You Can’t Plan for Everything, But You Should Still Try

You Can’t Plan for Everything, But You Should Still Try

When this COVID-19 outbreak started getting serious in the US a few weeks back, my wife and I quickly came to the realization that we were both in very “non-recession-proof” industries.

She has been at the same role with an oil and gas company for the last 9 years, doing geotech / GIS work. When oil prices cratered at the end of 2015, the company that she works for had to do massive layoffs, just like many others in the industry. She avoided the scythe back then, but we are very cognizant that we may not be so lucky this time around.

Oil prices right now are lower than they were 4 years ago, spurred on by OPEC and Russian both continuing to ramp up production in an attempt to seize more market share. On top of that, various isolation measures around the globe are killing any oil demand as people shelter in place and drive less for the next few weeks, months. The normal summer glut of demand on oil may well be much lower this year as well, as travel season is cut short by restrictions or lack of financial means by folks who would normally travel on their vacation time.

I work as a software engineer, currently in the events / ticketing industry. As you can imagine, there are no events going on right now, anywhere. Many larger festivals have canceled (though they all like to say postponed) or rescheduled events for later in the year. That more or less adds up to no revenue for that entire industry for the foreseeable future.

So I knew that layoffs are likely in the near future. My wife and I looked at our current budget, made a smaller one with only the things that we absolutely need to stay afloat. We know that very few industries are going to be hiring in the next 6-12 months, so a layoff right now is likely a longer term financial setback than usual. We identified assets that we could leverage or liquidate in order to have a good runway of money until this crisis is over. We felt mildly relieved that we had our ducks in a row.

However, I had no idea the axe would fall so quickly. Out of nowhere two days ago in the middle of the day, I started getting Slack messages from coworkers that they had been let go. No one knew how or when or what the terms were. I do know that for the next 2 hours I anxiously checked my phone, email and Slack every minute with a horrible dread in the pit of my stomach.

All of our planning and years of saving and being smart with our money did not stop the feeling of panic that ran through my veins for most of Tuesday. This whole “pursuing Financial Independence” thing is not a cure-all. I was still scared out of my wits.

Once the dust cleared, management addressed the company in an All Hands call. In the end, 20% of our peers had been let go. They said that they don’t foresee any more need for cuts unless the industry continues to be on hold for much longer (over 4 months) than anyone thought. Though I feel lucky that I was not on the chopping block, I am not naive enough to believe this is the last reduction in force that will happen as a result of this.

I feel horribly for all of those who got cut. To be out of work at a time when most of the country, if not the world is uncertain about a great many things is terrifying. Add on to that being isolated at home? I would have a hard time keeping my sanity.

I remember how it felt when I was trying to leave a previous employer three years ago. I hated where I was, where I had let myself degrade to, professional and mentally. Applying for jobs, dealing with sketchy recruiters, doing interviews and getting shut down was a real kick in the chops. With all of that, at least I was still receiving a paycheck.

If I do lose my job now, I am not sure how I will react. I can sit here and say “I will take a few days and clear my head and then look for any opportunities to keep the ship afloat. In the meantime I will not lose my cool with my 4 children that we are quarantining at home with :)” But I won’t know until it happens.

In a strange twisted way, it’s almost reassuring that I can’t solve all of my problems with a spreadsheet and cost analysis. It makes me feel human.

Despite that, I do know that without a doubt, this will be the last recession that causes me to worry strongly about our employment and finances. This whole crisis only solidifies my resolve to see through our plans of living intentionally and saving for the things that we value. If this happened 5 years from now when we hopefully have enough passive income to support our annual expenses, a job loss would be a change in daily routine, not a 4-alarm fire.

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