Looking Back And Looking Forward – 2020

2020…One of the weirdest years ever. Has it been a black swan or a golden eagle? Some of us have been inconvenienced, some have been devastated. It’s been different thing to different people, but one thing we can all count on. It’s been Unpredictable!

I’d like to take a look back at some things I’ve experienced and look forward to what our life could look like next year. Come take a short journey with me through 2020.

Looking Back

My Big Event for 2020 – My Mom’s Death

On October 24, 2020, my Mom went home to be with her Jesus. This last year has been especially hard for her and me. She was 99 when she passed. Her health had been good till about mid-2018. Over the last 12 months dementia had taken hold, and then the quarantine amplified the dementia. She lived in an Assisted Living facility in another state and I was her sole caregiver and decision-maker outside of the facility staff. Most days I would talk to her 3-4 times a day. Some days she could carry on a normal conversation, and some days she didn’t know where she was. One bright spot was she continued to know who I was. She just couldn’t make sense of what was going on around her.

I will miss my Mom terrible, but Praise God the strain on her and me is over. She is now with her Savior and her heavenly family enjoying God’s perfect love for eternity.

Not Seeing Family

Not seeing family has been hard, but thank God for Zoom! Today’s technology has made the quarantining a little more palatable. I think we all felt a little relief this summer as things opened up slightly. Depending on your area of the country, your restrictions may have loosened a lot.

One thing I found interesting was how many people still went camping/fishing this past summer. I live near a highway that folks travel to go to the mountains. This past summer the road was full of RVs and campers. I hope you had a chance to get out and enjoy nature, also.

Stephen and I have even considered joining the ranks of RV’ers, but I have heard in parts of the country RVs were hard to come by. Because this was a way to get out and take your “clean home” with you, folks were snapping them up like hotcakes! Maybe there will be a good used market in a year or two!

Flexibility And Introspection

Did you find you had time for things you didn’t before? This is one area where I’m thankful for the changes to our lives. How many times have you thought, “If only I could slow down!” Did you find you had extra time to think, plan, do projects, make a phone call or read?

Or did the “new norm” strip you of all these opportunities as you tried to work and homeschool all at once? Those caught in this situation have probably learned a whole new level of planning and flexibility.

What Was The Deal With Toilet Paper!?!

What WAS the deal with toilet paper? I know, I’ve heard all the philosophical answers for this one, but I just want to go on record and say I DON’T GET IT!!

What I really won’t get is if it happens again!

How Did Your Money Do?

2020 was a roller coaster year for the stock market and our investments. (Just to review, Stephen and I only have paper investments, i.e. Stocks and Bonds. We don’t do real estate or side hustles.) March made us think a disaster was on the horizon and the next recession was imminent. Then the markets rebounded in record time.

Personally, our accounts had rebounded by the end of July. As of the first week in December, our net worth is higher than it’s ever been.

This cannot be said often enough…it’s not timing the market, but TIME IN the market that matters. After reading “The Simple Path to Wealth” in 2017, we moved our investments into VTSAX and VBTLX . We started our drawdown for retirement in about April 2019. Our portfolio was worth more at the end of 2019 than at the beginning. Even though we are drawing down. 2020 will be the same. Will this always happen? NO. Can we ride it out when it doesn’t? Absolutely.

2020 was hard on our emotions concerning our money, but it also gave us some incredible short-term opportunities. The important thing is that we learn from it. Please evaluate your financial situation today. What did you do well? What could you have done better? We can’t be perfect, but we can learn.

Looking Forward

Locking Down Again

I think we’re all weary of the quarantines and the ever-changing landscape of our lives. I know I am. We’ve probably been expecting our world to lock down again in the Fall, but I’ve been surprised at myself. I am more unhappy about it than I want to be. I guess a little freedom felt so good I didn’t want to have it wrangled back again.

This is an area I’m having to work on my own gratefulness. I know an attitude of gratitude is the best antidote for unhappiness and frustration. How has this been for you. Are you finding it hard to be content? I think I’m struggling with this happening during the holidays when I expected to be able to see family. Again, thank God for Zoom!

More Time

OK, enough with the pity party. The bright side of being locked down again is more time. I am also about to experience having more time because my caregiving job has ended. This will give me a freedom I’ve not ever experienced. Caring for my mom started before my kids left home, so it’s always been part of who I am.

I have to admit, I’m a little afraid of the same issues new retirees face. Like finding myself. Deciding what lights me up. I have no lack of passion projects, but now I will be making my own decisions about my time rather than reacting to each day’s emergencies. How will I decide where to spend my most precious resource – my time? It’s going to be a journey and I will try to keep you up to date on my progress.

One huge hope of mine is to spend more time on Stated At 50! I’ve not been able to post consistently to the blog or really care for my Facebook group. I’m excited and scared at the same time. Excited to be more consistent and more attentive. Scared because I’m still SO new to blogging and the technology. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I think I’m up for the challenge. I always want to have the attitude of being a life-long learner.

This means you will be coming along this ride with me. I just ask for your patience and your support. If you see something that could be improved, tell me. If you want to hear about a particular topic, let me know. This blog is for YOU. You are my focus.

Spend The Mental Energy To Lock In Goals

The beginning of a new year always seems to be a good time for self-evaluation and goal setting. Did you notice I did not use the word resolutions? I think New Year’s Resolutions get a bad rap, but you can call them whatever your like. The point is to evaluate, ponder, and find those areas where you can get 1% better. Brad and Jonathan on ChooseFI talk frequently about talent stacking and becoming 1% better. If you improve by just 1% each week or month, think about the improvement over one year.

This idea relates to any area of your life. Your finances for sure, but what about your health? Or relationships or skills? Any area you would like to improve is possible. Just take the time to pay attention (My Mantra!) and honestly evaluate what you’d like to improve or what new goal you’d like to work on. As I said earlier, I’ll be working on learning more about blogging and improving my website.

Pray About Being More Generous Next Year

Personally, one area I would like to refine is my generosity. This is very important to Stephen and me. There are places where the opportunity is easy – sponsor a family for Christmas, give to the food bank or pregnancy center, or help a missionary. But lately, I’ve been feeling restless, like there is more I should be doing. Maybe not even with my money, but with my time and energy. I’m going to be praying about this one for sure. How about you? Does your generosity muscle need a little strengthening? One of my favorite sayings is “Our life moves at the speed of our generosity.” 2020 has been weird, but our generosity can’t be quarantined!

Refine Your Budget

Have you seen areas that may need to be tweaked or even changed all together? My own budget is changing because of Medicare. Stephen started in May and I will join the ranks of 65 and over in February. This has been an interesting challenge to figure out what to do with Medicare. (I will write an article in the future to let you know what we learned.) In our case, our monthly budget has decreased because of the lower health care premiums!

Even beyond budgeting, there may be items in your financial plan that need attention. Do you need to make a contribution to an IRA? Have you maxed out your HSA if you have one? Can you do any ROTH laddering? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, have no fear. I didn’t either a few short years ago. I’m not going to explain each one at this time – I’ll talk about them in another post, but there are lots of resources available. Again, ChooseFI’s podcast and website along with others have great resource material.

Be aware that each of these items, along with many others, have tax implications. BE SURE you understand the tax implications of what you do and when you do it. Some moves need to be made by Dec. 31st and some April 15th. Also, the tax rules for 2020 are different because of COVID. Some deadlines have changed and some items, like RMD’s are not due at all this year. Also, 2020 is giving us an “above the line” $300 charitable giving deduction. This means you can deduct $300 of charitable giving without having to itemize. Please consult a tax specialist for your situation with any of the items mentioned above.

Your Overall Financial Plan

Since the end of the year is a great time for evaluation, look at your financial plan. If you don’t have one, this is a good time to start building one. The time to put together your plan is not when the world is falling apart and the market is tanking. You need to write out a plan for your future finances when you are level-headed and not in a panic.

