To get through the latest bear market, I thought it would be fun to go through an exercise that will surely make you feel better. The exercise is a gratitude journal for money to get us through hard times. The global pandemic has really rocked a lot of people to their core.
Simply write down all the things you spent money on that could have been invested in the stock market instead. That is the amount of money that you spared from getting torn to bits by the big bad bear.
Hopefully everybody has been practicing taking some profits here and there to pay for a better life for the past several years. Money is meant to be spent. Otherwise, there's no point saving and investing if we're just going to hoard all our money until we die.
The period to record all your spending includes how far back in time the current bear market has reset to. For example, perhaps the S&P 500 has declined by 30%, bringing it back to a level not seen since three years ago. Therefore, count all your spending from then until now to see how much you've not only spared, but also enjoyed.
Ironically, the bigger a spender you've been, the better you should feel. Frugal minimalists get the short end of the stick during a bear market. Not only did they not spend their money to pay for a better life, but they also lost a lot of money on their investments.
Warning: If you are experiencing tremendous financial hardship and stress, the examples in this post might piss you off. If you still want to proceed, please focus on your own examples.
Your Money Gratitude Journal
Let's review some of the nice things to have spent money on that wasn't invested in the stock market. Write them down in your money gratitude journal.
1) An affordable home
Buying a nice home to enjoy for yourself or to raise a family is the #1 big-ticket item that should make you very happy. Not only does a home provide wonderful utility, but an affordable home is also a defensive asset if the economy doesn't tank too badly.
Always practice turning funny money into real assets. We've seen time and time again that stock prices can plummet very quickly. A nice primary residence is one of the best real assets you can buy. It may be declining in value during a bear market, but you're not as stressed because you're too busy living life.
2) Home remodeling
The money spent home remodeling is a natural extension of owning a nicer home. Plenty of people appreciate nice kitchens, remodeled bathrooms, a balcony edition, and heated-seat bidets. You want to remodel the rooms where you spend the most amount of time.
Although most home remodeling does not recoup 100% of its cost, in some markets, they do and more. The key is to focus on expansion. It is almost always the case where the build cost is cheaper than the sales price.
3) Fine Jewelry & Watches
Nobody needs fine jewelry & watches. However, they have an intrinsic value based on precious metal and precious stone prices. Gold, for example, is drastically increasing in price during the coronavirus bear market.
Some watches tend to appreciate handsomely due to artificial supply restrictions. A classic example is the Stainless Steel Rolex Daytona. The stainless steel isn't particularly valuable. However, prices continue to rise due to a limited production.
Back in my younger days, I would collect a lot of fine timepieces. However, as a busy father now, I have no more time for such luxuries. My wife doesn't care for jewelry or watches either. But if you do, fine jewelry and watches are a nice splurge.
4) A nice automobile
A car is probably the most common worst purchase a typical American can make. But if the purchase follows my 1/10th rule for car buying, then it's not so bad. It is nice to be able to drive in a comfortable car with all the special amenities.
With the large number of reckless drivers in San Francisco, I appreciate driving my Tata Motors SUV to shuttle my family around. Not only does the SUV look good and is a joy to drive, but it's also safer than the Honda Fit I drove before having kids. Safety is my #1 concern as a father.
5) Yummy food and drink
You can try and save money by cooking at home or you can have a good time by going out to eat. While there's really no right answer, all those times you splurged eating and drinking at some of the finest restaurants in town are better appreciated during a bear market. Besides, with many areas under lockdown due to the pandemic, ordering delivery or pickup can really help your neighborhood restaurants.
During times of celebration, go ahead and pick up a $40/lb American wagyu ribeye at the grocery story instead of spending only $12/lb for an Angus ribeye to cook at home. Perhaps pair it with a select bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape for $120 versus a bottle of Two Buck Chuck. Eating and drinking well is a big part of living well in most cultures.
If you're going to get out of shape, you might as well eat and drink well! And if you're going to lose a lot of money in the stock market, you might as well try and eat some of it.
Related: The Ideal Weight Pisses Me Off
6) Travel delight
Buying great experiences will always trump buying great things. Great experiences tend to appreciate in value. Traveling around the country and the world have always provided my wife and me the maximum amount of joy.
In the past, we've always flown economy, eaten conservatively, and stayed at middle-range hotels. If we ever get to travel again, we are going to live it up! We haven't traveled anywhere together since going on our baby moon to Oahu in 2016 because we don't want to travel with kids until they can remember their travels.
