Last year I was contacted through this site by a journalist who wanted to speak to me about potentially becoming involved in an upcoming pilot for a television program about early retirement. I agreed and we had a lengthy phone conversation where she discussed what the show was going to be about (People retiring by or in their 40s) and how they wanted to get a wide range of people trying different methods to reach this state. It all sounded good and I was honestly pleased to hear that finally something like early retirement discussion would hit mainstream media.
So she started with an opening interview and I think it’s safe to say things very quickly nose-dived from there. I know a few other bloggers who read this site were also contacted so I’m keen to hear your thoughts on it however I personally found the questions to be very leading in terms of content that they were trying to generate. Almost all of the questions seemed to be going along the lines of “How much have you had to sacrifice to do this?” “Have you missed out on any major life events due to being frugal?” “Have your friends stopped inviting you to stuff because you’re always saving money” etc. Basically a whole host of stereotype enforcing crap which continues to plague any mainstream discussions on personal finance and tries to paint anyone aiming for early retirement as a bored lonely shut-in who lives off of 9p noodle packs and never goes on holiday. She wasn’t interested in hearing about the side hustles we’ve started up or the changes we’ve made which have meant we could still live very active social lives without spending tonnes of money on the latest fads. The screener interview ended with her saying she would be in touch at a later date if the show was going to be made. She never did, ah well, and I was left with the feeling that the show was just going to be another entertainment piece which tried to focus on the extreme sacrifices people had to make to retire early.
It was with some surprise then that a few months ago I read on another UK finance blog that they actually did decide to go along with the show and had already begun filming for it. Finally we had opportunity for some mainstream media attention on early retirement! There’s lots of programs and articles dedicated towards saving money however I’d yet to see one which actually stated the aim of doing so as becoming financially independent or retiring early. Instead sites such as MoneySavingExpert and ThisIsMoney do a great job of saving people money when they are already spending it. They’ll save you 10% off a £10k holiday, but never really discuss not going on that holiday to begin with or what you should be doing with that money saved. I stopped reading the weekly MSE email once I realised 90% of it is actually just links to ‘bag a bargain’ or, as I see it, ‘buy something you wouldn’t have in the first place’.
As the big screening date came closer I was surprised and excited to hear that my friend and mentor Huw from Financially Free By Fourty casually dropped out that he was going to feature. I’ve known Huw for a couple of years now and greatly respect him as not only one of the very few UK finance bloggers.. but also someone who has actually made the leap from a 9-5 job into total financial independence through saving, investment and building up new income streams. Perhaps if he was going to feature then my fears of what I suspected the show would revolve around were misguided? Perhaps it was going to be a serious program and perhaps blueprint for others to follow in their lives which would guide them through the journey of cutting expenses (sensibly), investing the savings and building up passive income streams to support an independent lifestyle.
What a real shame and missed opportunity the whole program turned out to be. I watched the whole way through both hoping and waiting for them to sit down and explain the maths and concepts behind becoming financially independent, but they never did. Instead we got a clear entertainment piece which very briefly mentioned the 25 rule (but no explanation behind how or why it was that number) surrounded by 29 minutes of following a handful of people who were trying out various financial fads.
I’m not even sure why they needed to split the show into the 3 different methods of Saving, trend spotting (still not sure what this actually means) and taking a risk. Perhaps it’s because generally things become more exciting when there’s some element of competition involved and so these 3 options almost had to be shown as competing against each-other to determine which was the best route to take? Obviously it would be far too sensible and thus boring to just take the best elements from all 3 options and instead combine them into a simple yet efficient plan towards early retirement? Nope…. you must survive without food for 5 days a week.. or buy a house with a total stranger.. or start selling potatoes on the internet. Those are your only options I’m afraid. Early Retirement is extreme and so you need to follow one of these extreme routes if you’re ever going to reach it.
The presenters were completely useless as well if early retirement was their perceived aim. Take the guy trying to 5-2 spending plan.. ran out of food and loo roll on the 2nd day. I mean seriously, this was a grown adult with a professional occupation, does he honestly only buy 1 days worth of supplies at a time? Never-mind, it made the plan look suitably unsustainable and gave the program the money shot of the presenter looking cold, hungry and miserable.. exactly as early retirement would have us all look, no?
Really this entire show just highlighted the problem we have with talking about early retirement, especially here in the UK. All the programs and articles which discuss early retirement I’ve seen are really just there to provide entertainment. They’re not trying to actually help anyone achieve it or make meaningful changes to their lives for the better. The Daily Mail is going to get alot more clicks and comments by running an article on a couple living in a caravan and the resulting negative comments it generates than if they were to perhaps run a piece on the huge tax advantages of increasing your pension contributions or foregoing the daily Starbucks.
The closest thing we have to a rockstar of personal finance this side of the pond would be MSE’s Martin Lewis who’s site does more to encourage savings on spending instead of just not spending at all. Personally I’d be crying out for a British media personality equivalent of MrMoneyMustache, however I’m just not sure anymore whether the British public would even appreciate the message when it doesn’t let them gawp at how sad and boring someone’s life must be to reach financial independence. That’s the entertainment they want to see on TV whilst sat in a mortgaged house looking forward to driving to work in a financed car at the age of 68.