I have been reflecting a lot lately….. absorbing what’s happening around the world and pondering what life would be when everything blows over. This is a health crisis that has snowballed into an economic crisis and the impact will be felt at all levels.
The innovation in business models which was expected to happen in next 10 years will now take place in the next 2 years as people adapted quickly to new ways of living and working. As consumer behaviour change, they will reshape business models. Many businesses will be disrupted and livelihood is threatened.
At the community level, during the best of times, there are already so many people struggling – low income group struggling to put food on the table and the homeless situations. Covid-19 has just amplified these pre-existing vulnerabilities.
At a personal level, adjusting to a new way of working (in isolation) and confronting the fear of job disruption is certainty adding to one’s anxiety.
While we can’t control the virus and pandemic, we have control over our thoughts, mind and actions. We know that the storm will come to pass and there will be new opportunities to seize. To survive and thrive, we need to ensure our overall wellbeing is taken care of.
In this time of solitude, here’s 5 things I have done to reduce the anxiety and stay well
(1) Be Financially Prepared
(2) Be Physically Energised
(3) Be Emotionally & Socially Engaged
(4) Be Mentally Focused
(5) Be Spiritually Vested
BE FINANCIALLY PREPARED
The first thing I did was to address the “elephant” in the room – taking a hard look at my finances – Am I still on track to achieving my financial goals and retirement plan?
You might be asking these questions too – Am I financially secured? Do I have sufficient emergency funds should my job be disrupted? Is my retirement plan still on track? Can I ever retire?
Since you are grounded (only essential services), there should be plenty of time for you to take stock of your financial situation and start developing new money & financial habits.
(a) Rein in your expenditure
This circuit breaker is an immersive experience to feel what’s it is like to just live on what you need (absolutely essential for your survival). Can you live with this? Perhaps, it’s not that bad after all. Being able to differentiate your needs and wants will rein in your expenditure, the first step towards achieving your long term financial goals (or be ready to retire). Of course, it is good to have that occasional indulgence.
In managing my expenses, I have developed new ways of doing things like walking up flights of steps and jogging around my estate and enjoying the greenery, instead of going to the gym, I use facial masks in the comfort of my home instead of going for facials. Discretionary spend can be reduced to free up some cash to leverage on market opportunity.
(b) Build an emergency and opportunity fund
When you have a good handle over your expenses, you can now stash away money to build emergency and opportunity fund. Both funds bucket should be kept separately.
The emergency fund is money set aside for those financial surprises life inevitably throws your way such as retrenchments. You should build at least 6 months equivalent of your current income in the emergency fund. For example if your monthly income is S$5,000, you should have S$30,000 in this emergency account. This should be kept in savings deposits or in short term fixed deposits which give you liquidity, to be drawn only when your current income is disrupted. Having a good emergency fund gives you peace of mind and reduces anxiety caused by any disruption.
An opportunity fund helps you take advantage of the opportunity to invest when the stock market is down. There is still buying opportunities when window of undervaluation appears in the midst of market panic.
But to survive and even thrive in volatile times during this pandemic which may be around for a while, beware of dangers in timing the market. It pays to adopt a dollar cost averaging strategy – you sleep better.
Talk to an independent financial advisor or your trusted banker for an unbiased advice.
(c) Review your insurance plan
Insurance plans mitigate life risks. There are two big life risks in our lives: dying too young (health risk) and living too long (longevity risk).
To manage the first risk, ensure you have basic medical insurance plan which is a fundamental coverage everyone should have. A medical crisis can break you and your family. It provides for medical expenses and protect against loss of income. Ensure you have sufficient coverage for critical illness and a good hospitalisation and surgical (H & S) insurance cover. A good H & S insurance is one that will allow you to enjoy good medical care without much out-of-pocket expenses.
Additionally review your existing plans to see if it is still relevant to your current needs. For example, I bought a term insurance many years ago against my mortgage. Over the years as I paid down my mortgage, there is no need to have the same level of coverage. I managed to reduce the premiums by 30% by adjusting the coverage to my protection needs and making use of insurer’s promotions.
To manage longevity risk, consider if the CPF Life payment is sufficient for you. You can supplement the CPF Life with annuity plans which provide you with a financial safety net for as long as you live after you stop work.
Insurance is complex and there are many options in the market so I make it a point to review my plans every two years with my financial advisor to make sure that I am sufficiently covered. Financial services is considered essential services now.
(d) Stay on top of your finances
There is always hidden money in our midst. For example, you may have kept a small amount in a bank account just to avoid paying the service fees. Or you could have a property loan with no lock-in period anymore, allowing you to refinance. With the low Sibor rates now, a refinance could free up some cash.
So start consolidating all your finances (across banks, insurers, CPF). Understanding your assets and liabilities helps you track your retirement shortfall and find ways to work towards retirement. Use this time of isolation to start building your financial spreadsheet.
