Breathing through COVID-19: First-hand account in protecting one’s health, finances

It was April 8, 2020 at our home. It started with a severe headache. Then the sore throat came. Then I noticed I was unusually out of breath. In fact, if I walked up several stairs, very slowly, I had to sit in a chair to recover. Then my right lung had a pain that was nearly unbearable, which was followed by a fever. My G.I. system was completely off, and I now had a constant dry cough.

Why am I telling you this in what is supposed to be a practice management, financial column in a medical journal?

Please hold on for a minute, and you will see the amazing correlation between my frightening experience and your finances.

I’m over 70, and 12 years ago underwent open-heart surgery. These two factors put me in a high-risk category for not surviving COVID-19. I had been self-quarantined, for two weeks, before these symptoms began, so I was surprised, to say the least, that I was experiencing what seemed like the exact symptoms that were being talked about on TV every day.

I kept waiting to feel better the next morning, then the next morning came, and I would feel worse. At night I would lie in bed and look out our bedroom window, over the water to the bridge about half a mile down river, and watch the flashing lights on the ambulances as they went back and forth to the hospitals around us.

We live in NJ and it is one of the hot spots of the world for the virus. I can’t say I was in any kind of terror, but my mind pictured me being dropped off by my wife at the tents that are set up outside our emergency rooms and being wheeled into the infected hospital by people whose expressions I would not be able to see because of their masks. I even imagined being on a ventilator and quickly erased that thought. It was two nights in a row that I awoke around 2 a.m. with severe pains in both lungs when attempting to breath, and waking my wife, Traudy, suggesting we should go to the hospital.

I had a virtual conference with my wonderful GP and he looked exhausted and emotionally spent. He said he was losing many patients and his trips to the nursing homes were scaring him. He was feeling frustrated and helpless.

I asked if I should be tested, and he said that even if I came up positive, until I displayed very serious symptoms, e.g., blue lips, being incoherent, that there was nothing he could do. He felt I didn’t have the virus because I was able to talk to him without coughing between every sentence. I found myself trying to lift his spirits, as I had never seen him look so grim before. Give that man an award for bravery, please!

I’m happy to tell you that several days ago I turned the corner. I am not all better, after being sick for three weeks. Still feel like a Mac truck ran over me. My lungs are still a little sore, and I am tired, but I can feel the daily improvement. The fever, sore throat, and headaches are gone. Breathing is getting better. I don’t know if I had the COVID-19 or not. But, in all my years, I’ve never experienced these symptoms before.

So, where is the correlation I referred to before between my experience with this and finance?

I will tell you. I have always prepared for a health crisis. I walk daily, I eat properly, I lift weights, and I even run. I take any supplements that I feel will improve my immune system. In fact, on a good day, my wife and I will walk over 20,000 steps. (I’ve averaged under 200 steps a day the last two weeks.) When I fell ill these few weeks ago, it would have been too late to prepare for it. If I had not been strong and healthy, I may have gone to the hospital not to return.

It is the same thing with your finances. At a time of crisis, it is already too late to prepare for it. This must be done ahead of time.

Before I suggest how you might do this, let me first give you a few strategies to consider for right now since we are still in the middle of this severe contraction.

  • You could consider looking at your traditional IRAs and think about converting to a ROTH IRA when; a) your income may be lower, b) the IRA isn’t as large now as it was before the downturn.

  • Look at your losses outside of your qualified plans and talk to a tax advisor about tax-harvesting. Moving from one investment to another for at least 31 days to avoid the “wash-sale” move, and remaining fully invested in case the markets move up quickly. These losses can be carried forward indefinitely into the future to put money in your pocket.

  • If you have excess cash, consider slowly entering further into the market again as there are many quality stocks on sale these days that most likely will rebound in the future. But, never be more invested in equities than your plan dictates. Remember, “all boats float lower in an outgoing tide.”

  • See if interest rates would be lower if you refinanced your mortgages.

  • Rebalance your portfolio to bring it back to where it should be. This means shifting some of the funds from your fixed income over to equities, e.g., an originally 60% equity/40% fixed income portfolio could now be 50% equity/50% fixed income.

Getting back to how you should plan before such a “black swan” event occurs. It’s actually simple. Know where you are financially, where you want to go, have a plan that has the highest probability of success with taking no more risk than necessary to achieve your financial goals, and monitor it.

Then, stick to your plan. I’ll be honest with you; our clients have not been calling us, although we have been calling to check up on them. They have confidence that if they just stay the course they will be okay.

This experience, as most unpleasant experiences have been, has been a great teacher for me. One lesson I was reminded of: don’t panic.

This is no different than with the stock market; you can be concerned, you can figure out strategies, but panic will generally guarantee the wrong move. I’ve seen it, and I know it exists. I have learned that being prepared, protecting myself physically by being as fit as I can be, acts as an insulator against the unknown.

It is the same with investing. Adding some protection to your portfolio, even if it means leaving a small percentage of profits on the table, is prudent.

Greed, as is fear, are two emotions that will sabotage your financial security. I learned that planning ahead is always smart.

Back in January we had already ordered and delivered to our home, masks, hand sanitizers, water, food, and ways to get food without having to leave our home. We shared our stash with our family. Same with financial planning. Plan ahead of time for the unknown. Don’t be afraid to add guarantees to your portfolio.

In closing, this experience reinforced just how much I love life and living it fully. This includes my family, clients, friends, our travel, and the freedoms I took for granted. I find myself emotional when I speak to my kids on Zoom, as the love I feel for them is almost uncontrollable.

I never thought I’d actually have appreciation for breathing, but even that is a gift these last few days. Please be safe out there.

We will all get through this in time, be back to where we were several months ago before all of this horror unfolded around the world, and will be much wiser for it. We will be stronger for it. We will have learned from it.

We will all be more appreciative of every person in our lives and for every moment when all is well.

“This too shall pass,” but what a gift in retrospect. What a gift going forward.

 

Disclosures:

John J., Traudy, and John S., and Grande, CFPs, are co-editors of the "Money Matters" column in Ophthalmology Times®. They are owners and principals of Grande Financial Services Inc., Oakhurst, NJ (www.grandefs.com). The Grandes advise doctors across the country on a diverse range of investment and financial matters. Readers may submit their financial questions to them at john.s.grande@grandefs.com or call 800/722-1258.

The views depicted in this material are for information purposes only and should not be considered specific advice or recommendations for any individual. All investing involves risk, including the potential for loss. Past performance is not indicative of future results. No investment strategy can ensure a profit or protect against loss in a declining market.

John J. Grande, Traudy F. Grande, and John S. Grande are Registered Representatives offering securities through Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, Member FINRA/SIPC. Advisory services offered through Summit Financial Group, Inc., a registered investment adviser. Summit and Cetera are related and are under separate ownership from any other named entity. Registered Branch: 257 Monmouth Rd, Oakhurst, NJ 07755. Phone: 732/531-4111; toll-free: 800/722-1258. Website: www.grandefs.com.