Not Fostering Comparison // Are We the Joneses?

Today we’re reflecting on comparison — when it can be good, when it crosses the line, and if it’s even possible to know when you’ve crossed that line. Let’s start with a little step back into our history…

Why We Started the Blog

Once upon a time, when we started this blog, we really didn’t think anyone would read. We started writing Our Next Life to have a chronicle of our journey to early retirement that we could one day look back on if we ever started to take retirement for granted, to remind us how hard we’d worked to get there. I wrote dumb posts about how our laziness in not wanting to dress up for work meetings was somehow an indicator that we should quit our jobs, because maybe I’d want to look back one day and read about that.

I always made a point in writing to share not just our mathematical and financial plans, but also the feelings that go along with it all, because 1.) I wanted to be able to remember what the lead-up to early retirement felt like, and how it came with its own stressors, and 2.) In the off chance that someone else was actually reading this, I knew there was a good possibility that they might be experiencing some of the same feelings, and I wanted them to know they weren’t alone.

Somewhere along the way, people actually did start reading. You are reading now. (THANK YOU! You rock.) And through the comments here and the emails we’ve received, we’ve realized that all kinds of different people in different situations are reading, which is both absolutely wonderful and incredibly humbling. Humbling because it makes us feel like we have to say more than what we have to say, which is just to share what we’re feeling and learning along the way, from our sample size of one.

Sharing More

Almost a year into the blog, we started sharing more of our financial info in percentage form, to avoid divulging our actual dollar figures, but to represent the progress we’re making — and, to be honest, to invite people into our excitement, because we have plenty of it to spare. (Sparkles, y’all!) We’ve never published our numbers because we don’t want them out there when we finally attach our names and faces to the blog sometime next year — but also, and maybe more importantly, because we’ve never wanted to feed the comparison beast.

I’ve written about privilege a few times, but truly, we are currently the embodiment of it. Neither of us came from big money, but we received enough boosts along the way to get us to a place where we earn far in excess of what we need to get by, and even significantly more than we’d need if we were raising a large family. But we’re not. It’s just the two of us, plus a couple of adorable and inexpensive dogs. So the disposable income we have to save each month is both plentiful and, according to every bit of economic data we’ve seen, rare.

The Thief of Joy

You’ve heard this quote before, and for good reason: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, though I don’t know who originally said it, because as John Oliver recently taught us, you shouldn’t trust the internet when it comes to quotes. But it’s true: comparing ourselves to others never leads to happiness or contentment. It only leads to negative emotions, like feeling envious, or maybe superior.

Comparing ourselves to others is the exact opposite of defining our own “enough.” Comparison is what’s at the root of greed, that drive to have more than others have. Comparison is what makes too many of us feel that we’re not worthy or good enough. And comparison is what leads to the desire to keep up with the Joneses.

Many of us come to the FIRE movement after realizing that we have another choice, that we don’t have to chase the same goals everyone else is chasing, that we don’t have to define our own happiness based on external measures. We realize that we don’t have to keep up with those Joneses after all.

Our position on comparison has long been: don’t feed that beast. 

We want to encourage and cheerlead for anyone working to pursue their dreams, no matter what that looks like or what timeline it’s happening on. We don’t want to set arbitrary markers and suggest that anything above that line is good progress, and anything below it is not good enough. We had felt that we were successfully staying on the right side of the line that separates inspiration and encouragement from comparison, until recently. // Not Fostering Comparison // Are We the Joneses?

Where Is the Line?

I have heard many of you say — and it’s true for us, too — that seeing other people’s situations can be motivating and helpful in our own planning. That thought is what pushed us to finally share more of our finances as percentages and charts in our quarterly updates.

The most concrete stat that we shared in those updates was our savings percentage, a percentage made possible almost entirely by our good fortune in falling into careers that pay so well.

But we’ve also gotten tweets and emails from people saying that they’ll never be able to do what we’re doing, on our timeline, and that that felt discouraging to them. Or our friend Penny wrote that early retirement will never be an option for her and her husband because she can’t save a high percent like many FIRE bloggers do.

And reading Penny’s post, and hearing from those who feel discouraged by what we put out there made us confront the question: Are we contributing to the creation of a new standard of success, albeit a less consumption-based one? Are we inadvertently shaming people who can’t save at the same level for any number of reasons?

In other words, are we the Joneses? 

And if we were the Joneses, would we even know it? Did the original Joneses know that they were either encouraging others to keep up with them or shaming those who couldn’t? How would we know if we’d crossed that line?

Mr ONL on a backcountry ridge

Separating Comparison from Inspiration

As the blog has grown and we’ve realized that other people were actually reading and coming back, our reasons for doing it changed entirely. The thought that we might be helping to inspire others in their journeys became our main motivation, with the ability to connect with new friends coming in a close second.

No matter what, we’ll keep sharing our own journey and the thoughts and feelings we’re having along the way, but we want to be as certain as possible that what we’re posting here stays on the inspiration side of the inspiration-vs-comparison line. It’s why we’ve already stopped sharing our savings percentage, and why we’re going to think hard about what we share in the future.

Every step any of us takes toward financial freedom, no matter how small and no matter how slow, is worth celebrating. Every day of your life you buy back from working for someone else is a win. Every night you sleep more soundly because you’re not stressed about money gets a high five. This community is so incredibly supportive and inclusive, and we’re working hard to uphold that tradition here. We’d love to know your thoughts on how we can do better.

After I wrote this post, I saw that our friend Amber Tree Leaves wrote his own post yesterday about FIRE and the Joneses, specifically with regard to retirement age. It’s a great post — go check it out! 

Don't miss a thing! Sign up for the eNewsletter.

Subscribe to get extra content 3 or 4 times a year, with tons of behind-the-scenes info that never appears on the blog.

No spam ever. Unsubscribe any time. Powered by ConvertKit

119 replies »

  1. Very thoughtful stuff here. I understand how some people can get discouraged. I get a little discouraged when I hear about people who manage to raise 5 kids and stay at home and live well when they are making a fraction of what I make. It can feel like a trap to contemplate. I don’t own my home and I live in an expensive city, but jeez, I must be doing a lot wrong! But ultimately, I am mostly inspired to see people bucking the trends and expectations in this country. I don’t begrudge anyone their wins. And if I can make even a little financial progress, it will have been worth it. I think motivation wins over discouragement for the most part.

    • I think your comment is an excellent illustration of why context is the important piece in this equation: you rent and you live in a super expensive place. If all you talked about was your numbers, people might draw different conclusions than if they know you’re dealing with one of the very highest COL areas, and that that drastically changes everything about your situation. It feels the same for us — a lot of what we’re doing is made entirely possible by circumstance, not by some high level of virtue that we possess, and I think it’s important to keep framing everything that way, instead of just going: “Wohoo! We saved tons and tons of money this year because we are AWESOME!” ;-) (Because, seriously, we’re medium awesome at best. Haha.)

  2. Continue to be authentic and share your story without concern of how others perceive your it. You are doing great! MMM, Jim Collins, and Dave Ramsey are so popular because they share their message without concerns of how others perceive it.

    • I’m humbled that you would talk about us in the same breath as MMM, Mr. Collins and Dave R., even if it’s not a direct comparison. :-) And not to worry — we’ll keep sharing all of it, we’re just thinking hard about *how* to present info so we don’t carelessly discourage folks. :-)

  3. Great post – the fact that you’re even thinking about whether or not you’re the Joneses means that it’s a topic you don’t take lightly. I think you do a great job at sharing your journey, and it’s on us- the readers – to remember that just because our life situation is different doesn’t invalidate your journey.

    For example, I have three young kids and my husband is a stay at home dad. That means that an early retirement of selling my house and traveling the country isn’t practical for us right now. But that doesn’t mean that I should be envious of those who are younger, or without kids, or people who make/save more money than I can. I need to set goals for myself, based on my current life situation, and strive to reach those goals. They are different than other peoples goals-that’s the “personal” part of personal finance to me. And that’s fine! I love reading about people in all parts of their financial journey, from those with a negative net worth to multi-millionaires. We all have something we can learn from each other, and we can all encourage each other in our goals-whatever they may be. :)

    • Thanks for that. :-) I admire people who are so able to avoid comparison, and to recognize both that we all have different journeys with different goals and priorities, AND that we’re all at a different place on our path. (It’s the “comparing your before to someone else’s after” trap.) I think what’s important in sharing info is to provide the context around it, especially acknowledging the privilege and boosts, so that others will understand whether something really is reasonable to expect of themselves.

