How Has Covid-19 Affected Your FIRE Journey? Part 2

FIRECracker
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In my quest to find out if FIRE works during bear markets as well as be bull markets, I’m interviewing friends in the FIRE community, who are in different parts of the FIRE journey, to see how covid-19 has affected their financial plans.

Last time, we featured Clover from SimplyCloverLiving, a flight attendant who is still saving 50% of a government subsidy despite being on a job hiatus due to the pandemic. Read her interview here.

Today, we have Sandy and Belinda (note: names have been changed for anonymity), a pair of Chautauquans who are on different paths of the FIRE journey. Sandy works in the public sector and Belinda is in tech.

When it comes to couples and financial independence, it important for both parties to be on board. Otherwise, you have one FIRE enthusiast, but the other who doesn’t get it at all, so you end up rowing in opposite directions and end up going nowhere fast.

In this case, Sandy eventually managed to convince Belinda to come along, but this did not come easily. Let’s find out how they did it, shall we?

 

1) How far along are you on your FIRE journey? (please provide %’s for each person)

Combined we are slightly more than halfway there. Sandy has already reached FI while Belinda is at 25% and still has some way to go.

 

2) How did you discover FIRE?

Sandy:
I have always been interested in being financially independent (before I knew the term) but I discovered there is a community and an acronym from this blog. For years I thought Firecracker just really liked fireworks.

Belinda:
In the past, I used to be very financially illiterate. Sandy helped me become comfortable with finances through sharing articles, books, or links to podcasts. One such book that helped me grasp FIRE as a concept was Vicki Robin’s book ‘Your Money or Your Life’. Through reading her book, I learned a great deal about the basics of money, how to calculate my FIRE number, and learned how money is tied to the ability to make choices freely. For the first time in my life I began tracking my expenses and actually sought out other FIRE content to learn more, including tuning in to podcasts by MadFientist, ChooseFI, and of course reading articles on Millennial Revolution.

 

FIRECracker: Ha ha. I do love fireworks. And also, firework-themed popsicles:

Yup. I only bought these just because of the name. I regret nothing.

 

3) What I find fascinating about your story is that as a couple, you’re at different stages of FIRE. Will you be retiring together? Or will one person be leaving work while the other continues working? How do you navigate this difference, and has it impacted your relationship at all?

Since discovering FIRE, we’ve been very open about our numbers and end goals. Initially it was our goal to work until the both of us reached FI together. However, as time went on the income gap between Sandy’s side hustle versus Belinda’s job was just too wide. It did not make sense to stick to our original plan anymore so we shifted our focus from when can we retire together to who can retire first.

Having a gap between incomes can be tough for some couples and mentally draining to juggle. Some things that helped us come to terms with these feelings include:

  • Acknowledging that although Sandy will be quitting her job first this doesn’t mean she’ll stop working entirely. Anything she does after leaving her day job will benefit us as a whole.
  • Accepting that although Sandy will have more time to travel, Belinda would try to join as frequently as her job allows.
  •  Discussing what our roles would look like in the home when one of us retires before the other.

 

4) What are your plans after FIRE-ing?

We plan to travel and explore different parts of the world. We’d love to escape the country during cold months and live in places where the temperature is warm. We would also like to try different passion projects too and become more active as a result. Sandy will also sleep more.

 

5) One of you has a side hustle that, over time, has come to far exceed the income you make from your day job. Can you tell us a bit about that?

 

I sell on Amazon as my side hustle. What started as below minimum wage pay has now far exceeded the day job income. It was a lot of work and definitely not a “get rich quick” deal. That being said, if you are willing to stay the course and you picked the right side hustle, the long term benefits usually outweigh the short term sacrifice. I have worked roughly the same amount of hours every year yet my income increased drastically since efficiencies are found and time savings are implemented.

The business is the only reason that allowed me to reach FI early despite graduating late, not investing properly and having a VERY low starting salary – I think my first year working I made 24k. My day job salary is decent now but without my side hustle, reaching FI would have taken 10+ years longer.

Here’s some napkin math for a quick explanation in terms of time saved:

Let’s say Person A and B both save $15,000 each year on an after tax income of $50,000 each. Both have a savings rate of 30% :

($15,000*2/$50,000*2)*100 = 30%

If person A grows a business that makes $30,000 per year after tax, A’s saving rate is now 56%:

($15,000+ $30,000)/($50,000 + $30,000) *100 = 56%

While both savings rates are good, if you look at # of years, it really highlights the time expedited. For every year A works, B has to work 3. At Year 3, B would have had to work 6 EXTRA years to be at the same number. This is also before other benefits such as efficiency, scalability and potential exit (this factor by itself can bolster someone from 0 to FI). Once you add in everything, it can make a big difference.

 

6) Has the pandemic affected your finances?

Since we have been saving the past several years, we were prepared for the worst during the pandemic. Unexpectedly, the pandemic benefited our finances. With everything shut down, we ate out less, cancelled Belinda’s bus pass and entertainment/travel went down to $0. We also negotiated reduced rent by paying 3 months in advance.

