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Are You Better Off Than 4 Years Ago? (2020 Edition)


Are You Better Off Than 4 Years Ago? 2020 editionThis is it! It’s time to cast your vote and make sure it counts. Billions of people still don’t have this basic right. We’re lucky to have the privilege to help choose our leaders and policies. So don’t squander this opportunity. Vote as early as you can to make sure your vote counts and that your ballot is put in an official ballot box because this is the most important election in decades*.

Even if you’re sick with politics and really don’t care who will be president next, you should still vote on the local elections and issues. This year, there are a bunch of local measures for us. Normally, I’d vote yes on library bonds and park bonds. But not this year. Sadly, I’m voting no on everything in 2020. This is the wrong time to increase property tax. The libraries and parks can cut back like everyone else. Come back later when things are better. Usually, these measures pass, but we’ll see what happens this year.

*Here is the story on NPR that showed me how important local elections are – REDMAP. Every 10 years, states will have to redraw their district map to adjust for the population shift. The winners of these local elections will be in charge of this redistricting. A carefully drawn district can guarantee a win for many years.

Alright, let’s get back to the blog post – Are you better off than 4 years ago? This is what we hear every presidential election. It’s really a trick question. Everyone should be better off after 4 years no matter who is the president. However, 2020 is a special case. Many people are struggling due to the pandemic. I think it’s still a good idea to do our quadrennial checkup. (Hey, a new word for me!) Today, I’ll take a look at 3 important facets of our well-being and see if we are better off – health, wealth, and happiness. Overall, we are doing better, but there are some issues, too. I encourage you to do the same and take my poll.

Are you better off than 4 years ago? (2020 edition)

View Results

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I’m 46 years old and I’m relatively healthy. Fortunately, my health has been stable over the last 4 years. I haven’t picked up any new chronic conditions so that’s great news. My weight has been okay, too. In 2019, I got it down to 130 lbs., but it is back up to 136 lbs. It has been difficult for me to eat right and exercise consistently this year. But 136 lbs. isn’t too bad. That’s my normal weight… Mrs. RB40 and RB40Jr are healthy, too.

So health is good for now. I am healthy and I just need to stay that way. This is still a big improvement from 2012 when I was working full-time. Back then, I was stressed out all the time and had quite a few mysterious conditions. Fortunately, we made it to FI (financial independence) and I was able to retire from my engineering career. My health improved and life has been good since then.

Overall, my health has been stable over the last 4 years. That’s excellent.


Wealth is a bit tricky. I’ll break it down into 2 parts – cash flow and net worth.

Cash flow

Cash flow is just how much money is coming in and out of your household. 2020 is a tough year for a lot of people. The unemployment spiked due to the COVID—19 pandemic. It’s improved since March but remains quite high at 7.9%. We are very fortunate because our income streams are still flowing. My online income is down, but at least it isn’t shut off completely. Mrs. RB40 is still working full-time and her job is relatively secure. Surprisingly, our passive income is holding up quite well. All in all, our cash flow is good so we won’t have to make any big changes.

Here is a chart of our passive income and expenses since 2016. Passive income is helping a lot. That’s the benefit of investing. You have multiple streams of income to help shore up your cash flow.

passive income

My online income is down, but I’m not too worried since we don’t use that money anyway. You can read more about it on my online income page.

Net worth

Our net worth took a hit early on but it already came back to hit a new high. Wall Street has disconnected from Main Street. Many workers are in trouble financially, but investors are doing quite well. This is why you need to evolve from a worker to an investor. You’ll be part of the owner society if you invest in the stock market.

Here is a chart of our net worth over the last 4 years. 2017 to 2019 was great. Our net worth steadily increased. There was a big dip recently, but our net worth already came back to hit a new high. It’s crazy, but I’m thankful that we are investors.

RB40 household net worth

Overall, these last 4 years was great for us. Our cash flow and net worth both improved.


This part will be somewhat political. That’s my warning so you can skip this section if you want to avoid politics. Happiness is tricky. It’s all subjective and the present is the most important part. And presently, nobody is too happy. The country is divided and we blame the other side for all our problems.

2020 is the worst year in a long time. We had pandemic, racial tension, riots, wildfires, homeschooling, trade wars, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died before the election. It’s a big hot mess in the US right now. All these problems weren’t the president’s fault, but he didn’t help with anything. All he did was feed the flame and divide us even more. IMO, America is worse off than 4 years ago.  Trump did a terrible job.

The last 4 years with Trump at the helm hasn’t been good for my happiness. He treats the office like a reality TV show and generates plenty of drama every day to keep the audience watching. I don’t need that BS. I want my president to work like my computer. Just do your job well so I don’t notice you. This is just too much drama. I can’t take 4 more years of this. We’re all held hostage by a psychotic megalomaniac. The previous administration didn’t generate many headlines and that’s the way I like it. No news is good news. Let’s get back to normalcy.

OK, that’s my rant. I’m still generally happy, but I was happier 4 years ago. Life really hasn’t changed much so I don’t have a lot to be unhappy about. President Trump and COVID-19 are my main sources of unhappiness. These two things need to go.

Are you better off than 4 years ago?

All in all, we are better off than 4 years ago. Our net worth increased and our cash flow is holding up well. I’m healthy and relatively happy. We are doing well even with the pandemic. In contrast, many families are struggling mightily. 2020 is a difficult year for this exercise; however, 2017 to 2019 were great years. If those 3 years weren’t enough of a headstart, then you need to prepare better for the next crisis. You might need to change careers, save more, invest for the rainy days, or combine households to get ahead. Do whatever you need to so you’ll be better prepared next time. Don’t stick with the same strategy if it doesn’t work because there will be another crisis. That’s just life.

How about you? Are you better off than 4 years ago?

If you’re curious, here is the 2016 edition of this post and the result of the previous poll.

