How 2020 Taught Us What Really Matters

Follow Me
Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay

The end of the year is typically a time of reflection. As the holidays arrive, it gives us all a quiet moment to look back on all the things that happened during the year. And while every year has its ups and downs, 2020 will forever stand out as a year we will simultaneously always remember and wish desperately we could forget.

This year felt like a goddamned decade. Remember, this year started off with half of Australia on fire. Donald Trump was impeached. The US assassinated an Iranian general, putting America and Iran on the path to all-out war, a war that only got averted because the Iranians accidentally shot down one of their own passenger airlines.

That all happened. This year. In January!

And on a personal level, this year has been like nails on a f*cking chalkboard. I’ve alluded vaguely to a family health emergency all year, so today I’ll just come out and say it: At the beginning of this year, my dad was diagnosed with brain cancer.

To say this was a shock would be a massive understatement. My dad is one of the healthiest, fittest and most athletic people I know (a trait that he in no way passed onto me). In his 70s, he still regularly mops the tennis court with people half his age. So when we found out about this, we were absolutely devastated.

And oh yeah, then the goddamned pandemic hit.

So we started this year off in Indonesia bawling our eyes out while trying to navigate our way back home as the airline industry was getting shut down and governments were throwing up border restrictions left and right. Then when we got back home, it was time to navigate the already-stressful world of brain surgeries, chemo, and radiation therapy inside a health care system that was in the process of being overwhelmed by this new and deadly disease. All the news out there of ICU beds being overwhelmed and surgeries getting cancelled directly impacted our family, and we were within a hair’s breadth of dad not being able to get the care he desperately needed.

Seriously, f*ck this year. F*ck it so hard. Zero out of five stars, would not pandemic again.

There’s something about an experience like this that really clarifies your thinking. Things that seemed so important just a few months ago like book sales or blog stats seem frivolous now. And things that we had been taking for granted like spending time with our family took on an outsized importance. You really don’t know what’s important to you until something tries to take it away.

But this year has changed my personal outlook in ways that even I didn’t expect. Here’s a few.

Don’t Wait to Live the Life You Want

When our story hit the media five years ago when we just started travelling, a lot of attacks got lobbed our way. Quitting our job and travelling the world was selfish. Frivolous. Tone-deaf. How dare we throw away two perfectly good jobs when so many people were out of work? How dare we travel and enjoy ourselves when there was so much misery in the world? What about the environment? What about income inequality?

Five years later, I have realized that we made exactly the right call.

There are always a million reasons not to do something. But if your post-retirement plans are anything like ours and involve lots of travel, do it as soon as you possibly can.

I didn’t know it at the time, but living out of a backpack and travelling nomadically really only works when you are healthy, your partner is healthy, and all 4 of your parents are healthy. The minute even one person in that extended group starts having serious health issues, your options for travelling narrow dramatically.

And while I don’t think that our travelling days are over, for the near to medium term our wings have been temporarily clipped. So looking back, I am super grateful we pulled the trigger when we did and as a result got five whole years of continuous worry-free nomadic travel out of it.

When it comes to pulling the trigger on early retirement, the FIRE community is split into two camps: The first is the optimistic “everything will be fine” group that advocates quitting the minute you hit your FI target, and the second is the more cautious “but what about this, that and the other” group that obssesses over backup plans and endlessly debates safe withdrawal rates.

We have historically been proud members of the second group, but after this year I’m finding myself more aligned with the first. If your numbers look good, you and your partner are healthy, and your parents are healthy, don’t even hesitate. Quit tomorrow and start travelling. Because those years in which you have the money and nobody in your family is sick is worth more than anything money could ever buy.

Stop Giving Away Your Time

When we enter this world, we all have a certain amount of time to spend on it. Some have a lot, others not so much. But none of us knows exactly how much time we have. The only thing we know for sure is that eventually, it ends.

That makes time the most precious resource we all have. Unlike money, time cannot be recovered, refunded, or manufactured. Once it’s been spent, it’s gone.

Which makes it mind-bogglingly frustrating how cavalier people are with it.

