When life hands you lemons

A contributed perspective by Stephan J. Hess, CFP

Editor’s Note: This is another installment of a monthly series of contributed pieces addressing financial matters.

“Maybe happiness doesn’t come from a store. Maybe happiness, perhaps, means a little bit more”. No, those aren’t the exact words from Dr. Seuss’ book, The Grinch, but the general lesson from these words is still the same. When faced with an incomprehensible loss, the citizens of Whoville are forced to accept a change to their consumption centered Christmas celebration. Perspectives ultimately change for everyone, even for the Grinch.

The coronavirus is currently leaving a trail of economic destruction and health concerns in all communities. We too must accept a profound and totally unexpected change in how we live right now. This event, however, has given many of us a chance to experience an alternative relationship with our time and money, and maybe that’s a good thing. Of course, none of us wants to see this last very long. We all want to see our local economy rebound and get back to our normal routines. We want kids to go back to school and we want our favorite businesses to thrive. The experts are confident that this will eventually happen, but we just don’t know when.

In the meantime, it seems like the world has slowed down a bit, doesn’t it? We don’t have to be at three places at once. Suddenly we see neighbors and kids everywhere, casually walking through neighborhoods and playing outside. From an appropriate distance they smile, eagerly wave, and intentionally make eye contact. We are the “Friendly City” after all, but normally when you’ve got to get to work, get to the store, pick up the kids, drop off the kids, sometimes all you can manage is half a smile and a partial wave from the hand that’s holding your phone or beverage. It’s been a nice change in an odd sort of way.

Spending habits are changing too. Many of us are spending a lot less money now with everything being closed. Personal consumption of goods and services makes up more than two-thirds of our nation’s Gross Domestic Production, or GDP, which means it is important. It’s also an extremely important component of the local economic engine that benefits us all. Based on the current average household debt, we Americans are apparently pretty good at spending too. Unchecked, however, it leads to financial insecurity, poor decisions, and a whole lot of stress. Consumption is great, but finding the right balance is critical.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t give ourselves permission often enough to take needed breaks. It also doesn’t help that self-care is not as much of a priority in our culture as it probably should be. In contrast, most European countries provide six weeks of vacation and many other popular personal care benefits.  Kelly Snow, the director of development at the Harrisonburg Explore More Children’s Museum, recently gave a powerful presentation at JMU that everyone should hear. She talked about the importance of play in the lives of adults. This often gets cut from our busy schedules, and it turns out that play is just as important for adults as for children. Playing nourishes us in many ways and provides needed balance.

We’ve all heard the saying that, “The best things in life are free”, or “mostly free”. When was the last time you drove up to the top of Reddish Knob and watched the sun set over the West Virginia mountains? You will not be disappointed. When was the last time you camped or hiked? Many people are taking this time to camp in the George Washington National Forest or take family hikes up to High Knob. Springtime is amazing in the Shenandoah Valley and there are so many outdoor activities worth experiencing. People are also using this time to get reacquainted with old hobbies and interests. All of this is great but please be sure to share pictures of what you are doing on social media for the rest of us to see. It’s OK that you stink at playing guitar. We want to see that. It’s OK to be silly with your kids. We want to see that too. Right now, we all need a little fun.

This could be a chance to reset your life both financially and mentally. People always say that financial security and personal time with family are top priorities in their lives but maxed out credit cards and packed personal calendars tell a very different story. Consider aligning your actions with your priorities and see what happens. Strengthen your financial foundation with more thoughtful consumption and make time for play. It is no coincidence that people who do this have far less anxiety and drama in their lives. And when this is all over, fellow citizens, try to make it stick. Life happens. Be ready!

While this article discusses certain beneficial aspects of this extremely disruptive health and economic event, let us not forget that there are many in our community who will not have these experiences at all. For many, the financial or health related hardships could mean something very different. Please consider supporting your neighbors in any way that you can.

Stephan J. Hess, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER Professional and is the owner of Hess Financial in Harrisonburg. Neither he nor his company has any financial relationship with The Citizen or its publishers.

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