  4. The Internet allows us to choose which kind of bubbles we want to live in. In such a bubble the “Jones” feels a little different. It’s not just a neighbor who may have a somewhat similar economic status.

    On the internet, it could be a couple with no kids who have been focusing on their FIRE journey for 10 years…. or people with 3 kids and a lot of student loan debt who are just getting started. Everyone has the same interest, but not the same means.

    I have that issue when I write. We’re in that year 10 of our FIRE journey and we have far more privilege than most. However, I want to write a blog that useful for everyone, not just those interested in FIRE, but those who simply want to be mindful with their money.

    One reason why I don’t want to give up on comparisons completely is that it fuels competition, which I think can be healthy. I think it’s best to realize that other people have different circumstances, strengths/weaknesses, etc. and move on with what you can control.

    • I’m for sure not saying that anyone should share less, because so many of us (us included) have benefited from seeing others’ numbers. Without seeing them, I’m not sure we ever would have realized just how possible this all is. So I think it’s more about HOW we share what we share, and what context we wrap it in. For us, it feels important to talk about the circumstances that make certain choices possible, especially when those circumstances are things that we didn’t do ourselves but rather benefited from boosts or dumb luck. Otherwise we’re showing only the good without the bad, or not acknowledging the privilege, and that’s when we really risk becoming the new Joneses that people are trying to keep up with.

  5. That’s fascinating! I guess I don’t think of comparison of budgets and savings rates to be a “thief of joy” but that’s probably my privilege showing.

    I am (along with most of the FIRE crowd I think) well off enough that most financial comparisons just spur me to work harder, but that’s because they’re within my reach! I bet if I were struggling to get out of debt I’d find comparing myself to FIRE bloggers a lot more frustrating!

    Anyway, you gave me a lot to think about. I’m still going to share my expenses and net worth, because I think the upside of motivation outweighs the downside of comparison for my audience.

    • I definitely did not write this to discourage anyone else from sharing their numbers — we’re grateful to many who have, who helped us get started on our FIRE journey! There are a ton of good things to be gained, as you said, from seeing what others are doing in detail, not in general like what we share, and I’m grateful for the service you provide the next generation of possible FIRErs in doing so. But I think providing context around how you are able to do what you do is important, so that we don’t ever carelessly suggest that everyone can do the same. And same goes for tone — making sure that we don’t share info in a way that feels strident or sanctimonious. But those are choices that are easy to make, and then it’s just important to stay mindful as we go forward. :-)

  6. I stopped worrying about comparison a long time ago, primarily because every FIRE situation is so different! Some people can live well in a solar yurt with well water on land owned by a relative, growing their own food and raising the occasional feed animal, and it works out great for them and they do it for a fraction of what we needed to retire. Some people stay in high cost areas and continue to pay mortgages and still have to raise kids and put them through college, and they will need much more than what we have in terms of assets. Many people could FIRE earlier than they plan to, if they’re willing to give up travel, or their home, or educating their kids, or restaurants or hobbies or whatever, and they end up deciding that’s too restrictive. The balancing point is so different for everyone, even for spouses or partners in the same household contemplating the issue, and it changes through time anyway. How much is enough? How many sacrifices is FIRE worth? What if this happens? What if that happens? There are no crystal balls when it comes to such things,and frankly, you can only plan so much and even with the best of plans, sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug (we’ve been a bug lately).
    A few of us are hugely fortunate (Mr. AR included), and still receive a pension. Should he feel badly about that? Some of us inherit, or will inherit, additional funds or assets along the way. Should those of us who didn’t earn every dime in our IRA feel guilty? Are we less qualified to speak about FIRE? Some of us will have to get there with no assistance of any kind, and hats off to those people who scrapped and saved and busted their asses to get there and made it. No matter how “lucky” someone seems on the exterior, we can never know all their trials and tribulations, and all the money in the world doesn’t make an ounce of difference when it comes to what really matters anyway: integrity, honesty, decency, compassion, love and every other positive attribute you can’t place a monetary value on. No matter where you are in life, you’ll perceive some as doing better and some as not doing as well, but truthfully you never really know. Comparing your insides to someone else’s outsides is an exercise in futility. Learning how others achieve their FIRE goal, with or without hard numbers, is a fascinating glimpse into how dreams can become reality for those individuals, but how you get there is your own unique journey and after all, isn’t that what makes life interesting in the first place? I celebrate your savings rate and marvel at your perseverance, both enviable traits I choose to appreciate. Readers can take what they like and leave the rest, but I feel very strongly that sharing as much information as you do is more helpful, more optimistic, more informative and more motivational than speaking in vaguery (if that’s a word) so as not to offend someone who might feel like they’re in competition with you and you could be winning. That’s not the spirit of the FIRE blogosphere and I wouldn’t change a thing 🔗.

    • All so true! We all have to figure out our own balance, our own priorities, our own deal breakers, our own guard rails, our own trade-offs.

      And not to worry — I’m not going to change what we share, just maybe HOW we share it. I do think it’s important to keep acknowledging the circumstances that make certain choices possible, so that we don’t inadvertently suggest that everyone should be able to do the same thing, in cases where not everyone can do whatever that this is. I’ve definitely learned many times over that people will read into things I’m writing in ways I can’t predict, and sometimes it feels like they’ve read an entirely different post than the one I’ve written — and that’s not within my control. I’m at peace with that, and just view it as a funny quirk of this mode of communication (or any mode, really). But I do still think I have a responsibility — as does everyone who blogs — to share the good and bad that affect our context, so that we don’t just turn into some rosy Instagram version of ourselves where everything is perfect, and saving a high percentage is easy and painless. :-)

  7. When I first started reading blogs the posts about savings rates and net worth progression drew me in. It started with “How the F are these people saving 50% of their income” and led to the discovery that it was possible for us. I find it motivating.

    I see where you are coming from on creating competition through comparison, but as long as you aren’t distorting the truth on how you got to where you are I don’t see it that way.

    Totally respect people’s decision not to share #s and this site provides a ton of great information and viewpoints without them!

    • You raised a really important idea, that of distorting the truth. Because as social media makes painfully clear, there are all kinds of distortion that don’t feel dishonest, but are definitely putting a certain aspect of ourselves out there that is incomplete. So I think it’s important to avoid the lies by omission and tell as complete a story as possible. But overall, I completely agree with you that we find this kind of sharing very motivating and are glad that folks do it!

  8. This is an interesting topic. I never took any of your posts with even the possibility of intentional or unintentional shaming. I realize everyone’s situation is unique and enjoy reading all the different perspectives on how people are handling their finances and reaching their goals. Any time we share numbers, it’s simply to show what’s possible with 3 kids.

    Plus, nearly every time I find a new blog, I see you in the comment section. I honestly don’t know how you do it. You’re probably the biggest chearleader in this entire community!

    • I’m glad to know that you’ve never read the posts that way — I for sure have never intentionally put any shame out there, but as I’m sure you’ve learned too through blogging, sometimes people will read a post VERY differently from what you intended them to take away from it. So you never know. :-) And I am definitely less active in comments on other sites than I used to be — combo of more comments here (which I’m so thankful for, but it is more time consuming) and work make it tough to engage as much as I once did!

      • I can definitely understand that. I’ve been so busy lately working on various side projects that I hardly have time to read many blogs. Honestly, I feel twice as busy now than when I actually had a job! It’s a good busy, but still.

      • It’s definitely one of my goals for 2017 to be more supportive in the community again… fingers crossed that works out! And we all know how busy you are getting acclimated, so focus first on your new life. :-)

  9. This is something that actually comes up a good amount in the FIRE subreddit. It hits you over the head a lot more there, though, where people will regularly brag about their 80% savings rate. This will result in people that are new to the FIRE movement posting about being discouraged and feeling hopeless.

