ERE is a set of principles that are based on a systems theoretic approach to “lifestyle design” allowing each individual to create their own robust strategy to a flexible lifestyle that is resilient to economic shows and which meets all needs and reasonable wants while minimizing ongoing costs and effort.
The website was founded in 2007 and currently comprises four parts: This blog, an associated forum, a wiki, and a book. It started with the blog in 2007 but shortly thereafter I began to simultaneously write a book to create a more comprehensive description of the philosophy and how to live it. The book was published in 2010 and contains a complete canon of the design principles. Also in 2010 requests for a forum reached critical mass and I decided to start a forum. The wiki was started in 2011.
The blog was mostly written between 2007 and 2010ish at which point I felt like I had little left to say that I hadn’t said already. Not many new posts were written in 2011 and since then it’s been automatically recycling old posts and comments have been switched off. However, the forums are still quite active.
During the blog and book writing era, the book writing and the blog writing had two different foci. The book mainly focused on developing and formalizing the general systems theory-based principles that became the “ERE philosophy”. The blog was occasionally used to float trial balloons for new ideas and get feedback on various concepts that was being worked on for the book. Otherwise the blog mainly focused on the financial independence and retiring early (FIRE) aspects, blazing a trail by formalizing and bringing together many of the concepts that are now taken for granted as the “standard formula” by most of the FIRE community, specifically
- That one’s savings rate is the sole determinant for how many years it takes to become financially independent. (Complete with formulas)
- That for most people, it is relatively easier to decrease expenses than increase income.
- That the smartest way to do this is to focus on the big expenses (typically house, car, and food) instead of clipping coupons or relying on long lists of penny-pinching frugality tips.
- That early retirement is not just for millionaires or the 55+ crowd.
Today taking all these things together may be obvious to a lot of people, but back then the combination of these ideas was quite revolutionary and heavily resisted by the mainstream and indeed much of the rest of the personal finance blogging community who still focused ways to save money with various frugal tips while advocating a slow and steady compound-interest oriented approach to saving $1,000,000 after which one could retire around age 55. The only way to retire earlier was believed to be either by increasing one’s income substantially or to sacrifice one’s standard of living substantially.
When ERE was still by far the most proliferate blog discussing the combination of these concepts, many new readers often reacted as if they had just swallowed the red pill of the Matrix movies. They would proceed to read through the entire blog (hundreds of posts) just to see how deep the rabbit hole went. Today, you can find the “standard formula” discussed on dozens of different blogs and on hundreds of forum threads.
Although FIRE received the majority of attention on the blog, it is just a subset the larger ERE philosophy. What still differentiates ERE from the other FIRE communities is that ERE is mostly about independence from the money-based economy (economic independence) and not just independence through it (financial independence).
One of the design goals of the philosophy was to establish what principles would work both if the exceptional characteristics of 20th century US markets would turn out to be a one time event but also if the 21st century should enter a non-growth phase with depressed incomes from global competition and increased costs from environmental damage and resource depletion.
This was achieved through a much greater than usual focus on developing a wide array of personal skills (that no one can ever take away from you, unlike money) and combining them in mutually reinforcing ways. This is also known as the renaissance ideal and include the 21st century equivalent of the same life-skills that our grandparents and great-grandparents used to know but which largely have been forgotten over the past two generations.
The systems theoretical combination of mutually supportive skills and plans is similar to the guild-concept in permaculture. However, since living life as a human (skills, people, money, desire, opportunity) differs somewhat from life in a garden (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, water, heat, soil), ERE uses a type of probabilistic/adaptive contingency planning, called web-of-goals, instead of the semi-static design methods of permaculture.
This development of using skills to substitute for consumerist spending means that ERE adherents pretty much display some of the lowest expense levels amongst the various FIRE communities while still enjoying middle-class lifestyles. The typical range of expenses is between $4000/household/year and $16,000/household/year. This also means that extreme early retirement is possible for people who haven’t mastered high-five or six-figure income jobs. That this reduction of expenses also automatically leads to faster FIRE is what we call a twofer, or even a threefer, since should a complete financial collapse occur causing the loss of all savings, an ERE person would have an easier time finding a low-income job (especially in such a situation) to cover their low expenses than a less skilled person would have in finding a high or even average-income job to cover their higher expenses, especially in a recession.
Hedging both outcomes makes ERE a highly resilient solution while at the same time maximizing the kind of access, optionality, and control that leads to a rich and interesting life.
Now for some boring facts mostly relevant to other bloggers, journalists, and advertisers…
I’m not that interested, but if you insist on giving me money, though, maybe we can work something out if you make it super-easy for me.
I no longer accept guest posts.
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