February 2020 Financial Update and thoughts on the Coronavirus

Well folks, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. It’s amazing how much life has changed since I wrote my last blog post a month ago. I am certain that the next few months will bring even more change. 

I’ll cover my regular monthly financial stats in the first several sections of this post and share some more general thoughts on the coronavirus and its impacts in the last sections. 

Financially, February was a rocky month for our investments. Net worth declined significantly by $114,000 to end the month at $2,117,000. The silver lining is that income for the month remained very strong at $5,298 while expenses totaled only $2,618. 

Let’s jump into the details from last month.

 

Income

Investment income totaled $620 in February thanks to interest income from our bond holdings. Next month will bring even more investment income since our equity mutual funds and ETFs pay dividends quarterly at the end of March, June, September, and December with some payments arriving at the beginning of the next month. Here’s more on our dividend investments.

Blog income, shown as “other income” in the chart, totaled $2,493 for the month. While still respectable, my blog income is trending down since I haven’t been publishing as many articles each month. 

My early retirement lifestyle consulting income (“consulting”) was $1,358 for the month of February which represents 10 hours of consulting sessions. Raising my rates in January didn’t seem to have any impact on February consulting bookings. However I have noticed since the recent drop in the stock market, my new client bookings have almost dried up completely. Fortunately the weather in North Carolina is improving so a slowdown is welcomed at this point.

The “deposit income” totaled $825. The deposit income includes $300 that came from cash back and incentive bonuses from the Ebates.com and Mrrebates.com online shopping portals (some of which was earned from you readers signing up through these links). 

If you sign up for Ebates through this link and make a qualifying $25 purchase through Ebates, you’ll get a $10 gift card. 

The remaining $525 of deposit income is the sign up bonus from a US Bank Business card. I completed the spending requirement for this card in January and was able to cash out the reward points in February. 

 

 

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Tracking spending was one of the critical steps I took that allowed me to retire at 33. And it’s now easier than ever with Personal Capital.

 

 

Expenses

Now let’s take a look at February expenses:


 

In total, we spent $2,618 during February which is about $700 less than our target spending of $3,333 per month (or $40,000 per year). Utilities and groceries topped the spending categories for the month. 

 

Detailed breakdown of spending:

 

Utilities – $834:

The city water, sewer, and trash bill was $138 for February.

The natural gas bill (for the water heater and furnace) totaled $94 for the month. February was another warm month so our heating bill was lower than usual. 

I paid $602 for electricity which covered February’s bill and left us with a huge credit balance. The utility charges a $1.50 convenience fee to use a credit card so I usually charge a big lump sum at one time so that the convenience fee is negligible as a percentage of the payment. These big payments help me hit credit card minimum spending requirements for new sign up bonuses too. 

 

Snow is so pretty in the south. It falls. Everything turns white. Then it melts the next day when it’s 70F degrees and everything gets back to normal.

 

Groceries – $814:

We spent $814 on groceries during the month of February. Part of the higher than normal expense was the purchase of $300 in Walmart gift cards that will be used for groceries over the next month or two. I used a 10% cash back promotion to buy discounted Walmart gift cards, so I bought a bunch. 

Otherwise our grocery spending was fairly normal in February. We stocked up a bit to prepare for any supply chain interruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Otherwise it was business as usual. 

 

It’s an old pic folks. I swear! I wish I had this much TP right now!!

 

We cooked a ton of good food during February: 

 

Chicken and tofu tikka masala with homemade naan (here’s the naan recipe)

 

We’ve mastered the art of naan-making.

 

Chicken mole poblano – sweet and savory delight!

 

Our rainy day lunch – beef chili, sushi, and salad.

 

General Merchandise – $386:

I spent $286 on Walmart gift cards under the 10% cashback promo. I also bought $100 of Amazon gift cards to take advantage of a different cash back promo on my credit card. 

I am allocating the expense for these gift cards to “general merchandise” since we don’t know exactly how we’ll spend them over the coming months.

 

Travel – $312:

This category of spending no longer brings the same level of joy given the massive interruptions to global travel and leisure.

During February we were very busy booking two different trips. One trip is already cancelled and the other trip has a lot of uncertainty right now. 

