Taking stock: One-year into the Covid-19 pandemic and embracing FIRE

It’s hard to believe it has already been a year since the Covid-19 pandemic began sweeping through the United States and changed our way of life (possibly forever). I took the picture above and find it to be a great visual representation of the rocky and turbulent experience of the past year. One year later I am still working from home, but I made the decision to get rid of my second job in order to free up more time for passion projects, like The Money Sloth. I came to realize that while my second job was bringing in an extra $500-600/month that I could contribute to savings, it was consuming more and more of my time as the pandemic wore on. Ultimately, I was too tired between the two jobs in order to keep up with writing and researching personal finance topics, as well as continuing to put off hobbies like picking up the guitar again, learning piano, and learning a second language for a potential move to a lower cost of living country in the future.

Work, Work, Work

One thing I did a lot of over the past year was work. The work-from-home situation caused by the pandemic was not new to me as I was already working from home for my full-time job 3 days per week, but my part-time job was previously a hybrid of working at home and in-person. While eliminating my commute and other things during the pandemic meant more time available to pursue my interests, the part-time job was much more time-intensive in the virtual-only environment and it quickly gobbled up any additional hours I had managed to get in the transition to full-time WFH. After eliminating the part-time job, I also discovered how much less stress I have in my life, and you can’t put a price tag on that!

I had to ask myself, what was the part-time job (that was quickly feeling like a full-time one) accomplishing? It had no potential for advancement or providing a career-boost and I have no interest in running for political office (which is the only advancement potential as I worked for local elected officials). It only provided some extra marginal dollars and as a result there was no time left for playing music, writing, reading, and self-enrichment activities. The Covid-19 pandemic has been an eye-opening experience in many ways and as a natural introvert, I didn’t suffer the social withdrawal issues that many others have been dealing with. I have loved the time to myself, but why on earth did I let work consume all of those extra hours!?

Getting Fired Up about FIRE

This year of reflection has also emboldened me to get more serious about the FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement and exploring options for early retirement. In the past, I had aspirations to rise to the top of an organization and lead large teams, but in the sector I currently work in the compensation just isn’t commensurate with the additional responsibilities and stressors that come with a management career. I can’t envision doing this for another 25-30 years as I just think of all the experiences and opportunities I may miss along the way if I’m tied to a 9-5 Monday through Friday type of job during the best decades I have left. This realization has me at peace with simply doing my job the best I can and contributing my portion to the mission and collecting my paycheck every two weeks. With this new frame of mind, I find myself much less stressed or concerned with joining every possible team or project and simply focus on what I do and work on doing it better. Now, I have the energy and focus at the end of the day and weekends to work on things that bring me happiness and contribute more toward activities that will enable me to “retire” early. I put retire in quotes because I’m not sure what it means for me yet and could range from lounging on the beach all day to volunteering or working in a field I’m passionate about but may not pay as much as my current career.

There’s More to FIRE Than Dollars and Cents

Couple relax on the beach enjoy beautiful sea on the tropical island. Summer beach vacation

The interest in FIRE for me isn’t just isolated to the prospect of spending 30 years in a full-time career, but also because of the direction things are going in the United States. Being born and raised in the US means I was indoctrinated to believe that everything here is the best in the world… and as I’ve grown older (and perhaps wiser), I’ve come to realize this is a fallacy. From the political turbulence of recent years, over-policing, gun violence, overpriced healthcare system, and the botched reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, it just doesn’t seem like a great place to be anymore. The political divide between left and right has never been wider and that will only worsen over time, but the divide is now no longer just over benign policy differences but, quite frankly, is now encompassing humanitarian issues and basic human rights. FIRE can provide the escape.

By reaching FIRE and relocating to a lower cost of living country, I can achieve two goals at once – retirement and a new culture that fits more closely with my own ideals. FIRE for me is a combination of creating a large enough nest egg that I can live off it in perpetuity, but also generating some residual side income to ensure I am not 100% dependent on that nest egg – especially during market downturns or just to provide a little bit extra peace of mind that I won’t outlive it. The great thing about FIRE is that it can be tailored to each person’s situation and goals and this has sprouted all kinds of FIRE methods like Lean FIRE, Barista FIRE, Fat FIRE, Coast FI, and many other unique variations on the same themes.

New Money Milestone

When I started The Money Sloth blog, I made my first Net Worth Update post and it showed I had a negative $48,228 net worth in July 2020. Eight months later and I am now nearly at a zero net worth, a significant emotional milestone and a great improvement in less than a year’s time. Despite planning for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, I continue to include all of my student loan debt into my net worth calculation since there are likely to be changes made to PSLF in the years before I qualify – hope for the best, but plan for the worst! While my posting has been sporadic to date, I plan to continue plugging away with a smart and steady path toward financial independence in 2021 and will be sharing that journey with you along the way.