A bat has thrown the world into a chaos that not many alive today have experienced before.
The stock market is all over the place. We have been asked to prepare for schools closing for weeks, with no notice. All field trips, assemblies, extracirculars – cancelled. The play my middle son worked so hard on for months? Postponed.
The nursing home where my husband does recreation for the residents has shut down for all visitors – and all group recreation activities. The residents can no longer have visitors. Tonight he’s there to see what kinds of entertainment he can still bring to them one on one, and possibly to help them FaceTime or Skype friends and loved ones.
Day by day, there are more and more cancellations. More closings. More countries, and the impact grows. The virus is in every conversation, part of every decision, and in the collective mind of the nation – and the world.
So what’s been happening? How has it impacted my family? And what do we do now – with our finances and our lives?
What’s Been Happening – Virus Edition
It’s been a while since I posted here – December holidays, followed by a huge work ramp up meant I had to take a bit of a break from my beloved long-form posts here. Outside of work I was prioritizing spending my limited free time with the family, and generally have a lot other stuff occupying my time & mindspace. I’ve kept in touch with folks over on Twitter & Instagram though, so if you want to hang out, be sure to follow me there.
For our family, the immediate impact of the virus was slow and then sudden. The past month or so, there were occasional discussions of the coronavirus. Sometimes it would be a brief joke when you saw someone coughing: “oh, I hope you don’t have the coronavirus.” ha ha ha.
But life and work continued on as normal. Most folks thought it would stay in China, or that this would be like SARS – highly hyped in the media but tiny (or no) impact on our day to day lives. And out of China most of us saw the news about the quickly built hospitals, all the medical workers coming to help, and robots keeping people inside.
Those months, if I saw news about it, it wasn’t overly worrying. It was more of a local disease – like ebola. And we all know how the ebola media hype ended up. It’s still a very real problem over in Africa but the media and the world moved on from worrying about it a whole lot. That would be the case here too – right??>
Then, suddenly, the world seemed to wake up and notice that the tiger was loose and not just in China anymore. Also, at the same time, people seemed to realize that a huge economic and manufacturing disruption was building over in China. Day after day, there more cases popping up across the world. Case counts rising exponentially. Still, though, it was more of a media thing than something impacting our day-to-day life.
Then came the communication that effective immediately there would be no more work travel.
I had actually been planning to travel for work three weeks in March. This week I was supposed to be in Scotland for training and a workshop I’d been planning for months. Then the next two weeks I was to travel to our Delaware office, coming home in between.
And all of a sudden, last week, those are all cancelled or going virtual. Then over the weekend, even some events that were originally going to proceed went virtual. You could already see the economic impact of just that, companies cancelling business travel. Hotels, airplanes, conference rooms, restaurants, rental cars – all gone in the blink of an eye.
Tuesday I got e-mails from all three boys schools that all events with over 100 people, field trips, extracurricular activities, etc. were cancelled effective immediately. And to start preparing for school closures, which were classified as “likely”.
What We’re Worried About
Am I worried about my kids getting sick? Mostly in the sense that they would likely have only mild symptoms. Perhaps barely noticeable.
I sat them both down on Tuesday to talk with them about the changes in their schools, the fact that they may need to close, and talked about why we’re worried.
“We’re not worried for you, or for us. We’re healthy. If we get sick, we’ll be fine,” I said. “We’re worried for us giving it to someone else that won’t be fine. Your father does recreation at a nursing home – we can’t risk him getting sick and bringing it to the residents. We’re worried about our beloved family members who are in their 80’s. And our family members with suppressed immune systems from chemotherapy.”
Any parent can tell you that children are disease vectors. Heck, my little guy (age 4) picked up the flu a few weeks ago from preschool. Before you ask – yes, he had the flu shot, we all did. Apparently the flu shot isn’t very effective against the B strain this year. Three other kids had the flu the same week. The poor guy had a low fever for a few days, then suddenly Saturday morning it spiked to 104. His arms hurt, he refused to walk, and he was listless. Luckily after an urgent care visit, quick diagnosis, Tylenol and other meds he was fine.
