Looking Back on 2020: Our Year in Review

It’s true what they say.  Each year goes by faster than the last.

Unfortunately, I can confirm this is still the case when you’re no longer in full-time employment!

While 2020 was no exception here, it threw us a few more curveballs than your average year.

In this update, I’ll share what the Strong Money household has been up to in 2020 and how we’re enjoying our fourth year of freedom.

 

Covid Craziness

We’ve been very lucky in WA regarding the virus outbreak this year.  Our lockdown was short and mild.  But that didn’t stop the complete nutjobs from panic-buying everything in sight like the world was ending. 

My stubborn nature meant that I refused to play that game, casually buying whatever we needed as per normal.  The sick and irritating irony is that people were panic-buying… because other people were panic-buying!  Which obviously lead to ever-increasing fear and desperation.  

People complained about it, yet were participating themselves.  They felt compelled to engage in the same ridiculous behaviour as everyone else, out of fear they might miss out on something. 

Almost nobody stood back and thought about how ridiculous it all was.  “We should buy more now in case there isn’t any here next time.” 

Never mind the fact that this is exactly what caused shelves to become empty in the first place!  We created a self-induced shortage!

I remember staring at the madness one day, and having three emotions.  Wanting to laugh at the stupidity of it all.  Wanting to pull my hair out in frustration.  And the urge to start punching people to wake them up.

Anyway!  With a stroke of luck, the shops were stocked up just in time, so I didn’t have to start using old shirts to wipe πŸ˜‰  In Perth, life has been more or less back to normal for a while now.

Mrs SMA‘s part-time employer got her setup to work from home, which lasted for around two months.  I feel for the people who lost jobs through no fault of their own, and the small businesses who are hurting.

We haven’t been able to visit family which we were both planning to do this year.  But with WA opening its border, we’ll be doing visits pretty soon.

All in all, our household was mostly unaffected.  And in global terms, we’re incredibly lucky.

 

Country trip

This year we went for another road trip and explored a few places in WA we hadn’t seen before.  As with our other trips, we rented pet-friendly houses so our dog could come along.

The places we visited were Busselton, Margaret River and Augusta, staying a few days in each.  All beautiful places in South West WA. 

Busselton was probably our favourite.  A gorgeous little city/big town of 15,000-20,000 people only 2.5 hours from Perth.  Very, very liveable.  A good place to retire perhaps πŸ˜‰

We did a few cave tours – Lake Cave and Jewel Cave – which were fascinating and awe-inspiring.  And we contributed handsomely to the local economies, by visiting countless cafes, bakeries, a brewery, chocolate factory and more.

Here’s a few happy-snaps (which you might remember from my article: how to travel and enjoy time off without killing your savings)

 

Volunteering

This year we continued doing the odd work day with Friends of Yellagonga Regional Park, spending time planting trees and weeding.  Just to prove I’m still capable of mild physical labour!

 

Some of the areas we’ve planted previously are growing nicely.  It’s great to see improvement and know that you helped, even just a little.

In addition, I’m spending quite a bit of time on the local turtles.  This year we’ve been more active in helping them nest in our yard, and then protecting those nests where possible.  In 6-9 months, when the baby turtles hatch, we should now be able to get more of them into the lake, with less eaten by crows or run over.

From roughly September to December, we see the lady turtles looking for somewhere to lay their eggs…

 

And then from March to June the babies come out and try to make their way to the lake.  These baby long-neck turtles are extremely small.  Their shells are about the size of a 50c coin.

 

I also like to pick up rubbish on a semi-regular basis when we’re out for walks, just to keep the area clean and reduce pollution going into the lake.  And while I mostly enjoy this (despite sometimes cursing the people who left the litter), one day I was seething with rage.

Apparently, some dickhead decided to just park the car and proceed to dump a pile of unwanted shit onto the ground and then leave.  It was like a bogan car had vomited a week’s worth of rubbish.  Water bottles, alcohol cans, cigarette packets, packaging, takeaway containers and random crap like receipts and bits of plastic.

Is it bad to wish death on someone?  I don’t care.  People like that need not exist.

(I just realised, this is the second ‘anger’ episode in this post.  Maybe I should see someone about that, haha)

On a brighter note, Mrs SMA has joined a new community garden just a short walk from our house.  So she’s been helping there each week as they get the garden established.  Later, it’s going to be used partly as a sensory learning experience for children with disabilities.

 

Blog

A big thanks to all of you for reading the blog during 2020!  While it’s great this site reaches more people each year, I get the most satisfaction from the wonderful emails and feedback that come from you, the readers πŸ™‚

When I started writing I was a little worried about running out of ideas.  But as time goes on, I keep adding more notes in my phone than I’m using, so it’s now a matter of trying to decide what to write. 

