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How to Deal With Those Awkward FIRE Conversations

April 18, 2023


There’s now a fantastic Aussie community growing around the FIRE movement.

An increasing number of people are hopping on board with the idea of saving and investing to become free much sooner than traditional retirement age.

But even though it feels like a tsunami of people waking up at the same time, it’s still a tiny percentage of the population.

Our friends, colleagues and family members are still decidedly chained to the work-spend-repeat-till-I-die treadmill.

Because of this, many worry that becoming financially independent will make them an outcast.

“Won’t everyone assume things about me?”

“Should I even share my situation with people, and if so, what do I say?”

For others who are further along, closer to pulling the pin on work, anxiety ramps up as they become nervous about standing out from the crowd.

“How do I explain not working and having all this free time?”

These are all important questions, so let’s attack them one by one.

 

Should I tell people what I’m doing?

When we first start down the path to financial independence, we can’t believe we weren’t doing it sooner.

Once we grasp the principles and realise how life-changing it can be, we want to share it with everyone!

But how do we broach this topic with friends and family?  After all, money is like politics and religion, and tends to divide more than unite.

First, let me be clear.  I don’t think anyone should go around declaring their frugality skills, financial prowess and great position for the sake of it.

But it’s also inevitable that money comes up as a topic of conversation between friends, colleagues and family.  So we do need a plan for dealing with it.

The safe move, of course, is to say nothing at all about what you’re doing and this FIRE Cult you’re a part of.  But if there’s a money convo already going, you have two clear options:

1- Participate and share some info that may be helpful to the group (maybe a basic saving idea or finance/investing concept)

2- Smile and nod along while you wait for the topic to change (hoping nobody asks you a question).

If everyone’s sharing, then you might feel the urge to share too.  And fair enough!  Why should you feel sheepish about it?

It’s like if a group of people are talking about fitness and only one of them is actually in shape… but the fit person stays silent and adds nothing to the convo.  Isn’t that incredibly weird?

Grumpy old man side note: The developed world seems to have reached a point where successful people (in any realm) are dismissed because their accomplishments now make them ‘privileged’ and ‘out of touch’.  As if they couldn’t possibly understand what a ‘normal’ person goes through.  When in fact, most of the time, these successful ones are just normal people who’ve focused unwaveringly on excelling in a particular area for a long period of time.

But I digress!  Back to these awkward conversations…

 

How to talk about money

First things first.  Avoid gloating about personal achievements or milestones unless specifically asked.  Normal people don’t wanna hear any of that!

Imagine you’re talking to someone at work.  This person is 20 years your senior, and it turns out their financial situation is worse than you first realised.  Telling them you’re sitting on a half-million dollar portfolio of shares, or you just paid off your house, is far more likely to enrage them than inspire them!

But don’t feel the need to lie either.  It’s better for your mind and soul if you remain honest, sharing as much or as little as you feel comfortable with, navigating the conversation with whatever feels natural.

In some ways, you can’t win.  If you share too much, you’ll come across as a bragging know-it-all.  If you share too little (but people kind of know your situation), you’ll come across as selfish and unwilling to share your ‘secrets’.

This conundrum leads to assumptions that rich people aren’t interested in helping others with their knowledge.  It’s possible they just don’t want to be berated if anything they say comes off the wrong way.

And sure, people can ask for guidance, but they may be too uncomfortable or embarrassed to do that.  Maybe they’re looking out for you just in case ASIC is listening to your conversation.

Overall, I do think it’s better to share than not.  But only if people seem genuinely interested.  A useful strategy is to be generous with the ideas, but scarce on personal details.

If they’re curious to know more, they’ll enquire further.  Otherwise, you can always just speak in broad generalities:

“We used to worry about debt, but I did a few things differently and it helped us get on top of our mortgage and even start investing a bit”

Remember, saving is less intimidating than investing.  By sharing that you focus on saving while still living a good life is less likely to scare people off.

For example…

“I just saved $1,000 on my mortgage by getting a better interest rate… maybe talk to your bank?” 

