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Don’t Immediately Dismiss Early Retirement Naysayers

The recent hubbub in the financial independence and early retirement community has been all about personal finance celebrity Suze Orman and her declaration that she “hates” the FIRE movement. (Though she partially retracted that statement this past weekend, with posts on Facebook and LinkedIn.) Her words clearly felt like a personal attack to many in the movement, including Pete, who wrote an impassioned argument against it, and Chad, who wrote a more measured response, among dozens of others.

This post isn’t a response to Suze, but it is about what happens when naysayers come around saying nay, how we usually respond to that and how we should respond instead.

Early Retirement Naysayers // OurNextLife.com -- financial independence, early retirement, FIRE

Early retirement, financial independence and any variation thereof are not things people feel lukewarm about. Those of us who read early retirement blogs and books, who track our spending and saving in earnest — we are true believers. After all, this is a huge lifestyle change most of us are making or have made, we’ve made peace with being different from many of those around us, and that’s bound to change our personal identities and how we see ourselves. And when you’re a true believer, and that fact is part of your core identity, any negative words about your choices can feel like an attack on you personally.

My Talk With Suze

Around the same time Paula Pant interviewed Suze for her Afford Anything podcast, well before Paula’s interviewed went live, Kara and I interviewed Suze for The Fairer Cents. (That interview will air in January when we return for season 3. It’s mostly not about FIRE.) And full disclosure: I love Suze. I don’t agree with every word she says, and I absolutely think she’s lost touch with how much things cost for non-super-rich people (for instance, most people will never pay multiple millions of dollars for a few years of nursing home care), but she helped me big time when I was just starting to get my finances in order. And I told her as much when we got on the line with her, before we started recording: about how I’d had debt higher than my annual income when I first started watching her show, and how I’m now early retired, a massive change in only about 13 years. (In her very Suze way, she reminded me, “I. didn’t do that. YOU. did. that.”)

We spent most of the interview talking with her about how she got her start, how she became such a strong advocate for women and what being gay means to her. (She brought the last topic up and what she said was pretty amazing. I can’t wait to share it.) But at the very end, I asked Kara if I could sneak in a selfish question, and I asked it: “Suze, you must have heard of the early retirement movement. What do you think of the whole idea?”

Probably because we’d been talking for 45 minutes at that point and she knew a bit more about my story, but she responded with much more empathy. “I’m concerned, I’m sorry to say,” she said. If she’d started with “I hate it. I hate it hate it hate it.” maybe I would have put my guard up a little more, but because her answer felt like genuine worry, I really listened. And the substance of her response was pretty close to what she said to Paula: there are so many unknown unknowns (I agree), we can’t assume the stock market will always perform to historical averages especially over a 50 or 60-year time horizon (I agree), we can’t rely on things like Social Security to be there for us (I agree), without work we risk feeling aimless or purposeless (I agree) and a few catastrophic events could wipe us out (I agree).

The Silliness of the “Retirement” Debate, and the Injustice to Traditional Retirees

The internet retirement police are folks who like to accuse bloggers in particular of Not Really Being Retired on the basis of various sins we supposedly commit, mostly daring not to spend our entire retirement in a rocking chair, contributing nothing to society. That random bored people on the internet care to debate the semantics of retirement is not too surprising, but what is surprising to me is how many bloggers themselves get tied up in knots trying to avoid saying retirement, or to stress that all of this is about “financial independence” instead. If financial independence was well understood, that might make sense, but outside of this niche community, it’s not. Financial independence can mean anything from no longer relying on your parents for financial support after you leave home to being able to buy a private island whenever you damn well feel like it, which is not the hallmark of a clear term. That’s why I’ve always talked about early retirement instead, which most people understand innately.