Yes, that’s my sophisticated method for drafting ideas.  Something pops into my head, I whip out my phone and make a note.  Right now, there are probably over 100 ideas in there.  Many are probably rubbish, but some will be useful!

Also, I know my writing has been slightly less frequent now that Pat and I are doing the podcast.  While I may do more from time to time, one piece of content each week feels like the right amount to send out.  Otherwise, what is this – a job?   

But I’d also like to carve out time for something else:  writing a book.  Some of you have mentioned this in the past and my answer was something like, “when the blog gets too big and messy I’ll consider it.” 

We’re probably at that point now.  I love the idea of trying to distil all my thoughts on financial independence down into an enjoyable and actionable book.  In practice though, I fully expect the project to be an absolute nightmare and for it to almost kill me!  

From what I’ve read, writing a high quality book tends to take 18-24 months, from first word to finished product.  So, this torturous task will begin at the start of 2021. 

To be honest, the reason I’m sharing this is so you can hold me accountable.  I’ll be forced to follow through.  Otherwise, my superhuman ability to procrastinate will continue to win out πŸ˜›

 

Podcast

The FIRE and Chill podcast has exceeded our modest expectations.  Pat and I are enjoying this new activity and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.  So again thanks for your support!

We’ve been running for around 7 months and the podcast has notched up 100,000 downloads.  That’s probably peanuts compared to some others out there, but pretty good for our little niche!

While it’s definitely not my strong suit, I think my speaking ability is starting to get better.  That said, there’s plenty of room for practice and improvement.

 

Investments

Australia just experienced its first recession in about 30 years.  This was my first time going through it as an adult and as an investor, not to mention as an early retiree.

On one hand, this should have been a terrible experience.  The market crashed, dividends fell heavily, and the economy looked in awful shape.  But in practice, it wasn’t that bad.

Our investments produced lower income than in the previous year, most notably our Aussie index fund.  But as we’re still transitioning from property to shares, we were actually buying shares during the turmoil.  Because of this, I don’t expect our income to change that much over the current 12 months.  We’re also earning some part time income and have plenty of cash in the bank.

The next property sale will probably be in about two years.  Our cash will easily last until then and I’m expecting a decent period ahead for Perth/Brisbane property.  See how it goes!

 

Lifestyle and other stuff…

For those wondering, we’re still renting for now.  Three years in and it’s been a relatively stress-free ride.  We just signed another 12 month lease at the same rent.  That was probably a good move, considering how hard it is to find rentals in Perth at the moment!

Around our birthdays in Feb/March we treated ourselves to another NBL game.  The seats were fantastic and the game went into overtime, AGAIN!  Some of you might remember the same thing happening last year.  How lucky is that?  Value for money or what!?

I also donated blood a few times in 2020, after seeing a story about how much is needed just to keep up with demand.  The experience was actually pretty good!  Staff at my local donation centre are so nice, it only takes around 15 minutes, and you even get food and drink afterwards! 

This is definitely something that feels worthwhile and I plan to keep doing it.  Apparently, with each blood donation you can save up to 3 lives.  That’s pretty awesome.

Mrs SMA has been even busier in the garden this year, expanding and diversifying her portfolio of plants.  And that’s been paying dividends in the form of a steadily increasing stream of fresh produce πŸ˜‰

Some current holdings include:  lemongrass, kale, spinach, chives, capsicum, chilli, onion, garlic, and many potted fruit trees which are tantalisingly close to reaching production stage.

Another investing-like side note:  the bigger a plant or tree becomes, the more valuable it is if you decide to sell.  Interesting, no?

 

Final thoughts

In general, our year has been great.  We’re all healthy and experiencing many happy times.  Our dog stayed out of trouble again with no unplanned trips to the vet.

Of course, we’re still doing our normal stuff like lots of walks, reading, bike rides, random trips out for lunch and so on.

While there are many things I care about or find fascinating (writing, animals, health, investing etc.), I can’t imagine working on any of them full-time.  Because then I don’t really have time for other things.  And when I feel restricted or time-poor, I start feeling depressed. 

Like most things, it could be a difference of personality.  But I honestly think working part-time (on whatever you choose) is probably the best lifestyle there is.  It leaves lots of time for other things, giving you a well-rounded and enjoyable week with very little stress.  That’s surely the best fit for mental and physical health.

2020 was a strange and eventful year to say the least!  We’re lucky to come through the other side in a better place than could have been expected.

I appreciate you following the blog and my ramblings on the podcast – I hope you’re getting something out of it.  Wishing you a Merry Christmas for the coming week!

