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

Are You Better Off Than 4 Years Ago? 2020 edition2020 is a presidential election year in the United States. Our airwaves and the internet are full of political ads now. It’s annoying but expected. Voting is a very important civic duty. Our choices will determine our leaders for 2-4 years who will set the tone and political agenda.

Coincidently, I just voted in our local election last week. Oregon has had a vote by mail system since 1998. It is awesome. It’s ridiculous to go stand in line to vote especially with the COVID-19 pandemic raging in the US. People who say vote by mail don’t work are either ignorant or lying. They have other agendas. There are very few voter fraud cases in Oregon and other vote by mail states. In 2016, a study found just 54 cases of voter fraud cases in OR. That’s a tiny percentage of votes (0.002%.) Vote by mail works very well and Americans should be able to use it this year. Even Trump vote by mail.

Anyway, we are asked to reflect on every presidential election. Are you better off than 4 years ago? I know this is a bit early, but I just voted in the primary so the election has been on my mind. Actually, it isn’t that early. After 3 and a half years, everyone should know how they will vote in November. 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.

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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 during the lockdown. 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 were close to FI (financial independence) and I was able to retire from my engineering career. My health improved since then and I haven’t had much of a problem since.

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


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 family. 2020 is a tough year for many households. The COVID—19 pandemic shut down a large swath of the economy. Over 36 million workers lost their income and the unemployment number will keep increasing for a while. We are very fortunate because our income streams are still flowing. My online income is down tremendously, but at least it isn’t shut down completely. Mrs. RB40 is still working full-time and her job is relatively secure. Our passive income is holding up well, too. All in all, we should be able to come through this pandemic relatively unscathed.

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 stressing out. You can read more about it on my online income page. The last 4 years were better than the previous period (2013 to 2016.)

Net worth

Our net worth took a hit in 2020, but it already came back quite a bit. It’s amazing how the stock market bounced back. Main Street is in shambles, but Wall Street already recovered a lot. This is why you need to be an investor. You’re part of the owner society if you invest in the stock market. If you don’t invest, then you’re only a worker. Workers are the ones that get hurt the most whenever a black swan event comes along. It’s best to participate in both socio-economic classes of the economy – owner and worker.

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 it already came back a good amount. Our net worth increased by about 45% from Jan 2016 to June 2020.

RB40 Net Worth last 4 years

Overall, these last 4 years was great for us. Our cash flow and net worth both improved. 2020 is a tough year, but it hasn’t erased the progress from the previous 3 years.


This part is going to get 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.

2020 is a bad year for happiness. We just spent 10 weeks in lockdown and people are getting very surly. In particular, homeschooling is tough for us. Everyone was thrown into it without any preparation. Homeschooling was hell at first, but we adjusted and it is more tolerable now. School is closed for the year, but things are starting to ease up now. Most counties in Oregon are in phase 1 of reopening so that’s a small step toward normalcy. What does any of this have to do with the election? Well, I think President Trump and his team screwed up big time. 100,000 Americans are dead and who knows how many more will succumb to COVID-19.

Trump takes no responsibility at all and keeps blaming others for this pandemic. Yes, China is at fault for minimizing the severity of the outbreak during the initial phase. But we already know that’s what they do. I expect the CCP to lie. Our response should not depend on what the CCP tells us. Don’t we have spies and scientists? The CIA and the CDC can’t be completely useless. Oh yeah, they gave Trump a bunch of warnings and he ignored them.

Trump ignored warnings from experts, downplayed the COVID-19 outbreak in the US, and left most of the work to the governors. I could handle this pandemic better if I was in charge. At least, I’d listen to the scientists and let the expert guide me. Instead, we get unending streams of incompetency from the president.

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 week so people keep 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 psycho 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 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 we are doing well with our cash flow. I’m healthy and relatively happy. We still come out ahead even with the COVID-19 pandemic growing. In contrast, many families are struggling mightily. I suspect most of the 36+ million unemployed people can’t say they are better off than 4 years ago. 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, or combine households to get ahead. Do whatever you need to so you’re 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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