Freeganism can be labelled as a subculture of people. In this subculture, there are different types of freegans who are classified according to their motivations to adapt to the freegan lifestyle.
The feeling of remorse for wasted food and products.
They are aware of how much food is wasted each year. They know that there is mass waste of clothes, gadgets, and furniture all bought in order to keep up with the recent trends and fashion. With that in mind, freegans take advantage of the opportunity to find useful items in the bins and dumpsters.
Love for the animals and environment.
Freegans are aware of the toxins and negative effects of the by-products used by a company. They also know how much non-biodegradable things are thrown away by people who are not aware of their negative effects. They know that there are abused animals in every fur and wool products.
For these reasons they adopt a freegan lifestyle with an aim of saving the environment. They want to eliminate waste and the dangers of some products by scouting the dumpster and reusing or recycling whatever they can find. They also don’t want to subscribe to purchase of products that cause the abuse of some animals.
They are against consumerism and capitalism.
They are the real freegans because they believe strongly that they know the real principles behind freeganism and who the real culprit is. Because of this they avoid everything that can make the capitalists stronger. They achieve this by not buying their products, insulting them by getting these products from a dumpster for free, proving to them that they can live without buying their products, or sometimes by shoplifting (this is the exception not the rule).
They are just extremely frugal.
Some people are just extremely frugal. They adapt to the freegan lifestyle for personal reasons. They just want to save lots of money, because it is an obvious fact that you can save a lot when you dumpster dive.
Aside from these common motivators for adopting a freegan lifestyle there are other various reasons. Some are encouraged by friends who are freegans while others just hang out with other freegans, because there are various events and activities held in freegan communities.
How to be a real freegan?
The first and the most important thing that you have to do is to ask yourself, “What are you fighting for?” or “Why do you want to become a part of a community who are willing to face the prejudice of the society?”
Although it may seem easy to adapt to a freegan lifestyle, the difficult parts are mainly the battles that you will have to face in your everyday life. To become a serious freegan, there are a lot of sacrifices that you will have to make. These include your pride and career – that’s if you are a capitalist or you working for a capitalist.
What’s important is that you are prepared and you have the confidence and bravery to face these battles. These battles include the fight against capitalism and consumerism. That’s why if you have this so-called career that includes working for a capitalist, or being a capitalist yourself, you may want to say goodbye to it. Not to mention the personal battles against the prejudice and discrimination of closed-minded people who can’t even figure out the difference between a freegan and a bum.
If you think you are ready to face life as a freegan, here are some important practices you have to apply:
As was mentioned before, time is the most valuable thing for a freegan. A freegan devotes most of his or her time to family, friends and community. He devotes most of his time taking actions against consumerism and capitalism. He also devotes his time teaching the others on how to create something good out of trash.
Squat or couchsurf
A freegan believes that lands should be publicly shared. That is why he doesn’t bother paying for a rent or mortgage. He would squat or couch surf instead or live in a communal area.
He would squat in an abandoned house to provide housing for those people who want it, or he will use the place to provide education for the community. On the other hand, couch surfing is also encouraged to all the freegans worldwide, because this is a way to build stronger relationships between likeminded individuals.
This is a trademark of a freegan. He does it to eliminate the wasted stuff and food items. Many hungry people in the world are living in poverty. That’s why freegans try to extend their help by saving the foods and stuff from a dumpster and sharing these to the others for free.
Gardening and farming
Freegans are against GMOs and corporate food production systems. That’s why they create their own food by planting fruits, vegetables and herbs.
They minimize waste
They organize activities like free markets and free stores. During these events, you can swap the things that don’t seem useful for you, but can still be used by others. You can also swap your recycled stuff through internet-based swapping sites.
They don’t own a car
To get from one place to another, a freegan hitchhikes or uses the train or a bike because they know that owning a car will only contribute to pollution. In addition, they are fully aware that buying a car is a form of subscription to consumerism. This said, a documentary aired in the UK some years ago showed freegans driving around in a camper van using doctored vegetable oil as fuel!
The perks of being a freegan
It is a fact that there’s a movement or even an ideology behind freeganism and anyone who practices it can enjoy other benefits including the following:
Free food, house, furniture and other stuff
Your food and your housing is always free. You can find food in a dumpster or you can pick it from your garden. You don’t need to pay for rent or a mortgage because you have an abandoned house as your home, or you can find a place to stay with likeminded people. The same goes to the other things that you can find in a dumpster. If you’re lucky enough, you may even find something unexpectedly beautiful.
You don’t have to please anybody
You don’t have to follow any rules. You do not have any bosses to please. You don’t have any irate customers to deal with.
Freegans are social people. They promote couch surfing and gathering events to meet up with the other freegans in different parts of the world.