I think bloggers getting hung up on what “counts” as retirement is silly, but it’s actually reinforcing a much larger and more damaging notion that old people are of little value and are irrelevant. Because if you argue that choosing to do a little work after leaving your career because you no longer need the money somehow makes you not retired, what you’re saying — almost certainly not intentionally — is: Retirement means no longer contributing to society in some way. Retirement is when you disappear. Imagine having this debate with a 70-year-old retiree who works a passion project on the side. Imagine telling that person he or she isn’t retired, but is merely financially independent. While no one would do that, because we’re oddly less strict on what counts as traditional retirement compared to early retirement, it’s all part of the same negative message that I’d frankly like to do away with entirely: you’re only retired if you’re irrelevant in an economic sense. (And if you’re economically irrelevant then let’s just go ahead and say you’re entirely irrelevant.)

Knee Jerk Reactions and Missed Opportunities

Given the ridiculous stereotype of all forms of retirement that many of us carry around, it makes sense that Suze interpreted early retirement to mean “never working again.” And it also makes sense that her retraction was based on coming to understand that most people who retire early go on to earn some money in retirement. And while I’d still argue that you shouldn’t have to work in early retirement to make your plan viable, if your goal is total early retirement, her knee-jerk reaction was that young people should not stop working under any circumstances (unless they have $30 to 50 million saved, per my conversation with her), and she therefore missed an opportunity to have an empathy-based conversation that the FIRE community might have actually listened to.

But in turn, much of the FIRE community had a knee-jerk reaction to her, and that has been our missed opportunity, which is truly too bad, because there was important content in Suze’s message. For example, though I’ve written for years about how we can’t count on Social Security and therefore aren’t including it in any of our projections, I hadn’t given much thought to the idea that we might not have Medicare either, something she warned about. I’ve been kicking myself for that oversight ever since, given my intense focus on health care. If, when she’d said that she thought early retirement was a bad idea, I’d had that knee-jerk reaction and put up a mental wall, I would have missed out on absorbing a hugely important consideration for our future planning.

Listening to Naysayers Instead of Dismissing Them

It’s so hard to listen and stay open when someone is saying something negative or critical. Especially if that negative or critical thing feels like an attack on our identity. When when perceive things as an attack, it’s incredibly easy to lose the substance of the message and focus on the way it was delivered, or the way that we feel hearing it. But sometimes even when the delivery is bad, the substance is good — or at least it’s something we need to hear.

If we dismiss everything every naysayer says on the basis of it feeling like an attack, we risk two things:

    1. That we miss out on some good cautions that are worth considering, and
    2. That we dig in even more into our own beliefs, become that much more dogmatic and thus can never hear any criticism ever.

While I would never argue that we should all listen to every random hater or online troll, because that’s deeply unproductive and maybe even harmful to our mental health, I never want to be a person who can’t hear any criticism, or who feels attacked by anyone who raises questions about my choices.

In fact, I hope we continue to have early retirement naysayers, because I learn something new from every one of them, something I hadn’t considered before that’s useful to plan for. Thanks to Suze, I’m going to think more about what happens if Medicare goes away and do more research than I’ve already done on the costs of nursing home care. Thanks to naysayers who came before, we strengthened our contingency plan, paid off our mortgage and built a two-phase retirement plan that requires only minimal long-term stock market returns to work. Every naysayer has given us the gift of a different perspective, and the more perspectives we can incorporate into something as complex as early retirement, the better.

Because we may not like what naysayers are shouting, or how they’re shouting it, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a point. If we can’t — or won’t — hear that, we’re the ones losing out.

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32 replies »

  1. Very thoughtful piece, Tanja. I too enjoy Suze and was actually a guest on her no longer running Suze Orman Show on CNBC. She actually conceded that I could retire at 60 on the “How Am I Doing?” segment. I truly believe that she means well and wants the best for people. I look forward to your interview with her on your podcast.

  2. Excellent viewpoint. Open dialogue, incl. criticism, is the basis for personal development and inspiration. Not counting on social security and medicare (or equivalents in other countries) is the basis for all my financial planning. If it will still exist in thirty years when I reach my government dictated retirement age I will treat it as a financial bonus and be happy about it. For now I enjoy early retirement with focus on health, travel, and projects that help other people.