    That is clearly over the inspiration/comparison line. I think yours are much closer to that line. I think any numbers that you share will be inspiring to some and discouraging to others. We are all in very different financial positions and different situations, so it is pretty much impossible to appeal to everyone.

    Personally, I find numbers inspiring. But at the same time I find your general writing inspiring and I don’t think you would lose anything by skipping the numbers. I think part of what makes your site so good and so engaging is the mix of personal story, emotional journey, useful advice, and relevant research. To that end, I can say I personally would not like to see caution about avoiding comparison lead to any detraction from hearing about your personal story and emotional journey.

    Thank you for a really thoughtful and interesting post.

    • What a nice comment — thanks, Matt! :-) You’re strengthening my resolve not to engage on Reddit. Haha. It’s absolutely true that everyone will interpret what we share a bit differently, and I can’t control how they feel about it. But I can avoid being careless with what we share, and make sure I provide the context to explain why not everyone should expect to be able to do whatever particular thing, or how we only got to this point after years of hard work and saving. And not to worry — we’ll still keep sharing it all. :-)

  10. Sometimes I need to remind myself that we choose what we read and how we feel about what we read, which I hope others keep in mind when they’re reading. I’ve certainly compared my beginning to someone else’s middle too many times and I think it’s toxic and useless–trying very hard not to keep making this mistake!

    • The sequence issue is such a big one! I almost want to write that on every post in big bold letters: “We are close to the finish line! Don’t compare your beginning or middle to our end!” Because our beginning was as big a mess as anyone else’s, but that’s not the stage of life we’re in now. Maybe we can start a movement to get every blog to put a little timeline bar at the top of their site showing where they are on the journey, so it’s a smidge more apples-to-apples? Haha.

      • I try to include reminders that we really had no idea what we were doing two years ago. Yeah, we’re kind of figuring it out, but it took a long time to even come to the conclusion that we needed to figure it out. I like the timeline idea–I’ll have to give the execution some thought.

  11. Honestly, I have never felt discouraged by reading your posts. I have felt discouraged by reading plenty of other posts out there. I think you take a humble, reasonable tone that just makes me excited for your successes.

    I believe it’s human nature to compare. That’s not always a bad thing–sometimes it helps us understand more about who we are or what to strive for. Sometimes it is bad. But a lot of that is in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. You could write the kindest, humblest content and someone might feel discouraged. It’s important to be sensitive to that, but you can’t own every reaction or feeling someone might have. When I do feel discouraged by reading a post, I try to remind myself of why we’ve made the decisions we have, and return to peace about them.

    • Thanks for saying that, Kalie. I’m glad to hear that! And it means a ton to know that you’re excited for our successes. :-) <3 You're so right that we can't own everyone's reaction, and I've already learned the lesson many times over that sometimes people will take away from a post something very different from what I intended in writing it. So I think it's more about avoiding carelessness with what we share, and making sure we continue to frame everything in the context of why our circumstances don't apply to everyone.

  12. You should write and share whatever you’d like and not worry about what people think. It’s impossible for your blog to be everything to everyone and you shouldn’t filter your posts to avoid discouraging the few who have expressed those feelings.

    I tend to gravitate towards blogs that write about goals similar to mine and I would think that other people tend to do the same. If they can’t relate or gain something from your posts, why are they continuing to read?

    Comparison is normal but rational people understand that everyone’s circumstances are different. Overall I’m inspired by the people who made their dreams a reality, especially at an age younger than me. Makes me that much more of a believer that I can achieve those goals too :)

    • I agree with you 100% that this blog can never please everyone, and I am not interested in trying to do that — but what IS clear is that those who comment are the small minority, and most people who read are folks we never hear from. So it’s impossible to know what they take away from it all. I think where I’m landing is just to avoid being careless with what we share, and to provide context where necessary. From there, it’s up to people what they want to do with that info, and obviously I can’t control their reaction. :-) And I also agree with you that we tend to gravitate toward blogs written by folks whose circumstances are in some way similar to ours, because it makes us feel like we can relate, which is motivating in our case! :-)

  13. I decided that I want to share more of our numbers, just because they are so average to below average. We have 5 little kids. We are mid to low earners.(total income averaging $30-$70k over the last 10 years) Our net worth isn’t super high. But we have worked so hard to create more freedom and choice in our lives. We are trying to custom create our own perfect life. And I really wanted to encourage people that if we can do it with all the financial limitations, maybe they can to.

  14. I definitely understand where you are coming from on this one. I had very similar concerns when we first began our journey. I didn’t want our story to seem like a “brag”. Instead, I honestly wanted what we’re doing to be motivational, to show people that the standard operating procedure isn’t necessarily your only way to go through life. You don’t have to do what *WE’RE* doing, of course. Pick your own direction in life. That’s what I hope that our story comes across as.

    Although we reveal a lot more about our money situation than you guys, I deeply respect your position on this one. For us, I write in the hopes of motivating others. I gladly put forth our savings rate when appropriate. If asked point blank for our net worth, I’ll generally give that too. Not to show off. Not to brag. For me, it’s about transparency.

    Comparison is a very sticky subject. I get what you’re saying about feeding the Jonses mentality. I’ve taken a slightly different route – I encourage comparison. When one of my readers visits my blog, I want them to see exactly what we are working with. When they hear that I’m retiring at 35, I don’t want people to chalk it up to selling a $10 million business or falling into some huge inheritance. The more transparent I am, the more real that I *HOPE* my story becomes. My wife and I make good salaries, and with a high savings rate, we’re retiring early to travel the country.

    I want people to be able to compare their situation to ours and know that you don’t have to sell a $10 million business in order to retire early. Good salaries help a lot – in fact, there’s no question that we couldn’t retire *THIS EARLY* without a couple of big salaries. There is no getting around that. Yeah, we’re retiring at 35 (me) and 31 (my wife). But, we are also living in a 200 square foot Airstream RV and traveling the country with our two dogs. It’s a big, big difference from the norm.

    In addition, I’ve had a slew of people ask about our details, so I know they are curious. And it’s natural, I think, to be curious about how someone else is doing it. I think it helps to put things in perspective.

    In the end, I respect your decision to keep things more private. It’s your style and there’s nothing wrong with that. Your readers already know that you guys are kicking ass financially and working your butts off to make this happen. You are about as genuine as they come in the personal finance blogosphere, and it’s one reason why your blog is very often the very first one that I visit on days that you publish new content.

    Keep up the awesome work, and I promise to never call you Ms. Jones. :)

    • Haha, thanks for not calling me Mrs. Jones! ;-) Thanks for all of this Steve. As usual, your kindness comes through, and I feel happier for having read your comment. :-) And I think you make a great case for the other side — why sharing more and being completely transparent has value. And we’re so glad that you and others do that! We’ve undoubtedly benefited from seeing others’ numbers. I love how hard you push against the status quo, and you remind people again and again what’s possible for way more people than would think it. So let’s make a deal: you keep doing what you’re doing, and we’ll keep doing what we’re doing. :-)

  15. It’s a timely topic- I have an upcoming post on ‘Love Your Life, Not Theirs,’ Rachel Cruze’s new book about not keeping up with the Joneses.
    I think the work you’re doing here is needed and is very inspirational. You show that even for people who are doing well financially, life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns all the time. We all have our own challenges and we all make our own path.
    If you start posting fancy vacations and meals with #blessed, then we’ll have a different conversation. For now, though, keep doing what you’re doing. We’re enjoying sharing your journey.

