Millennial investors Stephanie Williams and Cel Rince gain financial freedom by not panicking in bear market

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      What a difference a year can make. In March of last year, as the pandemic shut down economies around the world, stock markets took a major tumble.

      For downtown Vancouver renters and financial bloggers Stephanie Williams and Cel Rince, it wasn’t the best of times.

      Williams, a 34-year-old receptionist, and Rince, a 32-year-old freelance book editor, don’t earn large salaries. But by embracing minimalism, not owning a car, and avoiding restaurants and alcohol, they had still managed to invest in index funds every couple of weeks for nearly a decade.

      However, the S&P 500—a broad-based index of 500 large companies—plunged 34 percent from February 19 to March 23 of last year. And that seemed to be getting in the way of their goal of gaining financial freedom in the 30s.

      In early April of 2020, they had some steely advice for other millennials: don’t dump investments in a market downturn.

      “The worst thing you can do is sell when it’s falling,” Rince declared. “That’s the absolute worst thing you can do. You need to stay the course and wait for the market to recover.”

      A year later, the couple can look back with satisfaction on the wisdom of those words. When contacted by the Straight, they said that their net worth has risen $130,000 since that article was published last April.

      Their overall net worth is now around $575,000, without any big cash injections from their families.

      “We set our plan about, you know, eight to 10 years ago when we started investing,” Williams told the Straight. “We’ve stuck with it ever since. We’ve never changed anything.”

      Low-consumption lifestyle pays dividends

      The couple shared their story in their ebook, Incoming Assets: A Guide to Affordable Living in Vancouver. They feel that if they build up a $700,000 nest egg, they’ll be in a position to only do work that interests them.

      Williams is employed by a company that deals with bankruptcy and insolvency so she’s aware of how difficult the past year has been for those in precarious financial positions. She also recognizes that those making high incomes have prospered due to lower living expenses during the pandemic.

      “I think there’s been a huge division,” she said.

      At the same time, the couple noted that their ability to withstand the downturn has been inextricably linked to their “low-consumption lifestyle”.

      According to Williams, if a person avoids buying things for ethical reasons, they can end up with a lot more money.

      In particular, she pointed to the problems created overseas by the fast-fashion industry. She also cited the link between overconsumption and the accumulation of plastics in landfills.

      “If you live a low-consumption lifestyle yet you make a normal income, it’s just a question of what you do with the surplus,” she said.

      Because of the pandemic, the couple is spending even less than usual.

      “We used to like to go to the movies pretty regularly,” Rince said. “That obviously hasn’t happened in a while. And of course, we used to travel internationally at least twice a year and took little trips as well. We haven’t gone to Europe or Asia as we usually do.”

      In lieu of travelling, they participated in some outdoor activities last summer when public-health officials weren't discouraging this.

      “I went bungee jumping for the first time near Whistler and we did whitewater rafting near Squamish,” Williams said. “We had some really good times. I’m hoping this year to try skydiving for the first time.”

      Rince revealed that he was tempted to invest a little money in GameStop Corp. earlier this year when the stock price was rising. He wanted to stick it to hedge-fund managers who were short-selling the shares. But then he discovered that the couple’s accounts don’t permit them to buy individual stocks, and he didn’t feel like creating a separate account.

      At that point, Williams jumped in to say that purchasing individual stocks is just too much trouble for them. “Index investing is so easy.”