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25 Years Later, This Duo Is Still Inspiring Young People to "FIRE" Themselves

By Motley Fool Staff – May 1, 2018 at 4:24PM

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We catch up with some early icons of the “Financial Independence Retire Early” movement.

Back in 1992, Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez published a book, Your Money or Your Life, which has become something of a cult classic. These two groovy, post-hippie-but-fiscally aware cats were promoting an idea that has only grown more popular in the ensuing years: If you think properly about what you're spending your money on, and invest wisely and intensely while you're young, you can retire decades ahead of the traditional schedule.

In the "What's Up, Bro" segment from this episode of Motley Fool Answers, Robert Brokamp and Alison Southwick discuss what Robin is up to now -- sadly, Joe is no longer with us -- where the authors' disciples have taken those ideas, and our changing definitions of retirement and work.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on April 24, 2018.

Alison Southwick: So, Bro, what's up?

Robert Brokamp: Well, Alison, way back in 2015 we did an episode about summer reading recommendations and I suggested one of my all-time favorite personal finance books called Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez which came out in 1992, so it was a while ago. And I knew that Joe Dominguez died in 1997 but that Vicki Robin was still alive, and about once every year I felt like I should contact her, maybe interview her, and see how her life has turned out.

Well, fortunately Money Magazine did the work for me because they just published a profile about Robin and it was entitled, A Growing Cult of Millennials is Obsessed with Early Retirement. This 72-Year-Old is Their Unlikely Inspiration.

The article tells how Robin was laid up in bed with some sort of injury relatively recently, surfing the internet, and finding out that she's actually become this sort of icon to the FIRE community [FIRE meaning "financial independence, retire early"]. The other good news is that she's working on a new edition of the book, which is coming out later this month, so that's very exciting.

In terms of the profile, it turns out that she currently lives alone in Washington above two tenants whose rent more than covers her housing expenses. That's one of the principles of the book -- is to find some way to cover your living expenses through real estate.

It all started out back in her early twenties [back in the '70s] living very frugally with this what they called "intentional community." Very groovy. She had a little bit of an inheritance and she was also doing some acting work. She met Joe Dominguez who quit his job in Wall Street at age 30 and was able to do it by just living very cheaply and very simply.

And the foundation of the book and the philosophy is that basically you're trading a portion of your life away to earn money and you then use that money to buy things. And you think of your spending that way. So, if you earn, let's say, $500 a day and you go out and buy something that's $250, was that worth half of your day for that? There are nine steps in the book. A big part of it is tracking all of your spending, lining it up with what they call your life energy [so it does get a little groovy here and there], but basically saying if you look at, for example, how much you spend on going out to eat, how much you had to work to do that. Was it worth it to you?

The article in Money Magazine then goes on to talk a lot about the FIRE community and I realized this when I did my class for financial health day, which is about tips, tricks, and life hacks on how to cut down your spending. And there really is this growing cult of people who are trying to retire by their 30s or 40s. But while they're working they earn a lot of money. A lot of these people tend to be engineers and computer science folks, so they are making a good living, but they're saving a lot of it, living very simply, and then they "retire," and I put the quotes because they're often still doing some sort of part-time work, but it's work that they enjoy.

The article is also fascinating talking about that whole community, because there are all kinds of varieties of it, but when I taught my class, I came across literally hundreds of blogs and websites of people who have decided to do this. Probably the most well-known is MrMoneyMustache. There are plenty of others like, DistilledDollar, MillennialMoneyMan, RetireBy40, and TheMinimalists, and I highlight them because they have a great documentary on Netflix that everyone should check out. But these are two guys who were also engaged in the rat race in their twenties and then they realized it just wasn't worth it and they decided to completely simplify their lives. It's a pretty cool story.

Southwick: So, are you going to quit your job at The Motley Fool and go join this cult and retire?

Brokamp: No, but it's very interesting. They had some good quotes in there about how some people basically flame out from it, because they love this idea of "I'm going to quit my job and then I'm going to home brew my own beer and work on a farm." And then they do it for like a year or a year and a half and they realize it's kind of lonely work. So, they go back to their jobs. We talked about this before. For me, I'm the type of guy who's probably always going to be working. Whether I work full-time forever, I don't know; but, I do love the idea of being very intentional with your spending because you are giving up some time that you spend to earn that money. Was it worth that time?

Southwick: With a job like this, why would you want to retire, Bro? You get to sit in a room with me once a week.

Brokamp: That is so true. It's so true. Sixty years from now we'll be sitting here...

Southwick: Well, when you put it that way, ugh!

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