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A photo collage of headlines about the recession, including “Student debt at an all-time high” and “No easy fix for economy.” Getty Images / Christina Animashaun for Vox

Money Talks: The couple who used lessons from 2008 to navigate 2020

Bennie and Krystal Covington have found themselves in a far different place financially than the crash that defined their earlier lives together.

Welcome to Money Talks, a series in which we interview people about their relationship with money, their relationship with each other, and how those relationships inform one another.

Bennie Covington and Krystal Covington live in Denver, Colorado with their toddler son. Bennie is 38 years old and works as an HR leader; Krystal is 36 and runs her own public relations business.

Between their two jobs and their recently purchased rental property, Bennie and Krystal have a combined annual income in the low six figures — and their savvy financial decisions during the past 18 months not only allowed them to earn back the money they lost during the beginning of the pandemic, but also helped them prepare for whatever the future might bring.


Krystal: At the beginning of 2020, my son was just about to turn 1 year old. I was getting my energy back, my business was going really well, I was really excited for the possibilities — and 60 percent of my income at the time was running live events. My last event was on March 11, 2020. The day after that, they started shutting everything down.

Bennie: I’m a C-level executive, and we were in the midst of our best quarter as a company. Record quarter. We went from there to having sub-record quarters for the next 18 months. It was an amazing roller coaster.

Krystal: I had to shut down, basically.

Bennie: She had an events-based business, so that changed the whole dynamic. My business involves a lot of traveling to a lot of court systems and municipalities. So we understood that we were about to hit a revenue wall with our organization.

Krystal and I were walking around the neighborhood, enjoying our newfound free time, and I said, “It would be interesting to know where we are at the end of this. Are we better off, or are we worse off?” We remembered 2008 very well, and some people came out in a better position — but a lot of people came out in a not-better position.

In 2008, we were just starting out. We had nothing but hopes, dreams, and student loan debt. We’re much more established now, so we were able to not only absorb some of the hits but also be opportunistic. During the pandemic, we bought our first rental property. A dip in the market, for us, represented an opportunity to buy.

Krystal: We decided to be more strategic [than in 2008]. We wanted to create some hedging for ourselves, to hedge against what could happen in the future, and also take advantage of the fact that we were seeing a lot of people flocking to new homes. That’s why we decided a rental home would be a good investment.

Now we have the second income from the rental, and the property has gained in perceived value — I know that stuff isn’t real, it’s just on paper, but it’s still value.

Bennie: We did the same thing with stocks. In 2008, when we saw the market dip, I remembered thinking that buying would be the smart move — unless the world was about to end, in which case we’d have bigger problems. This time around, we went in and we kind of went shopping for companies we thought would remain healthy during the pandemic. We took savings and purchased equities and also bought the rental property.

Krystal: We have a mortgage on the rental property. The savings went to stocks and the down payment.

Bennie: I also still had my job — I took a 20 percent pay cut, but it was still good income. The pay cut ended up translating into about $25,000. The rental property yields about $440 a month, so it pays for the mortgage and helps to cover the salary gap. Whatever we lost, we gained in equity and income.

Krystal: With my business, I got an SBA loan that helped me buy some time to figure things out. I found a different business model strategy to try — I went from event planning to marketing services — and figured out different ways to utilize other people’s labor. So far it’s been working okay, but I’m going to continue tweaking and evolving!

All of this has been an ongoing, unique learning cycle — but I was also able to replace my income, and I actually make more now.

Bennie: It’s incredible when you think about it. When you go back to 2008, we weren’t in the position to take advantage of anything. Now we can, and it’s mindboggling — the world is completely different, depending on where you are.

Krystal: In 2008, we were in debt.

Bennie: In 2008, we were at the mercy of the market. Whatever it wanted to give to us, we didn’t really have a lot of negotiating power. A lot of dreams deferred — and that maybe actually led us to getting to this point, because we never really lost that. I don’t like the concept of “work harder,” but we certainly thought “we need to do better.” We need a plan to absorb these shocks.

But the juxtaposition of these two realities — the way things changed for us in 12, 13 years — it’s been very interesting.

Krystal: In 2008, I don’t think we understood the concept of ownership. Between that, and the period when my husband lost his job and our savings saved us —

Bennie: We weren’t investing in the market then, it was just in savings accounts —

Krystal: We started living on very little and saving one income. That’s what allowed us to move to Colorado and buy our first condo. We saw the market was about to get to the point where people couldn’t even buy a house, so —

Bennie: We sold it and bought another house!

Krystal: We realized ownership was extremely valuable, especially in a market that was growing. Then, in this situation, we realized the people who were doing really well were the people who had ownership. It made sense that people who own property, people who have income sources that aren’t tied to employers, are doing okay.

Bennie: We’re in this position right now because of the time between 2008 and 2020. We recognized that we weren’t in the position to absorb dips, so we decided to become proactive. When the pandemic came out of nowhere — and these things always do — we were in a position to look for opportunities. But we wouldn’t have been if we hadn’t spent the period between 2008 and 2020 getting ready.

Krystal: We also used that time to educate ourselves. We watch all of the things about FIRE, we read all of the stories, we share with each other, “Oh, these people make about as much as we make and this is what they do with their money, that’s interesting,” and we talk through it. We read books together, we try to listen to the same books on Audible, because hearing the information and talking through it — “What do you see in this philosophy?” — helps us understand that there are different pathways.

We also both worked in the financial industry for a few years. I was in communications and he was in training/development. Being adjacent to all of that helped us too — being around all of these people who had a lot of money and were talking about it.

Bennie: In 2008 there was a narrative and there was data. We followed the data. How did people end up financially stronger at the end of the recession? We weren’t looking at the 1 percent, we were looking at the upper-middle class. Nobody was talking about them, but I was intrigued — what happened there? What allowed them to do that? That was what was in my head when 2020 happened.

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