    • Thanks for saying all of this. :-) And it’s true! It’s NOT all rainbows and unicorns. (And would unicorns actually be fun in real life? They’re kind of weaponized horses, which sounds scary to me. Hahahahaha.) And I’ll make you a solemn vow that you will never see #blessed here or on any of our social accounts. ;-)

  16. This is such a hot topic in both the PF world, and the world in general (thanks to social media). I wonder what the motivation/jealousy levels would be if social media didn’t exist? Obviously it’s been around for a long time, since the Jonese’s cartoon was created a LONG time ago, but maybe not as amplified. Either way, it’s what we have to deal with now. I get why sharing numbers and victories is important. I also get how it can be perceived as bragging (in general-not from you), but in the end we just gotta do what feels right us. I would say you strike a nice balance of that. But then again, someone else might feel differently. But I know if we worried about how everyone out there was going to read into something, we’d never get anything out there, right? Sorry this was weird, but I have’t had coffee. :)

    • I hope you’ve gotten coffee by now! I feel like a disaster on days when I don’t get it right away. :-) You are SO right that social media makes all of this worse, and you might remember my post from last spring about being careful not to be too curated here: I think it’s all part of the same thing — it’s easy to share the good stuff and leave out the mundane and bad stuff, and to make it seem like :::POOF!::: we just all of a sudden started saving X percent of our income. But really, there have been YEARS of hard work and too much travel and too little sleep that have gotten us to where we are income-wise, and we also live a no-kid life that wouldn’t make a lot of people happy. So I’ll try to just keep sharing the full picture, good and bad. :-)

  17. Thoughtful posts like this are exactly why I love your blog so much. Thanks for the inspiration and food for thought!

  18. I can’t say that I’ve read many blogs that come off as a brag on what they can do – although sometimes some tones (all made up in my head I’m sure) can seem a bit haughty when talking about savings rates. Like Mark at Bare Budget Guy pointed out, there a a myriad of ways to come up with savings rates, so I take those with a grain of salt. I think maybe once at the end of last year on a roundup we put in a savings rate, but that was because I was actually shocked by it, not as a brag. I can safely say, we hit our peak saving amount last year, and it won’t be reached again. ever. ever… Unless Mrs. SSC suddenly finds a way to put $100k back in her salary or I find a way to add that to mine, both seriously laughable, impossible options. :) So woohoo, we had a great year that year, and this year will be good but not as great as last year. Boo… See, we’ve made ourselves feel bad just comparing our past with our current state. :)

    We share numbers, but mainly monthly numbers. We liked Elephant Eater’s version of their amount needed to FIRE line, and where they were relative to it, similar to your style of graphs. Mrs. SSC had the whole – I don’t want people to know ALL of that about us, more for nefarious reasons rather than shaming or bragging reasons. So we keep some of that under wraps, but don’t mind sharing other stuff.

    Our monthly numbers are essentially to keep ourselves in check, see how we are relative to our assumptions and tweak as needed. Last November when we somehow spent $1200 in groceries, it would have been SUPER easy to not include it and act like we’re Gods of finance, but nope, we put it out there and were like, yup, we screwed the pooch this month, lol. We’re human, stuff happens.

    Like Ditching the Grind, it’s mainly to show what is or isn’t possible with kids. We hadn’t run across too many family blogs so we thought we’d start one, not that I’d call us a family blog, lol. I just write what I want and put it out there. I try to not sound “braggy” or haughty, or holier than thou just because we may be further along than some in our FIRE plan. Some are closer to FIRE than we are and some are further away, it will always be like that.

    There’s always going to be comparing and discounting from readers, no matter what you write about or how you write about it. It’s just our nature. I wouldn’t change myw riting style just because some people are going to interpret it as they see fit and sometimes it’s not all sunshines and rainbows. :)

    • Um dude, have you read YOUR blog? BRAG CITY!! Hahahaha. I kid, I kid. I love that you guys share what you share, because it does show that you can do all of this with kids, and because it shows that you can spend exorbitant amounts on, say, child care, and still save at a high rate if you really focus. (Oh, and tell Prof SSC that I’m totally with her on not wanting to share numbers for the nefarious reasons, too! I just do not need anyone who googles our names in the future to know our net worth, where we keep our assets, and all the other things we DO share.)

      And it has definitely been an important lesson of blogging that everyone will read something different into every post. Sometimes I even get comments where I think, “Are you responding to MY post? Because I think you read something very different than what I wrote.” And I’m finally okay with that, because that’s just the nature of the beast. But I don’t want to accidentally suggest along the way that we should be anyone’s goalpost or yardstick. We’re in a unique set of circumstances (no kids, two high incomes, lucked out buying our house at the bottom of the crash, etc.) and I probably talk about the uniqueness too much to overcompensate! But it’s super important to me that we never discourage anyone through carelessness. If someone is determined to feel bad about him or herself, I can’t help that, and I can’t control anyone’s reaction to what I write, but I can be mindful about it all the same. :-)

      • Yeah, “Never discourage anyone through carelessness” that’s a great way to put it. And Lord, I forgot all about those daycare costs, see your brain really can block out bad things, lol. :)

        Much like spending, being mindful while writing is another good rule to follow. :)

      • Let’s broaden it to say: mindfulness in all things is a good rule to follow. :-) (Like we’d all be better off if people would drive a bit more mindfully! Ha.)

  19. None of the posts I’ve read here made me feel discouraged but maybe that is because you are already extra aware that there is a line between comparison and inspiration. I like how the quarterly updates provide context to the emotional aspects of the journey that I really relate to like how well you captured the OMY waffle on Monday. I accept that my savings percentage is not as high as it would be if I worked a side hustle, a lot of overtime or even full time, but we are consciously making the best decisions for our journey. Our rate is higher than it was 10 years ago so we are moving in the right direction and that has to be enough sometimes. Its just so hard to be patient especially when we have a setback or it feels like it is taking so long so if you have posts about that I’m all ears.

    • Thanks for saying this. :-) And it’s awesome that you’ve increased your saving rate over time, and that you have found the right path for your situation. I know patience is tough for all of us, and I wrote a bit about that here: I don’t know if it speaks to your specific situation since we’re on a compressed timeline, but let me know. :-)

  20. Great topic, especially going into the holiday craziness.

    When I first started tracking my spending and earning, I found it really helpful to see how others did it and their results. The main take away, for me, was that monthly expenses can vary a lot, which is normal and ok. This got me to look longer term.

    Along similar lines, I have found seeing net worth graphs over time to be very inspirational. Commonly they show nominal improvement for the first several years AND reach a lot of money is a decade or so. I am thinking specifically of North Expenditure’s post comparing net worth growth of several of the big time FIRE bloggers.

    Going beyond numbers, seeing others thought process on various topics (health care, marriage, travel, stress, home ownership, etc.) is really enlightening. Each blog fills a niche in the FIRE ecosystem.

    By reading only a small portion of the FIRE blogs, really highlights how many different ways there are to fund a happy life. While there are a few blogs that come across more on the bragging side, I think most do not. And that most bloggers motivation is similar to yours – motivate/inspire others, and document the journey. Personally, I believe this the true gem of FIRE, that there are alternatives to the traditional path and we can choose the path we want.

    A lot of what you are describing as comparison, I see as sharing. Since no one is on the exact same journey as me, it is not helpful for me to compare my progress to theirs. It is often helpful for me to learn and apply some of their principles to my situation. Specifically, your concept of old money is one that I am applying.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments to start my Wednesday.

    • That was one of our big takeaways, too — especially that you can be anti-budget and still save aggressively and quickly. I am thankful that lots of other bloggers have shared more detail about their progress than we do, because we have surely learned a lot from that! It’s heartening to see almost everyone who’s chiming in today resisting the urge to compare too much — that completely makes my day. :-)

  21. A wonderful thing about the FIRE blogosphere is the diversity. Under a mountain of debt? There is a writer for you. DINK and can retire in your early 30s? Got you covered too. Wondering if 50 is still early? That niche is covered too. A most important first step in this journey is believing it can be done. All the numbers that people put out there, in all their myriad forms, prove that it can be done. I would never have been sucked into this world of happiness and hope without all those numbers standing there yelling at me at the top of their lungs: WAKE UP. DO THE MATH. THIS COULD BE YOU.

    Are you privileged? Yes. So am I. But you have to know how popular your blog is. People are clearly enjoying what you put out there. This is the Internet. Not everyone is going to love everything about what your writing. Be self aware, by all means, but don’t muzzle yourself, or censor yourself, in the hopes of offending no one. Writing that offends nobody will probably also fail to inspire anyone. Ok, I’m done preaching now (me with my not quite two month old blog. What do I even know?).