7) Childcare & tuition
If you have children, you will agree that children are your most precious asset. During a bull market, you might have griped about paying $2,000 a month for childcare, $25/hour for babysitting, $4,500 a month for private grade school, or $70,000 a year for one year of college education. But given you're losing tons of money in a bear market, you become thankful that you got to spend lots of money on your most precious asset!
The greatest gift we can give our children is our loving time. The second greatest gift is a solid education so they can grow up to pursue their dreams. No matter what happens to our children, so long as we know we gave them our time and a great education, I think we'll rest easier knowing we as parents tried our best.
Related: Would You Accept $1 Million To Go To Public School Over Private School?
The chasm between helping someone in need and losing that money in a bear market is perhaps one of the single most tragic differences. What a waste to lose money in a bear market when the money could have been used to feed a hungry child, help fund research for an eye disease cure, or help support a homeless shelter.
When I think of how much money I've lost in the 2020 bear market that could have gone to helping other people, I feel saddled with disappointment. As a result, the worse the bear market gets, the more I will give.
If we have the capacity to give during difficult times, we should. We don't have to just give money, we can give our time. One thing that keeps on driving me to write and record during this crappy period is nice feedback. Here's one from Facebook. Mary just gave me the energy to write three more posts!
Mary Keenan-Sadlon: When times get tough, the tough get going. I've followed you a long time and you're the best of the best, Sam. Thank you for sharing the negative considerations of this scourge. We retired at the end of February and it's been tough sledding. Your recommendations are right on. Thank you for putting yourself out there. You're a scrapper, a fighter, a toughie. . .and a winner. We WILL bounce back. We have to do so. What's the alternative? God's blessings on you and yours!
9) All the debt you paid off
You will likely never regret paying off any sort of debt, no matter how low the interest rate and no matter how much you miss out on investment gains. With each debt you pay off you will feel lighter and freer. Therefore, using the FS-DAIR methodology, I highly encourage you to consistently pay down debt while also investing.
The very first significant debt I paid off was $40,000 in MBA debt. The interest rate was only about 3.5% at the time, but I didn't care. I wanted that monkey off my back. Paying off student debt felt so good that I paid off my girlfriend's $10,000 college debt soon after as well. If you have private student loan debt, you should at least consider refinancing given the interest rate is more closely tied to the Fed Funds Rate.
Over the past three years, I've paid off about $350,000 in mortgage debt organically. It also felt good to pay off ~$815,000 in mortgage debt in 2017 by selling a rental property.
A Big Picture Budget Of Gratitude
For a big picture overview, let's look at a typical upper-middle-class family of four living in an expensive city. Their annual income is $350,000 and they end up spending about $208,000 if we exclude their $12,000 contribution to a 529 plan.
Over a three-year time period, this family of four has spent roughly $624,000. We can consider this entire $624,000 spending total as a nice lifestyle win.
We can also compare the difference between the $624,000 spending total and a frugal spending total. If they were really frugal, they could probably live off $100,000 a year. As a result, we can calculate that this family enjoyed a $324,000 higher lifestyle over three years and saved themselves about $100,000 in stock market losses if the S&P 500 was down 33%.
This family got to live in a $1.8 million home to house their two children. They paid $160,000 in childcare-related expenses to protect their sanity and educate their children. They donated $10,000 to charity. They drove a nice car and went on some nice vacations. All-in-all, not a bad lifestyle!
My six-figure income and budget examples have faced a lot of criticism, especially the $500,000 one. However, the more you spent leading up to a bear market, the more you've benefitted.
Spend More Of Your Money On A Better Life
Consumption smoothing is important. You don't want to be a miser and die with too much. To be able to consumption smooth properly, you should make an educated guess on the year you will die, make some pro forma calculations with a retirement planner on how much you will end up having, and adjust your spending accordingly.
Below is an example of a 41-year-old who wants to retire at 50 with roughly a $3 million portfolio. He wishes to spend $12,500 a month on average in retirement. Based on the results from Personal Capital's Retirement Planner, it shows a monthly projected income of $18,416.
A $5,916/month estimated overage is massive. Therefore, this person should either spend more between age 41 – 50 or spend more than $12,500/month once he retires. Of course, having a nice bear market wipe out 30% of his portfolio also “helps” with consumption smoothing.
If you're able to leg into stocks during a bear market, you'll probably be rewarded over the next 10 years. The deeper the bear market, generally the greater the returns.
