Jill Lepore writes in the New Yorker, “Epidemics are, by their very nature, divisive. The neighbor you might, in better times, turn to for help becomes a possible source of infection. The rituals of daily life become opportunities for transmission; the authorities enforcing quarantine become agents of oppression. Time and again throughout history, people have blamed outsiders for outbreaks.”
We are not adjusting well to this current state of divisiveness. Most of us struggle with uncertainty. In this time of COVID-19, an election and civil unrest, it feels like there is nothing solid to grab onto, so we try to find anything that can give us a sense of control.
I would like to make a strong case for doing only a little something, rather than a big something. Here are little things that you can do that may buy you some time until things eventually stabilize.
Don’t let your emotions lead to big money mistakes. For example, we tend to spend more when we are either feeling optimistic or depressed. If we are seeing slight jumps in retail spending it may be as the lockdowns were relaxed, some people felt optimistic that the virus was going to be managed; or as more case counts rose, others were depressed that this was never going to end. But we also know that the effect of retail therapy is shorter-lived than we expect. Buying things actually creates a lot of happiness for just a little time. So right now, spend a little more frequently rather than a lot one time.
Don’t move everything into cash in your 401(k) because you think the stock market is going to crash. It sort of did in March, only to recover by June. Sure, this may happen again, but don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to make two decisions — getting out and getting back in. Instead, move a little bit into bonds — just enough so that you felt like you did something.
Don’t make that significant decision that you can potentially delay. We always tell our clients not to make any big decisions for at least a year after a major event such as a death or a job change. You want to buy time to adjust to the change — whether it is a good or bad change. The number of major events happening today is unfathomable — explore the least you can do in order to manage yourself. Can you use your vacation differently rather than retiring? Can you remodel rather than move?
Divisiveness adds to the troubles facing us all. Blame prevents us from thinking clearly. Don’t make big decisions you may live to regret.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is chief executive and founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina.