Sunday, 9 December 2018

Is the visible FIRE movement changing for the worse

When I started my journey to FIRE (financially independent, retired early) in late 2007 there wasn’t much on the topic in the public domain.  To my knowledge at that time the term FIRE hadn’t even been coined and the US based Jacob at Early Retirement Extreme was just getting going with his blog.

When I started this blog in late 2009, which was predominantly aimed at holding me accountable, learning from others and sharing my journey to early retirement in the small hope it might help some others, even Mr Money Mustache hadn’t yet arrived on the scene.  To my knowledge that didn’t occur until 2011.

Even at that point the UK FIRE blogger scene was still pretty quiet.  Of course the great Monevator was running full steam ahead but at that time my feeling was that his site was more investing focused for which I must once again tip my hat and say a massive thanks for everything he has taught me.  To my knowledge the UK FIRE blogs didn’t really start to ramp until around 2013 after which blogs like The FIRE Starter and Quietly Saving appeared who each continue to put their own unique and interesting spin on things.  This has continued to the present day with new unique blogs like Young FI Guy, Ms Ziyou, Gentleman’s Family Finances and Fire v London all sharing something new regularly.

In more recent times UK FIRE has even started to go a little more mainstream.  It seemed to start with that diabolical Channel 4 programme in mid-2017 and in more recent times we’ve seen multiple newspapers run articles.  Even though I question some of the content I think this is fantastic as it gets the message out there which is something I’ve struggled to do.

In parallel to FIRE becoming more mainstream a different opportunity is however starting to emerge – monetisation.  When it’s overt and spread amongst plenty of good content I have no issue with it.  Hell, even I do and have done a bit of it to pay for hosting fees and the odd cup of coffee.  Try wading through a US FIRE blog without seeing the words Personal Capital someday...

Where in my opinion (and it’s just my opinion) FIRE is changing for the worse is where the monetisation is much more subtle and maybe even not recognisable.  I saw this demonstrated recently where a FIRE blog that I read occasionally wrote a pithy statement about a few FIRE themes without much context which I thought was a little flippant.  I therefore left a respectful well reasoned comment about why I thought that was the case.  Rather than the comment being allowed to stand or a reply being given my, in my opinion, well reasoned comment was moderated.  Poking around the site a little more clearly my comment wasn’t on brand or on message.

As FIRE continues to grow in popularity I expect we’ll see more of this.  I will no longer read that blog nor will I read any new blogs where I spot that occurring.  It’s a shame really as the long standing FIRE community is a great place to learn and share.

Note: As always I welcome all good, bad and ugly comments but please don’t name and shame any such blogs.  Any comments that do that will be deleted as I don’t need the grief of responding to lawyers letters.

37 comments:

  1. As someone who has read your blog for years and before then realised that 40 years of work would be life mispent; I worry that the quality of other FIRE blogging is not as good as it used to be. You be kept a consistent gold standard and I worry that with you fired off into the Maltese sunset no kne will.fill your shoes.
    Maybe I'm getting to the point where everything new that is written has been written before and the bloggers who write the "6 Sure fire ways to...." don't offer much substance beyond the headlines.
    It's all a bit like clickbait and that'll end up with the few shining examples of how you can FIRE (if you make £100k in blogging revenue a year) if you do it right- and buy my ebook and attend my course.

    My blog might not look Good, the posts might not even make sense, I'm not fully networked on social media but it's writing that I hope shares a realistic story that people can relate to and understand.
    I'm not looking for fame, glory or legions of followers - but if people enjoy what in I write then I'll be happy.

    Thanks. GFF

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    1. GFF - this post was your chance to persuade me to look at your blog, but I won't be, I'm out. Just look at the typos throughout which I find irritating to read and I should not need to try to understand what you meant to say.

      Delete
  2. I thought the recent UK mainstream media coverage were thinly veiled advertorials for life coaching businesses. The FIRE message was simply a convenient hook to attract in the punters.

    The more attention FIRE receives, the more entrepreneurial interest there will be in selling into that interest. Life coaching is one aspect of this, but there is also the “business of blogging” where bloggers attempt to generate affiliate income by encouraging a new generation to start blogging. You don’t have to look hard to find a “how to start a blog” e-course or guide on a UK personal finance blog.

