The Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement has been gaining followers for the better part of a decade and awareness of it is now spreading into the mainstream. The basic goal of FIRE sounds simple: save enough money so you can quit your job early. But not every FIRE journey looks the same and a whole online community has developed in which individual bloggers chronicle their own paths to financial freedom.
Each of the following blogs represents a unique and prominent voice in the FIRE community. If you want to get an understanding of this movement—or simply pick up some good ideas for saving money and living a more fulfilling life—they’re worth a read.
1. Mr. Money Mustache, by Pete Adeny
If there’s a “father figure” in the FIRE community, it’s Pete Adeney. He retired in 2005, before hitting 30, to start a family. In 2011, Adeney started Mr. Money Mustache blog. It’s an ode to his disgust with American consumerism combined with practical tips for how middle-class folks can resist living outside of their means.
“My secret confession is that I don’t really care all that much about people’s personal finances,” Adeney says. “I want the world to be a happier and more rational place, but I think the path there goes directly through our wallets, so that’s why I frame it all in that context.”
Air conditioners? Not always necessary in Adeney’s world. He opens his windows instead, saving him about $150 in electricity per month — savings that can compound to about $26,000 every decade, he points out.
Cars? No thanks. Adeney, while working, rode his bike to work instead. Overall, his message is one of putting control back into people’s lives through spending control.
Adeney, who worked as an engineer, saved most of his money during the tech bust (2000-2005). He retired before he started his blog, which now generates income. Yet today he still lives off the same $2,000 per month budget he set at the start of his retirement.
“Once you find out the true meaning of enough, buying yourself more than enough doesn’t really make you any happier,” Adeney opines. “And here in the United States, even a lower middle class level of income is way more than enough to pay for a happy life – as long as you spend it right.”
2. Sam Dogen’s Financial Samurai
Sam Dogen is another FIRE-figure with a long history. After working 13 years in the financial industry, he quit his job in 2012 and retired early. Dogen’s journey, however, began on shaky ground since the Great Recession and bear market had just wiped out 35% of his net worth. He created his blog, Financial Samurai, as a “cathartic way to make sense of all the carnage and ease the pain.”
Dogen, who settled in San Francisco, managed to rebuild his net worth despite living in a high cost of living area. He writes in detail about how he gained financial independence through real estate, stocks and bonds, and private equity. Today, he also generates income from his online entrepreneurship ventures and reports he nets $195,000 a year after taxes on his investments alone.
“My expenses are much higher than the average FIRE person,” Dogen says. “The large majority of people who write about FIRE don’t live in an expensive coastal city. So, in a way, it’s unique to see someone in San Francisco who’s actually been FIRE since 2012 and doesn’t want to live in a low-cost area in the country.” (Lucky for him, he left his last job with a big severance check that helped tide him over until he rebuilt his wealth and he cautions others to be careful about walking away from a job unless they have enough in the bank.)
3. Brandon Ganch’s Mad Fientist
Brandon Ganch, 33, started blogging about his efforts toward FIRE in early 2012. With his blog, Mad Fientist, he has carved out a unique space in the community by focusing much of his attention on numbers, optimization and legal tax avoidance strategies. His hard numbers, paired with a podcast and software he developed to help people manage their money, quickly made him a go-to resource in the community.
Ganch achieved financial independence in 2016, where upon he promptly ended his career as a software engineer and moved to Scotland with his wife. His initial goal for achieving financial independence stemmed from a desire to become an entrepreneur. His fear of risk and failure drove him to want to save enough money to lessen the impact of the volatility that comes with building a business. Today, his goals look much different.
“Once I reached financial independence, I realized money wasn’t very motivating anymore, which was surprising,” Ganch says. “So now it’s more about being an artist than an entrepreneur. It was never about not working — I get a lot of happiness from working. It was just about having the freedom to work on exactly what I wanted to work on, regardless of if it meant earning money from it or not.”
Today, Ganch’s financial independence gives him the freedom for full-time pursuits of his hobbies, such as making music and traveling. He hopes those outside of the FIRE community understand that financial independence can be for anyone, even those who might not make enough to retire early.