“We went camping this year instead of going overseas and it was actually a lot of fun, and heaps cheaper”

You get the idea!

 

Won’t people judge me for being different?

Yes.  But here’s the thing: they already do!

Whether you’re broke, rich, ripped, rotund, serious, silly, quiet, loud, or any variation of average in between.

The idea that we shouldn’t judge anyone is lovely, but it’s not very realistic.

Our minds are constantly making judgements, whether we like it or not.  This happens subconsciously, not because we’re bad people, because it saves time and energy.

The mind likes to create little shortcuts by making assumptions about places, events, information, and of course, people.  Otherwise there’s simply far too much information to gather and the brain becomes overwhelmed.  It seeks to simplify things so it can conserve energy.

I’m sure countless people have thought certain things about me over the years (and still do).  But other people’s opinions are not something we have much control over, which means it’s not something worth worrying about.

In any case, it’s perfectly likely that you’ll drift away from certain folks over time and closer to others.  As times goes on, you’ll naturally find yourself seeking out and gravitating towards those with similar goals, interests and values.

This isn’t unique to personal finance.  It happens to everyone as life progresses and we all head in our own unique direction.

Just like fitness people end up hanging out with other fitness people (even though they still like their out-of-shape friends).  Finance and FIRE folks are the same.

 

Drifting and relatability

There’s a few layers to this socialisation onion.  Let’s peel off another.

Because of your continued learning, expanding wealth, and different life path, you’ll begin to find it harder to relate to ‘normal people’.

Why?  Well, as time goes on, your situation moves further and further away from that of most others.  You don’t face the same typical problems.

While they’re still dealing with the same issues as ten years ago – a well paid but shitty job they can’t quite leave, crippling car and mortgage repayments, and lack of savings due to dozens of little lifestyle upgrades – you’re trying to figure out how to best optimise your Monday’s for the greatest amount of enjoyment as a middle finger salute to your old 9-5.

It’s an unfortunate but inescapable fact: you can’t drag people along with you.  Everyone is doing their own thing, and that’s okay.

So where does this leave us?  If you haven’t already, you’ll want to seek out people who you can better relate to.

You can do that by either hanging out more often with your finance and freedom-minded friends.  Or, if you don’t currently have any of those, try heading along to meetups in your local city and steadily building friendships from there.

Facebook groups are an ideal place to start for this.  There are various local ‘Choose FI’ and ‘Mustachian’ groups in Australia (in addition to the broader Aussie FIRE Discussion group of course).

I’m not actively involved in these groups but I believe there are meetups from time to time (I recently went along to a meetup with the Choose FI Perth group, as well as organising my own, and both were great!).

Actually, one unexpected benefit of this blog has been making multiple new friends.  And by the way, I do plan to have more meetups in the future, because there’s a definite need for it in the community.

 

What do I say when I no longer have a proper job?

This one is near the top of the list of nervous topics for early retirees.

As for what to say, I think it depends on your age.  If you’re 50+, you’ll get away with saying whatever you like (even that you’re retired) with minimal awkwardness.  Because it’s not that long until super and a possible pension anyway.  So it’s much more within the realm of possibilities for people to accept.

If you’re younger… it’s less straightforward.  Your situation is such an outlier (even though it’s slowly becoming more common) that people will give you that startled, confused look if you admit to being ‘retired’.

Here’s a few options, which I’ve shared before:

—  Tell people you’re taking a break for a while.

—  Say you’re possibly going to switch industries and do something else a bit more casual but you’re not sure what yet.

—  Tell the truth.  That you have enough savings/investments to support you and don’t need to work (or while you decide what to do next).

All three are likely to be true at the same time.

Importantly, you shouldn’t feel guilty about anything.  You’ve earned the right to do whatever the hell you want!

“Taking time off” will work nicely for a while.  Later, you’ll probably start something new, and you can say “I do X part time.”  And if they wonder how, you can simply say, “we have some savings/investments and don’t spend much, so we manage okay without working full-time.”

