Finance: Financial Independence is for times of COVID

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There are circulating rumors that this pandemic has deemed the FI movement dead. Articles in mainstream media have been claiming that people who are in the midst of attaining FI are now struggling to live. As a FI defendant and warrior, I would like to say that the opposite is true. In fact, this pandemic has shown our little family that the path to financial independence is strictly for times like these. Not saying that I ever expected any of it to happen. I mean, there’s no way I could have predicted this and I certainly did not wish it upon the world. But the financial independence journey is the reason why this pandemic was so good to us. Here’s why.

Why FI is for times of COVID

FI is built on a number of different life-hacks that enable one of my life’s core values: freedom. The word independence itself is crucial to the term FI. Many of the principles in the financial independence community center around independence from other things such as your job, the market, societal expectations, debt, and of course, money. All of this was affected by the pandemic.

Those who are following the FI principles are more likely to have embraced job independency through side-hustles, entrepreneurship, self-employment, or simply creating multiple income streams. Many FI families had an emergency fund to carry them through times such as these past few months. If you’ve taken my course, you also know that mastering a budget is a super-power. If you’ve truly mastered your budget, you would have control of your spending, created a savings, and also planned for the spending a few months ahead. Most FIers lack debt. I, of course, have a huge student debt, one that I’ve also worked diligently to free myself from (see the progress here!). But even this single choice to aggressively pay down my student debt has helped me significantly during COVID-19! I mean, who would have ever predicted that you could get six months of 0% interest rate on student loans? Nobody, ever.

Meanwhile, the market is crashing and FIers with money reserves in their mastered budget can invest at low rates. They can buy rental properties due to their stellar credit history. They can survive off of an emergency fund in case of a layoff. Better yet, they can use their additional income streams or refocus their money-making to their side-hustle business. I’m not saying this is the time to brag, but perhaps it’s the time to pivot.

How COVID helped our financial journey.

Perhaps the reason why people think that the pandemic will negatively affect FIers is because not many of us have been sharing how it has helped. I can’t speak for all FI families, but for us, here is what happened.

  1. Mike had wanted to pursue coding for a while. We decided to sign him up for a course in January and paid the tuition upfront and in full, which we were able to do thanks to our great budgeting and savings (Our entire budgeting method is compiled in this course that I wrote, if you’d like to follow in our steps). In February, about a month before the March 15th California lock-down, Mike offered to be laid off from a company that was down-sizing by forty percent, in exchange for a severance pay that would help with the transition into coding. After the severance pay ended in April, he qualified for EDD due to the lay off and got an additional $600 a week that the EDD was paying out to those who just found themselves unemployed, thus easing the transition even more. In fact, we had expected to receive $1800/mo from EDD prior to COVID 19. Due to the additional $600, Mike gets “paid” $4200 per month to study a course. What does this have to do with FI? Well, we wouldn’t have been able to pay for the course upfront without a savings. We wouldn’t have felt comfortable with Mike switching careers without a stable financial background. And we wouldn’t have been so non-chalant about the lay offs without a back-up plan (which is our other income streams).
  2. I have multiple income streams. I own a corporation as a dentist and pay myself. As a dentist, I work at two different offices which also increases my chances of always having work. I also owned a bakery which I closed a week before the COVID shutdown (for real! What timing…) but which I considered turning back to if both dental offices remained closed (they didn’t). I also had a dog-sitting business on ROVER, as well as this blog wherein I make commissions through affiliate linking. I was out of dental work for a week and a half wherein I spent most of my time writing about it. I then went back to work (three days a week, half the amount of time I usually worked) and poured more time into this space. It has grown tremendously the last two months! All of this to say, I had options in terms of career.
  3. All public student loans got reverted to 0% interest until September 31. This means that any student trying to pay down debt aggressively has a chance to make the money snowball go faster! Of course, I paid only the minimum monthly requirement for these COVID months just to keep cash liquid in case of emergencies, but now we’ve found ourselves sitting on a big chunk of change that we could use to buy a rental property. This gives us choice. I could drastically reduce the loan repayment journey to 2.5 more years, or I could invest in more long-term passive income.
  4. We house hack which means we have someone living with us which helps us pay mortgage. I would count this as an additional income stream for us.
  5. Speaking of mortgage, we refinanced our home. Due to our great credit, there was no hitch when we decided to refinance. The refinance gave us an additional $500 a month to put towards something else!
  6. We paid off Mike’s car in May, therefore paving the way for quickening the loan repayment journey now that we can funnel those would-be-car payments into student loans.
  7. We used COVID related benefits for health professionals and medical doctors such as retail discounts. Some of these benefits continue until the end of 2020.
  8. We got free food when fast food places. I think we made use of free tacos on Tuesdays from Taco Bell four times. Mike got a free meal from Cafe Rio. Mike’s dad and grandpa live in a 55+ community and they received weekly boxes of nearly-expiring groceries. They picked what they wanted and Mike and his sister (and me) benefited from the rest, which then reduced our grocery bill.
  9. COVID inadvertently reduced our monthly spending. Our cleaner couldn’t come for her bi-weekly cleaning which saved us $200 a month. Why would she when all three of us were home to clean, anyway? Mike had no work so there was no need to commute. He took online courses at home, which saved us $100 a month in gas. The aforementioned free food from Mike’s dad and grandpa saved us $100 in groceries per month. Since the yoga studios and gyms were closed, Mike and I had to replace our new-found love for yoga with running outdoors, thus saving us $250 a month.
  10. COVID prevented us from traveling. All our trips got cancelled, which made us quite sad but at the same time, it saved us close to $10,000. (Between March and July, we had trips planned to Japan, Maldives, Hawaii, two trips to Norcal, one to San Diego, a bachelor party for Mike in Colorado, a bachelorette in SD…). We had two weddings that were also sadly cancelled.