    • It’s so interesting because we have gotten remarkably little hate mail or hater comments, even after 2 years and 200+ posts — and EVEN when we tackle political stuff! So I actually don’t feel at all concerned about offending people. I do think it’s different to question if we’re inadvertently contributing to a sense of unreasonable expectations or unreasonably high bars for early retirement, and will try to be mindful of that moving forward. I think it could also just be a matter of sharing more stories of people on different trajectories, like the interview I did with the Charltons earlier this year, who retired in 10 years while never cracking six figures combined. (Amazing, right?!) And I love knowing how all the blogs with numbers inspired you — definitely the same for us, so we’re glad folks are doing that! :-)

  22. This is a particularly challenging question. The exact same content might be motivational to one person and demotivational to another. Personally, I would not have found the motivation to optimize my finances and grow my savings rate as much as I did without tangible examples and real numbers from other bloggers. But I also totally get what Penny wrote about in struggling to embrace “good enough.” Even now, it’s sometimes off-putting to me to read about people making hundreds of thousands of dollars from blogging or traveling full-time with multiple millions in the bank. I’m sure my own story is alienating to some readers, too.

    I think if you’re genuine and honest in sharing your story and don’t gloss over the privilege and unique advantages that may have helped you get there (which you discuss frequently), you’re fine to share however much or little you care to.

    Most importantly, I love that you care about questions like this as you write. I really appreciate the thought and consideration you put into everything here.

    • Thanks so much, Matt. :-) That means a lot coming from you. I think you’re totally right that the same content can read different ways to different people (and as the comments sometimes make very clear — ha!), and I’ve made peace with that aspect of blogging. But it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re contributing to the larger sense that you have to be able to save some arbitrary percentage to do what we’re doing (or what you or any number of others did — and though I’m not going to mention an actual number, it does feel like there’s a cluster around a particular one that lots of folks cite). And it’s also true that the Joneses thing is all relative — while our savings rate might feel unattainable to some folks, I have the same reaction you do to bloggers making big bucks blogging, and that feels discouraging in a different way. So I’ll definitely keep everything going here, but it’s good for us all to think about how we might be accidentally contributing to ideas that gain traction in people’s minds. Hope you guys are doing well! Was jealous of your New Orleans pics. :-) xo

  23. it’s very interesting. Something tells me I won’t ever go anywhere near your numbers – but that’s not why I read what you have to say. If you did slap the numbers on here, would I read less? I don’t think that I would. Though I have to admit, that for me, reading about people with high saving rates on drastically smaller incomes has been incredibly humbling and inspiring and I have to think that it has to some extent influenced my own habits. “IF X person is living on Y, do I really need to be spending Z?” Take it too far though and you might feel deprived.

    I think my biggest fear around the sharing of my monthly numbers (I don’t share net worth numbers, but I’m sure people could figure it out if they really wanted to) is that people, especially family and real life friends, will just read what I have to say and think I’m lazy AF because I had a lot of fortune growing up and didn’t use that as motivation to climb the ladder and “do better than my parents did” – whatever that means. I just don’t care about that shit.

    I can’t relate to the people who are high earners but act like they can’t afford to save and invest or who pretend that massive income isn’t a shit ton of money. You guys aren’t those people. Or at least, if you are, your blog persona hasn’t given of that vibe.

    • I’m drawn to something in the very last line of your comment: our “blog persona.” I think that’s actually central to this whole thing. The idea of the Joneses is that everyone wants to have what they have, but you don’t really know what they did to get those things. They could have leveraged themselves to the high heavens to buy that big house or that new Lexus, but all anyone knows is that they have this fancy thing. So that external version of the Joneses that people keep up with is their persona. In writing this blog, we’re trying to do exactly the opposite: sharing all the behind the scenes stuff (at least in principle if not in actual dollars), all the privilege, all the quirky circumstances, etc. I think if we let ourselves become a persona here, instead of sharing our real selves and circumstances, that we WOULD be the Joneses.

      As for the numbers, and sharing or not sharing, I think there are lots of good reasons on both sides, and I get why you wouldn’t want your friends and family to have your exact totals. We feel the same way. We don’t want people to come knocking, or to make judgments about us based on how they perceive whatever level of wealth. And for real — people who earn what we earn and can’t save? Hello, denial.

  24. I totally respect your decision to not share numbers, but I definitely believe in it myself.

    The world is full of so much fake, I think a little transparency helps people believe my story more.

    I mean…this is the internet. People can write any kind of garbage (and even make up numbers)…

    How do readers know it’s real?

    • That’s a great point — how DO they know it’s real? And as we’ve all seen when bloggers who share numbers have been featured in the press, the comments are definitely mostly on the incredulous (or outright spiteful) side. I am thankful that you and others share numbers, because those have for sure helped us in our planning. It’s interesting how personal a decision it is to share or not share!

  25. Its a great topic. Funnily enough, I got a private message from a fellow blogger a few months ago asking for my opinion on whether they should disclose their net worth. And my feedback was: 1. Why would you do this? What is the purpose? Trying to get them to think really hard about the ultimate value. 2. I provided feedback that my own interest is more in investing strategies (e.g. what sort of funds are they investing in, what asset allocation ratio?), lifestyle and FIRE planning. It was really nice to feel that my opinion was valued when they reached out to me. Power of blogging and the human connection!!

    Of all the sites that truly inspired us to blog (your own one as you know…!! the SSC’s, Jim Collins and Can I Retire Yet), not one of them discloses net worth or gets into other numbers in any great detail.

    Saying all that, I respect people who wish to disclose net worth if done in a sensitive way. Its’ a very personal decision. I would add though that I have been turned completely off a couple of sites (will of course remain nameless) that seem to flaunt their numbers. Those sites are no longer on the Mr. PIE list of bookmarks.

    • I think I’ve given similar advice about sharing! Once that genie is out of the bottle, there’s no going back, so it’s worth really thinking about why you’d share and what the value is. (And I will absolutely confess to having had the urge many times to complain on Twitter about how much we’ve lost on a bad market day, but that’s always just a passing compulsion. That’s not a good enough reason to divulge things.)

      It’s good and interesting to know that all of your favorite sites only talk about money conceptually. I don’t see us reversing course at this point, but I’ll keep that in mind if I ever feel tempted. :-) And same here — I’ve definitely stopped reading several blogs who bragged with their numbers or were too sanctimonious about their decisions. Everything about what we’re all doing is SO personal, and I gravitate toward writers who understand and celebrate that, rather than dictating the One True Path.

      • Jeez….no kidding about down markets and the urge to seek comfort with others on the pain. Yet I think back to weathering the nightmare of 2000 dotcom bubble and the investors hell-hole of 2007/2008 and wondering why I was a little antsy about the downswing in the market of Jan/Feb 2016. Sometimes, we don’t learn nearly as fast as we should!!

      • Hahaha — so, so true! We’ve ridden out plenty of market downturns by this point (though obviously the stakes keep getting higher and higher) and yet we never cease to bellyache about it every time. ;-)

  26. To me nearly everybody in FIRE is the Joneses. High DI and often NKs, stable employment, opposite of my situation. Partly for this reason – but mainly because early retirement never interested me – I don’t read any FIRE blogs regularly. Not that I disagree with or dislike them generally – unless they are of the blind-to-privilege flavour – but I just generally gravitate more towards bloggers in more of a similar boat is all.

  27. Great stuff here ONL! I started my little blog the same reason as yours…. to chronicle our journey. Since we’re only in our early 30’s, we are not set to hit FI any time soon, probably in 9 or 10 years. BUT we’re not too set on the date. We realized that we need to enjoy the journey rather than focus on the destination. It has been amazing to connect with like-minded people and see people coming back to read my blog. :)

  28. We’re friends. YAY! There’s my takeaway from this post for the day.

    I do think that we can FIRE, but I think that we might have to chart a different course or at least ours might be a little more uphill (though markedly less uphill than many others!).

    But there’s a flip side to all things, right? Theoretically, I’ll get a pension that would allow me to earn more in retirement than I earn my first 20+ years of teaching. Now, that’s a huge assumption because I’m pretty sure our state’s accounts have cobwebs in them. But there’s that perspective, too.

