There are a few who have done it and they inspired many of us. They show that FIRE can work for 30+ years. It was a really tiny movement back then.

  4. When I read the preview I honestly thought the argument would be centered around how little data there was to ensure stability over the very long term in the markets. Baby Boomers at the time wouldn’t have the looooong assuring data we have today. There would have been sooooo much more “are you crazy??” abound.

    I think millennials are fairly lucky in that respect, to have so much data built before we were even born.

  5. Well, those are pretty broad generalizations.

    My father (b. 1909) had as his lifetime goal retiring at the earliest possible date. He took us overseas to do so — he was a Merchant Mariner who got a shore job paying a stupefying salary (for those days) in a remote post on the Persian Gulf where there was no place for my mother to spend their money. When forced, ahead of plans, to return to the US, he worked like an animal, paid for EVERYTHING in cash (including cars and the house) until he could afford to knock off, which he did at the age of about 52.

    The famous SDXB (b. 1940) walked off the job in his late 40s and has never looked back. He dwells in a happy state of “Bumhood” to this day.

    We didn’t have the cute acronym, but a lot of us had as our goal exiting the rat race at the earliest possible moment.

    • That’s great success. It’ll be interesting to see how this ‘movement’ plays out over time. It’s definitely much bigger than it was compared to the individual stories from the past.

  6. Nice post!

    One thing and I make this point only because I am WAY TO YOUNG TO BE A MOM OF MILLENNIALS! haha. Kids born in 1997 or after are called post-millennials. Actually I don’t think they have a name yet. But since I have 3 of them, I’m thinking a good name is the crazy generation.

  7. MB, nice article! I wanted to read more and was sad when it ended so abruptly lol. What about the renaissance era?! Middle Ages? Early AD? Ancient Greek and Egyptian BC? I want to knowwwww where your thoughts are with these as welllllllll?????

  8. I think the biggest advantage the younger generations have in terms of why FIRE has really taken off is that they have at their disposal the technology to disseminate the information to a far larger audience than in the past. Through blogs, etc. the FIRE concept has spread like wildFIRE because of how easy it is to share this knowledge. I’m sure if you asked anyone in any generation what they would prefer, working till 65 or retiring in their 30’s, the latter option should be the overwhelming favorite.

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