No electricity, no gas, no running water, no jobs, food shortages, school shutdowns and a war with our neighbors – that was the reality my native country of Armenia was facing in the early nineties. After the Soviet Union was gone, Armenia was plunged into a state of social and economic chaos. The jobs disappeared because the Soviet supply chain was shuttered; the gas was gone because the sole pipeline into the country was being blown up by the enemy; the food was always an issue and became much worse; and the classrooms were too cold to sit there let alone learn anything.
We lived in a five-story apartment building and coped as well as we could. Soon, we had a kerosene lamp in the kitchen, a wood-burning stove in the living room, ate gray, sticky pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner (I still can’t stand angel hair pasta because it reminds me of that mush) and focused just on staying alive. This went on for over five years until slowly but surely things improved. I’ll never forget that experience but I also know for a fact that the worst times don’t last forever.
In a time of crisis, our usual ways of making decisions do not apply, we cannot be guided by our experience, accurately evaluate the pros and cons, or envision the consequences. We know and hope that the times will improve but it is little consolation when we are facing a severe disruption to our way of life and our families’ security is in jeopardy in the short run.
What should we do now to weather the crisis and make sure we will be OK in the future?
Be kind and patient with yourself
We all have different personalities and emotional makeup and react to difficult situations in our own way. Even if we want to stay measured, calm and positive, our minds and bodies may do exactly the opposite. Many of us feel anxiety, fear and stress, especially if we are financially vulnerable. Some of us cope by being glued to the TV, while others shut-off every news source because it scares and overwhelms them. Do not suppress or hide from your emotions; accept them, feel them so that you can turn your thoughts to solving your challenges in a positive and optimistic way.
Reach out to people you care about and ask if they are OK
These aren’t normal times and everyone is suffering. Humans deal best with crises by coming together and taking comfort in each other’s stories. While physically apart, we can still connect. It will mean the world to someone to hear from you and be able to tell you how they feel. It will do you a ton of good as well to just listen to someone and comfort them.
Do more of what gives you joy
Focusing on an activity that you enjoy will take your mind off the crisis and help the hours go faster. For many of us a workout is an outlet and the closed gyms don’t help, but you can still do something to move around and relieve stress. If you wanted to pick up a new skill or hobby, this may not be a bad time to try!
What got me through months of darkness was studying hours upon hours of Spanish under candlelight, with a heavy blanket around my shoulders. I learned at that time that you can shield yourself from a lot of pain by focusing mentally on something you love.
Sit Down and Look at your Finances for the next 6-12 months
Do you have enough cash to live on and for how long if something were to happen to your job or business? This should be your first and foremost priority. If you know your budget, you know how much you need for a month and what that means for any number of months. If budgeting is not your thing, this is a good time to start. Knowing your numbers will give you a sense of control and put your mind at ease about your finances.
1. Use an app like www.everydollar.com
or just a spreadsheet to tally up your income and expenses and what’s left over.
2. Take stock of all your bills, payments, upcoming taxes, invoices, etc. Know what you owe and make a plan to cover your debts.
3. Reduce nonessential spending to a minimum to create some breathing room and conserve cash. We do not know at this point the full effect of the virus on the economy and how it will affect each of us. It’s especially important now to be smart with your money.
Do not make long-term financial decisions out of fear and in a state of panic
The markets have taken a huge chunk out of everyone’s portfolio and whether you have an advisor or manage your money yourself, you may be tempted to pull everything out and get back in when things calm down. Resist the urge and talk to a professional about your investments. We do not have a crystal ball or a magic pill, but we are obligated to act rationally on your behalf. If all we do is walk you off the edge of the cliff, it’s worth the time and the money. Get together again with your advisor in June and then again in September to make major changes to your strategy. By then, you’ll have more insight into the economy and the right moves to get you back on track. You will be OK if you follow good advice.
My most lasting memory from those years of hardship aren’t the shortages and the indignities we endured. What I remember the most is gathering around the wood stove with my cousins and listening to my Grandmother tell stories of her life – growing-up in a prosperous family before the communists came, having everything taken away from her, surviving a war and years of Soviet oppression and still loving life. She intuitively knew that she gave us hope and a feeling that despite everything that was happening around us, we would be OK.
America is in a much better state than Armenia ever was and will recover much sooner. Be there for yourself and those who love you and need you and together, we will get through this and be stronger than ever.