Making Sense Out of Chaos

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I stepped outside under a deep blue sky. The sun shone bright. It was a perfect day. Yet nothing felt right.

unsettling perfect dayIn less than 24 hours between Wednesday, March 11th and Thursday, March 12th: The stock market continued to crash, marking the fastest ever drop from market top to bear market. The president addressed the nation to try to calm fears about the spreading pandemic and the rapidly accelerating economic impact. 

The NBA and NHL suspended their seasons. The NCAA cancelled basketball tournaments. Disney announced it was closing theme parks.

In my personal life, my parents postponed their trip to visit us later this month. My wife’s work retreat scheduled for this week on the opposite side of the country was cancelled as well.

I started the car to take my daughter to school. A voice on the radio announced that trading on the New York stock exchange was halted for 15 minutes. There was speculation that the market could drop another 20% today. I turned the radio off.

The feeling in that moment felt eerily similar to 9/11. I vividly remember walking out of work that Tuesday afternoon, nearly 20 years ago, on the other side of the country. It was a similarly sunny warm day, under the same gorgeous bluebird sky. 

Now, just like then, the world as I knew it the day before didn’t make sense. It’s hard to describe the feeling other than to say my entire equilibrium was off.

I’ve been working on blog posts about credit card travel rewards and creating retirement income with interest rates at all time lows. I’ll publish them later, when the time feels right. 

Today, I need to make sense of the current situation and reorient myself. Hopefully, I can help you do the same.

Financial Independence is a Myth

Since I started writing, I’ve become acutely aware that words matter. People associate strong emotions with certain words and phrases. 

People argue about what retirement means and whether early retirement is a good or bad goal. Conversely, I’ve found people nearly universally associate the term financial independence with personal freedom to do whatever you want. They embrace the concept.

I focus a lot on the term financial independence. My book is titled Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. Obviously, I embrace the concept as well.

But in times of crisis, we come to realize that none of us are truly independent. We need each  other.

Our financial independence relies on governments that can maintain order, a functioning financial system, the ability to get safe and affordable food, utilities that allow us to live comfortably, infrastructure enabling us to move freely, and a medical system that functions when injury or illness strike.

It’s important to control the things you can control. It’s also important to recognize there are  things you can’t. We don’t even know some of the threats that exist. Our biggest threats may not even exist yet.

“Black Swans”

We can’t be prepared for every “Black Swan” event. A few months ago, no one had ever heard of COVID19. A few weeks ago, it was still a disease in far away places. Today, we still don’t know whether the disease is seasonal, what therapies will be developed, and how effective they’ll be.

Shutting down sporting events, major concerts, festivals, conferences, theaters, amusement parks, and schools nationwide is unprecedented. We’ve seen cases in the past temporarily affect travel. But completely shutting down the entire cruise industry and the massive impacts on air travel including banning travel from an entire continent is unprecedented as well. 

It is impossible to predict and plan for specific “Black Swan” scenarios. We can generally prepare and become more resilient. I think this is a big point that is missed by those who ascribe to mainstream personal finance principles when thinking about FIRE. 

I had the opportunity to discuss this on Morningstar’s Longview Podcast recently. Christine Benz asked me: “I worry a little bit that maybe some folks who are looking at their enlarged portfolio balances might be inclined to undertake a really early retirement, might be in trouble if they encounter that weak equity market early in their retirements. Can you talk about that and whether that concerns you?”

This scenario doesn’t worry me. If anything, I’m concerned that people on this path are overly obsessed with their finances.

Without question, there is risk involved when you make the decision to walk away from your income and choose to retire. But even in worst case scenarios, the FI community is far better positioned than the average American when situations like this arise.

We’re Blessed

It breaks my heart to think about how many people are stretched so thin financially that they can’t sustain a month of hardship. Many people will face significant consequences if they miss even a single paycheck.

We’re all affected by the crisis surrounding this pandemic. I’m certain our net worth has dropped several hundred thousand dollars in a matter of weeks. Honestly, I haven’t had the stomach to check exactly how much. 

Missing out on a couple of weeks visiting with my parents hurts. My mom is battling a chronic medical condition, and we never know how many of these opportunities we have left. We cherish each one.

But the challenges and hardships we face are minimal in comparison to those faced by many Americans following the standard path through life. 