    The UK equivalent of dropping a Personal Capital affiliate link are matched betting sign-ups/odds guides. More than a few of the bloggers you’ve listed here plug those pretty hard. So too the spruiking of P2P platforms to chase sign-up bonuses.

    You even wrote a (very good) book. It could be argued this website was a simply playing the long game by cultivating an audience that you could sell your book into.

    My concern isn’t the increasing monetisation that a larger potential audience brings. It is the inevitable saturation of the UK FIRE scene with SEO optimised, information light, click-bait headlined listicles.

    That will make it harder for all the quality old-school style bloggers to find and attract an audience. Just as well they were all writing for the love of it, maintaining online journals to keep themselves accountable, and not really caring about page views and conversion rates! ��

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  3. I once saw an American financial writer's comment that his job consisted of a perpetual search for new ways to phrase a small number of perpetual truths about investing. Maybe much the same applies to FIRE. One statement I admire is "don't spend money you don't have on things you don't need to impress people you don't like". But how many ways are there to phrase "don't be an arse"?

    Maybe that's why the bits I enjoy most are the tales - the stories about what "I" did and what "I" shall do. You've resigned and are off to Cyprus. Fire v London used a margin loan to buy a house. Even, God bless him, The Investor capitulated and bought a London flat at the top of the market. (A fat lot of good reading the Ermine did him, then!)

    Keep up the good work, boys (and girls), that's what I say. Now I'l have to take a gander at GFF and others unvisited. Just to see "what happened next".

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  4. Here, here. It's not just new blogs. Older well established ones have slipped down that slope too. We have the situation where the media darling blogs are simply shop fronts for life coaching businesses. The heavy engineering of the comments eventually just leaves a band of yes-men. Its a real shame.

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  5. Given the crossovers with "lifestyle design" it's hardly surprising the FIRE community is being co-opted by a new breed of bloggers. It'll be interesting to see if the frugal FIRE bloggers actually remain frugal, investing FIRE bloggers continue to focus on investing etc and all of them on FIRE in the face of media coverage, affiliate deals etc. Nevermind if the existing lifestyle gurus shift from mental health and food as topic de jour to FIRE.

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  6. I think there is only one life coaching blog where comments get highly moderated and we all know which ex-banker writes it.

    On the plus side blogs come and go. Most of these advertisement blogs just come and go.

    My personal fave was this blog about this guy who found financial freedom by leaving he is sales job and underpaying Indians to write ebooks about niche sports for him to sell on Kindle Unlimited while he focused on his "personal coaching" business

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    1. Do you remember Mr Squirrel, who revealed a little too much and the site disappeared overnight? I believe his wife found out and had his nuts.

      (Hopefully the name drop OK in this context as we are talking *years* and *years* ago.)

      It was funny at the time..

      ..OK I'll get my coat

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    2. he was funny :) What about salis grano that really is old

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    3. I used to take what he had to say with a pinch of salt..

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  7. Thanks for the name drop, RIT but as @indeedably points out, I hold my hand up as I have matched betting affiliate links on my blog.

    All my affiliate income is documented in my monthly updates including the small amounts I occasionally get from Google ads and TopCashback.

    I'm kind of grateful that we have UK 'ambassadors' for FIRE who are willing to show their faces in public (as opposed to hiding anonymously) but yeah, get your point that the ulterior motive is to sell their coaching services.

    As for moderated comments, I always thought that was a big no-no. I no longer read the blog where I found out that was happening on a regular basis.

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    1. It's sometimes a subtle thing, but readers can generally tell when people are blogging for money rather than love. Nothing wrong with that in principle, but it takes quite a lot of work to monetise content while keeping it great.

      Never had a problem with your affiliate links, Weenie or indeed a few others - especially when it's obvious you are still on your way to FIRE and nor are they the focus of your interesting content/approach.

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    2. There is a big difference between contriving an advertorial for the express purpose of placing affiliate links, or similarly running a sponsored post without declaring them as such.