    And you’re not “those posters”. You know, the headlines where it’s How I Paid $300K in 3 Years. That’s fine and well and exciting, but those aren’t the kind of posts that do anything for me. Because step 1 would be quit teaching ;)

    • LOL — of course we’re friends! ;-) Writing and responding to comments on this post has reminded me that we’ve all gotten such a skewed view of the world because we read the stories of others in this little echo chamber so much that we forget how rare and freakish we all are. In the real world, how much do most teachers have saved? How much do other people your age have saved? You are CRUSHING IT. There’s nothing “uphill” about your climb in real terms, but it might feel that way if you compare yourself to this tiny freakish group in PF blogland. :-) So that’s my big takeaway: step away from the echo chamber and remember the REAL WORLD.

  29. SUCH a good question. I think you stay on the inspiration side, myself. But I think I’ve been trained by a lot of the blogs that I read to look at progress and not numbers. To take pride in ANY advance and not despair over setbacks or the success of others. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to reach FIRE, either, but it’s certainly fun to see others who can and do, and to strive for it…not so much for freedom, but for economic security.

    • Thanks, Amanda! Another comment made me think about another way we could be the Joneses, and that’s on age. I’ve seen you and other PF bloggers lament how “behind” you can feel when reading FIRE blogs, and I don’t feel good about that. It’s easy to lose perspective that, in the real world, what you’re doing is AWESOME, and you’re way ahead of the game. But in PF blogland? Eh, nothing special. And that’s true for all of us. Sometimes we feel behind because other bloggers are retiring in their early 30s. So the comparison potential never ends. I don’t know how to address the “keeping up” on the age side, but it’s important to think about.

      I’m super glad to know that you focus on progress over numbers and to feel proud of all of those steps forward. And your perspective on FIRE is the right one — it’s all about security first and foremost.

  30. I have definitely wondered about this myself – specifically the benefits of sharing my net worth against the downside to doing so. I feel like I am in the starting to middle of my journey and I love having the posts to look back and see where I have come from – it is inspiring to me and hopefully to to others. At the same time, I know some are just starting or possibly, like Penny, don’t believe they will ever be able to reach FIRE. To those I wonder what the interest in reading these net worth posts would be. Does it encourage? Or does it flame the feelings of defeat. In the end, the net worth or savings rates posts for me are a small percentage of what I write. Truth be told, when other bloggers post theirs I rarely read them anymore. I have gotten past the comparison point and am solely focused on my own journey. I did, however, decide after next month I will not be adding numbers to my quarterly posts anymore. It isn’t necessary for my process and, presuming I do eventually reveal my identity, I don’t need any freaks or gold diggers coming my way (I’m talking to you, Kanye!). J/K :)

    Also, I would like to point out that money isn’t the end all and be all to this game of life we are all playing. The whole point of FI or early retirement is to have time to do the things that you want to do…and the dollar amount to achieve that is different for everyone. The other main point is to live the life you want to live. For many that means time with their families. I love to see so many families and couples on their path to FI. And whether or not they achieve it, they have something that many of us don’t have – a partner. Or a child/children. Some would trade all the money in the world for that. It’s all about perspective.

    • You are SO right about perspective, and about different life circumstances. I’ll often see comments to the effect of, “You guys have it easy with saving because you don’t have kids. I’m jealous!” And I want to reply, “But you love having kids and would feel incomplete without them! Don’t feel jealous of a situation you don’t want!” But you make another great point, too, about money being fairly meaningless because we’re all doing this to buy time not to be “rich.” And that’s another interesting “keeping up with the Joneses” thing that our community is fostering inadvertently, too: age comparison. Like I actually wrote a post last year about feeling like we were “late” to the ER game because we’ll be retiring at 37/38 and 40/41. (Um, what??? I clearly was out of it that day.) So yeah, we’re older than some, but that’s a very skewed bubble view that pays attention only to FIRE blogs and totally ignores the ENTIRE REST OF THE WORLD. I’m not proposing that we all stop sharing our ages, because doing so clearly helps inspire others, but it’s interesting to think about how that skews others’ views of what’s “late” or “early.”

  31. I don’t share numbers on the blog for more personal reasons, but your post is something I struggle with in every day life when dealing with friends or family who have money problems. How do you help without going into examples and if you go there how do you keep the other person focused on the ideas rather then what someone else has personally done with it. I’ve largely stopped real world conversations on the subject for this reason.

    • I am a big fan of lending books in real life instead of trying to give advice, unless it’s clear that the person really wants advice. I have lent out Your Money or Your Life, the Millionaire Next Door, How to Retire Early and the Simple Path to Wealth more times than I can count, but I rarely give any actual advice. I think it helps for the info to come from a third party source instead of a friend or relative. :-)

  32. Just started reading your blog about 6 months ago and it has been soooo……. inspiring! So inspiring even, we actually set a date for our early retirement. We all get to choose what to read which can either inspire us or discourage us. Personally, I find that it pushes me to save more and make goals when I read stories from bloggers like you. I might start up a blog of my own soon to encourage others as you have done for me.
    So please, continue to write as you have.

    • Wow, thanks Darlene! So appreciate you saying that. :-) You completely made my day to know that we helped inspire you to set your date! And if you start your blog, please let us know!! (And not to worry — I’ll keep writing and sharing.) ;-)

  33. Clearly you’re very thoughtful about how you share your information, and that’s a wonderful thing. But there is responsibility that lies with the reader as well. That is to understand that every situation is different and we should try to do our best with what we have. I think it comes from within to feel that we have enough (assuming you actually do have the basics in life). No one else can give you that feeling, nor can they take it away.

    • Thanks, Gary. :-) I absolutely agree with you that it’s up to each of us to be content with our own situation. Though I do think it’s important that bloggers recognize that we have a special responsibility not to contribute to a sense of unrealistic expectations (e.g. that you have to save 70% to retire early, which is too high a bar for many). So it’s something we’re trying to think more about!

  34. “Comparison is what makes too many of us feel that we’re not…good enough.”

    Yes, so much yes. It’s something I work on to be better in myself daily, but so hard. I have a high debtload from obtaining a professional degree that was necessary to perform my job and work in my field. I don’t regret it, but I was a bit disillusioned going into my career and would have done things differently had I known what I know now. I imagine many people have the same beliefs as they age and become more knowledgeable about the world, but there’s not too much to do about that other creating a good plan moving forward.

    I began reading finance blogs years ago because I was stressed out over my loan payments and the length of time it would take for me to fully pay off. It’s been nice to read about others’ debts, but sometimes hard to relate when they are debts accumulated by frivolous spending or mortgages (neither of which apply to me). Although it is encouraging to read of their successes and victories conquering debts and savings, I can’t follow much of their advice because it’s usually tips to which I’ve already been adhering and can’t improve my situation further. As my financial blog awareness has grown, I’ve ventured into FIRE blogs, investing, and other areas, which sometimes are really off putting. Talking about how terrible debts are makes me feel guilty for still having debt and making the slow progress that I am. Talking about how much money they’ve saved at my age/salary level makes me feel guilty for being behind that level. I mentally debate where to allocate an extra $10k, to my loans or to my retirement, both being equally worthy in my opinion. It makes it seem that I will never catch up to all these peeps who already have their financial houses in order.

    In contrast, when I compare myself to similarly situated colleagues or peers, I am more financially knowledgeable and usually way ahead of them in terms of loan repayment and retirement planning. In the end, I think it just depends on what fishbowl you box yourself in. I can choose who to compare myself to and when. I can choose to feel inspired or demoralized by it.

    That being said, I think that ONL is one of the more encouraging and non-patronizing FIRE blogs. On several occasions, you have made note of your privilege and luck, and employ a cheerful tone in your writing. You don’t outright dismiss contrasting opinions and degrade the choices of other individuals. That really sets you apart from other bloggers who tend to do so (whether they realize it or not). It’s sometimes offensive to read holier than thou articles from authors who believe there’s only one way to skin a cat and it’s her way. It’s refreshing NOT to hear about your monthly expenses in numbers because it takes the focus away from having X amount and turns the perspective on the how and why. Reading about your hopes and contentment from having saved is more inspiring to me than just hearing someone say I need X saved because I have Y expenses.

