Your Money Or Your Life
As the Coronavirus evolves and curves appear to be bending, we are learning more about rates of spread and the possibility that the denominator is much larger than we thought, we are starting to ask if we tanked the economy for something that has a microscopic death rate. To clarify, we probably know more about the number of deaths than anything else. The various studies/surveys we're seeing like 20-25% of the population in NYC might have had it would make the death rate very small if they turn out to be accurate. I have no idea how it will pan out nor am I offering an opinion but at the very least tanking the economy versus lives lost is a complex issue and I would want no part of trying to decide between people running out of money and going hungry versus some unknown number of deaths.
This fulcrum is the entire point of self sufficiency, solving/preventing your own problems and all the other related ideas we try to explore here. From the top down this is an awful situation we find ourselves in. From the bottom up, for people not directly affected by the virus or at least not facing a dire situation because of it (that's most people), this is a situation to grow in. Whether we are conscious of this or not we are all learning at least a little about ourselves. If we are conscious of it then we are learning a lot about ourselves. We are seeing gaps in our preparedness for the unexpected and maybe/hopefully seeking to remedy those gaps.
At the start of April I turned 54. Someone texted me a birthday wish that included "seems you've been training for this social distancing for some time." Yes and no. We all have lifestyle preferences and they probably are shaped to some extent by our experiences. A couple of big ones for me were my parents screwing up their finances in the 40's (could have been earlier but I don't think so), getting sick for a year in high school and having to mostly, but not entirely, get through college financially on my own. It's worthwhile to think about your more pivotal life events and understand how they shaped your views on your preferences.
Once you know yourself in this way it becomes easier to identify what you want out of life and maybe a little insight on how to get there.
The building blocks for self sufficiency and solving/preventing your own problems are things we learn as children. We need to save a little money for financial resiliency, stay in shape for physical resiliency and learn some life skills to be situationally resilient.
Evolving in these areas requires learning how to think. That might seem like a harsh way to put it but that's how I view it for myself, trying to learn how to be a better thinker, be more critical, be more skeptical and how better to analyze all sorts of things beyond markets. I've talked many times before about my involvement with the fire department providing a chance to solve different types of problems which provides insight for problems I might need to solve in my day job.
Whatever my ability to think today, it was probably far inferior 20 or 30 years ago. That is hopefully true for everyone, hopefully we all learn more as we get older.
To my birthday text mentioned above, yes it turns out having some space and being in the mountains offers resiliency for this event. Despite what Nassim Taleb has said about a pandemic being predictable due to too much connectivity, it certainly was not on my radar and probably not too many other people's radar. But in terms of walking the walk my life experiences told me I did not want to live in a crowded city and you've never heard someone say that mountain air was unhealthy.
I've told the story a hundred times that three years ago I was diagnosed prediabetic by a tick on my A1C which became another life changing event. I had the exercise part down but not diet. It triggered a curiosity to solve my problem and help anyone else so interested in solving or preventing this type of problem for themselves. This little episode lead me to the phrase "that every aspect of your life becomes easier when..." and that applies to all of these things we are talking about and is ground we've covered before. Life is easier when you're not spending time in doctors' offices or shelling out money trying to manage chronic health issues that can possibly be reversed or prevented with behavior modification.
Being financially resilient if the face of a missed paycheck or two or drop in income also makes life easier and again, we learn as children it is important to save a little money for a rainy day.
Weaving these together for the current mass scale dislocation happening now, these are some basic building blocks for preparedness and resiliency. This is a link for specifics on prepping, as in survivalist prepping. It provides a six item checklist and then a whole lot of detail. Number 1 on their list is build a solid personal finance and health foundation. Every aspect of life is easier when you have addressed these, including prepping.
Personally, I am not focused some sort of post societal outcome, I can't get that negative. We can be better prepared though for personal disruptions like a job loss or a world event like a pandemic. We all pay attention to world events to some extent and to personal events to a greater extent. Be on the look out for warnings and try to get out in front of them. Another story I've told repeatedly was getting laid off from Charles Schwab in 2001. There was a year and half warning on that one based on senior management's behavior during the inflation of the tech bubble so I built a war chest in case I got the ax which I did. We started hearing about the Coronavirus and when, not if, it would come here so we bought a couple of week's worth of extra dinners pretty early on just in case. There have been some disruptions in the meat supply chain (more pork than meat for now) that don't yet seem to be impacting availability at the store. I doubt anyone needs 1000 pounds of beef for their freezer but a supply disruption lasting for a few weeks while plants get cleaned and workers quarantine seems to make sense. Maybe a second level of thinking would be to buy some protein powder.
Looking a couple of steps ahead has a direct application to investing. If I think there is trouble brewing I will add some sort of hedge to blunt the consequences of potential trouble. Others might do some selling (valid as long it isn't too much selling based on a hunch) and others might hold on no matter what (valid as long as you don't change course after a large decline). Just like figuring out who you are as a person, what you want and what you want to avoid, it is the same for portfolio management, whether you do it for others or are your own advisor.
If you have your life stuff figured out it will also make you less desperate where your investments are concerned which will make easier to do the right thing or better said, avoid doing the wrong thing. Every aspect of investing becomes easier when you avoid doing the wrong thing.