Freegans look at current society and see victims of capitalism, and people functioning as if profits and consumerism are inherently good things. In a freegan’s point of view, these are not good things, but instead represent the causes of the problems in wider society.
Because of capitalism (amongst many other things, it’s not the sole cause), inequality between people exists; animals are treated not as living creatures but as machines and the Earth is filled with pollutants caused by the companies’ by-products. For the freegans, the root of all the self-destructing factors in the society is capitalism.
For them, if capitalism continues to fool the society of its “benefits,” they fear that in the near future, all forests will be cleared (see the excessive logging in Brazil for example), there will be no clean air to breathe, no clean water to drink and no sustainable food sources to eat.
Why do freegans blame capitalism for all the bad things that are happening in the society?
Some people say that capitalism doesn’t exist nowadays, and if it does, it’s already controlled by different laws. Others say that good capitalism in the modern society has to exist, because it creates different roles for everyone, not to mention the product innovations and concept of ownership.
In the eyes of a freegan, capitalism is the root of almost all of the problems in the society. It is the reason why social classes exist and why some people dream of working in a better profession and gaining more profitable employment. But it is the reason for the continuous destruction of the Earth’s biosphere.
The following are some of the societal problems caused by capitalism and consumerism, which gave rise to the freeganism movement.
Do freegans see capitalism as the cause of discrimination
In the workplace
Everyday, you have to work hard for almost 6-8 hours per day. You have the most tedious and difficult job, but at the end of the day, what you’ll find out is that all of your hardships and effort are just equivalent to an amount of money which is often still not enough to provide for the needs of your family.
To make it worse, your superiors don’t really have to do much about anything. They are just there to supervise you. They sit in their office, signing off jobs and follow a decision-making process, but they still make more money than you do. You cannot complain about it because they’re the owners. They’re the ones who are paying you. You are just there to follow and and make them richer.
In educational attainment
In current times the primary aim of the existence of schools is not to promote true education but train the children on how to be better slaves for capitalists.
Nowadays, you’ll hear most parents telling their children to do their best at school. They tell them to compete with their classmates and other schoolers to get a better job in the future. You won’t hear the parents say that they have to go to school to learn something interesting and new, so they can become whoever they want to become.
This misconception about school is rooted from the unequal opportunities of people based on educational attainment. Those people who have graduated with a degree have a greater opportunity to get a better job.
If you’re a college graduate and you are compared to an undergrad, you will always have the edge whether you learned something from college or not. As long as you have this piece of paper called diploma, you are welcome in the HR’s office to get your interview. However, if you are the undergrad, there are less opportunities for you no matter how experienced or smart you are.
Capitalism is the reason why job stereotyping among races, colour, and gender exists. Without capitalism, there’ll be no inferior or superior countries. There’ll be no need for human resource exportation and everyone will be treated equally.
Capitalism takes charge of people’s most important commodity
For the freegans, time is the most valuable commodity. Humans have only one life to live and it’s short. Because of capitalism, this valuable commodity is taken away from them.
Your boss also has a lot of control over the majority of your time. Imagine the fact that you spend most of the time working for them while you are awake. This is the harsh truth that you cannot resist when you choose to work for them, because resisting their orders and not following the rules that they’ve set at work may cause you to get fired.
Capitalism destroys the environment and the welfare of animals.
Freegans believe that all companies are responsible for the environmental destruction. Waste materials are inevitable by-products, when a company produces something. These waste materials can destroy the Earth’s biosphere.
It doesn’t matter if these companies claim to be externalists or socially responsible
Freegans don’t believe these kinds of marketing campaigns because not everyone is 100 per cent sure that their products are 100 per cent eco-friendly.
For example, the eco-friendly cars. Freegans don’t believe that these “eco-friendly” cars are 100 per cent eco-friendly. How about their paint and other components? What about the machineries and other equipment used in making this product? What about its by-products?
Capitalism creates a lot of waste
Capitalism is the reason that fads exist. Because of the marketing campaigns and frequent innovations on different products, people have this urge to be “in” or buy what the marketing campaign has told them to buy. Because of this, a lot of usable or edible products are thrown away.
Companies are getting richer and richer, while consumers are wasting more commodities, money and other resources.
Capitalism takes possession of the things meant to be shared.
The illusion of “right” perceived by most people nowadays is the result of the “buy it to own it” concept. According to them, this is the way to settle the dispute about ownership among people.
The funny thing is that people still have this dispute, even in the presence of titles, receipts and certifications. It is also ironic that natural resources, such as water, forest, land, trees, and animals, are naturally made and humans made no contribution in their existence. In fact, these things were already there even before the humans appeared on Earth. So do humans have this real right to take possession of these things?
Capitalism fools society in view of what is valuable or not.
The illusion of what is valuable and what is not is dictated to the society by various marketing campaigns. TV commercials, radio and magazine ads and other marketing collaterals designed to teach the consumers what to believe.