But we stocked up on hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, cleaned our hands, and cancelled get togethers because we didn’t want to risk catching or passing on the flu. And fortunately that worked, no one else got it. There have been plenty of times in my sixteen plus years as a parent the whole family has caught something brought home by a child.
With a virus, with mild symptoms that resemble a cold, that kids can catch with impunity but is deadly to some adults? And even when not deadly, can fill up hospitals with tons of patients who need ICU level care for weeks? My husband spent time in the ICU on a ventilator when he went into surgery and went into septic shock. I can assure you there were not hundreds of empty beds with ventilators, dozens of intensive care doctors, and tons of critical care nurses. Also, their jobs are hard enough without trying to do it wearing head to toe protective equipment at all times.
What We’re Not Worried About
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. When bad things happen you don’t want to have to worry about money.
This means a solid emergency fund, and emergency plan. It may mean pursuing debt freedom. Good insurance. A solid financial foundation can withstand a big shock.
Emergencies aren’t always job losses. They often don’t politely notify you that they’re coming – “excuse me, miss, but did you know that in a year a bat in China will cause a global pandemic? Time to prepare!” All at once, your world changes.
This pandemic will, at a minimum, be a tremendous short-term financial shock to millions. Small businesses will close. People will lose their jobs, or have their hours cut. Optional entertainment, travel, etc. will be the first to go. People will cut down spending to survival necessities and whatever they can have delivered to their home.
The question of how big the impact will be can’t be answered right now – it will depend on how long this lasts and when things return to a “new normal”. When everything shakes out, industries will be transformed, remote work will be more accepted than ever, companies will go bankrupt, and things we can’t even anticipate now will occur.
With a solid financial foundation, and the right risk tolerance, we can hunker down and weather the storm. Just as we have time and time again-, through depressions, world wars, cold wars, prior worldwide pandemics, and all kinds of other things. And just as many of us have before – in 2008, the dot-bomb, 9/11, the 1987 crash, the gas crisis, massive inflation, and more.
We have a solid emergency fund – and emergency plan. We have no mortgage.
A solid financial foundation also means that if I need to start working from home full time, because I can’t go into the office anymore, I can do that without wondering who will watch the four year old. My husband, even though he has that part-time job a few evenings and weekends, is home all day to provide child care. And I imagine it’s certainly a possibility his hours will be cut – or he’ll be laid off – as this continues.
Don’t Do Something – Just Stand There. And Prepare
A storm is coming. When a storm is coming, cash is kind. This is a time to seriously evaluate your emergency fund, and emergency plan. If you’ve been putting money into debt payoff, perhaps you pause that for a bit to build up cash.
What should you do with your investments? Stocks and bonds are all over the place. Crazy Mr. Market hates uncertainty, after all, and this is a time of tremendous uncertainty. If you’re thinking that these valuations are irrational given the risk involved, I’d remind you “The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.” (Keyes).
I think Bogle had the best advice here though. When it comes to your investments “Don’t do something – just stand there”. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to crack open my famous (not really) Ostrich Strategy and stick your head in the proverbial sand for a while. Funny thing is I’ve been telling people in the “real world” about the ostrich strategy for a few weeks now and they all like the idea.
So for your money – prepare, and stand there.
But what if you do have a solid financial foundation already? What if you’re well prepared to weather the crisis and the coming storm? You’re like our family – a good emergency fund, college funds, balanced risk, no mortgage, and able to live a fun and frugal life for as long as needed?
Don’t Stand There – Do Something
When bad things happen, we all want to do something. This is why people are panic buying toilet paper, paper towels, rice and bottled water – it gives them something to do (plus it makes them feel in control).
But there are better things we can all do.
I remember after 9/11 a tremendous country-wide sense of community like nothing I ever saw before. We truly came together as a nation to battle the terrorists who took planes out of the clear blue sky one September morning to shatter our sense of safety and invulnerability. We were vulnerable, but we would fight, and we would help those injured and killed that terrible day.
Even though we couldn’t see the enemy, even though it only killed a “few thousand” of us – we fought. We supported each other. We helped each other. We lit candles, raised money, donated blood, donated water and food for the firefighters of New York, and went through whatever inconveniences we had to at airports to keep our country safe.