“Even if you make very little money, just making your spending more conscious and efficient can be helpful to anyone,” Ganch says. “Celebrate little wins along the way.”
4. Liz Gendreau’s Chief Mom Officer
Liz Gendreau, a 38-year old IT project manager, is not the typical FIRE individual: She’s a mother to three children, ages 4-15, and is the breadwinner of her household. Her husband is a stay-at-home dad, and she has been on a journey to financial independence since 1996.
After noticing there weren’t many working-mother voices in the FIRE community, Gendreau created her blog, Chief Mom Officer, with the goal of helping women manage their money and family, succeed in their careers and achieve financial independence.
“Women face a lot of different challenges (than men face) when it comes to personal finance,” Gendreau says. “When it comes to female breadwinners specifically, a lot of the content out there is negative. You can easily find a lot that talks about its challenges, but not a lot of practical how-to steps or solid information.”
To directly connect with her readers, Gendreau regularly publishes interviews with breadwinning, six-figure and millionaire women. Her sources include women from a range of careers, including teachers, doctors and corporate and financial workers.
“The broader financial community is full of people of all ages, backgrounds and income levels” Gendreau says. “There’s a lot of diversity in the community.”
5. Tanja Hester’s Our Next Life
Tanja Hester, author of Work Optional, Retire Early The Non Penny-Pinching Way, is often referred to as “the matriarch” of the FIRE movement. A young matriarch. She retired in 2017 at the age of just 38. Hester and her husband, Mark Bunge, run the blog Our Next Life, detailing how they became financially independent and what their version of retirement looks like.
The couple acknowledges that they were able to save for early retirement “in a big way, accelerated hugely by some luck and high earnings.” They bought a home during 2011, when costs were low after the financial downturn, and were able to pay off their mortgage within five years. Neither of them had large amounts of student loan or consumer debt slowing down their savings, and they were able to invest in a rental property, so they could include passive income during their full-retirement years.
While Hester may have had good luck, it’s her definition of FIRE that has made her a prominent voice in the community. She says that retiring by 40 won’t be possible for everyone, but she also doesn’t believe that FIRE is an “all or nothing” game — instead, it’s a lifestyle that comes in different models, each unique to an individual.
“It doesn’t have to be quitting work forever,” Hester says. “It can be career intermission, or it could be semi-retiring, where maybe you focus on giving yourself a secure, traditional retirement but you’re willing to live a little leaner until you get to 65.”
6. Melissa Neacato’s Traveling Wallet
After Melissa Neacato, a first-generation U.S. born daughter of two immigrants found out she was pregnant, she sought advice at the counseling office at her university. She was only a year and a half away from completing her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering; but the counselor told her the odds of her graduating were slim.
“It was just interesting how they explained to me how with my situation, I became a statistic by getting pregnant in college,” Neacato says. “And I was really disappointed about that. So, it became really important to me to finish my education, no matter how big the struggle was.”
Neacato, who worked in a co-op program six months out of the year while seeking her degree, applied for public assistance while finishing her degree. She graduated in 2012. In addition to being a single parent, she was now providing support for her aging mother, while juggling both student and consumer debt.
While researching how to pay off her student loans, Neacato came across a podcast featuring Mr. Money Mustache as a guest. Once she heard his story, she was hooked. Neacato put herself on a five-year plan to pay off her debt, which by then topped over $100,000. She made headway on her debt herself, and once she and her husband married in 2012 they tackled their debt together. In total, it took three and a half years for Neacato to become debt free.
Today, Neacato, 32, and her husband have a six-figure net worth and aim to reach financial independence by the time they’re 40. On her blog, the Traveling Wallet, Neacato writes about how she managed to pay off her debt and started building her savings. Through her writing, she hopes to inspire others who feel like they’re financially struggling.
“Even if you think you’re starting off at a disadvantage, you still have a lot of power to create the life that you want to create,” she says. “It’s going to be more difficult, but it is possible.”
