Focus and Control in a Time of Coronavirus

Focus and Control in a Time of Coronavirus

Please read before you read.

There is no single coronavirus conversation. Covid-19 is a global issue that has touched everything from politics, economics, social interaction, crime, education, and of course public health. For some, this pandemic is being spent stuck at home watching Netflix, while for others, it is about being stuck in an ICU fighting for air.

But this is a personal finance blog and so this article is intended to document my thoughts as it relates to my own personal experiences and finances. This is not to say that money is my only concern. It’s not. I fear for the health of my family, friends, and neighbours just as anyone else does.

And this article is not meant to take anything away from the nurses, doctors, and other essential health professionals literally risking their lives to treat patients–Covid-19 or otherwise. These people are our heroes.

With that being said, on to the post…

On March 1st, I published a post on how we planned to save a bunch of money on groceries in 2020. I was proud of how neatly organized and thought-out my plan was.

And in general, my wife and I were finally getting smart with our money–budgeting, tracking, and most importantly communicating. Our debt was going down and our savings going up.

All of that has changed now.

I work for an orthopaedic company and no elective surgeries means no revenue. No revenue means no work.

While I’m lucky to be living in Canada, where I feel the government is doing a good job rolling out plans to help companies and individuals, it’s still early days and there is so much uncertainty about where this thing is going.

I’m scared. And my wife is scared too.

As if this weren’t enough to deal with, she’s five months pregnant. This should be a time of excitement and happiness. But this last month has been dominated by fear, anxiety, loneliness, and the feeling that she’s being robbed of the once-in-a-lifetime experience of a first pregnancy.

There are no visits from friends or family. No baby shower to plan. And even crucial doctor appointments have been cancelled–an unsettling sign that the health care system may not be there in every way that we need. Last week she ordered an in-home doppler off of Amazon so she can hear the baby’s heartbeat for herself–an act to maintain a little bit of control in the chaos.

Did I mention she’s going to be a great mom?

I think people are collectively learning a few hard truths:

  1. No one saw this coming (except a few scientists who saw this coming).
  2. No one is in control of their environment.
  3. No one knows what’s going to happen next.

This is one big global whitewater rafting experience. We’re at the mercy of the current and whatever rocks may be lurking ahead. Sure you have a paddle, but how much is that really going to help?

So the question becomes: What do you do when you can’t really do much?

It’s tempting to lean into fear–to stay glued to the news, scroll Twitter for updates on case-counts, or get sucked into outrage culture at our politicians. This just in: Still fucking horrible out there.

It’s even more tempting to make predictions. But that’s just a human reflex so that people feel in control. No one knows how this pandemic will evolve and what the process of getting back to “normal” will look like. No one.

So again, what should you do?

I can’t speak for everyone, but for myself, I’ve resolved to do several things.

Social distance / Stay the fuck home

Yes…I know this is a little obvious, but that’s the point. Physical movements are probably the thing anyone has control over right now. Covid-19 isn’t a hurricane–its transmission across the globe isn’t governed by the winds or currents. It only spreads through the actions and movements of people.

I look at staying home, giving people space at the grocery store, and keeping my hands clean not as things I have to do, but as things I get to do to help fight this spread. It’s the only real action I can take, and an opportunity to exert a tiny bit of will in this storm.

We’ve all been barraged with recommendations to stay home, but it’s important not to be come tone-deaf. I’m trying my best to remind myself that it’s my duty to deny this virus any more opportunity to spread its tentacles than it already has.

Focus on Personal health

I can’t think of a more important time or more important reason to recalibrate what I’m doing to keep my mind and body healthy. In the event I come into contact with the virus, its my immune system that I’ll need to help fight it off.

Yes, there are plenty of stories of young, healthy, athletic people being devastated by Covid-19–no one is immune or incapable of dying from it. But I don’t believe that renders me helpless. I choose to give my body every ounce of strength and resilience, should I need it.

And what a time to be reminded and humbled for the gift of health. I’m so fortunate to have been given a body that functions well, and I consider it an obligation to care for it. So many people are being ravaged by Covid-19, that to me, it would be a slap in the face to lay on the couch drinking beer and eating chips all day.

And so I’m focusing on:

  1. Lots of high-quality sleep
  2. Drinking plenty of water
  3. High-quality nutrition
  4. Daily exercise
  5. Daily meditation

Those are my weapons not only against the virus, but against the stress and anxiety that I’m feeling about the uncertainty of the world.

Rethink income and future planning

This situation has reinforced one simple fact: I flat-out need to make more money.

An emergency fund of 3-months living expenses has been on my financial to-do list for some time (after I got the debt paid off), but having gone through this, I’m extending that goal to a 12-month fund. Personally, I think anyone not taking steps to acquire at least 6-months of living expenses is being irresponsible.

I know that’s easier said than done, but make no mistake, this will happen again. It’s just a matter of time.

However, to acquire the $60,000 I estimate we would need to live on for a year, I need additional income. I just can’t stockpile that away on a single salary. Even if I redirected $300 a month to that fund (which is significant for us), it would take me about 16 years to get there. And that’s not accounting for inflation. Not good.

I have some ideas on what that second income is going to look like, but these few months away from work will give me the space to think more deeply about those options, and hopefully put some plans into motion.

In closing

It would be tempting to react to this Coronavirus situation in one of two ways:

  1. Panic, worry, and generally freak the fuck out.
  2. Chill, let it be, and this will all be over one day.

But I don’t think either of these options are wise. I’m choosing to be as aware of this situation as I can be–to take it seriously and act with a high degree of vigilance. But I also choose to accept what’s happening–and to learn from it, carrying two central questions in my mind:

  1. What can I do today to positively affect my situation?
  2. What can I do today to better prepare myself and my family for when this happens again?

That is all anyone can, and I believe should, do.


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