One of the things that world central banks did to combat the economic effects of this disease was to drop interest rates to near zero. This made it easy for businesses to access credit and keep themselves afloat, which is great. But it also dropped mortgage rates as well.

The rational response would be to use this opportunity to refinance your existing debt, bringing down the monthly payment and allowing you to pay it off faster. But instead, people have done the opposite. They’ve taken this once-in-a-generation opportunity to go on a shopping spree, snapping up houses at inflated prices and causing housing markets to idiotically go up even though unemployment is still rampant.

All that makes me want to grab people by their lapels and yell “You just signed away 30 years of your life to a bank! For what? A condo and a set of granite countertops?”

Your time is the only thing you can truly control. Stop giving it away to companies who don’t give a shit about you.

Time and Health Are The Only Thing That Matters

Compounding this problem of limited time is that only a fraction of that time is spent being healthy. Time without health is no fun, so it’s really not just time but the amount of time spent in good health that’s really the most precious commodity you have.

And at the end of the day, that’s what this blog is really about.

On the surface, we appear to be a finance blog. But we’re not really.

A pure finance blog cares only about money. How to make more, how to grow more, all so you can spend more. That’s actually not who we are.

Money is just a tool. Slips of paper in your wallet or bits on a computer screen. By itself, it has no meaning.

But what money allows you to do, if you use it properly, is it gives you back your time. Time to spend with your family, time to travel the world, time to do what you want. And that’s what this blog is about.

Because again, at the end of the day, all we have that we can truly call our own is time. So spend it wisely.

At Least 2020 is Finally Coming To An End

So 2020 is finally coming to an end. For many of us, it can’t come fast enough. Good riddance, I say.

But even in a year of shit, there were some bright spots. My dad’s situation has improved dramatically. Despite the fact that his type of brain cancer is extremely resistant to treatment, he has seemingly beaten the near impossible odds and is now symptom-free a year later.

Australia’s no longer on fire. The US election didn’t devolve into a violent civil war as many had feared. And we now have multiple vaccines that promise to put an end to this miserable little virus.

So while 2020 was a raging dumpster fire, I think 2021 will turn out much better.

And when 2021 comes, we will still be here. Teaching people how to master their money so they master their time. So that you, me, and every reader of this blog can spend as much of their time and their health as possible doing things that make them happy, with people that they love.

Merry Christmas, everyone. Happy Holidays. And please please Stay Safe. 

Hi there. Thanks for stopping by. We use affiliate links to keep this site free, so if you believe in what we're trying to do here, consider supporting us by clicking! Thx ;)

Build a Portfolio Like Ours: Check out our FREE Investment Workshop!

Travel the World: Get flexible worldwide coverage for only $45.08 USD/month with SafetyWing Nomad Insurance

Multi-currency Travel Card: Get a multi-currency debit card when travelling to minimize forex fees! Read our review here, or Click here to get started!

Travel for Free with Home Exchange: Read Our Review or Click here to get started. Please use sponsor code kristy-d61e2 to get 250 bonus points (100 on completing home profile + 150 after first stay)!

50 thoughts on “How 2020 Taught Us What Really Matters”

  1. Love this blog, it has been one of the highlights of 2020 for me. Usually b/c it echoes strongly how I’m feeling any given week. I’m grateful for all that you do and glad to hear that your dad is doing better. 2020 has been a magical shitshow that I am grateful is almost over. Much love and best wishes from Alabama!

  2. This was a wonderful post and echoes my sentiments EXACTLY — I work in health care with seniors, and the best part of my job is having exposure to people who are not in the best of health and on the twilight side of their journey here on earth – so I get a DAILY reminder that time is short and health is not guaranteed; this has truly informed how I see the world
    Good for you to have discovered that so early on
    Glad to hear how well your dad is doing- all that tennis likely helped his outcome

  3. This is a wonderful article to read. We all want to believe that we will be one of the lucky few who has at least 85 healthy years… but alas none of us knows what category we will ultimately fall into.
    I’ve been delaying retirement, but after the year’s events it seems so obvious that it is the best choice when it becomes available economically.
    There will always be risk out there, but corona has really helped me understand how the biggest risks are really unknown.
    That said, you have to listen to your own intuition as to what is best for you instead listening to the naysayers.

