By the numbers: First quarter 2020
After nearly three weeks of hiatus, it's time to get things back to normal around this joint! Has anything happened while I was away?
Despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis, I'm ready to resume writing about personal finance. I've (nearly) completed my “intro to FIRE” project for Audible and The Great Courses — we're now in the editing stage — Kim and I (and our beasts) are healthy, and I have plenty to say about money.
Let's do this thing!
A Little Housekeeping
To start, let me say that I'm aware some folks have experienced trouble actually seeing new articles here at Get Rich Slowly. I've received several reports that things have “stuck” on the cybersecurity basics article from mid February. Some people cannot see new articles or comments.
Obviously, people with this problem aren't going to see this post, so I can't ask them to drop me a line. But if you were experiencing this issue and know anything that might help us resolve it, please let me know. Tom and I are baffled by the situation.
We did change hosting companies around the time the trouble began. We switched servers, and that seems to have created some sort of caching issue. Maybe? Like I say, we're not sure.
While I've been hard at work on my Audible course, my business partner Tom has been messing with things behind the scenes here at GRS. At long last, we think we're close to launching our redesign, which has been in the works since I repurchased this site 2-1/2 years ago. If everything goes well — and it is, so far — the new design should go live by the site's 14th anniversary next Wednesday.
Here's a preview of the new logo and the new home page:
It's possible (likely, even) that we'll have some bugs when we launch the redesign. I'm counting on all of you to help us find them and squash them!
With that housekeeping out of the way, let's talk about how the first quarter of 2020 went for my finances. Short answer: Aside from the stock market (which I cannot control), things were pretty darn good!
First Quarter Finances
Here's a look at some of my spending numbers from the past three months and the first quarter of each of the past four years. Please note that this isn't all of my spending. It's just spending on select categories. Also, this is my spending and doesn't include Kim's purchases. Tracking numbers (whether for fitness or finance) drives her nuts so she doesn't do it. That means there's no way to know for sure how much we spend on things as a family.
January and February had relatively similar spending. Why was March so high? For three reasons.
- The $450 annual fee for my Chase Sapphire Reserve card came due.
- We bought a new mattress for $2450.10. (More about this soon, I hope. It was a process!)
- We renewed our tickets to Broadway in Portland for next season. That cost $1473.50.
Without these three expenses, my spending for March was only $2433.44. That's great! Too bad I can't just ignore major purchases like mattresses and theater tickets haha.
When taken as a whole, my first quarter spending was down 21.4% from the same period last year. It was down nearly $6000 (31.1%) from first quarter spending in 2017! That's some fine progress.
Here are some thoughts on individual categories:
- I am very very happy with my decline in spending on alcohol. As you can see (if you look at the “sin” category), I drank nothing in January. And most of that $233.92 in February went to the pot tincture I take most nights before bed. I bought two bottles of it. (Pot is legal in Oregon.) In fact, it's only since the coronavirus quarantine that my alcohol consumption has increased. Even so, I'm not drinking nearly as much as I have in previous years.
- My big goal for this year is to reduce my food spending. The pandemic is helping with that. You can't go out to eat if all of the restaurants are shut down! Still, I find it curious that I spent roughly the same on food in March as in previous months despite only going out to eat twice. There's no doubt we've been buying more groceries. My food spending for the quarter was half what it was in 2017. Nice.
- Last year, I made a focused effort to reduce my iTunes spending. That's clearly reflected in the spreadsheet. I'm definitely spending more on iTunes in 2020 than I did in 2019, but it's less than in previous years. One change I've made is to rent more movies. What's the point of buying Frozen II if it's unlikely I'll ever watch it again?
- Lastly, I find the utilities trend interesting. You see, in 2017, we still lived in the condo. Some of our utilities were covered by our outrageous HOA fees. In 2018, we were in this new house but had not yet installed the hot tub. For the past two years, the utility fees include heating the spa. It looks like (during the winter) we're paying an extra $150 per quarter or about $50 per month to keep our water warm.
The big news, of course, has been the flash crash of the stock market. The S&P 500 lost one-third of its value in a month — and has since bounced back 20%. (Which means it's still down 20% from its peak. Funny how math works.)
I've seen far far too many posts in Facebook groups about people wondering when they should sell. This makes me tense. If you're a long-term investor, you shouldn't sell during a downturn! This is the opposite of what you should do. If your wealth snowball is meant to be used twenty years from now — or even ten years — what do you care that the market is down right now?
Anyhow, the market drop has certainly melted some of my personal wealth snowball. At the end of 2019, my net worth totalled $1,437,543. At the end of March, it was $1,234,053, a decline of $203,490 (-14.2%).
The End of the World
So, the first quarter went well for me financially despite the stock market drop. I'm pleased with my current level of spending all the way around. I've been so deeply focused on my work on the Audible course that I really haven't done anything else. Seriously. I've blocked out the world for the past three weeks.
In the evening, I've been indulging myself by reading and watching post-apocalypse fiction. It's one of my favorite genres. And our current situation makes this material feel more relevant than ever.
One of my favorite books, for instance, is the 1949 novel Earth Abides by George R. Stewart, which takes a realistic look at the aftermath of a global pandemic that wipes out nearly all of humanity. It sounds dreary, but the book is actually hopeful, optimistic. Hardly anyone knows Earth Abides, and it's a shame. It's great.
I've also been watching movies about the end of the world, including The World, the Flesh, and the Devil (1959), which I'd never heard of before. It's fascinating.
After a radiation catastrophe destroys most life on Earth, one man finds himself alone in New York City. Eventually, he meets a woman. Adam and Eve, right? The trouble is he's black and she's white. They're in love but cannot consumate their relationship because of the race issue — despite the fact that nobody else is left. When a third survivor appears — a white man — things get complicated quickly.
Judged by today's standards, this film is pretty tame. But in 1959, it must have been bold stuff. Personally, I think it's a pretty powerful indictment of the racist standards of the time. (And it takes a few stabs at sexism, too.)
Oh, and like everybody else, Kim and I watched the awe-inspiring train wreck that is Tiger King. Holy cats!
Okay, that's enough for now. I need to begin editing the lessons for my Audible course. After that, I'll go help Kim tackle the yard. There's tons to do! But over the next few days, we'll resume a more normal publication schedule around here. And, as I said, look for the launch of the GRS redesign in about a week. Take care!