Book Review: Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) by Scott Rieckens

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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“What are the core tenants of the FIRE movement and how will that help me to retire early?”

“What is it like to be on the journey to Financial Independence and what are some of the challenges that I would face along the way?”

“I’m on board with the idea of FIRE but where do I start?”

If you find yourself asking these questions about FIRE and wondering whether to start you own journey towards financial independence, then Scott Riecken’s book Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) is a great place to get your questions answered.

How I found out about this book

I discovered this book through the ChooseFI and MadFientist Podcast where they mentioned that a group of filmmakers were shooting a full-length documentary about FIRE – and that they were running a Kickstarter to support their project! As an avid documentary nerd and FIRE enthusiast, my ears perked up and immediately went to find out more.

After looking at their teaser and reading about the project, I was sold and backed them at the tier that would allow me early access to the Audio Book as well as the Documentary once they are complete.

The documentary is coming out soon (March 2019) and I will definitely be reviewing that, but first, since the audio book has arrived first – and since I’ve already listened to it 4 times – I decided to give it a review before the documentary.

So what are my thoughts?

What the book is about

In the book, Scott details the journey he and his wife, Taylor, took from living a carefree paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle in Coronado, California to discovering the FIRE movement and turning their life completely upside down to follow the dream of Financial Independence.

Right at the beginning, Scott gives us a candid glimpse into his family’s background, lifestyle and life philosophy. You will understand what drives them, what gives them joy in life as well as how they ended up living the lifestyle they were living and how they found themselves at a crossroads financially.

The lifestyle that Scott and Taylor lived before discovering FIRE is one which is the complete opposite of what FIRE advocates. They spent on what they wanted, when they wanted. They owned a nice house in a beach town, drives 2 cars (one being a BMW), shopped online regularly and take frequent vacations. Essentially as long as they weren’t going into debt, they were willing to spend the money on nice things in life. Although they were not in debt, they were essentially living paycheck-to-paycheck.

When Scott finally discovered the FIRE movement via an interview of Mr. Money Mustache on The Tim Ferriss Show – a podcast run by Tim Ferriss of “Four Hour Work Week” fame – I found myself really rooting for him and Taylor.

Throughout this book, you will experience how a family decided to change their life of copious consumption into a life focused on optimizing happiness, and all the challenges that it entails.

You will:

  • Be introduced to the core tenets of FIRE, its frugal living and investment philosophy.
  • Understand how Scott and his family arrived at the point in life that they were before discovering FIRE.
  • Be right there with Scott when he first hears the concept of FIRE via a podcast on the way to work.
  • Learn about how he went about trying to convince Taylor to get on board the FIRE train.
  • Understand the trade-offs that Scott and Taylor had to make, choosing between the things they love to buy and what truly brings them happiness.
  • Listen in on Scott’s and Taylor’s discussion on their pivotal life choices that they had to make to set their family on the path to FIRE: Scott leaving his job to pursue shoot the documentary, selling their house, moving to a new city to seek a cheaper cost of living and the challenge of discussing FIRE with their close family and friends.
  • Get a quick introduction into what an index fund is (and why I recommend building a Bogleheads portfolio.)
  • You’ll even get a simple step-by-step guide to get started on the journey to FIRE.

Essentially, you will get a very candid look into a family’s experience setting their life on track to financial independence and retiring early.

Why I recommend the book

Ultimately, Playing with FIRE is well written, easy to read and great introduction the FIRE philosophy. It manages to give the reader a primer on all of the core FIRE concepts – spending less than you earn, investing the difference and understanding what brings you happiness – by showing it through the real-life eyes of Scott and Taylor.

A lot of materials on financial independence are told piecemeal with different concepts told through examples and anecdotes. Often these examples and anecdotes are not connected so you don’t get a complete picture of the FIRE journey and how it affects all aspects of everyday life.

In this book, you get to see it all play out from the start to the end for a single family, which is great.

You will see Scott and Taylor struggle through tough financial decisions to downsize their spending as a family. You get to see the thought process and the frugality mindset applied in detail.

It is also important that the book emphasize finding what makes you truly happy. One of the key activities that Scott wrote about in the book – one that played a pivotal role in convincing Taylor to get on board with FIRE – was the “10 Things Exercise.” When I heard it, I thought it was a brilliant idea. I will be writing about this and sharing my own 10 things separately, but basically this exercise asks you to write down the top 10 things that makes you happy on a weekly basis. It forces you to really hone in on what activities bring you joy on a weekly basis so you can optimize your life and spending around that. What you’ll find is that what makes you happiest may not be the things you are spending your money on. That’s an opportunity to cut out or cut back on things that don’t make the list.

In the end, FIRE is not about being deprived and frugal to the extreme. It’s about adjusting what you spend on and redirecting it towards things that really produces the maximum happiness for you. The rest is secondary.

So if you are new to FIRE or have a friend or family member who you believe would benefit and be interested in learning more, Playing with FIRE is a great book to get your feet wet and learn more.

Now I cannot wait to watch the documentary!

Until next time.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Playing with FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) by Scott Rieckens”

    • Hi Zi Zhao! You can check these out as well!

      1. The Simple Path to Wealth
      2. Retire Like a Millionaire
      3. Elements of Investing

      I think you can start with those first as I find them very easy to read and easy to understand – and gives me a lot of confidence in the investment approach to get started and stay the course.


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