  4. I’m so glad you came out and said that the nomadic slow travel lifestyle really works IF you’re healthy and all relatives are healthy. For myself and for my family, this is not the case, and I am struggling to figure out how to juggle those realities with how I would like to live and geoarbitrage. There is some definite truth to the concept I’ve heard (and experienced!) that millennials don’t understand how their FIRE lifestyle may not work for those who are older.

    And I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s diagnosis. My heart goes out to you all!

  5. The only appropriate response for this post is is *mic drop*
    Well said, time is way more valuable than money and this has been my realization this year as well.

  6. This blog post was spot on. It’s like you are weirdly reading my mind. Glad your dad is doing so well all things considered. Fingers crossed for 2021!

  7. Best wishes to you and your family for continued remission and good health ❤️ I am FI, working out a good ending for RE, and both parents have dementia and I am solely responsible 😢 I am blessed with whatever time I have with my parents and glad MB will know her grandparents at least a little bit. Happy holidays and Merry Christmas, tigermom and mb

  8. Thank you for the wonderful insight in your article! So true what you have written,how we take time for granted!
    I am glad your dad is on the mend,I am sure his active lifestyle (tennis ) helped in his recovery.
    Wishing you and both your families a happy festive season,good riddance 2020 and for a better 2021

  9. I’m so sorry to hear about your dad’s diagnosis, but so glad to hear that he is responding well to the treatment. I hope 2021 is a better year for everyone. Thank you for continuing to change lives by teaching so many of us about smart investing. I crossed a major financial milestone this year in my portfolio, and I attribute this blog with so much of my financial knowledge and motivation to save aggressively. After a year of working remotely due to the pandemic and finally losing the anxiety that I used to feel when I was physically in the office, I know I will never return to the frantic pace of pre-pandemic life – commuting, sitting at a desk all day, pretending to look busy, getting home after dark. Early retirement is finally in reach for me, and I am so grateful to what you and Kristy have taught me about finances, freedom and enjoying life. Wishing you and your family health and happiness!

  10. I don’t understand why others suggest it’s selfish to give up a desirable job you no longer want. Isn’t it better if it goes to someone who wants or needs it more? I share your optimism about 2021 and look forward to your reflections as FIRE unfolds closer to home. Thank you for sharing your father’s progress. I’m glad that you and Kristy are near him while he undergoes treatment.

  11. Glad your dad is better! Hopefully, there’s only upside in many things in 2021.

    We had a baby at the end of 2019, so we weren’t going to be traveling in 2020 anyway. I don’t even know whether I want to travel with a baby in 2021. Memories don’t really start forming until 3-5.

    To good health!


  12. Bryce, I’m SO glad your dad’s out of the woods and may he stay that way for a good long time!!! I completely agree that time is so much more precious than money, yet so many forget that. And, health is wealth – everywhere but especially in the USA where I live. I would also add, for those who lack motivation to be healthier, to think about those you love most and what the impact will be on them if *you* get sick prematurely. It’s one thing for one’s parents to get sick, it’s quite another for one’s mate, since presumably your mate is about your age. Being sick doesn’t just rob *you* of the travel and experiences *you* could get, it will also rob the people you’d share these experiences and travel with. So if you can’t get motivated to eat right, exercise, sleep enough etc for yourself, do it for those you love. But in the meantime, good riddance to 2020, and all my best wishes for a wonderful and healthy 2021 to you, Kristy and your families!!!