Stocks are a tried and true way to build wealth over time. However, given stocks provide zero utility and tend to crash every 7-10 years, it is vital that you practice regularly taking some profits to pay for a better life.
Please add up how much money you've spent that would have been invested and lost in a bear market. It should make you feel better. And if it doesn't, it's probably because you were too frugal.
What's great about having a money gratitude journal is that it forces you to budget and spend more purposefully. Please enjoy what's left of your remaining fortune! But most of all, stay healthy and loved.
Related: Great Things To Buy With Your
Massive Investment Gains
30 thoughts on “A Money Gratitude Journal: The Best Way To Feel Better In A Bear Market”
Sam, When I retired in 2012 I wrote you regarding my net worth and feelings toward investing. You were kind enough to write back with advise, of which I took. In reading this post I realized I had done most everything you pointed out. Just wanted you to know that I have not only traveled, bought the cars I wanted for the wife and myself, remodeled the house, bought the watch (two as a matter of fact), but spent on my two adult children as well during the past 8 years of retirement.
I have been very lucky in life (and having you write me back then with advise is an example of the kind of luck I have enjoyed) and still continue to be. My conservative approach (in part due to your advise) with money has allowed me to be up 3% year to date despite the stock market crash. Just wanted you to know your words do impact some of us out here in the country in a BIG WAY!
I am very happy to read that you too will be enjoying a little more of your wealth while you are still young and healthy. Being frugal got you here, but now it is ok to spend more on you and the family. As a 65 year old Dad and Grand Dad, I can tell you that your children would rather have memories of you and them on a beach playing than looking at a bank book oneday and seeing that you left then money. Money for them in 20 years does not stand the time of loving fun memories built today.
You and the family will always have a place to stay if you ever plan a trip to Birmingham, Alabama………….PS Roll Tide!
Nice to hear from you Joel on congrats on being up and living a life true to yourself!
It makes me happy to hear that I could help you.
This is probably my favorite posts from your blog! Thank you! I’m the miser in my family, and my husband is the conscientious spender. And being stuck at home, I’m very grateful we bought the type of home that we live in (affordable but comfortable). I was eyeing a tiny home to FIRE quickly but we would have ended up killing each other in quarantine.
Wow! Cool this is your favorite post after 2,000+ published so far since 2009. Thanks!
Money gratitude is huge. During times like these, we really need to take inventory of the things we have rather than the things we’ve lost.
This article seems to be telling you to appreciate all the nice things you’ve bought, but much of the advice (and very good advice) throughout the blog encourages you to live well below your means.
How many watches and jewels should I have if I’m planning on saving 50% of my discretionary income? Probably close to zero.
Beautiful home with tennis court? Location?
Can’t reveal the location of my house. Sorry!
ah, thats your home? Thought its a stock photo.
Your post reminded me of the story of a man who bought a basket of apples.
The next day he saw one starting to rot so he thought he would eat that one instead of discarding it entirely. The next day he saw another apple rotting so he ate that one. He kept on doing this routine until the basket was empty.
Instead of enjoying fresh apples, his frugality caused him to eat a basket full of rotten apples. Sometimes we can skimp too much. Let’s make sure to enjoy the good once in a while.
What a great story. Thanks for sharing. I’ve highlighted it in my weekly newsletter.
Thank you, Financial Samurai. I feel a lot better after reading this post. I waited for 15 years to finally splurged on new window construction this January. The new blast of light from the new window illuminates a formerly dark dungeon of a room. Now it’s the go-to place for people and pets alike. It also lifts the dark mood of these uncertain times. I’m so glad I invested this money in a small room upgrade and not in the stock market.
I did the same thing! It was the best money spent!
As the market dropped I consoled myself by observing the differential. On several of the 10%+ drop days our holdings dropped 1-3% Was grateful for the comparison. Yes a substantial amount of paper assets were lost but the net loss could have been way worse.
I’m thankful my husband and I both have jobs that can be carried out from home without an issue and the space at home to do it comfortably. Dare I say going forward firms should look at those requiring an office space to go to for work as the ones “asking” for more rather than the remote workers who donate business square footage and utilities to their respective company??? In all fairness I will recognize my firm as one who issues every remote worker a stipend monthly to pay them back for the “cost savings” but not all firms do.