  3. I never listened to Suze – never liked orange people and still don’t. But, let’s be honest. Sure my early retirement could have fallen apart due to some unforeseen (but foreseeable) disaster. And yes, it could have failed due to some unforeseen (and unforeseeable) disaster. But then again I didn’t have to be retired to be at risk from either of these two things.
    First off, I retired at 48. right at the top of the dot com boom. so, I have survived two market crashes. Those were the foreseeable disasters. I also got a home wiped out in a tornado and watched my wife have a midlife psychiatric crisis. Those were unforeseeable disasters.
    That was now 19 years ago. I didn’t have quite a million, and today I have not quite a million. I was FIRE long before there was FIRE. I spend summer in the mountains (nice little cabin in CA) and winter in the desert (in a pleasant 1600 sq ft home). I have traveled internationally every other year and travel domestically for several weeks a year (New Years, Thanksgiving, St. Pat’s etc.) either camping, using a timeshare, or visiting friends and family.
    I have yet to spend more than 40K (outside of disaster related expenses) a year, and I don’t think I am particularly frugal – but do enjoy hobbies that are inexpensive or even cost beneficial (cooking for me and gardening for the wife).
    The one thing that Suze never seems to recognize is that the worst case scenario can always be addressed by returning to the job market – and that leaves you back where you would have been but without the years you enjoyed while young and healthy enough to enjoy them.
    Don’t let your fear of the unknown stop you from trying.

    • Nice…I’d read your story if you wrote it. There’s no sterile market simulator that can match hearing how life actually happened when the markets didn’t just go up after retirement…and unfortunately, that’s almost entirely the case for most of the voices in the blogosphere.

    • Agree Shawn, and thanks for the reminder that it doesn’t take 5 million dollars to retire (whatever retirement means, LOL) and be perfectly happy and content. I love hearing stories like yours. I’m a worrier and tend to fret about not having enough, etc., just part of my DNA I guess. But I constantly remind myself that I know lots of people who are happily and comfortably retired who don’t have millions of dollars, yet do just fine. Summer in mountains, winter in the dessert? I’ll take it. Cheers!

  4. First, this made me smile bc when I was listening to Paula’s podcast and Suze was on her roll, I actually kept thinking of all the posts you’d written about many of her concerns. It’s great to have a voice in the community who is open to sharing “scary” challenges to help us all learn and be better prepared. So I appreciate you having written so many posts like those over the years and I appreciate your ability to hear Suze’s comments and learn even more. I also appreciated Suze sharing her thoughts, even if I didn’t love them all.

    Second, I think the importance of being able to hear an opposing viewpoint (after differentiating it from a pure unthoughtful troll) and being able to consider the ideas without snapping into “I’m right you’re wrong/dumb” mode is such a valuable skill. It’s how we can try to avoid confirmation biases and echo chambers and a narrow minded world. I totally agree with you that we could all do better at this (myself included) and the best lessons in life can sometimes come from people who challenge us and our ideas.
    I don’t recall the source, and I may be paraphrasing the quote but I like the that “wisdom is the ability to hold and consider opposing viewpoints”.

  5. Thanks for a wonderful write-up on this topic, Tonja. I witnessed the virtual pile-on too and thought it was way over the top. Almost a mob mentality. Meanwhile I’m thinking to myself, “Wait a minute, we’re going after someone who’s an advocate for eliminating debt and finding passion in our work… Just because she has a strong opinion about early retirement?” Overreactions abounded, to say the least.

    As for “The Silliness of the “Retirement” Debate”… My take is that retirement is like porn. You know it when you see it. That we in the FIRE community struggle so much to defend the definition of the word is probably an indication that we’re taking too much liberty with it.

    At any rate — Sending a virtual high five for this post. Go Suze. And apologies from the Peanut Gallery.

  6. One reason we’re not early retired is that Suze’s estimate of needing 5 million dollars seems about right to us. We don’t have that! (We’d need 2 million to buy a house in a good school district in the SF bay area and then 3 million to live on, including possible property tax increases among other potential catastrophes. Until then, we live someplace cheaper and work jobs we mostly enjoy.)

  7. “Retirement means no longer contributing to society in some way. Retirement is when you disappear.”

    Alright, I feel like this part deserves its own post in the future. I absolutely think the rest of this one is really valuable, but this is what I’m going to be chewing on for some time.

  8. I gave up on telling people that I retired and recently pivoted to saying I am self-employed if they ask what I do. Rarely do they ask any follow up questions. It makes for a more pleasant conversation rather than explaining why I chose not to seek a more traditional job.
    I fully support the concept of contingency plans and developing stress tests for measuring my ability to handle how the outside forces in my blind spots.
    While I appreciate Suze’s concern regarding life’s curve balls, I didn’t appreciate how she delivered her message.
    I get it from a marketing and branding perspective as she is promoting her new book and coming back from three years living on her private island. She captured her headlines and all of her sponsors are happy to have her back on the air and leaving skid marks.

  9. Well articulated Tanja.

    My first reaction when listening to the podcast interview was that she wasn’t wrong about the broad themes, just the scale of some of her numbers.

    One of the responsibilities of a good financial planner is to help clients create plans that are not fragile. A plan that can cope with the inevitable change and uncertainty that is bound to occur over the 20/30/40/50 year period the plan is designed to cover.

    The smaller the net worth a person has, the less a margin of safety they possess to be able to weather those uncertainties.

    Some of the wailing I observed after the interview appeared to stem from a place of uncertainty. The mob didn’t like what they were hearing, in part because they feared there may actually be some truth to it.

    Very few plans would survive unscathed a major setback, for example: a major health issue requiring full time care affecting a loved one, or their home being destroyed by some form of uninsured disaster.

    Burying heads in the sand and pretending such a calamity could never befall us personally is certainly one approach. A wiser course of action may be to entertain the possibility of such an event occuring, and ensuring that an adequite contingency plan is in place to navigate through the unexpected challenges that life periodically throws our way.

    It isn’t enough to just shrug and say “I’d just go back to work then”. Many of those same high paying professions we work in to make FIRE a possibility required niche skills and continual professional development that become dated very quickly.

    Realistically, who is going to employ that former Windows NT administrator or the tax accountant who exited the workforce back in the late 90s? McDonald’s may hire them to flip burgers, but with their stale skills and out-of-date knowledge unfortunately their high earning days are well behind them. Flipping burgers is a noble profession, but it is unlike to pay anywhere near the amount that an early-retiree imagines they would be able to earn upon re-entering the workforce after an extended absence.

    • I so agree with this:

      It isn’t enough to just shrug and say “I’d just go back to work then”. Many of those same high paying professions we work in to make FIRE a possibility required niche skills and continual professional development that become dated very quickly.

      I would also add that many high paying professions (ie tech) have ageism built in. Even if you have the skills, If you are over 35 you can expect to be looking for a loooong time.

  10. I don’t follow Suze very closely but when I heard the interview, I assumed much of her tone was intended to reinforce her image as a “fiery” (haha) personality. Where she did a major disservice IMO was to put so much emphasis on keeping your job as a hedge against major disasters, without acknowledging the possibility of losing that job. That’s much more common than a flood wiping out your house. And many employers are cutting back on retirement and insurance benefits. Building passive income and multiple income streams like much of the FIRE community is doing seems much more thoughtful than hanging onto a job that doesn’t serve you, out of fear.

    That being said, I’m also grateful for this opportunity to hear a dissenting opinion (which it sounds like she mostly retracted). Anytime you can say “tell me more” or “what would you say differently” and hear the other person out with an open mind, it’s a win-win situation.

