Book Review: Playing With Fire

by @edent | #

A successful entrepreneur living in Southern California, Scott Rieckens had built a “dream life”. But underneath the surface, Scott was creatively stifled, depressed, and overworked trying to help pay for his family’s beach-town lifestyle. Follow Scott and his family as they devote everything to FIRE. Playing with FIRE is one family’s journey to acquire the one thing that money can’t buy: a simpler — and happier — life.

The FIRE movement is a cult. That’s the only possible takeaway from this book. It’s a movement which is fairly benign – and I’m happily a devotee – but this book paints it in the worst possible light.

Financial Independence Retire Early is a simple concept, and the book could easily be written on a napkin:

  1. Save more – much more – than you spend.
  2. A frugal lifestyle is sustainable even on a retiree’s budget.
  3. Here’s the maths to back it up.

Instead, to flesh out the book, we get a bunch of homespun anecdotes. Each more cult-like than the last.

One day, Scott listened to a podcast interview that changed everything. Five months later, he had quit his job and convinced his family to leave their home…

Revelations which cause our protagonist to stop his car and have a Damascene conversion. Worshipping at the altar of the new prophets. Guilt tripping his wife into giving up her lifestyle. Dropping out so that he can devote his life to the cause. Travelling across the world to spend time with his gurus. Converting his friends to the movement – and fretting for them when they don’t. It goes on and on.

It is his wife I feel most sorry for. The book presents her as a distant cipher, a reluctant convert, an unrepentant bitch, a confidante, or a selfless devotee – seemingly whatever the plot needs. I half-wonder if she really exists.

Look – I love the FIRE mindset. But this book is about an unhealthy obsession. It’s like those dudes who won’t shut up about Cryptocurrencies. Or Crossfit.

Spend less money – it probably isn’t making you that happy. Save more in low cost trackers – you’ll probably ride out any economic bumps. Passive income can supplement your lifestyle – but beware of how much work it can be. If you can save ~25x your yearly outgoings, you can probably live indefinitely on that lifestyle.

Quite why this needs to be a book – and a documentary! – I have no idea. It’s a blogpost at best. But lots of people have made careers out of selling simple advice repackaged as profound books – so I guess it works.

You should probably follow the FIRE principles – but don’t base your life around it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *