This has been the year of fulfilling the “wouldn’t it be nice if one day…..” list. We have compiled a long list of those over the years. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could go skiing on great powder days?” Or “Wouldn’t it be nice if we took a little break from Montana winter for a few weeks in January?” Our 9-5 jobs were a great excuse for never testing those ideas. But now that excuse has been gone for three years. Time to start testing!
So this winter, we packed up the family and headed to sunny California for a few weeks. We still had our yearly San Deigo zoo pass, and our museum pass. We figured we would add a few days of Disney to the mix. I could speak at a SoCal ChooseFI meet-up. All-in-all a great plan.
One small issue. Califonia wasn’t sunny. Or even particularly warm. Actually, it rained. A lot! Now mind you, it was -10 back home in Montana. So I wasn’t about to complain about 55-degree weather. But even with my positive, can-do attitude: 55 degrees, plus rain and sideways wind, my kids might have brought up the fact that the weather wasn’t ideal.
It made me think about our financial lives. Sometimes stock market returns aren’t ideal. Sometimes housing prices aren’t ideal. The job market might not be ideal. A reporter asked me the other day, “Did you have any big lucky breaks on your journey to FI?” Truth be told, the “luckiest” things that happened to us are when everything went wrong. And none of it felt “lucky” at the time.
So we are at the San Deigo safari zoo. We were rained out our first day there. This day was our last chance. It’s 50 degrees. It’s raining. The wind is blowing. And it felt like we had the entire zoo to ourselves. All the sane people stayed home! We zigged, while others zagged. Not really by choice. I didn’t plan for the weather to be bone-chilling cold. I wasn’t particularly happy about it. But these be the cards we were dealt on our sunny SoCal vacation.
We went to the store and bought rain ponchos and umbrellas. We wore layers. And tried to enjoy our private zoo tour.
I don’t hope the stock market/job market/housing market crashes. But it might at some point. Just like at some point, it will rain while you’re on vacation. It’s like that scene in Home Alone 2, where Kevin’s family heads to Florida for Christmas and they get stuck in a crappy hotel in hurricane weather watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” in Spanish.
Take enough vacations and it’ll happen. Invest in the stock market long enough and it will happen.
The best we can do is zig when markets zag.
I don’t blame all the people who didn’t show up at the zoo that day.
When we bought our first rental property at the tail end of the housing crash, my boss said, “This seems really risky, I’m just not sure this is a good idea for you.” At the time I said, “If I had enough cash, I would buy 10 of this house!” That was probably overly confident. But I paid about $75,000 for that house and it’s now worth $275,000. Sure we have put some work into it. But not $200,000 worth of work! If I could have bought that deal 10 times, it would be an extra 2 million dollars!
How to Prepare to Zig While Markets Zag
The job market is strong right now. The housing market is strong. The stock market has had a good run for a number of years. Now is the time to really hustle to prepare for the next rainy vacation!
It’s never fun when the bottom falls out, but it’s better if you’re prepared for it.
Lower fixed expenses: One of the best gifts you can give yourself is margin in your budget. If during good times you are able to pay off debt and reduce your monthly bills, it makes hard times much easier. Now this isn’t to say your overall spending has to be lower. During good times, it’s fine to spend and perhaps even spend more freely. The mistake people make is taking on more debt and obligations when times are good. Because those are hard to change when markets move south. If you can avoid adding extra mortgage debt, car debt or other large reoccurring payments, the better prepared you’ll be. Instead, it’s the perfect time to use that surplus to invest in other income options, like rentals or side hustle. Or use it to pay off your mortgage. When all the markets crash at once, it’s a great feeling to be sleeping in a paid off home.
Invest in diversifying income
I know a lot of people who lost their one and only way to make money during the last crash. It’s great to have a few backup options. But starting those when you’re unemployed, stressed and strapped for cash, it’s unnecessarily difficult. Add that to trying to get a business off the ground during a recession, and your odds of success are slim.
You can zig when others zag. While you are the happiest with your employment and all it offers, you can funnel some of that financial cushion into future skill sets. Now is a great time to invest in education and conversations. To start learning and testing on the side. While the economy is strong, it’ll be easier to find one or two clients. If an unexpected layoff happens, you will have a solid foundation to build something of your own on.
Along those lines, when times are good and you have zero need for a strong network, that is the perfect time to really invest in it. Help as many people as you can when times are good. Double down on relationships. Stay connected to peers in your industry and actively invest in relationships in industries you are interested in. A strong network takes years to build. Start building it when you have lots to offer and need nothing in return.
Get ready for rentals
So many people didn’t buy fixer uppers during the last crash as rentals or primary homes. The reasons were valid: they didn’t know anything about the rental market, they didn’t know how to renovate a home or who to hire, they had no idea how to estimate costs or get loans. Basically, it felt really overwhelming and unfamiliar. Everyone was scared of the falling prices.
We bought our very first home during the crash. Despite never owning a home before, I felt confidant enough to act. The reason was simple.
I had spent 10 years reading, learning, and paying attention to the housing market.
I was inexperienced, but not uneducated.
Now is the perfect time to start learning. Start learning about what makes for a good rental. There are so many great books about it. My friend, Coach Carson, wrote my favorite Retire Eary with Real Estate.
Start going to real estate investor meetups. Join online communities. Study listings. Learn how to estimate renovation costs. Understand lending rules. If you’re so inclined, figure out how to do some simple tasks. Volunteer with Habitat for Humanity so the whole “how houses are made” process is less abstract and scary.
In two or three years, you’ll be ready for whatever the housing market tries to throw at us.
Get ready to take a year off
During the last recession, so many people ended up taking a year off. They didn’t want the year off. They were miserable and stressed out for the whole year. But they couldn’t find new work.
My husband also took 6 months off. He had left the Army and couldn’t find work in Montana. But he wasn’t miserable or stressed out. Because we had prepared financially and mentally to take time off. He used that time to buy and renovate our first home and then buy and renovate our first rental. I’m not sure we could have done either if he had found a full-time job right after the Army. That 6 months off ended up being the most profitable 6 months of his working career! Only because we were ready to zig when the markets zagged.
If you are farther along in your financial independence journey, getting laid off can be a great opportunity to take a step back. Often when markets shift, great travels deals are also available. If the markets crashed again, we would probably use that chance to travel long term in more expensive areas, like Europe.
Build Flexible Plans
When markets move in unpleasant ways, new and unexpected opportunities open up. The people who thrive the most in scary and chaotic situations are those who have a flexible mindset. They are open to zigging when markets zag. Instead of holding tightly to old plans, they look for ways to adjust.
Buying rentals was NOT our plan when we came back to the US. Actually, my original plan and dream instantly crashed and burned. It was the most painful year of my life. While it’s easy for others to look back on those purchases and think, “Well, isn’t that incredibly lucky!” Trust me, none of it felt lucky. That whole year was filled to the brim with personal suffering. It took all the courage and resolve I could muster to ask myself the most useful question “What does this make possible?” Then put on my big girl pants and get to work.
I say that to encourage you to work on building a flexible and resilient mindset now. Practice in the small things. Run the 5 k before your thrown into a marathon. Markets moving only sounds fun in theory. “Buy stocks on sale!” is easier to say with a smile when most things in life are stable. If you’ve lost your job, someone who you love is sick, and your home value is suddenly cut in half along with your 401k value, you probably are more likely nauseous than smiling.
For most people right now things are good. And now is the time to invest in creating flexible plans!