Thoughts on what we’re going through (and a podcast uploaded)
How quickly times have changed!
Less than a month ago I was thinking in terms of something upbeat, like “100 and still going strong! (Blog posts, not years)” with a review of what we’ve covered and a look ahead.
But now we’re at war, though it’s difficult to get our heads around it, because the enemy is invisible and (hitherto) unknown. The human species has been the dominant one on this planet for so long that we’ve taken our superiority for granted, and now we are forced to face our vulnerability.
For many (think of those students enjoying their spring break on the beach) there’s simply disbelief. It takes longer for it to sink in when the enemy is invisible and the war is non-traditional and you consider yourself invulnerable.
For those who have a more realistic mindset, this is a time to hunker down. It will pass – every crisis has done so, in the past, though typically it takes much longer than our limited imaginations initially suggest. And then we’ll thrive again.
But (in life, as in investing) the sequence of priorities is: first ensure that you survive, then focus on thriving.
Surviving is personal, but it has a very strong community component. The two angles are often at odds. Hoarding (toilet paper, for example) shows the “me first, nobody else counts” attitude. Communities pulling together increase the chance of survival, and are inspiring. In Canada the word “caremongering” has been coined to describe volunteer groups helping vulnerable people.
I was enjoying the Florida spring rather than the Canadian winter, until I was forced back two weeks earlier than planned by the sudden downturn in events. The Air Canada flight that brought me back was empty when it arrived in Sarasota, and full when it returned to Toronto. I’m very grateful that they flew empty to pick us up. When we touched down there was spontaneous applause, a family sang O Canada, and there was more applause. The psychological comfort of being home is a strong instinct.
Now I’m in my apartment, a few days into two weeks of self-isolation. Since I’m not allowed out, I’ve figured out a walking course round and round the furniture, and if I do it ten times it’s more than 1,500 steps. Four times a day … And our small apartment building is a genuine community, and a friend here has done some grocery shopping for me. I’m very, very lucky.
As is my habit, I’ve been researching: why people hoard toilet paper, how rationing was imposed in WW2 in the UK, and what its consequences were. But that’s not relevant here. My main activity is going to be sorting through my thousands of digital photographs. I’m not thinking in terms of getting rid of most of them – though that’s exactly what I plan to do. In my mind I’m re-framing it as thinking: they’ve all been lost, and now I have the opportunity to rescue the best of them.
I wish I had a blinding flash of inspiring financial advice to give you, but I haven’t. The competing notions of safety and growth have been a theme not only of my blog posts [most recently thinking about decumulation http://donezra.com/85-a-case-study-on-the-investment-glide-path-in-decumulation/, but see also http://donezra.com/71-a-liquidity-reservoir-creates-flexibility/ and http://donezra.com/68-safety-and-growth-as-investment-goals/, which in turn will take you back to http://donezra.com/post-6-thoughts-about-investing/], but also in my life. They correspond with surviving and thriving. This is a time when whatever we’ve put away in case we ever needed safety comes to the fore. And if we didn’t put aside anything for safety, then we’re a grasshopper, not an ant (to use the analogy Fred Vettese invoked in Podcast 4 http://donezra.com/podcasts/), and survival becomes more stressful. Perhaps we’ll be more ant-like in the future. My research topic #2 on emergency savings (http://donezra.com/96-where-next/ ) has suddenly developed immediate relevance.
I’m delighted to tell you that Podcast Episode # 7 (which we called Life Two, since it deals with the financial aspects at and following retirement http://donezra.com/podcasts/ ) has been uploaded. You’ll enjoy hearing Alex and me receiving wisdom from Moshe Milevsky. I’ve had friends tell me I’m their retirement guru; well, for me Moshe is my guru on retirement finance, that’s how much I revere him. Lots of lessons for us all.
Meanwhile, stay well. I hope the next blog post comes with better news of our social environment.
I have written about retirement planning before and some of that material also relates to topics or issues that are being discussed here. Where relevant I draw on material from three sources: The Retirement Plan Solution (co-authored with Bob Collie and Matt Smith, published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009), my foreword to Someday Rich (by Timothy Noonan and Matt Smith, also published by Wiley, 2012), and my occasional column The Art of Investment in the FT Money supplement of The Financial Times, published in the UK. I am grateful to the other authors and to The Financial Times for permission to use the material here.