Further I’m thankful to be able to continue to support the essential businesses that support me in “normal mode”. Farm fresh food delivery, dry cleaning pickup and delivery, standard washing pickup and delivery, Doggy Day Care, etc. Honestly right now I need none of these services since I’m living in sweats, looking for reasons to walk the dog and have plenty of time to scour the town for foodstuffs but thankfully we are in a position to continue to use these firms and double down on purchasing user packages and gift cards to give them the cash flow to keep their business afloat. I fear it is not enough, especially for the owners and employees of “non-essential” businesses but we continue to pay those where we can and look for ways we could help them weather the storm as well. This ability more than any other purchase I’ve made by withdrawing profits from the market is the most enjoyable.
Supporting local businesses that are open is so great during times like these. Perhaps there will be a permanent uptick in ordering delivery/take out for many things going forward now.
And finally, the stigma against working from home will finally be gone.
Would be curious to know more about that scenario you mention involving the 41 YO with 3 million and plannig to spend $12500 a year. That works out to 5% of his initial portfolio; seems pretty high for a long retirement, no? I think most of us wouldn’t be comfortable starting with more than 3% (plus annual inflation adjustments).
The Retirement Planner had some various built-in assumptions on returns from 41 – 50, and then from 50+.
5% is too high. My ideal withdrawal rate in retirement touches no principal until you reach the estate tax limit. Then, you might as well spend everything above that.
Future cash flow and retirement portfolio sizes are an assumption, which is why it’s worth running your numbers at least once a quarter to see how they’ve changed. 1Q2020 is obviously going to change a lot for many!
My biggest “splurges” have been on food and kids clothes and toys. I’m very grateful to have spent money on meals because I don’t like cooking and not having to prepare meals has saved me so much time.
I’m also grateful to have spent money on my kids to make their lives fun and comfortable. With school closed I’m really happy to have such a large collection of children’s books, toys and games to keep them entertained. And I’m also very grateful to have bought an ipad. It’s been very useful for educational and fun videos especially on these days with schools closed.
Feel so blessed to be able to feed and care for our children!
And what a great motivator to be homeschoolers, at least for several months.
Homeschooling is so much more efficient and would support a traveling lifestyle.
Finally, I dig that our bodies are healing. The colds are gone and it feels damn good to feel 100% healthy again!
My biggest thing that I was happy when I did it at the time and even more so now in retrospect was to completely pay off my mortgage 5 years ago.
There has always been a debate on whether or not to use the extra money to pay off debt or to invest it. When I paid off the mortgage I felt like I left some money on the table because of the incredible bull run that continued years after but I never regretted the decision and would have done so again in a heartbeat.
Now with the current financial climate that move has paid off two fold. The extra money that would have been invested would have nearly evaporated and now I am not as worried about keeping a roof over my head.
A lot of people may not know outside of the medical profession but this corona virus is wreaking havoc on a lot of physicians incomes. As a radiologist the amount of imaging currently being done is down tremendously (especially since I work in an outpatient center). Other specialties, particular surgical ones, are taking it on the chin as a lot of states have banned all elective surgeries (the bread and butter for most practices). The surgicenter at my work is decimated as there are barely any cases now and the docs who rely on operating for income are pushed to the brink.
My work has decided to reduce each physicians salary draw by 40% as patient volumes crater. It would be a much tougher pill to swallow if I had a mortgage. But now I still have positive cash flow.
My wife works for Siemens and she can’t go see her customers like you but of course, few are buying right now anyway. Hopefully, only a few more weeks and we can start to venture out when it is safe.
Good move on your mortgage. We have a little less than 5 years to go but I also have set aside some money in savings bonds and CDs paying about 3% on average to cover the mortgage if my wife were to lose her job so I am also sleeping OK right now, even with a mortgage.
I totally agree with you on the joy of paying off the mortgage.
You doing telemedicine? Although you can’t make as much per session, the volume spike could really help your business. I did one last week. It was nice!
My colleague is starting to explore teleradiology options which would be great. Unfortunately there are some things that force a radiologist to be onsite (at least 1 of the 2 of us have to be there in case of IV contrast reactions or in case there is a procedure for cancer which is still allowed).
It would be nice to be set up at home for the one that does not have to be onsite (which would alternate) but where I live I am relying on satellite internet since I am in a rural area) and not even sure the data for these studies would overwhelm it.
Ha- I was thinking along the same lines yesterday. I’m relieved that we purchased a nice home and spent money on some worthwhile improvements – now that we’re stuck here for the forseeable future it was so worth it! Same thing with our car. We purchased a similar Tata Motors SUV (love your reverse-trolling there) in the fall and will likely keep it longer than we’d initially anticipated. But, its such a nice car that i’m happy to be “stuck” with it. Credit goes to my wife on both counts –I’m more frugal naturally so it’s great to have a partner who “pushes” me. I should probably follow her advice more often since she opted to keep some cash on the sidelines and not invest it (a few months ago she said “the market seems too high”.