I was able to go out and drop a couple hundred dollars stocking up on food without giving it a second thought. While many people have no idea what they’ll do with their kids when their schools close, we’re positioned perfectly with two parents at home with lots of flexibility.

Technically, I’m a FIRE blogger, living a FIRE lifestyle. I’ve learned from and support those whose mission is to help others optimize the fastest path to financial independence or to never pay taxes again.

But my primary mission is to expose the simple but life changing FIRE principles to those who may otherwise miss them. To those who assume these principles are too extreme and thus inaccessible. Or to those hung up on the standard view of retirement.

I want to provide a realistic message of hope and a path to increased resilience and freedom.

It’s No Time for a Victory Lap

Hopefully, you are following similar principles and taking a similar path through life. If so, you’re likely doing relatively well despite the current turmoil. Congratulations for taking the actions that put you in that enviable position in life.

Realize though that when we have events like we’ve experienced the past couple of weeks, many people will be hurt. Some irreparably. So this isn’t a time to spike the football and do your best touchdown dance.

Medical workers on the front lines treating the sick are going to be vulnerable to this illness and stretched thin. Many people in the travel, tourism, and entertainment industries will be out of work indefinitely. Millions of parents are going to be challenged to take care of work and child care obligations simultaneously in the weeks and months to come.

What Can We Do?

We can’t tell you how, when, or where to invest your resources. But I always like to share what we’re doing with full transparency.

Like most of you we have fears. Like all of you, we don’t know what will happen next. Our natural instincts are to get more frugal. We could strengthen our financial position by cutting back discretionary spending and hoarding cash or using it to buy more stocks while they’re “on sale.” 

But we’re challenging those instincts. Instead, we’re looking for ways to spend our time and money in ways that will help others who need our resources more than we do.

Consider infusing small businesses with cash by buying gift cards to use in the future, even though it may not be appropriate to use their services now. Increasing charitable giving is an excellent option. Indulging to make a large purchase that you may have been on the fence about can provide a vital boost to a small business.

We can also give of our time. One opportunity I see for myself is to help fellow parents who face substantial challenges with schools shutting down for long periods of time.

Many people reading this blog are in a similarly fortunate position of having enough, maybe even excess, money and/or time at this time when others are struggling. What will you do?

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[Chris Mamula used principles of traditional retirement planning, combined with creative lifestyle design, to retire from a career as a physical therapist at age 41. After poor experiences with the financial industry early in his professional life, he educated himself on investing and tax planning. After achieving financial independence, Chris began writing about wealth building, DIY investing, financial planning, early retirement, and lifestyle design at Can I Retire Yet? He is also the primary author of the book Choose FI: Your Blueprint to Financial Independence. Chris also does financial planning with individuals and couples at Abundo Wealth, a low-cost, advice-only financial planning firm with the mission of making quality financial advice available to populations for whom it was previously inaccessible. Chris has been featured on MarketWatch, Morningstar, U.S. News & World Report, and Business Insider. He has spoken at events including the Bogleheads and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants annual conferences. Blog inquiries can be sent to Financial planning inquiries can be sent to]

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  1. No victory laps here but like you I feel blessed. The smart choices I’ve made throughout my life are gonna put me in a much better place to get through this whole thing, with the likely recession that it’ll spawn.

    I also still work part time at my W2 as I only semi-FIRE’d and it’s a very secure job with the government. If worst comes to worst I could go back to full time but do not wish to do that ideally.

    1. Similar here with my wife’s part-time work, though her position is not necessarily as secure. This may be the kick in the pants I need as well to transfer my PT license over to Utah and start working a couple days a week to bolster our position. I hope and pray I’m wrong, but I think this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

    2. Ditto Dave, I’m 62 not collecting SS yet did some quick math : 2500×360=900,000 if SS is added I’m at 3800mo. House paid off 21 years ago. No cc debt. No car payments. No legacy guilt.
      Wife is the smart investor and net worth higher then me (separate finance agreement married 30 yr) I’ve always been a saver not a investor. Inflation by and large is personal. If I can’t be flexible in my lifestyle on a yearly basis then I’m an inflationary prisoner.
      I’m a lowly firewood guy. Don’t plan to stop cutting. I know how to and happen to enjoy eating macaroni.
      Nothing wrong with using money to make money. Here’s the thing, for me, the risk is too high. Not gonna live forever. I’ll just spend down my savings.
      Keep smiling everybody!

