I started writing this blog post on the flight back to the U.S. back in January. News of the novel coronavirus spreading throughout China prompted us to return, and naively we thought we would be able to wait out the health situation for a few weeks and then return (it ended up being 6 months). I had wanted to share my thoughts about uncertainty in life and what a huge impact financial stability can have in making these situations less stressful. Life got in the way (you know-tax season, living in temporary airbnb homes for 6 months, COVID-19 worries, stress, homeschooling kids, recovering from all of the above, etc.) and it never seemed like the right time to share the message.
Reflecting back on the past 10+ months, I’ve found that my message has only been amplified by the experiences of the year.
This year was definitely difficult at times. We missed our home, our limited time and adventures in China, our friends, our routines and (perhaps most of all) our teachers. We were worried about getting COVID-19 and more worried when people we knew contracted the virus. We mourned when my husband’s grandfather passed away from COVID-19 just days before we returned to China in July.
However, these situations have provided me with an opportunity to reflect on a number of defining moments. And it’s crazy how so much of it relates back to money (well, it does when you’re on a money blog…ha!).
1. There’s always something to worry about
I used to worry about everything. At all times, I had at least one thing that I was worrying constantly about. It was as if I felt that I needed the feeling of constant worry to make sure I was still alive. After having kids, it was even worse (word of advice for new parents: don’t google anything to do with your baby’s symptoms, yikes).
There’s always something you can worry about. A.L.W.A.Y.S. Even when there’s not a pandemic.
If it’s not a public health concern (H1N1, SARS, MERS, cancer!), then it’s a drop in the stock market (could this be the next big recession?) or job security (am I doing good enough?) or our family and relationships (am I ruining my kids with my bad parenting?).
There’s literally no limit.
However, I decided many years ago that I didn’t want to live my life constantly limited by worry and fear. After all, worry isn’t a helpful emotion. I can’t say that I never worry about anything, but I do have better ways now to recognize when I’m feeling worried and redirect those emotions to something more useful.
The pandemic provides a good opportunity for us to stop and take a good look at worry and anxiety. It’s important to focus on the facts, be rational, and also help our kids to learn how to deal with uncertainty and anxiety.
Alternately though, if there are things causing you to worry, you can determine steps you need to take in the future to mitigate this the next time there is a crisis situation:
- Don’t take your health for granted-take care of yourself!
- Prioritize your emergency fund
- Get your spending under control now
- Start a side hustle that will allow you to earn some additional income on the side
- Build up a small food storage in case you aren’t able to go to the store for a few weeks
- Get some help for your anxiety if you need it
It’s a quality of life issue more than anything, but money can compound the stress of a crisis situation. We were so fortunate that we had the funds available to cover the extra expenses of paying for airbnb rentals for months on end, as even though many of these expenses were reimbursable, we had to pay them up front ourselves and it really added up!
Note: health and financial worries are the top results of basically all surveys asking people about their biggest concerns.
2. Focus on the things you can control
One thing that can help relieve concern over situations like this is to focus on things that are within your control and let go of the rest.
If you’re concerned about getting sick, we know that the keys are to properly wash your hands, wear a mask, take caution in public places and put your financial life in order, if it’s not already, in case you aren’t able to work.
On a solely financial note, this also includes the following:
- Have a liquid emergency fund of at least 3-6 months.
- Make sure you have adequate disability insurance
- Update your life insurance policies and beneficiaries
If you’re concerned about the policies the government has in place to protect the public from a pandemic such as COVID19, reach out to your representatives. Now is a good time to remind you that your vote matters.
If you’ve experienced a job loss, update your resume, apply for unemployment or other benefits that are out there to help and try not to focus too much on the negatives of the situation. Basically, do you what you can and then try to stop worrying.
Some concern is to be expected, but choose to live your life without constant fear of the worst case scenario. Do what you can, and focus on the things you can control.
What if you do get the coronavirus? Well, then at least you won’t have regrets about not doing what you could to avoid it and you’ll be glad you did your best to put yourself in a situation that will minimize the stress on you and your family.
3. Money is security
While monitoring the coronavirus situation over the last couple of weeks of January, we knew that it would be expensive to come back to the U.S. if it became necessary. Last-minute tickets to the US were many thousands of dollars alone for a family of five. In addition, there was the expense of housing our family for an extended period of time, other transportation and incidental travel costs and it easily added up to a five-figure sum.
However, we also knew that the expense wouldn’t have to be the deciding factor in determining whether our family would travel back to the US. We are fortunate to be in a situation where we have an emergency fund for this type of situation.
Ultimately, we did choose to come back after monitoring the situation and landed in LA to the news that domestic carriers would be halting flights to China in just a few days and that the State Department raised the risk for traveling to China to a level 4.
Without the ability to afford a trip back to the US, we might have been under considerable more stress.
This is what money can do: change what would otherwise be a complete financial crisis into a simple bump in the road. If you have the ability to build up an emergency fund, create an additional income stream or otherwise build up your financial reserves, do it now. The benefits go so far beyond just financial.
It may sound trite to say that we should focus on gratitude at a time like this. But how miserable are we when we only focus on what’s going wrong in our lives? I can tell you from personal experience that it’s pretty darn miserable.
Be grateful for what you’ve done in the past to help make this time easier for you. Maybe you’ve created some habits that allow you to stay structured and focused even when everything else is chaotic. Or perhaps you’ve learned to cook, so it hasn’t impacted you as much not being able to go out to eat. If you have a financial buffer, you can stop and appreciate it and the hard work it took to get there.
Write down some things that you are grateful for right now as well. Keep that list handy and add to it when you’re feeling down. Little things matter. Little things especially matter.
You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel if you focus on what you do have rather than on what you don’t.
There are more difficult situations in the future (in addition to all of the amazing things we have to look forward to!). This is exactly what financial independence is about: living a life free of financial stress regardless of the circumstances around us. A medical emergency, a major home catastrophe not covered by insurance, the loss of a loved one – it doesn’t also need to be compounded by financial worries.