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If you have been following the saga of my life, the last few years have been a true rollercoaster and that had nothing to do with the pandemic.

A quick recap: I was out of work for 2 years in 2018 and 2019, exhausted my severance, UIB, eFund, Roth IRA contributions (not the earnings), cash advances and in January/February of 2020, was forced to take early distributions from my Traditional IRA. My only income was a 4 month contract in 2019 and the small amount I made as a Community Fool for TMF, for which I am immensely grateful.

My financial situation was so dire, I was driving Postmates for any cash I could get. Let me tell you, that is no way to earn a living.

Then in February, 2020, two things happened. First, my uncle passed away after a long and losing battle to Alzheimer's. I did not realize it at the time, but the funeral in Denver would be the last time I would see my mother in person for 15 months, and she lives less than 5 hours (and one boat ride) from my home.

The second thing was, I was awarded a six month contract through a well respected agency working remotely for another state's judicial branch working on their jury management season. Then, just a few weeks after I started, the pandemic hit. The good news is, ironically, my coworkers were now in the same remote environment as I was, and they still needed/wanted me to perform the work.

OK, that was more than a quick recap, but let's flash forward a bit. The contract is still going, twice extended. I was able to transition off my Healthcare Exchange health insurance plan to a more substantial employer-provided plan (though I was still paying full freight, I am getting greater value). And I was able to pay off my debt.

As a diabetic, I took home isolation during the pandemic to the extreme. This both kept me safe and helped me save more money than if I had anywhere to go or do. Because of the declaration of the National Emergency as well as the pandemic relief laws passed by Congress, I did not have to pay back over $1000 in federal subsidies from the 3 months I was on the HCA health plan, and I was able to save up enough by the delayed Tax Day in July to pay back my February premature distribution as.

Those two things helped me avoid what I had feared would be a huge tax liability for 2020.

But that's not what I wanted to post about. Not exactly. By fall, I was ready to correct a mistake I had made six years earlier when I refinanced my mortgage. At the time, I was a couple years away from paying off my mortgage but my HELOC was carrying a significant amount of debt, so I refinanced my variable rate HELOC into my mortgage at a much lower fixed rate. But at the time, I did not want to continue to carry or be tempted by a HELOC, so at the time, I chose not to also open a new HELOC along with the refinance.

More than once, I wish I had access to a HELOC while I was desperately searching my couch for pennies to pay the bills. So last October, with 8 months of employment under my belt, I applied and was approved for a new HELOC with 1/3 of the equity in my home still untapped. For COVID safety, the lawyers sent someone to my house for the signing. Turns out, it was the same guy who closed my mortgage back in 2014.

Back in 2019, when I was desperate for cash, I signed up to be a 2020 Census Enumerator. I figured it would be $4k to $5k of easy cash in the Spring. Then the pandemic suspended the door-to-door counting until August, when I was called to honor my commitment. Against my better judgement, I fulfilled my obligation and became a government contractor, in addition to my full time job and my Community Fool responsibilities. I was tired, I didn't make as much as I had hoped because the enumeration was cut short for political purposes, and I as dang lucky the protective measures I took meeting so many strangers worked. But I'm glad I did it.

With the safety of the HELOC in my back pocket, having hidden from the virus for 9 months and saving for my next personal recovery project, it was time to replace the HVAC unit that had inconveniently stopped working right at the beginning of my unemployment. For 3 summers, no cooling in my kitchen and living room, with my upstairs and downstairs units working overtime. Yes, I overpaid for what is probably more environmental power than I needed, but I was able to use a credit card offer that let me finance the purchase over 6 months.

Yes, despite everything I had been through, I nurtured my credit score to make sure when needed it, I would be able to use it. Not only was I able to take advantage of a promotional offer, but I was also able to open two new credit cards, from Amazon and Verizon, to take advantage of rewards and discounts that would save me a significant amount of money. And without any impact to my credit score.

This is really growing longer than I had intended. I promise, I am getting to the point of this post. You are so kind to have not given up on me yet.

In 2021, things began to change and for the better. In March, I received my first vaccine dose - House of Pfizer. I had to drive half way to Alabama for my appointment, but it was worth it. Three weeks later, I received my second shot, and paid off the HVAC. Then on Mother's Day, I did something I had not been able to do since Denver - I hugged my mother.

Tissue time. This was the first time the whole family was able to gather in person, all fully vaccinated. She had completed her vaccine regimen in early March and had weathered the pandemic on an island with no land access and only about 400 full time residents. Yes, she had to have groceries sent over by Instacart, but she was probably safer than any of us, especially my nephew who lives in Brooklyn (and is an incredible staff reporter for if I may so brag).

But the visit was also bitter sweet, because we also gathered at my father's grave to officially commemorate the placement of his headstone. My dad passed in May, 2019, and the headstone was actually laid in June, 2020. We as a family actually decided on the style, design and wording while at my Uncle's funeral in Denver. But while some of us had been to pay our respects individually, we had not been there as a family, and my mother had not been there at all.

A few weeks letter, and really, we're so close to the point of my post, I can taste it, I had built up enough of an Emergency Fund and immediate cash reserve that I was able to take a vacation. And yes, I went to visit my mother (still got that tissue?) for a week on the island. There is no better place to get away from it all than Daufuskie Island. And if you are paying attention, you just learned my origin story. Boom, mic drop!