Are you better off than 4 years ago? (2016 edition)

  • Most definitely (87%, 414 Votes)
  • About the same (6%, 29 Votes)
  • Worse, Thanks Obama! (7%, 32 Votes)

Total Voters: 475

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Trump image by Gage Skidmore

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. He spent 16 years working in computer design and enjoyed the technical work immensely. However, the job became too stressful and Joe retired from his engineering career to become a stay-at-home dad/blogger at 38. Today, he blogs about financial independence, early retirement, investing, and living a frugal lifestyle.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is increasing his investment in real estate with CrowdStreet. He can invest in projects across the U.S. and diversify his real estate portfolio. There are many interesting projects available so sign up and check them out.

Joe also highly recommends Personal Capital for DIY investors. He logs on to Personal Capital almost daily to check his cash flow and net worth. They have many useful tools that will help DIY investors analyze their portfolio and plan for retirement.

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{ 92 comments… add one }
  • ken smith October 24, 2020, 4:40 pm

    I think the question is not are you better off then 4 years. That is coming from selfish, greedy, no empathy for others. The question should be is our society a better place – safer, less poverty, less divided, kinder, less inequality, healthier, are we feeling like we are moving forward as a society – growing, evolving. Is folks that need help getting what they need or just the top benefiting.

  • Travis October 21, 2020, 1:56 pm

    “I want my president to work like my computer. Just do your job well so I don’t notice you. This is just too much drama. I can’t take 4 more years of this. We’re all held hostage by a psychotic megalomaniac. The previous administration didn’t generate many headlines and that’s the way I like it. No news is good news. Let’s get back to normalcy.”

    To be fair, in conservative media Obama was in the news every day during his tenure in an “OMG I can’t believe he is doing that” kind of way. At least that is the impression I got from my conservative relatives\friends.

  • Noel October 20, 2020, 9:15 am

    First off, thank you for sharing a bit of your view on what’s going on politically in this country! Big sigh of relief you didn’t endorse that clown. It’s nice to read about and see people who put our society first, rather than see the world only by how well their investments are fairing.

    But yes, same as you, financially I’m in a way better spot now than 4 years ago. My net income has grown more than 50% in 4 years, just riding the booming economy and switching companies twice for big salary increases. Unfortunately, COVID has hammered the construction industry in the Bay Area and I’ve seen so many good people laid off. Here’s to 2021 and the hope for a return to normalcy January 20th when the new president is sworn in.

  • Amy October 19, 2020, 7:51 am

    Well said and thank you for sharing your political views. I am a twenty-something engineer, so while my finances have improved, my happiness has gone down in the past four years. Trump as president stresses me out on a frequent basis and so much political debate amongst family and friends is not good for my mental health. I also seriously worry about the state of the environment and if that continues to decline because of the government not doing anything, that will not be good for my wallet either. I was hoping to travel this year and having to cancel many plans was a huge disappointment as well. Here’s hoping to a Biden presidency and a happiness improvement in the next 4 years!

  • Ken October 18, 2020, 5:48 am

    You, and everyone who asks this exact question, is asking a selfish version of this question, especially in 2020. I’d say even by headlining the post this way you’re doing a major disservice in framing the election. This question must fundamentally change to reflect a more inclusive view of assessing the state of things. “is the world better than it was 4 years ago?” “are people as a whole better off than 4 years ago?” “is the planet in a more sustainable place than 4 years ago?”

    As a white engineering man in the investor class, sure I have more money than I did four years ago, but how about the 215K plus dead in the U.S. from covid (to say that this is unrelated to leadership as at least one commenter did is genuinely ridiculous)? How about George Floyd? How about the children and parents permanently separated at the border? How about the explosion in white supremacy in the U.S. and across the globe? How about women who’s claims of sexual assault are ignored or mocked because the President is apparently allowed to insult and degrade his accusers? How about the millions who are imminently about to lose their health insurance?

    Or, you could just ignore all your global neighbors and figure out if your tiny speck of dust in the universe is feeling good right at this moment.

    • retirebyforty October 18, 2020, 8:15 am

      My point is we should be better off after 4 years no matter who is the president. If you’re not better off than 4 years ago, you are doing it wrong.
      But you’re right, it is a self-centered question. It is still a valid question, though. Even with all the screwups, most people are still better off. 66% according to my informal survey.
      I agree with you 100% about Trump. My rant about him is pretty mild, but I think he’s the worse president in my lifetime. Did you read the Happiness section?

  • drplastickpicker October 16, 2020, 10:49 pm

    What a great post Joe. That needs to be put in quotes and go viral “I want my president to work like my computer. Just do your job well so I don’t notice you.” Totally agree with you. Our networth is higher and our health is generally better, but the mental strain of climate change, pandemic, and the discord in our country make it overall worse for the world. Thanks for voting. I’ve been thinking about health a lot and planetary health and the chronic health problems in the modern world, I think it really comes down to plant based eating (not rigid vegetarian or veganism but more plants). Have you tried meditation? I’ve never been able to meditate but there is something to the act of getting into that state. I think this is also the state of mindfullness that prayer puts one in too. Anyway, I get that way walking along the beach and picking up little bits of plastic in the early mornings. Maybe try one of those mindfulness apps ? Good luck!

    • retirebyforty October 18, 2020, 8:27 am

      I think you’re right about the plant-based diet. It would help reduce the strain on the ecosystem so much.
      I’ll try to cook more plant-based meals. It’s hard because I don’t know how to cook those meals. Mrs. RB40 is pretty good, though. Our son doesn’t like vegetables so that makes it harder.
      I used to meditate when we didn’t have a kid. It’s too hard now. 🙂

      • Dr. McFrugal October 21, 2020, 12:35 am

        Maybe I need to get off my lazy butt and start posting more plant-based diet recipes. The truth is that there is no excuse for “not knowing how to cook” anymore. There are so many great sites out there with free plant-based and vegan recipes that are simple and easy to make and very healthy. You can find any recipe out there that will tickle your fancy if you search for it. No excuses, Joe! 🙂

        During the pandemic, my wife and I have really upped our game on plant-based cooking. We have even elevated our level of fitness. My wife is up to doing 8 pullups, and I can still do around 16 to 20. Eating plants has not diminished our strength, fitness, or health. Quite the opposite actually. And just like what Dr. Plastic Picker says… it’s not only better for our health, but also for the health of the planet.

        • retirebyforty October 21, 2020, 7:44 am

          I’ll work on it. Actually, I just cooked a vegetarian meal last night. Cabbage and tofu. It was good. My son gave it 6 out of 10, but he ate it. 😀
          Great job staying healthy and fit.

          • Dr. McFrugal October 21, 2020, 11:49 am

            Yummy! I’m glad he ate it.

            Thinking back I was probably a bit harsh. In actuality, I really appreciate the effort you are putting in 🙂

  • J October 16, 2020, 3:21 pm

    Amen! Thank you for your rant! I agree!

  • Financial Fred October 15, 2020, 7:19 pm

    Glad you are doing better than 4-years ago. From a financial point of view I am doing better than 4-years ago.

    From a happiness point of view I am a bit happier. Life events within the pandemic have made them harder but it could always be worse. Therefore, I am grateful for what I have and I always try to look at the upside.

    • retirebyforty October 16, 2020, 7:11 am

      That’s how I look at life too. I’ve been through worse. Life is so much better now so I can’t complain much.

  • Financial Samurai October 15, 2020, 9:30 am

    From a financial point of view, I’m wealthier than I was 4 years ago. I’m assuming most people here.

    From a happiness point of view, I’m about the same. Before kids, we had lots of freedom. Now that we have two, we have minimal freedom. However, I feel more blessed than ever. So much purpose being a parent.


    • retirebyforty October 16, 2020, 7:07 am

      Investors made a lot of progress in the last 4 years. I don’t know anyone who lost money with their investments.
      Children make a huge difference. Less freedom is fine for a while. We’ll have plenty of freedom when they are teenagers, right?

  • Jonathan L. October 15, 2020, 8:25 am

    Trump is a proven racist, bigot, xenophobe, homophobe, sexist, demagogue, and a classless, clueless, superficial human being.

    If that is not enough, he is also ignorant, petulant, and divisive; he does not believe in science; and he only got rich with seed money from his father.

    On top of all that, he is an ineffective leader and an awful businessman. He has over $400 million in personal debt.

    #If you support Trump, what kind of human being are you?

    • B.T. October 15, 2020, 10:27 am

      I would add egomaniac, narcissist, draft dodger, and perpetual liar.

      Yet, he still became president. I think that speaks to the quality of the citizenship in the country more than anything else. What has happened to the Americans?

      • Kevin L Kanter October 18, 2020, 8:20 pm

        the jury is out .. if there is a blue wave I will have a lot more confidence in the US electorate that a reality show masquerading as a president will not be entertained. I am uncertain about the SCOTUS – this has the possibility of putting us back into the 18th century.
        that said yes I am financially doing well and with a renewed exercise program, some meditation and planning to see the rest of the world my year of retirement since retiring from Intel (17 years 🙂 ) and subsequent 3 years at AMAT I have a LOT less stress . doing well — looking forward to better 4 years.

  • Felipe October 15, 2020, 7:16 am

    No way am I better off. Are my investments good? Yes they are.
    I retired early to travel and visit family in Europe. 2020 I was finally going to be free to be away without a constant tether to email and phone for work. Instead we ignore public health warnings and borders are closed for me to enter to see my sister. I may never see her again since she has a terminal illness.
    I don’t consider this better.

    • retirebyforty October 15, 2020, 9:19 am

      I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope you can go to see your sister soon. We’re in a similar position too. My mom’s dementia is worsening and we need to visit her as soon as we can.
      Good luck.

  • steveark October 15, 2020, 5:55 am

    Way better off, only worked eight hours a week for these last four years and net worth is still up more than half a million while we spent around $100K per year. 2020 was a great year for us with lots of domestic travel, tennis, running, hiking, off roading and fishing. No violence in our sleepy little rural area and only a handful of people in our most extended circle of acquaintances has had covid. Of those everyone fully recovered, including the 95 year old one. All our grown kids are doing well, one got married in an inexpensive private ceremony. Pretty much a normal year for us with only a few things curtailed, none of which were a big deal. Only have to mask up on rare occasions when we have to go inside a building, like the grocery store or the dentist. We always did take out much more than dining inside restaurants.

    • retirebyforty October 15, 2020, 9:21 am

      That’s great! We’re doing pretty well, but no travel is hard for us. I want to go see my mom in Thailand soon.

  • gay June 5, 2020, 11:21 am

    Hands down Im better off than I was 4 years ago..Trump has done a great job with the economy..and cutting regulations.. #TRUMP2020…

  • Joe May 28, 2020, 8:43 pm

    Hi Joe,
    Kudos for writing about politics!

    After reading your post, I reviewed mu own track record. Financially better off, up 104% since January 2016 despite being early retired since 2008, but I don’t notice the difference because it was from a very large base. Health about the same but 4 years older so I’m feeling it a bit. Happiness also about the same – kid is growing up, enjoyed the four years, but concerned about the country during this pandemic.

    I voted for Trump. I don’t think he’s done a good job overall. I don’t think he’s made good decisions during the pandemic because we needed more national coordination on supplies, shutdowns, ending shutdowns, and national/international cooperation. We also should be making decisions based on science. However I think he did well to shut down flights from China early on; Biden was opposed to that. And I’d also be very concerned about Biden’s decision making. Such a great nation and only these two candidates? Really? 🙁

    • retirebyforty May 29, 2020, 8:33 am

      I’m disappointed with our choices too. Thanks for your input.
      Great job over the last 4 years.

  • Joe May 27, 2020, 12:43 pm

    A new Pew Research Center analysis of data on official reports of COVID-19 deaths, collected by the John Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, finds that, as of last week, nearly a quarter of all the deaths in the United States attributed to the coronavirus have been in just 12 congressional districts – all located in New York City and represented by Democrats in Congress. Of the more than 92,000 Americans who had died of COVID-19 as of May 20 (the date that the data in this analysis was collected), nearly 75,000 were in Democratic congressional districts.

