When FI Becomes Grunge

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.  

All Apologies

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...

"Follow me into the desert as thirsty as you are…” Photo courtesy of Gwen.

Blow Up the Outside World

Considering the opening example of how confusion can arise while discussing simple vocabulary, let’s clarify some termsConcerning 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.

Big Empty

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).

Photo courtesy of A Purple Life.

Far Behind

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 Excuses

No matter where I end up on my own personal money journey, I deeply resonate with the heart of the FI movementIt 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. 


Recently, a lot of people searching for a documentary called Fyre Festival found Playing with Fire instead, so we have that going for us.  

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.  

"I did it all for the nookie?"

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.

A Purple Life

Millennial Boss

Fetching Financial Freedom

Ty Roberts (Campfire Finance)

Tori from Her First $100K

Tread Lightly, Retire Early  (Her awesome article has been linked to in The New York Times... with no messing around or sarcasm involved.)


31 Replies to “When FI Becomes Grunge”

  1. Yes! This article made me laugh and it made me think! (Typing this one-handed so excuse the brevity). But this was the best overview of the state of the FIRE movement possible. I loved it!!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I’m also glad you get my sense of humor! I didn’t want it to come off as snarky. Of course, it should go without saying, I love so many people in this space.

  2. This is a beautifully crafted article. I love the parallels of both counter cultures.

    Growing up in the 90s myself I must confess I was more partial to the NuMetal stuff but these days I find myself listening to Grunge more (I’m posting this while listening to Stone Temple Pilots with Temple of the Dog up next.).

    It’s true that there are thousands of FI bloggers these days joining the band wagon, us included. We’re only three months in and I’m worried about if I will run out of ideas to write about.

    But I remember in an interview of JD Roth that it’s important not to write yourself into a corner. I think the important part is for us to be ourselves and offer our own perspective, which you’ve done, impressively, here.

    FIRE and that kind of thinking about personal finance is certainly on the verge of being mainstream. And I welcome it with open arms. Living below your means and investing your money should become the topic of everyday conversation. And I think every FI blogger should be proud of contributing to that.

    1. Thank you for the kind words Piki Dad. Stone Temple Pilots and Temple of the Dog are on weekly in the background in our house! As you can imagine, I was devastated we lost both of those lead singers in the past few years to mental health issues. Truly shocked and sad.

      I’m glad you are in this space contributing your unique point of view. It’s entertaining to watch what is going on around here (and on social media) for sure. It’s such a unique idea to go mainstream. Even if people aim and miss (like me), they usually end up better off than they would have been and they sure learn a lot along the way. Take care!

  3. Ha ha ha! Tina W. is amazing (Tom Tom Club or not). I absolutely love the Talking Heads. Anything that mixes intelligence with quirk is my go-to. Grunge is a little too serious for where I’m at in my life right now…

  4. Rock on girl! Gotta be honest most of this went over my head as I’m a young 90s kid but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the sentiment! Everyone has a story to tell and I encourage you and anyone else to share! There’s room for us all.

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog Gwen! Glad you could still garner something from the post. I know you talked about liking country music as a kid, so being compared to grunge bands probably doesn’t float your boat:)

      I agree everyone has a story to tell. There’s so much to say and such a diversity of approaches to hear and learn from.

  5. Another awesome article! Love the grunge/FI analogy and very well executed. While I’m not certain, you may have bested me in terms of number of music reference in one blog post!

    1. I did reference quite a bit of music! Inside jokes for many, but I hope it can still make sense for those out of the grunge loop. Tried to find a balance. Thanks for stopping by the blog again!

  6. I almost missed this and so glad I didn’t! As a Gen Xer, the grunge roots are real. Love your ability to make connections and tie together seemingly random references.

    1. Glad it could resonate! I’m very interested in where people develop their attitudes toward society and how this impacts their money. Once I noticed the grunge connection for myself, the article came together pretty quickly. Hope the rebranding is going well for you!

  7. As a music lover and child of the 90’s, I love this! Pearl Jam is still one of my fav’s.

    Even though I hate to admit this, I may have had a minor obsession with Bush. So the comment on their senseless lyrics gave me a good chuckle! I remember screaming out those lyrics at concerts and thinking “what the heck does this even mean?”

    It also recently dawned on me why I’ve been so drawn to the FI movement and you bring it up in this post as well. It’s not just about the money, but it’s about designing a meaningful and intentional life. This is the point I hope to be able to convey in my blog.

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog Melody. I love your comment about Bush. I was a fan too… at the time! My friends and I would scream the lyrics in the bathroom getting ready for football games… “Mickey Mouse has grown up a Cow. Dave is on sale again.” EVERYTHING ZEN.

      It’s funny how certain music grows with you and other music you look back on and it’s kind of a joke for some reason.

      I think you definitely convey designing a meaningful life on your blog. Money is definitely a part of that.