  11. I look forward to hearing Suze on your podcast in January. Suze has some good points. A major one that I have experience with and have not heard anyone talk about yet is the caring for your parents. My mother’s expenses at a memory care unit were six grand a month, not 30 like Suze had mentioned for her mother. That was $75,000 a year! Thankfully my mother’s late boyfriend left her money when he died. That is what we used to pay for her care. Sadly and thankfully she lived only three years with her Alzheimer’s. I know people who live 15 years with this disease! Not sure how me and my siblings would have paid for that when her money ran out. I save like I’m going to retire early but group health insurance will keep me and my chronic illness working for many years to come. Thankfully I have a job I enjoy.

  12. I was never a Suze fan – I thought her debt advice was solid – but I felt as if she were not telling me anything that forced me to think differently. I was a naturally debt averse person so the Dave Ramsey and SO stuff never spoke to me. I listened to the interview and I thought her language was dismissive, hyperbolic and insulting but I did agree with her on health care, social security and Medicare as well as potential catastrophic events. Her fear mongering language was ridiculous and IMO took away from the counterpoints that are legitimate. I have probably seen a handful of interviews with her over the years but does she always talk like that? The “no one has ever talked to more people about finances than I have” language?

  13. if a person has more than 10% of their perceived identity wrapped up in this fire thing then something is wrong. the I is for independence and to me that means independent thoughts and actions without regard to outside influence. is everybody the same in the “movement?” i have a bike i don’t ride and will be enjoying the dodgers on TV tonight. i’ll vote myself off the island.

    if you want some extra diversity of retirement i might just sit with my toes in the sand and a drink in my hand….chillin’. no passion required. sometimes it comes to feel like “everybody is welcome as long as you agree with everything we say.”

  14. I agree that dissenting opinions are often valuable. I also think that it’s valuable to test your plans against possible failures. But I wouldn’t worry myself over some bombastic, Trumpesque comments (most of Orman’s qualified in Paula’s interview) unless there turned out to be good reasoning behind them. So I would not choose to assign a high probability to Medicare’s insolvency just because Suze Orman said so. Nor am I prepping for civilization’s collapse.

  15. Tanja, I much appreciate the insight and careful analysis you’ve brought with your post to the recent FIREstorm over Suze Orman. I look forward to hearing Suze on your own podcast. I know you care a lot about inclusion in the FIRE movement, and listening to naysayers and contrarian views very much fits in with the spirit of inclusion. (BTW, we should also applaud Paula Pant for how masterfully she handled the interview and responded to its aftermath.)

    For the most part, I think Suze proved herself to be out of touch and old school when it came to her thoughts on FIRE. However, I agree she brought up some good points which are not always mentioned in FIRE discussions. One of them is accounting for long-term care events in your financial plan. Certainly, few people would have to spend as much as she did on her mother, but long-term care should be included as a line item to strengthen and stress test a plan. Don’t rely on your financial advisor (if you have one) to account for this. Our previous advisor was much better on the investment side than on the retirement planning side, and he neglected to include long-term care in our plan. Our current advisors are far more meticulous. To hedge our bets, we have factored into our plan a long-term care event lasting 4 years to happen to either me or my wife (at $120,000 per year). After analysis, we decided to forego long-term care insurance, since our portfolio can afford the out of pocket expense for one of us to have such an event (and it’s unlikely that both of us would end up in this boat based on statistics provided by our advisors). If you use Personal Capital’s Retirement Planner, you can add long-term care costs as a spending goal.

    There is one other aspect of FIRE philosophy which I think has been missing in the recent debate, which seems mostly bogged down in the numbers required for early retirement — namely, the profound paradigm shift in thinking offered by the FIRE movement. Much of what appeals to me about FI principles is the notion that there has to be more to life than the traditional script we have been taught by society (climbing the career ladder, keeping up with the Jones, consuming up to or beyond the point of our income, working all the way to 70 if we are lucky to live that long, etc.). Disrupting this societal norm and showing another way is one of the greatest, and most liberating, values of the FIRE movement. I especially like the thought of empowering people over employers and corporations. Being a life-long Star Trek fan, I find inspiration (and congruity with FIRE values) in its vision of a future where any work someone does is out of passion for improving the human condition — and not for survival.