  13. I struggle with balancing ‘don’t wait to live the life you want’ with saving for retirement. This year, as well as this post, is making me think that perhaps a series of sabbaticals is better than aggressively saving for a retirement that’s 10+ years away? Especially for people who are at considerable risk of not being healthy enough for nomadic living once they reach their projected retirement date?
    I haven’t taken great care of my health, I don’t have great genes (my Dad died of a heart attack at 59) and I already (at 37) have difficulty walking long distances! So I’m seriously considering a sabbatical once travel returns to normal – assuming that that happens before my projected retirement date in 4-5 years!
    Merry Xmas Wanderer and FIRECracker, and best wishes to your Dad Wanderer

  14. Thank you Bryce for sharing your personal challenge. I pray that you, Kristy, and your parents have good health. Indeed this has been a trying year for all of us. On the bright sight, both my husband and I have not had COVID. Both you and Kristy have not had COVID, I assume. So we are very blessed. I need to keep on praying and be thankful.

  15. Thank you for your post. I’m happy to hear your dad is cancer free. I think you are both wonderful for focusing on what is truly important. I believe you have been on this path from the beginning. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  16. I’m glad your bad is getting better. I pray from him. Your book has changed my life. I’m on the FIRE path because of it. I recommended it to all my friends. Happy holidays and best wishes!

  17. I’m glad that your father is better. Wishing you and yours good health in 2021 and beyond!

    Dan V
    Taipei, Taiwan

  18. I agree with you 100% about using time wisely. My father died at a relatively young age – I have already passed the age at which he died. Every day I wake up and appreciate that I am retired and healthy and can do whatever I want. I hope your father continues to recover and be well.

  19. As an investor, I am liking the mortgage prices as well as the promise to allow more immigrants into Canada next year. Already got one pre-sale (which went up $50k in value since I purchased) and am looking at another. Don’t plan to live in any of them but am diversifying my assets. Have lots in ETFs and now rental properties will become another cash stream. Let’s hope the mortgages go lower.

  20. While 2020 may have sucked in most ways, maybe the bright spot is that we can all appreciate our freedom, health and family more.

    I for one will be making some major life changes when the world opens up again. My day job is great in that it kept me busy during the pandemic, but there is literally zero passion there.

    So glad to hear your dad has improved! Here’s to 2021 🥂!!!

  21. I am glad your father is feeling better, great article thanks for sharing.
    What I have learned in 2020 :
    Conservative assets allocation is crucial to hedge against stock melt-down .. why 60-70% of Stock allocation is better than 100%
    Bond, Cash and Precious Metals did help me sleep through March-April stock draw down.
    Personally :
    Adjustment and to your plan and priorities in life is very crucial during the time of crisis, human adaptation is a very important to survive wars, pandemic and natural disasters.

  22. First of all, great to hear that your father is doing well Wanderer. Thanks, as always, for your openness. This is an excellent post that gives a lot of perspective to this year and our precious commodity of time in general. Very inspiring to read. Keep up the great work!

  23. Great article, as always! Very touching and spot on. I’m a faithful reader despite also being one of those silly people that bought a house. So glad to hear your dad is doing better… here’s to a better 2021!

  24. “Seriously, f*ck this year. F*ck it so hard. Zero out of five stars, would not pandemic again.” YES AND AMEN!

    My mom, also in her 70’s, had a sudden bout with cancer which she is recovering well from so again, F*ck this year, I want a full refund!

    Glad to hear your dad is doing well.

    Great piece here. Funny, raw & wise.

    Happy holidays to you too

  25. Glad your dad is doing better. I’m also hoping next year is significantly more mellow than this year. Either way, looking forward to your future posts. Happy Holidays

  26. So happy your Dad is on the mend. I’m grateful for 2020, it bought be so much clarity due to the exact reasons you outlined above. Giving majority of my time to any company , that can lay me off at anytime, for any reason, ain’t it! Let’s stop putting all our faith in our bank accounts and money, this world can fall apart at any time.

    Time is a limited commodity and I am determined to design a life that prioritizes my relationship with the Creator, family, my blog/website and travel.
    Also, thank you both for generously offering your investing knowledge for free!

  27. Firstly, I’m so pleased your dad is on the mend. Health really is the first wealth. This maybe the most profound article I’ve read on your wonderful blog.
    It’s not until something big like this happens you realise just how perfect life was before and why on earth you were sweating all that (in perspective) small stuff.

    I’ve started my investment journey this year after reading nearly all of your blog and book. Thank you for all your wise and witty words.

