Suddenly, everyone can do all the frugal things after all.

What a time, ay? A pandemic. I won’t lie: It’s nice to be FIRE. I am also glad we joined the paid-off-mortgage club (even though housing prices will almost certainly fall) because our monthly costs are low.

We haven’t seen any losses in our portfolio yet, for the same reasons we missed out on most of the gains of the past four years: We were (are) in FIRE conservation don’t-lose-it mode, bonds and other preservation things. This has worked for us because we still earn some part-time/ad hoc income, more than enough to live on. We’ll see if that continues.

Yes, this pandemic is a disaster. We’ve had family and friends in the ICU, very near death, with this virus. Many more have been forced to shutter successful businesses that took years to build, and lay-off workers. We are doing everything we can to support our community during this time: paying our house cleaner more than before, every two weeks, even though she’s not coming; ordering books we normally wouldn’t buy from the local book shop; virtual Pilates sessions; Venmo donations to performer and artist friends doing videos; paying rent for a few folks in dire straits. In many ways, we’re spending more than we were before, but that’s what you do if you can in times like these: you share the wealth.

I worry about the mental health of parent friends at home, especially those expected to spin up a Montessori home school, teach children at various levels, cook everything from scratch, and continue working.

The disaster is not just a disaster, though. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t LOVE the air quality. Please, can we keep the air quality? The lack of traffic and smog, the brilliantly clear skies at night? And the dramatically quieter cities? I love how many allegedly impossible things are now proven to be mere matters of will for the powers-that-be, too many to count: unemployment benefits for self-employed people; whole school systems and university admissions departments suddenly not caring about standardized tests (that I’d argue needed to die anyway, if for no other reason that stress reduction in children); healthcare enrollment all the time and not just during certain periods; working from home; reducing emissions, especially via totally optional business travel; the list goes on and on.

But of all these things, what has me smiling MOST is just how many people have, overnight, shown they can indeed do all the frugal things that have created and maintained financial independence for so many. If I had a dollar for every Facebook post I’ve seen along the lines of, “My bank account is awesome after a week/two weeks/a month of not going to the bar and eating out,” I’d have a few bags full of groceries, and counting.

And this includes friends who have, over the years, hit me up for help with taking control of their finances. I made spreadsheets, worked out scenarios, and almost always had good news like, “If you go down to one car, pay off this credit card, put the kids in the excellent public school and reduce your food costs by just a few hundred dollars a month, you’ll be FIRE in five years.” With the exception of TWO people, no one did the frugal things. They “just couldn’t.” They liked eating out, they “needed” $10,000 vacations because overwork is hard, and so on. Ain’t my life, all the same to me, so that was that.

Well, well, well! With all the joy in my heart, all I can say is: Look who’s doing all the frugal things now! I am seeing more home haircuts on Facebook than I ever would have thought possible. I mean, a home haircut was an FIRE bridge too far for even me, for a long time. And all kinds of people are doing it!

I smiled and clapped my hands the first few times I saw posts about how stores were out of bread yeast. I’m sad for people who want it and can’t buy any (and if they’re nearby, I offer them my levain and/or sourdough starters), but it means so many people are baking their own bread that it’s hard to be sad. I like thinking about it, honestly, all those Dutch oven loaves on all sorts of counter tops.

I’m seeing book sharing/impromptu libraries spinning up, and so much DIY my heart sings: face mask sewing, child costume sewing, and the creativity around home workouts in particular is IMPRESSIVE. Someone I know made a lat pull-down bar with a broom handle, a rope thrown over a beam in the garage, and a five-gallon bucket filled with some water. That is NEXT LEVEL, in my opinion. I have never been that clever or resourceful, no way.

Another woman I know, a ballet teacher, enlisted her whole family of six in completely cleaning out their massive mess of a basement, which she’s turned into a dance studio for practically nothing, complete with a barre, a soft floor, and mirrors on the wall. It’s great during quarantine, but afterward, she also can teach private lessons in her house. How awesome is THAT?

A few friends have decided that this was the homeschool test they’d be curious about, but never attempted. Now that they’re acclimated, and the kids are thriving, they plan to do it permanently and save loads on tuition money.

One friend said he’s determined to learn to sew his own boat cushion covers during this period; his one big project will be replacing all the decades-old vinyl ones on his boat. Friends have mended their socks so artfully that they look too pretty to wear. An engineering friend works on infrastructure for the Fender guitar site, and it’s been inundated with people doing online lessons. Rad!

I’m so IMPRESSED with everyone. Thing is, none of those frugal excuses will fly after this. But I don’t think I’m going to hear them anymore. And that’s a great thing.