Q1 2020 Financial Scorecard: A Whole New World
It seems frivolous to be writing our latest financial scorecard in the midst of everything that’s going on in the world today. The first quarter of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most eventful for the American economy, global financial markets, and society at large, as the COVID-19 coronavirus reached pandemic levels, impacting life around the world.
The coronavirus is closing in on two million confirmed cases, and has already killed over 100,000 people in what will likely become the most significant global pandemic since the outbreak of the Spanish Flu a century ago. In addition to the grim human toll, the coronavirus contributed to the worst first quarter performance in the history of the S&P 500 Index, which plunged 20% as fear of what the future holds ended the longest bull market in American history, triggering record jobless claims and a likely recession.
The result on our personal finances was, predictably, quite negative. While the ROMT family may have reached financial independence in late 2019, that’s no longer the case. But right now our family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues are all safe and healthy, which more than makes up for some smaller numbers in our financial spreadsheets!
I. Net Worth: 93.4% of Goal (-8.4% during Q1 20)
Our family’s net worth dropped by more than 8% during the first quarter, after we briefly topped our long-term target at the end of last year.
The damage would have been even worse if I hadn’t received my bonus for 2019 last month. While my company has not announced any layoffs thus far, it’s probably just a matter of time, so I think it’s almost certain that bonuses next year for those who remain employed will be down significantly. For several years, I had been hoping my potential 2021 bonus might be the final boost to help push us into early retirement. Right now, I’m just thankful to have a job, especially one that allows me to work from home.
Three months ago, our short-term net worth goal was to get to 110% of our original target by mid-year. In the current environment, that’s clearly impossible. The U.S. stock market has rallied over the first week and a half of April, but the economy remains both fragile and volatile. If we could get back to 95% of our original target by the end of June, I’d consider that a victory!
II. 529 Account Funding: 64.9% of Goal (-10.3% during Q1 20)
The plunging stock market decimated our children’s 529 educational accounts over the past quarter. The value of those accounts declined by nearly 14%, moving us 1030 basis points further away from our long-term target than we were at the beginning of the year.
We had previously hoped to get to 80% of our 529 funding target by July 1, which is now just as unrealistic as our previous short-term net worth target. Our new short-term 529 funding goal is to get back to 70% of our original target by the end of the third quarter. It will likely take improved financial markets, as well as additional contributions, to meet that goal.
III. Passive Income: 38.9% of Goal (+0.6% during Q1 20)
In a bit of good news, we made a little progress on our passive income goal last quarter, moving 60 basis points closer to our long-term target. That said, we still just missed our short-term passive income goal, which was to get to 39% of our target by April 1.
Our passive income target is our “stretch goal” as we pursue early retirement and financial independence. While it would be incredible to fund our lifestyle entirely via passive income, realistically there’s no way it will happen by our Target FIRE Date. I’m also concerned that the longer the coronavirus-induced economic slowdown persists, the more likely companies are to start cutting or eliminating stock dividends, which would negatively impact the amount of passive income our investments generate.
While our passive income could start moving in the wrong direction if the worst-case scenario plays out, I’m going to keep our short-term goals positive and pray for the best. Our new short-term passive income goal is to get to 40% of our long-term target by the end of the year.
IV. Target FIRE Date: Friday, July 2, 2021
As I write this, we’re only five quarters away from our Target FIRE Date!
While we suffered a financial setback during Q1 20, we’ve still made considerable progress on each of the three metrics we’re tracking on our path towards financial independence since we introduced them 11 quarters ago:
But there’s no question the coronavirus has shifted the playing field significantly. If I’m fortunate enough to stay employed, I’ll still likely earn less in the coming years than I thought I would have just a few months ago.
And the prospects for an ever-rising stock market to bail us out remain low. The longer stay-at-home orders must remain in place to keep many of us safer, the more damage will be done to the economy.
Even if the United States and the rest of the world get control over the current outbreak over the next couple months, there remains potential for the coronavirus to come back even stronger later this year, which could cause additional loss of life and economic hardship. A recent study noted that warmer temperatures won’t necessarily mean a significant reduction in disease spread, and that all ten influenza pandemics over the past 250 years included a peak second wave about six months after the virus emerged in humans.
So I really have no idea what the future holds for our FIRE goals, but will continue doing what I can to keep our family’s finances as strong as possible. Our next big decision could come when it’s finally time to go back into the office and stop working from home. While going back in will likely be the right move from a financial perspective, if it seems possible that we’ll be living with some form of the pandemic for the next 12-24 months, it might not be the right move for the health and well-being of our family. But if I am faced with that choice in the coming months, it will likely mean that our nation has made some progress in controlling the coronavirus, which will be positive!
Stay safe everyone!