Regular readers will be familiar with Chloë, my favourite lesbian friend, stand up comedienne, free thinker and occasional guest contributor to The Escape Artist.
The Escape Artist was so impressed with Chloë’s previous guest posts that I decided to offer her a job.
What with this being The Patriarchy and everything, I’ve put her on a zero hours contract and will be paying her LESS THAN minimum wage (i.e. nothing) whilst ignoring all Health & Safety Legislation. As those zany office mugs say: You don’t have to be mad to work here….but it helps!!!
I hope we’ll be featuring more articles from Chloë in the future on a bunch of FI-related subjects. But for now, Chloë volunteered to write about appearing on telly.
Chloë is one of the few people in the UK brave enough to put her head above the parapet and make the case for FIRE on TV. She and her cat were recently on BBC TV no less, sticking it to The Man and taking the message to The People.
Here’s her guest post : enjoy!
The Escape Artist
Some say that the quality of the BBC’s current affairs coverage has declined in recent years and that everything is going to hell in a handbasket.
Well, I’ve certainly done my bit to contribute to that by appearing on BBC TV’s Politics Live to talk about FIRE.
Me on telly?! How the hell did this happen?
I was first contacted a few months ago by a very nice lady journalist from the BBC. I must admit that I had my concerns about being filmed, not just due to my general camera-shyness (bordering on allergy) but because I don’t have the highest level of trust in our state broadcaster.
Something about a monopolistic big corporation controlled by The State made me doubtful that it would portray those encouraging financial independence in a favourable light.
Initial coverage in The Grauniad took a very Social Justice Warrior (SJW) stance on the matter, which would leave you thinking folk following FIRE are all tech millionaires or stockbrokers to a (Straight, White) man. Though the Guardian later had a much better article, that initial piece had me worried.
I didn’t want to support a hit-piece on FIRE that presented frugality as Tory for “Get back to the workhouse, peasants”. Nor did I want to help anyone present spending £70 per month on an iPhone as a brave act of resistance (because you’re worth it!). Pretty much any feature on the BBC homepage failed to reassure me that we wouldn’t be used to execute a hatchet job on FI.
Now you know what was going through my head, you can guess how sceptical I was about being interviewed on TV when initially contacted by the BBC researcher. But the initial email exchange was pleasant enough and lead to a good phone call to discuss our situation and the idea for the interview.
When I heard that Ken from The Humble Penny, well known to TEA readers from his excellent guest post, was going to be in too, some of my concerns were alleviated. After all, Ken is a posterboy for the hardworking, inventive and enthusiastic dynamo from an immigrant background. And maybe as two lesbians on the path to FI, we could do something to counter the background drumbeat of the “its only for white guys in tech/finance” SJW narrative?
Put Ken alongside me and my lesbian stereotype-confirming girlfriend who helps me make IKEA (even) dykier, I figured the BBC couldn’t play the “FI is just for white males, millionaires and fox-hunters” card. After all, there’s nothing more feminist than telling women they’re helpless victims, am I right?!? 😉
I shared my worries with my partner and we had pretty much one goal: make damn sure that people know that FIRE methods not only work for most people, they are even more important for people on lower incomes. So I mentioned that most of my career has been in the low paid charity sector. I stressed, as The Escape Artist has, that it’s even more important to be frugal if you are on lower pay.
Your beleaguered author took around 5 retakes to counter the criticism that FIRE is inaccessible to the skint, struggling, perma-broke millennial who’s only in this situation because “The Baby Boomers Broke Everything…waaaaaaaaaahhhh”.
This criticism is often made by those same millennials who think they “have to” drop £60 a month on a smartphone, £40 a week on take aways, more on ubers etc etc – because they’ve “got to have fun”. Let’s not even mention The Avocado Toast.
I’ve got a word for that: ‘skintessential’ – that quintessential modern combination of “essentials” that leave you skint. I really wanted to drive home that FIRE doesn’t have to be out of reach, if you make smart choices, even as a young ‘un.
One of the ideas I was most proud of was sadly cut and left on the cutting room floor, and that was the answer to the question about how we felt about SACRIFICING for FIRE. I was ready for this and explained there was no sacrifice or deprivation – only a trade off. As non-judgmentally as possible, I explained that if we’re sacrificing fun and luxury, everyone else is sacrificing security and years of freedom.
Everything is a trade-off, and we value security and financial independence more. On top of that, what’s more luxurious than having full control of your time? Yup, you guessed it, that didn’t make the cut so never saw the light of day.
TV audiences have short attention spans. You have to realise that, in TV, all the power lies in the editing. When you control the cutting room, you can spin any set of facts any way you want.
For example, we were asked to talk about our frugality and so mentioned that we make our own wine and spirits. It was a simple example to counter the ‘sacrifice’ narrative: you like a dry martini, but do you want to spend £9 in a bar or £2 at home hosting friends?
The TV people got us to pose for the camera sipping one of our homemade drinks. I might be reading too much into it, but I think that featuring us making and sipping a cocktail at 11am may have been a way of subtly indicating that this is a middle class only movement(!).
