Breaking Rules

Nothing is as it should be this year. 2020 will go down in history as one of the worst years for my generations (X / Y – I am right on the brink).

Highest unemployment as far as I can remember across the globe. People are restricted to travel between countries, in some areas even between cities. Foodbanks, charities, and NGOs are stepping up and doing what they can to get people through hard times, even in the richest and most developed nations. Medical supplies are running short, equipment gets scarce. And governments are printing cash for people like there is no tomorrow.

Every weakness of our economic systems has been exposed by now. The mantra of a small government and an unhinged economy has been crushed to pieces. Whether it’s Germany, the US, UK or Thailand: Without government support it would all collapse.

It’s a terrible situation, but we will get through this, as humanity always did. There is light at the end of the tunnel, and I am confident that we will thrive again once this is all over.

And having said that, as bad as it is, it’s also a great lesson and experience for us. Instead of lamenting and complaining, we have right now the opportunity to analyze the situation and to think about how we can handle a similar occurrence in the future. Because we know that this wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last pandemic that we will have to deal with.

Financial independence should grab more spotlight than ever before

The current situation showed lots of weakness in the structure of our society, especially to those who are in the rat race. As the crisis triggered massive unemployment, salary cuts, and put people in danger of losing access to their basic needs like shelter, food, and healthcare, it has never been more obvious that the rules we follow are flawed.

People are talking about jobs, minimum wages, worker protections. Protections from evictions, free medical support, and other measures to help all of us getting through the challenges of the pandemic. And it’s all good and right. We need to work, we need to have our rights protected, and we need a framework of rules to make sure those in power don’t abuse those who are not in a position to protect themselves.

Unfortunately, the same rules that protect us are also the rules that limit our opportunities. They push us into the rat race, into the dependence on people who employ us, and on governments that care for us. We give away some parts of our freedom and receive in return limited protection that helps us to make it through the days ahead.

But those who really want to get at least a slice of their freedom back, they got to break out of the rules and take ownership of their future. It’s especially situations like the current crisi, when financial independence becomes more important than ever.

Being financially independent means that you can afford to have a shelter without relying on the government, that you can put food on the table without relying on charities, and that your health is protected. Financial independence is not about getting rich. It’s about freedom.

The steps for reaching financial independence are only a few:

  • Earning as much as you can
  • Spending as little as possible
  • Saving and investing the surplus
  • Building passive income

Only four steps that explain it all. Simple and while not easy, definitely achievable with the right mind-set, plan and determination. And the benefits are immense. Not only may it allow you to retire early from your regular job. Achieving financial freedom will also empower you to pursue other paths and passions which you might have not considered previously due to financial commitments that couldn’t be neglected.

Even more importantly though, it will also prepare you for hardships, and situations as we are experiencing right now. It’s undeniable that those who build up emergency funds that cover 6-12 months of expenses, or who have passive income streams, are significantly less worried while the virus is causing panic and havoc across the world.

The FIRE movement is just a smart thing to do

When you explain the idea of financial independence and the FIRE movement to people who never thought about it, you will hardly find anyone who would disagree with it these days. There is nothing about massive unemployment, stagnant wages, and deteriorating economic conditions that would encourage people to go back to the old days.

And this is not a one-off event. It will happen again. Maybe it will be another virus. Maybe something else. But we know that hard ships are part of the equation throughout our lives. So wouldn’t it be a smart thing to do something about it? To prepare for it?

As my readers know, I am promoting investing in stocks. And surely, many companies got in trouble and had to cut or reduce their dividends, hence also impacting my passive income. But what this crisis showed me clearly is that while there is no 100% protection in this kind of environment, the odds are still clearly favouring investors over regular workers.

I work in the hardest hit industry of the pandemic: I am a hotel manager. And while my salary was cut by up to 40% as my hotel had to close for a few months, my passive dividend-income went down only by 9% on average year to date so far, and I expect it to remain on that level.

If you ever had doubts whether FIRE is for you, these doubts should be gone by now. And whether you invest in stocks or real estate, or any other way that generates passive income streams, it should be (or become) a part of your plan.

The pain continues… for some

We are now in the middle of the third quarter of 2020. August. And the world doesn’t look much better than it looked in the second quarter. In fact, despite all the happy talk that you might hear occasionally on some news, data points increasingly towards a bad fourth and final quarter as well.

So the pain will continue and might even increase. More companies will close their doors. More people might lose their jobs, or endure salary cuts. Many people will remain dependent on the support from governments, friends, families, or charitable institutions… and sometimes strangers.

The suffering is not equal

But some suffer more than others, and guess who is suffering the least? Well, from what I see, income investors have suffered very little in comparison to regular folks.

When I look at my income portfolio, it looks as bad as it gets with current total performance in value development of -29%. Almost a third of the money I invested has disappeared. On paper. In reality, it doesn’t disappear until I sell the shares – which I have no intention to do within the next 20 years or so.

But interestingly, my dividends for this year will be holding up much more stable. According to my most recent forecast, my dividend income for this year will fall only about -8%.

Cash is king

In a crisis like this, income investors have the advantage that most of their investments are/were around financially strong companies, which generate either strong cash flows or which are simply rich.

In addition to this, many dividend-paying companies tend to offer essential services. Whether it’s water, energy, food, or our most addictive tech-entertainment. Those companies keep earning money no matter what and can largely sustain their dividends even in a global crisis.

Having strong cash flows and/or a well-prepared emergency fund, those companies can navigate through the storm, and even use their strong cash position to grow and expand their business. One should not get surprised if the strongest among them come out even stronger after the crisis.

Technology is unstoppable

I have this year so far only added money to my speculative portfolio which has several technology titles in it that either benefit from the pandemic, or which are simply not relevant to the pandemic at all. And while my income portfolio shows a -29% performance, my speculative tech portfolio is already back up with double-digits and +25% in market value.

Some people are wondering why the technology sector keeps rising despite the harsh reality that we experience across the globe right now. But in fact, it’s not surprising. Technology will be moving forward no matter what, and being invested in a few solid technology-focused companies will probably serve as a great diversification to any portfolio for the foreseeable future to come.

Keep investing

So yes, I keep investing. I am currently not adding money to my dividend income portfolio, but plan to do so around October. August and September look still awfully bleak and we might see more bankruptcies, more unemployment, and more suffering. But the longer it will be going on, the closer we will get to a solution. I am, however, putting money into my speculative portfolio.

History has taught us, that after every crisis the market recovers. As a young investor, you should therefore not hesitate. Whether you go in with an ETF or individual stocks. Crisis or not, keep investing regularly, and diligently, and as we get closer to a solution to this awful pandemic, your efforts and trust in the market will very likely plan out according to similar events of the past and reward you in the long run.

There are of course no guarantees, but what is guaranteed these days anyway?