- The coronavirus pandemic has fuelled fears of a recession as the US stock market drops.
- But most self-made millionaire early retirees who largely rely on investments to fund their lifestyle told Business Insider they’re not worried about their money.
- Some are relying on cash cushions and others are investing during the downturn.
- It shows the importance of having smart savings strategies.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The coronavirus pandemic has the stock market teetering.
As government shutdowns occur across the globe to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, countries are being forced to choose between the economy and health. Several Wall Street economists have predicted that the US will fall into a recession from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.
It can be scary news for everyone, especially those who have taken on an alternative lifestyle. Consider early retirees; the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement has grown in popularity over the past 20 years among those seeking financial freedom. But many of these early retirees rely on investments, especially in the stock market, to fund their living.
Business Insider spoke to several people who retired before age 40 as self-made millionaires to see how they feel about the current economic turmoil. Will they still be able to fund their lifestyle? Or will they need to return to work?
Here’s how they’re handling it – and what they’re doing with their money right now.
Note that this is not investing advice.
Chris Reining is gradually investing in stocks.
“What I’ve been doing is staying fully invested,” he said. “Any extra money generated by my portfolio, I’m using to buy stock. But I’m investing in stages, knowing the market could fall further.”
He said he anticipates a “horrible economic fallout” in the near-term. “But there will be a point when investors stop selling,” he said. “A point when people go back to work. A point when life returns to normal. Someday it will all be in the rearview mirror. So my long-term bet is the economy recovers and the market moves higher.”
He added: “The timeline is anyone’s guess. So, as for how to play the uncertainty? I’m old-fashioned. I don’t try. I stay invested.”
Justin McCurry is counting on his seven years’ worth of living expenses that he’s saved in bonds and cash.
Justin McCurry of Root of Good retired at age 33 in 2013 with an investment portfolio of $US1.3 million, which he built with his wife. He told Business Insider he was fortunate to retire early during a bull market. “We watched our portfolio roughly double in value by the peak in February 2020 and it’s still about 50% higher than when we started this early retirement journey,” he said.
Because they have about six years of living expenses in bonds and another year’s worth saved in cash, he said they won’t have to sell stocks for “quite some time.”
“I shifted from a 100% stock portfolio back in 2017 and 2018 by selling some equities and buying those bonds just so that I wouldn’t have to worry during the next big recession,” he added. “Very smart move in hindsight because I’m sleeping well at night!”
He said they can survive a very prolonged recession for two reasons: They paid off their mortgage in 2015 so their core monthly expenses are very low, and the bulk of their discretionary spending is on travel – which they won’t be doing during the pandemic.
“We have the short and intermediate term spending needs covered right now,” he said. “Long-term, I think we will be ok as our current spending is much lower than the classic 4% rule would allow us from our portfolio.”
Kristy Shen and Bryce Leung are relying on a cash cushion and plan to cut back on living expenses.
Leung told Business Insider they started investing in 2008, but he’s “seen Dow drops like I’ve never seen before” in the current economic climate. But, he said, “We’re not scared at all, and we’re probably the most pessimistic, cautious people.” Leung explained this is because they don’t rely on just the stock market.
Instead, they have a cash cushion – a reserve fund in a savings account to pay for living expenses to avoid a full stock portfolio withdrawal during down years – to act as a buffer during a declining stock market. This cushion allows them to last four to eight years without selling stock, he said.
Shen added: “In the worst-case scenario, we’re projecting we’ll be able to drop living expenses so that we won’t need to withdraw from the cash cushion at all.”
Like Shen and Leung, Tanja Hester is also relying on a three-year cash cushion.
She told Business Insider she suspects the US is in the beginning of a real recession. “Given how long the bull market was, we always knew there was a virtual guarantee that it would end and we’d see a recession in the first few years of our early retirement,” she said, adding that their financial plan is built to withstand such downturns. “We use a much more conservative safe withdrawal rate than the oft-quoted ‘4% rule.'”
A big component of their plan is the three-year cash cushion that she says gives them the ability to go years without selling shares: having three years worth of expenses in a high-yield savings account.
“Depending how long we all end up socially distancing and isolating ourselves, that money could stretch a lot longer because we’re spending very little right now with no travel happening,” she said. “But we’ll aim to keep spending a bit lower as long as the markets are dramatically down, something our budget allows because it’s not a rock bottom budget with every fun thing already scrubbed out of it.”
Steve Adcock is reinvesting his dividends and living off a high-interest savings account.
Adcock, who retired with his wife at age 35 as a self-made millionaire, is a bit optimistic about the economy. He told Business Insider he doesn’t think the fallout the coronavirus pandemic has caused will create a “long-term devastating change.”
“I believe we will pull out of this and march forward as we slowly get back to normal,” he said. And even if it does last long-term, he said, he and his wife wouldn’t need to pull from their stocks in a down market for three years.
He said they’re now reinvesting their dividends and living entirely off their high-interest Ally savings account. “Before retiring, we accumulated three years of living expenses in our savings account,” he said. “Most people thought that we were keeping way too much in cash, but we definitely appreciate all that cash right now.”
Apart from diversifying his stock portfolio, Grant Sabatier isn’t touching his investments.
Sabatier, blogger of Millennial Money and author of “Financial Freedom,” retired at age 30 after building up a $US1.25 million net worth in just five years. “I’ve always recommended saving one to two years of living expenses in a high interest savings account,” he told Business Insider. “I had a little over two years saved in cash so I’m living off that and not touching my investments.”
He added that for his stock investments, he reduced his exposure to Amazon and diversified his portfolio a bit more after the first 8% market drop.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Sabatier was looking at investing beyond stocks and savings accounts. He said he was considering investing in real estate and in another website “in an always-in-demand niche to diversify and create more passive income” and still plans to do so.
Sam Dogen is using the downturn to fund his children’s college savings.
Dogen, of The Financial Samurai, retired from his Wall Street job eight years ago at age 34 with $US3 million. He told Business Insider he thinks an economic recession is “all but a certainty at this point. Hopefully, we’ll see a V-shaped recovery in the second half of the year as the coronavirus gets better contained. But it’s going to be really tough-going for a while.”
He plans to make use of the downturn to fund both of his children’s 529 college savings plans and build a larger dividend stock portfolio.
His ultimate goal, he said, is to build his equity exposure to 25%. He said he has a conservative portfolio – with just 20% of his net worth in equities – he’s “still down hundreds of thousands of dollars.” While the rest of his net worth consists of real estate, bonds, cash, and business equity, he says the lost money on his existing equity exposure is still “very painful.”
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