    For anyone creative, achieving FIRE allows invaluable time and freedom to practice and pursue your creative interests (as Tanja and others have pointed out before). While I was in a demanding tech career, I had to put my writing interests on hold. In my new FIRE lifestyle, I have the time and mental capacity to return to those pursuits. For example, to bring some levity to the discussion, I thought I’d share my cat, Milo’s reaction to the Orman controversy, which was was far less measured than Tanja’s. You can read his thoughts on FIRE at https://emusements.com/cat-on-fire.

  16. I think you’re right — criticism is not always negative or mean-spirited, and critical people are not always naysayers or trolls or random bored people. It’s a huge benefit when we learn how to hear what people are saying and improve accordingly (cf. Ray Dalio in the book Principles).

    I share 2 pieces of the general perspective offered by the Suze: 1) Risk is real, and 2) Work can be meaningful. Before anyone says, “Yeah yeah we know,” I’d like people to just consider these for a moment.

    1) Regarding risk … everyone has a risk tolerance but over and over I see FIRE blogs explicitly stating that index funds always go up (well, US index funds over certain periods, etc), and *some* FIRE bloggers on twitter tend to mock any negative market events (cf. Twitter) as a mere blip that will never be important. This degree of certainty makes me genuinely worried for people, and dissenting opinions are not taken seriously. I’m not saying everyone should be in panic mode. I just don’t understand the misunderstanding / underestimation of what risk is.

    2) Just as FIRE becomes part of one’s identity, we must recognize that Work is a huge part of identity for most people. We get social, financial, psychological, and emotional benefits from work. I’m not saying the early retired don’t do anything, not at all … but there is an implicit message in many blogs that traditional work, say, for a big company at a desk or whatever, is something to be escaped. Most FIRE bloggers recognize that the goal is to live life to the fullest — absolutely agree. Just know that for many people, the best idea they can stick to is to work and enjoy the weekends and the whole conventional enchilada.

    Anyway, quick thoughts; appreciate your post. –R

  17. I think there’s too much kneejerk reaction on both sides, as you said. In this society we’re not great at listening to the other side of things, dismissing anything that doesn’t fit into our worldview as wrong, stupid or just silly. I know I’m guilty of it. A lot. It’s something I’m working on. Thanks for the reminder!

  18. I don’t think she wrote that retraction AND she is remarkably out of sync with reality AND she was incredibly offensive AND self-promoting. Other than that…well let’s just say I for one will not buy her book or listen to her podcast or do anything else to help her afford that private island or yacht or whatever else she thinks that we all aspire to. Also how do you feel about her willingness to promote that expensive debit card? As far as I’m concerned she should have stayed retired.

  19. Tanja

    You are right, hearing the other side of anything is critical to growth and understanding and believing you have all the answers is a sure fire way to miss something critical in any thing you do. I am 52 and 7 months into full retirement. Having relocated from the Bay Area to the Midwest has allowed me to focus on establishing a new circle of friends and decompressing from 30 years of non stop work. People cannot believe I am retired because – who does that??? I do not miss the grind at all

    I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t feel we had a rock solid plan (and fortunately more than Suze’s minimum number). If and when I do projects part time or something akin to a “Gig” I will still be retired from my career. If I ever go back to what I did before I will be un-retired but what ever anyone chooses to call what they do after achieving FI it needs to be meaningful to THEM. If that means lounging on the beach and dining at the local buffets for 30 years that’s retirement to THAT person. If the next person quits their job and volunteers 20 hours a week for 20 years they can call themselves what ever they want. the retirement police are looking at the wrong part of the acronym. Their focus should be on “how do we collectively HELP” each other reach FI”? We are conditioned to think life is a zero sum game – in terms of investing and building for retirement it is not. Everyone who plays can win.

