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How the Pandemic Forged New FIRE Followers, With a Difference

Also more appealing than ever is the stock market, which made a quick comeback after its early pandemic dive and flourished even as the economy continued to founder. Suddenly, investing your money seemed like the smartest (and safest) thing to do with it, even if you didn’t have much. And with the rising popularity of retail investment platforms like Robinhood, many novice investors got curious.

“A lot of people started reaching out to ask about cryptocurrency, and I was like, ‘OK, we can talk about that, but first let’s talk about index funds,’” Ms. Souffrant said. “I think you should have the basics down first before you get into things like crypto. Do you know what a Roth I.R.A. is? Are you investing your 401(k)?”

For Kayla Marshall, a 28-year-old finance manager for a private university in Florida, the past year brought a new set of daunting responsibilities when she moved out of her mother’s house and bought her first home in Brevard County, Fla.

“I needed to feel like I was going to be OK if everything fell out from underneath me,” Ms. Marshall said. As a single mother of a 5-year-old, she also had a specific set of financial needs that often weren’t addressed in many traditional personal finance blogs or books. She finally got some answers by joining Facebook groups with women who were discussing FIRE and financial independence.

A year later, she may not be on track to retire early, but she’s in better financial shape than ever before.

“I’ve learned to find the pleasures in life more modestly,” she said. “I still love to travel, but now we go camping instead of spending money on a hotel room or an amusement park. I’ve realized that my son is just as happy going for a walk on the beach as he is in Disney World.” Paring back on trips and other discretionary expenses has allowed her to pay off about $10,000 of debt since 2020.

Financial preparedness didn’t inoculate anyone completely from the trials of the pandemic — but it certainly helped. Jess Fickett, 34, who lives in Denver and co-runs the personal finance website Bitches Get Riches, was laid off from her book publishing job in mid-2020.

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