FI, FIRE and Covid-19; are we better set for this virus?

FI, FIRE and Covid-19; are we better set for this virus?

How are you responding to Covid-19? Where are you? What choices are you making? What difference does being financially independence make in your response? What about retiring early?

This post is to open the conversation. Responses across the board are influenced by people’s belief, financial and social structures. For example, there’s a significant difference between how Republicans and Democrats are responding. The former more inclined to downplay Covid-19 or even consider it a strategy to bring down the President. The latter more inclined to take it seriously.

Is there an FI way of seeing and responding to Covid-19?

I personally feel so blessed that I am both financially independent and retired. Financial independence to me means freedom of the mind, not as caught up as most other people in fads, fears and financial stresses. I’ve unhooked from job or income to define myself.  People who depend solely on jobs for income, who’ve leveraged their lifestyles with debt, who measure their status through profession or income are very very exposed in this very very fluid situation with the virus. Low wage service workers cannot stay home and survive. The CEO of Southwest just pledged to lower his income by 10%, perhaps in solidarity, perhaps to distribute the financial pain of the severe drop off in flights. Will other titans follow suit – they are certainly where a lot of money is sequestered. We don’t know.

However, none of that touches me materially. I own my home. I own my car. I had only one 2-month period of debt to buy a rental house – in my whole life. I have passive income as well as earned income. I can always shrink my lifestyle to the level of my passive income. I have multiple forms of wealth – friends, community, a garden, living on a rural island where the air is fresh and the soil good. In the 2018 Your Money or Your Life I called that the ABCs of wealth (abilities, belonging, community), and some passionate FIers, Laura Oldanie and Lynn Frair, are promoting the similar permaculture idea of the 8 Forms of Wealth. All of this puts me in a more secure place when deeper breakdowns come. I have a garden. I live in a wet region. I’ve put some survivalist strategies in place. Without reliable food and water, none of us will make it. Is it rational to see the virus as an early warning of further breakdowns? I think so.

I am also “fire-ed.” My time is wholly my own. My ability to choose is limited only by bio-physical realities and social norms/legal constraints of my human communities. And even here, I choose these constraints – I am certainly free to be an a-hole or break the law, but I don’t.

I have the freedom to self-quarantine, knowing that even if I don’t feel sick, I can be a carrier. I live just miles from Kirkland WA where Covid-19 landed in the US and took its first life. Can you sacrifice income or opportunity by staying home? Better than others because of FI?

Because of this, I wake up every morning asking, “What can I do for others to ease their material or psychological pain as Covid-19 upends our lives?” and “How can I use my leadership in communities of influence to increase vigilance where people are slack and calm where people are freaked?” The privilege of financial independence is the ability to serve.

How does FI or FIRE affect your response? What are you doing with your time-freedom to help loved ones, friends and communities adapt to containment efforts? Or does your money-freedom help you escape from hot spots and sequester where it is safer?

I think FIers train themselves to be clever in meeting needs. We trade many luxuries and comforts to shorten the distance to our retirement date. Once you’ve shared a house and lived on ramen, you are not afraid of lifestyle contraction. For me, this cleverness is really helpful now, both for myself and in helping others whose minds are clenched in fear.

FIers are also planners, and this is very helpful now. I’m sure many of you are making lists, and stocking up appropriately and have plans B and C if this gets worse. I wonder about those of you who’ve chosen geo-arbitrage as your lifestyle. Are you concerned about getting trapped somewhere if flights shut down? Getting home to loved ones? A vagabond lifestyle is a luxury, really. It depends on everything from markets to transportation humming predictably in the background. Does not having a home base increase or decrease security? Even before Covid-19 hit, I found myself wanting to stick closer to home. Some instinct kicked in, intuiting that uncertainty and instability can make people (and civilizations) crazy.

There’s a dark side to FI and FIRE when society gets rattled. We develop a learned selfishness in the hyper-saving years. Generosity that might come easier with a steady paycheck – donating to causes, helping out friends and family, patronizing local businesses – may be diminished or eliminated in service to the big goal. We also fail to see how much we actually depend on society to keep us FIRE-d. We use society rather than serve it. We all love tax loopholes and strategic planning to save money. It’s the smart thing to do. Does this have us regard the government as the enemy? As an impediment to our personal freedom? All of this is very logical, yet it can be a petri-dish for selfish genes that we don’t shed when we are financially free. How does FIRE affect your response? Free to distance and look out for yourself? Free to enact social distance and help others adapt? Other ways?

People in our community can be a bit gloat-y and snark-y watching other people stumble around, drunk on consumerism and victim-mentality. I’ve done that. What is our relationship with society? Really? How does social responsibility link to the kind of personal responsibility we are so good at?

Brother Pete and Uncle Jim assure us that the Index Fund strategy is safe and secure for the long haul. When markets tank, you can buy more and ride the escalator up. I’m sure some of you are nervous now. Perhaps most who’ve chosen the Index Fund strategy are sailing through this crisis of market contraction. Anything you want to say about that?

Over to you. This can be a fascinating discussion with lots of tentacles and by-ways.

9 Comments
  • john
    Posted at 00:34h, 12 March Reply

    I am an Old Asocial Fogey. As an OAF, the title of an old play came to mind when all this started, “Stop the World – I want to Get Off”. I am so grateful to be retired and have been for a couple years now. My wife, who continues to work, is worried that I am borderline agoraphobic because I have stepped off and have been happily watching the world go by. So, I guess I am naturally self-quarantining or self-isolating, your pick.

    Your “There’s a dark side to FI and FIRE when society gets rattled. We develop a learned selfishness in the hyper-saving years” _stings_ a bit because it hits a little too close to home.

