Special COVID 19 Update – Late Starter to FI series

Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash

Are you wondering how our Late Starters #1 to #7 are doing in the current COVID 19 pandemic crisis? How has the crisis affected their overall strategy to retirement? How are they coping overall? 

Well, wonder no more … this is an EPIC round up from around the world. So, grab a cuppa and settle down to catch up with what has been happening …

Covid 19 is interesting. We have been in Work From Home mode for 5 weeks now. I still get dressed as if I am going to work, after all my usual morning routines. I even ‘walk to work’ a 20 minute round trip from home back to my (home) office. Gets my mindset changed from at home to being at work.

Both my partner and I are lucky enough to still be employed and both are able to work from home. I am an architect and the bulk of our work is hospitals, labs and teaching spaces, so we are busier than ever. My partner is an accountant for an online retail store, and sales for home office furniture and home sports equipment have seen them break sales records on multiple days. So both of us are working long hours and often on weekends – something that’s easy to do when your dining table has become your place of work.

Plus you want to be seen as a hard worker earning money for the business when they start making redundancies. I have been through this before.

To be honest, I love working from home. If I had a separate home office, I would aim to make it permanent.

Still paying 50% more against our mortgage than required, and we have upped our payments against our offset, which is also our emergency fund  – trying to get our emergency fund up in case things go pear shaped. Currently sitting at more than 12 months between the two of us, possibly more.

Finally looking to move my superannuation across from my managed fund to an industry fund – I know it’s the right thing to do but my financial planner has filled me with so much information on why I need to stick with her expensive fund. I have terminated her services though. Just haven’t moved the fund.

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

We are not eating out, of course, but we have started indulging in the local cafe a few times a week – a coffee for him and a chai latte for me, and a cake each! Support the local business. We are (mostly) vegan and so sometimes order in a meal from our favourite restaurants, but mostly we just cook for ourselves. We had thought about buying ready meals from our favourite restaurants and that we might do soon – there are some good deals out there and again, supporting our favourite businesses.

I have a membership at our local council pool ($11/week) which has been suspended while they are closed. I also have a membership at a Yoga Studio which I have had for a couple of years – $160 per month. They haven’t offered any sort of discount during lockdown. I think they should offer a discount since all their instructors are paid per class, so in theory the only overhead they have is rent. But I feel like I should be supporting them because I have the means to do so. Plus, they may still be paying their instructors. Who knows?

I bought a yoga mat which finally arrived. Doing classes on YouTube but it’s not the same as being in the studio. I really miss swimming laps at the pool!

I also haven’t had a hair cut in weeks. I normally get one every 3 to 4 weeks and it’s been close to 8 now. Luckily, she’s a great stylist (should be – very expensive; my one indulgence) so my hair still looks great (bit ragged around the ears). I also stopped shaving so I have this weird facial hair thing going on. I haven’t even styled it. It looks pretty disgusting. I am just experimenting. Even though you can still go to the barbers, I might wait till lock down restrictions have been lifted and then go to an old school barber and get a proper beard trim.

I am also doubling down on efforts to get a side hustle up. Work out ways to monetise my blog. And I have an idea for an information portal website to earn money through banner ads. Pat Flynn style – watch this space.

I think working from home has given me a taste of the ‘Tim Ferris’ lifestyle. I want more.

It makes me more determined than ever to develop many side gigs and make those my full time gig, long after I reach financial independence.

Connect with Shaun at https://projectpalmtree.com

 

If you read my blog, you will know that it is the simple things in life that I enjoy and we can still do many of these things. Having to remain at home is not having a great impact on our life as prior to the lockdown, our weekends were often spent in the house doing cleaning, gardening and DIY. We live in a small village, surrounded by lovely countryside and not far from the coast.

Over the Easter weekend, we hiked down to the coastal path and enjoyed a few hours out in the countryside. If this is not your thing, I would really encourage you to take the opportunity to enjoy your environment. Even if you live in a city, there will still be plants and wildlife to discover.