Different marketing strategies are made to manipulate the biased tendencies of the brain. In the modern marketing strategy, emotions are manipulated to get the people to buy an endorsed product.
The products are commonly bought, not because of their real value, but because of what the marketing campaign has told them.
For this reason, most people in society discard and neglect all the wasted products because they think that these are not valuable at all. What the marketing campaign says to be valuable is mostly what is only valuable for them.
Because of this illusion, people forget that there are good things that they can find in the dumpster. In fact, if you are creative enough, and you know that there are valuable things in the trash, you can still make something new, and something beautiful and important.
Statistics and facts
Some people oppose the principles and morals practiced by the freegans. They think that freegans tend to overreact to the problems of the current society. The opponents also believe that freegans can’t make any effective changes in society and they are just risking their health because of their lifestyle.
People naturally have different beliefs and they have their own way of dealing with the societal problems. However, there are proven statistics and facts that can prove the self-destructing effects of capitalism and most importanlty over-consumption. It also proves that freegans are just people who are aware of the possible long-term effects of materialism and consumption and they are just taking a serious action to prevent it before it gets too late.
Proof that capitalist exploitation still exists
According to the Storyofstuff.org, the main source of income of most people in Cascade Lock, Oregon is agriculture. The residents were sharing the water of the publicly-owned water source called Oxbow Springs.
However, in 2007, Nestlé came to Cascade Lock to deal for the privatization of Oxbow Springs. Nestle were planning to make bottled water beverages out of the spring’s water and sell them back to people. They in return promised to open 50 new jobs to people.
Proof of hunger
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2013 there were more than 49 million of Americans who have been struggling to find food to eat. Also, in 2013, there were 21.5 million children who received free or reduced-price lunches from the National School Lunch Program.
Approximately 50 per cent of these children received free or reduced price breakfast from the School Breakfast Program. Only 2.4 million of these children received free or reduced price food from the Summer Food Service Program during summer months.
Proof about food waste
According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in UK, there is approximately two billion tonnes, or almost half of the food produced in the world, that never makes it on the table each year. The IMechE says that it is all because of the unnecessary sell-by dates, buy one-get one free promotional strategies, poor storage facilities, engineering and agricultural practices, and consumers’ demand for cosmetically perfect food.
The United Nations predicted that by the end of the century, there will be an extra three billion people to feed and the demand for food and other resources is continuously growing. That’s why it is important to deal with this problem about food waste.
Examples of abuse behind products
According to Amnesty International around 3.7 million people died in Africa during the three-year civil war. This is all because of the illegal trade of diamonds that cost billions of dollars all to provide arms for rebels and warlords.
According to PETA, sheep are treated as wool-producing machines and not as living creatures. Because of the huge market for wool, sheep are the ones that are abused.
Shearers are paid per volume, and not per hour, that’s why they are encouraged to work as fast as they can, even if it harms the sheep. Because of this fast-paced work, the shearers can inevitably cut the sheeps’ skin. Most shearers just leave the sheeps’ wound as it is, and some sew it without using any painkillers. Aside from that, others report certain cases of sheep maltreatment including kicking, punching, hitting, and other forms of abuse.
In Australia, there’s a breed of sheep cultured specifically for its capability to produce a thick wool due to its wrinkly skin. The breed of this sheep is called merino. The ranchers commonly let the wool grow without considering its effects on the sheep during the hot months. Aside from that, its thick wool can collect some of the sheep’s waste, attracting a breeding haven for flies, especially in the wrinkly area of the skin, where the moisture commonly collects. Because of this, there are merinos that are eaten alive by maggots.
To face this problem, some ranchers apply a deadly procedure on lambs that are as young as two to eight weeks old. The lambs are forced to endure the procedure, which prevents their skin from wrinkling. This procedure is called molesing. This method is applied by restraining a lamb’s legs and forcing it to its back. After that, the rancher will cut a huge chunk of skin on the lambs backside without any painkillers. This is the main reason behind the death of many lambs even before they reach their eighth week.
According to the globalexchange.org, West Africa has been the main source of cocoa in 60 years. It comprises the 67 per cent of the world’s total production of cocoa.
America is the largest consumer of cocoa. Americans spent a total of $13 billion dollars on chocolate and ate 3.3 billion pounds of it in 2001.
Behind the sweet, delicious and addictive taste of chocolate, there’s a horrible labor force behind it. The low global market value of chocolate has been owed to the children who are forced to work in cocoa plantations. These children are forced to complete hazardous daily tasks without any protection, such as using machetes and pesticides.
According to the US State Department, there have been 15,000 children who were sold to work in plantations of cocoa, coffee and cotton in the Ivory Coast, the greatest producer of cocoa. Also, according to UNICEF and IITA, the Ivory Coast farmers have been using child slaves who came from the neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso, Togo, Mali and Benin.