  • Wade May 27, 2020, 11:20 am

    Trump vs Sleepy Joe. This is the cream of the crop!

    Gropey Joe is going to be 78.

    Changing to a Dem President who wants to tax us more in a very bad environment could be interesting. I can see it going either way.

    For me, things are calmer when a Dem is in the White House because the Media and Actors make it a love fest. Even if not deserved.

    Hard to put Covid on Trump. Anyone would have been blasted by this. Based on the economy before Covid, I think Trump gets 4 more years. But I really just sit and watch what happens.

  • Steve May 27, 2020, 7:55 am

    We are better in pretty much every way imaginable.

    Four years ago we were finishing up our full-time jobs, not yet completely retired. Now, we are. Our net worth has grown, we’ve traveled around this beautiful country of ours and now live extremely frugally out in the middle of the Arizona desert.

    Personally, I want nothing to change.

  • Luis in El Paso May 26, 2020, 3:10 pm

    This is a tough question to answer. Financially, I’m much better off than I was four years ago. I attribute this to hard work, savings, having good luck investing, and trying to not keep up with the Joneses. I think the country, and the world, are worse off. I attribute it to failed leadership in most of the countries in the world (including the U.S.), the 24-hours news cycle, the unchecked influence of social media, disinformation, and political polarization.

    With any luck, we can get the extremes out of politics and get to real work for the public good and compromise. Hopefully, Twitter, Facebook, et al will realize that connections between people are more important than rigging algorithms to promote engagement. It may be rose-colored glasses, but it seems as if people used to discuss and exchange ideas, not just yelling louder and louder through their echo chamber. I miss the days of being able to respectfully disagree and being able to show compassion towards our fellow humans.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 7:55 pm

      Thanks for your input. I agree about the news cycle. It got a lot worse since Trump became president. Most news outlets are so biased now. I can’t stand most of them. The News cycle is so short too. Every day, Trump generates some kind of drama. It’s ridiculous. I don’t know if we can count on social media to modify their algorithm. I assume more polarity drives more traffic.

  • Steveark May 26, 2020, 2:53 pm

    My life was nearly perfect for years ago, and I think it is even better now. My 65 year old wife still runs marathons, I can still run decently, but she’s too fast for me. Our tennis skills have not faded and we picked up pickle ball as well. We finished hiking to every waterfall in our state last year, it took us ten years! We have caught so many fish this spring we are out of places to store filets. Our grown kids are good, including the two front line docs who remain healthy. I never let politicians disturb me, maybe from my period as a lobbyist in DC? They are usually the nicest people you’ve ever met but their world views are all over the place.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 7:50 pm

      That’s great! It’s nice to see that life keeps improving after 60. 😉

  • GYM May 26, 2020, 1:51 pm

    So much happened in 4 years, I can’t believe it. Got married, had two kids, started another blog, built a house… haha.
    Financially I am better of, but energy and freedom-wise, I am exhausted and tired.
    Things should get better in a few years and I can travel again I hope.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 7:49 pm

      Wow, quite a busy 4 years for you. 😉 Hang in there. Kids grow up very quickly.

  • Jim Y May 26, 2020, 12:16 pm

    It’s an interesting question. I heard so many hard core republicans in my circle complain about how their 8 years under Obama were miserable, all the while the stock market posted record gains and I was like “what are you talking about?! Aren’t you republicans supposed to like the stock market?!” I suppose I could say I now know a little bit of how they felt.

    While we’ve lost most of our stock market gains from the last 3 years, my personal financial situation is significantly better because I’ve focused on MY plans. I don’t think I’d be doing any different if my 12 yo was president (well, except all the secret service that would be infringing on my space!). I agree, though, happiness-wise, I’ve spent too much time engaging in politics and it absolutely drives me crazy how our nation has turned into a reality show. I look forward to the days when the government does government stuff and I don’t hear about it every damn day.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 7:49 pm

      Right. You probably need to cut back on the news. I’m reading a lot less these days. I’m only really interested in the COVID-19 news. Anyway, I hope you are better off than 4 years ago.

  • Dave May 26, 2020, 10:59 am

    Hello, long term reader here. Interesting that you think Trump botched the Coronavirus response, I respectfully disagree. US has less deaths per capita than other advanced countries such as UK, Italy, Sweden, Spain, France, Belgium, etc. Not to mention China’s data which is assuredly false and severely undercounts their death figures.

    I’m curious, what more do you think the federal government should have done? (In comparison with those other countries). By the time Trump blocked flights from China in January, the WHO was still saying that person to person contagion was not confirmed, and Trump was called racist by Democrats for that move at the time.

    The US constitutional system gives specific crisis related powers to each state, because measures to be applied in NY should not be the same as in Alabama for example, due to many factors such as population density. Any Federal overreach would have been taken to the Supreme Court for sure.

    While I think most countries were caught flat footed by this virus, I don’t think that the US reaction was worse that could be expected. Many of the problems were related to shortage of PPE which had been for years outsourced to China, which once the pandemic hit started hoarding. Would you not give any credit to Trump from trying to decouple the US economy from China’s these last years?

    • Susan May 26, 2020, 5:02 pm

      I totally agree with you. Instead of blaming the President or the governors, we should blame the origin of this virus. We should focus on the actual problem and point fingers to where it really matters so it won’t happen again. Taiwan is literally the only country who has been doing a great job controlling the epidemic because of their past experience with SARS. Don’t forget the WHO, they didn’t call it an epidemic until it was too late……. They told the world that there was no evidence of human to human transmission………. Literally all developed countries have been impacted heavily and not just the United States. Yes, Trump stopped the flights from China at the very beginning and no one was prepared to think that the virus was going to come here from Europe to US…… yes, we could have done more but every almost every country has been impacted……… Let focus on the actual cause and find out how this horrible virus got unleashed.

      • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 8:06 pm

        Yes, we should try to prevent the next outbreak. China needs to get rid of those markets and stop wildlife trading.
        However, it could start anywhere. MERS started in the middle east. H1N1 started in the US. AIDS started in Africa. Previous administrations handled these outbreaks a lot better. New viruses can start anywhere. Of course, every virus is different. COVID-19 seems to be a lot more virulent than these previous viruses.

        • Joe May 27, 2020, 12:51 pm

          “Previous administrations handled these outbreaks a lot better.
          How exactly, did they handle them better? Did they shut down sooner? No, no shutdown at all. Each virus is different, this coronavirus just happens to be more deadly.
          Also, I think you should stop taking it personal each time somebody mentions China’s response. We are not blaming you, just Communist China.

    • Tracy Mahoney May 26, 2020, 5:22 pm

      Ditto everything you said

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 7:47 pm

      Trump could have done a lot better. Blocking flights from China was a good move.
      However, he should have taken this problem seriously from the beginning. He kept saying it isn’t a problem and we shouldn’t worry about it. That sets the wrong expectations and states shut down too late. There were so many cases already. Trump should have provided more leadership. Someone on the ball would have asked the governors to get ready to lockdown instead of telling everyone to ignore the problem. Governors had to do everything themselves with minimal support from the central government.
      The Fed could have led a centralized effort to secure PPE and manage the supply. Instead, every state/county had to bid for supplies and drove up the price. It was a huge mess.
      As for China hoarding PPE in January. They were having a huge outbreak and didn’t have enough PPE. What would you have done if you were in that position? At that time, there were only a very few cases outside of China.

      • Susan May 26, 2020, 8:26 pm

        Well, all the world leaders could have done a better job, as I have said before no other developed countries but Taiwan have been spared. It would be fair to blame all the leaders for their slow responses and not just the US. Even Japan wanted to go forward with their Summer Olympics during their peak. Despite the “warnings” how many countries had actually stopped flights from China? We wouldn’t have this problem if Europe had stopped the flights from China. I am not here to defend/offend anyone but to remind everyone to go after the real cause and not to let it happen again. Pointing fingers at people who did not cause this, is not going to solve anything but cause a bigger divide in our country. There are millions of could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve. I don’t think these leaders are happy to see their own citizens die everyday from this terrible virus and their economy going down. There are so many unknowns with this virus and we just recently learned that kids can get very sick and the developed antibodies may not even be protective. No one could’ve or should’ve known and the last thing a government needs to do is to create panic with people fleeing out of their country and spreading it even further rather than containing it. Once again, let’s focus on the actual problem and prevent it from happening again.

        • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 9:46 pm

          All the Asian countries handled it better than the US. Most countries are handling it better than the US if you go by the case count and it’s still increasing in many states.
          As for preventing a new virus, you are asking the impossible. There will always be a new virus mutation. You can’t stop it completely. Blaming China and making them be safer is good, but it won’t stop a new virus.
          On the other hand, we can improve our pandemic response a lot more. Take it seriously and listen to the CIA, CDC, and all the scientists. Trump ignored science and we’re all paying the price. Bush would have handled it a lot better, IMO.

          • Chris May 27, 2020, 5:22 pm

            Trump tried to get the CDC into China the first week of January and was turned away. Fauci, the “great” scientist/MD said January 21st that the US had “nothing to worry about”. Less than a week later Trump shuts down flights from China. While being called racist of course by Democrats. So, by the end of January, his best (CDC and Fauci), were of zero help. And of course the WHO was still downplaying the severity.

            I’d personally took it a step further and shut down air travel between hot spot areas like WA, CA, NY and NJ as well to not allow them to seed the virus in the rest of the country as quickly as they did. Hopefully the next time, and there will be a next time, we improve on that.

            At what point are governors responsible? The constitution ensures states are making their own decisions, not federal. Take NY and Cuomo for example. Cuomo forced nursing homes to take back residents that were infected, essentially signing the death certificates of thousands of the most vulnerable. In fact, over 42% of CV deaths come from a mere 1.6% of the population, those in nursing homes. Democrat controlled states like PA, MI, NJ and NY murdered those poor residents with orders THEY signed, not Trump.

            Let’s talk about H1N1. How was the response better there? The US is to blame for 500k deaths worldwide as we knew about it and did virtually nothing to contain it to this country. That fiasco did show us several things of what not to do, such as being afraid to stop air travel or quarantine en masse. Obama did neither of those things and the world paid the price.

            I get it, not a Trump fan, that’s fine. I loathed every second of Obama’s two terms which is perfectly fine too. My personal wealth and happiness are higher today than ever before and there’s plenty of good happening in the world despite from Twitter tells us, so we can all be thankful.

          • retirebyforty May 27, 2020, 8:04 pm

            H1N1 was in 2009. Here is what I found about the differences in response.
            I’m also thankful that we’re much better off after 4 years.
            Thanks for your input.

  • freddy smidlap May 26, 2020, 10:54 am

    we’re way better off and mostly because of our own actions. i ignore the politics best i can except to call out unoriginal thought spouted from the extremes on both sides. if you got your talking points straight from fox or msnbc i don’t want to hear it. i do like the new tax rates and i’m not sure we’ll see them this low again in our lifetime. we watched zero “news” on vacation and only about 90 minutes of tv in a week. that was some married with children re-runs from about 30 years ago.

  • Done by Forty May 26, 2020, 9:41 am

    I was surprised to see how many people think they’re better off in 2020 than in 2016, but I suppose politics and a pandemic are just a small part of anyone’s life. And compared to your poll results in 2016, the rate of improvement seems to have slowed quite a bit for your respondents.

    I definitely know how we’ll be voting, even if we are much better off now than we were four years ago. I’m not giving 45 a lot of credit for any positives. :O)

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 7:40 pm

      Well, the FIRE crowd usually skews toward professionals so I expected this. White-collar workers are not hurting as much as blue-collar workers right now. And 3 good years gave many of us the chance to save up. Lower-income workers are in a lot more trouble in 2020.