Tata Motors for the win!
I don’t think I’m going to be as frugal after this pandemic is over. Seriously… saving so much and then dying with too much is stupid. I’m going to regularly calculate our pro forma spend/expenses going forward.
On the point of giving, I just sent a check to my in-laws to cover their rent for April. Did they need it? Probably not because they have a large safety net. Will they appreciate it? Of course. I think it’s important to show support to those that you care about in crazy times like this to let them know that they are thought of and that they will be taken care of.
Did it hurt my bank account? Of course it did. I like seeing my savings account grow every month. However on the point of just investing/saving without enjoying it or spending it, what is the point of saving if the end goal is just to hoard? Money buys a lot of things, but when it comes down to it money isn’t important (as long as basic necessities can be met).
I’m just extremely thankful that my wife and I are both in a fortunate situation. Our industries are not as affected by COVID-19, but I know for a lot of people out there, they’re livelihood has been completely shaken. It’s crazy how fast this pandemic / economic situation / job / etc., all went from 0-60 within 30 days. It’s also crazy how much luck plays a role in the well-being of your life. Had a cushy job in hospitality in January 2020? COVID-19: hold my beer. Recently got pregnant and was filled with joy? COVID-19: hold my beer. Sh*t is unfair and just crazy the more you think about how fast things can change.
If sh*t hits the fan even more in April, I’m thinking about sending checks out to even more of my family members that are impacted by COVID-19. At this point, I’m OK with investing less and spending more on families and friends. This whole craziness made me realize again how lucky I am. Might as well share the blessing as much as I can.
Anyway, thanks for writing about something other than the doom-and-gloom.
Good stuff! Why family is so important. If you win the lottery by being financially stable, then it’s always nice to spread the wealth during times like these.
Sam I love when you write pieces and I can’t quite tell whether or not you’re being satiric. I’m not even sure you can always tell!
I certainly hope and expect that your most diligent readers have been doing exactly what I’ve been doing the last several years — largely with your inspiration — which is building up a big cash pile to invest when the market bubble finally popped!
Now that it has popped, I am indeed very grateful and have been enjoying buying into the market at increasingly bargain prices. I’m investing a new tranche for every 5% drop, and will keep doing so until I run out of investible cash at around a 50% drop if it gets that far (obviously that’s on pause now given the recent run-up from the 2 trillion bailout).
It’s been painful for all of us to see our net worth dropping, but that pain is definitely mitigated by getting to buy more as the market declines. I would definitely feel very, very stupid right now if I’d spent all that investible cash on luxury cars the last few years!
Of course we don’t want to deprive ourselves of all life’s luxuries, but I bet those of us who have been cutting expenses to save cash over the last several years are the most grateful of all. And whether or not you’re being slightly satiric with this piece, I and many others can certainly thank you for in the past supporting us in building a good-sized cash pile to deploy at this time.
Agree with you. This article makes sense if you are “rich” but since 70% of Americans can’t even come up with 1k they certainly should have been living a more frugal lifestyle and saving for a nice emergency fund for times like these.
I admit, I love to dream. And b/c I dream a lot (it’s free), I ended up putting things like a $1 million car, wagyu beef, and my !5 million Hawaiian dream home in my post.
I hope everyone can calculate their own spending over the past 2-3 years and appreciate the money they’ve spent to improve the quality of their lives and not lose it in a bear market.
I appreciate the consistent posting schedule & positive message around gratitude. I have been a reader for about 5 months. Personally found great value out of your recent posts around how 2020-2021 is a great time for RE and past posts on the long-term upside of starting a blog. Currently, 24, doing software sales in Dallas, spoke w/ mortage loan yesterday & got 300k quote w/ low 3% interest, max loan amount around 450k, credit score is >800. It seems like you have always gone all in buying top tier properties, with a strategy around making primary residence then renting out + repeat every 5 years. Any advice on..
1. Should I continue to pay low rent w/ my roommates for another year before looking at RA (strategy to advance at company/grow income + establish an online brand)?
2. Take on debt to buy a property sooner rather than later, thinking this is even more motivation to perform day-to-day, while still advancing career + establish an online brand? The drawback in being overextended by liquidating all positions for either 5-20% down.