Also, according to the IITA, 60 per cent of children who are working in cocoa plantations have never been into school.
China has been the greatest exporter of fur in the world, and their consumer is the United States. Why? It is because certain animal abuses are not illegal in China.
According to PETA, there are even fur farms in China that operate legally to exploit and abuse the animals in unimaginable and barbaric ways. The animals that you can find here include dogs, cats, rabbits, foxes and other animals. These animals are commonly placed in a wired cage wherein they are exposed to the scorching sun and heavy rainfalls.
To make it even worse, when it’s time to “harvest,” the fur farmers will pull the animals aggressively from their cages, throw them onto the ground and hit them with a bludgeon.
It doesn’t end there just yet. According to the undercover investigators from Swiss Animal Protection / EAST International, the fur farmers would hang them by their legs or tail and would begin skinning them. It is the worst part for the animals that survived the bludgeon, because they are skinned alive. After this process, they will be thrown into the pile of skinless and bloody animals that have gone before them.
It seems like doing this kind of stuff is just a part of everyday life in China, because you’ll find more fur farms and animal market in other places, wherein you’ll see domestic animals, such as dogs and cats hanged and bleeding to death.
These are just some of the examples of abuse behind every product. It will take more than a thousand-page book to expose all the wrongdoings and abuse of brands and products and we are just using these examples to highlight the backdrop of abuses that shape the ethics and philosophies of the freegan movement.
It is because the freegans believe that even though a product appears to be legally produced and loved by loyal customers, there are still hints of abuse and harm behind it.
For example, a plastic bag is a product that is widely accepted by society, but is it good for the environment? A glass of Coca Cola is a product legally produced and widely accepted, but is it good for your body? The same goes with cigarettes, alcohol, and more.
The only foods or goods that are accepted by the freegans are those that are naturally harvested and are wasted away by some people. They reuse and recycle whatever they can find useful to eliminate the harmful effects of plastics and other non-biodegradable materials in the environment.
Freegans’ solution to the effects of consumerism and capitalism
The freegans’ aim to battle against capitalism by living a simple life. They want the kind of society which is almost the same as primitive times when our ancestors were living a simple life and were just happy with what they had and what they could acquire, sustainably from the environment.
The freegans do not like people to take full control of the environment and use it to benefit only them. They just want to let the environment provide for them as naturally as it used to during the ancient times.
For this reason, they don’t let capitalism dictate the way they have to live. They live by not letting the “bosses” enslave them because they believe that their motives are for profits and not for the good of society. They don’t buy the goods that will only profit the capitalists and enslave the poor.
They have to live in a simple way by not subscribing to the illusion of a “good life,” or material existence that the capitalists dictate them. They have to do it to save the environment and the society. They do it by saving the goods that the other people see as trash. They have to live a simple and happy life to teach the others about freeganism and the creative ways of doing it.
They want to show to everyone that the world is a beautiful place to live. They want to prove to people that it is possible to feel happier and be richer by seeing others’ perspectives and by seeing the opposite of what every marketing collateral tells them is beautiful and desirable. They want to show the world that people can still survive without over consuming and that they can be happy with all the things that the environment can naturally give them.
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Freegans, the ones who practice a freeganism lifestyle, don’t have to do those things. Their daily routines don’t include going to work or visiting stores and supermarkets.
They enjoy a simple, yet different lifestyle. They live without feeling the need to work for somebody, but they always have food on the table and they always acquire everything that they need. The interesting part is they get of there things for free. They are creative people who know how to turn trash into gold.
Freegans are dumpster divers who scout for furniture, appliances, food or anything that has been discarded by other members of society. This is the way they choose to live because they don’t subscribe to consumerism and capitalism.
What freeganism is not – challenging myths and stereotypes
Freegans, slackers, freeloaders, and bums are the same.
Some people go by the above notion when questioned on their understanding of this grouping. They are still unaware of the freeganism movement, which is the main reason they often consider bums, freeloaders and freegans as the same entity. Also, some people find freeganism as a good excuse to slack off. Note, however, that freeganism is different from bumming or slacking.
Bums are homeless and jobless. Some view the term bum in itself as a derogatory or demeaning term but we will use it here for the purpose of clarity and explanation. For so-called bums, not having a job is not a choice – well, some choose not to work, but it’s commonly because of harrowing personal reasons. The dumpster diving lifestyle is not their choice but it’s mainly because of the lack of money.
You may see a freegan scouting for food or stuff in a dumpster like a bum does. You may say that like a bum, some freegans choose not to work a 40-60-hour/week job, but there’s a meaningful reason behind this kind of lifestyle – something that’s beyond personal problems or unavoidable circumstances.
A freegan does what he does because he doesn’t want to be victimized by capitalism and consumerism. He doesn’t want to work for the bosses who are getting richer by destroying the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere and natural resources. He (or she) is a free person who cherishes his time for something more important than being always at his best just to keep a job.
Most freegans are not homeless. They can sometimes afford to pay for mortgage or rent. Many of them are educated. In fact, some of them still choose to stay in a job. They just don’t want to subscribe to those who keep on destroying the Earth by working for them, or they just feel bad about the wasted food or products.
Freeganism and frugality are one and the same
The other misconception about freeganism is that freeganism is synonymous with frugality. It is a fact that freegans live a frugal lifestyle. However, it isn’t just about frugality. It is about finding justice for environment, wasted food or products and animal rights. They have to be frugal because their main goal is to help save society from the negative effects of capitalism.
For them, subscription to consumerism contributes to pollution, waste products and animal cruelty, that’s why they have to live a frugal lifestyle and strive to reduce consumption whenever possible. Freegans reuse and recycle whatever they find to be reusable or recyclable.
Are freegans all anarchists?
Freegans are not exclusively anarchists. Generally, there is a need for proper governance of the society to maintain peace and order. Freeganism is a separate political movement from anarchism. There are freegans who are anarchist and there are those who support a standard political hierarchy.
Some freegans are against capitalism and not in favour of the existence of a government, especially if it’s the kind of government which chooses to help and support a sovereign individual instead of looking after its people.
To wrap it up, freeganism is an anti-consumerism movement. They are not slackers, anarchists nor bums. In fact, “freegan” is a combination of two words: free and vegan – free, in a sense that they get their food out of dumpsters and vegan because most freegans abstain from eating animal products. They’re just people who want to create some change in society in their own way. None of these are absolutes and variations of philosophy do apply.
How did freeganism start?
“Eww, that’s gross.” This is the common reaction of people when you say that you’ve found something edible in a dumpster and would like to eat it! Hardly surprising I suppose given how we are conditioned to live. With this common prejudice, what do you think is the reason why freeganism became a popular movement? How did it begin?
It began in the mid-1960s when an anarchist guerilla street theatre group, known as Diggers, were performing in San Francisco, California. They got their name from a 17th century group known as English Diggers. The English Diggers had this vision to free society from its obsessive consumerism and possession of private properties.
The Diggers of the mid-1960s would engage in street theatre and artistic performance. They would also cook and eat foods that came from trash, gardens and local stores – obtained by stealing. They also had the heart to share those foods through the free stores they set up and they gave them away to everyone who wanted them.
Since then, the San Francisco Diggers had made a significant contribution in political activism against food waste. Food waste issues have been at the centre of political activism to increase ecological awareness.
This was part one of a three-part series. Keep an eye out for the second part dropping soon.
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When it comes to escaping the rat race there are worse spots you could end up in than Central Portugal. That was one of the main appeals when Bolton native Owen Lloyd Martin relocated with his then-wife to the beautiful warmth of a country that spawned Port wine, Piri Piri Chicken and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Rising in the morning to capture the floating, etheral mists on the hillside or observe the wildlife moving around freely in its natural habitat, this truly sounds like an idyllic location. Martin lives near a reservoir, in the Pedrogão Pequeno region on Arrochela Farm.
Speaking to Carl Munson on Good Morning Portugal, Martin explained the joys of living near the water: “I was with a friend the other day and she was telling the story of sitting in a pontoon eating sandwiches with the children and the bread fell in. All of a sudden there was a multitude of carp all around her. She decided to get in the lake and swim with the carp,” he said.
Martin’s off grid set-up helps sustain his remote lifestyle. Solar panels add power. A limited quantity of mobile internet data keeps him connected with the outside world, while a homesteading mentality allows for fruit and vegetable growing.
Summer temperature highs hit as much as 42 degrees, although the average is a slightly cooler 36. When the rain falls, it falls, as four seasons often swing by in one day. When the cold weather comes, chimneys around the village can be spotted blazing.
“I chop wood for a fire late in the day,” Owen explains. “I’m nice and warm then. I’m asleep by the time it heats up so why expend the energy chopping wood all day?”
The dry days allow Martin to grab his wellington boots and sow seeds for food supplies. Portuguese weather does not always allow for winter gardening, despite what you might think.
Martin grows lemons, various orange types for freshly squeezed juice in the mornings, pomegranates, limes and grapefruits. Peanut plants are the latest vegetables being tested in the sunny climes.
Martin recalls the first time he realised that a tropical, distant life in Portugal was exactly for him.
“Getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning, walking down to the lake with my fishing rod and my headphones, I cast a line, saw some buzzards and an eagle, watched the carp swimming around.”
