Save and Invest

Early retiree's net worth dropped $200,000 due to the pandemic—here's how he's changing his budget

Steve and Courtney Adcock hiking the Valley of Fire State Park
Courtesy of Steve Adcock

In 2016, Steve Adcock quit his six-figure job and retired at 35. His wife, Courtney, left her 9-to-5 a year later and joined him in early retirement. They did it by saving up to 70% of their combined income, which ranged from $200,000 to $230,000 a year.

For the past few years, the couple have been living off their investment dividends and capital gains in the market. That is until recently, when the coronavirus pandemic sent the markets into a tailspin. 

Now, they're living off of their emergency fund, which has enough money to last them three years, and reinvesting the dividends. Still, their net worth has plummeted: "We're down about $200,000 from our highs," Adcock tells CNBC Make It. Their portfolio was at a high of $1.2 million in February 2020.

The couple, who live in an 800-square-foot solar home in Arizona, isn't panicking. The pandemic hasn't yet affected their long-term plans, says Adcock: "Our goal has always been to maintain a lifestyle where we never run out of money in early retirement through living a sensible and low-cost lifestyle, and that definitely hasn't changed."

In the meantime, though, they've tweaked their budget and investing strategy as the coronavirus pandemic continues to create uncertainty. 

Steve and Courtney Adcock retired in their 30s
Courtesy of Steve Adcock

For starters, they're spending a lot less money. "A big part of our budget is discretionary spending, like restaurants, alcohol, home improvement stuff," says Adcock, who estimates that half of their budget in retirement goes toward "fun expenses."  

Since March, they've eliminated nearly all of their discretionary spending. "We don't go to restaurants, mainly because they are closed," Adcock says. "We buy less alcohol. We aren't ordering as much stuff on Amazon. We keep our expenses to what we need and save the rest for later, once things get back to normal."

While they would normally spend between $45,000 and $50,000 a year, "our current budget puts us more at $30,000 a year, or $2,500 a month. We anticipate this lower budget going forward until things change for the better."

They've also changed their investing strategy. "We are now automatically reinvesting all of our dividends into buying more stocks," says Adcock. "Before the pandemic, we took our dividends as a part of our living expenses, but not right now."

Because the market is down and stocks are "on sale" right now, he sees it as a good time to invest. Rather than living off the dividends, he's putting that money into the stock market and drawing down from his emergency fund for everyday expenses.

Adcock is optimistic that the market will rebound over the next few months, as are other money experts. If it does bounce back, "we're hoping to have enough stock in the market to enjoy a nice recovery," he says.

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This couple retired in their 30s and travels full-time in an Airstream trailer
This couple retired in their 30s and travels full-time in an Airstream trailer