Being confined in our house has also made us realize how easy it is to do the things we used to love at lower costs. For example, we tried cooking our favourite dishes for the first time and tried different indoor exercise routines. The habits we formed through this time will most likely be a staple in our life long after the pandemic is over.

 

7) What do your parents/family members think about your FIRE plans?

Sandy:
Didn’t bother explaining to them, I try to keep my life simple. My mental energy is limited and I rather use it to focus on current goals.

Belinda:
I have not talked to my parents about my FIRE plans either. It’s very common in my culture for parents to expect monetary gifts from their children. If I told them my FIRE plans, they’ll feel entitled to ask for money in the future.

 

8) What were your finances like before and after discovering FIRE?

Sandy:

My finances were always decent but I thought I needed way more money to retire. FIRE made me realize that I didn’t need as much money as I initially thought. I see this happen outside a lot of this community where someone is spending 40k a year and claims they need 8 million to retire.

Belinda:
Although I’ve always been very responsible financially, I was never money savvy. For example, prior to discovering FIRE I used to work at 2 different part-time jobs just to earn a full-time income. The money I earned would go into a regular chequing account. I was short sighted and didn’t value my time or make the best financial decisions.

After I discovered FIRE through Vicki Robin’s book, I began to see finance in a whole new light. One particular exercise in her book required me to track all the money I’ve ever earned in my life. I became very aware of how little money I’ve earned despite working so hard. As sad as it was to come face to face with my numbers, this exercise helped change my mindset from how to save more money to how to make more money. I began to use my time more wisely on personal development and improving my financial knowledge.

Fast forward 2 years from that point, I was able to find a job in tech that paid me 4x more after going back to school for a career change, and created a high interest saving account and Questrade account to invest my money.

 

9) Do you have any advice for those who are in a similar place on their FIRE journey(s)?

Sandy:
Money isn’t the only thing that compounds, so pick and choose based on what kind of life you want to live.

Be aware of cognitive biases so you make better decisions or at least know why you made a poor decision.

If you want to start a side hustle, ideally pick something that can be scaled, has a reasonable likelihood to make money and you’re okay sticking with 2 yr +. Managing expenses is of course very important but earning more and spending less are not mutually exclusive. If anything, starting a side hustle might make you spend less since you’re working in your spare time.

Belinda:
I used to hate finances. Sandy and I used to get into heated arguments whenever the topic came up. Thankfully Sandy was always very patient with me and only shared content about FIRE when the topic was relevant to the moment.

If you’re in a relationship where one spouse is not on board with the FIRE journey, much like me a few years ago, the strategy is to sell the end goal, not the process.

Although it took years of convincing, I eventually caved after I discovered how much I enjoyed traveling. Once I realized my end goal, the rest became history. Without any convincing on Sandy’s part, I began tracking my expenses under my own accord, read books to educate myself on finances, and changed my habits to fit my post-FIRE lifestyle.

***

That’s fantastic advice! From observing other FIRE couples, specifically ones with “dragged along spouses” , we’ve noticed this “sell the end goal, not the process” pattern too. That’s kind of why we keep putting up glamorous pictures of us travelling the world. It works! Thanks, Sandy and Belinda!

What do you think? Do you have a “drag along” spouse? If so, how are you planning to get them on board with FIRE?

Click here for part 3.


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23 thoughts on “How Has Covid-19 Affected Your FIRE Journey? Part 2”

  1. Great interview! It’s nice to get a peek behind the curtain at how other couples organize their finances. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and perspectives!

    My wife came from a higher-earning and higher-spending family than I did (a country club membership, replacing cars every 3-4y instead of when the wheels fell off, etc) but her perspective on saving is much more down-to-earth than mine was. I play with numbers and drive 401(k)/HSA savings for fun, while she’s the one who quietly amasses a year and a half of living expenses in a bank account. We complement each other nicely. When I got rabid about FIRE five years or so ago, she kinda shrugged her shoulders and said “I don’t see a downside”… so we’re both all-in. SCORE.

    (To be fair, I’ve taken a page from your “sell the end goal” technique. Two weeks in Merida in the middle of winter persuaded more than any numbers I could possibly spout. :D)

    1. “Two weeks in Merida in the middle of winter persuaded more than any numbers I could possibly spout.”

      Genius! Perfectly timed too. Way to sell that end goal! And very cool that you compliment each other. It seems that in FIRE the dynamic between the abundance mindset and scarcity mindset is the perfect fit.

      1. Great detailed story! Unfortunately my wife does not understand the investing and FIRE. But luckily she is not a big spender either and saves her 80% salary! So far going good for me!

  2. ’The habits we formed through this time will most likely be a staple in our life long after the pandemic is over.‘ I love this quote and will reflect on it during this unprecedented period. Congratulations on your successes so far and thanks for sharing your story.

    1. I know right? There’s a silver lining to everything. I suspect many people will have develop skills out of necessity out of the pandemic and be able to use it forever. We had to improve our cooking skills and it’s definitely paying off.