    I do expend quit a bit of time and energy in a little corner of the internet helping (I hope) people realize what their “enough” is. But, there is more I could do for those around me. And being an OAF, helping folks from afar is really satisfying. But, I could give more,locally both monetarily (not a whole lot more – I’m LeanFire) and temporally.

    It’s just that I have become so damn happy not being chained to an income producing job. Like you,we own our home and vehicles free and clear and we have no debt whatsoever. I love not having a schedule, working at things that truly interest me, working at my own pace, and hanging around the house with my dogs. While I don’t particularly enjoy cooking, laundry, and cleaning doing these things gives my wife & I more quality time on the weekends (she calls me her house-elf).

    If being happy here in my little hidey-hole watching the world go by is selfish then I’m guilty. I guess I could ease that guilt by looking for opportunities around me to which I can contribute with being *too* uncomfortable.

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 19:38h, 12 March Reply

      well john in my book you do a lot of service to the FI community.

  • Renee
    Posted at 13:38h, 13 March Reply

    I’ve been seeing a meme floating around that tickles me. It’s a warning to people to stay home and practice social distancing with a reply that this is the moment I’ve been training for (says the introvert). Although I myself am a healthy blend of ext/int that needs a balance of social engagement and some very happy quiet isolation time. We have planned for this though. We’ve labeled it loosely as the zombie apocalypse or anything that causes the unprepared to panic and look to the prepared for help. In Seattle, we have assumed it would be the big one (quake) but this has been an interesting exercise. A great test of our preparedness and where our cares and concerns are under pressure. Family. The aging parents. The unaware kids. The fact our substantial emergency kits lacked toilet paper, making us sympathetic to my zombie friends and neighbors clearing supplies off shelves just a tad. I was able to hunker down early and advise my employees to do the same. At the time it was out of “an abundance of caution” and now it feels timely and kind. Our company is built on a passive income stream so I can keep paying everyone as they do what they can remotely, fulfill their civil duty at this time and tend to life at home. For me and my partner, this reinforces our FI goals and our homesteading plans. For me personally as I chart my path out of the corporate world, I can say I’m pleased to one day set the stress aside but also proud of my small corner of the machine. Especially at times like this. My ability to give comfort and care to hundreds of employees is a unique spot and I’m happy to be doing the right thing while having the authority to do so. Once we hit FI, that philosophy will remain but within my ability – which could be taking a dozen eggs to neighbors, time to check in on my parents more often, enriching the value of life with time. That’s where my values live. This event has been reaffirming that goodness that gives what its able to spreads like a virus as well.

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 16:54h, 13 March Reply

      Renee, can i share this on my facebook feed, with or without attribution. it’s a stellar example of what’s possible for anyone with applied consciousness and a capacity to weather ups and downs with foresight.

  • Joel Suggs
    Posted at 19:56h, 28 March Reply

    Ms. Robin, Beautifully meaningful words…and life…thanks a bunch. Joel

  • Jeanette M Williams
    Posted at 00:07h, 30 March Reply

    I loved the book

  • Jeanette M Williams
    Posted at 00:08h, 30 March Reply

    I loved the book.

  • Rachel Barwell
    Posted at 03:49h, 14 April Reply

    I live in New Zealand, where we are in week 3 of a nationwide Level 4 lockdown. We are only permitted to leave our homes to buy groceries and walk or cycle for exercise. This national quarantining has certainly limited the spread of COVID-19 – so far in a population of 5 million people, we have had around 1,500 cases identified and only 5 deaths. I feel blessed to be in a country with a leader and government who were prepared to take such strong yet compassionate leadership early on, to prevent a far worse health outcome for our country.
    As someone who has been practicing the YMOYL principles over the past couple of years, I also feel blessed to have the FI thinking on board at this time. Just before the lockdown was announced, I moved into a wonderful house and garden with my friend, a fellow FI-er, which we were able to purchase outright. We have started planting seedlings, establishing a worm farm and compost system and have become very resourceful in the DIY department, making do with cardboard boxes, plastic sheets, containers and bottles, all of which might have been thrown out, or at least only recycled in the past. Now we relish the opportunity to test our problem-solving skills on our next projects.
    I am busy adapting my profession to online delivery, and part of me hopes my international association will allow that mode of delivery to remain available post-recovery, as I can see many opportunities to work with remotely located clients from all over. Members of our regional and global association have connected online much more than we ever had in the past, and a real sense of community and support is arising.
    My house co-pilot is studying our indigenous language te reo Māori and herbal medicine this year, and has been using this time to get into and on with her studies online.
    This time of forced sequestration has allowed us room to reflect on and plan for life post-COVID-19 – how will we work and earn; how will we grow and distribute food; how best can our government’s financial stimulus package be deployed towards climate-friendly initiatives such as solar, wind and tidal energy, electrifying the national fleet, preserving and expanding carbon sinks such as wetlands and forests (instead of funding more roads, drilling and trucks).
    While I am not yet FI (I am debt-free, but still rely on business income to cover my household expenses) I feel blessed that I do not have the financial pressures that many people may be experiencing, with mortgages and consumer debt to service, and job insecurity on the horizon. I find I have the resources to be generous in helping those I consider in greatest need in the world, the mental space and energy to support friends in challenging circumstances, and the headspace to think and plan for what will likely be an uncertain and fluid future for some years to come. Thanks once again Vicki Robin for making the YMOYL work available to so many people, so that we can all be free of the shackles of consumerism and debt.

    • Vicki Robin
      Posted at 17:43h, 29 May Reply

      This is IT! I am on the same journey and it’s so satisfying, creative and giving. Yours is not about holing up and protecting what you have, but about growing food and building community. Bravo.

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