We’ve seen huge changes this year in a short period. The markets have dropped like a rock and then rebounded. The pandemic may have changed your mind about your risk tolerance. It may have given you an opportunity for a new income stream. No matter where you are today, look back and learn from where you’ve been.

No one could have seen 2020 coming. Now that it has, use it to make sure you are ready for the next “unexpected event”

Wrapping It Up

I hope to journey down this twisting road of life with you – talking about God, money and stuff! Let me know what you think. How are you coping? What are your goals for 2021? What is your family doing for Christmas?

It’s beginning to look a lot like…a Zoom Christmas!

I pray for you always and wish you a Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year.

Key Takeaway – Do your own version of looking back and looking forward. Write down goals and things you learned

Assignment – Answer this question in the comments below. What is one thing you learned about yourself in 2020?

Coming Soon – I’ll still be writing about Credit Cards. Watch your inbox!

…Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

What I’ve Learned Through My Self-Quarantine

I’m sure, by now, we have all learned some new things about ourselves, our spouses, our families and even our pets! This time of quarantine has presented us with challenges and opportunities. Here are a few of mine.

What I’ve Learned in Quarantine

I should have had more money in Bucket 1 or the Cash Bucket. Stephen and I use the Bucket System for allocating our investments. Bucket 1 is cash and cash equivalents, Bucket 2 is Bonds and Bucket 3 is our Total Stock Market Index Fund. Bucket 1 should contain 2-3 years worth of money. Bucket 2 should contain 3-5 years and Bucket 3, the balance of our investments. The market had done so well over the last few years that we got greedy and kept a larger percentage in equities than our plan laid out. When the pandemic hit and the market fell, we found ourselves wishing there was more cash in the cash bucket. We will be fine, but a bigger cash cushion would have been comforting.

Be flexible. One thing Stephen and I always built into our budget plan was flexibility. We have set our budget in 3 phases. Phase 1 is the normal budget with all the bells and whistles. This includes our two biggest spending categories – our race car hobby and travel. Phase 2 would be normal budget without those two big categories. Phase 3 is what we call Skinny Budget, or cutting down all non-essential spending. Interestingly, most of us are probably operating in skinny budget right now. We can’t travel, can’t spend money on entertainment and we’re cooking at home. One thing I hope most of us have learned is that life goes on without all the frills. When life throws you a curve that affects your money, remember it’s probably temporary and you can cut back drastically if you need to.

I was going to use some of my cash to buy more equities, but now… no! When the market first started to tumble a couple of months ago, I reacted like a lot of others in the FI community: “It’s on sale and I should buy more.” As the reality of the virus and our US stock market started to sink in, I realized that this might not be the time to buy…for me. I am not in the wealth accumulation stage anymore, I’m in drawdown. Since I’m not investing new money, it was not a time for me to take my cash (Bucket 1) and invest even though the funds were “on sale.” For others, buying more stocks is a viable option, just not for me.

Now may be a good time to do your ROTH conversion. If you are in a position to do a ROTH conversion, now might be a good time. You can move more shares than before because of the lower per share price. We have moved about two-thirds of our planned 2020 conversion from a Traditional IRA to a ROTH IRA, and will re-evaluate later in the year for the other one-third. (Originally, I had added doing RMD’s to this paragraph, but I believe the IRS has suspended RMD’s for 2020.)

Look at rebalancing your allocations. Most of us probably re-balance our allocations at least once a year. Look at you current allocation. It may be a good time to do your re-balancing. I would also suggest keeping an eye on it for the rest of the year. 2020 may be the year of multiple re-balances.

I’m so thankful I don’t have a mortgage. There is a lot of debate on whether to pay off your mortgage early or invest. This discussion is as charged as the debt snowball vs debt avalanche debate. The right answer is always what’s right for you. For me personally, I’m so glad I don’t have mortgage payments right now. I’ve heard someone say that no matter what side of the mortgage payoff/invest debate you’re on, think about paying off that mortgage before you enter retirement. I agree!! Right now, my only required expenses are food, utilities and insurances. If I still had a mortgage, my expenses would be double.