    • Thanks for this lovely comment, Jenn! And let me say this, because it sounds like you don’t hear it enough: It’s AWESOME that you invested in yourself, and that you believed so much in your future that you took on the time and debt of professional school. Don’t let anyone tell you that was a mistake or dumb or anything else. It takes a ton of courage and commitment to do what you did, and we should all applaud that, not get on a soapbox and tell you that you’re an idiot for going into debt. I can’t think of anything better to go into debt for than to better yourself and to open career prospects. So kudos! And keep looking around yourself in real life, because as you’ve already seen, it’s so easy to get a skewed view of the world and people’s money habits reading only personal finance blogs. We are the crazy rare freaks out there, and I hope all of us who blog about this stuff remember that! Acting like “everyone” is doing or should be doing what we’re doing is just straight up delusional. ;-) So yeah, in real life, you’re doing great and have nothing to be ashamed of or to feel guilty about. Keep doing what you’re doing. :-)

      And thanks again for your comments about ONL. It’s incredible validation to know that what we’re intending to put out there is what comes through for you. Though there are times when I’d love to argue more with some points of view (especially when people are blind to their privilege and like to claim that “everyone” can pursue FIRE), I truly do believe that there’s never one right answer on this stuff. We’re all just guessing — sure, we’re doing our best to make educated guesses, but we don’t know how long we’ll have to live this life, we don’t know what the markets are going to do tomorrow, and we just have to do the best we can. :-)

  35. Here’s my thoughs, because I’ve struggled with how much to share and feeling like this weird combo of enviable situation and total faker. So much of what any of us have to work with is luck of the draw….health, opportunity, intelligence, career inclinations etc. So much of what any of us achieve with our resources is based on planning, discipline, execution, etc.

    So yeah, you’re in a good place. But tons of folks who have put themselves in a good place aren’t doing what you’re doing…they’re spending more than they make and not planning for the future and not chasing their dreams. And that’s the difference and why you come on as inspiring and we connect with you and your dreams, even if our circumstances are different.

    • Thanks for that, Emily. :-) You’ve summed up our recent theme well: that so much of what put us in the place to pursue FIRE is luck and circumstance, but that what we do with that opportunity is all us, and we’re proud of that. I do think recognizing circumstance and help along the way is important and makes us more grateful and grounded, and I fully intend to keep talking about that!

  36. Great points. I agree with Gary above when he says that some of the responsibility belongs to the reader, but I am glad you are compassionate towards your readers as well. I sometimes see those who have reached FIRE appear to…intentionally or not…gloat about where they are, which can create resentment. I read that in the Olympics, the silver place medalist is disappointed by the bronze place medalist is often ecstatic. I guess it matters who you compare yourself to. The silver medalist compares himself/herself to the gold medalist whereas the bronze medalist compares to the rest of the pack.

    • That’s such an interesting analogy about the Olympic medalists, but it makes total sense. And it’s especially interesting because really, aren’t all of us in the FIRE community just aiming for the bronze? We just want to get ahead of the masses, but we aren’t actually trying to win or be the best (because that would mean working longer!). So let’s all make a point of celebrating like the bronze medalists we are, not trying to gloat about our golds. :-)

  37. OK, so first things first. Amber is COLOR of the tree leaves. I get it now. All this time, I thought Amber was a European woman, which tells me I do need to go read more of her… I mean HIS… blog.

    Lots of pros and cons to numbers sharing, and most of it has been covered above. I do think the more sensational numbers that get shared around online do draw new readers to our blogs. Readers that might never read a blog if they weren’t a bit blown away and skeptical and perhaps a bit curious.

    That was me 2 years ago. This guy retired when?!? Mustache what? Loser. Liar. Let me just see about this. 200 post reads later and my attitude was turned around 180 degrees.

    I get where you’re coming from, though, of course. There are several popular threads on the RSF forums asking to share all sorts of numbers – ad revenue, income, etc… and I’ve left them alone so far. I haven’t posted my net worth on my site either. The information might inspire some but sound boastful to others. Like my donation post.

    I walk the line.


    • Haha — yes, go read more of Amber Tree Leaves, written by a fine fellow in Belgium. :-)

      I think it’s awesome that you shared your donation post, because everyone needs a nudge to give more. And the charitable giving stats I shared last week are pretty sobering — poor people give so much more of their income proportionally than do rich people, and there’s definitely a heavy “me first” sentiment in the FIRE community. So I love that you put it right in people’s faces that you’re not only giving aggressively, you’re giving a ton of money! Good for you, and please keep sharing that stuff!

  38. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I just went through a spat of this a few weeks ago. I watched a video about a popular youtuber that was estimating his ad revenue at around $50,000 a week!!! For some reason, this really just sunk in with me. Feelings of, ‘how could that be’, ‘why not me’, ‘if only’….I eventually shook it off. Interesting enough this same youtuber who is making all that money posted a video about how he was going to stop posting so many videos. He had gotten bored with the process and even some of his success. He wanted more in other words. I think the lesson is, its all relative. He’s making a seven figure salary and is probably dreaming of making an 8 figure salary. Imagine the junior Wall street broker who gets a $500,000 bonus and is jealous because his senior partner got a $2,000,000 bonus. We envy what we compare ourselves to. So maybe its just a natural tendency we have as humans to compare ourselves to others. The people who are commenting on your blog about how they could never do what you are doing, i say BS. Most of these things are a choice. Most of the time it comes down to people not willing to do the work or make the sacrifice. For about 20 minutes last week I was thinking about making a youtube channel so that I too could enjoy some of that Ad Revenue. Then I realized that it sounded like a lot of work and forgot about it. That was my choice. So I can’t really be made at the guy who is making millions for doing all the work and making the sacrifice. I think in this FIRE community I haven’t really seen a lot of folks with A LOT of money. High end Net Worth folks seems to be around a few million dollars in this community. Most of that was earned by people earning reasonable salaries and saving a lot for years. Physician on Fire blog, that I follow, gives a lot of examples of different spending scenarios and a lot of salary benchmarks seem to be around $300K a year. Not too shabby, but nothing crazy. And certainly nothing close to some Youtuber making Millions.

    • It is so true that it’s all relative! And we have this tendency to compare to whoever is above us, never to those below us. It’s not the way our culture works for people to think, “I’m doing better than this other person, so I’ll just be happy with what I have.” When, by definition, virtually all of us are doing better than someone else. And even if you’re at the pinnacle of whatever you’re into, there’s probably still someone to compare yourself to and to feel less great about your accomplishment.

  39. The timing of this post is interesting as I just shared my “FOMO” update on Facebook Thursday from my road trip through Utah last year. It was an amazing adventure but did I share it because I was comparing myself to others that are out doing some epic trips right now or because I just want to escape. It reminds me to be mindful of my intentions.

    • That’s so interesting, Chris. I wonder about that too, especially when I share photos from the most remote places. Like am I posting this to try to keep up with others’ adventures, to inspire others, to show off, or just to share? It’s hard to know sometimes, and I’m not sure it’s ever 100% one thing. But as ever, being mindful of our intentions is always a good thing!

  40. I love what you care about. I love your concerns for not causing harm. I love what you put into the world. Your site is a source of good in the internet.

    I am hyper-anonymous because of many things, but one of them is safety in posting my numbers. Since I’m starting out in massive debt, I hope that I get out of debt and show other people what it is like as I go through it. I include my set-backs. I don’t know what I will do once that number gets to 0 and begins to get positive. That’s a worry for many years from now.

    • Thanks for saying that, my friend. :-) I know that the next era is going to challenge our ability to stay positive, but we’re determined to do it. Because I can’t stomach the thought of putting out negativity into the world. That is not what I want my contribution to be.

      I think in your case, staying anonymous and sharing numbers makes total sense — AND you’re doing many people a great service by sharing your journey! I think if we weren’t planning to put our names and faces here soon, it would be a different conversation altogether.

  41. Great reflex that you have in this post: could you be the Joneses?!?

    The best part is the conclusion: “Every step any of us takes toward financial freedom, no matter how small and no matter how slow, is worth celebrating. Every day of your life you buy back from working for someone else is a win. Every night you sleep more soundly because you’re not stressed about money gets a high five.”

