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Not Much Will Change After Covid-19

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash
If you're party to the collective stupidity that is "We'll all be so different after Covid-19! Just look at how much life has transformed now!" then you're probably falling for the headlines touting a extreme silliness that This Time is Different, a tried and true click bait title that sucks in readers like a lamp to a fly.

This time is not different. Certain things will fall the way of the dinosaurs (such as handshaking or packed elevators) and its likely more employees will be offered or negotiate their way to work-from-home packages with their employers but modern consumer culture has not been set back even a step. The cash-dripping leveraged consumer donkey has been spending loads of cash on home renovations and brand new cooking disasters (and subsequently Uber Eats when their own cooking fails them). Spending has not gone down, just certain categories have fallen off but others have more than happily taken its place.

Before we bag on consumer culture further, let's talk about the Employer for a second.

Employers are all probably 1. scratching their heads wondering why they have this massive office space for no fucking reason and 2. communicating closely with HR and management teams about who to fire now that they've probably got a great picture of who actually does shit around the office and who doesn't.

The Employer now has some very obvious options to cut costs. Assuming it's a white collar office with no attaching warehouse or something to that affect, they're probably realizing that bringing in employees to a collective tower or floor and having them do menial but important tasks is a costly move that costs a hell of a lot more money them just parking these employees at home (or a company-funded co-working space membership). Set them up with whatever secure connection and/or a somewhat invasive monitoring software and bam you're good to go. Both the Employer and the Employee are going to fall in love with this type of arrangement because it will fit into real life a lot easier. For some people, 6-2 works a lot better than 9 to 5 but leaving at 2pm never felt right and people always asked where you were. No longer.

Now the Employer gets to reduce desk space, which will reduce utilities and property taxes, or rent, less cleaning staff needed and certainly less of almost everything else that comes with the big logistical soul sucking machine that is cubicle working conditions. The money saved can be used to lure in better talent for the staff that do remain in the office (think the big-wigs) but also benefit the employees who decide working-from-home is entirely suitable to their role. The Employer will get to offer things they couldn't budget before such as the co-working space I mentioned before or a gym membership or paying for your cell phone or internet connection. All sorts of shit because trust me, real estate is more expensive and limits their potential pool of qualified candidates to do the job. 

Let's talk about the Consumer now, but really there isn't much to say. Turns out I had a lot to say.

People like being close to each other. Concerts, clubs, movies and sporting events have been around forever and aren't going anywhere. Eventually the restrictions will be lifted or will be mostly ignored as business gets back to usual in the smaller settings such as grocery outlets. Already the retail stores can't and won't police people to follow the arrows in their stores nor will they be able to contain the resentment for the new shopping status-quo. It's not sustainable because it's not what consumers ARE.

Consumers are spenders who are educated by corporations to believe the customer is always right. Smart people know this is just a blanket marketing strategy to keep individual retail store employees from spoiling the national image of the company but this syndrome is deeply ingrained as a right among consumers. You might even think this is just limited to "that lady" but you'd be wrong, this is as prevalent in Millennial's and Zoomer's as it is to be in the Karen's and Boomer's of the world. 

So when these righteous consumers get back walking in and out of every store that catches their fancy, you best believe they're piling the purchases straight onto the credit card, making payments when they're scared too and then eventually years down the road from now that they've dug a hole so deep that their mortgage is the only way out and consolidate all the cards and unsecured loans onto the mortgage. Phew, they'll say, "that was a close one! ....So where do you guys want to go to dinner tonight?"

What does this have to do with FIRE? Not really a whole lot. FIREwalkers have always been on the outside of consumer culture (or graduated from it with credit card war scars of their own) but there is a few things we should be taking advantage of right now as I see:
  1. If you're looking into real-estate, now is a good time because home prices are expected to go down. I would keep an eye on how your neighbourhood in particular is doing and keep in touch with your real-estate agent.
  2. Keep buying index funds - The bull market of the 2010's is over. Lots of indexes and individual stocks on sale if you're a risk taker but my cup of tea (VEQT) is going up and down all the time. Perfect time to get in since it and pretty much every other broad-market index fund is going to perpetually zigzag upward.
  3. If you think the economy won't recover because this time is different, explain to me how two World Wars and the Spanish Flu hasn't stopped the stock market yet
  4. Take advantage of a time where Employers are eagerly looking to cut costs. Be that Employee that can confidently showcase their hard work while outside of the office for months and don't be afraid to negotiate salary or other job perks and benefits that will ultimately benefit the Employer.
That's all I've got to say about that! Cool air has finally come to Kitchener, ON to provide relief to my hydro bill with my somewhat excessive use of the A/C but hey, I don't hyper-optimize the rest of my life just to sweat is out in 30°C inside my own home. That would be cheap, and we're not cheapo's in the FIRE movement, just frugal. Learn the difference. For those wondering, I don't let the thermostat go any higher than 25 and I still achieve an average electricity use of 300 kwh (which is a third of the average in Ontario - however I think my home is slightly smaller than the average at a modest 1200sqft so I might not be as exceptional as I claim to be). 

Enjoy the summer!

Ryan Myricks

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  1. I agree with you about the change to more remote work, and that consumers will go back to their same old ways. Too bad, but that's likely going to be the case.

    That's why I'll keep trying to share the FI message. :)

    PS: in 2019, we averaged 364 kwh for our 2,700 sq. ft. house. We're also FAR lower than the average for our area.

    1. WHOA, nice energy usage. I feel like I should have some work to do lowering mine further but to be honest, my hydro bill last month was $47 and I'm not at all annoyed with that number (they've eliminated the peak-usage rate hikes for Covid). I can live with that, although $0 does interest me. Sigh.


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