Fire is Joy


The Utility of FIRE – Critics miss that FIRE IS JOY


Economists have a strange way of studying joy. They call joy utility.


Specifically, utility is the joy you get from consuming a product, and marginal utility is the increase in benefit or satisfaction from increased consumption. So, what is the marginal utility of a second dessert?

That is exactly what the critics of FIRE miss. That FIRE IS JOY.



FIRE is like being satiated by one desert, whereas the rest of the world believes there is marginal utility in a second dessert. Is there?

Critics of FIRE think we feverishly—nah selfishly—slave away in a job we hate just so we can escape into a retirement hell of fruity beverages and palm trees. That we somehow miss the picture because we fail to “enjoy the journey.”

This is a big miss. We do enjoy the journey. We enjoy FIRE. FIRE is JOY.

Not that we are always frugal or minimalistic, we have figured out the marginal utility of spending needlessly on a second dessert we don’t even want in the first place.

If I get joy living on $7 food budget a week, why would I actually enjoy going out to a fancy restaurant?

If I get joy in my beater, why do I need a BMW?

And if my converted bus gives me joyful rest at night, why do I need your nasty McMansion?

FIRE is just the right amount of joy, and there is no marginal utility in spending any more.


The Marginal Utility of More Stuff

We live in a world or more stuff.

More consumption now somehow has become joyful. How sad is that?

The point of FIRE is not more stuff, it is more of what brings you JOY. Actually, understanding your values and what brings you value, and spending on that. Then, leveraging what doesn’t bring you joy into your future joy.

More stuff doesn’t bring more joy. In fact, in FIRE, LESS STUFF brings more joy now AND in the future. Or, at least it brings the future into focus sooner, as you quit working for the man and work for yourself.

In Financial Independence, more stuff does not lead to joy

Figure 1 (Stuff does not lead to more satisfaction)


What is the marginal utility of more stuff? FIRE has it figured out. We know the answer: that stuff doesn’t bring joy.


What Brings Joy?

So, what brings joy? Experiences.

What really has the critics confused: WE ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE of FIRE NOW. This IS fun for us.

Spending less is fun, because what you are actually doing is spending where there is utility. What brings you joy? Spend on that and cut the rest to the bone, because there is NO Utility in that kind of spending.

Be conscious about what brings you joy. That alone increases utility, not the money you spend on it.

That is, if experiences bring joy, spending on that experience is as important in FIRE as in the alternative universe where you are brain washed by advertising.

Economists, who think joy is utility, understand the utility of experiences over stuff.

We see this in the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility


FIRE and the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility

If all else is held equal, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility predicts that as consumption increases, the marginal utility decreases. It is not a linear relationship, first instance a second dessert isn’t half as good as the first, and the thirds isn’t a quarter as good.

Financial Independence and diminishing marginal utility

Figure 2 (Negative Utility of more Stuff)

So, in the example above, see the curved line. As consumption increases, so does joy for a while. At point “B” above that is just enough money for the bare necessities. A little more money to spend on stuff is nice, but at point “C” you stop receiving joy from the stuff, and actually more stuff hurts!

There is negative utility if you have or do or spend too much. Ouch.

FIRE shifts the curve to the left on things we don’t care about. We still have enough for when the marginal utility matters, but no more than that.

You can’t tell a frugal person to enjoy spending more money. That’s not who she is!

You can’t tell a minimalist that he would enjoy more cloths. That burns his soul and seers his skin. The labels itch and don’t even get me started on the dry-cleaning bill.

Stop criticizing FIRE because we aren’t enjoying the now. It is our nature to enjoy the now and the future.


Critics Miss that Fire is Joy

The next time you hear a critic of FIRE ask yourself: did they miss the point?

A frugal person finds no joy in increasing consumption. A minimalist doesn’t enjoy a full wardrobe.

We DO enjoy FIRE and that is the point.

The marginal utility in more consumption is zero.

Rather, the marginal utility in letting our conserved resources compound for the future is joy.



Financial Independence is joy

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One Comment

  1. Great points on marginal utility. Too much of a good thing can indeed turn the tide.

    Although it is contrarian to this line of thinking it made me think of the Simpsons episode where Homer went to hell and his punishment was to be force fed to eat all the donuts in the world (which he kept doing and wanted more)

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