Pay It Forward


Legend has it there was an ancient Chinese tradition whereby a person who receives a favour should not pay it back but should instead pay it forward to someone else. The idea was that if you return a good deed to the person who helped you, you cancel it out and end it.

Better to pay it forward and do a good deed for someone else. Better still, do a good deed for 3 new people. If those 3 new people then pay it forward, that’s 9 good deeds to nine new people. Then 27 people receive random acts of kindness…and so on. Every little helps and soon the world is a better place…a bit like with The Aggregation of Marginal Gains.

If you haven’t seen the film “Pay It Forward”, then go watch it. It’s one of the top films of Financial Independence. True, you’ll now have to ignore that Kevin Spacey plays one of the lead roles, but its worth it.

Here’s the point. I get emails / private messages from people telling me that they love the blog, that it really helped them, keep up the good work etc. On one hand this is good and I’m really grateful.

But, on the other hand, The Escape Artist suffers from high self-esteem so doesn’t really need anyone else telling him how great the blog is. I’d much rather you told someone else. So whenever anyone emails me saying that they like the blog and its helped them, I tell them to pay it forward.

This pay-it-forward principle is the foundation for the FI blog scene which reminds me of a benign pyramid scheme where people pass on to others for free the ideas that have worked for them.

We’re all standing on the shoulders of giants. Finding Mr Money Mustache (via Monevator) changed my life. It showed me that financial independence was a movement, a philosophy and a way of life. The stuff that I’d already been doing for 20 years had a name. It was an actual thing!

Imagine my surprise when I realised that I already had enough. Back then, The Escape Artist was a hardbitten and stressed guy working in corporate finance. I went through the MMM blog with a fine toothcomb looking for The Catch. I didn’t believe in unicorns nor pixies…nor that all you have to do is just believe and The Universe will provide abundance for you.

But what I read on MMM stacked up. There was no catch. So instead I decided to quit my job and change my life. Having done so, I felt some obligation to share some of this knowledge. The question was: how?

I started by emailing Mr Money Mustache, suggesting a post about how FI is possible in the UK. He was good enough to email me straight back saying that I should write my own blog to spread the FI word in the UK. In other words, he told me to pay it forward. When a new recruit gets orders from an experienced General, its generally best to follow them. So I started this blog and what you’ve read since then has been the result.

What I haven’t done though (at least not consciously) is try to convert friends in the real world like a missionary preaching to the natives. Yes, I did point out to some family members how much their financial adviser plus active funds were costing them. Suffice to say I’ve learned its pointless trying to tell anyone anything they don’t want to hear.

So if you think that all your friends and family will want to hear your valuable knowledge about financial independence…well, it doesn’t work that way in practice. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.

Here are the principles by which you pay it forward.

The first rule of FI Club

The first rule of FI Club is that you don’t talk about FI Club with your boss / work colleagues. At least not in those phases of your career when you are working towards promotions, when talk of FIRE may be seen as subversive.

There are exceptions but often, the higher you get up the ladder, the more commitment and obedience are required to be demonstrated at work.

Apply own oxygen mask before helping others

As I wrote in The Pyramid and The Oxygen Mask, Maslow’s hierarchy says that basic needs must be met before we focus on higher needs.

This makes sense. When our car has broken down in the snow and we’re cold, we focus on shelter and warmth – not so much on writing novels or volunteering to help other people.

Apply own mask first

We owe it to ourselves, our family and friends and society to start by getting our own shit together. Think about the airline safety briefing : always apply your own oxygen mask before helping others.

This sounds a bit counter-intuitive at first, even selfish. But you’re no use to anyone if you’re choking on the thin air clutching your throat, limbs flailing.

You’ll be a better parent / partner / spouse / friend if you’re not broke and / or complaining about money.

Sometimes its better to show than to tell. If others see that you are enjoying life with no stress and no money worries, they might just ask you what your secret is.

Help those that can be helped

Helping other people is like battlefield triage in a firefight. You focus on those who can be saved and you have to leave behind those beyond help.

Some people just can’t handle the truth. So you’re looking for signs that people are worth helping. If only there were a FInder app…a bit like the Grindr app which apparently helps the LBGT community get together.

Generally, unless people ask for your help, don’t bother. And even then you should expect scepticism.

Remember the recent post where I talked about The Matrix?. Well, for consumer suckers, finding FI can feel like unplugging from The Matrix. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know that’s an uncomfortable process.

It takes some time for the realisation to sink in that all those shiny dreams shown in the adverts were horseshit. How could they have allowed themselves to be suckered in the past?

So tread lightly with your new recruits.

Tailor the message to the audience

I’ve noticed that people react as much (more?) to the style and the personal situation of the blogger than to their content. So if you are talking to an upbeat software engineer, introducing them to the MMM blog is a safe bet.

The counter-point to this is that Brits often want to read UK blogs. People with children want to read blogs where the writer has children. Female readers sometimes prefer a female blogger…whatever works.

I don’t ask that you pay forward my content, I ask that you pay forward the FI content that is most likely to resonate with your friend…regardless of who wrote it.

You are allowed to do more!