    What was key for me to deal with the different Joneses out there is that everything we do is personal and thus we ach get personal results that are – like you say – worth celebrating. That is true for a FIRE journey or any other journey (travel, fancy cars, jewlry,…). For me, accepting this, is very likely a first step towards the real goal: be happy NOW

    • I love that. And you’re so right: if we aren’t choosing to be happy now, we’re wasting our time. And time is in short supply! We can choose to compare ourselves to others or we can choose to be content, and I love that this community works to foster contentment among more of us. But it’s still an interesting question of whether we also accidentally foster competition without realizing it — this is something we will be thinking more about!

      • In my view, there is : in every community a sort of competition. Not always expressed out loud. When you see a person with a savings rate of 39 and you are at 35, I bet a lot of people will try to get to 39 as well.
        A better system would be to look at progress in stead of absolute numbers.

      • You’re right — a lot of this is unavoidable. And we’re all for the healthy parts of it, but I do think that puts more responsibility on us to be clear about what we’re doing to achieve whatever it is that we’re talking about, and not just to show how awesome we are without the background explanation. ;-)

  42. I noticed a theme in your posts recently between this one and the recent one about benefiting from subsidies, about the role of luck/chance vs skill/ effort, etc. I totally appreciate your humility and where you are coming from on this one. I recall that one of the first posts of yours that I ever read and related to was something to the extent of going beyond Baddassity. I also started blogging to give a different voice to the whole I’m awesome, I do everything great, just do everything like me seen often in FIRE blogs. I like you try to share our many mistakes, fears, and bumps along the road.

    However, I think that you also have to have a balance and give yourself credit when it is due. For example, I doubt that you “fell into careers that pay so well.” Maybe you make a great salary b/c you obviously bust your butts as evidenced by your travel schedule and have great integrity as evidenced by how you write about your thought process about leaving your careers in an honorable way. You shouldn’t feel a need to apologize or feel guilty for that. I don’t think your success in life is an accident and it has little to do with luck or help. That perception can cause you to sell yourself short and live in fear, rather than having the confidence to take calculated risks knowing that you are resourceful and can figure things out. That can become a bad thing, as can being too cocky, if it goes too far out of balance the other way. Just my thoughts as I read along for what they’re worth.

    On a lighter and more fun note, saw you had first ski day today. Us too! One green run from the top and a bunch of runs off of the conveyor belt with little EE. Ha! Having her makes these limited early season days a whole lot more fun. She skied a bit on her own and made her first ever turns today. Think Snow!

    • You’re right to notice the theme, and it probably comes through louder here than in our real lives because we’re trying pretty hard to help a lot of folks see all the way that people around them and society in general make things possible for them that aren’t universally true. We’re definitely proud of what we’ve achieved and are a lot more egotistical in person — hahaha. ;-) Just kidding, but we know how hard we’ve worked and that we’ve made a lot out of our opportunities that not everyone could say. But still, we’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t acknowledge that we’ve been extraordinarily fortunate in virtually all things, and we suspect that’s true for most of us who are able to pursue FIRE.

      And yay for Little EE making her first ever turns today!!!! What an awesome milestone! She’ll be ripping it up in no time. :-) Fingers crossed that we both have a great snow season! #prayforsnow

  43. Hi. Just wanted to share that some of us here read your blog totally for the NON-numbers part of things! (Maybe because I did “FIRE” before I even knew about it; OK early at 53 as opposed to some others pre-50, but still….no Joneses.) But even then, the comparison monster can be a challenge. :-) How does she get multiple posts out each week, almost always with an intriguing slant on the topic at hand? Where does she find time to respond to every comment? And work full time at a highly challenging job? And be out in the mountains she loves on a regular basis? Does she not sleep? Is this woman super-woman or what? The challenge is for us as readers to focus the comparison on inspiration and motivation, not “I’m not good enough” thinking. You inspire and motivate me on a regular basis! Thanks.

    • Thanks, Pat, for this thoughtful, encouraging and sobering comment! It’s a good reminder that we’re setting other bars as well, not just financial ones. Age and the “superwoman” stuff matter, too. Though I will say in response: I don’t sleep nearly as much as I should, and I spend a lot less time outdoors than you might expect. ;-) But thanks for this great reminder to be mindful of not curating what we share about our lives. The blog is definitely a huge time commitment that squeezes out most other hobbies and social time (and sleep time!), and it’s a trade-off I’m happy with for now because it’s definitely my passion project. But I shouldn’t ever act like I do all this, plus have loads of time to spend outdoors and to see friends, because it’s not true!

  44. Comparison is the Thief of Joy

    Oh my. I really needed to be reminded of that today. I’m on track to retire in 2 1/2 years at age 59 1/2 so not technically early and I am okay with that. In fact I am delighted and daily counting my blessings. I lived for 25 years in a very high COL area (desirable public schools for my kids, safe, great place to raise a family) and am content with the decisions I have made along the way.

    BUT where my joy gets stolen is when I compare myself to myself!

    A few days ago I made the mistake of peeking on Zillow and noticed to my horror that the home I sold on year ago (the one I lived in for 25 years in a posh suburb in high COL area) to downsize to an almost paid for home in a lower COL town in my same state is worth more than $100,000 than when I sold it. Yikes! That 100K would have meant I could FIRE today instead of 2 and 1/2 years from now. Ouch!

    Now, it’s really only a difference of $75,000 because my sweet little almost paid off retirement home in a safe but modest town is worth 25k more than when I bought it and I know, I know Zillow isn’t perfect (but it was correct down to the penny when I sold my former house.)

    I need to continue to walk my path and keep my eyes on the prize. Staying grateful and reminding myself I already won the birth lottery by being born in the USA. I have a job that (even with just one wage earner as I’m a single parent) places our family in the top 25% percentile for income. My savings rate is not stellar, but it is enough. In 2 1/2 years I will have a paid off home and car, two college educated kids who never took on any student loan debt and enough pension and savings to live for the rest of my life. Trying not to compare to younger me, or me one year ago. One day at a time!

    • Glad this post was helpful! And we know all about the green Zillow monster. When we sold our old city place, we felt good about what we got at the time, but could DEFINITELY have made more if we’d held onto it just a little longer. Oh well.. that would be trying to time the market, right? And that could just as easily have backfired. Congrats on being so close to retirement… and you’re still going to be an early retiree in my book! That’s 2000 days of freedom you’re buying back from the typical retirement at 65. Wohoo!!!

  45. I feel really bad if a Financial Samurai reader gets demotivated or angry, which is why I’ve shied away from income reports and stuff. I have kept up an annual passive income report since 2012 since it was a huge goal of mine to get to a certain point by 2015, which I failed.

    I’ve tried my best to highlight with posts about making $200,000 and just making it by to demonstrate the high cost of living in SF and other big cities.

    At the end of the day, it’s better to keep any income more than 100% higher than the median under wraps imo.


    • Yeah, I think that’s a good yardstick. I think the comment section here would potentially look a lot different here if we shared numbers, because certain things wouldn’t feel relatable. But as you well know, all the same concepts still apply!

  46. Fantastic post and couldn’t agree more. You can do your best to encourage others while having great sympathy for those friends who aren’t able to do the same things. And many of us benefit tremendously.

    Also, it was very encouraging to read about how you started without anyone reading – I can relate – but shifted towards wanting to encourage others. That’s exactly why I started a blog too: to encourage others along the way, and share stories, feelings, and ideas.

    • Thanks! And oh yeah, definitely started with zero readers, zero comments — the whole nine yards. It was interesting to keep going at it for those months when it felt like I was whispering into the wind. ;-) But it was definitely worth it, and I have seen time and time again how those who keep at it are rewarded for the effort!

  47. I think u should one part of ur numbers… the expenses part… like groceries, gas, utilities and the most important: the unexpected. This would help us know what is out there and just to think about

    • I definitely understand that desire, but our numbers there aren’t broadly applicable either, because we live in such a high cost of living area. Like our gasoline and natural gas both cost way more than other places, as do groceries. Happy to point you toward some folks who do share numbers if you’re interested. ;-)