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Investing in uncertain times and navigating through fear

Man looking outside window during isolation or quarantine

When everything is not aweseome, we might feel like we need to do more and make changes. Your strategy for investing in uncertain times doesn't need to any different, but maybe your comfort with uncertainty does.

When you're capable of being completely shocked by new information every half hour, then you know things are changing. Should you be investing in uncertain times? Do you have bigger things to worry about, like holding a job or paying bills?

Quickly you can feel out of control, drowning in doubt and worrying about your future.

I'm writing this from my home that I've barely left over the last 2-3 weeks.

Not confined to self-isolation because of travel or anything like that, but voluntarily removed myself and family from the community to keep us and them safer.

With what we are facing in COVID-19, we equally have to manage the way we are trying to prevent it.

Businesses are closing and not generating incomes which means staff are being let go at the worst possible time for them.

People are panic buying even with little risk to supply chains or essential items.

What do you do when things change suddenly?

For me and my family, we've gone from cruise control to slamming on the brakes.

So many changes are happening and so quickly.

  • Shopping for groceries is a challenge
  • The office has closed and I now work from home full time
  • Kids activities are being cancelled or done online
  • Streets are quiet
  • Friends and family feel further away than ever before

It's a bizarre set of events. 

We also have no idea whats going to happen next, and when. When will reality return. A week, a month, a year? Who knows.

What we should be thinking about is how best to prepare for tougher times.

It's easy to forget the bad times when there a so many good times. 

The GFC was 11/12 years ago and since then everything has been peachy. Stock markets sky rockets, interest rates dropped, technology advanced.

Life's was good. 

But now it's 2020. Bushfires and viruses plague our country. We can't catch a break.

So with all that going on, the last thing we want to have to worry and stress about is something like money.


How I plan to beat economic uncertainty

Here is a list of things I'm doing and think you could do with your money situation at the moment.

1. Maximise the emergency fund to a year of expenses

Right now is the time when you need emergency cash at the ready.

An emergency fund is a layer of protection to help you through tough times like if you lose a job, need to pay for health procedures or help a family member. 

Most guides or posts about emergency funds suggest finding 3-6 months of living expenses for an emergency.

That's great when things are good, but now it's possible to see things get dire (both health wise and economy wise) I'm thinking we need a bigger buffer.

That's right, I'm aiming to save enough cash to cover a year's worth of basic expenses.

Basic expenses are those that are necessary to get by. Not my current lifestyle, but things in these categories. 

  • Food – groceries
  • Shelter – rent or mortgage
  • Utilities – electricity, gas, etc
  • Transportation – Car, petrol, maintenance, etc
  • Protection – insurances

If they don't fit into these categories they are not taken into account. For a try emergency, everything else gets scratched. That's things like savings for holidays, nights out, subscriptions, activities etc.

In terms of how or what you use, it's up to you. The important thing is that the money is available in a day or two and is in something with tiny risk of losing value. 

I have a mix of a few accounts that make up my emergency fund.

  • offset
  • bonds
  • online savings.

I also have a reasonable limit on my credit card which is not the best idea to use, but if you need to buy time (like the 50 days interest free) then it is a last resort.

2. Avoid significant lifestyle changes and non-essential purchases

You might struggle to do this anyway in lockdown, but it'd be best to avoid dropping big money on things that are not imperative to your situation.

I'm thinking things like

  • buying a new car
  • moving house
  • booking holiday
  • setting a wedding date 

Put things like these on hold for the moment until you have the clarity and freedom to do it easily. 

3. Confirm short to medium term employment and opportunities

Global recessions cause shock-waves through businesses and the end result is that unemployment rises.

In this situation its industries like tourism, hospitality, events and recreation that seem to take the hardest hit.

Not that these are the only industries affected. Every business will put the microscope on their business.

Even though things are working out as they have been for a while, it's never entirely predictable with work.

What you can do is be prepared to stop, pivot and pursue new opportunities so you need not go through this process when you need to and emotions might get in the way.

Spend some time

  • refreshing your resume, CV or portfolio
  • finishing that training or course that'll get you a new role
  • touching base with some old colleagues to network
  • knowing about Government options for those unemployed

Try and get on the front foot because if the time comes and you use that emergency fund you need to replenish it and you want to try best to avoid unemployment.

4. Keep investing. 

If you emergency fund is in check and your confident in the stability of your job, then things should be much simpler.

I'd suggest regular investing in the most simple manner possible to create some future wealth.

You by no means need to, if you feel more comfortable holding cash then that is great.

But during downturns there are normally some opportunities to invest into either property or the stock market at a good price.

Don't over complicate things for yourself. Invest in what you have previously or a market index fund (the broader the better for these times).

You don't need to reset your strategy because the economy has changed and your goals shouldn't have deviated anyway (unless this event that opened your eyes in a new way).

I want to keep things as normal as possible without turning my overreaction into panic.


How I'll beat self isolation

While I have a mini financial plan through the uncertain times, I also have some way's I'm going manage a difficult and unusual time with my family.

1. Riding it out without guilt

I've seen a few emails and posts about how everyone is aspiring to get better at something and maximise their time at home.

That's great. I love learning and getting better.

For me though – I'm using it as a reason to do less.

I will try to maintain my exercise routine, but if I want to play Xbox for 5 hours straight I will (although unlikely with kids in the house).

If I watch the news and feel like the world is ending, I'm definitely going to grab a beer or dessert so I can feel at least 1% better in the moment.

I will not feel guilty coming out of quarantine without having completed an MBA online.

Me during quarantine and isolation

2. Reaching out with enthusiasm

I see our best way to get better in our own homes is using technology to reach out and get in touch.

I've started calling people out of the blue just to say hi. Have done Zoom calls to colleagues and others who can see another face and try to make a difference in others days.

Friends and family are still withing reach so this can be a great time to be better at our relationships.

3. Read something else

The simplicity of the internet means everything is accessible all the time.

That's ok when the news is good but when it's bad its hard to avoid.

So much sensationalism sucks us in, but I'm aiming to be better and read something that can distract me from reality.

Rather than investing groups and current news I want to read fiction and short stories to get me through the days.

Me wondering whether to check my portfolio each day

So there is my plan to get through uncertainty. I will back it, keep positive and try to help out others where I can.

Even when you feel like nothing is within your control, you can make something work for you so you can improve your mental health and avoid worry.

Start with one step above and see if that can make a positive difference. I know we'll learn a lot from a challenging time and hope we can all come out stronger and more resilient.

I hope you are staying safe, keeping distance and at home to ride this year through.

Tim Ellis

Tim is the founder of DadInvestor where he helps people take their next steps in personal finance and investing. He provides in-depth guides, online courses, tools and personal coaching.