“Financial freedom, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Independence. Its continuing mission: to explore strange four percent rules, to seek out new life hacks and new optimizations, to boldly go where no traditional retiree has gone before…”
“FIRE TREK” — featuring the adventures of the Federation Starship U.S.S. Independence — is the show fans might get in a mirror universe where CBS decided to produce a Star Trek series for CNBC.
If you think Counsellor Troi should evaluate whether I’ve lost my marbles for having such thoughts, I wouldn’t blame you.
Happily, I am not crazy, but why would I have this brainstorm?
As a member of both the Star Trek fan community and the FIRE movement, I think a lot about, and consume a ton of content from, both universes. So, perhaps inevitably, these two interests eventually collided in my brain, and one day while thinking about why FIRE principles resonate so much with me, one answer became startlingly clear:
The principles of the FIRE movement have uncanny parallels with the core values of Star Trek!
For the uninitiated, FIRE stands for “Financial Independence, Retire Early.” The main idea of the movement is to amass enough investments and/or passive income to achieve financial freedom and become “work optional.”
For the past year, the FIRE movement increasingly has been in the media spotlight, especially in the financial press but also in the mainstream news. Maybe you have seen sensational stories about Millennials leaving the corporate world in their 20s or 30s to “retire” early to pursue their passions or travel the world. Or maybe you have seen stories about extreme frugalists who try to save 50% or more of their income in order to achieve financial freedom sooner.
Many in the FIRE community believe that the movement will move even further into the mainstream with the release of the new film, Playing with FIRE: The Documentary. The movie chronicles one family’s story “as they embark on a year-long odyssey to understand the rules of this sub-culture and test their willingness to reject the standard narrative of adult life.” The documentary also features interviews with several prominent social influencers in the FIRE movement.
The film’s producers are planning a series of special screenings in June in across the U.S. (and one in London) — with a wider distribution hopefully to follow.
If I’ve piqued your curiosity and you’d like a deeper introduction to FIRE, I’d highly recommend one of my favourite primers by Ty Roberts who provides an exceptionally clear picture of the movement: The FIRE Movement. What is FIRE Finance and How Does it Work?
Before diving into the weeds with my observations about how I see Star Trek principles reflected in the FIRE movement, I thought I’d provide a bit of background context about myself.
My FIRE Background
My wife and I had a dream of retiring early from nearly the beginning of our marriage of 16 years. Initially, that goal seemed pretty far off. A few years ago, our plan for early retirement became a more ambitious goal (with an accelerated timeline) that we were actively working toward and closely tracking.
Shortly thereafter, I became aware of the FIRE movement and the multitude of blogs and podcasts about the topic. I dug deeper into FIRE principles and started following numerous bloggers and podcasters regularly.
The FIRE movement’s tenets and life philosophy immediately clicked with me and gave voice to my innate thoughts about how life “should be” in a (more) perfect world. In 2018, we made pretty dramatic life changes (including “geoarbitrage”) to reach the “finish line” — and we “FIREd” in June of that year. For the full story, you can read Our Journey Down the FIRE Trail, a four-part series I published on my personal blog.
My Star Trek History
Star Trek has been a lifelong passion for me and a meaningful influence on my life in multiple ways.
I have watched all of the TV series in their entirety (except for “Enterprise” which I abandoned after season one, never to return). I’ve seen every Star Trek movie in the theatre during its initial release (including the world premiere of Insurrection in Las Vegas). I have also watched many of the major fan films (e.g. Star Trek Continues and Star Trek Phase II) and have even made one of my own. In my college radio days, I had the honor of interviewing Leonard Nimoy (not in person, sadly, but by phone).
I provided a few more details about how my fandom started in childhood and continued into adulthood (and fatherhood) in my previous Treksphere post, Introducing Kids to Star Trek.
Star Trek has always been near and dear to my heart as an inspirational and aspirational vision of humankind’s future. The mythology provides a core set of moral values to learn from and live by. I’ve always said that Star Trek is the closest thing I have to a religion.
So, now that I’ve set the stage, I can turn back to the question: how does Star Trek relate to the FIRE movement?
Economy, Money & Work
Official Star Trek canon never deeply explains the details of the economic system in the United Federation of Planets, although we do have a few clues.
For example, In the movie, Star Trek: First Contact, a time travel adventure to earth’s past, someone asks Captain Picard how much his starship cost to build. Picard explains:
The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century… The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of Humanity.
From this statement (and similar ones in other movies and TV series), we can conclude that money is a relic of the past for the Federation — it’s no longer required for core survival needs. As a result, people work not because they have to but because they want to in order to fulfill other needs of the human spirit.
Most advocates of FIRE do NOT define retirement as sitting on a beach all day or playing endless rounds of golf. More typically, the FIRE community pursues a wide variety of interests without worrying too much about earning income from them.
Mr Money Mustache (Peter Adeney), one of the biggest influencers of the FIRE movement, explained his definition of Financial Independence on his blog in response to the controversy which erupted after Suzy Orman declared she hated the FIRE movement on Paula Pant’s Afford Anything podcast.
Everybody uses the FIRE acronym because it is catchy and “Early Retirement” sounds desirable. But for most people who get there, Financial Independence does not mean the end of your working career. Instead it means, “Complete freedom to be the best, most powerful, energetic, happiest and most generous version of You that you can possibly be.”
Adeney’s vision for life after FI sound to me remarkably similar to Roddenberry’s imagination of life after money in Star Trek.
I also see parallels between Star Trek and the FIRE movement when I think about the themes of consumerism, diversity and inclusion, collaboration, and community subculture. I will explore those areas in the second and final part of this series.
Image CreditI created my FIRE TREK poster art featuring the fictitious U.S.S. Independence from the original U.S.S. Komachi artwork by Kurumi Morishita.