Financial Planning in the Age of Coronavirus

Like many of you, I’ve been trying to stay afloat–mentally–under stressors that appeared practically overnight. With the economy humming along somewhere through a very long bull market, it was clear the upward tick to the markets wouldn’t last forever. However, I don’t think anyone thought it would end so jarringly.

I sit here from my “shelter in place” apartment in one of the worst hit counties in California. My company went a little early in moving to WFH and I’ve been adjusting, but the last weeks have been a bit of a blur. On the Saturday before my company decided to move to a WFH policy, I felt I was coming down with something. I don’t think I had a fever, I just had mild aches, and my chest immediately felt impacted. I went to work on Monday (if I had a fever I definitely wouldn’t have) and waited for my company to make the call. It wasn’t far into the day Monday when whispers of the company going fully remote made their way around the office, then an email formalizing that we would no longer be coming into the office for the next few weeks.

My lungs tight and heavy managed to breathe a sigh of relief. All I wanted was to get home and keep my family safe. At the time my 76-year-old father-in-law who provides childcare was still coming to our house via the train. It made no sense. I feared for his health and safety. In those 24 hours our worlds changed. Grandpa no longer would take the train to provide childcare. But my husband and I would still continue working, albeit with both of us WFH, with no childcare.

Over the next days my lungs felt like they had a cool liquid pouring into them, a slight burning sensation, and I felt winded after walking or picking up around the house. With no fever, I didn’t want to be a hypochondriac, but I emailed my doctor and she said normally she’d have me come in to check out my symptoms (as they were concerning) but with coronavirus going around she couldn’t, so she’d just treat me for pneumonia–just in case that’s what I have. Coronavirus testing was out of the question since I hadn’t been to another country recently and had no known contact with another person who tested positive. I was put on a course of powerful antibiotics and provided an inhaler to help me breathe.

The next day, our entire region went on full lockdown.

Two weeks later, my lungs still hurt. I’m not sure if the antibiotics did anything. I’m not convinced I have coronavirus, but I’m also not convinced that I don’t. My husband had what appeared to be a bad stomach bug with a low fever the same week I first felt ill, and now coronavirus reports say that sometimes it starts with gasterontestinal issues. He too felt some tightening in his chest. Neither of us were coughing, though–so what we have could be pretty much anything. If it’s coronavirus, we’ll never know outside of suspicion. I know whatever is happening to my lungs, this cold fluid sensation and the tightness in the center of my chest, is new to me. Could it be crippling anxiety? Sure. But the cold fluid sensation is strange and I continue to have mild respiratory symptoms.

I think I’m ok. Physically I’m just trying to take it easy. Mentally, I’m a mess. I know way more than I ever wanted to know about pandemics and how they exponentially spread. I’ve spent countless hours trying to convince my boomer mother, stuck in her snowbird condo in Florida, to take this seriously–especially given she’s in an area with a lot of older people mixed with young tourists where things will likely get bad.

Then, there’s my portfolio. Down something like $200k, give or take, prob give quite a bit more in the coming weeks. I’m a buy-and-holder, and got my start in investing right before the 2008 downturn, so I believe in the power of investing when everything is going haywire and how the recovery is when wealth is made. Downturns are good for the market and give us a time to buy on sale. But this whole situation is unprecedented and things can get a lot worse than they are. It’s unlikely–given its fatality rate–that the economy will fail to recover once a vaccine is tested and brought to market. But I don’t know how the economy can handle everything shutting down for a while, especially if this goes on (or on and off and on again) for 18+ months.

I’m using this opportunity to rebalance my accounts, but not to sell for no reason. I’ve been doing some unrelated research regarding asset allocation including real estate, as well as what one should really have in cash for a home purchase. I’ll write another post about that eventually, but I’ve basically determined that 30% of my net worth should be held in real estate. I’m looking at 30% of my net worth including a downpayment, closing costs, and a conservative 12 month emergency fund. In order to afford a $1.7M house, we need $500k cash in the bank.

My CFP who I hired for a year (who is no longer my CFP) recommended putting my downpayment into municipal bond funds for the tax advantages over the low interest-paying savings accounts. Well, that plan went to shit in the last two weeks. Apparently muni bonds funds are usually super stable. But after I put $200k into them, they decided to become volatile in a way they haven’t been since 1987. So far I pulled out the $200k (down to $192k) and put it into a short term bond fund, to take the loss in the intermediate state muni. That hurt a bit. Will probably just move everything to cash soon. It seems like this will be the year to buy–that is, if I can keep my job!

On top of all of this I’m not questioning the timing of trying for my next child. Due to infertility issues (at least with my first kid) plus now my “advanced maternal age” of 36, I really don’t want to wait. I also really don’t want to be pregnant–with the weakened immune system that comes with that–in the middle of a global pandemic. If I do get pregnant, we also have to move, which isn’t horrible since I do think this will be the year to buy. But if we’re on a year-long shelter-in-place, I don’t know how we’d move. We couldn’t even look at houses–or rentals for that matter. I think we could manage a year with two kids in a one bedroom (we’d save a ton that way) but legally you’re not allowed more than 2 adults and one kid per one bedroom, so we’d be in a bad situation… if it gets to the point where I’m pregnant and we aren’t allowed to leave our homes except to get groceries and medical supplies.

My overall thoughts right now is:

  1. Make sure we have our downpayment fund (ideally $500k) secure in cash or cash equivalents by fall (we have about $363k right now if I sold the bonds, and if I needed to I could make up for the rest selling stocks, but I’d prefer to not have to do that.) Be ready to buy when no one else is buying.
  2. Try my best to keep my job. I’ve actually been making progress on my coaching plan and things seemed to be turning around. Then Corona hit and–who knows. I’d be on the chopping block if there were layoffs, probably. I’m hoping we don’t have layoffs coming, but I have to assume they are with the state of the world. If I assume they are, then buying a house sooner than later makes sense (kind of, I mean not having a job won’t be great after buying a house, but that’s why I’m making sure we have a 12 month emergency fund.)
  3. Just try to get pregnant and see what happens. Worst case, I’ll be giving birth while incubated with a shared ventilator wrapped around my head, with my husband waiting from home to hear if I’ve survived childbirth and coronavirus and if the baby is ok. Ok, that’s a pretty horrible worst case, but it’s a possible one. More likely if I were to get pregnant I’d get a different standard of care as the doctors would try to keep me out of the office as much as possible. Given my infertility situation, it’s still unlikely I’ll get pregnant naturally. I do worry about being able to get infertility treatment in the next year, especially if we need something beyond the medication-based treatment protocol we did to conceive baby #1… The good news is that I conceived baby #1 right after a 3 month in-between job break where I focused on my health, travel, and relaxing. This isn’t exactly the same scenerio–I’m working and stressed–but I think over time with this WFH situation, if I can manage to keep my job and be as productive as I know I can be WFH, I can really focus on making the most out of every hour in the day to eat healthy, exercise, sleep, and do the things that set my body up for the healthiest possible pregnancy.

Things sure are crazy for everyone these days. I know I’m not alone. I’m trying to figure out how to balance being a mom and working from home with no childcare and getting to that level of health I want–I ordered some new running shoes and plan to use them, while staying six feet away from the other residents of my neighborhood, to disconnect from the panic sensation that fills me daily and reconnect with the sounds of nature and the taste of spring air. I hope things go somewhat according to plan, but not counting on it.

 

 

 

 

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