      I have no problems with bloggers who write great content that happens to contain incidental affiliate links. Blogging takes a lot of time and effort, there is no harm in generating a bit of pocket money in return!

      Delete
  8. There are some real hum-dingers out there alright.

    I was reading one blog where the author proudly proclaimed financial independence for a particular month. How did they do it? Primarily by selling some of their belongings on Gumtree/Facebook. Real sustainable, but I suppose it sells.

    Real FIRE is very hard and very boring because the process is generally a long drawn out grind. Every month you get paid, some money goes out to cover expenses, the rest gets allocated into pots (pensions, savings, ISA's, etc.) and your net worth (hopefully) is growing slowly and steadily. By itself, this is hardly something that makes for interesting learning/entertainment, so it's not surprising that a few charlatans are going to use it to spread a false message.

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    1. Or you can just inherit 000,000s which seems to be pretty common with many once you get into the actual numbers e.g. ***** ** ***, *********** ** ***** and ******* ******

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    2. I enjoyed the recent 'back-to-basics' post of Mr Money Mustache - https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2018/11/29/how-to-retire-forever-on-a-fixed-chunk-of-money/ - Save a high proportion of your income / Invest that in low cost funds / When it is biggest enough you can retire and drawdown on that money.

      The process is simple but maybe doesn't make entertaining reading. As you said it is just a slow and steady grind. And as @dearieme quoted above - "don't spend money you don't have on things you don't need to impress people you don't like".

      It feels similar to the health space. For most people they just need to stay active and eat their vegetables. It is simple, it is slow and steady, but boring. So we get lots of content about nonsense.

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    3. even MMMs fucked it right up by going and getting divorced. Even with all that time and effort thinking about how to live well. God help the rest of us mere mortals..

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    4. >MMMs divorced?

      eh? I confess the cynical me didn't believe that when I heard a stray comment, but it's for real? As you say, God help the rest of us.

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    5. Simi (MMM's ex-wife) admitted this on her own blog earlier in the year. MMM has kept it quiet but you might have noticed that references to his ex-wife shrivelled up some time ago. There's been widespread comment on this recently, e.g.
      https://www.financialsamurai.com/mmm-divorce/

      Just goes to show that even FIRE won't protect you from all the vicissitudes of life!

      Delete
  9. In general. I think there's a big difference between UK FIRE blogs and US FIRE blogs. The former tend to be more anonymous, modest and realistic. The latter, more gung-ho, look-at-me and monetis(z)ed. Horses for courses. I don't really care if somebody peppers their blog with affiliate links if the content is original. But, originality is a very scarce commodity.

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  10. In answer to your titular question: Yes.

    A longer answer: what indeedably and dearieme have said (in particular)

    A slightly longer answer: Everyone is selling something. Blogs are no exception. You have to ask yourself what.

    A distinction can be made between journal type blogs and those 'selling FIRE'. The former can may exist for many reasons (catharsis, validation, creative outlet, public diary to be held to account). The latter are either implicitly or explicitly selling a lifestyle. That is not a new thing. But that lends itself to monetisation.

    Seperate, but related to that, FIRE and most of personal finance can be boiled down to a few key messages. Let's not pretend that it's immune from the Pareto Principle. So it's very questionable that there are 100+ blog posts out there to be written about the subject. In the end most of it has been said already, in a better way. The rest is noise. (Sure there are a few niche and important subjects, but, at least from my perception, those aren't talked about anyway!)

    Finally, not to be a sourpuss, but I feel that some of the comments are leading towards finger pointing. There is merit to the discussion. But not to bitching about other people. I completely understand if you don't agree with a particular blogger (myself included). This isn't really the forum for it however. We can talk about the principles and concepts with out being d*cks (or at least most of us are capable of doing so).

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  11. The proliferation in FIRE blogs is probably just another aspect of a long-in-the-tooth bull market in asset prices.

    Perhaps central banks can use the number, size and media interest in FIRE blogs as a late cycle indicator of the next recession. Over to a future Mark Carney: "We decided to cut interest rates and start QE again at this BoE meeting, despite improving growth, rising capex and much higher wage inflation. We are very concerned that the quarter-on-quarter growth rate in the word count of UK FIRE blogs rose 12%, a decadal high. Based on our econometric modelling such a rate of growth tends to be correlated with a substantial economic downturn on a 18-24 month horizon and we have acted to ease monetary policy on that basis."

