I’ve been trying to come up with an effective way of introducing friends and family to financial independence (FI). Operation Death by Spreadsheet was an abject failure. I couldn’t even get Mrs Chaos to read a book or listen to a podcast about this stuff, so what chance have I got recommending these to anyone else.
And if I’m talking to UK friends, it’s even more difficult since we can’t talk about money, because you know, ‘one would be frightfully rude to mention such trifling matters’.
But now there’s an awesome solution to all my problems. My FI problems. My other problems will have to wait.
The solution – Playing with FIRE – a documentary about FI. Who doesn’t love a good documentary?
Hang on, what is Financial Independence?
Financial independence is the concept of having enough income from your assets to cover your living expenses. The twist is that you can get there decades earlier than the traditional retirement age of 65. To get there it’s as simple as spending less than you earn and investing the difference. It’s a framework of thinking that emphasizes your time, freedom and options ahead of stuff. HERE’S a link with a bit more detail.
You have to want SOMETHING more than you want stuff
What’s the documentary about?
This film documents a year in the lives of Scott and Taylor Rieckens and their very cute two-year-old daughter Jovie, the actual star of the show.
They’re a normal(ish) middle-class American family. They live in an idyllic location, drive amazing cars and take awesome holidays. Who wouldn’t want their life? But that life requires them both to work full time in intense roles that leave them mentally drained.
One day Scott discovers the financial independence movement and he realizes that they are like most Americans.
78% of Americans are living one paycheck from the edge
And their lives are turned upside down.
Scott and Taylor identify that the things they value most – like spending time with their daughter – do not cost anything. The only material things they do value – cheap wine and good chocolate – are not going to break the bank. And yet they were living a life of …
Buying things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t even know
Joshua Fields Milburn
They take drastic action. Scott quits his job, they sell their prestige cars and they move to a lower cost of living area. The documentary follows them on their first year living this new life. It’s not an easy year and there are fears and doubts along the way.
So is the documentary any good?
The production quality is excellent
This is not some half-baked film produced by a bunch of bean counters on a shoestring budget with their smartphones droning on about the history of spreadsheets (though if I’m honest – I’d probably watch that film). The documentary is directed by Emmy award winner Travis Shakespeare and was filmed and produced by a professional crew.
Scott and Taylor are incredibly vulnerable
They are open and honest about their doubts, fears and what they are going through. They are relatable, and you want them to ‘win’.
Money is a very emotional subject
It’s the number one cause of disagreements in relationships and it’s not hard to see why. The way Scott and Taylor worked together to map out what their future could look like and get on the same page to achieve their goals is a lesson in teamwork.
But personal finance is not my thing
Even if ‘personal finance’ is not your favorite subject, the film is just 75 minutes long. That doesn’t seem like a big commitment to finding out a bit more about a topic that persuaded Scott and Taylor to turn their lives upside down.
I’ve attained FI Jedi status – should I watch?
The documentary is targeted at people who have not come across FI before. From my perspective, this is exactly the right audience. Someone who is immersed in FI will want to go deep, and that depth can’t be covered in a 75-minute documentary.
The FI Experts
Having them all in one place with a curated summary of their words of wisdom makes this an incredibly accessible entry point to this world. And since we all resonate with different people this lets us find out more from those we connect with.
This is the first film I’ve bought in about five years. As someone who doesn’t part easily with his cash, that should tell you everything. And I’d already seen it more than once. And I’m hoping for a sequel.
Were there any things that could have been improved?
There are so many paths to financial independence that it would be impossible to represent them all. The producers had to follow one path – a middle-class well-educated family with good jobs. That affords the Rieckens’ the ability to have a high savings rate if they control their spending – and significantly reduce their time to financial independence. These circumstances may not be relatable for everyone, but hopefully, everyone can relate to the positive impact that having control of your money can bring.
I loved the fact that the film focuses on the journey. One of my frustrations with FI at times is the focus on the ‘magical’ moment when you can ‘retire’. For our family, the focus is on getting the journey right. That might mean taking sub-optimal FI decisions at certain points. Like our decision to take a career break to spend more time with our four young kids. Our last year is not movie material – but it’s also brought plenty of change!
Scott and Taylor made some huge changes in their lives in pursuit of financial independence. To most ‘normal’ people, this level of change would feel overwhelming and unachievable. But financial independence can also be achieved one small step at a time. And I’ve had to point this out to a couple of friends who have watched. As above, it would be impossible to showcase every avenue to financial independence.
Mrs Chaos would have loved to have seen the loop closed for Taylor on why the journey in this first year was worth it. Taylor is still working and not able to spend the time with her daughter that drove her to give up her idyllic lifestyle. But it could be that the promise of having full autonomy over her time before her daughter is a teenager is all the reward that’s required.
As for other improvements, Taylor’s kissing. Though if Scott ever comes at me with his flamenco hips and shoulders, the best he can expect would be my worst kiss ever as well… (you need to watch to the end).
What are some takeaways from the documentary?
The secrets of FI are accessible to anyone with third-grade math skills. They’re simple. But they are most definitely NOT easy.
But the documentary highlights that this is no quick fix. You need to step back from the day to day challenges of life, identify what is really important to you, and ruthlessly cut your spending elsewhere. It means living counter-culturally. It might sound easy, but the documentary helps you to see the inner pressure you feel when you make changes that none of your friends are making. And these changes are not like new year’s resolutions that you can drop after two or three weeks. You need to love the changes and automate them as that’s the only way to consistently stick to them for years.
It’s a lot more fun to be rich than look rich
One of the criticisms of the FI movement is the perception that you have to eat beans and rice and live in a cardboard box. The documentary highlights that you do have to make changes, but that you can still spend freely on the things that you get value from.
Figure out what is important to you and spend lavishly on these things…. but cut back ruthlessly on the things that don’t matter to you
There are a number of experts on the film that have retired early. There was a good reminder in the documentary that these people are not idle:
You start thinking about giving back… to use your skills to give back to the world
How amazing to have a group of people trying to make the world a better place – without worrying about whether the salary will cover their bills.
How to watch the documentary?
The movie is now on general release and you can get hold of it at one of the following links: