In 1992, the same year Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez released the book Your Money or Your Life, a writer from The New York Times’ Style Section contacted a former Sub Pop Record employee for a peek into the hidden world of grunge.
“Surely, all movements built around outcasts contain insider language,” thought the reporter as he threw out common terms to the “grunge” expert and she divulged “grungy” equivalents.
- Hanging out - Swinging on the flippity flip
- Loser - Cobnobbler
- Old ripped jeans - Wack slacks
- Bummer - Harsh realm
- Uncool outsiders - Tom tom club
Making up nonsense on the spot, she was clearly messing with the reporter. He apparently overlooked this fact, published the article, and it has become a gentrified statement piece for a movement eventually morphing into $80 flannel shirts and runway models toting dark eye circles on purpose.
Welcome to FI: Come as You Are
- Fat FIRE - I have so much money it’s embarrassing
- Lean FI - I kind of know what I’m doing
- Coast FIRE - I’m not sure when I’ll die, so I’m having fun
- Barista FIRE - For the rebel in all of us
- Mrs. DoubtFIRE - Hoarding money is controversial and I’m here to talk about it
- Pants on FIRE - I’m nowhere close to retirement, but thanks for including me
(I’m probably the last two.) Whatever I’m called, influenced from an early age by the anti-establishment sentiments of grunge, I decided to “stick it to the man” with one simple gesture - saving money.
Some kids rebel with cigarettes. Other kids rebel with NPR and conscious spending.
A more recent New York Times article, When Grunge Made Blue-Collar Culture Cool, stunned me with its vast, abstract, and hard to overlook connections to FI.
Below is an exploration of those parallels along with nostalgic song titles serving as headings to tie together a downright perplexing analogy.
Down in a Hole
I was raised by blue-collar workers. I did feel cool as a five-year-old in flannel and combat boots watching my older brothers wrench on cars with Nevermind on in the background. It seemed everyone - except the supposed creators themselves - wanted to be involved with grunge, yet no one knew what it meant.
- Was it a rebellion against consumerism?
- Was it a reaction against the glitz, glam, and excess of the 1980s?
- Was it a philosophy about not being showy?
- Or was it simply the result of lousy recording budgets, kids unfamiliar with studios, and inept sound engineers not talented enough to obtain a clean recording?
Grunge, like FI, came to mean different things to different people as the inventors themselves were all shuffled under one term. Considering grunge, no matter what a band did or how unique they were, many were simplified for the sake of soundbites and filed away into the recesses of history.
At one point in my life, I had to be frugal. Now I feel cool being frugal. I don’t know what this means. I'm not sure how to feel about it. A lot of need exists in the world, and it's important to acknowledge the privilege of intentional frugality.
Like an out of place Yuppie secretly jamming to Man in the Box in their Volkswagen, I found FI at 27 years old in the midst of a career transition. I wasn’t sure where I fit in, but I’d found a movement. I’d found a philosophy. And I’d even found a couple of exemplars to articulate the vague vision existing in my mind...
Blow Up the Outside World
Considering the opening example of how confusion can arise while discussing simple vocabulary, let’s clarify some terms. Concerning the definition of FI, I’ll leave it up to JD Roth:
“Financial Independence occurs when you’ve saved enough to support your current spending habits for the rest of your life without the need to earn more money.”
As for grunge, I’m not talking about ‘grungy’ in terms of I’m your ‘grungy’ neighbor digging in the dumpster.
I’m talking about what should be capital ‘g’ Grunge - the philosophical movement of the late 80s and early 90s that peaked with awesome bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Sound Garden coming out of the Pacific Northwest (but somehow morphed into post-grunge with Creed and Nickleback). Once nu-metal came along with Limp Bizkit and Korn claiming roots in the movement… I was straight up out of there. WHAT HAPPENED?
Nearly Lost You
When mainstream society overlooks the needs and interests of dissatisfied masses, creative communities arise to meet the need. When those creative communities produce something profound, society often comes creeping back to cash in on the idea.
If your eyes are open to it, a lot of articles are coming out lately from people who are bailing on the FIRE movement. Some say too many bloggers have come along to add verbal diarrhea to an incredibly easy concept about saving more and spending less.
As a newbie blogger, I represent one of the gold rush fools. I'm trading in my other side-hustles for the hope to eventually make money online while my child naps. I’ve learned a lot in the past several months, including the fact I don’t mind being part of the tom-tom club.
Maybe you've had some notions about changes on the horizon. Luckily, no one has come out of left field like Korn and completely freaked me out yet (or put a final nail in the coffin). However, I’ve experienced some Creed-like vibes with surprising religious overtones. If you feel the need to slip some god action at me, thanks for mixing it with money instead of choker necklaces and leather jackets.
Apparently, retiring early doesn't solve all of your problems, just like how being famous doesn’t solve all your problems.
In fact, in some cases, it exacerbates personal issues. Numerous people retiring early without a positive experience have come back from the depths to tell their tales.
Sometimes, their loss of structure and purpose reminds me of my own experience as a full-time musician literally having all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted each day. Even while volunteering and trying to establish some semblance of a routine, I was terrible at knowing myself or what made me happy. (Side note: You will probably do better at this than me in my early 20s).
Retirement is an art as well as a science. So is going without a day job.
When Gwen quit her involvement with FIRE DRILL podcast and decided to devote herself to full-time work in order to function as a happy person (how dare she!), her story contained a beautiful message for her listeners (even if it was akin to hearing about Soundgarden breaking up).
Interestingly enough, many of the bloggers making the most money off their blogs are the ones who have retired already and don’t need the money. These people worked hard as writers and certainly deserve their success. Like the lead singers of grunge, trying to deal with the paradox of their affluence is an interesting thing to listen in on.
In contrast, a lot of people starting to blog about money are nowhere near FI. An entire group of money bloggers has been swept up into a concept they are nowhere close to attaining. Not surprisingly, this had been hard on some of them psychologically.
Essentially, we are all humans in an online space with diverse backgrounds, accomplishments, goals, and assumptions. And what are humans known for? Annoying the daylights out of one another eventually (even while accomplishing interesting things). This is why bands that stay together are the eighth wonder of the world.
(By the way, I find the FI community to be a far more enjoyable networking space than the music industry. It must be all the sober people. Then again...)
No matter where I end up on my own personal money journey, I deeply resonate with the heart of the FI movement. It has prompted discussions igniting deeper notions within me about the meaning of life, my role as a responsible creature on the planet, and the role of ego in both creativity and stealth wealth.
Like a lot of grunge lyrics (minus the senselessness of Bush), most people in the FI movement have infused conversations about money with a conscious awareness of social issues. In addition, they have contributed to a larger psychological discussion about what it means to live a life of integrity while remaining true to the self.
Heart Shaped Box
From playing at the pool to watching older kids spray paint cliffs, my childhood is basically incomprehensible without the soundtrack of grunge. Many grunge bands still take up enormous space in my heart and my psyche.
Growing up, my family only had three channels. I didn’t have MTV. I didn’t read any magazines about music either. I only heard the music (and had an occasional CD sleeve to look through). Consequently, I didn’t even know what several of the bands looked like until I was an adult retrospectively experiencing the songs on Youtube.
I’m glad I missed out on the media hype and instead experienced grunge as a feeling in the air. In essence, I had a pure understanding of the music as a culturally aloof naive child putting my own spin on it.
Likewise, being on top of exactly what happens in the personal finance space isn’t my goal. I want to stay in touch with the visceral appeal I experienced when I first discovered people existed online who thought about frugality intersecting morality in a similar way as me.
Gotta Have FAAAAAIIITH!
This movement is definitely growing (if not exploding). Hold on to your horses though, the equivalent of Kurt Kobain being on the cover of Sassy magazine with Courtney Love hasn’t happened yet. Neither has a major recession.
Does anyone plan to make a movie and soundtrack combo in the style of Singles? I’ll be first in line for that.
Of course, this drawn-out analogy can only go so far. Even if millions of people in the near future are captivated by FI, I highly doubt it will look like a mosh pit with JL Collins swinging from the rafters.
As for me, I’m an average earning mom hoping to make some money on the side as a writer. In other words, I’m honored to play the role of Limp Bizkit.
How about you?
Do you think Seattle is brewing up something magical once again?
Consider checking out these excellent Seattle bloggers and tell me what you think.