Reflections on FIRE in a consumer society by Captain FI
Achieving Financial Independence is a goal shared by most, but something only a small fraction of people manage to achieve, especially whilst young enough to truly enjoy its benefits. A growing crowd of finance enthusiasts, the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) community, are working hard to ensure that they do. They are bucking the tend of an increasingly consumer-oriented society, and through mindful spending, self discipline, delayed gratification and the occasional practice of stoicism are able to secure their future freedom.
Because that’s what financial independence is, really. In a nut shell, Financial Independence is freedom. Financial Independence is time. Your time. You no longer need to trade your time for money – because that’s what you do as an employee every day, you trade your valuable time for money, and only later in life do you realise you’ve been selling it for far too cheap! Financial Independence allows us to focus on what matters the most; our family, our friends and our health. Financial Independence lets you work on passion projects and making the world a better place, and still know there will be food on the table and a roof over your families head.
You don’t know what you’ve got – till its gone!
Its an alarmingly regular story in my inbox; I have spent ‘X’ number of years working hard, diligently making profits for the company and sacrificing my time, relationships and health to pursue a career; a career which ultimately unravels in the long term due to prioritising money over relationships and health. Poor prioritisation like this can erode the foundation of your life to breaking point. Unfortunately this kind of prioritisation was often required to fuel a lifetime of consumer spending, often leading those people to breaking point on personal debt.
One of my closest mentors was a Fighter Pilot who, whilst immersed in a culture of hyper masculinity, hyper competitiveness and ‘press-on-itis’ at his squadron unfortunately seriously injured his back enough to ground him almost permanently. True, sitting on his fighter jets ejection seat wasn’t great for his posture or comfort, nor was the seriously damaging vibrations transmitted through his spine, but it was ultimately the constant sacrifice of his health for his career which did the most damage. An ego fueled ‘gym session with the boys’ was the fatal blow which resulted in a serious injury and required surgery. Surgery which has prevented him from since flying ejection seat capable aircraft, or at least, which may leave him permanently disabled and unable to walk should he ever find himself needing to ever eject from his aircraft in the future. You don’t know what you’ve got till its gone!
Keeping up with the Jones’ and toxic masculinity
Often the things we are buying we don’t even want, or use, but somehow we consume, consume, consume. Everywhere we are bombarded with advertisements to spend. On average, a Television watcher will receive over 12 whole minutes of advertising per hour of television watched! that’s over a fifth of your time, or 20% spent mindlessly being brainwashed to consume. And what kind of Ads do we receive? In Australia, we are mostly bombarded with advertisements for fast food, financial products and expensive cars. Advertisers don’t stop at Television, and use the media of Radio, Billboards and increasingly on the internet. Savvy businesses disguised as ‘bloggers’ or ’news articles’ lurk on social media, and full length advertisements interrupt streaming services. These advertisements no longer suggest or beg us to purchase something, but they now scream at you and promote a sense of anxiety and order you to buy it!
One such area in particular has caught my attention. And that is the manipulation of Australia’s men through a culture of toxic masculinity to spend money on vehicles. We all remember the funny advertisements from Toyota about their Landcruiser and Hilux ‘utes’ (that is, a utility vehicle for you English amongst us, or a ’Truck’ for our American readers). And I genuinely used to laugh at tis campaign about their Utes being ‘Build like a brick shit house’ which is an Australian slang / saying about something being very tough.
After someone forgot to set the hand brake (park brake), the ute would roll away down a hill and crash through everything undamaged until it finally came to rest after a head on collision with a ‘brick shit house’ – fortunately the car (with a very large expensive optional bull bar on the front) was fine and the walls of the ‘brick shit house‘ all fell down leaving a very confused farmer reading the paper on the toilet. You can imagine how as a 10 year old I found this exceedingly hilarious. The Utes were Tough and built to withstand Australia’s harsh climate and the punishment that they receive on a farm, and being reliable enough to keep on going. But somewhere along the line we lost our focus on the product, and shifted to the emotional response these vehicles give us.
Now all I see is shiny, useless Utes being advertised. They are pitched at an audience of mostly younger men, usually tradesmen or ‘tradies’ as we call them down under, and promote these gas guzzlers as a basic requirement of ‘being a real man’. ‘Powerful’, ‘Staunch’, ‘Manly’ are words bandied around whilst 4WD and Utes are shown tearing up the country side and through deep water crossings in mud and forest rivers. They crow about torque, horsepower and towing capacity, and being the envy of all your work mates – they are not backwards in coming forwards about keeping up with the joneses! And its not just Utes that use clever emotional and misleading advertising – the whole auto industry is flooded with psuedo-truths and downright lies about their products, so much so that the Australian regulators have banned advertisements showing speeding (why does a people mover need to be a racing car?) and Volkswagen have copped a record breaking AUD $120+ Million fine for its diesel emissions lie.
