Will We Be Different?
By Julie Bradsher, CFP®
Over the past few weeks, in groups and with one-on-one discussions with clients, friends and family a single question keeps being asked – when this is over, will we be different? Or will we go back to the way we were before?
First, let’s talk about what “this” is. The Coronavirus Global Pandemic. Covid-19. A new strain of flu that has brought the global community to its knees. In a few short weeks, from mid-February to mid-April, we’ve seen the Dow Jones Index go from a peak of 29,551 on February 12 to a low of 18,591 on March 23 – a decline of 40%. Employment, previously at a low of 3.5% at the end of February has climbed to nearly 18% as of April 11, according to the U. S. Department of Labor. More than 164,000 global citizens have died from Covid—19 as of April 21, with 37,562 deaths in the US alone, or .00001 of our population 1. And across the US, we are practicing social distancing, sheltering at home, and working, if possible, from home as well. All this in just eight short weeks.
So yes, I’d say when this is all over we’ll be different. Even when we can move about freely, go to the grocery store without fearing it could end our life, or that of a loved one, hug a friend, even simply shake a hand of a new acquaintance, we’ll be different.
I know this will be unique to each of us, but I’d like to share a little bit about my perspective on this, and I’ll call it the “4 P’s.”
I’m a planner. Always have been, from a media planner to a strategic planner and finally a financial planner. So it should come as no surprise that the first item we discuss with our clients is the importance of having three-to-six months of fixed expenses in the bank – just in case. Or as I told my newly employed, freshly minted college graduate niece, your #$%^ happens fund. Recently furloughed from that job 3 years later, she’s happy she has that %^&^ fund. Our retirement-zone clients seek to have 3 years of non-covered fixed expenses in the bank as they near retirement – same reason. Except they don’t work, so they have to live on their investment returns and income – except when there isn’t any. #$%^ happens. I’d like to hope that when this is over, everyone will work hard to have that emergency cushion in place, whether it’s 3 months or 3 years.
And part of planning is to be prepared. Prepared to be sick – having a thermometer in the house. A tool kit. Tylenol AND ibuprofen. Toilet paper. Paper towels. Bottled water. Canned goods. I’m not talking about disaster prep – but just the simple basic items that one uses over the course of a week or two, or might need to have on hand when you don’t feel well. You don’t have to have a COSTCO membership to be able to live at home for a week or two with very little outside access.
Our priorities might change, too. Life over work. Relationships versus social media “likes.” Time spent making the world a better place for all – not just a better place for you, or me. Leaning in not to get ahead, but to help others stay afloat. I plan to spend less time in the office and more time with family and community when this is all over. What about you?
And last, I imagine our perspective will change a bit, too. Things that seemed so important three months ago might not seem so critical today. After major events, as a country, our perspective has changed. Watergate let us know that the government didn’t always operate honestly. Vietnam taught us every war might not be won. 9/11 brought about new travel regulations and now we willingly take off our shoes and belts to board an airplane. So, yes, in some aspect, we’ll be different moving forward. Maybe we’ll be wearing masks for months, not weeks. Maybe we’ll always stand six feet apart in public places. Or maybe we’ll just stop shaking hands and come up with a new way to greet people. Whatever the difference is in how we as a society act, we know our economy will come back, as it always does. There will be new winners and losers as business cycles and needs change. There will be money to be made as a result of all this in some new way, shape or form.
But in the United States, no matter the obstacle, the economy will return to a post-recession cycle of recovery and growth. The stock market will climb back up. Unemployment will go down. Over the course of almost 100 years, It always does. The Great Depression. Pearl Harbor. The Cuban Missile crisis. The gas rationing of the 70’s. The Great Recession. The financial recovery may be differ in timing, length or visibility, but it will recover. And so, I imagine, will we. Planning, preparation, priorities, perspective – where will your focus be?
(1) Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. coronavirus.jhu.edu/map