 

Photo by Sam Healey on Unsplash

As you know from my last post for Latestarterfire, my main focus is paying off my mortgage and saving more money so that I can work part time when I’m 55. Even with the current health pandemic, that is still my goal.

There are occasions when I wish that I didn’t work in the public sector, usually when I read suggestions about asking for a pay rise or getting a promotion, but at the moment I’m so grateful to be employed by the government. This means that I am still employed full time, although all my job is being done at home over the phone and by Skype. Unlike many others, this means that my income is exactly as it was before anyone ever heard of the corona virus and I do realise how lucky this makes me.

With my income at the same level, this means that I am still able to make those mortgage overpayments which bring the possibility of part time work closer. The other positive is that my outgoings have actually decreased. There’s no spending on petrol or any social activities. For April, I therefore have £200 left over and am trying to decide what to do with it.

The bad news is that my savings were running at a return of -20% at one point, but as I write are now back to only -3%. As I have only recently discovered the joys of index investing, I am actually showing a loss since I opened the account. I have kept my nerve though and haven’t sold anything. In fact, I’ve invested a bit more than usual because they say ‘everything is on sale’. 

Unlike those people in their twenties who have a decade or two before they need to draw on their pot of money, I only have four years before I plan to put my nest egg to work. The question is whether that is enough time for the stock market to rally. As anyone with any sense knows, no one has the answer. At present, I am therefore wrestling with the question of whether to invest my surplus income into my ISA or add it to our monthly mortgage overpayments.

So, on the whole, we are doing okay during these strange times. I am trying my best to keep positive by not listening to the news too much and instead, focusing on personal development podcasts to improve my mindset and try to use the extra time that we have in a productive way rather than just increasing my television viewing! I hope that you are all managing to do the same.

 

We are all adjusting to a new normal of quarantine, isolation, rationing and balancing home schooling with working from home. I wrote about how I’m coping here.

Chris in the middle of Thrash Metal Legends, Testament!

From a strategy standpoint, I haven’t really changed too much. Even though it can be scary, and markets are very volatile, I’m maintaining the same investment strategy because I’m in it for the long game. Ensuring I continue to invest in my 401K, and other investment accounts. 

I briefly talk about how I’m investing here in 2020. Because I’ve worked hard to live frugally, on much less than I earn, I’ve been able to be very intentional on where my money goes in terms of retirement and investment accounts.

Because the market was falling, and essentially any investments we can buy are now ‘on sale’, I was able to scrape together any savings and add it to my brokerage account. As I mentioned earlier, since I’m investing for the long term, probably about 7+ years out, I’m still somewhat gambling that the market will recover and have gains by then. Some would say I was foolish to do so. Some would say I’m still ‘timing the market’. But, I’m investing in index funds, and historically, they should represent gains by my retirement. 

Connect with Chris at Heavy Metal Money

 

So much has happened in the last 6 weeks that I am only just surfacing for air now. 

I am one of the lucky ones that has managed to keep my job during this turbulent time. For that I am truly grateful. The lines at Centrelink, the increased demand on food banks/charities and the small businesses who have no choice but to shut down are all heart breaking to see. Within the bounds of staying home as much as possible and staying safe, I am trying to spend more on take aways where possible to help out where I can.

On the financial side, my focus has changed quite a bit. Prior to the craziness and sudden stock market crash (hands up anyone who lost $$$$$). I actually just did my monthly numbers and had to take a few minutes to process it as in my case the loss was many tens of thousands.

That kind of loss in one month is breathtaking – as I’m sure it is for everyone who has money in the stock market. As Dave Ramsey says, the stock market is like a roller coaster, you only get hurt if you get off mid ride; ie sell when the stock market goes low. So I am holding on and watching to see what will happen. And isn’t volatility just like a roller coaster ride – except way less fun!

A renewable energy source - image from Pexels

When it all hit the wall and news of so many becoming ill and dying, I went into survival, probably panic, mode. I bought about 3 weeks of food, hired a treadmill at home and watched with increasing concern on rumours of runs on the banks etc. At that point, I decided to go even more safe and pulled most of my redraw funds into a separate bank account with a completely separate bank.