The neighbours’ home brew is also a weekly hit for this relocated Englishman. Not proficient in the language, Owen enjoys the hospitality, kindness and generosity of the Portuguese people who appreciate his attempts to communicate in the local dialect.
Sunday is market day, a time for mingling with people of all ages across the community; many engaging in religious practices. Martin concludes by explaining how his decision to leave the UK for Portugal was strongly based around freedom and personal liberation. Two core ideas that can motivate many escapers to follow their own dreams.
The FIRE Movement: Free Yourself To Secure Your Future
The FIRE movement is a popular mantra among millennials. FIRE is an acronym for either of these two: Financial Independence Retirement Early or Financial Independence Retirement Extreme.
The goal of the movement is to allow an individual to retire early and live the rest of his/her life in financial security. To achieve such goal, the individual must aggressively save money.
The best age to retire is 67. That is the time when you can take the full benefits of social security. However, did you know that the average life span of Americans is around 78 years? With that said, the possibility of living your retirement days and pension in only 10 years is high.
Besides, there is no complete guarantee that you will be in good health. By the time you retire, you might be already on your way to a nursing home. Note that most people get admitted to a nursing home at the age of 65 to 67.
On a different note, say that you graduated when you were 23 or 24 years old. If you took a job after you finished college, you have to work for 43 to 44 years before you reach retirement. That’s an awful long time.
You can, however, retire when you are 62 since you can start getting benefits at that time. But still, you only get to slash five years off of that wait time. You also have the option to withdraw from your IRA (Individual Retirement Account) sans the penalty at the age of 59. Even then, the wait is too long.
America is one of the countries in the world with the longest working hours. It is by default that you need to render eight hours a day, forty hours a week. On average, factoring in part-time workers, Americans work 34 hours a week.
You might be surprised to know that Americans work as long as the Japanese, who have been stereotyped as overworked people. On average, the Japanese render 33 hours a week.
However, the Japanese still beat most countries of the world if you add in the unpaid overwork time they do and the time they spend to appease their companies and co-workers — something that’s forced upon them by Japan’s workplace socialization culture.
In contast, the Germans, French, and Swedes only spend 26 to 31 hours a week on work. The Chinese, on the other hand, spend 38 to 42 hours a week. And the Bangladeshis often work for 19 hours a day.
In addition to your work hours, you should include your commute time. Every day, on average, Americans spend 50 to 60 minutes a day commuting. Also, you have an additional 30 minutes to spend in your work for your breaks.
Another time-consuming process you might undergo is unpaid work. Unpaid work consists of things you do that you can pay other people to do for you. Examples of unpaid work are domestic chores such as cleaning, cooking, and laundry. On average, Americans spend 3 hours and 27 minutes doing unpaid work.
If you add the time you spend for work, breaks, commute, and unpaid work, you will get 13 hours. In those 13 hours, you are completely devoting your time to work, both paid and unpaid. Typically, your body requires you to have 8 hours of sleep. Adding those two, you will get 21 hours.
Subtract those 21 hours to a day, and you will have 3 whole hours for yourself. You might even spend those remaining hours eating and socializing. And what’s left? Almost a few minutes to an hour for you to spend on things that you really want to do.
That sounds like a boring life. And the only respite you have is those weekends that seem to quickly come and go. You will be lucky to dodge overtimes and get some holidays off.
With a boring life that comes with work and the uncertainty of how long people will live after they reach retirement (or if they will even make it to retirement age), it’s no wonder that early retirement sounds good to everyone.
This is where the FIRE movement comes in.
How It Works
The FIRE movement encourages people to set their retirement lower than the norm. It could be in your 40s or 30s. At first glance, it seems it’s impossible to retire at that age. Sure, you can, but you will still be swimming in debt.
Remember that student loans are just too unrealistic. The usual loan expects students to pay it off after 10 years. If you graduate when you are 24, you might finish this debt when you are 34. Yet the average student loan amounts to $40,000. Every month for 10 years, you will need to pay $333 (interest not yet included, loan type not considered, and state is not defined).
The average monthly salary for people age 24 to 34 is around $3,100. That means the amount you need to pay your student loan is more than 10% of your income.
If you are single and earning the average annual income of $40,350, you will be immediately under the 22% tax bracket. If you still live in 2017, it should have been 15% only. But since it was updated, the average salary is $2,000 than the 12% margin, which automatically landed you to 22%.
With loan repayment and tax alone, 32% of your income is lost. There are other deductions for sure and other complexities in the tax system, but this is just an overview and this section’s goal is to let you see the big picture.
Living in one of the 15 major cities in the United States can easily make your monthly living expenses range from $2,500 to $5,500. If you add that up to the tax and loan, working your butt off basically means keeping yourself barely alive and accumulating debt. And car loans and mortgage are not yet included in these calculations.