This phrasing helps avoid giving the impression that you’re rich, which unfortunately is what the average Aussie hears with statements around investments or early retirement.  Instead, they’re more likely to think you’re just a regular person with some savings and limited needs (which is true).

Regardless, some people will still think certain things about you for being different.  That’s just the way it is if you’re not a sheep.

For the most part, people will likely just think you’re a bit weird.  But who cares!

For new people you meet, there’s always the option of making up a story.  Maybe you say you do consulting work or are self-employed (both vague and broad answers which may not even result in further questions).

What about that you work in private asset management?  Your clients are a small group of individuals who’s money you invest, and you do it from home.  That’s pretty damn close to the truth anyway 😁

 

Measuring a human life and motivating others

Even with family this topic might be weird.  Depending on their own upbringing, they may harbour certain feelings about people that are financially focused.

Or the idea of reducing or stopping work at a younger age may be so foreign to them and the opposite to everything they’ve ever known.  In which case, it’s possible they fear you’ll ‘waste your life’ or ‘not have enough’ or other variations of fear.

Funny how the idea of ‘wasting’ one’s life is never referred to in terms of working an average job for 40 hours a week for 40 years.  But when the idea of total freedom at a much younger age is on the cards, that’s when this fear pops up.  Absolute nonsensical backwards-arse logic!

It’s because many believe that working a job – regardless of how meaningless – is somehow more valuable than living life on your own terms (after you’ve earned it, I might add!).

We’re so used to measuring human life by the value they delivered to a company or an economy.  When in reality, humans can have an immeasurable impact on others without working for a company or being a good little consumer robot.

And just like that, I’ve managed to turn a blog post into a philosophical rant 😁

Anyway, despite our enthusiasm, almost nobody will get on board with our glorious dream of financial independence.

The idea of not spending all your money is just too much of an alien concept for most people to subscribe to.  How people spend their money is a HUGE part of their identity.  Question it at your own peril!

And yes, I’m aware that some people need to spend all their money to keep up with their bills.  But in modern day Australia, this is overwhelmingly due to personal choices.

Ultimately, there’s no right or easy way to tackle this stuff.   Well, unless you avoid it altogether I suppose!

 

Final thoughts

If you’ve had money-related conversations with regular folks in the past, you’ll have noticed there’s a glaring problem.

Very few people will be interested in making any changes whatsoever and their eyes will immediately glaze over if something doesn’t seem effortless.  So keep that in mind and temper your expectations around any impact you might have 😉

Most people are set in their ways.  The idea we can motivate people by sharing our story and a few tips is wildly optimistic!

Which is probably why many of us visit blogs and online communities… since there’s a higher chance of finding others like us.

Folks who are on the same path as us, with similar goals and challenges.  We can share, and laugh, and celebrate, as we improve our knowledge, wealth, and lifestyles all at the same time.

So tell people whatever you like about your situation – whichever approach fits you best.  And regardless of how these awkward conversations go, when it’s all over, you can go back to enjoying your happy position of freedom.

15 Comments

15 Replies to “How to Deal With Those Awkward FIRE Conversations”

  1. Working in ‘private asset management’. I do like the sound of that. A bit mysterious and exotic, as well as suitably vague.

  2. If you use some sort of structure for your investments (company or trust), it’s truthful to just tell people “I have a business”. This works even better if you’re quite hands-on in your investments. In all honesty once you have a very diversified portfolio of property, trusts, shares the admin of handling it does build up to a bit per month. Add to this the admin of just normal life operations (mail, banking, chores etc) and it’s fair to say part of your life is “working”. It’s just so nice to not have to work both for yourself AND someone else anymore.

    Another thing that’s kind of current affairs is the demonisation of property investors, who are getting alot of the blame for the countries housing shortage instead of the governments. This makes me reluctant to give away much info on how property fit in for us, unless it’s someone who really understands that more investors actually increase housing construction.

    There’s definitely not many I know that I can talk about this stuff with, and I must admit I’ve had trouble with some of the FIRE community who have often times been rather inflexible in their beliefs if someone comes in with methods that don’t fit the standard prescribed path (reddit mostly).

