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.
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