  8. What fun! I enjoyed the subtitles a lot and now have great songs stuck in my head.

    You are not Limp Bizkit. But if you are, can I be Nickelback? My rendition of “How You Remind Me” will blow your mind (or your eardrums).

    1. I’m glad you recognized several of the songs Diana! Concerning Limp Bizkit, when my husband finished reading the article I heard him make a verbal utterance of disapproval regarding how the article ended. That’s when I knew I had it (ha, ha, ha). You can be Nickelback only if you can’t make it as a wise man:)

  9. What a fab post. This was the music of my youth (obviously alongside the Britpop Kings across the water of Blur, Oasis, Suede et al.).

    I completely relate to the idea of trying to stay in touch with the visceral feeling that grunge gave me and the parallel of trying to keep in touch with the visceral feeling that I felt the first time I heard about FI. That’s it. The FI journey is a long slow burn, we don’t need to stay in touch with the latest fads but we need to be able to hum the classics, sing them in the shower and dance in our bedroom as we walk the path.

    Thank you for writing this. It reminded me of why I fell in love with blogs in the first place!

    1. I was an Oasis fan for a long time as well. Thanks Caveman for the positive comment and connection to your own life and love of blogs. You are right that FI is a long slow burn requiring enormous connection to your original motivation. I think of it as a cultural movement attracting young people for a variety of reasons. Some people will get into it more than others and that is OK (a lot like grunge – it takes all kinds).

  10. Interesting parallel. I was an almost-teenager when Nirvana came up, but I honestly didn’t start listening to much grunge music until I was in college. So I missed a lot of the grunge movement, other than having a flannel shirt I’d wear over t-shirts once or twice a week.

    Similarly, I didn’t really hear about FI until a couple of years ago, when it already had a huge groundswell. And I’m behind enough on retirement, thanks to a spender ex-husband, that it’s not something I can do more than dabble in. That is, I can practice frugality and increase my income (to a point — I have chronic fatigue, so I can only do so much in side hustles), but I’ll never be more than an onlooker, really. But I can cheer other people on from the sidelines.

    1. I like how the flannel shirt sure made its way around! Thanks for sharing your history with grunge Abigail.

      I’m functioning like you in terms of using the principals to simply better my situation but not go full-on in. It’s a toe in the water (or head above water) kind of thing for me at this point as an extremely busy person. There’s certainly a place for onlookers like us.

  11. Ahhhh the memories! I loved me some Alice & Chains, and some Candlebox!

    I think this is still a microscopic percentage of people who save this much and retire early. I didn’t even know there was a “FIRE” “movement” until recently. Saving a ton and being frugal is just something I always did as a result of a not-so-stellar childhood.

    I recently retired at the age of 41, wife is 37. We don’t need to work, but we choose to stay busy. Have to have a purpose and passion in life if you retire early. Otherwise, depression will hit you broadside upside the face.

    Great post, really enjoyed all the throwback references, and thanks to you, i’ll have Far Behind stuck at the front of my brain all day! Thank you!

    1. Glad this resonated with you Matt. Congrats on the recent early retirement! I think it’s very interesting you didn’t hear about the FIRE movement until recently. You must have navigated things very well on your own. I think a lot of people who investigate it find it articulates something they were onto pretty early.

  12. Can I give a standing ovation to this post?! Loved all the references to those bands that followed me from my childhood and I still listen to, as well as the analogy with this movement I love so dearly. I’m happy to be another Limp Bizkit right here with you. Amazing piece ?!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it so much Ms. Mod! It really was a great reflective piece to write. I’ll share with you – I actually cried while writing it (maybe because I love the 1990s so much and I was mourning childhood, music, struggle, or something)? Who knows? But it certainly struck a nerve deep inside me and I’m glad to see it resonating with so many others.

  13. You have managed to succinctly describe what is at the core of my FI plans. It totally is (a hyper responsible) form of rebellion! I had never actually managed to articulate that, thanks for the awesome post!

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog Snarking to Freedom (love the name by the way:)

      Hyper responsible rebellion has always been my thing (even before I knew how to articulate it)! Taking responsibility for who and what I put myself around, what I put into my body, what I put into my mind, etc. has always been on my mind. If anything I’m probably too much of a rule follower (and it’s great I could find this music and have it lead me astray for a while…)

  14. Hey, really loved your article and as a matter of fact, I was listening to some Alice In Chains earlier on today (true story).

    I also read the article from the 76K project and I understand where she comes from but did not feel all that judgment/pressure when I was at Fincon 1 month ago.

    And to go back to the article, I should be Limp Bizkit but prefer to be in the Eddie Vedder crew jamming on “Animal” or “Alive”

    1. Glad you enjoyed the abstract connections. Thank you for the share on social as well! Fincon was the first time I think I experienced FOMO on social. That’s great you had a good time. So jealous!

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