This is not to say that you can’t do more for the cause of financial independence than just forward a blog article.

So if you want to start your own blog (I warn you now, the pay is shocking) or podcast (more promising: there’s a gap in the market for a UK/European based FI podcast), movie or your own charitable foundation to support environmental causes, that’s great.

But perfection is the enemy of the good. So if in doubt, start now and start small.

The FIRE is spreading

meet up3

As they say on the Choose FI podcast, the FIRE is spreading.

This was brought home to me last week at the FI London meet up. The turn out was excellent…with ~100 people attracted by sunshine, FI celebrity guest Brad Barrett and the allure of Responsible Drinking.

It’s inevitable that Financial Independence will slowly but surely enter the mainstream of personal finance. That’s partly because the tools of FI are proven to work. And because, outside the world of FI, most personal finance advice is rubbish.

Most personal finance content focuses on the easiest bit of the jigsaw puzzle…how to invest the 5% or so of income that people save. But what really matters is saving a higher % of your income. No matter how good your investment returns are: unless you save way more than 5% of your income, you’ll never escape The Prison Camp.

Give before asking

Reciprocity is powerful…its an ancient and noble idea that you should give first before asking for something back.

Well, I’ve been writing this blog for 4 years now and I’m not making any money on advertising…I actually pay money to WordPress so that there won’t be any adverts on this site (running ads would be like installing a Coke machine in The Monastery…yes, I could do it…but is it the right thing to do?).

So my request of you is this. If finding the world of financial independence has helped you, please pay it forward to at least 1 other person….by sending them a link to a blog article or a FI podcast that helped you.

Thank you!

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  1. Great post and reminder to pay it forward. That sentiment was actually the impetus for me making my blog public 2 weeks ago. I had discovered this whole new world of possibilities 4 years ago because of bloggers sharing their knowledge for (basically) free and I finally decided to contribute in case my story could help others.

    Thank you for the great tips of how to spread the FIRE. I have a set email that I send people when they ask for information, but you’re right – I should tailor it more to the audience. Maybe that’s why they rarely come back or follow through 🙂 .

  2. I learnt the hard way, long before FIRE was a concept (I’m coming up 61). Always had a target to be not needing to work by the time I was 55, probably never going to be rich enough to enjoy a lifestyle I would like to aspire to, but enough to have a comfortable lifestyle and not have to worry about money. So I paid it forward to my parents by helping them understand how to ride out the joys of Mr Market and accumuate money. Suffice to say when my Dad died, I was able to step in and help my Mum secure an additional income of aprox. £7000 pa over and above her pensions, which makes all the difference to her lifestyle. So it is not all about FIRE, but helping people to understand the power of investing and what you can do with the dividend income from it at the right time.

  3. That pic is certainly one for the grandkids ;). “We were there when the ripple effect kicked off”…
    One a serious note, the FIRE brings much hope. More people are starting to believe and the excitement is real.
    Your blog has certainly helped me massively and continues to. Keep pushing, dawg!
    On coke machines, they certainly offer much choice. I’d thrown in some kit kats. Let the monks decide.

  4. I am reading this at work just before going off and teaching the kids how to read and write the English good.
    Your ‘FInder’ has started off the day with a laugh.

  5. I started a little website to help others and pay it forward … but i have a hard time advertising it … since most Facebook FI/RE/MMM groups do not allow self advertising

  6. Such a great post!
    When I first discovered MMM way back when I thought it was magical and I would tell everyone I knew about cutting costs, saving the rest, and investing it, hoping all my friends and family would join me in early retirement.
    Very quickly I was met with the all to common looks that regular people give crazy people and I shut that down.
    My new goal was to lead by example and spread the word to anyone who asked or showed any kind of interest, but leave it at that. The hope was to start spreading the word more once I reached FI, at which point I would just point to myself as an example of success. Getting close, and I 100% believe we need to do what we can to help everyone get there.

  7. I like the idea that FIRE is like being a member of a secret club. We’ve got our own language, our own saints, martyrs and posterboys for our cause.
    There have been times when I’ve talked about early retirement (originally, it was for retirement at 40, over 10 years away at the time) and people didn’t take it seriously and thought I was just being stupid.
    It’s not a good idea to share it publicly but with the interweb and lots of blogs, podcasts and even the great meet-ups that are happening spontaneously, it’s possible to be a member of the FIRE community whilst not blowing your cover. Sex, politics, religion and money are 4 taboo topics and I think that FIRE is a bit like a religion about money of sorts.
    As TEA would say – we are still in prison camp and we need to build the tunnel without getting caught.

  8. Well in my close group of friends I’m the shirtless nut guy, but they’re not dancing with me. I’m trying to pay it forward, but they like they’re expensive cars and big houses too much. My friends are super-smart people too, they’re just too caught up in life and they probably honestly think it can’t be done. Even though I’m fully FI and only working part-time in my 40’s.