After my mom had become fully vaccinated, the county health department brought a pop-up vaccination site onto the island (remember, they had to bring everything by boat - no land access) and over 90% of the island was vaccinated by Easter.

The island was slowly starting to come back to life. And on my first night, we went to a Beach Club for some take-out fried chicken. There was a Yacht Rock concert that night - a live group on a yacht anchored off the beach blasting music - and there were between 100 and 200 people there. I had not been around that many people since before the pandemic. I have to admit, I was nervous, but I kept reminding myself that I was fully vaccinated. My mom was fully vaccinated. If any of the other people there were not fully vaccinated, it was their own dang fault. Still, I had my mask on. But I was there.

This was the beginning of reclaiming my life. I came back early from vacation to volunteer at the Atlanta Airport USO, something I did regularly before the pandemic dating back to the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. That night, I went to see Cruella in theaters - it was Ticker Guide research, I swear!

And then on Memorial Day, I did something I had felt was unthinkable just a month earlier - I attended the Braves game. The CDC's relaxing of mask and social distancing rules for the vaccinated was the deciding factor. Not even a third of the state of Georgia is vaccinated (my state is full idiots, as the national news has shared with the world), and I figured that there was a good chance at least half of the fans in the stands were not vaccinated. But I was, my season-ticket partner was, and the Braves won.

Which finally brings me to the point of my post. Wake up! We're here!

This week I did something I haven't been able to do for nearly a decade - I set aside cash for my Roth IRA. It was the first of what I hope will be 7 payments over the rest of the year to fully fund my regular and catch-up contributions for 2021.

But wait, there's more!

For the first time in over 3 years, I also enrolled in my contract agency's 401k plan. I am going to start contributing 6% of my weekly paycheck towards a Roth 401k. When those deductions begin, it will feel good to be putting money into my retirement again after having drained so much out of it. There is no company match, and the investment options are lousy, and I don't know how long this contract will last, but I am finally financially stable enough to feel comfortable doing so.

And I started setting aside a small amount of cash towards a new car as after 16 years and 116k miles, the FuskieMobileā„¢ Prius is finally showing signs of wear.

This was due to a number of things - semi-frugal living (I say semi-frugal because I am a sucker for limited edition Disney collectables and was generous both in 2020 and 2021 with charitable donations, making up for two years of having been unable to meet what I have always felt was an obligation of my lifelong successes), the stimulus payments, the retirement of all my debt other than the mortgage, as well as a sizeable tax refund.

For the first time in many years, I feel like I am back on track towards retirement in a decade. See, this post was relevant to this board after all. Thanks to The Motley Fool, a well positioned portfolio and strong pandemic market against all odds, and all of you who have supported me, tolerated me, challenged me, ignored me, I am looking forward again. I am dreaming again, and as was the theme of Horizons (Epcot reference - Google it), if I could dream it, then I could do it.

I am feeling good about the summer. Yes, I haven't received word of a fourth contract inspection yet, but I am going to see Into The Heights this weekend - in the theater - and I have 3 (Three!) baseball games next week as I fully embrace my season tickets, and I am even planning my next Disney Cruise for winter, 2022.

I'm no fool though - I know that the future hasn't been written yet (according to Doc Brown) and there are plenty of roadblocks and hurdles that life may throw in front of me. But I do feel a whole lot more prepared today than I did a year ago. Because I am a whole lot more prepared today than I was a year ago.

I know that many Fools have experienced turbulence, trepidation and even fear and anger with how the market has treated their portfolios in the last 5 months. I am pleased that my own portfolio has been impacted less than it was a year ago at this time when many wondered if we as a society would survive the pandmeic.

But I am here to tell you, and this really is the point of this post, that after all I have been through, having gone to financial heck and back, having faced hopelessness and despair and at times not knowing how I was going to wiggle out of the straightjacket I felt I was suffocating in, this market correction is nothing. Not a single thing. A blip along a decades-long life journey.

I've been a Fool for over two decades. I have learned so much, and dedicated much of my time each day to sharing what I've learned whether you want to read it or not (3-5 years or longer). I don't do it for the pay (but I'm not giving it back either), or for gratitude (though it is welcome), but because as I said earlier, to whom much is given, much can be offered. So I am offering to each of you the benefit of my experience. Use it, lose it, it's up to you.

It truly is a great big beautiful tomorrow. Thank you for joining me on my Foolish investing and life journey.

Who notes Walt Disney famously said that Disneyland will never be completed as long as there is imagination in the world, and I think that is a lesson that each and every Fool can and should apply to their own lives, so keep dreaming your future, then go out and do it...

Premium Home Fool: Ask me a Foolish Question, I'll give you a Foolish Response!
Ticker Guide: The Walt Disney Company (DIS), Intuit (INTU), Live Nation (LYV), CME Group (CME), MongoDB (MDB), Trip Advisor (TRIP), Vivendi SA (VIVHY), Mimecast (MIME), Virgin Galactic (SPCE), Axon Technologies (AXON), 51Jobs (JOBS)
Disclaimer: This post is non-professional and should not be construed as direct, individual or accurate advice
Disassociation: The views and statements of this post are Fuskie's and are not intended to represent those of The Motley Fool or any other sane body
Disclosure: May own shares of some, many or all of the companies mentioned in this post (
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