I wonder if COVID-19 will be the end of FIRE and those Personal Finance Bloggers who Don’t Work?
March 24, 2020
One of the bright spots of becoming Dr. Plastic Picker is since I have my own blog and a catchy internet handle, I can comment on some personal finance blogs that I have been reading for over a decade. When I was a young resident taking NICU call, I would look around me and analyze people’s financial lives. I realized that these super smart physicians that were training me were not as well-versed in personal finance. Some of the smartest ones went over to the dark side and sold their souls to pharmaceutical companies. You see, I am the daughter of an accountant and successful small-business owner. I absorbed my attending physicians’ lessons regarding medicine, but disregarded much of what they said about finances or real estate. Except Dr. Young-Ho Yoon, who advised me to start my Roth IRA https://drplasticpicker.com/dr-young-ho-yoon-pediatrian-and-environmentalist-1/. That guy is smart with his money.
Instead I heeded my father’s advice. He had taught me from a young age the value of frugality and hard work. I then started reading personal finance books for from during residency. I first read the classic Thomas Stanley, “Millionaire Next Door.” I then became familiar with CNNMoney and bankrate.com and all their calculators and tools. I began to read personal finance bloggers for fun. I started with Len Penzo at LenPenzo.com. He is still my favorite and has a funny “off-beat” take on economics. I read frugal living blogs, Wisebread and the classic Moneyning, many of these bloggers have since sold their sites and the underlying voices and personalities behind the blogs are gone. Then I included Financial Independence Retire Eary (FIRE) blogs before they became really popular. The bloggers I would read were Retireby40.com, Mr. Money Mustache and Financial Samurai. The latter three were expousing FIRE and selling the siren call of working for 10-15 years, having a high savings rate, and retiring early. Then at some point someone published the net worth of all those bloggers, and Dr. Plastic Picker was not impressed. And then most of them were male and were intermittently blogging about how hard it was raising their one child along with their spouse. As a female physician who has done everything my male colleagues have done most of the time better and while pregnant or lactated, I started to lose interest.
I did learn a lot from reading their blogs. Lenpenzo.com was never a FIRE blog, so remains one of my favorites still. He is just a really funny aerospace engineer who talks about monetary policy a lot. His blog is funny and I like to comment on it. He calls me Dr. P. And I feel like he is a down to earth person who would be a good neighbor. The other bloggers, I have left comments here and there – really just to establish my existence of the blogsphere. It also amuses me to get comments from these bloggers that I have been reading on and off for years. I realize what they were doing was not really hard, and that they were really creating blogs that surrounding their cults of personality. And who has a bigger following than a real pediatrician who has high patient satisfaction scores? So I have to thank them for the example they have set for me. But the big difference is that they actually make money off their blog. Since the purpose of this blog is really free entertainment and environmental advocacy, I have purposefully not monetized it. Although at this rate, I probably could make a few hundred a month off the blog with ads. But I think it would take the fun out of it. Those bloggers that I read are the more popular ones and I think they make anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 a year off their blogs. Maybe more. I don’t really know.
But it’s been surprisingly quiet on their blogs with the recent COVID-19 pandemic and stock market crash. LenPenzo had a great post about it, because he has been predicting this for a decade. I don’t really understanding when he talks about quantitative easing or money policy, but he includes funny videos on his blog. Actually Joe at Retireby40 had one of the best blogpost he has written in a long time, but it was about racism towards Asians with the “Chinese virus”
FIRE was an outlet dream for me, when work was at it’s toughest. But I got past that barrier and I love being a pediatrician and I’ve learned how to be a better middle manager. I reached that FIRE number, but I decided not to early retire and to keep on using my skills hopefully for the greater good of society. I call it FISE, Financial Independence Save the Earth https://drplasticpicker.com/fise-financial-indepedence-and-save-the-earth/. And now that the stock market has crashed, our numbers are still good because I diversified in real estate and stocks. We were always good savers and maintain a solid savings rate. We live simply. Although I just checked carefully our last credit card bill and Mr. Plastic Picker has been paying $0.99 for extra fast yahoo email? What is that! I need to talk to that man!
But I wonder how they are doing? I wonder if those that heeded the siren call of FIRE and of Mr. Money Mustache, Financial Samurai and Retireby40 are doing? I think Joe will do fine at Retireby40 because his wife still works. He’s really a stay-at-home dad and has a few rental properties that he is handy enough to maintain himself. For those other FIRE bloggers that now number in the hundreds out on the blogsphere, do they need to return to the workforce? Have they regretted letting their skills lapse? They likely have other skills but that won’t pay as much as their past programming/investment banking/engineering jobs. They were espousing a certain philosophy, and there are real consequences for people if they had listened to them. About a year ago, I realized that FIRE did not make sense even when we reached our “number.” I’m glad I didn’t listen to them. I listened to my father, the accountant who reached FIRE maybe two decades ago and still works. I always recall the words of Voltaire, “Work keeps at bay three great evils: boredom, vice, and need.” As there is more to work than just money. And guess what, Dr. Plastic Picker has a lot of work still to do because of COVID-19. Then there is the plastic pollution crisis we have the deal with. I do recommend everyone read Len Penzo’s blog, his brown bag sandwhich posts which he posts every year are the greatest! He also has series about people who live off 40,000 a year! https://lenpenzo.com/blog/40000-2 Mr. Plastic Picker gets kind of tired of me talking about Len Penzo though , sometimes! I think if they met in real life, they would be friends.
So interesting that at Retireby40, Joe that next day wrote a blog post regarding the future of the FIRE movement during this epidemic. It was actually really good. https://retireby40.org/will-covid19-kill-the-fire-movement/#comment-196690 Check it out if you have time. He is actually an older brother of a medical school classmate of mine, and I’ve always enjoyed his blog.
Update: April 4, 2020. Now I feel really bad. I just checked in at Financial Samurai and Sam posted “If I am, after a couple of days of verbal abuse, I will relent and admit that I’m just an unemployed father trying to make a better life for my two young children.” I guess the stock market crash hit them bad. https://www.financialsamurai.com/giving-up-on-going-back-to-work-before-even-trying/ I don’t think either spouse in that family works. I am a pediatrician and generally empathetic. I feel hurt when someone else is hurting, but then I think of all those unwitting people who followed the siren-call of the FIRE movement and followed these “personal finance cults of personality.” Those bloggers were making money off those people, while they were blogging and “working.” I feel bad that they are in bad financial situation, but I feel worse for all those people who needed their poor advice. This is generally a no-win situation for everyone.