  3. Covid19 definitely changed us. One of the things that has become crystal clear is that we will definitely be living in the same current city for the next 15 years minimum (combination of a ton of factors). So we are planning on now buying a house when all those foreclosures start popping up in the next 6-18 months. (20% unemployment with 30% of homeowners who asked for mortgage deferrals is for sure going to result in a fair number of foreclosures – or forced sales due to divorce etc since the divorce rate also goes up in a recession). Aside from that no changes, still saving 65% of our income – thankfully we still have our jobs and more time to work on our side hustles) 🙂
    (I should maybe clarify we’ not planning on making out our limit on the house budget- something small but tolerable lol).

    1. Yeah, we also thought about whether it makes sense for us to get into the housing market if the math starts to tip in favour of owning. Already I’m seeing more listings and a slight dip in prices, but long term rental prices are also going down so in our city rent still beats owning for now. We’ll see. Hope you find a house that fits your budget!

  4. My path to FIRE lead me to the Middle East. My husband and I are working in the medical field and get paid significantly more here than we would in the states. When we left the states in 2014, we didn’t even know about FIRE. We just wanted to get out of debt. Fast forward 6 years and we are 3/4th of the way to lean FIRE. We long to return home and miss “normal.” Working as a health care provider in a foreign country during the COVID-19 crisis has been a experience that further reinforces our push to FI. Thank you for your interviews and blog.

    1. Wow. You went from debt and not knowing about FIRE to 3/4 of the way there! Amazing. Stay safe! Hope you get to return home soon.

  5. Hi, good article.As a practising physician, I was wondering why during this trying time,why I was still working in the hospital and worrying about whether I would be spreading to my loved ones. I started my FIRE a few years back and hopefully will reach there in 3 years.
    I just hope to spend more time with my family and only FIRE can give me that freedom.

  6. When I introduced the FIRE concept to my husband 5 years ago he didn’t quite get it and wasn’t sure about the amount of sacrifice involved.
    A year later, after some good conversations and a job he really was not enjoying, it suddenly clicked and from that moment he was all in. In fact, he appreciated the path so much that he became a huge advocate, sharing it with his close friends and family.
    I can’t imagine our lives now without FIRE in it, the reduced consumerism, the focus on value and happiness, the security and freedom that comes from having savings and passive income to see you through many years, if not the rest of our lives…
    A year ago we decided he should FIRE and I would continue to work part time. We share our finances so the decision wasn’t based on an income perspective but rather who’s happiness levels stood to gain the most.
    I don’t mind my job at the moment and my income is significantly higher than I ever anticipated it to be so I feel that it’s still worth it while we haven’t reached 100%FI yet.
    My plan is to quit next year (I’m 40 and he’s 43) and spend the first year slow travelling Asia if we can by then.
    Thanks for this great post, i love hearing about how other couples approach this journey.

    1. “decision wasn’t based on an income perspective but rather who’s happiness levels stood to gain the most.”

      Love this! Congrats on almost becoming FI and maybe we’ll see each other somewhere in Asia once things open back up again 🙂

  7. Are Sandy and Belinda another same-sex couple? Difficult to tell. If so, it is nice to see a similar couple to my own. I am all in with FIRE but my husband, although on board for the most part, a fair bit less.

    The only friction is the 10% of expenditure I see as completely ridiculous but he sees as goods and services modern human beings can’t expect to go without (new clothes, fortnightly dumplings (our attempts at home making these were atrocious) and overpriced haircuts mainly). His philosophy is we can simply earn more to cover these and maintain high savings and he has followed through by turbo charging past me and usurping my status as main breadwinner. I am a stickler for savings rates and relative savings whereas he thinks absolute terms matter more. However, you pick your battles and I chose to lose at that one. When we bring this up in a light hearted manner in front of our friends, he gets unanimous support from our gay friends whereas our straight friends are more divided. Not sure what it is.

    1. As a gay man pursuing FIRE, I agree that it’s nice to hear from others in the LGBTQ+ community who are also on the FIRE journey. I’d love to find a gay FIRE blogger out there! (Who knows; given some recent changes in my own life, maybe I’ll become what I seek…)

      1. There definitely is one blog. It’s two women who’ve got a child together. We spoke on the comments of a previous article and they also mentioned the low number of LGBT people in the FIRE community but I can’t quite recall their names or blog (I believe plus one was mentioned). Perhaps this couple are them?

    2. “Are Sandy and Belinda another same-sex couple?” Yes, they are.

      And yes I agree, sometimes you gotta pick your battles. It’s interesting you mention that your gay friends are supportive whereas your straight friends are divided. Not sure why that is either. *shrugs* Ah well. From the other couples I’ve spoken to, it seems the reluctant one/spendy one has to come to FIRE on their own. Pushing them never works. So it’s a process.

      1. The gay friends think I’m crazy and are supportive of my husband. The straight friends divide between us both 🙂

  8. Excellent post. Really wish I could connect with you both in person. My military daughter is in Petawawa so once the situation is improved I plan to go east from Vancouver and will get in touch. Please keep all of us readers updated on your thoughts. B

    1. Hey Barb! Great to hear from you! Best wishes for your daughter and hope she stays safe. If you’re ever in Toronto, let us know. Can’t wait to catch up.

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