The past few years saw many unprecedented events, including a sudden change of government and a total shift in how we work, live, and interact with each other. Some have helplessly seen their rice bowls snatched away, while others have suffered losses of loved ones to Covid-19.
Coupled with volatile stock markets, movement control orders, elections and re-elections, and working from home, it is safe to say that no one quite anticipated a year like this. While we are not sure when Covid-19 will be defeated, the one certainty is that if we are so wrapped up in our problems, we may be overlooking things in our life that we can control.
Here are three areas where you can take some purposeful steps to remind of who is ultimately in charge of your family’s “Return on Life”:
1. Your Mental Health
Diseases and health threats are nothing new, with people passing away daily even before Covid-19. The difference this time is it made us realise that none of us can control how long we have when it comes to life. In addition to very real health concerns this year, there has also been plenty of news of job cuts and losses, people going through financial struggles and more.
As we fight to keep hope, the news can be demoralising. With many spending more time on social media, it actually exposes us to news that may magnify our anxiety and bounces them back to us over and over again.
If you’re not working or checking on your friends, set some daily screen time limits. Unplugging before bed can be especially beneficial if your brain is still recovering from a full day of tweets and likes. Our electronic devices and apps are designed to attract our attention. When it’s time to sleep, there’s no better mute button than a good book and a warm cup of water.
It also helps a lot if we have someone to speak to regarding what’s bothering us. People tell me that it helped just knowing that there was someone on the other side listening to what they were sharing, as well as understanding the strong emotional undercurrent during the conversation. Having someone to talk to, I personally believe is very important to maintain balance in our mental wellbeing.
2. Your Physical Health
The pandemic and new norm has created a new breed of couch potatoes. Instead of binge-watching television or Netflix, we’re in danger of putting in unnecessary overtime, all the time. The boundary between your 9-5 identity and your real identity is becoming blurred, and it can be taxing for many people.
Working from home has disrupted many of the routines that kept us active even on days when we weren’t heading to the gym. Simple things like moving around the office or walking down to nearby shops for a coffee break don’t happen as much when you are parked at your laptop at home.
The physical barriers between home and work are a little blurry right now (bosses, this is real!) but you have more control over your schedule. Break up a long day of Zoom calls with ten minutes of simple exercise. When you clear your emails, take a long walk. And when it’s time to clock out for the day, turn off your computer, get up and get moving. Even if you have to convert your living room into a gym, just do it.
Separating yourself from your WFH routine will help you get the most out of your new exercise routine. For me, I make it a point to get down to the street and jog, even it means jogging in the basement carpark. I also took a deliberate approach on what I ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
3. Your Financial Health
People who have never set a monthly budget are often surprised by what an empowering experience it can be. The most impactful adjustment you can make to your financial plan is to limit unnecessary spending and maximise savings while continuing to invest prudently, regardless of what’s happening in the markets or on the news. Even if it feels like the one thing we don’t have control of, it could not be further from the truth.
However, investing can make people anxious during moments of uncertainty, especially if retirement is near, or if they are used to low-risk products like fixed deposits. This is one of the reasons why we revisit the “Life Timeline” exercise with clients at least once a year.
A financial plan is only as good as your confidence in it. Since most plans are based on assumptions and what was correct at the time of planning, most financial plans may become obsolete as we move into future; we just don’t know how it could go wrong. That is why, regular check-ins and reviews of our plans are crucial to ensure we are on the right track.
One thing that is certain is that if we take a proactive approach to look at our financial matters and have an idea on how we want things to be managed, that will give us an advantage of being in control over our financial decisions. We are also able to better deal with shocks and surprises.
The Things We Can Control
Now let’s take a look at some of the things that we can control:
- Setting aside money to prepare for future goals
- Using credit cards to pay (and having the ability to make full payment of the outstanding sum when due)
- Planning our income tax bill
- Preparing a medical safety net for our family
- Paying down our debts, especially bad debts
- Withdrawing money from our EPF account 1 if the need arise
- Finding out how we are doing with our money
Being in control of your financial health, enables more flexibility in terms of how to adapt when things go wrong, resulting in less stress and better mental wellbeing. Times like this offer the best opportunity to discuss how comfortable we are with market exposure, savings goals, debt, and spending.
The earlier we work to control these, the more we can feel excited about our plans and future.
About the Author
Kevin is a NextGen Money Mentor and founder of NextGen Independent Advisors. He works with people to transform their relationship with money and be brave in their pursuit to live a meaningful life with their money. He is a CFP professional, a certified member of Financial Planning Association Malaysia (FPAM). Kevin can be contacted at www.kevinneoh.my.