    1. David Andrews · · Reply

      You can’t save everybody. People make their own choices and then need to deal with the consequences of their choices. I’ve just turned 46 and I’ve got 2 houses completely mortgage free. I’ve been lucky enough to have a now frozen final salary pension scheme via an old employer. I’m now just working to give my 4 year old a head start in life. If I put the equivalent of a year’s salary into a pension or other investment vehicle for him then I think I’m done. I’ve recently reduced my working hours so I can walk him back from school each day. My trusty spreadsheet indicated that if I cycled to work more often, paid a bit more into my SIPP ( thus reducing my income tax) then it wouldn’t really cost me anything to drop my working hours by 15%. My work have a flexible work policy so I followed that and just told my manager that’s what I would be doing. Being FI gives you a bit of power in work negotiations.

  9. arcyallen · · Reply

    “It showed me that financial independence was a movement, a philosophy and a way of life. The stuff that I’d already been doing for 20 years had a name. It was an actual thing! Imagine my surprise when I realised that I already had enough.”

    That’s my story, verbatim. I wonder how many others there are?

    I’ve only had a few people ask me how I’m retiring so early. I’ve had a loss of words generally (more like a mashed potato of words) but I’ve boiled it down to this: “I’ve been planning this since I was 20 years old.” It was a crappy plan in the beginning, but I’m here now.

    1. David Andrews · · Reply

      Mine is a similar story. Frugal living, accepting that many organisations just see you as a “consumer”, working out how much that shiny gadget costs in actual hours worked and then lost time when you are glued to it. Once you work out how hard you work for your money you realise that it should work even harder for you.

    2. I never lived frugal, and now 130% FI. The difference to most people is I worked my butt off and advanced my career faster than most until I realised: that’s enough I think if I cut back my expenses and I can be FI. I only learnt about this community after I left the office and my career though. It’s amazing to see so many others who have done amazing as well and the different paths to FI.

  10. veronica · · Reply

    Already done. But it’s a bit like planting a seed in a garden isn’t it? It could grow like a weed, or take years to become a tree that bears fruit. Still, I like the mental picture of being a ‘Joanna Apple Seed’ and sprinkling seeds wherever I can.

  11. Theres a lot of good points in this article, both the sharing to help everyone (that will listen) but also the cause yourself less stress by only helping those that want help. I am not good at the latter. But I am really making an effort. Thanks for another good article.

  12. I think I have to re-learn the lesson just about every day that you can’t help people that don’t want to listen. I just can’t get my head around the idea that because I’ve been screwing up for the last 10 years or so, I just need to keep on doing it (because recognizing the error would be so painful). Great stuff TEA.

  13. Cool post TEA – we certainly do need a bit of a financial independence revolution in the UK. With the reigns of austerity being released and the Brexit turmoil beginning to bite, now feels as good a time as any.

    And you know what? I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a UK FI podcast – but am not sure there is the audience for it yet. And I’ve been trying to find the perfect collaborator. If I did decide to go ahead and start one – would you like to be interviewed as someone that has made it and is now free from work?

    1. Yes, there is definitely an audience for a podcast (and you don’t need to wait for the perfect collaborator). Pls email if you’d like to discuss. Thanks!

      1. Now that’s interesting – I’ve very tempted to dive right in! Dropping you an email.

        1. soniakampshoff · ·

          Hi Zi You, definitely a very interesting idea. If you’re looking for someone to do a UK FI podcast with, I’d be interested in having a chat. Please email me at

  14. A UK FI podcast would be great – I’ve just started to listen to ChooseFI, but it would be great to hear some UK-based inspiration too.
    A timely post, I keep wanting to talk about the possibility of FI to friends and family but my husband (probably wisely!) keeps warning me against it. I just feel guilty that they may not cotton on until 5-10 years time when we are FI but they could be starting on their way there now.

  15. SurreyBoy · · Reply

    Epic post. I do get the impression that the movement is growing. I have made little forays into the concept of FI with separate colleagues over recent years. The response has always been incredulity that it could even be possible – when houses cost so much and cars and holidays etc etc. In my experience people just cant or wont get their head around a mission that may take 15 years plus to achieve.

    Ive had educated intelligent people tell me that if you invest £10k a year into shares in an ISA for 15 years you will only have £150k and what use is that when you need £50k a year to live in the south? The level of ignorance about long term equity returns and the magic of compounding is astounding.

    Ive also watched people in their mid twenties opt out of auto enrollment because they need the money. I asked one why they needed the money when they live with parents and they told me they had three gym memberships and cash was tight. This is 100% true.

    In the face of such behavior i think you can only save yourself and encourage the like minded whilst being watchful for someone who may be receptive to the message.

    When i commute I sometimes reflect on the fact that 24 hours a day people are working all around the world to produce company profits and a tiny bit of those is coming home to me. Instead of being a slave, you sit there with half the world working to send you money.

    That is freedom but people just dont get it.

  16. nc30parts · · Reply

    Hi TEA, while I quickly discovered FI blogging isn’t for me, I did knock this (free) ‘mini guide’ up a couple of years ago. I wrote it after being asked time and again how we could afford to travel so much. It’s had a few thousand downloads and, although very basic, I like to think it’s helped at least one person in some small way.

    Cheers, Jay

  17. There is a new European FI podcast

    When new European/UK podcasts start up, we’ll be happy to post on

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