Cash flow management is an important concept. Many people do not realize that successful financial or retirement planning is more than just savings and investments. Having the right plans to mitigate your risks (insurance) and consuming sensibly (expenses) will ensure your long term financial security.
(e) Write Your Will
A critical part of financial planning especially if you have dependents is to get your Will in place. If the deceased does not leave a valid Will behind before he passes away, Singapore’s rules on intestate succession, as outlined in section 7 of the Intestate Succession Act, will determine how the deceased’s estate is distributed to his survivors. The distribution may not be according to your intention and it may cause disputes. Without a Will, the probate process gets more complicated. Distribution of assets may take longer resulting in higher legal costs. Disagreements may arise over the guardianship of your children as well. So make sure you have your Will done.
Being financially prepared is the first step to boost your wellbeing.
BE PHYSICALLY ENERGISED
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, a much needed boost for your wellbeing.
While gyms are closed, online training programmes are on. You can still do your circuit training at home, all you need is an exercise mat and a fitness app. And if you are staying on a high floor, why not walk up the stairs instead of taking the lift. It’s probably a safer route in case your lift buttons have not been sanitised.
Being locked down in a confined space is no fun even with any amount of entertainment. Try breaking that pattern by exercising outdoors, alone and around your estate when it is not crowded. Being able to see the greenery and enjoy an expanded space will boost your mental health too.
BE EMOTIONALLY AND SOCIALLY ENGAGED
Being emotionally engaged is about having a deep discussion where everyone feels heard. You develop empathy when you practice deep listening and connect with others.
When you are emotionally engaged, you focus on others and less on yourself. In our community, there will always be people who want to be heard or to be helped.
For most of us who are very blessed, there are many who need our support. Do check out https://www.giving.sg/ and make a donation if you can. It is so, so simple to do, and there are many organisations that do such good work, there’s definitely someone you can find. A one-time donation, or setting up a monthly donation – whatever you can afford to give. Nothing is too small, and really, every little bit counts!
It will give you a new perspective knowing there are so many people out there who needs support.
Regardless of where you are in your life or career, there is always someone behind you that you can lift.
Isolation can be tough, but it is these moments of solitude that you can connect with friends to check on their wellbeing. I find this a perfect excuse for reaching out to long lost friends. Know that you are not alone in this pandemic.
You are not quite ready to retire if you have yet to build an expanded social network of engagement.
BE MENTALLY FOCUSED
It’s tough to stay mentally focused when you are ruminating about the past, worrying about the future, or tuned out of the present moment for some other reason. When you are too distracted, you find yourself getting side tracked by unimportant details.
To train your mind to be focused, try practising mindfulness. Practising mindfulness can involve learning how to meditate, but it can also be as simple as trying a quick and easy deep breathing exercises with your mind focused on it. It helps clear your mind.
By building your mental focus, you will find that you are able to accomplish more and concentrate on the things in life that truly bring you success, joy, and satisfaction.
This is only the first step. Start the day with a To-Be & To-Do List. “To be” is about how you want to show up, what meaningful relationship you want to create. “To-do” is a list of tasks. And break up your tasks so that you can focus on one at a time. Think of your attention as a spotlight. If you shine that spotlight on one area, you can see things very clearly. If you were to spread that same amount of light across a large dark room, you might instead only glimpse the shadowy outlines.
More importantly, cut yourself some slack. There is no need to be on an overachiever drive.
Don’t overrun yourself with too many things to fill up your time. It’s Ok to spend that morning by the poolside sipping your pina colada and just relax. Take the break you truly deserve.
BE SPIRITUALLY VESTED
In this time of uncertainty, many struggled with fears and insecurities and possibly overwhelmed by a deep sense of inadequacy. You may have experienced exhausting emotional lows from consuming the negative news coming from different social media. Anchor in your faith to find peace.
It’s humbling to see some F & B Businesses giving to the community, despite an 80% drop in revenue. It is their steadfast faith that keeps them going and blessing others in need. Being able to pay it forward and bless others is food for the soul. “We’re believing that God will make a way when there seems to be no other way.” Timothy Wong, Co-owner of The Bookcase Café
When you walk in faith, God opens door, in HIS own time.
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
If there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it is that I have developed a new relationship with Time & Space when I focus on these 5 actions.
I could achieve more in 24 hours. My space is not limited to the size of my apartment. To stay fit, I jog around my estate as gyms are closed. I discovered new jogging routes and buildings which I never knew existed because I was always in a hurry to go to work and back home.
This medically induced crisis will come to pass. New opportunities will emerge. To be ready to seize these opportunities – make sure you are
(1) Financially Prepared (2) Physically Energised (3) Emotionally & Socially Engaged (4) Mentally Focused (5) Spiritually Vested
We are made to outlast adversity.