  • Greg May 25, 2020, 8:22 pm

    Got 1 of 3 mortgages paid off, lots of engineering consulting income coming in, put it into good stocks. Was working in Wuhan shortly before the virus and was paying attention, sold most stocks as the market turned, went to fully invested at the bottom, and most of it has worked out very well. Finally recovering from 2009 debacle! But increasing political divisions in the USA, deteriorating international relations, and a stock market unconnected to reality, it is all very surreal and I fear we are headed down a slippery slope.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 7:37 pm

      Oh wow, great timing. You recognize the problem early and reacted well.
      Nice job.

  • FITrailHiker May 25, 2020, 2:38 pm

    I guess most people in FIRE community is better in last 4 years cause stock market had bull run. But not sure how much regular people in Main Street saw increase in salary or income.

  • Sport of Money May 25, 2020, 1:31 pm

    I am better off financially now than 4 years ago. I’ve also gotten a lot closer to financial independence over the past 4 years. I’m not quite there yet but I can see myself crossing the FI line within 3 years even despite the set back by the pandemic.

    This seems in line with most of the people who took your survey and also to those who responded in this comment section. It seems like the one common denominator is that we all follow your blog. Maybe that is the reason why we are better off financially now than 4 years ago. 🙂

    Also, discussing politics is very tricky now because of the polarization in America. A lot of it has to do with the media because that is the way they attract readership. I would encourage everyone to read news from outlets on both sides of the political spectrum in order to get a balanced view.

  • Tawcan May 25, 2020, 1:28 pm

    I think overall we are doing better than 4 years ago both financially and well-being. The last 10 weeks or so has had slightly different trend though. Hopefully things will turn up.

  • Dragon Guy May 25, 2020, 1:20 pm

    Four years ago we didn’t know about FI and FIRE. We learned about it all in 2017 and have since retired, so I would definitely say from that aspect that we are better off!

    Thanks for being honest with your feelings about the political situation. What frustrates me the most is that this should be a time for the nation to come together, but unfortunately we have just moved further apart. I’ve had to minimize my consumption of the news and that has helped a bit, but it is still hard to complete ignore all of it.

  • Helen May 25, 2020, 12:48 pm

    Hi Joe, I’m glad you brought this up. Politics affects our lives, a lot. This country needs a new president, and the world needs a real leader. Too much ugly drama during the last 4 years. I can’t wait for November. Personally the last 4 years have been a mixed bag. I gained some (which has nothing to do with the president), and lost some. Take care.
    – Helen

  • Jim @ Route to Retire May 25, 2020, 12:41 pm

    Wow, this is a tough one to answer because I think we all have the pandemic on our minds. I think I might be biased on this one since I retired about a year and a half ago. That change has put my health and wealth in better shape.

    I’m curious to see how the election plays out. Good or bad, I’m guessing Trump will be in it for another 4 years.

  • Always Happier May 25, 2020, 12:02 pm

    I believe Ron Cameron’s statement below was correct. Apparently Trump is one hell of a real estate tycoon because he is occupying space in your brain! You yourself basically admit that everything in your life is better, except the fact that you don’t like a particular man. Think about that, that’s crazy. My life is ALWAYS better than it was 4 years ago because I’m older, I’m wiser and I’m still alive! NO President and national level politician for that matter has ever had anything to do with my happiness, financial well being, success or even my failures. Hate Trump all you want, but don’t kid yourself, any and all Presidents have been deeply flawed humans (like we all are of course) because they would never be powerful enough to even become President if they haven’t already sold their souls long ago.

    In any event, I’m glad you’re better off today than you were four years ago. That’s a testament to YOU and your sound decision making! My biggest problem with politics is that we are all suckers in the game. Politicians promise to make our lives better, but the dirty little secret is that we are the ones who can make our lives better, not them! Keep doing what you’re doing and if you hate Trump that much, then evict him from your brain!

    • Money Ronin May 26, 2020, 9:56 am

      I had similar thoughts run through my brain when reading this poll. While I am personally better off financially, the world is not, and some of that can be attributed to this President. Like you, as I get older, I am less emotionally impacted by external factors–whether it’s politics, Internet trolls, wealth, etc. Studies have shown that people become happier once they pass their middle age years.

      The middle age years, where I would place Joe and I, are the most stressful for most people. It is a time of large mortgages, job stress, hitting a plateau in our careers, raising kids, dealing with our parents’ health issues, starting to feel the aging process in our own bodies, realization of our own mortality, etc.

      However, I do think it is legitimate to feel better or worse based on how one’s country is doing. If feel people feel better when their favorite sports team wins, then why shouldn’t one feel better or worse depending on how we perceive our country is doing whether it’s our response to the corona virus, China tariffs, national debt, etc.?

      My financial success over the last few years is coupled with the guilt that many others are not doing so well. I don’t subscribe to the theory that if the rich are getting richer, then the poor are getting poorer. However, I do believe that the policies of this President have helped the wealthy tremendously and are either neutral to negative for everyone else.

      BTW, Joe, it would be cool if the comments section supported a “subscribe to comments” feature.

  • Ramona May 25, 2020, 10:20 am

    Really well. We immigrated last year, my SEO business is slowly picking up speed, we’re healthy and happy. Still debt free, with some savings, too. Let’s hope we can keep this up in the next years.

  • Randy @ Emusements May 25, 2020, 9:25 am

    Bravo for taking a political stand. I’m annoyed at how many FI bloggers and podcasters keep their political views to themselves for fear of alienating some of their audience.

    I think the four years ago question is too self-centered. U.S. society, our world standing, the environment, income inequality, political discord, etc. clearly are not improved from 4 years ago.

    I’ll be voting based on those factors, not based on whether my individual situation is improved. I am better off than four years ago, at least financially, but I don’t attribute any of my success to Trump. And the direction in which he has steered America has sickened my soul.