  2. Thats what I have been thinking about when reading your book last month. FIRE concept is purely based on assumption that the most endebted government in the world will keep their financial markets stable.. Myself coming from a system where for few last generations rules of the game were changed multiple times I feel hugely insecure to rely on such a model. Trying to find my way to FIRE though..

    1. Olga,

      I think that is a valid fear that many of us have, even having lived our whole lives in this system. The thing I always come back to is that if the market system fails, then our economy and country as we know it fails. If that happens, not much of what we’re doing matters anyway. And in the event of anything shy of total catastrophic meltdown, the principles of living below your means, being productive and of service to others, and investing in a sensible way is always going to allow you to handle things from a position of strength. And they are the skills you will need to rebuild from. So there’s literally no downside.

      Out of curiosity, where did you come from that makes you feel so insecure?


      1. In response to your, Chris, question about Olga’s location prior to coming to this country, her name might give a hint that it’s ex-USSR. If I’m correct, I agree with her conclusion considering today’s mood in the market…VERY panicky.
        It feels as if people have been handed a very false sense of security considering what’s behind the curtains (gov’t has presses to print money but not real money)… Empires collapse earlier or later

        1. M&S

          Definitely not the reaction they were hoping for with the rate cut, and it seems that well is running dry. Time will tell.


  3. The Black Swan has landed. Years of reckless Central Bank and government behavior have come home to roost.
    A health official has now stated that Corona will not be gone this summer. It will part of the seasonal flu viruses we contend with every year. So, Corona will attenuate in summer but be back again, in the fall.
    This is going to make the U.S. health care system a major issue in future elections. The massive for-profit skimming operation treats a large part of the country unfairly. Health care will have to be made available more evenly to the public. Poor coverage puts everyone at risk.
    So, do sick gig-workers who likely go to work when they don’t feel well. Massive job-outsourcing is largely responsible for the gig workforce.
    This next recession is going to create pressure to change a lot of societal problems. It is also going to put our highly financialized economy under scrutiny. If enough people die, Wall Street greed is going to look worse than it previously has.

    1. Dennis,

      Re the virus: I’m very hesitant to put too much stock in what any individual thinks the course of this will be. It is still novel and I think we should all admit that we simply don’t know what we don’t know.

      Re the economy, Wall St and the Central banks. I don’t think there is anything particularly new here. Most individuals, businesses and governments operate at or above their means. There are very few points where there are slack in the system. We can build that slack in our personal finances, and that is IMO the most important reason to learn the concepts that we write about and put them into action when times are good. So many articles now about what to do in a recession, but the time to prepare for that inevitable reality was a decade ago and most people weren’t doing it.

    2. Dennis, its starting to look like this recession, and more broadly the now grossly obvious gaps in our healthcare coverage for all people in our country, will exert a lot of pressure for changes. But we people will have to demand the changes. I read recently that Franklin Roosevelt said “Make me do it!” about Social Security — he wanted to very much, but needed people to demand the political will to make it happen. The original Social Security Act became law in 1935, so it took a while after the 1929 depression to drive it. Today we have more tools in our hands to collaborate on demanding positive political action. FI folks with some time like me, let’s help organize some demanding. And let us never forget the poorest among us, those with no job, no money, no home — they must be thought if and included in the progress we demand.

      Chris, yes, now we are seeing a huge reason that FI principles are critical to personal security and safety, which must be in place before we can strive for happiness and self actualization. Keep doing what you’re doing, because people will definitely want to know more about how to control what they can in the coming years. The tool of money in our lives is a huge thing we can control more than we know; becoming conscious of what is possible, that is one of the things your and other FI blogs encourage, and that will be a huge positive shift for people.

  4. The most difficult realization to face when we decided to retire, was that – regardless of how well we were prepared – there would be no guarantee of safety or even predictability. And here is the proof. We could never have predicted this. Not only watching the stock market drop, but watching interest rates drop to nothing.

    The only “silver lining” I’ve seen is the opportunity to move securities from IRA into Roth.

