If You Lost Everything

Welcome to Thought Experiment #4.

At the beginning of each second month, a thought experiment question will be tweeted under the hashtag #ThoughtExperiment and everyone is invited to participate with their own posts, these will then go live together on the 15th of the next month (you can still join in after this date). Below is the question asked for this Thought Experiment.

You wake up one rainy morning and after checking on your accounts you find out that you’ve been ‘wiped-out’ by a cybercriminal. You’ve lost all of the money and assets that you’ve ever owned and you can’t get them back. What will you do?

As always tweet @SavingNinja if you have participated and I’ll add your post to the list below!

Thought Experiment #4

CaveMan @ DitchTheCave



Marc @ FinanceYourFire

Merely curious

FIRE v London

Gentleman’s Family Finances

Young FI Guy

What Life Could Be

Fretful Finance


What would I do if I lost absolutely everything? My house, my pension, my ISA, my belongings, everything. I would effectively be landing on a Snakes & Ladder’s snake and going all of the way back to the start.

You would think that this wouldn’t be too detrimental to me as I’m still close to the beginning of my career. I could effectively get to the same amount of savings (including house equity) in a little over two years, but I think I would still suffer an adverse effect.

Having everything taken away from me would set me back in a monetary sense but I think that the psychological effects would be more detrimental. Working towards something for a prolonged period of time and then having it ripped out from underneath you would be damaging to most people. I would be full of anxiety thinking that history would repeat itself. Why should I work such hard and long hours building my wealth when I may just lose it all again?

Let’s role play

The door slams shut behind me and I find myself standing next to my partner outside of our home. The wintery day is stark and chilly, I pull my partner closer to keep her warm. ‘It will be OK, we’ll figure it out, we always do.’ I say with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. In my own head the anxiety monster was starting to take over. “How could this happen to us?” We lost everything to a hacker, I’m a programmer for god sake! I should have been able to safeguard against this…

Decision #1

The first decision that I would have to make will be what to do at that very moment. We’re now newly homeless, have no money or assets and have nowhere to go. We do, however, still have our jobs.

One of the things that we could do is move in with one of our parents. We wouldn’t be able to stay anywhere that costs money and it would be difficult to get a bank loan before the cold night closed in. We’d have to somehow contact our parents and ask them to kindly reel us in.

Another option would be to ask for a loan from our parents or potentially our friends. If we could make it to our next paycheque, we should be pretty safe from there on out.

No matter what option we take, the first action should be to find a way to obtain shelter, food and safety, and ideally a way to continue to go to work. We don’t want to be looking for new jobs when this is the time that we need them the most.

Decision #2

Decision number two would need to be made when we had regained our equilibrium, when we can sustain ourselves on our own again and have a semi-permanent abode to live in.

The question we would then have to ask is this:

What do we want to do with our lives?

Do we want to continue on the same path as we were on previously? Will the pain be too great if we continue as we were, knowing that we were over 2 years behind schedule? Knowing that the catastrophe might even happen again? These are the questions that will take us a lot of mulling.

I could continue to chase money and work in whatever role was willing to pay the most, regardless of my own happiness. This would be the fastest route to nirvana, to true financial independence. After all, I chose this option in my “previous” life, why should I stray now?

The other option would be to go part time and work in the least stressful position that I could find that is the closest to home. My living expenses are below minimum wage and I’m fortunate enough to have an in-demand skill set. I would effectively be able to work 2 days per week and still get along just fine. This could give me the ability to chase side-income generating projects for most of my week and hopefully one day have enough passive income to cover my expenses.

Shit. Is this just another way of obtaining FI? I’m currently perpetually chasing money at the expense of my time. If I was to chase time instead, would that pay dividends in passive income earned? I’ve always been entrepreneurial. Hell, even with being out of the house for over 13 hours per day I’ve still managed to create and run 3 different side ventures. What would I be capable of if I had 3 whole days during the working week to pursue them? Maybe I’d be “FI” already?

Should I just hand in my resignation tomorrow? I probably should but it’s just so hard to throw away something that I know is good. Maybe I should do what [email protected] has done and go part time? Even just to test the waters, to see what I’m capable of.

No… I think that I need to continue to press the throttle down as far as it will go. Continue to work in the highest paying position that I can get and continue to run as many businesses as I can… Continue to burn myself out.

I don’t yet have children, I may as well burn out now and slow down when I need to. I only hope that the burn phase doesn’t leave any lasting scars. As long as I make sure to invest as much as possible, it won’t all be for nought.