My concern was that if the banks were impacted by reduced mortgage payments etc then they could freeze the redraw funds. Normally redraw is where I keep my emergency funds, but not now. I also wanted to have the 6 months funds ready if my company shut up shop as I would have to get myself interstate to go back home.

So, with all that done, I continued to watch what was happening on the Australian and global stage.

Normally I’m pretty critical of the government and ScoMo (Australian Prime Minister) is a bit of a scone (how BAD was his handling of the bushfires!), but in this situation, I actually cannot help but praise their response. I acknowledge that some people will still be in terrible financial trouble but this government has read the situation and instead of bleating about the surplus, they did exactly what they should do – they threw money around like confetti to a large amount of the Australian community. And so they should. It was, and still is, critically important that people focus on their health and not put their lives at risk for money. Sadly, we have seen the result of that in the US – that is  a humanitarian disaster in the making.

I accept that we will all be paying for the debt in decades to come, but that is so much better than the horrendous losses of lives and livelihoods that could have been. I am more than happy to accept contributing to paying off this debt if it means that my and other’s family and friends stay safe and healthy. No amount of money is worth a trade for their lives.

On a personal front, given that the interest rates are now likely to remain at their near zero levels for the next few years, I’ve done a 180 degree turn in focus. Before the crash I was focused on a 60/40 split of excess money between paying down the mortgage on the rental property and putting money into shares. Also, putting money into getting myself organised for ultralight long distance hiking. 

I am still paying extra on mortgage, but only twice as much instead of about 6 times. I have made sure that the emergency fund stays plump and add a tiny amount to it each week. I don’t feel secure unless I have this ready to draw on in a time of need. Other than that, every extra $ is now being thrown at shares. I can’t help but feel that this opportunity might be my last big crash before I retire and I want to take every advantage of it that I can.

Lots of time reading articles on this crash versus previous ones leads me to wonder if it will be V, L or U shaped. Well, no matter, I can still see the advantage of building the portfolio now while things are ‘on sale’ with a view to enjoying the rise whenever it is. Some have even stated that we will likely see next an increase and then a far worse drop, say 50% before the share market will recover. Don’t know if I would bet on that but it will be interesting to watch.

The other thing that has changed is my retirement date. I thought maybe it might be in about 3ish years. Given everything that has happened, that is now probably closer to 5ish years, but sill significantly earlier than the normal age of 67. 

Life has become an endless round of long days at work, arriving home, dumping everything into one area, run in and shower, wash all clothes, disinfect keys, cards etc to be able to touch them the next day safely, sleep and then go to work again. Weekends and even Easter was spent sleeping and recovering. I am still doing all this every day and the constant stress is pretty wearing. 

I may look at changing jobs to something easier soon, but the fear when I consider that is more than I can cope with on top of everything else at this time. So, will put that aside until later.

 

Photo by JESHOOTS.com from Pexels

Wow, the world sure changed quickly, didn’t it? My wife and I are both educators. March and the first half of April were a blur while we spent our time and energy trying to ensure students are supported during the closure. This kept us from paying much attention to the financial impact. I wrote about Pandemics, Priorities and Public Service.

Now that we’ve had time to look at it – it hasn’t affected our plan much but it has changed our timeline. We are fortunate that we’ve remained employed and paid during the crisis. Given where we are in our careers, we don’t expect that to change.

We’ve continued to contribute to our investments. We’ve always been buy and hold index fund investors so the market fluctuations don’t change our strategy – though I can’t pretend it’s fun to watch.

Some of our expenses have gone down with stay at home, but we’ve balanced that out by intentionally spending more to support small business and give to charities. We’re fortunate, so we want to help smooth things for others if we can.

We’d originally projected to become financially independent by July 2022. We may still make it, but it’s less likely than before. It all depends on when the crisis ends and how long the recovery takes.