The first trip takes Mrs. Root of Good and I to Madrid, Spain for an almost two week jaunt around the northern part of the country in October. Last month, we booked all of the lodging, flights, and in-country transportation. Here is how we did it:

  • 34,000 American Airlines miles plus $56 for each round trip ticket RDU-MAD
  • 4 nights in several different AC Hotels for 40,000 Marriott points in total
  • 3 nights in a Madrid Airbnb ($209 worth of Airbnb gift cards)
  • 3 nights in an Airbnb in the northern mountains ($239 worth of Airbnb gift cards)
  • $8 for an airport hotel in Madrid (balance paid for with Expedia points)
  • $146 for a rental car for 8 nights

So far we are hoping we can still go on the October trip to Spain. It’s over six months away so there is at least a chance that the coronavirus will be receding and largely contained by then. 

Most of the expenses are cancelable with or without penalty at various points in time, so our maximum exposure if we do end up cancelling the trip last minute will be about $300. However we may cancel sooner if travel providers offer penalty free cancellation policies. And then rebook when the current virus scare is over. 

If you are interested in booking a place through Airbnb, feel free to use my Airbnb referral link to save $40 off your first stay. 

Our second trip was an 11 night cruise from Tampa to New York City by way of Aruba and Bermuda (among other islands). Norwegian Cruise Line just cancelled all sailings for the next month so we’ll get a full cash refund of the price paid or 125% of the price paid in a future cruise credit to be used by 2022. I don’t know which option we will choose since we don’t sail on Norwegian a lot. But the free 25% bonus would be nice. 

I booked the cruise for four of us for free using the Ultimate Rewards points from our Chase Ink Preferred business cards. It was just over 200,000 points for a $2,600 cruise ($1,300 per cabin). The Ink Preferred card offers a 25% bonus on travel redemptions using the UR points. 

The Chase Ink Business Preferred card is still available for sign up with an 80,000 point bonus if you are interested. 

Flights to and from the cruise ports were booked on American Airlines and Southwest using points plus $5.60 per ticket in taxes. The AA flights are fully refundable per the airline’s temporary coronavirus cancellation policy. Southwest flights booked with points are always fully refundable. 

So the end result for our cruise appears to be $2,600 cash in our pockets or $3,300 in Norwegian Future Cruise Credit. The downside is we’ll be self-quarantining here at home in Raleigh instead of enjoying what would have been (absent a viral pandemic) an incredibly awesome voyage on the high seas. 

If you want to score more free travel from credit cards, there are several other cards currently offering 50,000 points or more. These points can be redeemed for $500 cash or $500+ in free flights or hotel stays. Compare travel credit card deals

 

Healthcare/Medical – $142:

Our 2020 healthcare premiums are $123 per month thanks to very generous Affordable Care Act subsidies that we receive due to our low ~$40,000 per year Adjusted Gross Income. The benefit of being “poor” on our tax return. 

The remaining $19 in medical expense is my monthly dental insurance premiums for 2020. 

 

Electronics – $38:

After years of procrastination I finally bought a solid-state drive for my ancient but powerful desktop computer. I got this 240 GB Sandisk SSD from Amazon for $38. 

Since cloning the old operating system hard drive onto the new SSD and making a few cable swaps and BIOS setting updates, the newly updated computer is faster and more powerful than the day we bought it many years ago. 

 

Automotive – $24:

I used a $6 coupon to make the annual state safety and emissions inspection $24 instead of $30. The inspection revealed I needed a $5 parking light bulb which I just ordered from Amazon. Installation takes about one minute. The inspector still approved the car but made me pinky swear to replace the light bulb (which I will do). 

I was tempted to let the shop take care of the bulb replacement for $20 to avoid the inconvenience. But I don’t mind minor auto repair like changing an easily accessible light bulb. 

 

Education – $18:

Elementary school yearbook for $18. 

 

Annual engineering week competition at our kid’s school. This year they made rockets!

 

Cable/Satellite – $18:

We pay $18 per month for a local reduced rate package due to having a lower income and having kids. 30 mbit/s download, 4 mbit/s upload.

 

Gifts – $16:

Some gifts for our daughter’s upcoming birthday. There’s a good chance the birthday party will have to be canceled due to virus concerns. But at least we have a gift that will provide hours of fun and entertainment.

 

Clothing – $14:

A thrift shop visit to get some longer pants for our little guy. He’s already too tall for the pants we bought in the fall. Hopefully these pants will last into next winter. 

 

Restaurants – $2:

Our laughably low restaurant spending included a $2 soda at Moe’s. I rode my bike up to our local Moe’s thinking I was redeeming a free burrito coupon but as it turns out a soda purchase was required. Still not a bad deal for a huge burrito, a big drink, a bag full of chips, and several containers of salsa. 