When I picture a Ute, I picture a rusty beat up workhorse that has paint spilled over its tray and maybe some dried on hardened concrete that’s been spilt, perhaps some torn seats or oil stains where the driver has gotten in wearing dirty jeans after working on farm machinery. What I see today’s teenagers driving (and yes, remember this is easy pickings for the auto and finance industry) are excessively sized pavement pounders which usually never feel anything other than bitumen under their comically sized wheels. However, this is becoming normalised in Australian culture. Young men are increasingly feeling the need to drive a large vehicle to be socially accepted; a culture which I believe is directly a result of targeted advertising and an increasingly consumer oriented society. And unfortunately, these large vehicles often end up being brand new, flashy pavement pounders with a hefty monthly payment plan.
I’ll stop talking about vehicles specifically now however if you are interested in learning more about how to save money on vehicles specifically, check out my blog article on hacking transportation costs.
So how can we buck this trend?
Ask yourself, do you like shopping in a crowded store…? I sure as hell don’t. In fact, I will literally go out of my way, or do without something I really need, purely so I can avoid crowds and lines. I consider myself a wild extrovert; I love people and crave attention, I derive so much of my happiness from my interactions with other people, my friends, my family. Yet I dislike being in these packed situations – its not because I don’t like people, its because I dislike crowds. I dislike competition in this regard; where it results in inefficiency and wasted time like lines, congestion and road traffic. I like space, air to breathe and room to move. So you can imagine coming from being raised in a country town ‘out in the bush’ and then eventually ending up in Sydney, Australia’s most congested city, has been a hell of an adjustment for me. You can do this visualisation for anything you dislike and tease out the root cause of why you don’t like it and want to avoid it.
Dare to be different
I think mindfulness is ultimately the key to bucking the trend. If you think long and hard about a purchase, you might find that you won’t need to make that transaction at all. Miss FI and I were laughing on a recent road trip (driving interstate to visit Family over the holiday period where we miraculously both have leave at the same time!) at a quote from Pete Adeney, better known as Mr Money Mustache. MMM was writing about a topic that The Mad Fientist’s Brandon also touched on – and that is becoming a Scrooge! We laughed about Pete’s exaggeration of being frugal meaning you experience physical pain when buying anything except groceries!
But in all seriousness whilst there is no need to take it that far, being mindful about spending for me means I translate every transaction cost into a time period – the time I would need to earn that money, including taxes on the product, income tax paid on the salary, and money I need to spend to make that money (like transportation and regulatory accreditation requirements). For me, currently that number is about $40 an hour – which doesn’t really feel like that much for someone supposedly earning a six figure wage in Australia! (I have divided my wage by the rough hours that I work, less annual leave entitlement). This really makes me think twice about a purchase – and helps me to weigh up decisions. Is that $600 per hour plane rental really worth 15 hours of my time for every hour I hire the plane? (hmmmmm… NO!), but is that $40 grocery bill for ingredients for a big family dinner worth one hour of my time – you sure bet it is!
Dare to be different; have the mental courage and fortitude to do the right thing. The right thing by your future, the right thing for your family, and the right thing for the Earth. Small steps like reducing your vehicle usage, adopting a whole food plant based diet or otherwise reducing your meal costs not wasting your money on buying plastic crap, growing a vegetable garden and understanding how currency works all have a huge influence collectively when contributing towards a more sustainable future, and will all save you money and your most precious resource – your time! Have the moral courage to stick up for yourself and protect this resource.
Focus on what makes you happy
Ultimately, my goal with FI is to be happy. I want to remove things in my life that I don’t like – working on things and projects I don’t like or have no passion for (ultimately we humans are pretty poor predictors of what makes us happy, but can usually list a dozen or more things that make us unhappy), and add things into my life that I do like – a lovely family, time with Miss FI, passion projects, time to enjoy the outdoors and stay fit and healthy. A bit of short term effort and cutting back now, will result in a lifetime of plentiful wealth and abundance later through the power of goal setting, accountability investing and the magic of compound interest. Practicing a bit of hard work and stoicism now lets me temper my success and achievements and really keep things in perspective. Because ultimately, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing, as MMM wrote about in his article ‘hacking hedonistic adaptation’. Financial Independence gives you the financial ability to command your life for the better – and for anyone who says money cant buy happiness I would remind them that being broke wont buy you anything. You would be a fool not to realise the power of a good financial education and the positive effect it can have on your, your families and your communities well being.
Find a mentor!
One of the most powerful things you can do today is find a mentor. Find someone who you admire, look up to or aspire to be like. Copy them! Ask them to help you find your passion, set your goals (long term 10 year goals, medium term 5 year goals, short term yearly, quarterly, and monthly goals and then your weekly and daily process goals). Become accountable to yourself and your mentor, as well as any of those that you are fortunate enough to be a mentor for. As Mr Life on Fire recently wrote about, becoming a financial mentor is an extremely powerful tool to improve peoples lives. There really is a huge difference in success and motivation from those that do successfully use mentors, and the FI community is a fantastic start. All you have to do is Reach out (and stand-by for a pretty awesome development coming to Captain FI shortly as I explore this concept of mentoring in the FI community).
Cheers, and Get FIRE’d!
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