As the world navigates the COVID-19 crisis together, there have been far-reaching economic impacts. With unprecedented unemployment rates and a shaky stock market, some are questioning whether or not the FIRE movement will continue to exist.
In case you didn’t know, the FIRE (Financial Independence/Retire Early) movement is a collection of avid savers that are aggressively investing in pursuit of early retirement decades before hitting 65. With the most recent economic downturn, some critics are skeptical of the community’s ability to continue moving forward amidst continued economic uncertainty.
Is it still possible to retire early with the financial impact of COVID-19
The major question that critics, and those in the FIRE community, have is whether or not is it still possible to retire early with the current economic crisis. Has COVID-19 crushed the early retirement dreams of everyone in the community?
The economic impacts of COVID-19 have been pronounced. But there is hope. There have been several examples of early retirees that are successfully navigating the financial impacts of the pandemic. Some have even taken the leap into early retirement in the midst of the COVID crisis. Even with the significant impacts of COVID-19, success stories show that it is still completely possible to retire early.
The quickly changing economic landscape can be a hurdle. But as an early retiree, you should expect several big market dips throughout early retirement. If you plan to retire for decades, it is only a matter of time before you experience a major market disruption. In fact, six major market collapses have been recorded throughout U.S. history. In those crashes, the stock market has lost over 10% of its value. These crashes remind us that investing in the stock market is fraught with risk.
In 2008, the stock market took a scary nose dive that signaled the start of the Great Recession. At the time, the nerve-wracking sight didn’t kill early retirement dreams. With a more realistic grasp on the downside of being dependent on a paycheck during a financial crisis, many joined the FIRE movement as the economy began to recover. Since the crash in 2008, many people have been able to build their net worth and retire early successfully.
As we live through another major economic downturn, the importance of achieving financial independence is more pronounced than ever. Although it was never easy, it is still possible to retire early. The market will likely recover at some point, just as it has throughout the rest of history. With that, retiring early should remain a possibility in your life if you want to pursue it.
How to make sure you can still retire early
Of course, you will need to make some adjustments to compensate for the impact of this crisis. But if you are pursuing early retirement, it is still a possibility.
If you are struggling to stay on track to your FI goal, here are some strategies that can help you create more realistic FIRE goals.
Evaluate your investment strategy
An essential component of a successful early retirement is a carefully executed investment strategy. Since you will be relying on your investments for an income in early retirement, you must create a portfolio that accounts for your risk tolerance. Otherwise, every market dip will leave you in a panic.
With the importance of a strong investment strategy in mind, you may want to consider using an app like Public. Public has outstanding educational tools built into the experience to help you learn more.
Many FIRE enthusiasts rely on the traditional 4% rule, which states that you can withdraw 4% of your principal balance every year. In theory, you’ll be able to safely withdraw 4% every year. But the amount that equates to can change quickly. As we saw in the dramatic market drops earlier this year, it is easy for a portfolio to lose a substantial amount of value overnight. You can lower your risk of running out of money by lowering your withdrawal rate. But if you still aren’t comfortable with that potential risk, then rebalancing your portfolio to account for your risk tolerance is a good move.
Rebalancing to suit your priorities can be easy when using a DIY investment platform like Robinhood. With Robinhood, you can set up an investment portfolio and make trades as you wish. This can provide some peace of mind as you move forward.
A final piece of your investment strategy that you need to evaluate is the fees. Although you may have done your research to find a low-cost taxable account, some employer-sponsored options could be riddled with fees.
Luckily, blooom can help you figure out how much you are losing to fees and how to make adjustments to minimize these fees. If you are looking for guidance surrounding your employer-sponsored plan, then check out blooom as an optimization option.
Beef up your emergency fund
Although a safe investment strategy is important, cash on hand will help you weather any financial storms that come your way. That is why you need to have an emergency fund on hand to cover expenses when the market is in the midst of a major downturn.
While you are working, an emergency fund with a few months of expenses is likely sufficient. But if you are planning to leave the workforce, then a stockpile of cash to sustain you for several years might be in order.