    1. Carol,

      Agree that there is little certainty in retirement planning and it is scary. And the earlier you want to retire, the greater the risk. This is why I came to the conclusion long ago that neither traditional full retirement or staying on the standard path of life revolving around work for 40-50 years made sense. ( I’m certainly glad now that we took the time to question things and develop a robust plan and I hope most people reading this have as well.


  5. I really appreciate your articles. Searching for sanity amid the insane… looking for reason amongst the irrational… those are tough ones. We who maintain our spirits are best able to survive and adapt in changing conditions.
    Purchasing gift cards may be similar to buying confederate money if they go out of business. It bugs me that I don’t have an alternate suggestion to help keep at-risk small businesses afloat… must study.

    1. GS,

      I don’t disagree and I guess a caveat is that buying gift cards, loaning money, etc at this point should be done from the perspective of making a donation that you will hopefully recoup. This will certainly ruin a lot of businesses so it’s wise not to take risks with your finances that you can’t afford to take. Thanks for reading and taking the time to leave the thoughtful and kind comment.


  6. Thanks for your wise perspective and especially for modeling altruism and outreach as the right response during this unprecedented time Chris!

    And I also want to echo what Dennis said in perhaps a different way: if there is one good thing that comes out of this I hope it’ll be a realization that we are indeed all in this together and that health care is a basic human right that needs to be provided on a consistent, national basis. The failure of the profit-based U.S. system is unfolding in real time before our eyes.

    1. Kevin,

      Thank you. I don’t pretend to be smart enough to know how to fix our health care system. I certainly have ideas, but I think many would be unpalatable to a large portion of the population who like our system without understanding the underlying problems. If something good comes out of this, I hope it is that it will make us have a more serious and thoughtful conversation on building a better system. Time will tell.


      1. Chris – I’m a retired senior level hospital exec (and have enjoyed your column for some time). I have no political ax to grind but would like to mention something about healthcare in our country. Did you know we are the only country in the free world w/o some form of universal care? Those western countries w/a form of this care deliver it for 1/3 to 1/2 the cost per capita when compared to the US. And their outcomes (life expectancy) is better than ours. (Source: WHO Annual Report on Western Healthcare Systems By Country). Some (I.e. the U.K.) are straight government run (like Medicare); whereas others (Switzerland, France) require private health insurance but the insurers are all non-profit companies whereby the government provides subsidies to those insurers for adverse risk patients. All strongly negotiable significant pricing controls with big pharma, and med diagnostic and treatment equipment manufacturers; when used insurers are not for profit; and all countries work with hospital systems to structure realistic pricing. We don’t do any of these things. In fact our healthcare system is 100 profit (greed) driven and bloated with overpaid execs and inflated pricing – we we pay for. And 1/3 of the bankruptcies in the US are due to a healthcare crises. And BTW, these other western countries operate with strong capitalistic economic systems so don’t equal their socialized healthcare with a socialistic economy like the former USSR. If one does, then I suggest we privatize our public education systems, law enforcement, fire departments and other tax supporters agencies and services. There’s a lot of ignorance out there. Equal access to quality care is a human right if we consider ourselves to be an advanced society driven by ethics and values. I, too, am very concerned about our current economic crises and the COVID 19 pandemic. Everyone must practice self social isolation and exercise common sense – and cool heads (both socially and financially). I applaud you for your concern for the underserved and marginalized; and for small business owners. And I will join you in finding ways to support these groups during this time. Thanks!

        1. Randy,

          I agree that there is soooo much wrong with our system. The problem I see is that on the left all anyone wants to do is expand this broken, bloated system to even more people which is unsustainable and on the right all anyone wants to do is undo ACA with no better ideas that I can discern. There are many simple, common sense actions in between those extremes, but few people with the will to lead an honest conversation.

          Also agree about people needing to get more serious about doing everything we can to slow the spread. It seems like that message is finally getting through, but still seems like many people not taking it seriously enough.


        2. Randy, thank you very much for your detailed perspective of our healthcare system problems from a retired hospital executive’s point of view. It’s great to get some detailed thoughts of someone who had to deal with these issues, and who watched them worsen, during his career.

  7. Great article! On the topic of healthcare, and not to get too political, I think now is the time American people should demand Trump and the GOP drop their efforts to get the courts to rule the ACA as unconstitutional. Regardless of what you think about the ACA, it ensures insurance companies cannot deny Americans coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Being the Coronavirus is most deadly for older adults and people with various health/pre-existing conditions, what better time than now to push the GOP to do the right thing.