The 2 minute clip promoted by the BBC on Twitter cut out A LOT but it found time to zoom in on my partner sipping a morning martini, eyebrows raising as if to say ‘Toil on, plebs’. (She was actually holding back a laugh at how stupid she felt).
Images trump nuance on social media and TV. And here’s the problem: the most widely publicised version of the film was the 2 minute ‘social media’ version and the broadcast version (see below) was only 3 minutes.
I’ve generally abandoned mainstream media, precisely because such short clips don’t allow for complex discussion – only for soundbites. The format the BBC chose meant it could not cover FIRE in any level of detail, inevitably resulting in a caricature of the movement. In this case, ‘could you retire at 40?’ Now that’s an option, but that’s not what I’d wanted to focus on.
We talked about the power of security and choice that being FI gives you, and the self-empowerment that comes from taking control of your finances – which will have such a profound impact on your life…none of which made it past the editor.
Nope, TV wants cats that do high fives and tips to save 50p on your weekly shop, not maths proving the concept of FIRE, nor the deeper philosophy behind it.
To make matters worse, there was a studio discussion about FIRE afterwards held between a random bunch of journalists / commentators none of whom knew anything about FIRE other than the clip that they’d just seen.
When planning this, I imagine the TV peeps had a conversation along these lines:
“Now we’ve got the 3 minute crayons and kidz stickers version of FIRE, shall we build on the concepts by discussing it with anyone from the video?”
“Well, how about getting someone that really knows this stuff? Like one of the better-known bloggers or how about that chap who literally just wrote a book on financial independence for the UK?”
“So… what about four random commentators who are on to discuss the politics stuff, even though none of them have any idea about FI beyond the 3 minute film?”
“Brilliant! Let’s do that!
The studio discussion of journalists / commentators that followed was rubbish. It was not a nuanced, informed appraisal of financial independence. It was more like watching this gif where the point sails over a stick person’s head.
In fact, even from journalists / writers I like, there was an element of “well, it’s a nice idea, but I didn’t make those choices – and if these people are right… my choices are flawed, and – oh god no… so they must be naive and misguided – otherwise I’d have to take responsibility for my situation!”
“Yes, well said, I too am up to my bollocks in debt, so there simply must be no other way around it. Toil on, plebs, do as you’re told…there’s a good chap.”
Obviously, one good thing came out of all this: our cat is now a TV star. And I know you’re gonna wanna see that:
But yunno… if the BBC were giving us free reign over those meagre few minutes…well, it might go a little something like this:
Hi, I’m Chloë, this is my cat Gatsby…and this is my partner Clare [priorities].
We’re not millionaires, hell no. We’re also not straight white men working as bosses in the private sector. And yet, somehow, we manage to save a significant part of our earnings every month, so that we can build wealth – wealth that offers security and options.
That might mean retiring at 40 or 50, switching to part time work or a fulfilling but low-paying career, or writing for The Escape Artist as a cunning plan to make our cat famous on the internet. Regardless, by becoming financially independent, it will be our choice.
How? Well, there’s this thing called the 25x “rule” (you’ve probably got enough when you’ve saved 25x your annual spending) that means you don’t have to work full time forever…but first it’s super-important to get your spending down.
How? Well look, here’s Chloë with her £10 a month phone that’s 4 years old and working fine. Look closer … no take-aways, no car in London and she’s not smoking, vaping or worse, not paying to subscribe to mainstream news.
Here’s Clare, reading on the futon, and not being on multiple luxury holidays a year, or dropping hundreds on nights out. You can see us all here, handsome cat and all, in a modest flat in a decidedly non-fancy part of London. It’s not an area we love, but it works for our work and for our long term goals.
Our State-Funded Overlord will allow us only a few more seconds, so let’s just say that if you understand the concept of Emergency Fund, you can understand FIRE.
At a 50% savings rate, every month worked covers another month where you don’t need to work (and that’s before your money starts to grow with compound interest). Get that principle and you’ve got the basics of how FIRE works.
The point I’d like to leave you with is this. What you see on social media and on TV are just attention grabbing highlights and those highlights are not always representative of reality. All the power lies in the editing and that’s not an objective process free from bias.
Look, I’m not gonna tell you that you can’t watch The News or other stuff on mainstream TV. Just know that what you see is what they want you to see.
If, for some reason, you’re now craving a homemade cocktail, Chloe occasionally blogs about this and more over at Havenwards.com
A final word from TEA:
For what its worth, I think that the BBC clip above is a good (albeit very short) introduction to financial independence and I applaud Chloë, Clare and Ken for having the guts to put themselves out there.
The good news is that over in the USA, the FIRE community has come together to co-operate and produce something amazing: the first feature film on Financial Independence. Called Playing With Fire, the film has been directed by a FI enthusiast and professional TV director in Los Angeles and features Mr Money Mustache, the guys from the Choose FI podcast and many more. In other words, this is a film about FIRE made by people that have lived it, understand it and really believe in it.
It’s going to be fucking awesome. The film is being screened at MMM HQ tomorrow and the rumour is that there might be a London screening sometime in June. I guess we’ll have to wait and see…