We also continued our Chick Fil A free food spree. Every week they seem to give away free food on their app. February was no different. It’s a four mile round trip through the neighborhood on my bike to pick up these beauties:

 

Good sandwiches. Free makes them taste even better.

 

Gasoline – $0:

We didn’t buy any gas for the minivan in February. We’ll probably top off the tank in March or April though. 

 

 

Total Spending for 2020 – Year to Date

 

Two months into 2020 and our spending totals $5,300 for the year. This is $1,367 less than the $6,667 we budgeted for two months out of our $40,000 annual early retirement budget

We were ramping up our travel bookings for the remainder of 2020 with several big trips planned so far. Given the current uncertainty around cruises and other international trips, I don’t really know what we’ll be doing this summer and fall.

If we cancel all of our trips due to coronavirus-related travel restrictions, then we may end up saving a lot of money at the expense of missing out on a lot of fun. I don’t mean to gloss over the real suffering and loss of life from the virus, but so far the most concerning direct impact to me is the loss of convenient travel opportunities. 

 

Monthly Expense Summary for 2020:

 

Summary of annual spending from all years of early retirement:

 

Net Worth: $2,117,000 (-$114,000)

February was a wild month. Our net worth shot up by $100,000 in the first third of the month. Then it slowly went down in the middle of the month. Finally, our net worth dropped very rapidly by month end. From the highest value to the lowest value in February, we lost a quarter of a million dollars.

As we all know now, the last days of February foreshadowed the sharp and rapid drops to come in March. 

In last month’s update I wrote:

The market feels overly optimistic since it seems like nothing makes the market waver for long. Not an almost-war with Iran and not a major virus outbreak in China. At least not yet. 

With the clarity of hindsight, we can see that the market was frothy with unbounded optimism in early February. Our 10 year economic expansion was long in the tooth and we were overdue for a correction. Here it is in all its ugly glory! 

 

 

Current thoughts on the Coronavirus 

As I write this in mid-March, cruise lines are shuttered, airlines are cancelling flights, country after country enters a phase of social lock down where only essential trips to the grocery store or healthcare facility are allowed. Shuttered businesses will take a huge hit to profits and underemployed workers may face a similar hit to their paychecks. 

The economic fallout of the chaos caused by the coronavirus is still unknown. We don’t know at this point if the virus will have a limited or severe impact, or fall somewhere in between. One scenario has the virus stamped out soon by shutting down most travel and non-essential social intermingling. The opposite extreme could see the virus flourish for months or years to come and kill tens of millions globally. 

Some sectors of the economy will continue to face exceedingly high pressures. There will likely be collapses of businesses and bankruptcies in the hardest hit industries. 

I don’t know if these economic losses are already baked into the stock market correction we experienced over the past month or whether we’ll continue to ride the bear market down further and further. 

However if I have to use my crystal ball, I can see that in another five or ten years the stock market will be higher than it is today. We had a good solid 10 year bull market and now we may have a few soft years in the market where things trade flat to down. Or maybe the optimists will win and we are already near the bottom of the market. 

The truth is I don’t really know where the market is headed and no one else does either. 

The best course of action is to stick with your regular investment plans, continue maxing out your 401ks and IRAs as you always have and enjoy these much cheaper stock prices compared to recent months’ lofty valuations. Invest as much as you safely can if the market continues its march downwards. 

But temper your aggressive investing with a dash of practicality. Don’t go crazy. Keep enough liquid funds at hand to cover you and your family if times get tough. In recessions people lose jobs, take pay cuts, and have a hard time finding new jobs.

During the 2008-2009 crash, we knew we could live on one income if one of us lost a job, so it was no big deal to operate with a minimal cash reserve each month. Perhaps that is your situation or perhaps you need a larger emergency fund to provide some peace of mind (and food). 

 

Here is a graceful great blue heron gliding over our lake. During tumultuous times, remember to breath deep, relax, and enjoy the positive aspects of life.

 

Personal impacts from the Coronavirus

So far we have felt the impact of the global pandemic in two ways. One is the cancellation of our upcoming cruise. We won’t be traveling much any time soon.

The other impact is the cancellation of public schools across the state and much of the nation. Per the school district, this is our spring break for the next two weeks then we’ll see what happens after that. Maybe we go back in April or maybe that’s it for the school year and we all go back to school in August. Lots of uncertainty and lack of guidance since they just announced school closures. I think the growth of new cases in the next few weeks will be instructive. 

Financially, our portfolio has dropped quite a bit. I’ll have more info on March’s fun in the next financial update but by the low point mid-month we were down over $500,000 from the February highs. The portfolio has since recovered a bit but $100,000 daily ups and downs are commonplace for us now. 