    Just my two cents.

    1. Thanks Danny. Agree that there needs to be a way to assist people with pre-existing conditions, but I’m going to steer the conversation away from politics beyond that.


      1. Healthcare consumers need to have some skin in the game too. Americans are increasingly overweight, have poor eating habits and are too sedentary. Growing up, we were skinny kids and always doing something outside burning calories without structured parental oversight. My wish is for a hybrid approach; a basic government managed family doctor/yearly physical coverage to encourage people see a professional and cover a foundation of needs. BUT, private insurance would still be required (and purchased) for anything above the basic needs. Personal accountability must be inherit in my proposal. We must think outside of the box. Healthcare pricing also needs to be transparent with pricing uniform across the US for lower tier services such as x-rays, setting of fractures, CRTs, simple surgeries, etc. Reconstructive surgery, cosmetic surgeries, aggressive cancer therapies, etc. would be in a premium tier. In summary, healthcare cannot be fully guaranteed to all, responsibility needs to be shared.

  8. Chris, thank you for a calm and compassionate post and comment replies. I think, feel, and am doing a lot of the same as you. I appreciate you weaving together the thoughts so well into words. This is a honking long reply. Please feel free to edit it down to what will benefit your blog readers today, or do with it what you will.

    I’m 63, retired last 31 May 2019 after somewhat following FI principles for decades. I stumbled on an early edition of the Robin/Dominguez “Your Money of Your Life” in the 1990s, which got me paying attention to my spending and thinking about what my “enough” is. I didn’t curb my spending much though. JL Collins’ 2016 “The Simple Path to Wealth” gave me the concrete information and instructions I personally needed to kick up my savings and actually retire. Today, my expenses are covered by cashing in 4% of my investments each year (in small amounts monthly) plus early Social Security and 2 small corporate pensions I got from a total of about 10 jobs during my 35 years of work for pay. I’m at the tail end of the Baby Boomers, I think.

    So I am not an extreme or well disciplined FI person. I didn’t care about learning all of the financial stuff you and JL and Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez studied. But I deeply appreciate all of you for your learning and your efforts to communicate the information, in all the different ways you do it, to everybody including folks like me. I would not be retired from paid work and okay watching all this unfold without you all.

    Why would I not be retired? I had good jobs, most with global corporations, at the individual contributor level and not managerial, but well paid and with very good healthcare benefits. The Treasury-bond savings approach laid out in the early “Your Money or Your Life” required more effort than I wanted to expend, and i never used it. So I worked with a few financial advisors over the years; they did help me to get rid of all debt but house and encouraged me to start saving, which I had done little of before my 50s

    Then I read “The Simple Path to Wealth” in 2016, several times in a span of a few months. That book opened my eyes to several important things:
    – My financial advisor, who I really liked as a person, wasn’t encouraging me to save enough.
    – The returns and fees on the investments he managed for me had never been clear to me, and that really bothered me.
    – I could save more than double what I was saving monthly, and get a better return by investing in low-fee index stock funds.
    – I could retire when my monthly expenses could be paid by cashing out 4% of my investments per year plus any other money coming in.

    So in September 2019, I fired my investment advisor and moved all my investment money as suggested in the book, into 100% stocks. After you gasp about the 100% stocks, know that I expect to keep most of my money invested for a long time due to good family genes, and that I didn’t panic but left money alone in stocks during the 2009 recession. So I figured I’m likely to live several more decades, and that I wouldn’t panic and cash out when the market gets volatile.

    I’m not panicking, so I was correct about my personal psychological reaction to the next major market downturn. Maybe that’s In part because I’m old, and have seen a lot of bad stuff come and go. My first national memory is from 1963, as a 6-year-old, sitting scared with my parents as President Kennedy’s death and its awful aftermath played out in stark black and white images on our small-screened TV set in rural southern Louisiana.

    I am also not feeling panic and fear because I believe that we, our nation, our world, will get through this together and be stronger on the other side. I’ve worked with enough great people worldwide, at enough global corporations, to know that the companies and their employees are doing their best to keep the companies afloat during this time and will do their best to recover as things become less volatile. I also see governmental representatives and employees doing their best for us all at this time, despite the mismanagement of the current US presidential administration and its congressional enablers.

