Coronavirus: America’s Wake Up Call

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The past couple of weeks have been nasty and disruptive. Who knew a virus could single-handedly wreck the stock market, day to day life, and our access to basic necessities? It sounds like a crazy dream, but we are all living this nightmare in real life. And we never saw it coming.

Everyone’s situation is different. I see employees adjusting to the new work of home life on LinkedIn, I read stories about people losing their jobs on Reddit, and I hear those still partying on the beach as if nothing is happening on the national news. I am beyond lucky to have a job that allows me to work from home – starting this week in fact – in a profession that I love. I work with a landscape architecture team that focuses on large-scale projects (park design, residential development, and commercial landscapes) and we are able to continue working on projects remotely because our client contracts were secured months prior. And luckily, most of our work is done using the AutoCAD program and on the computer about 85% of the time. I have never worked from home before in my line of work of 5 years, but this abrupt change has been both interesting and enlightening in a couple of ways.

The new quarantine and work from home life has been a blessing in disguise for me. I admit I am a homebody and I love being in the comfort of my childhood home. So far, I have been enjoying working in my pajamas and eating non-microwavable food for lunch. I do not need to put on make-up or eye contacts. I can go to the bathroom as loudly as I please without needing to be as discreet as possible in the women’s public restroom. From having to commute round-trip to work for 3 hours to 1 and half hour to 40 minutes to no commute at all, it has been nice and stress-free to just walk to my own desk and get to work. I also get to see my neighbors (and their furry companions) from a safe distance when I got out for my daily lunch walks.

I seem to be more focused, without being disturbed or leered into random conversations, and I do not feel a sense of loneliness as I have been building up my independence for a long time. I am also incredibly grateful that the home I live in is built for working remotely (my other family members do this regularly), has a working heating and cooling unit, and enough private space for three adults to work remotely at the same time. It is Day 4 and I have definitely adjusted to the new work from home life. I can’t imagine going back to working full time now. The only first-world problem is that I do not have enough pajamas to go through and will have to wash my only three pairs often and regularly.

Also, the timing has never been more perfect to invest in stocks or funds (index or mutual, depending on whichever butters your bread) in a down stock market. For a gal who loves a good discount, this is the silver lining I have been waiting for the past 12 years. I have slowly been building a small nest of funds, emergency and otherwise, and have been watching the bear market like a hungry wolf. The moment to strike is now, oddly caused by something that was totally abnormal and outside from the typical world of economics. Even with the many lessons learned from previous downturns, new techniques set in place, and a seemingly strong economy, the stock market is not immune to volatility and disturbances. And us humans will always feel the effects of it, in both the good and bad times.

I know it is luxury to still have a job, to have the resources to work remotely, and to even have toilet paper (one bulk set of 16, nothing more or less). I know others are not so lucky and living in a much tougher and difficult reality. But the truth is that you can be in my shoes one day – probably sooner than you think – and be able to have the ability to ride this massive wave the next time an unexpected high tide comes. The stock market will be a never-ending roller coaster and life will keep throwing lemons at you, but you can learn to be self-sufficient and find ways to overcome worst-case scenarios. You can survive this and come out stronger if you keep calm and focused. Know that you have options and others have succeeded with far less and in worse situations than yours.

If you are still in panic mode and still don’t believe me, I highly recommend reading the book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. He talks about people from leading businessmen to prominent leaders to ordinary people who suffered from constant worry and overcame this by changing their mindset and finally saw life through a different lens. He tells stories of people in the worst of situations. One such story is an American manager for a life insurance company who happened to be in China when the Japanese army invaded Shanghai in 1942. He had no choice but to work under a Japanese admiral and liquidate the company’s assets for him. He did not tell the admiral about one of their securities, but this was soon discovered by the Japanese army. He was told he would be sent to a torture chamber for being a traitor. Nobody ever came out alive from there. How did this same life insurance manager and guy with an incoming death sentence later become one of the most successful American businessman in the Far East? I will reveal this later as you continue reading.

Carnegie also talks strategies and mentions a ton of inspirational quotes throughout the book. Though, I find reading the stories of people who overcame worries and eventually became rich – either financially or in life or both – has made the book relatable and gives me hope that I can achieve the same feat. He writes in a way as if he was talking to you in person, where it feels like you are having a coffee chat with a very supportive, restorative friend. It is also eerie and impressive at how he easily predicts your skepticism too. For a worrywart like me, this book is probably the best $10 I have spent to date and a way cheaper alternative than going to see an expensive therapist. By the way, the book is not sponsored and I am merely echoing similar praises from over 2,500 5-star reviews on Amazon.