Let’s add this all up, shall we?

During COVID, the following things changed in our monthly budget:

$4500 from EDD for Mike’s work transition
$500 per month savings from the home refinance
$585 per month savings from paying off the car
$200 savings from not having a cleaner
$250 from not having a gym membership
$100 gas savings from not having a commute
$100 from the food box donations
$1400 a month of interest that the government isn’t taking from my student loans

That’s $7,635 savings per month due to COVID. Multiplied for the two months we’ve been in this lockdown.

Plus the $10k that we saved from not traveling.

I would assume we have saved near $25,000. Plus the liquid cash I kept from only making the minimum payments for student loans ($16,500).

Now you know why we are looking at a second home.

The FIers are not going to suffer from COVID. If anything, they are likely the least to suffer. I know of FIers who have bought one rental property a year for 15 years straight. Most of them make passive income from real estate or intellectual assets. Many are entrepreneurs, self-published, self-employed, self-sustaining. Most don’t have debt and they ALL have funds to rely on. On top of that, they have a well-balanced investment strategy that is mostly hands-off which protects them from panic-selling during times of market volatility. We are frugal, make use of opportunities, are in the know of life-hacks and benefit from financial situations such as these. That’s what FI is about. And everyone can become FI. Even though the media and the general public would like you to think otherwise. Just like they tried to tell me the loans would be unwise to pay off.

Is FI for you?

If you’ve recently lost your job due to the pandemic, perhaps it’s time to create a space for yourself. There are many pros to being self-employed. Even something semi-self-employed such as creating contract work under your name is a great option. Additionally, now may be the time to chase a dream of yours by picking up a side-hustle. Do something you love, and make money doing it. I did that with this blog, and if that interests you, perhaps you’d like to learn more about how to do that here. If you want to make money dog-sitting, apply to Rover today.

If you felt the crushing loss of a job and didn’t have an emergency fund, then the last few months may have been difficult. The EDD stipend of $600 a week to those who are unemployed has helped many, certainly, but really, having an emergency can also alleviate that stress. Start by mastering your budget. It’s the first step to all financial independence journeys.

If you have a lot of debt, it’s time to start paying it off. Student loan questions in particular? Now is the time to talk to a professional. Our recommendation is Travis Hornsby of Student Loan Planner. Schedule an appointment through my affiliate link, here.

It’s never too late to start. Trust me. I started from the bottom. Negative $575,000 bottom.

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