  • The Crusher May 25, 2020, 8:14 am

    I replied better off but too be honest we have almost always been better off 4 years later regardless of what ninny is leading the country. I think if you have built and execute a system for personal finance growth it really does not matter too much who is president.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 8:41 am

      Exactly! You should be better off than 4 years ago. If not, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Adam @ Minafi May 25, 2020, 7:51 am

    I’m of about the same sentiment on happiness change over the last 4 years as you are. Add to that bunch of extra happy points since I retired in 2018, but then subtract a few for a pandemic and the potential for a stolen election or lower voter turnout.

    The balance between being an informed citizen and putting your head in the sand has proven MUCH more difficult without it getting my down too. Lately I’ve been trying to limit my news intake – only between lunch and dinner. That way it’s not on my mind right when I wake up or go to sleep, but I’m still aware. Once the election kicks into high gear I’m hoping to volunteer. Who knows, maybe Utah could turn blue this year.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 8:40 am

      Got it. No news after dinner. That’s a great plan.

    • Ed May 31, 2020, 7:39 am

      I thought Mitt Romney was already a Democrat 🙂

  • Ron Cameron May 25, 2020, 6:52 am

    I’m better off in most ways compare to four years ago, no question. I’m not giving credit to any politicians though.

    I do think it’s interesting Joe that under “Happiness” you made a rant about Trump (as was expected) and then said he was what caused you to be unhappy. If you think Trump is making you unhappy, I’d challenge you to consider this: You’re making yourself unhappy -thinking- about Trump. If you removed the noise of the media, and the word “Trump” from your life, I bet you’d think your life was indeed happier than four years ago. But like many people you’re getting caught up in the Trump Trap, getting riled up by the news about what he’s doing today. News that isn’t directly affecting you (practically none of it does), but riles you up nonetheless. The closer -I- follow the news (which is lots of Trump), the worse -I- feel despite my reality not changing.

    If you think this idea is off, ask yourself “How is MY life DIRECTLY worse/less happy/whatever because of Trump?”

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 8:36 am

      Yes, you’re right 100%. I could ignore the news completely and I’d be better off. I cut down a lot recently so I’m not stressed out so much. Although, making a rant makes me happier. 😉

  • drplastickpicker May 25, 2020, 6:51 am

    This is such an important topic. I came to a realization around the same time I became frustrated with middle management (I’m a practicing clinician and a physician middle manager) because so much of management is HR. Happiness is very internal. Totally agree the COVID-19 situation and the current administration is horrible, but many of the drivers of happiness and health are internally drive and modifiable. UC Berkely has a great on-line course on it that is mentioned in a lot of physician wellness meetings. https://ggsc.berkeley.edu/what_we_do/event/the_science_of_happiness Anyway, I started doing more environmental advocacy, plogging (picking up trash and jogging), blogging and started going into nature. This was happenstance but probably saved us millions of dollars because we had hit our FI number but I didn’t retire and stayed at work, and just started looking at the world different. Weird. Anyway, net worth good. Marriage good. Kids good. Environmental not so good. But I’ve picked up now 195 bags of trash and oddly it makes me happy and hopeful about the environment. Thank you for all that you do. What a great blogpost. Wishing you more happiness.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 8:34 am

      Thanks for your input. Happiness is internally driven. I’m generally happy so things are good. I’d say maybe I’m at 8 now and 9 in 2016. Nice job with plogging. We should do something similar. My family isn’t into it, though. The last time we went to beach clean up was 20 years ago and Mrs. RB40 didn’t like it. Too cold…

  • Lazy Man and Money May 25, 2020, 3:53 am

    Physical health-wise, I’d say that I’d say that I’m about the same, except for the normal aging process. Mental health-wise, I’m worse. I think you covered most of it well in your happiness section. The only thing I’d add is that there needs to be an end to political attacks on science and truth for everyone’s overall well-being.

    Financially, one thing to look at is the national debt is up from 19 trillion to 25 trillion. I think that’s mostly the tax cuts of 2018 and the COVID-19 response. Both were big political events, that might not have happened under another administration (COVID-19 would have happened, but it could have much less). Our financial bottom lines look good now, but at some point, we should pay much more in taxes to balance things out. Politicians may kick that can down the line forever though, because fiscal responsibiliy is unpopular with voters.

    I love your line, “I want my president to work like my computer. Just do your job well so I don’t notice you.” If I have to read about my president every day, he better be creating world peace, curing cancer, solving climate change, etc. It shouldn’t be that he wants to put kids in cages, inject people with bleach, and nuke hurricanes. Anyone enabling these obviously stupid ideas needs to get out politics in my opinion.

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 8:32 am

      I think the COVID response is unavoidable. The tax cut wasn’t needed, though. Why spend so much when the economy was doing fine. I don’t know how all this debt is going to play out either.
      Hopefully, we get a boring president next year. I can’t take 4 more years of this.

      • Lazy Man and Money May 27, 2020, 5:29 pm

        Good point on the COVID response. I was thinking that mitigating it earlier would have helped, but it still would have meant shutting down the country for a long time, and requiring a large stimulus, even if deaths could have been avoided.

  • Dave @ Accidental FIRE May 25, 2020, 2:57 am

    I’m better off in every way than I was in 2016 – mainly because I’m now semi-retired. And that is because I’m FI, due to my own smart decisions over a long period of time. Life is good!

    • retirebyforty May 26, 2020, 8:29 am

      FI and semi-retired! That’s a huge improvement. I wonder what you’ll say next time.

  • David @iretiredyoung May 25, 2020, 2:17 am

    My life has changed completely compared to what it looked like 4 years ago, and definitely for the better. That’s not to say I was unhappy back then, life was good, it’s just better now.
    I believe that, on the whole, the place we are at, whether that be money, happiness etc, is down to us. Other things can influence it, but we normally have the ability to overcome them (or at least improve our position) if we are willing to put in the effort.
    In terms of politics, what attracts me now is not the short term things, trying to buy my vote by a tax cut doesn’t work on me now. And snazzy slogans, catch phrases and spin drive me nuts. I’m more interested in the critical strategic or social issues that need to be addressed, and the ability for the leader to actually have genuine and strong moral and ethical values and show some leadership. Sadly this seems to be too much to ask!
    So in summary, better off than 4 years ago, but no thanks to the politicians for that.