Be the voice of calm and reason to your friends and family. We will get through this. Not everyone is in the same place emotionally or financially. Some are doing fine, and some have lost loved ones and/or jobs. For the most part, there are tons of “silver linings” that have come out of this quarantine. Be the calming and comforting voice in the ear of your family and friends.

Here are a few tips on ways to use your quarantine time.

Spend time with God. Spend some time to deepen your relationship with your Lord. Pray, meditate on scripture, listen to praise and worship music. Time with your Father is never wasted.

Temper feeling the need to homeschool your kids with just letting them read, play boardgames, play basketball and walk the dog. Every school district is handling the homeschool issue differently. Don’t stress yourself or your kids. Do your best and they will be fine when school starts next fall. The best thing they can do is READ.

If you have older kids, teach them a life skill. Teach them to cook, sew, change the oil, check the air pressure, balance a checkbook, use basic tools or properly clean the house. This is a great opportunity for enhancing life skills.

There are tons of free resources that have been recently added to the internet. Many organizations, like Scholastic, are offering their resources for free. The guys at ChooseFI (choosefi.com) have added several new resources to their website. They can be found on the home page. There is a section called Financial Resilience with tools for this time of quarantine, the Accidental Homeschooler, the K-12 curriculum for financial literacy and the FI 101 online class for adult financial literacy. These resources are all FREE.

Have your kids keep a journal (written, computer, video) of what is happening and their experiences and feelings. We are living in what will be an unprecedented history.

Have you lost your job or afraid you may lose it in the near future? Don’t be too proud to go get another job temporarily. Some businesses like the grocery stores or shipping warehouses are hiring.

Stay in touch with family and friends. Keep the connection with people even though we can’t be together physically. Stephen and I have made a list of people to stay in contact with, and we’ve been surprised by the reaction we get when we call “just to check in.” Even those of us who are introverts needs human contact. God did not create us to be autonomous.

Develop a new skill. This is a great time to develop a new skill or hobby. Especially if you have lost your job or think you might. A new marketable skill could be advantageous in the next few months.

Create your family emergency binder/legacy box. All of us need a set of legal documents like a will, medical directive to physicians and power of attorney. Another set of documents we all need is a family emergency binder or legacy box. This would contain instructions for family members in case of an emergency where you temporarily could not make decisions for yourself, or in case of your death. This is one of the most loving things you can do for your family. Don’t leave those who will come behind you guessing about what you want and where all the documents are. Various versions of this can be found online for a small cost.

Flex your generosity muscle. If you have the resources, give to your local food bank, church’s needs fund, pet shelter, or the local charity of your choice. Get take-out food and give a big tip. Offer to pick up your neighbor’s groceries. Find ways to be extravagantly generous!

This is not an exhaustive list. Please add anything you have discovered in the comments.

Stay safe and healthy! Let’s pray for each other, and we will get through this together!

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11

Our World Has Turned Upside Down!

Our world has forever changed. This is my opinion, but I think it’s a safe assumption. Our lives are literally upside-down. What used to be unacceptable is now acceptable and vice versa. We can’t go anywhere we want. We can’t find TP at the grocery store. We can’t discern when this market free-fall will stop. But what we CAN do, at least here in the state I live in, is order alcohol to be delivered with your take out food!

Our world is a little crazy, but it doesn’t have to be scary. This post is a collection of random thoughts I’ve had about our “new world” of COVID-19.

Random Thoughts on Our Financial Situation

Since this is a personal finance blog, here are some thoughts about how this is affecting our money.