The crisis and market downturn have been a test of our plan and we’re okay with the results. Our plan is solid, but FI may be farther off. It’s a good reminder that you can control your actions, but not always the outcome.

Connect with Ed at EducatorFI

Photo by The Lucky Neko on Unsplash

The short answer is no, COVID 19 has had zero effect on my strategy, primarily because my focus for the next few years is to get my mortgage paid off. Probably the main thing is that I was planning to change the investment mix in my superannuation, but I’ve put that on hold for the moment until things settle down.

I’m very glad to have secure employment, but also very glad I have an emergency fund. 

Read what Fire for One wrote about what she was stoic about and what she was grateful about here.

Connect with Fire For One 

Like every other non essential worker during the pandemic shut down, I’m hunkered down at home. The big silver lining for me is spending time with my kids, ages 17 and 21. They’re getting ready to fly away from the nest and I will likely never have as much time with them again. Ever. So I’m loving that part of the shut down. 

I’m also enjoying waking up to my body clock rather than an alarm clock, taking long walks, writing and watching The Crown

That said, everything else is a bit scary.

First are health concerns. I’m worried about my parents (ages 84 and 90), who live in South Florida – a hot spot for the virus. And although I have no underlying health problems, I turned 60 in December so am in a higher risk category myself, as are my sisters and many of my friends. 

 

Deb and Obi

Then the financial concerns. I had to close my preschool, of course. The very generous parents of kids in my school all paid me for the month of April, despite the closure. I can’t count on their continuing support, especially if this goes on for a long time. So I furloughed my three teachers, who were all able to apply for unemployment benefits. I also applied for the Paycheck Protection Program, which is supposed to provide funds to small businesses under the new U.S. Cares Act. With those funds, I would be able to hire back my staff and pay them for eight weeks, as well as recoup some lost profits (which would tide me over). These are loans that I would not have to pay back if I used them according to the rules.

Unfortunately, the money for this program ran out before my loan was approved (and I applied within a day or two of applications becoming available). So now I’m waiting for Congress to appropriate more money to the program. Even then, I don’t know if my application will make it in before the new funds are gone.

So a lot of unknowns. No one knows when businesses can open up again. Much of that depends on the universality of testing, which remains a distant hope here in the US.

And even when things do start to open up, do I open my preschool? Two of my teachers are in their 60s (as am I). We know well what efficient germ spreaders children are. At the same time, people need childcare if they are to return to work. So I’m not sure what to do.

In the meantime, we’re waiting to hear about my daughter’s summer dance program in NYC and the training program she’s planning to attend in San Francisco in the fall. If those are cancelled, it will save me a lot of money – but it will break my daughter’s heart. We’re also waiting to see what will happen in the fall at my older daughter’s college. Again, if they keep the campus closed and go to online classes only, I’ll likely save some money, but she’ll be so unhappy to miss part or all of her senior year.

I have been working on my blog, which has not yet made any money (of course, I haven’t added any affiliate links. I love the writing, but have so much work to do to improve my marketing skills – work I don’t enjoy). I’ve been thinking about other income generating ideas, especially one connected to the blog. I would love to become a financial coach, especially working with people nearing retirement age who haven’t saved enough. I think I’d be good at it, but I’m fighting mindset issues including imposter syndrome.

My seven-year-to-retirement plan will definitely be impacted, but the future is so uncertain that I can’t yet make a new one. At the moment, I consider myself very fortunate. I have my health, my family, and enough money to be okay for a while. But like many, I’m living with the gnawing anxiety of possible long term financial disruption.

I hope all of you Latestarterfire readers remain safe, healthy and in good financial shape.

Back to Latestarterfire

Thank you, everyone for contributing to this special COVID 19 update and sharing your current strategy with us. It is so interesting to read how COVID 19 has affected us, living in different parts of the world. This is a truly global crisis, with far ranging implications on how we live, work, connect with others, and of course our finances are impacted as a result.