    My point is the most important part of FIRE is the FI part, it is required to do the RE part and I think Suze felt that the FI planning part most advocate or feel delivers the right financial future for themselves may not be sound enough. The fact is there is a hint of truth to that given that in any projection there IS a chance your sequence of risk returns could result in a perfect storm of wiping out your long term capabilities at a time when you can’t find work to ride it out and that any subsidy in the form of government assistance may be less than you require leaving you underfunded when you are most vulnerable (a place in life few people ever see themselves at)

    This is why I have said here frequently I do not like the plans that have little margin for error in terms of being based on the shelter in place / frugal lifestyle. If all your current plan is built to do is that then there is little you can reduce to conserve capital. Maybe 5 million seems absurd to many – especially those who are comfortable on a lot less, but there is a difference between a traditional retirement (of which most planners plan for) and a decades earlier retirement. I felt that was the biggest point she wanted to make and it’s valid (even if her delivery was poor)

    Happy retirement everyone!

    Phil

  20. The interview was super-fascinating to listen to. Because I’m more naturally inclined towards Suze’s position (who knew? I heard of her after her first round of retirement), I was surprised to hear so much backlash from the FIRE community.

    I think it’s very important for everyone to very carefully consider how fragile the US healthcare/health insurance “market” is right now. Suze is wise to advise people not assume that the market will persist how it exists right now (including the abolition of Medicare or even Medicaid and especially health care subsidies). Plus, the risks of disability (especially disability preventing future work) or the need for long term care are very real (most especially one spouse needing long term care when the other does not).

    I think much of the risk can be mitigated by purchasing a long-term care policy before retiring early (which probably sounds crazy to the under-40 crowd, but I don’t even care, I think it’s smart). For example, the healthcare risks persist even if you’re employed (especially self-employed).

    Anyways, if I could summarize the things that I’ve gained from both FIRE and Suze its this:
    From FIRE- With prudent planning, you shouldn’t be afraid to take some reasonable financial risks and a break from corporate life.
    From Suze- Buy all the insurance you can while you’re young and healthy.

    Also, since it’s related my real “Hate It, Hate It, Hate It” feelings about FIRE have little to do with actual personal financial risks. While most FIRE people I’ve met in real life (like actual real life, not at conferences) are incredibly charitable with their time, energy and talents, I don’t see that being a driving force among the pundits (with some exceptions, of course). Yeah, there’s talk about donor advised funds and all that, but I see too much talk about giving once you’ve already “arrived” and not enough while you’re still working FT. Should I start I blog about it? Probably, but ain’t nobody got time for that. So I’ll just leave a super long comment here instead.

    TL;DR I wish that more people pursuing FIRE had seen examples of generous and even sacrificial giving early in their life, so they could see know and experience the blessing of giving all along the financial journey. And buy insurance- all the kinds.

  21. I have an issue with the message that we need to horde and save until we have money to handle any and all possible situations that could possibly come up, either to us, our kids (even if they are adults) or to our parents. It makes me wonder how much of the world’s worth is tied up in rich people’s contingency plans. Look at all of the millionaires fighting for tax breaks and looking for insider information in the stock market. Look at all the corporations trying to pay their people less salary and less benefits and trying to save money by not protecting the environment. When is enough, enough? Yes, environmental disasters, economic disasters, nuclear disasters, personal disasters, are all possibilities – but do we need to be certain that we can handle anything before we can relax and enjoy our next lives? I am not presenting this as a serious solution, but just as a thought experiment – I wonder what it would be like if everyone was guaranteed shelter, food, clothing and medical care? Would people finally be able to relax and stop hording? Or is hording our resources a mental illness that can never be put to rest?

    • IF everyone were GURANTEED shelter, food, clothing and medical care, too many people would not work. New Zealand’s welfare policies of the 80’s and 90’s and the dramatic cut in benefits that were needed to stimulate the workforce And reduce the size of government as a component of the economy are well documented. I hope we never get to that as a nation.

