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 thought process 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 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 a lot of 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 start 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 interpreted as eccentric at best and subversive at worst.
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.
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 saving 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. Sometimes people criticise MMM for simplifying. But making complex things simple is a sign of intelligence (and integrity).
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…sometimes not… 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
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 amazing…with ~100 people attracted by sunshine, FI celebrity guest Brad Barrett and the allure of Responsible Drinking.
It seems inevitable to me 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 its partly because, outside the world of FI, most personal finance advice is rubbish.
The traditional model of financial advice is broken because your interests are not aligned with anyone working on commission or charging you a % of your money. And the mainstream media is funded by advertising and no one makes money telling you to stop buying shit. Remember the principle of The Alignment of Interests. Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.
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. This is strange as its easy to invest…even if you know nothing about investing.
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 haven’t asked you for anything. And no, 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 to 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.