    The fact-based source of my confidence in the resilience of the stock market comes from the stock-market historical sections in “The Simple Path to Wealth”. In additional to the historical perspective, I came away understanding 2 things I had not thought of:
    – Even when stock values crash, the number of stocks you own is the same. (So you’re not losing anything real right now, in my mind.)
    – The stock price matters only on the day you want to sell stocks. (If you don’t absolutely need to sell, volatility is irrelevant.)

    As far as the stock market goes, I will do nothing different. I will sit and keep my investments in 100% stocks, in the same Vanguard VTSAX low-fee index fund they have been in for almost 4 years. I’ll reduce spending where i can and it makes sense, and spend through cash savings as needed for the next several months to give the crisis urgency time to settle down. I’m not rich, and I doubt I have as much cash and investments as most FI bloggers. But I have enough cash on hand to watch the market for 3 to 5 months before having to cash in some stocks. I don’t intend to go to paid work again, but given the type of work I did (technical writing in the computer industry), paid work for a while as a contractor or employee is an option I think I can exercise if it seems best for my situation.

    As far as life goes, I am doing everything I safely can to help, listen to, and encourage the people I know and come in contact with. Also, like Chris, I am spending money supporting especially local businesses, but without messing up my long-term finances. These are things we can all do, right now. A large number of us doing this type of economic good will be a huge benefit to our society.

    Chris, I agree that this feels a lot like 9/11. I also wonder if this time feels like World War II did for my parents, but with all countries facing one way, towards a “common enemy”. My hope is that the world gets through this crisis stronger and more prosperous, and more united and more compassionate, on the other side.

    Thanks for reading this honking long reply. My very best wishes to all of you over the coming weeks and months.

    1. Are you sure on the 100% stock allocation.? As I read your post the stock market tumbled from 9.5% down to 13.2 down, all during a Corona Virus news conference with the President. The market has zero confidence right now despite huge moves by the Fed yesterday. It’s getting scary.

      1. Agree on all counts Mitch, but hoping she already considered that and has contingencies. We certainly don’t know how much further this goes, but regardless if selling now it is locking in some big losses.

      2. Mitch, for myself and my temperament, yes, I am sure – 100% stocks. And I will not sell any stock I have set aside as long term savings that I don’t absolutely have to sell right now, because the huge loss I would take when converting it to cash is much much too huge than I want to endure.

        I submitted my honking post, then saw the same drops you did in TV. I understand that this looks scary. And I know that most FI folks advise a stock/bond mix especially at my age and stage. Interestingly, a few of them, JL Collins among them I think, wrote that they would go with 100% stocks but didn’t feel it right for them. I gave this a lot of thought and, for the reasons in my original post, my personal psychology and long-term confidence in the resilience of companies and countries, I choose 100% stocks.

        This doesn’t mean I’m better or that I’m naive. But it does mean that I watch the volatility, marshall all of the personal defenses I can, and think about what I can do over time if my plans for paying expenses seem to be entering shaky territory.

        Hope this helps, take care.

      3. Hi again, Mitch and Chris and all. Just saw the Dow is at about 19,000 plus a few 100. When I check my gut, I’m still okay with 100% stocks and not stressed.

        I assume that my stock investments are long-term; most of it will be invested for a few decades. I have enough cash reserves and money coming in (Social Security and small pensions) that I can avoid cashing out stock for 3-5 months starting now. I have ideas about how to earn money if I decide I I don’t want to cash in stocks as that 3-5 months ends.

        Nothing I see on TV or my iPhone Stocks app changes those facts.

        I’m not rich by most people’s standards. For transparency, and because I’m literal and always want numbers, I had about $624,000 at highest stick value when the downward line started.

        But it doesn’t matter. I know what my enough is in terms of monthly expenses (thanks to Your Money or Your Life), and I know I can cover that for a while. If stock values are lower than I prefer selling at in about 3 months, I’ll see what my cash and incoming money are then and determine what further actions I want to take.

        Loose following of FI principles over 3 decades got me this foundation that I can work from with confidence and hope. That, and a willingness to watch, re-evaluate, and be flexible are, I believe, what keep me calm.

