It’s well known one of the biggest fears of the FIRE movement is the dreaded possibility of a “black swan event.”
Black Swan Event: An unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected with potentially severe consequences.
As I write this article on April 11th, 2020, the world as we knew it a month ago has disintegrated beyond belief. In what can only be described as a “bad dream,” the stock market has been on a roller coaster since February 19th, billions of people are currently in lock down across the globe and 108,042 documented deaths have already occurred. The real count will be forever lost due to insufficient testing, varying ways of counting the cause of death and an overwhelmed system struggling to keep up.
How did we get here and does FIRE make sense anymore?
Timeline of Events
The Coronavirus Begins
To understand how we got here, we have to go back to November 2019 when the events were set in motion. On November 17, the first known case of the novel coronavirus emerged. What no one knew, was just how devastating this new virus would be. The loss of life, the fear, the economy melting down and our current way of life permanently threatened.
2019 comes to a close
Obliviously unaware of the percolating pandemic that would later be declared, the virus was rapidly spreading almost undetected across China. In early December the first official report that a “new viral outbreak was detected in the city of Wuhan, China on 12 December 2019” was published. It would be another few weeks until December 30th when Dr Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital, would become the face of the outbreak as he warned his medical class of the dangers. Tragically, Dr Li would later contract the virus himself and succumb to the disease on February 7, 2020. Meanwhile, as time marched into 2020, the virus slowly begin to circulate throughout the globe with new years celebrations and life continuing as normal.
The “Forgotten” year begins
As things were beginning to heat up globally, back in Seattle, my husband and I blissfully moved forward in our day-to-day lives. You see, 2020 was a special year for us. After “one more year-ing” ourselves to death, my husband was rapidly approaching the fateful day of giving notice, after a long 15 year stint with his company. We planned to begin our new life in a yet to be determined city, with me quitting one year later. It seemed our dream of the “RE” portion of FIRE was nearing reality.
For me, January seemed to stretch on for ages. Last minute work trips, new projects, over-analyzing every possible scenario that might occur as his notice was given and wondering if our number was really “enough.”
January 21, 2020 – First Travel-related Case of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Detected in the United States.
Tick tock, the clock moved closer.
The Point of no Return
The first half of February passed much the same as January. I spent my time working frantically on last minute projects at work and traveling back and forth across the country as normal.
On February 12, 2020, the Dow Jones hit it’s highest point ever, 29,551.42.
We were optimistic about the future, and pleasantly pleased with our finances. After all, who wouldn’t love the last 10-years of the strong bull market we were enjoying? Not that we were too naive to think there wouldn’t be ups and downs in the market over the next 40+ years, but any lingering hesitation either of us felt was far outweighed by the prospect of moving forward into the next chapter of our lives.
When Valentine’s Day came, we celebrated a shining moment of the last hurdle we were waiting for: one final vesting payment. After that crowning moment, we spent one last weekend of debate, excitement, wonder and nervousness about the day notice would finally be given and our plan would be executed. (Of course that weekend happened to be a long 3-day weekend due to Presidents Day, but what’s one more day after a long 15-years?)
Tuesday, February 18th, I took off on a plane for what would end up being my last business trip for the foreseeable future, and my husband “made the call” to resign.
After a rather uneventful resignation process (you never know how your employer will react), the following day (February 19th) an official announcement was sent to all the staff. There was no going back now.
The Dow remained at a resounding 29,348.03.
The Hammer Drops
Between February 20th and March 23rd, the Dow plummeted in the fastest sell off in history. To date, it hit it’s lowest point at 18,591.93 or over 36% lower. Ouch.
Dow Jones Industrial Average February 2020 – April, 10 2020.
March 12th, one day before his last day with the company the Dow dropped a resounding -9.99%, which happened to be the second largest drop in the history of the Dow and coincided with one last request from his boss to reconsider leaving.
We both agreed there was no going back and that we’d be fine.
On Friday March 13th, he said his last goodbyes.