      Being fiscally astute (Minimizing the effect of taxes on wealth) or having multiple millions in savings As a rich person isn’t “hoarding” and depriving the world of capital, generally it is quite the opposite as I know no multi millionaires who keep all their assets in cash in a wall safe out of the market/economy. So those people are not the cause of why other people do not have enough or why some people cannot save for a comfortable retirement. In fact the wealth of the world (regardless of whose account it is in) is almost always “working” it is never hoarded to the point of being removed from our economies. Being wealthy is not a mental illness

  22. Yay- finally caught up to present day! I definitely took Suze’s response harshly, even as a fan of her show years ago. I also noticed that she seemed to be a little misinformed about the community in general as well as typical pricing levels. My grandma just passed in January at 99 and even her private room at a nursing home with round the clock care was “only” $10k/mo so the $30k place her mother was in must’ve been awfully nice. I felt Paula’s summary was spot-on at the end as well.
    Once I was able to get past the attitude and braggadocio I agree there was an important message, but it sure does make it harder to be receptive to those critiques when it’s presented in that manner. Glad you were able to coax that softer presentation and looking forward to the episode.

  23. That was an incredibly well thought and measured response to the bomb throwing that Suze engaged in. And for the most part I agree that we should absolutely engage with and learn from people with opposing viewpoints. What bothers me is this, during Suze’s rant she made some pretty damning assumptions about the FIRE community, mainly that we hadn’t thought about all of the things that she brought up. And not once did she seek to understand. She didn’t ask about what common methods the community uses to deal with sequence of returns risk, nor about examples of what people in the community do to fill their time, or pretty much any of the thought processes that you’ve written deeply about in your blog. She made blanket, and frankly insulting assumptions, about people who have chosen this path without doing any research whatsoever before the interview and came to the incorrect conclusion that we’re all naively and thoughtlessly marching towards a giant cliff and then had the gall to speak as an expert on the shortfalls of FIRE.

    Even more damaging is that people took her thoughts and words and are using them as source material to form their own opinions of FIRE and the FIRE community. They aren’t looking for blogs. They are reading articles about how Suze Orman blasted the FIRE community and are piling on rather than realizing that some of it is possible. Or they’re looking at the $5M number and pushing it to the side, because that’s never going to be them. You’ve done so much work to try and be as inclusive as possible and to try and dispel incorrect assumptions about the makeup of the community that I feel like Suze tried to push everything back into a box.

    When people have a widespread platform and revel in having that, they have a responsibility to their audience to make sure that they are correct or have at least done enough research to form an educated opinion. Suze walked into that interview knowing she was going to be asked questions about FIRE and it didn’t seem like she had even done one iota of light reading on the subject. Frankly that was an insult to Paula and a big fail on Suze’s part.

    If you want to go with the old PT Barnum adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, I guess there’s that. But Paula was much kinder than I would have been if I had found out that I was interviewing someone who was wasting my time by not being spun up on the topic at hand.

  24. Well said Tanja. The thing I like most about your post is the openness to other opinions and points of view. While it’s hard to weed through those who are just being I’ll say “overly passionate” verses those who actually have something to say which should to be listened to is extremely difficult I think it’s important to understand differing point of views so we can get the most out of our finances and life.

  25. The push-back against Suze Orman saying that risk is real was interesting to watch. I disagree with her on how much money you need to mitigate these risks, but I don’t have her lifestyle. So much of the push back seemed more related to her tone rather than truly due to the content of her message.

    “Mean Marm” didn’t coddle me while telling me that there are more risks in life the longer you hold onto it. Hyper-opinionated men in this sphere don’t get nearly the screeching response from the community writ-large. Even when they are ascribing to physical philosophies that many people cannot do and do not want. She didn’t make them feel good and snooty about themselves. She reminded us that life is fragile. And that is a message too view people want to acknowledge before looking it in the face.

    Team Suze, for sure. (Do not want or need a private island though) Can’t wait to hear her discussion on being gay!!!!!

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