However, the value of the portfolio is only relevant to our long term financial success. Day to day or month to month volatility isn’t something to fret over in the short term. We have over $200,000 in high quality bonds and cash reserves so we will be able to keep on living at the same level of spending for many more years to come without touching our equity holdings. 

As far as reacting to the market’s drop, we aren’t intentionally trying to reduce our spending now. Not yet. That time may come if things get rough and this is a multi-year recession. But for now I see no need. I’d like to keep on enjoying my money and help out the economy by spending on our wants and needs.

On the preparedness front, we are pretty well stocked in our fridge, freezer, and pantry in case we can’t go grocery shopping for several weeks due to quarantine or supply chain disruptions. Store shelves are still mostly stocked here (other than toilet paper!), so we’ll have to see how bad it gets.

I have 10 books on reserve at the library to keep us busy, and Netflix should remain fully operational throughout this emergency. I have a sizable backlog of video games to play. We should be able to lounge around the back yard and maybe even go out for walks and bike rides even if everything is closed (just don’t come within 6 feet of me!).

 

Break out the board games. Ticket to Ride is a family favorite over here!

 

At this point, I think all we can do is prepare for the worst but hope for the best. I’m ready to hunker down for a few weeks or a few months if that is what it takes to defeat the pandemic.

Since I’m no epidemiologist I don’t really have an educated guess as to what happens next.

To those that are skeptical of the severity of the coronavirus, I will say that I am taking it very seriously. If you’re under 60 it’ll probably be the flu or a non-event and you have a very low chance of dying.  If you’re over 60 and/or have underlying health issues this thing is rather severe. And if you’re young and you get it you may be okay but your age 60+ family, friends, neighbors and strangers you encounter on the street might not.

The media loves to sensationalize things but this time around concern is warranted. It’ll take a period of sacrifice up front to nip this thing in the bud, get everyone healthy again, and get me back on my cruise ship. 

Before I wrap up, I’ll leave you with some good news. Some countries have figured out how to stem the tide of the coronavirus infections. China and South Korea were two of the hardest hit countries early on. Daily new cases in each country measured in the hundreds or thousands. Total infections currently stand at 80,000+ in China and 8,000+ in Korea.

However their new daily cases have dropped to single or double digits. That means very few people are catching coronavirus in China and Korea today. Those countries aren’t coronavirus free but they are getting very close.

Through heightened screening and testing, social distancing, and isolation they have dramatically reduced the prevalence of coronavirus in their countries. The question now is whether other countries can, and will, follow suit to bring an end to the spread of this virus. 

That’s all I have for this month. Stay healthy and I hope to see you here next month! 

 

 

What’s your take on things? Are you prepared for the next few months of uncertainty? 

 

 

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69 comments

  1. I am in Saudi Arabia right now. All international flights and land borders are canceled in or out so we are stuck here for the moment. The draconian measures seem to help ‘flatten the curve’. Ony 118 as of today. It is strange that countries with less civil liberties are perhaps better coping (not that I am advocating it)
    We are international school teachers so entering our second week of ‘virtual school’
    Mails and restaurants closed (but you can still get carryout)
    All in all quiet, and we use a bidet so no problems with toilet paper! Americans when will you learn.

    1. Ha ha – I’ve joked that now is the time where we need a benevolent dictator to make us do what we should do. People over here are still out partying and going to disney world!

      Hopefully the great Kingdom can weather the storm and you all will be safe there.

  2. That’s great man, at least outperform sp500 since you kept bonds. Feel so terrible for the entire traveling/tourism business and people.

    One needs to go back to WW1 and WW2 for comparable financial conditions, as sell everything, yes everything, and into USD, bid-ask spreads were super wide as there was liquidity issues from market markers. It was absolutely madness.

    Imagine if they ever find the evidence the vir** is from the lab, (almost 0% chance of finding the evidence), but if so, imagine how much more the market can go down.

    Just imagine what happens after this is over, what will the west do, what kind of reform and policy change. If nothing changes, we or our children will be “happily” living in 1984.

  3. Thanks for the update, RoG.
    I agree with you about self-isolating now for hopefully a better outcome several weeks from now.

  4. Hi Justin. I jumped right into your COVID19 update as at this point as I don’t really care much about the market fluctuations, to be honest. Glad to see that everyone around you is staying safe and calm during such unusual times!