        I confess, even I’m amazed that all this market dropping isn’t making me stress and worry. I think I may be one of the proof cases that even loosely implementing FI principles really works. Wow.

        All that said, I want to be honest and open with you guys always. If I feel anxiety creeping in, I’ll let you know, because I know you guys can help me get through this. Gratitude to all of you.

        1. Your gut is stronger than mine Betty. 😉 Actually, it is comforting to have a plan.

          Wasn’t feeling too shaken until literally being shaken by an earthquake near our home this morning. Have to wonder what comes next at this point?

    2. Betty,

      Your “honking long replies” are welcome here anytime. I appreciate the kind words, the willingness to share your strategies and the insights you provide. Continue to do what is necessary to keep yourself healthy and safe, as that is ultimately the most important thing in times like this.


  9. Chris, excellent blog post. As usual I fully agree with your sentiments. I “retired” 3 years ago and while this hurts, we are still very blessed and will make it through.

  10. Well reasoned post, thank you. Some of the comments,,,not so much. I’ve experienced European healthcare 1st hand. Long waits. uninspired care, and less accountability. Giving the Doctor a gift in my old country, was a common way to get critical treatment in a timely fashion, Headlines indicate that Italy’s socialized healthcare system isn’t holding up. The biggest proponents of socialized medicine are those that never had to live with it. I’m not saying our system is perfect but it’s better than the left would have us believe.

    1. F.P.

      See my reply to Randy above for my thoughts. I’m generally a very optimistic person but I became very discouraged with (probably the biggest piece of my career burnout) working in the healthcare industry, have found it immensely frustrating trying to plan and help others figure out how to plan to retire early, and the political conversations around the topic are maddening. I recently recommended Marty Mckary’s book “The Price We Pay.” It’s about physician driven, common sense approach to reform of the system that addresses real underlying problems. So much to do, but it requires change from inside the system which I am not optimistic about.


  11. After putting the FI things in place I notice my anxiety isn’t about the $, it’s not getting the virus.
    The US is in the early stages and we don’t know how it will play out.
    Betty, you write the best post!

    1. I feel the same Jane. I’m not a gloom and doom person, and I’m sure that we’ll be fine financially one way or another. But I’m very concerned about the well being of my parents, particularly my mom who is immunocompromised, and other people in the at risk age group. I’m also concerned how the health and financial implications of this will affect the millions of people who are not entering this crisis from a position of strength.


    2. Jane, thank you!

      its interesting that because you have your FI things in place, you removed that huge potential stressor and can focus on keeping yourself healthy. This is one if the gifts of FI principles, that implementing them frees us to pay more attention to the things that truly matter. Money is a necessary tool, but you need a healthy body to use it. If you got no body, you got nothing.

      Bravo to your journey and thanks again!

  12. If you’re feeling fear and dread watching the deep downward moves of the stock market and your savings, you might feel better if you turn off the news and take 30 minutes to go read the free posts about stock market history from JL Collins’ perspective (you’ll feel like you’re sitting across the kitchen table from a knowledgeable and wise uncle):

    Mr Collins wrote the posts, then people wanted a paper book, so he worked with some folks to produce the book that people can buy. And he never took the posts offline, which is one beautiful thing that reaching FI (Financial Independence) gives you — you can give your best advice to people for free, without needing to be paid for it.

    The first 3 posts are basically the same as the related chapters in the book. The information in those chapters is what gives me confidence to keep my investments exactly where they are, and to do nothing out of fear and panic. Jim’s words are verbal Valium for a trying time.

    1. Actually, every part under the subtitle “Stock Series” is basically the book chapters.

      The first 4 parts are the verbal Valium:

      – Part 1: There’s a major market crash coming!!!! and Dr. Lo can’t save you

      – Part II: The Market Always Goes Up

      – Part III: Most people lose money in the market

      – Part IV: The Big Ugly Event

  13. Chris, I can’t imagine how much time you spent on this thorough and thoughtful post trying to nail down such a complex situation, but you did an excellent job. The situation does feel frighteningly similar to 9/l11. It’s time to work together as Americans, downplaying our differences and celebrating the strength and resilience of the American people. May common sense, cooler heads, intelligent decisions and cautious optimism prevail.