    Sounds plausible to me ...

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. Only today we see an article on *** ****** ****** placing an affiliate product, immediate back-slapping support from other life-coaches, its become a right old self-licking lollipop. There is a dissonance in targeting a group for monetisation whos basic tenet is to try and spend less. Maybe you need to be a Gatsby and hold two different ideas for it to make sense, or maybe you just need to filter these sorts of blogs out?

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    1. I think we all know the blog post and the whole thread is really about *** ****** ****** don't we? ;)

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    2. possibly - who knows?

      what we do know for sure is the affiliate product I mention is written by a professional PR consultant and my inbox is now full of their spam. Take from that what you will about the direction of travel of the FIRE blogs.

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  13. Thanks for the namecheck RIT. Those days do seem a long way ago now, both in terms of time and the direction of asset prices!

    Monetisation is a tricky subject. There is no magic solution that will suit everyone.

    I turn down literally 2-5 requests a day for paid/sponsored guest posts. I've never taken money for a paid link either, and I've been offered more than $100 for those many times.

    But I do have affiliate links and some ads, and some complain that is too much. When other readers suggested I move to Patreon, one of the chief complainers loudly explained he wouldn't pay a penny for my content! Honest, perhaps, but not exactly empathetic.

    It'd be easier if we could just charge readers 10p a post or similar – in theory I'd be be a millionaire on that, but of course many of the readers would probably never have found us under such a model.

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  14. The term FIRE was in use at firecalc.com at least by 2004.

    https://web.archive.org/web/*/firecalc.com

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  15. Hey, I've got no problem with people making a living from writing - to some extent I do - it doesn't mean you have to write BS. I don't know who this asterisked poor man's MMM is that some commenters refer to but I stopped going there once I realised he (or she, or he) was editing reader response in the interest of his (or her, or his) 'brand'.

    Other than that, there's a few questionable US ones which seem to be one long humblebrag or aren't as open as they might be about the massive financial firepower required to buy into their version of 'the dream'.

    Maybe we're a bunch of purists who dislike dilution by popularity, but I think I latched onto certain FIRE blogs when I really needed their support at an early stage in the journey. As I hit the later stages, they naturally have less to teach me, which just leaves me with residual emotional affinity to the ones I started out with. Maybe a bit like bands I used to like?

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  16. Yes for me FIRE isn't about selling out at 21 to work in a soulless industry for your peak 20 years just so you can scrape together enough £s to retire early then proceed to tit about appropriating and exploiting an idea that others have worked up, shared and discussed for free that is genuinely interesting and valuable.

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  17. Thanks for the shout-out, RIT. I have always enjoyed your blog and in fact it was an inspiration for me creating mine, which I did fairly late in the evolution of FIRE as a blogging/etc movement.

    The blogger who is getting stick for his 'life coaching promotion' is, in my opinion, a really valuable contributor to the UK scene. I would much rather have his blog, curated/etc and all, than not. Blogging is a pretty selfless task with no financial returns commensurate with the input, so I'd ask 'readers who don't write themselves' to bear that in mind.

    This being said I also want to pay tribute to the regular commenters, without blogs of their own, who add a lot of value to the community too. Thank you ZXspectrum48, @Grasmi, The Rhino, Lemsip, Mathmo and others - you guys are what makes blogging worthwhile for me at least.

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    1. The associated instagram feed is a pretty special contribution too. You're probably right about the financial returns, but we've seen that it is possible to drum up a little bit of fame - maybe the media attention and the social status attained via the various meetups is commensurate with the blogging input if that's the sort of thing that floats your boat?

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    2. Thank you for the hat tip Rhino. Glorious.

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    3. eh? are you confusing me with neverland?

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  18. God forbid anyone would ever do that!

    I should have been more clear. I found the instagram feed you referred to. It gave me a good laugh :)

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  19. haha - thats a relief!

    and for sure, he who must not be named has got some proper glamour-shots in there :p

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