    For us, it is particularly an unusual time to be nomadic because there are a ton of unknowns at the moment. What we do know is that it’s not a good time to be traveling right now and we must practice social distancing – we have been scrambling this week canceling flights, Airbnb, and plans in order to settle into one spot for the foreseeable future. As I am writing this we are still in Bali and are considering getting to Taiwan tomorrow (fingers crossed) as the country has been also doing an outstanding job to handle this pandemic. This week has been a big period of reflection to see more clearly what the important things are in life and what we most value. Crazy how things can change on such a short amount of time.

    1. I bet it’s crazy as a nomad! We are tentatively planning to go “nomad” for 2 months this summer traveling around South America but it’s tough to imagine how we could do that if travel restrictions and quarantine situations happen there too. Cancelling a bunch of travel and lodging reservations seems likely at this point.

  5. Indeed this is a real test of everyone’s risk tolerance. When I started on the FI path a year ago I took JL Collins’ advice to heart and am basically all in VTSAX though my 401k has some variance. I’ve stayed the course and will continue doing so. I haven’t dumped a lot of extra in mostly because we don’t have it but we do have a bonus payout upcoming in April and I’ve increased my 401k contribution rate to capture some of that.

    As far as the virus, I’ve been trying not to read Twitter as much since things get pretty fear-inducing. Our kids are not in K-12 but still might stay home with us. Wife works at a school but isn’t a teacher so it will be interesting to see today what her job will entail in a distance learning environment. I’m working at home and will continue to do that if things keep up the way they are. With stuff closing this week, we still have nearly 2-3 weeks before we will see a change reflected in the curve. It can take an average of 5 days to see symptoms, then another 2-4 days for test results, then 14 days for recovery. It’s going to be sobering to watch the counts increase in the US this week.

    One final thought: this whole situation is why FI is important. When times get tough, we have a cushion to fall back on. I’ve been saving up for a minivan but now I will have a choice to perhaps wait and see if we will do any trips in June like we thought otherwise the minivan savings can act as a cash buffer if things go south. I’m not too worried about my job security but you never know!

    1. Agreed on the FI part for sure! We can sit back as spectators for the most part and not worry too much. No dire need to go out for a couple of weeks so we can hunker down at home if we want to. And we aren’t subject to loss of a paycheck which would happen if we are still working.

  6. Exciting times! I’m amused by the N95 mask advertisements Mediavine is thoughtfully scattering over your post. (I’ve got a stash of a dozen from doing some amateur demolition work seven years ago — we’ll see if I catch anything and actually need them. Might come in handy if April 28 primary elections still take place, since I’m an election worker.)

    I was supposed to report Friday for grand jury orientation. On Thursday, a county official called and asked if I’d been out of the country within the last month or at an airport within the last week. A quick weekend trip to Indianapolis March 6-9 ended up getting me out of a four-month weekly obligation that is probably now cancelled anyway.

    My wife’s job is pretty secure; mine is slightly less so but pays less anyway. We’ve got a lean year of living expenses stashed in a savings account. And our neighbors are top-notch. I’m optimistic.

    1. Good to hear you are well set. And thanks for letting me know about those N95 mask advertisements. Hopefully my March revenue will be through the roof since the portfolio is quickly dwindling 😉

  7. Hi Justin! Great post today. I see that our local libraries are now closed for a couple of weeks, too. So not sure if you’re going to get all of your requested items 🙁

    I’m curious about your cruise refund. I have thought about booking a cruise with my Chase points and was wondering if Chase would refund your Chase points, or give you a cash refund (due to the cancellation). Do you know about that? I’m curious if it’s a way to cash out your Chase points for more than 1 cent per point 😉

    1. Oh that sucks – they are closed now! No, I didn’t get any of them. Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe anthologies it is for the next few weeks once I finish the 2 books I already have. And there’s the internet! 🙂

      For the cruise refund, I’m not 100% sure how that will work. I’ve reached out to Chase on twitter and they won’t tell me how it’ll be processed when it gets refunded. And I was thinking the same thing – easy way to cash out 1.25x or 1.5x value with a cash refund. I think I would take that over the 200k UR points at this point since our 2020 travel plans are looking rocky.

      1. Most libraries have an online checkout for e-books. Here in TN it is the READS program. They won’t have every title but they will likely have something that strikes your interest.

    2. Update on chase, here’s a link to the refund request page:

      https://travel.chase.com/customersupport/travel-alert-refunds

      Updated “ThePointsGuy” article on the subject
      https://thepointsguy.com/guide/cancel-change-ticket-amex-chase-coronavirus/

      I just put in a request for my airfare for next weekend, March 27th. We’ll see if I get points back. i’d rather have the Chase Rewards points back Vs. airline credit, even though I’d use the airline credit. The points have the potential to be much more useful.