Wow, I’ve veered completely off topic here. I’m meant to be thinking about what I would do if I lost everything, not what I should do in my own life, but I guess that’s what Thought Experiments are all about? -To make you think!

That little off-road ramble proved something to me though. It proved that no matter what happens, I’ll continue to grab at anything and everything that will pay me money. I’m definitely addicted to work. I’d like to think that if I lost everything I’d reconsider my life choices and choose to live a less stressful life, but I really don’t think that I would. I’d plunge back into my “previous” life at full force and probably work even harder to try and recoup my losses.

I can tell this is going to be a major issue with me when I get closer to my “fatFI” number: I’m not going to be able to quit work. I have no ‘off’ button. Maybe I’m perpetually doomed to chase money until I drop dead?

I sure hope not…

What would you do if you lost everything? Let me know in the comments below!


18 thoughts on “If You Lost Everything

  1. The one thing you might do differently is take stock and evaluate the effectiveness of all that activity.

    What worked?

    What didn’t?

    What should you do more of?

    What should you not do at all?

    You’ve lost the anchor of any “technical debt” from your past decisions, made when perhaps you didn’t have as much experience as you have today. That provides a clean slate to get it right (or as right as you can based on your current level of knowledge) the second time.

    1. Good point. Even though you haven’t effectively started over – you’re still at the same point in your career, your age, your learning, etc – it still does feel like you have completely started over, right?

      It’s a strange one as money is seen by a lot of people as just a physical thing with no real sentimental value but in our community, we view it as more than that, it’s our freedom. So this scenario results in more of an impact to us.

      Pose this question to your average spender and they may be rejoicing that they’re out of the shackles of a crippling mortgage or other consumer debt, or they may simply be unfazed.

  2. Great read and thanks for running this, SN!

    I think we are similar, in that as a result of us being on the FIRE path, we would react, possibly in exteme ways, to try to recoup those losses with even more determination. It’s not just about the money, it is very much psychological.

    The fact is that if I wasn’t saving for FIRE, I wouldn’t have had so much to lose in the first place.

    I guess the difference for you is that as you are young, you have a lot more time so FIRE would still be possible for you, just not as early as you originally planned.

    I get what @indeedably is saying, ie a clean slate, that you could take stock and analyse what worked etc. But I think the negative impact of losing so much would push such rational thinking out of my mind and all I would be able to think about would be how I could get it all back.

  3. Scream, be super depressed as I spent so much effort working towards FI ! Reach for a whisky or 6 ?!

    Take a deep breath…think – I need an income to provide the basics… maximize my earnings through multiple jobs.

    Reflect on what I could learn, if I can stomach revisiting the pain ? Can I prevent it reoccurring ?

    Reach out to family & friends…I need help.

    I am young/healthy enough to get back on my feet but it would be a long slog !!!

  4. Almost the most interesting part of this is your reflections on your life today. As you pointed out if you would think of going part time if you lost everything then why wouldn’t you do that today when you had more resources and more time for planning? If you have the sort of personality that enjoys side hustling I can see the appeal in that (although it’s not something that suits my personality).

    The other thing is your realisation that you are trading time for money in both your main and your side hustles. That’s one of the lightbulb moment for many people when they read “Your Money Or Your Life.” It’s one of those things that is blindingly obvious but also needs pointing out!

  5. Great read SavingNinja! And thanks again for running these thought experiments!

    I didn’t really face my inner demons (as you pointed out beneath my post), but I will try to do it here… in compressed form 😉

    Starting all over and trying to accumulate new wealth in the exact same place is a no go for me. My attitude would be like ‘been there, done that’. What I would do is emigrate, most likely to Romania or Portugal. The cool thing with my job is that I can do most of the work from a home office. So I’d convince my employer that I’d continue to work for them, but from abroad.

    I’d be able to have a savings rate of 75% or even higher. Maybe I would even be able to stick to my original FIRE plan. Retire before I hit 60.

    The assumption here is that I wouldn’t be hacked again…. And that’s the thing: If it would happen, it would have an enormous psychological impact. Would I ever be able to trust brokers and banks again? And what about people? Would I take all my money and hide it in a secret place?

  6. It is loss aversion in its truest form you have actually lost something and desperately want to get it back so will risk far more than you ever did to get to that position in the first place. Maybe we should be risking more to achieve FIRE?

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