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'This is exactly what we planned for': How FIRE supersavers are handling the coronavirus pandemic

Twenty/20

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted plenty of people's financial plans: Stocks are still down more than 10% for the year, and more than 26 million people have lost their jobs.

But some people are feeling less financial shock than others.

Adherents of the "FIRE" movement — which stands for "financial independence, retire early" — are supersavers: They have a goal of saving and investing large portions of their income in order to leave the workforce while they're relatively young, often in their 30s or 40s, or in order to only do work they're passionate about.

Several FIRE participants who recently spoke with Grow say that all of the hard work and meticulous planning they have put into reaching that goal is currently paying off.

'This is exactly what we planned for'

"There's been a bull market over the past 10 years. Of course all the FIRE people are going to be fine during a bull market," FIRE movement follower Kristy Shen tells Grow. Shen and her husband Bryce Leung run the FIRE-focused website Millennial Revolution.

"But what happens when there's a bear market? This is the perfect test," she says.

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The FIRE movement owes a large part of its existence to the Great Recession, which ended around 10 years ago. Many young people who entered the workforce during the recession experienced firsthand the economic devastation that lasted for years — and decided to try to become financially independent as a way of shielding themselves from another crisis.

Now that another downturn has arrived, people like Shen and Leung say that their habits are serving them well. "We're not actually stressed or panicked at all," says Shen. "This is exactly what we planned for."

It makes sense that FIRE followers are faring well, even in this economy, says Guy Hockerman, director of financial planning at Missouri-based Commerce Trust Company. "The FIRE movement is on the front lines" when it comes to financial preparedness, he says. "They think long term."

Grant Sabatier, another FIRE adherent who runs the website Millennial Money, says he is in good financial shape despite the pandemic. He thinks that a coronavirus-spurred recession will only make the FIRE movement "stronger" as more people see the benefit of having robust savings and a sound financial plan.

"Coming out of this, people are going to focus on saving more," he says, "out of the desire of having more security and options." 

What you can learn from the FIRE movement

Many people, even those that tend to be good savers and planners, are finding themselves in a position in which they need to focus on covering their essential bills. Experts say that's the right thing to do, especially if you have recently lost your job or been furloughed.

But if you're still working, it's smart to be focused on saving and investing — whether you're trying to retire early or not. The recent stock market decline means that prices are lower and you can get more for your money. And if you can keep investing through the downturn, you'll be able to take advantage of dollar-cost averaging and should be able to boost your long-term returns.

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Prioritizing saving money is also a good habit to emulate. "The ramifications of this [pandemic] have yet to be totally seen," Hockerman cautions, so it's helpful to keep building cash savings in an emergency fund so that, when something unexpected happens, you don't have to dip into your long-term savings or your retirement accounts.

Having a long-term plan will ultimately put you in a better financial position to weather rough economic times. "I've spent the last 10 years preparing for a decline like this," Sabatier says. That's why he and other FIRE followers feel optimistic that they'll be able to ride out the crisis.

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