      1. Thanks for the links. Looks like a cruise booking paid for with Chase points would most likely be refunded back to Chase points.

      2. When I got a refund from American Airlines last year through a flight I booked using Chase UR points I received the points back rather than cash.

      1. Yes, hopefully it was helpful. I try to reiterate to all clients the inherently risky nature of equities and the key is picking a good long term asset allocation that you can live with as a DIY investor.

        1. What is your asset allocation in retirement, if you don’t mind me asking? You mention having over $200k in bonds and cash so I’d guess you do something like 75% stocks / 20% bonds / 5% cash?

        2. Hi Justin,

          I’ve been a longtime reader (and fan), thanks for all you’ve shared. What course might this be? Perhaps something for coaching clients only? I’m interested…

  8. So far we are being flexible on any travel plans. We have a cruise still scheduled that begins 11 days beyond the current 30 day suspension, but judging by the ramp up in things like a potential domestic air travel ban, I am not banking on that coming about. Like yourselves it will delay our cruise to another date and we’ll just stay here in our more remote section of TN, far away from the maddening crowds.

    We have plenty of food and drink and always seem to have a lot of TP (I shouldn’t be advertising that, since it appears to be more valuable than gold to some out there). Funny but self-quarantine in the event of contraction doesn’t seem so bad in the modern world. Oh, it means we have to be subjected to our YouTube TV, our Kindle Unlimited subscriptions, use of our home gyms, and high speed internet for keeping in touch? Oh, the horror!

    Best wishes to you and the family and all your readers. I’ll leave you with a post I saw elsewhere today:

    “It’s 2020 and gas is below $2 a gallon, weed is legal, people are washing their hands and wiping their behinds. America is becoming great again”!

    1. For those of us well set up in comfortable homes, you are right. It’s not too rough to spend a few weeks at home.

      Sorry to hear your travel plans are impacted. I’m feeling the pain/disappointment too but I know eventually we’ll get back to normal.

  9. ” If you’re under 60 it’ll probably be the flu or a non-event and you have a very low chance of dying.”

    This statement is somewhat inaccurate. 15% of people under 60 will have severe illness and require intensive care. 20-30% of these people will have permanent lung damage after recovery based on data from Hong Kong. So, while the mortality rates are low for young people who get the care needed, it is misleading to downplay the danger by comparing this to a flu or a non-event.

    For example, If your family of 5 gets sick, there is ~80% chance one or more of you will end up with permanent lung damage. That’s a major event!

    1. A valid point perhaps, depending on age. As I understand it, it’s still less severe the younger you get. So for a family of 5 with 2 adults around age 40 and 3 kids the per-person avg severe cases would be <15% I think.

      And to quibble with your math, assuming 15% severe cases for 5 people (if entire family get infected), the cumulative probability that all 5 remain non-severe is (1-0.15)^5 = 44%, with a 56% chance that one or more of you will have a severe case. Nothing to sneeze at nonetheless!

  10. A loss of 5% of your net worth is actually quite good given the overall market dropped 15%. How did you manage to hedge so well?

  11. Nine months ago, I asked myself the question “what if there was a total collapse of the entire stock market, can we still retire mid-2020”. To answer that question I modelled such a crazy scenario in Excel. The answer was “not quite”. I then switched all new money and dividend income to cash and bonds. The answer is now is a firm “yes we can”. It hurt watching the stocks rising and us missing out on some amazing gains. Well, for sure now, it was well worth that pain.

    1. Fortuitous timing! Yes – a lot of people will still be okay in retirement even if they retire this year. But I wouldn’t personally take the leap if I didn’t feel comfortable with my investments being able to last long enough. Sounds like you dropped the risk level a bit so you might be good.

  12. The food looks good as usual. The cruise ships are not looking attractive right now. They really need to figure out how to control the viral outbreaks. The business will be down for a long time for them.
    I think we all need to take COVID-19 seriously. News will get a lot worse before it improves. The case count will keep rising as the tests roll out. All of us should stay home as much as possible to flatten the curve. Don’t go about your lives as usual.
    Our libraries, community centers, and museums are all shut down. Not much to do during extended spring break, but we’ll survive.
    Good luck!

  13. Thanks for a great thoughtful update! It is indeed a financial relief when you don’t have to worry about a paycheck (whether you work or not) and stock market going down because of a decent net-worth accumulated. Keep cooking and living well with less! Social distancing is very important for the next few weeks, everyone!