7. Angela Rozmyn’s Tread Lightly, Retire Early
After graduating from college in 2009 with $24,000 in student debt, Angela Rozmyn started prowling the internet, looking for the best methods to pay it off. During her search, she stumbled upon the FIRE community and planned to become debt-free.
Rozmyn hacked away at her education debt while working a $30,000 salaried job and balancing additional part-time gigs, including working at PetSmart for $8.50 an hour. After paying $750 each month toward her student loans for three years, she wiped out that debt and started building her net worth.
Rozmyn’s concern that the FIRE community lacked visibility of blogs written by women, led her to put her favorite female FIRE blogs on her own website, Tread Lightly, Retire Early, Since then, the list has grown to include over 100 female FIRE bloggers. Meanwhile, Rozmyn’s Women’s Personal Finance Facebook group has grown to more than 7,000 members.
“I wanted to showcase the women who were already there,” Rozmyn says. “Women aren’t just couponing. Most of my friends who are women are really on top of their finances, and they’re the ones taking the lead in their household.”
8. Julien and Kiersten Saunders, Rich & REGULAR
Julien and Kiersten Saunders are working toward early retirement. In 2017, the couple completed a five-year effort to pay off $200,000 in debt, including their mortgage.
The Saunders have been encouraging other African-Americans to join them in the pursuit of FIRE and they don’t shy away from addressing the special social and economic challenges people of color face on their blog, Rich®ULAR. In blog posts like “Dear Middle Class Black America” and “The Racial Wealth Gap: How did we get here?” the Saunders take on issues their readers face, even if they’re not always discussed.
The Saunders describe how those in their community who achieve excellence and have “intense ambitions and drive toward success” may face special, and exhausting challenges, including providing for financially insecure parents and other family members. They also seek to provide solutions for those going through it.
“In some cases we are a piggy bank for those people, and a lot of those things are really problematic and apply a lot of pressure to the experience of those in our community that are doing well,” Julien says. “It’s not just a matter of climbing for us — we’re also lifting people up with us in the process.”
9. Anonymous, One Frugal Girl
The author of the blog, One Frugal Girl, prefers to remain anonymous, she says, because she doesn’t like the idea of flaunting her family’s prosperity. Still, she’s been chronicling her journey to financial independence since 2006, long before the term FIRE existed. Her approach to money, she says, developed from growing up in a single-income household where her parents were careful about spending.
“We never went without, but my parents were very careful with money,” she told Forbes. “I remember wanting to play the violin when I was little and they told me I was going to play the trumpet instead because we already had one at home.”
Frugal Girl worked as a software developer early in her career. She says she took on every assignment and learned how to speak to her bosses about her goals and earnings. By the time she quit to stay home with her children in 2012, she was earning six figures.
Today at age 41, Frugal Girl and her husband have been millionaires for a decade and reside in Washington D.C. Her husband still works in software engineering. For them, becoming financially independent didn’t require what they considered extraordinary sacrifices— even when they had two healthy salaries, they stuck to a modest lifestyle. Now, with a net worth in the seven figures, they still cook dinner at home and shun designer goods and other displays of wealth.
“I never wanted to have to pay for something and not be able to,” she says. “So, knowing I have that money there, that’s important to me.”
One thing that makes Frugal Girl’s long-running blog so appealing is that she can chronicle the achievement of financial independence, and not just the journey. She’s also very straightforward about roadblocks along the way, including grappling with the decision to give up her high-paying job and stay at home with her children. She also writes about managing difficult life moments. “I think a lot about money, but this is a stark reminder that money cannot fix everything,” she writes in a post about her mother’s hospitalization.
Indeed, Frugal Girl stands out for her ability to put money in perspective—and to look for balance in life. “The money is one thing, but the bigger goal should be to find the current joy in living,” she says. “Even if you reach a million dollars you can be miserable. You should be able to say there was joy along the way, there was fun along the way, companionship and good times. That all gets lost sometimes in the FI community and the quest for money — but these should be the goals the whole way through.”