And with these little factoids, retirement in your 30s and 40s has just become a pipe dream. So, how exactly does the FIRE movement allow you to reach that promised early retirement?
First Stage: Financial Independence
It seems that the FIRE movement’s goal is pure fantasy. It’s not. And it’s not even that complicated to achieve. It is simple, but not easy, unfortunately.
FIRE is all about creating a gap between your income and expenses. The bigger the gap, the faster you can achieve financial independence. It is all a balancing act.
To widen income and expense gap, one must focus on three elements: expense, time, and income. First, one must lower expenses. Second, time must be spared. And third, income should be raised.
You might be thinking, why is time even included here? Isn’t this all about financial freedom? Yes, that’s true. For now, read through this section and you’ll eventually understand why time is part of the equation.
The difficulty of achieving the goal for the three elements depends on your current situation. The three of them affect each other and, more often than not, you might be forced to tackle each element in a specific order.
The element that you have more control over is your expenses. It is a good starting point to lower it first. Reducing your expenses does not mean that you should live frugally. You can begin by just eliminating unnecessary purchases.
For example, you can kick your fancy coffee drinking habit. If you drink one Venti Starbucks every day, you are adding $133.50 to your expenses every month. Remove that from your system and you instantly have a $133.50 surplus or income/expense gap.
This simple decision can have a butterfly effect in balancing your time, expense, and income.
The second element that you can manage is time. It is easier to manage time once you have lowered your expenses and start having surpluses. And it is easier to generate more income once you have the time.
There are many methods in freeing up time by adding a bit to your expenses. For example, you can hire someone to do your unpaid work, which are household chores. This alone can free up at least three hours of your time.
A weekly cleaner costs $25 to $50 an hour. With the surplus you generated from dropping your Starbucks fix, you get to save at least 2 to 5 hours of your time every month.
Also, not going to Starbucks to get your coffee will save you time by not going to the store to buy it or linger over your coffee there. If it takes you 30 minutes every day to get your caffeine fix in Starbucks, it means you are going to save 15 hours a month.
With that decision alone, you have saved, optimistically, 17 hours.
The third element, income, can be managed if you have done the previous two. Unless you are the ideal employee that can ask your boss give you a raise monthly, you have limited control over your income at the start.
However, once you have dealt with your expenses and time, you will be able to open up opportunities to raise your income. For example, you can use the time you spared to work online. An hour working as a freelance writer can let you earn $25 to $75.
If you have saved 17 hours and use that spare time to work as a freelance writer online, you can add $425 up to $1,275 every month. And that is a huge change in your income/expense gap. To think that you just started with merely dropping your Starbucks habit.
Once you get to this point, you can start looking for other opportunities that can let you tweak your expense, time, and income balance. After that, save all the surplus money you gained; rinse and repeat.
Everything sounds easy, right? But it’s not. Joining the FIRE movement basically means that you will sacrifice a lot.
Do you think you can give up drinking coffee in a snap? Can you give up the small luxuries that you enjoy just to reduce your expenses? Can you utilize the free time you spared and work on another job that easily?
This is just the beginning.
However, take comfort in the fact that it will only be a short and painful journey compared to waiting until you need to start wearing adult diapers.
Second Stage: Retire Early
At some point, you will reach the extremes of your expense, time, and income.
You will be at a point when you are living a simple but a seemingly frugal life. The only things you spend for are things you only need to live and be content. Your income has reached its ceiling point. Your time and schedule are configured to get as much money as you can. Every minute in your life is accounted for in order to maximize income.
You already have spare money in your bank account and it is just there.
You either feel miserable or happy with your lifestyle. If you feel the former, it is truly understandable. You are sacrificing the present for the future after all. Congratulations for reaching this far.
At this point, you should proceed to the second stage.
In the previous section, the importance of time was lightly touched upon. FIRE basically means financial independence and retire early. Managing your expenses and income to the point wherein you receive a surplus and do not have any debt already means that you are financially independent.
The only thing left now is to retire early.
However, you don’t need to be jobless and stop earning money. Early, complete retirement is discouraged by the FIRE movement. You cannot just stop working and earning and then spend all of what you have saved in this day and age.
Decades ago (particularly during the 1990s), that method worked because of the 4% rule of thumb. Unfortunately, the interest rates of bank savings cannot sustain people withdrawing 4% of their money each year anymore unless they put a bit of money back to the account.
Withdrawing 3% of savings every year will work, but that means lesser cash on hand.
So, no, retiring completely is out of the equation. This is especially true if your income ceiling is just average.
Now, the “retire early” part means that you should stop working but continue earning. Retiring early and the second stage are all about freeing up all the time you are using for work.
To accomplish such feat, there is only one way: investment.
Before, retirees could just rely on the bank to invest their savings and pay them back through interests. Now, banks pay less, which means that you should do some of the investing yourself.