  14. There is lots to do…we can still go out and enjoy nature, I am blessed to live in an area with parks, large bodies of water for fishing, boating and kayaking. It’s a time to look inward and outward….much healthier to be outside some of the time (for most of us) We haven’t quite done FI, though before this financial adjustment to the market I was thinking about it. House and cars paid for. One of us has an essential local government job. Time to live creatively. Since technically “retirement” is 10 years away, we should be okay.

  15. I’m panicking…I’m gonna sell…I’m gonna sell……I’m gonna hold some…..gonna buy guns, rice beans and bunker myself ! See yah on the other side

  16. My favorite part of the update was when you said, let’s get you back on the cruise. I second that. If we get to that place, it means that all of this stuff is likely behind us and we can start being normal again.

    I lean on the pessimistic side when it comes to the economy. Many businesses are going to have to go with little revenue and big losses. That will be a loss of a lot of jobs. Government bail-outs will help some, but we’ll see what they can put together.

    1. It seems a little selfish to worry about going on cruises but let’s take that as a surrogate for “things getting back to normal”. Normal and boring. Hopefully it won’t take more than a couple of months to level off quite a bit.

      As far as the economy, a little shake out of the weaker players is a good thing occasionally. After the health scare is over, people will go back to saving a slightly higher % of income once we get back to work.

    1. The sauce was from a jar, so:

      “Go to grocery store and buy 1 or more jars of sauce and follow directions”

      ha ha 🙂 I’ve tried homemade tikka masala sauce from scratch but it wasn’t much better than the jarred variety.

  17. Nice update. I personally lucked out, per my plan I decided to “bucket” five years worth of spending so I could retire in five years regardless of what the market was doing or had done prior to my leaving the nine to five. I also had the idea if the market was doing well I’d keep skimming until there was a significant drop to hopefully add a year or two to the bucket and perhaps go earlier. I made the call at the end of January, saw the market go up in February, skimmed a bit off the gains. Then the drop occurred. Can’t say it’s other than luck, I’d still be close to all in if it wasn’t time for the plan.

    On the other hand this has been really bad for my grown kids. One living in a high cost city has been laid off, their job was retail based and an event that usually drew in $20-25K a weekend drew in $2K because of virus fears. For other reasons they were likely to get laid off sometime in April, but it’s come a month sooner. Additionally the job they were courting and planning to move to was travel related, and now that opportunity evaporated. Out of a job and while not living paycheck to paycheck, they are running a thin margin and don’t have a lot of time to recover in an economy where thousands of people are not working and getting desperate for work. Another child recently quit a job and was searching, and things are basically stalled to inactivity for them. I can only imagine the number of people who are not getting anything coming in. A month of this can be devastating.

    1. Very fortuitous planning! This is a time where being conservative pays off (literally).

      Sorry to hear about the tough times hitting your kids. I figure a lot of folks will be in that situation right now or very soon.

  18. We’re world market cap allocation for stocks with six months of cash. We were so close to the two comma club until this happened. Both still working.

    Hopefully it’s a V shaped recovery if we contain this virus quickly. If not, oh well we’ll keep plugging away and be patient. We’ll add bonds once we hit our goal.

    It’s been rough seeing the portfolio drop. Staying the course though.

    1. That’s kind of what we did. 100% stocks plus a small cash balance into retirement. Paid off the mortgage within a couple of years during retirement. Then gradually sold off some stocks to buy bonds till we got to 90/10. Smart in hindsight given the current situation.

      1. Right now its been tough seeing the market going everywhere, but the only thing that’s going to truly alleviate the economic predicament and really the world is a subsiding of infections. 1-month, 3 months, 6 months, a year- who knows. There have been predictions, but no one knows. Important thing now is to keep that 6-ft distance from everyone when outside, consistently hand wash thoroughly, and try to keep your hands away from your face in that order.

  19. From Singapore here. We were hit with coronavirus about 2 months ago, and we survived. After some initial panic, people have mostly gone on with their normal lives. It takes a bit of adjustment, but people cannot live in fear for very long. Americans are a resilient and enterprising people, I’m sure you guys can ride it out. Honestly the rest of the world is counting on it.

    1. Thanks for the point of view from a place that’s already dealt with the virus. You are right – at some point we accept the new normal and go about life. Some businesses will suffer.