Today, to fight an even more invisible enemy, we can still come together. We can fight this. And we can help each other.
What can you do? Why not:
- Buy some supplies for a teacher whose administration is slow to provide disinfectant wipes, Kleenex, or hand sanitizer. Or give them a gift card to pick up supplies themselves.
- Call a local nursing home where visitors are now barred, and group entertainment curtailed, to see what the residents could use. Tonight, in fact, my husband is at the nursing home where he does recreation, going individually to folks rooms to see what would help keep them entertained. So far it looks like coloring books, puzzle books, and other individual supplies residents can keep in their rooms will be welcome. Maybe they could use knitting supplies, crafts, an old phone or tablet to Skype with family, or something to make for the grandkids.
- Pick up food or supplies for a local food bank, or to donate to a church. If people are going to be out of work, or have their hours cut, they’re going to need food and supplies. Shelf stable food and non-perishable supplies will be welcome for those in need
- Give to the front line responders. Several times since my husbands ICY stay we’ve done random acts of appreciation for ICU and ER workers, firefighters, and the like. They could use a donation of a box of coffee, some donuts, cookies, sandwiches, maybe toys to give to children. Give them a call and see what they would appreciate.
- Buy something from a local business. A lot of local, small businesses will be the first ones hurt in a downturn. If no one goes out to eat, shops at their store, orders supplies, hires a contractor – they won’t have any money coming in. So remember that any day can be “Small Business Saturday”, you don’t have to wait until Christmastime.
- Offer your services – and your help. Maybe, like me, you have some experiences that can help others. You’ve worked remotely before with kids, you have experience with running virtual meetings, you’ve been an investor during a downturn. Maybe you’re retired or self-employed, and could offer to watch some kids that will be out of school when their parents have jobs that require physical presence. Have a great idea to keep kids stuck at home educated or entertained? Share it!
- Flatten the curve. Wash our hands. Encourage our elderly, or immunocompromised, loved ones to learn to Skype. Have empathy for people making a lot of very hard decisions to cancel, postpone, make changes, etc. – they’re doing the best they can.
You don’t even need to leave your house – the power of the internet can let you help right from the palm of your hand.
This Too Shall Pass
This time is going to be a tremendous impact on many of our lives. Even if short lived, we’ll all remember the time the coronavirus came into our lives.
So prepare. Stick your head in the sand on your investments for a while, and just keep working your investment plan. If you don’t have an investment policy statement, now’s probably a good time to make one. If you’re focused on debt payoff, or you don’t have an emergency fund, this may be the time to take a pause, cut costs, and build funds for a rainy day as fast as possible. Because it’s already storming outside.
But also reach out. Help others. If you need help, speak up. People want to do *something* to help when they might otherwise feel helpless.
Do what you can to support your community – locally, nationally, and internationally. We’re all in this together and we’ll get through this together.
If you’re inspired to take action to help someone during this time, I would love if you could share with me either here in the comments or over on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. #kindnessfightscovid.
Check Out These Other Awesome Posts
If you’re looking for more content from personal finance bloggers about the coronavirus, check out these awesome posts.
- The Coronavirus is a Bigger Deal Than I Thought by Eat Sleep Breathe FI
- How To Prepare For Short Term Emergencies by Problems and Projects
- How to Make the Most of Your Unexpected Downtime by Kathleen Celmins
- Coronavirus Cleaning Tips: Disinfect Your Home by Pantry Escapades
- How to Prepare Financially for the Coronavirus by Michelle is Money Hungry
- How to Pandemic-Proof Your Business by Erika F Consulting
- PrepperFI in the Face of COVID-19 by Tread Lightly Retire Early
- PreppierFI vs. The Pandemic by That Frugal Pharmacist
- Rebalancing the Pandemic by Dr. PayItBack
- Coronavirus Emergency by A Dime Saved
- Preparing for the Coronavirus Without Breaking the Bank by Life Before Budget
- Working from Home Tips by Keeping Up With the Bulls