    I wish both of you and your families the very best for the future <3

  28. Love this post! It could have been very cliche but you made it very personal and poignant. Lots to think about as my family nears FI.

  29. Sweet post to wrap up this craptastic year! I am glad to hear your father is doing so well, Wanderer. Yay! Having just discovered your blog & book this year, you guys have truly made a difference in my family’s life. Thank you! Yes, it’s exciting to read about your around the world travels but I’m even more impressed that now you could be there for your dad without worrying about the rent. You didn’t have to decide between taking him to chemo or going to work because you were out of vacation days. Hope you both have a relaxing holiday & onward & upward to 2021!!!

  30. Congrats on your Dad’s healthy status.

    You’re so right, even when we are in lockdown mode and have nowhere to go. I still value time to think, read, write, and go for a run or walk without having to worry about a stressful boss or meetings. Basically designing your life vs having it dictated to you by someone else
    Thanks for keeping us inspired. Keep on doing you.

  31. My father was diagnosed with a high grade glioma, so I understand and wish you, your dad, and your family the absolute best.

    I wish I’d figured out how to just sit with my dad. It was hard for both of us to rest. Both of us were so used to running around achieving all the time.

    So I hope you can have some fun together, even if tennis isn’t so much an option in the snow.

  32. Thank you for your heartfelt and thoughtful post, Wanderer. I am so sorry about your father, and I’m glad he is symptom-free.

    Your post has inspired me yet again to try to let go of my job and travel, once we can travel again. I like my job, but you’re right – we can’t get more time, we can only decide how to use it. My partner’s new business allows him to work from anywhere – so maybe I will quit/ask for reduced hours next year at work and travel with him.

    I also want to thank you and Firecracker for helping to solidify my FIRE path. My partner and I almost bought a house in late 2018, but thanks to discovering FIRE, including your blog, we rent. We have sometimes doubted our choice – it’s hard to stay the course when everyone around you expects you to buy a house. But because of renting, we are now FI, and my partner was able to quit his job and start his dream business without going into debt.

    All is that to say – thank you a million times over. You and Firecracker have helped to inspire countless people such as me and my partner to think long and hard about their choices in life, and to discover and follow their dreams while developing and sustaining a stable financial base.

    Happy holidays to you both, and take care. I wish you all the best!

  33. Wonderful post! I lost my dad two years ago to cancer. He was 67 and also in great health before. This post hits it spot on. I love you guys and your message. I applaud your 5 year trek and look forward to hearing what you will do next!


  34. Sorry to hear about your dad, can’t agree more that time and health should be on the top of everyone’s list.

    During March/April, thankfully I had the courage of not selling my stocks when the world is going down thanks to what I learned from your posts back then of what you did in 2008/2009.

    But especially this year, given the obsession the world has over “economic growth” (which seem to be the only thing that every gov cares about), I believe that the market would eventually recover sooner or later 10 or 50 years from now. Thus gives me a lot more ease with index investing (especially great for my mental health, which people don’t talk enough about either).

    Looking forward to 2021, I know it will be better!

  35. This terrible year has really brought out the depth in your writing, with Firecracker’s previous post as well as this one. Glad to hear that your father is doing better. Parents… they’re complicated. Doing rewarding things (ie not bullshit jobs) is all we can do.

  36. Glad to hear your dad is doing well. Health really is the most important thing. Money doesn’t matter if you’re not healthy. My parent are having some health issues too. It’s very stressful.

  37. Amen to all of this! Travel as soon as you can. We’re so glad that we took the time to travel when we did last year, because this year definitely put a damper on our travel plans. Glad to hear that your father is doing well. Take care Wanderer and FireCracker

  38. So sorry to hear about your father and hope things improve.

    I greatly appreciated your point about getting on with plans and to not be too caught up in cautious backup plans and questioning ourselves. Sometimes we’re a little too cautious—and forget to live the life we’ve saved for.

  39. My heart goes out to you and your family. So happy to hear your dad is doing better. Thank you for writing such a personal and thought-provoking piece! Please keep writing more.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Social Media Auto Publish Powered By :