    1. Thanks Mary. I actually wrote it in a couple of hours on Friday, after spending the previous few days unable to write anything as my mind was racing and trying to process things. Still processing, but gaining some confidence and optimism as well now that people are starting to pull together, treating the situation with an appropriate level of seriousness and showing resilience.


  14. Dear Chris, thanks so much for your amazing website and blog with tons of information. Thank you also for your suggestions and transparency. I’m nee to investing as I’ve been a single income earner in my household. Just turned 49 this year and never imagined in my wildest dreams that i would ever see the market go down like it just did. Just four years ago began saving into my job’s 401k and originally i had everything in a 2040 fund but was told to be more prudent as i plan God willing to retire before i turn 55.

    So in January i rebalanced to 50% Bank deposit, 25% stable income fund and 25% Retirement Income Fund. I felt i was doing the wrong thing because i saw stocks climbing and climbing but i felt scared so went with my gut feeling. I even opened a Roth IRA with Vanguard based on your recommendation to go with them since their fees are low. Now i have $1500 in there in the Settlement fund, but I’m scared what to do, or where to invest it in.

    I was looking at your list that you posted and thought about the Vanguard Federal Money Market fund and thought about putting the funds in there. I wonder if I’m being too conservative being that the market is so low. I also was looking at the Vanguard VTINX Retirement Income Fund which is at $12.92 per share. What would you recommend based on me not having the nerves of steel to see my little funds go down. I appreciate your feedback and praying for your family and parents. Especially your mom. My dad also has his immune system compromised due to diabetes and RA. Praying for blessings upon your family and your finances.


    Isaiah 41:10

    1. Thank you Armand. I can’t give any specific advice. What I would do if I was in your shoes is to step back and not do anything right now while markets fluctuate up and down by 5+% daily and over 10% on the big days.

      Darrow and I have compiled a list of our favorite investing books here: I’ve reviewed several of them and several other newer investing books that are also excellent if you use the search bar on the top right corner of the site.

      Study market history. Understand exactly what you want to invest in and why. Take time to research what historical returns have been and how much volatility you would have to endure to get them with different asset classes. Then determine the most cost effective and tax efficient way of holding these investments.

      After going through that process, your questions should be answered and this should all make more sense. If not, then hire some help to get started. I lay out how I would go about finding it here.

      Best wishes,

  15. Good post. Nice to have thoughts on current events and a snapshot on comments. The herd mentality scares me the most. Current day fear mongering seems to be a thriving opportunity for popularity. Twenty four hour news channels take tabloid hysteria thinking to a new level. Reminds me of the weather news that hyped up information or sensationalized information format to scare everyone. Also, social media really magnifies the herd thinking and values. Yesterday, I was in a grocery store and witnessed an argument wherein the spouse was complaining of having to much, already.
    Your comment of feeling uneasy or less cheerful on a sunny day. Understand that completely. It is just to easy to partake in the negative news. We have good info, but that often times comes later after the hype has settled a bit. I do think the hype is driven farther by politics. Same in ’07 as it is easy to push public into panic and our politics are way to much emotional and all consuming. Not healthy for a country to put so much faith in political system that the end justifies the means.

    1. Thanks Forrest. I agree that there is far too much hype, fear mongering, tribalism and obsession with politics in our society. All of it is amplified by cable news, 24 hour news cycles and social media. It makes it hard to know when something is hype vs. a real threat. I think a lot of people didn’t take this seriously for too long because too many people cried wolf too many times.

      That said, I hope everyone is taking this seriously at this point to protect themselves and others. Even those like myself who face little health threat can infect multiple others who may be more vulnerable, which is what leads to exponential growth that overwhelms health care resources.

      Take care of yourself.


  16. Great post Chris – I enjoy your writing. The next 2-3 weeks will be telling – I’m hopeful we adapt and come through this well. (I’m also investing behind that during this downturn.)

    Good luck and best wishes to you and your family!

    The new site looks great too! (We just upgraded ours and are tweaking it.)

    1. Thanks Steve. I’ll be rebalancing at the end of the month, so will be buying into this as well. Agree that the next 2-3 weeks will be telling as to how effective the measures we’re taking are at curbing the spread. I think it’s going to be much longer than that until things get back to any semblance of normal though.

      Best to you and yours as well!

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