Lessons I learnt from our Late Starters:

(1) Use this time of working from home to explore new income streams 

(2) Support local businesses and increase charity contributions if we can

(3) Emergency funds are CRUCIAL to surviving an … emergency – a pandemic would classify as an emergency

(4) Continue to invest in retirement accounts and index funds 

(5) Continue to pay down debt – some still aggressively, others pulled back a little

(6) Continue to track expenses and decide what to do with any excess funds – boost emergency fund, pay down mortgage, invest more in index funds, help local businesses 

(7) Take advantage of any government schemes to help us through this period (I hope you have better luck in the next round, Deb) 

(8) Once again, it is a question of time. Timelines to retirement may be delayed – no one knows by how much – lots of uncertainty and unknowns – all depends on how fast the recovery is after the crisis ends

(9) Enjoy our time of enforced quarantine and isolation to connect with partners and children living with us

(10) There are still simple things in life we can enjoy in lockdown – from going for long walks to a chai latte and cake 🙂

(11) Our worries and hopes are universal – we worry about the health of our families and economies, and hope for a swift recovery

Thank you for reading and connecting during this time of stress and anxiety. And once again, I really appreciate our Late Starters sharing their updates with us.

Please stay safe and healthy (physically and mentally), everyone! 

 

How has COVID 19 affected your FI strategy and life in general? What lessons did you learn from our Late Starters?

7 Replies to “Special COVID 19 Update – Late Starter to FI series”

  1. Thanks for doing this LSF.

    A really great idea and really interesting to see how everyone is sounding positive, regardless of their circumstances. People seem generally positive about continuing to invest, sometimes at greater rate than pre pandemic times, or upping Emergency funds, or both.

    People seem to think that their retirement dates have been pushed out. History has shown that a significant down turn is normally followed by an even more significant upswing. so hopefully everyones retirement plans will reamin on track.

    Thanks again for sharing this.

    Shaun

    1. Shaun, I really like the fact that you still have your morning routines and are getting dressed for work, then ‘walking’ to the office. I think this is so important and yet most of my colleagues aren’t doing it. Instead they are spending their days in their pyjamas! You’re obviously also doing a lot to support local businesses, which is great. Like you, I can no longer go to exercise classes, but the Pilates membership site I have joined is great as it provides a suggested monthly routine to follow rather than just picking random ones on YouTube. It was only £107 for the year. Don’t know the exchange rate from Australian Dollars to Pounds, but your gym sounds very expensive! Maybe you might find a similar yoga membership site on line. Best wishes, Sam

      1. I love Shaun’s ‘walking’ to the office too – I was laughing so hard when I first read it.

        I’m struggling with personal training via Zoom – just can’t quite get the hang of it. I struggle with seeing my trainer’s demonstration – I have to look closely at the phone then put it down to do whatever it is I have to do then pick up phone again etc. Your Pilates membership site sounds good though I’m hoping that very soon, we can go back to training outdoors again. My fitness is deteriorating at a rapid rate at the moment.

    2. You are welcome, Shaun!

      I’m very grateful for everyone’s enthusiasm in contributing to this post. I love the positive attitudes too. When we pursue FI later in life, we have an arsenal of skills, tools and past lived experiences to help us weather any storms ahead. But got to admit, this is a very major storm!

  2. Thanks for this round up LSF. Much of what’s been said chimes with my experience at the moment and gives me confidence in my own approach. I’ve taken advantage of a drop in mortgage interest rate to use the saving to overpay by a bit more. I’m saving money by not commuting, and have diverted that to doing more exercise online to keep my sanity. I’m also trying to spend a bit on small charities and local businesses and keep sane by enjoying the local environment. My pension fund has taken a big hit, but my plan won’t change, just maybe have to be pushed back a bit. Good to hear from you all and good luck!

  3. You are welcome, Maria! I’m very glad that our stories are helpful to your own situation. I think most of us are anticipating pushing out retirement dates but who knows? Like Shaun commented above, maybe there’ll be a big upswing and we’ll be ok. I think the important thing is not to give up on our plan!

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