It’s been kind of trendy recently (almost two months ago at this point) to talk about the drop in interest in personal finance blogs and the drop in readership that comes with it. I figured I can hop on the bandwagon and give my two cents. While I don’t have hard numbers for my blog, I guess it was a poorly timed choice on my part to start a FIRE blog.
While I’d like more people to read what I’m writing, to get out what I have to say to a larger audience, that’s not the point of this site. The goal for this site is to make another way for me to stick with my plans for each year, to document my journey to FIRE, and how my thoughts on FIRE evolve. I’m hoping that regularly writing down my goals and updating my progress towards them, it’ll help me stick to them or show when I fall behind. It’s one thing to say I want a net worth of $1,500,000 before I’m 40. But once you begin to track said goal, you can see when you fall behind so that you can plan around it or adjust the plan.
I’m also hoping it will allow me to more clearly synthesize my thoughts on my interests with mostly a focus on personal finance. In short, a small readership base doesn’t bother me.
Granted, I don’t monetize this blog at all. I’m sure my thoughts would be different if I was making money off of this blog, especially if it was my primary form of income. Do I plan to monetize it down the road? I’ve gone back and forth about it, so the answer sits at a solid maybe. There’s a part of me that says I don’t need the income and it’d be a major headache to deal with making money off of it so I shouldn’t. But down the road, my thinking on the subject may change so I want to take the possibility seriously.
While I agree with the broad strokes that the vast majority of posts written on the subject make; see Mr. Tako Escapes, Retire By 40, and Accidental FIRE just to name a few. I mostly agree that the recent downturn and economic changes of the past year or so, have led to a decline in financial blog viewership. There are some parts where I disagree, mostly in the long-term view. I’m more in line with the thoughts presented by Rich Frugal Life’s post about how it’s not about the money for me.
I don’t think that FIRE will die or go away, it just might be redefined, like all things in life. I think that there will always be people that don’t want to work a 9 to 5 and are willing to put in the work required to free themselves from that, and maybe fewer will be interested during a market downturn. What I do think is and will continue to change is what that freedom looks like, there are already several different types of FIRE regarding the middle period of working to RE such as slow FIRE or Coast FIRE. I think this is a change in how the larger population views retirement. It’s not necessarily just sitting on a beach somewhere sipping your alcoholic beverage of choice.
I’m not going to claim to know the reasons or be an expert on retirement among Americans (I couldn’t find any good data with a quick Google search) but American retirees are tending to work longer either full-time or part-time. Some of this change is due to economic realities, as outlined by this NPR article. But I think some portion of that change is due to how the nature of work is changing in a post-Covid world.
I think that remote work and more flexible hours are changing the game. While flexible hours existed pre-Covid, I think it’s become more acceptable. Granted I still have to be available at certain times to get work done, that’s more the nature of the job than anything else (I have to coordinate with other people and oftentimes a call or physically going to their office is just easier than many emails). For instance, other people I work with aren’t working at midnight so it could drop my productivity if I was working at that time. But if I come in an hour or two early every day so that I can get out early there’d be no issue there, assuming I was able to make this work around other people’s schedules. But I can understand the sentiment of those with totally flexible hours to step out in the middle of the day to go work out or something.
With remote work, for those who have it as an option, you can build on this even more. Just staying within the continental US you could push a job on eastern time back by up to three hours by living on the west coast. Assuming you work eight hours and start at 5 AM you could be done with work by 1 PM with the whole afternoon ahead of you. Starting early is what I did back when I worked 4 10s as an intern. I’d start at 530AM every day, not take lunch, and be free by 330PM with plenty of time to go for a hike, especially with the limited daylight in the winter. As long as I got my work done no one cared when I worked.
For others the opposite might be true, starting later in the day might work for them. In which case this could easily be flipped to account for a later start. One could even go full digital nomad with remote work, assuming they can balance their work schedule and travel activities.
I think these two forces are combining with a general change in social norms to redefine what being retired means. While I don’t think working full time would necessarily be retired, unless it’s full time in a passion, (I.E. I work as a blacksmith all day) I could easily see someone who works part-time considering themselves as retired. But that’s my two cents. I’m sure others will say you can’t be working at all to be retired, just like all things in Personal Finance, I think it comes down to opinion on what retired means. I mean I plan to work in some form when I retire, and what that will look like is still being worked out (I may work part-time, volunteer full-time, volunteer part-time, etc.).
As for the declining interest in FIRE blogs. I don’t know about the blogging world overall and how their traffic has changed. So I can’t say whether this is a general change with blogs in general or if it’s just FIRE/Personal Finance blogs, so I’ll limit my blatant speculation to just the latter category.
During a downturn, people flee the markets and wait to get back in. Those people that flee the market and put their money on the sidelines probably aren’t doing a lot of research about retiring early or investing in general. I’m sure there’s been some downturn in the interest for investing blogs during the recent downturn too, whether that’s more or less than FIRE in general I’m less sure.
Another thing I saw out there a few times was that podcasts are going to overtake and essentially replace blogs.
So do I think that podcasts will replace blogs? I’ll give it a solid maybe. I think it would be hard to have a good personal finance or FIRE podcast without showing figures (say the change of the S&P 500 over the past x number of years), which would be hard to include directly in a podcast.
At the point where I have to go to a website to pull up a figure to understand what they’re talking about. I’d rather just read a long-form piece about it with the figure embedded.
The exception I see with this is podcasts where there is a dialogue between two or more people. Those would be harder to make into some sort of long-form piece with the figures just built in. That dialog works better in spoken format compared to an interview transcript.
I listen to both podcasts and read blogs, although I listen to fewer financial podcasts and more history podcasts. The few financial ones I listen to are like those mentioned above where two or more people are having a discussion. I like to listen to podcasts while doing something else like; my daily workout, my walk to and from work, or washing the dishes. Things where it would be hard to read a long-form piece at the same time but I’m not using huge amounts of focus to do.
Now I guess there is one form of content that could handle the problem I see with financial podcasts, and that is video.
So could that replace the FIRE blog? Once again I’m going to be speculating here with a firm maybe. I can see the appeal of video replacing blogs as they can show the figures directly and talk over them. The issue with this is when I’m watching most any kind of content (minus my Spanish soaps), it’s mostly for background noise. I’m not very engaged with the content, I just want some noise while I do something else (like write blog posts) and I’m not in the mood for music. It’s my junk food sound essentially.
I think the downside there is that the viewer often isn’t engaged. But maybe that’s just the way I use the medium. Otherwise, I think it has a lot of the same advantages as blogs.
So long term I think FIRE blogs will have a place. I guess we’ll see one day if my predictions are correct. I plan to continue this site until at the very least I hit FIRE but I also don’t plan to discontinue it afterward. Although I’m not 100% sure what the post-FIRE look of this blog will be, I’ve got seven or so years to figure that out.