What I Have Learned About Myself in 2020

What the Covid pandemic has taught me about my FI plan and myself

by FI Designer

The year 2020 has meant something different to everyone. Virtually no place on the planet was untouched by the pandemic. For American families, it meant the fear and uncertainty of health, financial, political, and social unrest.

Personally, I feel like I started quarantine at the pace of a 5k race but discovered it was a Marathon. But with great challenges comes the opportunity to learn and grow. In this post, I will reflect on this year and what I have learned about my FI plan and myself.

What I Learned About My Investment Plan
One thing that I noticed is that I did not stress over the severe contraction in my net worth from February to March in 2020. During that period of time I felt excited to pump more money into equities as opposed to destress. That could have been because the markets recovered so quickly and there was not much uncertainty that the recession would linger. However, I felt much the same way during the Great Recession of 2008, which I experienced as a young investor with only six prior years in the market.

Compare and Contrast Markets
To better understand my experiences during the past recessions I will compare the magnitude of the two. During the 2020 recession my net worth reduced by approximately 25% over 2 months. In contrast, during the Great Recession of 2008 my net worth reduced by approximately 33% and did not recover for multiple years. Another difference between the two recessions that affected my emotion was that in 2020 I started with 10 times higher net worth than I had in 2008. That resulted in my 2020 loss that was 7.5 times greater than in 2008.

Asset Allocation
After my experiences from two recessions, I question if I have a greater risk tolerance than reflected in my portfolio. Generally speaking, I am a long-term buy and hold investor with low-cost index funds. Presently as a 40 something in the wealth accumulation stage I have settled into an 85/15 stock/bond allocation. I explain in greater detail how I came to this conclusion in another blog post titled Stock/Bond Asset Allocation Is Not As Important As You Think. But after examining how I kept my cool and did not feel the urge to sell during the last 2 recessions I do question if I should be more aggressive in my asset allocation. I would like to think that my investment policy statement which defines my investment goals, allocation, and risk tolerance would prevent me from making impulsive decisions during severe market downturns. If you are unfamiliar with an investment policy statement please read the article by the Whitecoat Investor linked below.

What I Learned About Myself
Before the 2020 pandemic I thought my perfect Financial Independent life would be continuing to wake up at 4 a.m. to go to the gym; but afterwards instead of driving to work, I would come home and cook breakfast for my family. Cooking breakfast for my kids is one of the highlights of my weekends or days off. During the majority of 2020 I was blessed to be able to work from home. But without the commute I was waking up after 4:30 a.m. to train in my garage, and I was cooking breakfast for the family less than 25 percent of the time. I was surprised to find that during the pandemic, which was the closest opportunity I have had to date of having breakfast with my family every day, I was not following through with my ideal schedule.

Changing Unwanted Behavior
I still believe that training in the morning is the life I want to design in FI, but I think I will need to evaluate what caused the unwanted behavior of schedule creep. Accountability was likely the main culprit. During my normal schedule, prior to the pandemic, I was going to the gym in the mornings instead of training in the garage. That support system of regular gym goers whom I enjoyed seeing every morning was holding me accountable. If I want to maintain a behavior it will require accountability.

Where Did the Time Go?
One aspect of the pandemic that I still have not figured out is where did my time go? My family was blessed in that we were a single income family before the pandemic and my wife stayed at home with the kids. Homeschooling the children did not involve the challenges that so many other families faced with two working parents, or with single parents. Yet with that advantage coupled with no daily commute I felt like I had even less time than before the pandemic. The best explanation I have is that the extra time I normally spent over lunch keeping my personal life on track, or listening to podcasts during a commute, was spent at home with the kids. I do not consider the extra time with the children a waste, but I think that is my best explanation for the feeling that personal tasks were not being addressed. The additional time and mental bandwidth that I have invested into this website have undoubtedly contributed to the loss of time.

Adventure Smaller
The pandemic year has been challenging to find enjoyment and adventure within our family. Prior to quarantine my wife and I printed a map of our state that we could write down experiences we wanted to have. We were inspired to create the map by the Choose FI podcast episode on Planned Spontaneity with Adventure Rich. In that episode, they discussed strategies for lowering the barrier to entry for family adventures. I also thought it was wonderful how they discussed not just hitting a FI number but hitting happiness. During 2020 we were forced to keep our outings small and local. But in looking forward to the future I propose making a list of the most memorable or enjoyable experiences in the last 5 years, both personally and with the family. Then consider how to foster or encourage similar experiences to happen again.

Call to Action
Please don’t stop here. Consider the following actions, and if you care to share your thoughts please do so below in the comments.

  • Reflect internally on your experiences of 2020 and how it can improve your own understanding of yourself.
  • Make a list of your most enjoyable experiences in the last 5 year. Then write down what you can do to encourage similar experiences in the future.


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