Early retirement goes big time

I’ve been struggling with the sales of the idea and practice of early retirement. The New Yorker recently posted a lengthy expose about Mr. Money Mustache, which didn’t paint him in the most complimentary colors. However, the points in the article bear consideration by folks interested in retiring early: the early retirement bloggers are beginning to sell some pretty luxurious experiences surrounding the early retirement idea.

Mr. Money Mustache and other bloggers on early retirement have organized an annual vacation opportunity in Ecuador. For a few thousand dollars, you can hangout with these folks. However, I wonder whether this whole plan is something of a profit-making machine that distracts its participants from what is ostensibly bringing them all together. The trip is somewhat antithetical to the concept early retirement, and it is certainly antithetical to the environmental conservation ethic that Mr. Money Mustache espouses: traveling to a developing country to spend a few weeks at a resort to talk about saving money and investing is a little ironic. Many folks simply do this on the internet forums of early retirement websites, saving the plane travel and assorted trappings. Traveling to Ecuador to meet Mr. Money Mustache and his blogging buddies seems slightly ridiculous when the premise of their message is to eschew living like a jet-setting celebrity in exchange for simple pleasures of life.

Now, I believe that it is everyone’s right to spend their money as they choose, assuming those choices are legal, responsible, and don’t harm anyone. (We’ll save the ethical analysis of those parameters for another time.) What bothers me is the marketing and sales tactics these bloggers use to capitalize on their readership. This feels like Mr. Money Mustache is talking out of both sides of his mouth. I wonder whether it bothers him that he is telling people to save money and the planet on one side, and to pay thousands of dollars to fly to Ecuador and hang-out with him on the other.

There is certainly money to be made on popular ideas, and early retirement is indeed a popular idea, judging by the readership of websites like the one run by Mr. Money Mustache. However, I expected those readers to be more immune to sales and marketing tactics than the average blog reader and consumer, given that early retirement is predicated on a desire to consume more selectively and save aggressively. Rather, it seems that folks who are interested in early retirement are still willing to buy products that make the early retirement process easier or more enjoyable. Tools like You Need a Budget and Mr. Money Mustache’s international convention are extremely popular and sold out, respectively. Perhaps everyone making the trip is financially secure enough to pay for the experience without going into debt, and they’ve rationalized the environmental costs of international plane travel, or perhaps not: I don’t know. At the end of the day, I suppose we are still predictably irrational.

I feel like there’s something ethically questionable about espousing financial responsibility and environmental conservation, and also selling expensive products or travel experiences that leverage one’s fame and celebrity, especially when the famous celebrities no longer needs the money! This feels like a perpetuation of the lifestyle that the early retirement movement seeks to change. Have I missed something? Am I being overly judgemental?


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