If you are not in panic mode, it is time to wake-up and make lemonade. Stop reading the news, stop listening to your friends about the news, and stop talking about the news. Knowing and spreading this sort of information will not change your situation. You could be doing something more productive with your time, especially with all this extra time being stuck at home. This crisis has shown us the true nature of people. We find out things like American senators selling stock before the market slowdown, people exploiting consumer goods, and corporations laying off thousands to save their own companies. Whether these are true or not, there will always be people one step ahead of you and trying to get ahead of everyone else. Be one of those people – legally and logically of course.

We cannot rely on the current system because it remains unfair, unreliable, and unstable for those struggling to build wealth. The system has been working for those who have already made it to the top and have catered to their best interests all along, not yours, no matter how much it appears like it. So, it is time to stop beating around the bush and beat the system. To do so, you need to figure out your finances and this all just comes down to basic math. It does not take a mathematician to figure out how much debt you have, how much income you have, and how much you spend on a regular basis. Write this down on a piece of paper or an excel sheet. Once everything is laid out, find out expenses you can cut for the time being, perhaps Netflix or even the 401k contribution if you still have a job and need the extra money now. Maybe also start thinking about selling things you do not need and get a cheaper alternative, like a $500 car baby seat for a baby that is still due in months. Do not spend things you cannot afford.

If you have debt, figure out a game plan on how to tackle this first. And not just tackle it, but tackle it aggressively, so interests won’t continue to pile up. Perhaps in our current state of emergency, interest rates will not budge for now, but it will start again in the future. Do not think your debts will go away because they will not and you will need to address them sooner or later. If you do not have income anymore to pay your debts, figure out a way on how to generate more income. For the time being, you can be a Lyft driver, an Amazon delivery person, or even an online freelance gig – anything that could give you income. Take all three jobs if you have to. Remember, all this is only temporary until you get back on your feet and while you may have friends and family who laugh at you now, you can laugh back at them once you have no debt, no financial worry, and more than six zeros in your bank account.

It will not be easy at first. It will be excruciating, tiring, and sometimes you will feel like giving up. Though, hard work, perseverance, and discipline will get you farther than anything else. There is a helpful quote of Military origin (based on a quick Google search) that states, “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” A good analogy of this is the children’s story about the tortoise and the hare. The tortoise still won by making gradual steps forwards instead of the hare being lazy and taking a nap. You can still win by being slow and steady. Little changes could make a big difference over time. And this doesn’t have to be a children’s story, it could be yours. Once you become debt-free, then you can start building wealth from then on, including your emergency fund. You will have a better peace of mind and can live a lifestyle you have always dreamed of. And when life throws lemons again, you will still be ok and not be financially affected because you will then be one step forward than half of the U.S. population.

Remember the American manager who was on the brink of death by the Japanese admiral? He had one day to think of a game plan, so he thought about his options for hours before writing the top four down and their consequences. His first three options were to either give the admiral an explanation, try to escape, or not go into the office the next morning, but all might lead to inevitable death. So, he decided to go with his fourth option, which was to pretend nothing had happened and the admiral would be too busy to remember the exposed discovery. The next morning, he went to the office as usual and, fortunately, nothing more came from this. The admiral returned to Tokyo six weeks after. The time spent to figure out all options and writing down the “what ifs” literally saved his life. So yes, I am a strong proponent in spending time to think and writing about the top possible options (and their outcomes) to really figure out your strategy for any of your worries. This will really prepare you in the long run.

The coronavirus should be a wake-up call to all Americans. If a virus can financially affect you this badly, then what you have been doing so far has not been working and probably has not been working for a while. Don’t feel bad, feel good that you are acknowledging this. Because once you do, you can either figure out how to build an emergency fund or a strategy to pay your debts or a second or third income to keep a roof over your head. Remember there are options, you just need some time to figure them out. Start today, not tomorrow or the day after. Time is non-renewable and the longer you wait this out without a course of action, the harder it will be to overcome your problems. Your future self will thank you for it.

Final Note: It has been a devastating pandemic and the world has seen the both the ugly and good sides of humanity during these uncertain times. My hearts go out to everyone to be safe, healthy, and responsible because we are all in this together. Remain calm and buy necessities in the amount you absolutely need. We have never faced a crisis like this before in modern day history, so I believe most of us are learning as we go. Sometimes protocols are unexpected and may continue to be for a little longer, but know that you are not alone in this. You can get through this and the rest of the world will too.