  20. Hi Justin,

    This is life. I think that this is a test on the FIRE. My take is that one remain invested and contribute new monies in the investment portfolio on a regular basis (if possible). This is much more easier for one with the full-time employment. There is no need to monitor the market at all if one is for the long term as per my perspective.

    Peace of mind is the way to go.

    WTK

  21. My husband and I just started working toward FI & we’re in our early 20s. Do you have an advice for what you suggest those working toward FI do in a down market like this? What would you do if you had $ to invest & were in your 20s right now?

    1. I’d do the following
      1- make sure you have a 6 month emergency fun in a high yield savings account
      2-Fully fund my 401k
      3-Fully fund a Roth IRA
      4-Put the rest into a taxable Vanguard or Fidelity account

      You could argue that #2 and #3 could be reversed. If reversed, first fund 401k to get any and all company match, then fill Roth, then go back to 401k until its full. At your age, I’d be 100% stocks. VTSAX, etc. I’m 45 and am 90% stocks

  22. Justin, hey hope you guys are well in this difficult time. I had a question on personal capital and wonder if you ever ran into this issue: my investments have not changed very much at all yet the income estimate is quite a bit different from “last year” versus “1 year”. I realize that the “1 year” starts today and goes back to March of 2019 and “last year” is calendar year 2019, but the difference is very substantial, like 13%. There is no way dividend increases could explain it especially because there is a nine month overlap. I also noticed that “1 year” includes capital gains distributions from mutual funds and I like to only count dividends.

    Just trying to get a sense of my true dividend income here as we all may be thinking about so we do not touch principal in a down market. Any thoughts or info would be greatly appreciated. Take care and be well! Best, Dixon

  23. Justin, you tweeted this comment:

    “Looks like we’ll be getting $3900 in coronavirus stimulus money. Debating between 30 shares of VTI or a couple of cruises once things are calmed down.

    Maybe I should give each of the kids their $500 stimulus funds?

    Decisions decisions… So conflicted!”

    Here’s my advice:

    I would like to tell you about a couple that got famous for the wrong thing.

    Mr. and Mrs. Pfeiffer lived in Pigott, Arkansas. They were a well-to-do couple who owned a goodly amount of good farmland.

    They got their 15 minutes of fame because their daughter married Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote some of his works in the studio they set up for him in their barn.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfeiffer_House_and_Carriage_House

    That’s not why they **should** have been famous, though.

    During the Great Depression, the Pfeiffers were still financially well off. A great very many people in their rural part of the world were not. My mom and her parents were from that area and she passed on this information about them to me.

    The Pfeiffers bought every single home-made quilt anyone brought to them and paid good money for them. They didn’t give a damn whether the quilt was well made or poorly made, everyone got good hard cash for those quilts.

    They also paid people to paint their house. Their house was painted many times each year. I suspect they didn’t care much whether the folks doing the painting were particularly skilled at house painting or not.

    They chose this way to give charity because the people they were helping had pride. They wanted to earn their own way in the world. By helping them in this way, the people receiving the help felt good about earning that money. They kept their pride.

    So, if you find yourself still prosperous during this horrible situation, be like the Pfeiffers. Find ways to help others.

    Hire folks who don’t have work to do something for you. Or donate to charities who will help them. Or just give money away to people who, thru no fault of their own, are suddenly in a world of financial hurt.

    Help your friends, your family, or just your fellow Americans and neighbors. We’ll get thru this if we all work together.

    Reject the cruel, callous “logic” of #DieForTheDow. Embrace #HelpAmericansEndure!

    1. I am all for helping others, and the government is banking on us spending this money. The cruise industry is hurting and employs many people. I take the view that the more we help business with this money the better. I won’t be getting a check, but if I did, I would try to find a way to help small business and particularly the restaurant industry since they are hurting the most. I am planning to double up my tip once we can leave the house. Personal decision and investing in America is always a good thing, I just feel bad for hospitality industry, I am sure they would appreciate it.

  24. I look forward to checking back when you are 65 to see if you are still so sure of your strategy. Good luck.

  25. Great thoughts! Sad that your trip to Spain was cancelled. This last fall we spent 81 day in Spain with 4 weeks in Madrid before trekking our way through the southern, Andalusian regions. Never got up north, maybe next time. Hopefully you’ll be able reschedule again. Highly recommend it. You can read about our experience here: https://www.ochosincoche.com/2019/12/27/ticket-to-ride-spain/

    Ticket to Ride is a great game. Another game you might enjoy that’s similar is Power Grid by Days of Wonder. Very similar “make connections between cities” but also adds some resource management challenges. Lot of fun.

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