We have seen a lot of stock market volatility. I mean, it’s a roller coaster and it tends to take our emotions with it. We are now in a Bear Market territory (more than a 20% loss). After years of the Bull, we have all been lulled into thinking that things will always be great. They won’t. In fact, downturns normally come every 5-10 years. In the possible 25 or so years left in my investment horizon (my mom is 98, so who knows how long I’ll live) I could see 5 significant market downturns. It’s part of life. It stinks, but we’re all in the same boat. And, if you are positioned correctly, it can be used to your advantage.

There are some great resources on this subject of market volatility. One is J. L. Collins’ book, “The Simple Path to Wealth.” In this book, Jim explains market volatility and how to calmly ride it out. Also, one of my favorite bloggers, Fritz Gilbert at The Retirement Manifesto has written a post about our current Bear Market. He explains how this Bear can be used to your advantage. Check it out: “The Benefits of a Bear Market”

The market always recovers. It looks like you’ve lost a LOT of money. Remember, you haven’t “lost” all that money if you don’t sell. Please don’t panic sell and lock in your losses. There are numerous posts and articles about buying when the market is down. Stocks are basically on sale. This can be an advantage if you have the resources to do that. If not, just sit tight.

Do you have a financial game plan? If you don’t have a financial game plan, you need one. Just like every NFL coach, you need to have a plan before the game begins. These are best done before a crisis when you’re not panicked or fearful. Given our circumstances you do need to have a plan for the next few weeks. Then when our lives go back to normal, you should get serious about a long-term plan for your money. One bright side to these shaky times is we’re getting a great education on what to do for our future.

If you already have a financial game plan, has this market downturn changed your personal risk tolerance? If so, it may be time to reevaluate and tweak your plan.

Some of us have prepared well, some of us were living paycheck-to-paycheck and as a result, life is scary. If you are prepared, think of ways to use your resources to help someone else who may have lost a job or is struggling. If you are in the paycheck-to-paycheck group, this has probably caught you off guard and you’re not sure what to do. It’s time to make some hard choices.

Your first priority is the essentials: Food, shelter, utilities and transportation. We’re mostly staying in, so expenses will probably be lower without much effort. You may need to cut everything down to the essentials. Remember, this won’t last forever.

If you have lost your job, don’t let your pride or your fear keep you frozen. Some industries are suffering and others need workers. Check with the grocery stores. They are hiring in my area. They need stockers and delivery drivers. Also, other retail, like pharmacies, may need drivers. Check with Amazon or any large distribution warehouse. They may not be glamorous jobs, but it could be a paycheck for a while.

Do you have an emergency fund? If not, this may have opened your eyes to the need for one. A lack of an EF is one of the things that took Stephen and I down financially in our dark days. My upcoming post of Why You Need a Budget talks more about an EF. It is like an insurance policy against life’s “Oh, $#@&”.

Are you sitting on more debt than you’re comfortable with now? This may be another life lesson to come out of our current circumstances. Debt elimination may need to rise to the top of the priority list. Interest rates have just been lowered. This means you can possibly refinance a car, mortgage, or student loan. You’ve got time on your hands and it could be worth real dollars, so check it out!

It may be smart to cut back on your spending temporarily. We’re kinda being forced to do that. Since we are self-quarantining, we are cooking more at home and not going out for any kind of entertainment. Also, some of our events have been cancelled. It all helps reduce the strain on our budget for a while.

Look after your older neighbors, help out where you can. If you’re in a position to do so, tip big on your take-out order. Think of creative ways you can help your neighbors while still practicing social distancing. Check on older or more vulnerable neighbors who don’t need to be getting out. If you know anyone in Assisted Living/Nursing Home/Hospice, call them. This isolation will leave lasting scars on a person who may already feel forgotten. If you have the resources, give to your local church’s needs fund. They will be ministering to out-of-work congregants. Also, give extra if you can to the general fund. Some churches are already seeing a 30-40% drop in giving.

Stay home as much as possible. This will not only help the general population, but it will help our local small business owners and our over-stressed healthcare workers by helping to end this ASAP. Staying home is what we can all do now. Between the day I started writing this post and the day I have published it, most large cities have instituted a Shelter In Place order. Please stay home unless it’s an emergency or to go to the grocery store.