You have multiple avenues to take when it comes to investments. Some people have done it through establishing and funding businesses. Some people invest their money on stocks and other financial instruments. And a few invest them on physical commodities.
You can choose where to invest your money. There is no hard and fast rule for this part. The important thing here is that you need to place your money where it will not be lost. To do that, you must know the 4Ms of investing.
1. Management: Know how the person or entity will use the money you will invest. Also, this is a continuous process. People change. And the people in business entities come and go.
2. Meaning: You should not just invest in a company or person in an instant. You should at least be interested in them and what they do. You should not find reading news about them a chore.
3. Moat: This means that the company or entity has the capability to keep competitors at bay and maintain its position on the industry’s top.
4. Margin of Safety: An entity’s stock or security has two values: market price and intrinsic value. The difference between the two is the margin of safety. If market price is low and intrinsic value is high, invest. If market price is high and intrinsic value is low, let go.
For the past few years, the FIRE movement has become popular among millennials. But it is not exactly new. Before its current popularity, people of the previous generation were already doing it — and they were just realizing now that what they were doing has a name. A few of them, on the other hand, have become advocates and are now teaching other people to join the movement.
Here are some notable people you would want to follow to get a more in-depth look at the FIRE movement.
Mr. Money Mustache
Mr. Money Mustache is Peter Adeney’s blogging pseudonym. He is one of the popular advocates of the FIRE movement. He retired from his software engineering job when he was 30. He is now 45 years old.
His common and primary talking points are that people should own as little as possible, leave little to no environmental footprint, and enjoy financial freedom as a result. He has been featured a lot of times in mainstream media.
Here are some of the few things he likes to talk about the FIRE movement.
1. There are no downsides in FIRE; however, doing everything to the extreme will give it one.
2. The amount of money you initially earn does not matter much. The goal after all is to raise it eventually.
3. FIRE is not all about early retirement. It is mostly about being financially independent and securing your future.
4. The amount you spend does not matter much and you do not need to lead a frugal life. You can be happy as long as you can spend.
5. The success of FIRE does not depend on a soaring stock market or a booming economy. It depends on how and where you invest your money.
6. The bills you have to pay are just small obstacles. They will not be a problem anymore when you start raising your income and eliminating unnecessary expenses.
7. There is nothing to fear except for fear. Again, there is no downside as long as you do it right.
8. Focus on things where you can have an advantage. Do not put yourself in a more difficult situation. Joining the FIRE movement is hard enough as it is.
Barney Whiter had a taste of the FIRE movement at an early age. When he was in high school, his parents bought a house and then the recession hit them. The mortgage payments were crippling them financially, so his parents immediately responded to it by doing massive cutbacks on spending.
Those years traumatized Whiter and he realized early how difficult it was to be in debt, especially to a bank.
He took a degree in economics and became a chartered accountant. He worked in the finance industry for two decades. Ever since he started working, he has saved half of his salary every month. All the bonuses he received went directly to his savings, too.
He lived a simple life despite his salary. He commuted to work by cycling. He rarely went out to minimize his “socializing” expenses.
By the age of 43, he decided to call it quits. His savings are now sustaining his retiree days. He never realized that he was with the FIRE movement.
Her story started with her husband Will. When she was 27, she started saving up by moving to a single-bedroom apartment that cost $400 a month. They shared the room with three other roommates. After a year, they moved out.
They moved to the apartment in front of where they were staying. After a year of saving, they provided a down payment of around $220,000. Paula and her husband did not live alone. They moved again with flatmates.
Their flatmates paid their share of the rent, and since they were the ones who provided the down payment, they did not share and lived in the apartment virtually free of charge. They continued moving until they bought a home for themselves while keeping all the apartments they bought and then leased.
Their properties became a passive source of income.
Moving in and out in a continuous succession in a span of seven years while keeping the old properties cannot be done without major modifications in their finances and lifestyle.
The couple lived frugally. They drove a 15-year-old car and only replaced it just recently. They never subscribed to cable. And Paula never bought new, or rather expensive, clothes.
It was also an advantage that they moved in and out in Atlanta. Mortgage costs in that city are around 10% to 15% lower compared to other areas. Also, they themselves did the repairs to the bargain properties they bought.
Suze Orman is a renowned financial expert and has been critical of the FIRE movement. Two of her main points against FIRE are:
1. Disaster happens. You need to make sure that you have enough money to mitigate those events. It is risky to live without a job that provides additional health insurance.
2. People need a huge amount of savings if they plan to retire early. She estimated that you should at least have $5 million up to $10 million.
Regardless of which path you follow, know that securing your future financially is vital to improving your quality of life. Be frugal with your expenses, be smart with your income and investments, and you’ll have a reliable nest egg in your later years.