The following Monday (16th), the first day of true freedom, the Dow dropped -12.93%, it’s largest drop on a day EVER in history.
A hell of a way to start what should be the greatest Monday in one’s adult life.
Largest daily point gains in market history
Of the top 20 largest point swings in the market (in history), 50% of the largest upward swings happened between March and April 2020.
|Rank||Date||Net Points (% Change)|
Largest daily point losses in market history
Of the top 20 largest point swings in the market (in history) 65% of the worst downward swings occurred between February and April of 2020.
|Rank||Date||Net Points (% Change)|
The next month would bring a turbulent ride of emotions as the world descended into chaos. The news was full of reports outlining citywide shutdowns and curfews across the world. Layoffs started, mandatory work from home began rolling out across the country and panic buying in grocery stores heated up.
Our plan of heading to Vegas on March 20th to enjoy March Madness and tour our new potential home in Vegas was dashed as Gov Sisolak ordered all the casinos to close on March 17th.
Meanwhile, the stock market continued its race downward. As we watched more of our hard-earned money disappear into the ether, the panic started to set in. Did we make a mistake? Do we have enough money? Will we be a victim of sequence risk in our portfolio and run out of money far before we die?
We ordered bullets.
Yes, it’s come to this. On March 21, our fear was at an all time high and we bit the bullet head on. Not even three months into what was supposed to be the greatest celebratory year ever, 2020 has us sequestered in our home and panic buying ammunition along with the rest of the country.
The National Guard gets deployed
Say what? Against my better judgment, after continuing to read the fear mongering headlines, I was met with this gem. “Donald Trump authorizes national guard to deploy to Washington, California and New York as the hardest hit states are declared as coronoavirus disaster zones.”
This was one day after the ceremonious buying of our new bullets. In retrospect, not such a bad idea? Let’s just hope they’re never needed.
Things get worse
At this point, it doesn’t seem like things could get any worse. Thankfully, despite the massive hit to the stock market, we felt like we are in a good enough position to weather the storm. We quickly realized while our financial situation would likely be OK, what about our families?
We had considered many scenarios for our parents and siblings and what level of financial support we may need or be willing to provide in the future. What we did fail to consider? That they may all need help at once.
The current pandemic lashed out at places we never considered would be impacted. It ranged from minor expenses to full on potential financial ruin.
- Food costs rising, less “deals” and coupons available (Related: Cheap Bastard your way to financial freedom)
- Delivery fees for food/supplies needed for our parents at high-risk to Covid
- Potential lay-off’s of the primary bread winner with a house full of children/pets
- A complete drying up of business for a small-business owner with too many fixed costs to last long without income.
All of a sudden we were met with the stark reality that we may want or need to help out with more than we ever dreamed of.
Is our FIRE dream dead?
It didn’t take many days of obsessing over these developments for me to declare that “I’m never quitting my job.” The fear and reality that my parents may need more financial assistance than I ever thought possible was overwhelming for me.
A few hours later my husband was back searching for jobs on a job board and a sense of doom had settled in.
The emotional realities of pursuing FIRE and potentially seeing it ripped from your grasp is disheartening. Of course my over-reaction and potential worst case scenario of needing to support all our family members at once is highly unlikely (even during a pandemic). It does bring up a different question for me of if I’ll be able to handle the emotional realities of not having a full time job when it’s finally time for me to hang it up. When is enough really enough? (And no, my husband isn’t searching for employment any more).
The loss of life and long lasting emotional ramifications of the Coronavirus will permeate throughout our society for years to come. But with uncertainly comes opportunity and the prospect of positive change. We’ve seen pollution drop, families reconnecting while working from home and self-sustaining activities such as home cooked meals and an interest in home-gardens be rekindled. If history indeed repeats itself, this too shall past. The economy will recover, humankind will preserve over the virus and we’ll all emerge stronger (albiet different) than we were before.
2020 may turn out to be the forgotten year but 2021 is not far behind.