The exact amount of cash you keep on hand will vary based on your goals and risk tolerance. However, you should plan to keep your savings in a high yield emergency fund such as the CIT Savings Builder. The account offers a competitive interest rate to help your savings keep up with potential inflation risks.
Look for expenses to cut
If you are a part of the FIRE community, then you likely have a somewhat frugal nature. Although you may enjoy the finer things in life, you know the difference between needs and wants. With that, you may need to take the opportunity to cut some wants out of your life.
You may need to get creative when looking for expenses to cut. A few ideas to consider include running your errands on the way home from work to avoid additional transportation costs on the weekends, tackling your yard work without the help of a handyman, and tapping into your DIY side when you need to replace household items.
As you explore your options to cut expenses, consider enlisting the help of a service like Trim. The ‘personal finance assistant’ can help you cancel unwanted subscriptions and negotiate with bill providers to lower your monthly costs.
Taking the opportunity to lower your expenses can help you stretch your savings farther.
Consider other income opportunities
Keeping your expenses low is one side of the FIRE equation. On the other side, a higher income can help you meet your savings goals more quickly.
With the spike in unemployment, it may be a good time to consider broadening your income horizons. That means looking beyond your nine-five for income streams. Usually, this means investing in a cash flow positive rental property or building a new skill set to boost your income. But you should consider any side hustle opportunities that strike your fancy. You might try delivering groceries, selling home decor on Etsy, or becoming a juror in a mock online trial.
Get creative as you seek out other income ideas. You never know what life will throw your way!
Adjust your retirement timeline
Even if you slash expenses and boost your income, you may not meet your savings goals due to circumstances beyond your control. If you’ve lost your income as a result of the pandemic, then you will likely need to adjust your retirement timeline.
Take a look at your net worth and the current amount you are able to tuck away into your investments each year. Once you have a better idea of your trajectory, you can line this up with your FI number. This should help you understand when you will be able to retire.
However, the changing math can get tricky. With that, I would recommend using MU30’s FIRE calculator to play with your changing scenario. With your real numbers, the calculator can help you determine what you’ll need to do in order to retire early.
It is okay to make adjustments! Even if you aren’t able to retire as early as you would like to, you will likely be able to retire at some point if you work towards your goals.
Consider flexible retirement plans
When you think about retirement, also consider the idea of scaling back on work. Flexible work arrangements can be the perfect gateway into early retirement.
Instead of retiring completely when you reach FI, consider working part-time or switching to a passion project. You may not earn as much with these options, but you can continue beefing up your retirement savings before you make the jump into retirement.
Plus, you can always return to the workforce if you need to. In many cases, you’ll be able to find a job if you want to start working again. But you’ll need to keep your skills sharp and resume updated if you are considering this option.
In addition to considering different work arrangements, you may need to consider different living arrangements in early retirement. As the pandemic has illuminated, global travel can grind to a halt. With that, many early retirement dreams of globetrotting to exotic places have been put on hold. Consider where you would be happy to spend your newfound free time if you weren’t able to travel in early retirement.
Prepare for future economic downturns
Achieving financial independence will not happen overnight, it will take many years to reach that pinnacle. You will likely run into many bumps in the road on your way to retiring early.
But the speed bumps don’t stop there! Once you’ve committed to early retirement, you will likely encounter more trying economic downturns. It is especially likely that you’ll encounter multiple downturns in your retirement since you’ll be retired for several decades!
As with this economic crisis, the solution is to remain flexible in your retirement. Depending on the extent of the economic damage, you may need to cut back on expenses or consider picking up a part-time job. That may mean that your retirement looks different than you originally envisioned. But a flexible attitude will keep your FIRE dreams alive and well in this downturn and the ones that will follow.
The FIRE movement is based on the idea of living below your means and achieving a permanent level of financial stability. If you are currently on the path to FI, then you are likely in a better financial position than most. Hopefully, you have enough cash in your emergency fund to weather the storm and a flexible attitude that can keep your expenses in check.
Although members of the FIRE community will need to stay agile in the coming months, the movement is not extinguished. In fact, it may burn even brighter in the future as more people crave the financial stability that many on the path to FI have attained.