Hard Choices, Easy Life. Easy Choices, Hard Life.

Jerzy Gregorek

My next post will have a few thoughts on what I have personally learned during this market downturn. See you soon!

The Cards We’ve Been Dealt

(Saturday March 21, 2020. This post was written almost a week ago and many thing have changed in the last week. I will be writing another post soon about what our world and our lives look like now. This is already somewhat out of date, but the sentiment is still valid.)

This post is a combination of a couple of Facebook posts I have written recently concerning the state of our world right now…or The Cards We’ve Been Dealt. I apologize if this is a repeat of something you’ve already seen.

There won’t be a lot of financial stuff in this post. From time to time, I will write about things affecting more than just our money. Although, what is going on around us is definitely affecting our money.

A Little Preview of the Next Post

Before I get into this, let me assure you I will get back to writing about money. It’s been a while since I posted, and I’ll tell you right up front, you will not see my posts coming through on a consistent basis. Us bloggers are supposed to post every week or 2 weeks at the most. That’s just not happening in my life! Retirement, hobbies and my family obligations just don’t give me a nice, smooth predictable schedule. And that’s OK.

My last post was about budgeting and included a sample budget spreadsheet. The next post will be about the WHY of doing a budget and then one on some of the HOW’s of doing a budget.

Now Let’s Get Back to Those Cards We Were Dealt

I’m writing this post on Sunday, March 15, 2020. I was supposed to sing as part of the worship team this morning, but didn’t because I have a cold. The video at the bottom of this post is one of the songs I was practicing this week. It speaks of our Jesus who walk on water, speaks to the seas and stands in the fire beside us.

In the last few weeks, our world has turned upside down. I believe we have seen more changes to our lives (due to COVID-19) in a shorter period of time than in all of history. The effects of this disease fall across a wide spectrum. At one end, devastating loss of loved ones. The other end is personal inconvenience. We don’t know how long these inconveniences will last. We don’t know if one of our own loved oneswill be affected tomorrow. We DO know that nothing can separate us from the love of GOD if we are in Christ Jesus.

Even if you are not a Christ follower, there is one thing you cannot ignore. These things have been predicted. I have a good friend who teaches a class on how the Bible has, with 100% accuracy predicted the future. The Bible talks about the increase in frequency of wars, natural disasters and pestilence. This is not the first disease crisis our world has faced and it won’t be the last. It’s just the one we have to deal with TODAY.

Praying For Each Other

Sunday, March 15 has been set aside as a day of prayer. ( added March 21 – We should be in constant prayer for our families and our world) We all need peace and wisdom in these trying times. I want my Facebook and Website family (some of whom I’ve never met face to face) to know I’ve got your back. I am and will continue to pray for you, for your safety, your wisdom and your peace. I hope all of you who are part of this family will be doing the same. We need each other, even if we have to be socially distant.

Next to the last thought

Watch the video below. The producers asked people to send in their praises and their prayer requests. Some of these are highlighted in a video behind Chris as he sings. You can hear the audio on some, but not all. For most, you don’t need to. It reminded me that my inconveniences are NOTHING compared to what others are facing. The one that hit me the hardest was the young boy, probably about 4 or 5, who is battling brain cancer….FOR THE 3RD TIME! We all need to keep our lives in perspective and be in a constant attitude of gratitude and not fear.

Last thought

As of this weekend, most, if not all, nursing homes and assisted livings are on lock-down. This means no outside visitors. The facility my mom is in has also started a general quarantine of all residents. This means they cannot leave their rooms. So, no activities, no contact with other residents and their meals are being brought to their rooms. This kind of isolation can be devastating. If you know ANYONE who is in a facility, please be diligent to call them…often. Most of our elderly already feel forgotten. This won’t help. And if you have an elderly neighbor who probably shouldn’t be driving anyway, offer your help. Some of our neighbors don’t need to be getting out in their cars every day to go to the store in hopes of finding toilet paper and milk.