    In the end I just never volunteer what I do for a living, unless I’m actually asked. Then I don’t lie but skirt around anything that makes me sound “rich” haha because I think I’m only rich in life, not rich in wealth.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Dan, makes a lot of sense to me.

      There’s definitely a lot of truth in that having an ‘investment business and managing a portfolio of assets etc can definitely end up being a solid part-time job workload, depending on those assets and overall finances, plus researching new investments, admin and so on.

      Interesting point to re property investors. Definitely copping a lot of heat at the moment, more than normal. As you suggest, could be wise to not say much around that topic depending on who it is.

      Haha yeah reddit folks certainly don’t have a reputation of being open-minded – I stopped hanging out there long ago. I’m probably guilty of it too at times, though hopefully a bit less than most.

  3. I agree with your sentiment, post FIRE, I went from taking a break, living off savings, to looking for exceptional job opportunities then finally landing on consultant. If you’ve had a professional career and left it, it can really rock the conservative mind.
    I now give people a tailored response between the truth and consultant depending on how free thinking I think they are, so it’s easier for both parties. FIRE indoctrination reserved for special cases!

    1. Thanks for the comment.

      I agree, and the longer one in in a proper career, the harder it becomes to leave for multiple reasons. Well done for breaking free, adapting, and deciding to do something different!

  4. so relatable. Having to justify your choices. We are aware we are in a unique position however this did not happen by chance. A lot of planning and thought from both of us. We are now liVing our life as we know only too well that life is short.

    1. Cheers Mrs MND 🙂
      Having to justify your choices is a strange thing really. But I guess it’s to be expected when there are different behaviours + results from the norm.
      Thanks for stopping by and continue enjoying your freedom!

  5. Good discussion Dave. It’s a tricky topic. I took a decade away from paid work to raise 3 kids and do a university degree a while back, and found that some were dismissive of that. I once met a chap who said he was from whatever industry was on strike at the time, I think he did it to get a reaction!
    Maybe it’s easier, since covid, to say “I work from home” and if anyone asks for more detail, just add “in asset management”, because we all do a bit of that.
    Then if anyone is genuinely serious, I’ll refer them to a few websites, most notably, this one.

    1. Cheers Helen. Which part were people dismissive of, the uni degree, or raising kids?

      Good point – it’s definitely more normal these days for people to be working from home or have a flexible schedule than before. Gives a good cover for being out relaxing with a coffee during the day 😉

  6. Thanks for this, it’s a nice perspective on something that I hadn’t had to cobsider until recently as retirement is approaching for me (currently 37).

    I’m finding it particularly difficult being single and dating. I’m trying to gently ease men into the fact that FI is a big part of my life and I’ll be retiring before I’m 40. A couple of men have really tried to embrace it but both had similar feelings of insecurity around it. If only there was a dating app to find like-minded FIRE people!

    1. Thanks for sharing Sarah. What do you think the insecurity was around? Was it that it forced them to realise you’re doing better than them financially? Or possibly the idea that they’ll be a provider has been removed, so they don’t feel as valuable?

      Haha yes, that would be a winning app for sure. Someone totally has to build that!

      1. Yes, it’s like there’s a tipping point where we get to know each other more and they start to realise that I’m doing better than them financially.

        After that point, they have expressed feelings like they can’t match me, that they don’t know what they bring to the relationship and it’s largely based on traditional gender roles.

        When I think about how many years it took me to expand my thinking and realise that FIRE was possible, I see that it’s difficult for people to accept the FIRE ideas in a few months of dating. I actually just put into my dating profile that I’m into FIRE, so hopefully that’ll give me some matches with FIRE-ies 🙂

        1. Yeah I can definitely see what you’re saying there. It’s tricky given how the male/female dynamics have changed in modern times.

          That’s a really good idea I think, then there’s no surprises and people who are into FIRE it will catch their eye!

          Now let’s find someone to build that app 🙂

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