    • retirebyforty May 25, 2020, 10:33 am

      Thanks for your input. It’s pretty amazing how much things can change in 4 years.
      Great job putting yourself in a much better position. I wonder what you’ll say in 4 years.
      That’s how I feel this time. 4 years ago, I was doing very well and now I’m still good.
      It hasn’t changed much except for COVID-19.

  • Backpack Finance May 25, 2020, 1:25 am

    I have been through so much in the past 4 years that it’s crazy. Relocated to a different country, divorced, made huge career moves, reached FI, etc. Overall, I would say I’m better off than I was 4 years ago. Including the current pandemic period and that says it all. At no point in time did I have a financial worry nor did I have any sort of depression during COVID-19. Not everyone has been so lucky and I don’t think 4 years ago it would have been the same for me.

    If I would be able to answer this question from a beach in Thailand then it would have been MUCH better 🙂

    • retirebyforty May 25, 2020, 10:16 am

      Oh wow, that’s a lot of changes over the last 4 years. I think that’s great. If life isn’t good, then you need to make a change. It won’t improve by itself.

  • Ernie Zelinski May 25, 2020, 1:19 am

    I am Canadian so perhaps I shouldn’t even be commenting about this. I am definitely better off financially in 2020 compared to 2016 even though my income will have gone down by 75 percent or more compared to 2016. My net worth will have gone up by at least a third since 2016.

    When it comes to the political party in power in Canada, I am not happy with it. But I have always tried not to blame any of my financial problems or unhappiness on any political party. I believe in taking 100 percent responsibility for my financial position and not depending on any government to enhance my life.

    Insofar as the COVID 19 problem, we in Canada haven’t been hit quite as hard on a per capita basis as the US but it still affects us greatly. Our government has been giving away money like it’s going out of style. I know that there is fraud being committed by both individuals and businesses getting this money. An Italian proverb states, “Public money is like holy water; everyone helps himself to it.” Yet hardly anyone seems to be concerned about the government debt piling up and how it is going to be paid back in the future. Oh well, that is going to be more of a problem for the Generation Xers and the Millennials than for people my age.

    The key for me has always been to try to look at every problem as an opportunity and take advantage of that opportunity when others don’t. So I am spending my time generating more creative works that may generate me a lot of money in the coming years even though I don’t need it.

    • The Crusher May 25, 2020, 8:16 am


      Not to sound like a creepy stalker but I love your book, How to Retire Happy, Wild and Free!!! Great work on your part.

      • Ernie Zelinski May 25, 2020, 9:24 pm

        “The Crusher” Thanks for the compliment. Email me your name and address to [email protected] and I will send you a signed complimentary copy of the new edition of “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Success – Financial Independence and Personal Freedom Too!” I think you will like this book too.

        • The Crusher May 27, 2020, 6:54 am

          Hi Ernie:

          Thank you for the very kind offer. I sent you an email with my contact information.

          Thanks again for your contributions to the FIRE community and retirement in general. Your work has been very valuable.

          All the best!

    • retirebyforty May 25, 2020, 10:15 am

      Well, Modern Monetary Theory says a government can print as much money as they want as long as people believe in them. I guess we’ll see if they’re right. From what I understand, printing money isn’t a great move in the long term.
      I believe everyone should be responsible for their finance too. We should all be better off financially than 4 years ago. If that’s not true, they need to prepare better next time.

  • Mr. Tako May 25, 2020, 12:41 am

    While I’m not one to discuss politics online, I can honestly say that the last 4 years hasn’t been a big improvement. I’m saying “about the same” in your survey.

    The coronavirus and all the disruption to the entire world definitely puts a huge damper on things. Even though our wealth has increased, the well-being of the world around us has not improved. If anything it’s gotten worse.

    That’s definitely something to consider. It’s not just personal happiness and financial status that matters, but also the health of the world around you.

    • retirebyforty May 25, 2020, 8:42 am

      You’re right about the well-being of the world. The last 4 years of political instability created a lot of problems.

  • Mark May 25, 2020, 12:39 am

    Couldn’t agree more on all fronts. Financially we are in a better place, thanks to FI and blogs like this.

    Happiness took a hit this year given the obvious. Trump couldn’t have done a worse job with the pandemic. He couldn’t lie his way out of this one and now 100k people are dead. 4 more years of incompetency? No thanks.

    Also, thanks for not being afraid to touch on politics. Most FI bloggers try to avoid the subject so much that it comes off as awkward. I think it’s ok to touch on it every once in awhile.

  • Financial Freedom Countdown May 24, 2020, 11:08 pm

    If this post was at the end of 2019; my answer would have been a resounding yes. The pandemic, shutdown, loss of human lives across the globe and economic devastation has caused a huge damper.

    Well said wrt expecting the CCP to lie. Taiwan knows CCP so they handled it very well. Other Asian and Pacific nations too had prior experience. Europe and USA were quite disappointing wrt their response.

    • retirebyforty May 25, 2020, 8:37 am

      2020 is a tough year for this. We’re doing okay so I voted better. COVID-19 put a huge damper on things, though.
      I don’t know why we even listen to the CCP. If Trump trusts the CCP more than our own agencies, then it’s his fault not the CCP.

  • Mr. Grumby May 24, 2020, 10:43 pm

    I agree. We are better off financially, and we retired in the last 2 years. But from the standpoint of happiness and confidence in the safety and security of the country? No way. You said it well. The massive bungling of the pandemic us just one more example of dangerous incompetence.
    Hopefully the job losses from the pandemic have influenced people to save their money, and the daily clown show from the white house will infuence a better outcome in November.

    • retirebyforty May 25, 2020, 8:35 am

      I really hope people learn their lessons from this crisis. You can’t live paycheck to paycheck.
      There will always be another crisis. I hope we have a stable president next year.

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