But first, let me know, how has your 2020 been?  Share your thoughts in the comments below…

23 comments

  1. 2020 has been such a crazy year! I’m in Melbourne so there was the whole lockdown experience. But then, the lockdown certainly helped curtail my social spending!
    I was also very fortunate throughout covid as I work in healthcare and the government was surprisingly responsive to GP petitions and feedbacks and pivoted quite quickly to starting funding for telehealth services. It meant that work never shut down, even if it did become less busy for a time.
    Still, it’s been a challenging year, even if my finances held steady. Here’s looking towards a happier 2021!

    1. Thanks for sharing. Haha yeah I guess there is some upside to lockdown. Glad you weren’t too badly affected, all the best for next year πŸ™‚

  2. Hi Dave,
    I have really enjoyed the Fire and Chill podcast this year. I really appreciate the content you have created the knowledge you have been sharing. Keep up the good work and have great Xmas.
    Nat

  3. True – the self-induced panic buying was crazy! Your post brought back some memories of this that I had temporarily forgotten.

    Nice you went to south west WA. Such a beautiful part of the world down there. I would consider living in Bussleton in retirement for sure.

    It’s inspiring you do some volunteer work to plant trees, help turtles and otherwise look after a regional park. Not sure how many early retirees prioritise volunteering? Doing something to look after the natural world once I’m retired is definitely part of my retirement plans (and my partner’s).

    2020 has overall been a pretty OK year for me. Like you mentioned, the recession turned out to be not so bad for investments. The very start of the year was actually the worst for me personally. In January the east coast was engulfed in smoke and I often felt like I couldn’t breathe when I left the house (I’m sensitive to asthma from smoke/pollution). Plus there were friends and family in the path of the multiple fires (luckily everyone survived but there were some scary moments). With COVID times, I feel very grateful I was able to hold on to my part-time job, and even increase the number of clients my consulting side hustle has. A lot of my friends and family have been not too much affected either. I’m sure I have a very sheltered experience of COVID times and feel for the people who are doing it tough right now.

    All the best with the book writing in 2021! Can’t wait to read it.

    1. Not sure on other early retirees, I think some do. But there isn’t a huge amount of us (yet) to gauge how many are volunteering.

      Sorry to hear about the fires and it affecting your health. Great to hear you were able to increase your side business during COVID, nice work!

  4. Great post Dave! Loved reading about the various ways you volunteer your time and the things they you’re interested in. I get similar angry thoughts when I see people littering. It’s just so stupid.

    Also, definitely agree on the part-time job/hobby comment. I’ve been working for myself “full-time” since last year so have been able to set my own hours which means much less stress when you can set your days how you want them.

    Also, great idea with the book and hope you follow through with it even though I’m sure it will be really tough.

    Side note, since you’re into fitness, have you tried Jiu-jitsu? Not the cheapest physical activity but it’s really fun, great for the mind and body. I’ve been doing it for a few years and love it. It’s kind of like physical chess. Highly recommend it!

    Wishing you and your family the best for the holidays and the coming year. Looking forward to reading more about your adventures in 2021!

    1. Thanks very much Len. Great to hear you feel similar rage towards the litterbugs haha.

      Awesome that you can set your own hours and work, it’s such a beautiful position to be in – I want more people to experience it.

      Never tried Jiu-jitsu, or anything similar. I actually like exercise where you don’t really have to think much, like lifting weights. I’m secretly quite lazy πŸ˜‰

      All the best to you for 2021!

  5. I love reading Aussie blogs on finance and yours’s has been one of them. My family were all due to fly to Perth for my niece’s wedding in April and 3 weeks before it got cancelled due to COVID. It was rescheduled for the 27th November and a month before the WA borders opened however with fewer planes and more expensive air fares and still the apprehension of getting on a plane and changed circumstances meant none of us from Brisbane [5 of us] were able to go. The wedding did go ahead and my sister said it was a beautiful day and the bride said everything was perfect. My sister is now coming to Brisbane for 2 weeks to spend Christmas with us fingers crossed if this Sydney thing doesn’t spread further into Qld. I loved hearing about the little turtles too. Elise Joy [IG] who is in the US and created the “Get to Work” diary wrote a book called Big Dreams Daily Joys and her method was to work out how many words were in the book/chapter and divide it by the days/weeks months to get an average per day she had to write and ticked it off on a chart. Breaking it down project style. I’m sure your book will be a great read. Have a great Christmas and here’s to 2021. Kathy, Brisbane

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience Kathy. Shame you didn’t end up making the wedding. It’s been hard to keep up with the open/closed borders changing all the time!

