Are FIRE posts pointless during Covid-19?
"I wonder where the FIRE folks are now?!" is what someone sarcastically Tweeted. What a shame that some seem to get a kick out of seeing other people's dreams and aspirations become more challenging. I know it's the small minority, but even so, I really don't get why or how anyone can take pleasure in this way.
I also hear some say that FIRE posts are pointless at this time, I mean, who's going to want to be reading about FIRE right now? There's only one story in town as far as the TV news, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and whatever chats we still manage with our friends. I guess it's understandable that the only topic being talked about is the virus.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who needs some other things to focus on - it gets depressing pretty quickly when every conversation is a Covid-19 conversation. For our sanity, we need a break, some other subjects to think about, a bit of normal to hang on to.
I don't see why FIRE can't be part be one of those other subjects. For sure, the current state of the stock markets feel like a setback for many, and might be for some years to come, but we shouldn't be too hasty to abandon the dream. Also, we should remember that current stock prices only matter if you have to sell now. There are also those in a position to take advantage of reduced stock prices, although not everyone (me for example). For the not everyones, here are some other things to bear in mind:
This isn't the first time markets have crashed
As I write this, both the UK and the US markets are 27% down from their highs - although that's a bit of a recovery from the 34% they were down a couple of days ago. But, scary as the current valuations may be, we have seen it before. For example, in my memory:
Towards the end of 2002, both the UK and US indexes were 47% down from their previous highs
In February 2009, the UK was 43% down and the US was 52% down from it's previous high
I took these figures from the UK FTSE100 and the US S&P500 indexes
No doubt there will be commentators who will say that this time it's worse, just like they said that last time it was worse than the time before, and the time before they said it was worse than...you get the picture. Maybe it will be, the markets may have further to fall, perhaps the reductions will match those drops of 2002 and 2009 that I mentioned, but they won't stay there forever. The question isn't whether they bounce back, just when and how quickly they bounce back.
The stock markets weren't what let me retire early
Instead, these are the boring things that made a bigger difference in getting to financial independence:
Being dependable and reliable to my employer and aiming to perform beyond expectations
Living a balanced life
Not trying to keep up with the Joneses
Recording and tracking our spending
These were the things that lead to my saving and investing, so I'm not dismissing the importance of investments. But the reality is that my early retirement was built on the other things far more than the investment returns. If you don't believe me, read my Investing nightmares, don't do what I did post!
Is it simply envy?
I read a quote that said "people are probably not happy with their life if they're busy discussing yours". I suspect that might be the case with the people poking fun at FIRE at this time.
Personally, I'm awed that there are a bunch of people who say they want to break the rules. Freedom doesn't have to wait until you're 67, or whatever the statutory retirement age happens to be. I like that there are people who want to write their own stories, targeting financial independence early, whatever age that may be, to find the freedom to choose what they want to do. Maybe that will be retiring early, perhaps a mini-retirement or a series of them, a career change, volunteering. It makes much more sense to be inspired by these people, not to enviously poke fun at them. I'm pretty sure the FIRE guys will have the last laugh.
So where does this leave us? As of today, we can't predict the fallout from Covid-19, there are too many unknowns. We do know that times are going to be difficult and some people are going to have some real challenges and will need some help. But history also tells us that we recover pretty well.
Depending on where someone is in their FIRE journey, it could be that the current situation changes the FI date. That's going to be tough but, as the saying goes, there's always someone else who is worse off. In my book, any date earlier than the statutory retirement date is a success and I for one want to keep hearing about how people are doing on their FIRE journeys, even during these strange Covid-19 times.