2020 year in review

It goes without saying that 2020 was a tough year, and for most people the worst year in a long, long time. The Covid-19 Pandemic was one of those (hopefully) once-in-a-century, generation defining events that impacted the world in ways that we are just beginning to grasp one year into this thing. As 2020 comes to a close and vaccines begin to be distributed, it looks like we are at the beginning of the end of what has been a long, dark journey.

For me personally, this past year started out with a lot of uncertainty, and ended a lot better than I could have expected. Here I wanted to reflect on the good, the bad, and the lessons learned from my 2020. I preface this by acknowledging that, as a healthy young person with robust savings, a low burn rate, and an in-demand skillset, I was in a much better position to handle this roller coaster of a year than the majority of the population.

Getting laid off and finding a job in the middle of a pandemic

I started 2020 with no job and a lot of uncertainty career-wise. In late 2019 I was laid off from a mechanical engineering job I had started just 5 months earlier. I was incredibly fortunate to receive a generous severance package, so I was technically employed through February 2020. With a burn rate under $3k per month, I knew I could stretch out the severance package to last me a whole year, so in early 2020 I focused on learning web development to potentially make a career transition rather than immediately jumping back into the job search. The world had different plans. The pandemic caused the fastest crash in US stock market history in spring of 2020, and with it, widespread budget cuts and layoffs across industries. I realized that it was not a good time to find an entry-level software engineering job, so I shifted my career focus back to mechanical engineering, since I would fare better with my ME degree and 3 years of experience. After about 3 months of applying to about 70 positions, I landed a handful of interviews and got one offer, which I accepted. I am super thankful to have not just any job but a decent job at a growing company.

2020: The Good

  • The quarantine and limited outside social contact gave my girlfriend and I more quality time together and we really strengthened our relationship. It’s hard to imagine going through the last year without her.
  • I went from being unemployed to working in a mechanical design engineer role at a promising and growing tech startup.
  • I started a content website (which I will not name for the sake of anonymity) in the spring which has grown to nearly 5k monthly visitors and has earned me a total of about $200 by monetizing it through Amazon Associates.
  • I started WalletBurst just a few months ago in October 2020. Between the articles and calculators, I have created 14 pieces of content. I’m happy that this site is getting about 3k visitors per month of (mostly) organic traffic. This is primarily driven from my Coast FIRE Calculator ranking in the #1 spot for a bunch of keywords including and related to “coast fire calculator.”
  • I conquered my digestive issues! For several years I have had chronic digestive issues which were a real drag on my daily quality-of-life, making everything from work to exercise unpleasant. I had removed gluten from my diet for several years but I still had frequent flare-ups. In 2020, my girlfriend and I did the Whole30 diet and I tried re-introducing gluten to my diet. I found that gluten actually wasn’t the cause of my issues, but that I just needed to eat more fiber and less beans.
  • I reached a net worth of well over $300k. This was helped by crazy bull markets in both stocks and crypto.
  • I discovered and did a deep dive on the concept of Coast FIRE and realized that I will be well past my Coast FIRE milestone once I allocate a bit more of my cash into stocks. Based on my Coast FIRE Calculator, I need about $150k in stocks to be considered “coasting” to FIRE at my age of 25 assuming 8% investment return, 3% inflation, 3.5% SWR, and $40k per year spending in retirement.

2020: The Bad

  • I fell short of where I wanted to be fitness-wise in 2020. Although I did run consistently and got back into road biking, my home gym consisting of a pull-up bar and resistance bands just isn’t the same as all the equipment in the gym pre-pandemic. I certainly didn’t gain weight, but I feel like I lost a bit of muscle mass and look forward to making more progress in 2021 when gyms re-open.
  • I also fell short of my goal of creating 20 pieces of content for WalletBurst in 2020. I don’t feel too bad about this though, because I did average around one tool or article per week after launching the site. Building calculators and writing detailed guides definitely does take more time, and I think putting out high quality content rather than high quantity is better long term.
  • My over-allocation in cash meant that I missed out on some of the stock market gains over the last year. I detailed this more in my article, 5 financial mistakes I’ve made and what you can learn from them.

2020: Learnings

  • Having a low monthly burn rate is essential to financial peace-of-mind, especially in trying times like the pandemic. A low baseline spending reduces your reliance on a high-paid job and allows your emergency fund to last longer.
  • Becoming fully retired isn’t the goal – instead, what I should be working towards is building a lifestyle that I don’t want to retire from, which would likely still include some type of work.
  • From experimenting with WalletBurst and my other content site, I’ve started to get the hang of SEO. I found that driving 100+ organic visitors per day to a single page is definitely possible, but it takes patience and nailing the right balance of high search volume and low competition.
  • Trying to time the market is a fool’s errand, and I should just continue to dollar-cost-average instead. Also, the reality of runaway asset price inflation set in for me this year due to our economy’s ever-increasing M1 money supply. This is prompting me to aggressively shift my net worth away from cash and into assets like stocks, real estate, and cryptocurrency. I detailed this more in my article, 5 financial mistakes I’ve made and what you can learn from them.

2021 WalletBurst / Financial Goals

  • Create a new piece of content on WalletBurst every 2 weeks.
  • Reach 10k monthly users on both WalletBurst and my other site.
  • Maintain a 70% savings rate and add $60k to my net worth. I don’t really try to set net worth goals due to the volatile nature of crypto, but if the crypto market doesn’t experience a major correction in the next year, then this goal would put my net worth over $400k.
  • Shift my net worth allocation to have over $200k in the stock market.
  • Build out a clearer picture of where I want to be and what I want to be doing in the future.