      I appreciate the tip, have heard something similar one before – it sounds like a pretty handy method πŸ™‚

  6. I loved reading the blog post and seeing the pictures of the turtles and things. It sounds like you’re living retirement the way I would like to enjoy it too, once I get there.
    Thankfully my year hasn’t been too disrupted from all the goings on (also in WA). My job is secure so everything went on pretty much as per usual with some minor changes (hand sanitizer everywhere).
    Also thankful that things were back to normal enough that my son’s school still did the the yearly Year 10 river cruise along the Swan and we did the Mandurah Christmas Lights Cruise this week with my senior mother without a worry. We are fortunate indeed.
    I’ve never been one to follow politicians, but this year I felt McGowan really came through for us West Aussies. He has my respect and I’m also grateful that to live in one of the world’s most isolated cities as we get a heads up before anything comes our way.
    So to sum up, it’s been a year of gratitude. πŸ™‚

    1. Haha great to hear you like the turtles – they’re awesome!

      Definitely sounds like you’ve had a pretty good year, all things considered. We’ve been super lucky over here in WA, and I agree that McGowan has done a good job sticking to his guns most of the time, even as everyone else ridiculed him for it.

  7. Excellent post Dave. Thank you for the update. I love the analogy you draw between planting, harvesting and investing!! It’s exactly how I explain investing to my kids and older family members. There really can be a money tree! I’ll be at the front of the queue to buy your book!! I recently quit my job (voluntary redundancy package was too tempting) and now am planning to do part-time work as well as working on my own business projects. Here’s hoping for a less memorable and perfectly boring 2021… On another note, I agree it has been good to see some of our State Premiers do the right thing rather than the popular thing. If only other leaders would do the same…

    1. Fantastic comment Jeff! Haha yes, there is a lot of similarities between gardening/farming and investing – will have to put that in the book πŸ˜‰

      I appreciate your support mate (you’ve been one of the most vocal/encouraging person about doing a book). And totally agree – if 2021 is boring, that’d probably be a very good thing! Wishing you well for your new adventures πŸ˜€

  8. Great recap Dave.

    Funny enough, I am in the middle of writing our 2020 review and one thing I did for the first time this year was donate blood as well! You are correct in saying it can potentially save 3 lives, and what a great feeling it was walking out πŸ™‚ Another great initiative you might want to support is Strength to Give – check it out

    Have a good Christmas and new year, stay well.

    1. Oh that’s awesome – the blood thing is a pretty good experience hey? πŸ™‚

      Strength to Give… I will check that out. Thanks Sneak, you too!

  9. Can’t wait for the book to come out, seriously do we have to wait 2 years for it?
    You know what Dave, you have enough really excellent material and knowledge behind you to put a really interesting piece together on FI and common sense investing from an ordinary persons viewpoint who by the way if that makes sense, you also have an incredible knack of writing simply but effectively.
    Well done so far and I look forward to more blogs in 2021.
    Hope you and Mrs SMA enjoy a great Christmas and NY.

    1. Thanks for such kind words Dwayne!

      Yes, it may take that long for a quality book – 1 year minimum. A ton of steps involved even after the first draft has been written (which is a tough project in itself). If you work on it full time it’s faster, but then there’d be no blog or podcast and I couldn’t keep a cruisy retired person’s schedule… πŸ™‚

      Appreciate your support and hope you have a great 2021!

  10. I love that you’re working on your local environment like this – I had no idea that the baby turtles were that tiny!
    By the way, if you donate plasma you can do that much more regularly than whole blood. πŸ™‚

    1. Haha yes they’re super small these ones. Oh yeah I heard about the plasma but wasn’t quite sure how it worked. Will have to find out.

      1. I did plasma for a while you get hooked up and they mix anti coagulant in and the. Separate blood cells from plasma, you get red blood cells back and plasma can be used so many ways and you can do it maybe fortnightly? We had a challenging your with my husband in rfs fighting the fires on south east coast, then covid and whilst we stayed in work it changed a fair bit and more for me, things we had discussed as pipe dream, eg online appts became the norm overnight, I’ve learnt to zoom, run webinars and ipload to YouTube, I took on extra role and corresponding hours which has been a stretch, but we sold an underperforming investment property and bought a block of land to build on, have approval now and construction will commence as soon as the builders are back from leave! We will list our ppor once we are close to completion. Who could have imagined any of that – oh and we kept investing regularly in etfs and lic’s throughout πŸ™‚

        1. Thanks for sharing Hannah, and for the details on plasma. I really hope we now have a quiet year in the way of bushfires so that everything has a chance to recover. Sounds like a very eventful year for you, but you’ve actually done quite well learning new skills and making progress with your home and investments. All the best for 2021!

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