Ideas from OUR Community

by Michael Branham, CFP®

Recently we sent a quick poll to ensure we are up to date – and up to the minute – on what’s on your mind. Some of the most valuable pieces of information were the things clients had to share about what they were doing to help themselves, their families and our community as we cope with the pandemic. This list was co-created by our client community, demonstrating that we’re stronger together:

Exercise and long walks: Getting outside and staying active is a common theme we’re hearing from clients, and many of you are walking with friends using safe physical distancing practices. A morning/mid-day walk, coupled with an evening walk to unwind, is a great method of shutting out the noise and giving your mind a break. And those of you with pets are loving this!

Meeting “walk and talks”: We’re hearing about “walk and talks” now that virtual meetings are the norm. If you have a one-on-one with coworkers, or are in “listen-only” mode for some meetings, combining walking and work can be an effective way to reduce feeling “cooped-up”. 

Patience and meditation: Many of you are focused on staying patient, and some are introducing short home meditation sessions to your daily routine in quarantine.  

Staying in contact with family and friends: Staying connected with the important people in your life is critical right now. Calling family and friends daily is a common practice for many clients. My wife and I order take-out about once per week and deliver to our two children that live outside of our home. You are also reporting neighborhood (socially distanced) greetings to maintain a connection with those around us. The use of Zoom, House Party, Skype and Facetime have all facilitated keeping in touch. 

Virtual Happy Hours: What at first seemed awkward has become a popular practice during Covid-19. I’ve heard more than one client suggest they’ve been in better contact than ever before with friends they rarely see through the use of group virtual happy hours. We do one weekly at The Planning Center, and I also have ongoing meet-ups (virtually) with colleagues and friends. 

Family Financial and Budget Meetings: Some of you are on furlough, or permanently laid-off. Others simply want to make sure you have a good handle on the monthly budget during uncertain times. A monthly (individual, spousal or family) review of the inflow and outflow of valuable resources can be helpful. We have a tool that can facilitate ongoing cash flow conversation (First Step Cash Management), so if you’re not already using the tool, and would like to be introduced, please let me know!

Buy local and take-out nights: Anecdotally it seems now, more than ever, we’re invested in the health and viability of our communities and local businesses. Clients have shared that they are focusing their spending at local business, when possible. Supporting local shops (restaurants, dry goods/tea/coffee, butcher shops, provision shops, etc.) is a great way to get what you need during these uncertain times while helping to ensure the survival of critical businesses in our local towns and states. Online ordering, delivery, and take-out are becoming standard, and I know of many who are placing orders at local restaurants to be delivered to workers on the front lines!

Online education or personal reading: We tend to find ourselves with more time to fill in an average day, and it’s a good opportunity to learn new ideas and skills. Our clients are diving into this trend head-first. Whether it’s an online cooking class, a topic of interest from a local college/university, or going back for additional formal education, the online learning opportunities are plentiful today. This is also a great way to support institutions that are facing daunting challenges with reduced enrollment and diminishing support from state governments. And for those professionals that need continuing education, now is the time to stock-up given the uncertain state of in-person educational conferences for the foreseeable future. There are also, of course, our personal reading lists that are often neglected!

ENO-ing: This one is a bit more fun, and if you don’t have an ENO (or another easy access hammock) this may be a great summer to get one. Easy to put up and take down, hammocks are becoming a lifestyle in many places. Whether you hang it between trees in your backyard, go to a local park and find a quiet place, or get more remote for a day-cation, a hammock is a great way to get outside, catch up on reading, or take a nap. My 18-year old son will often leave the house to go “Eno-ing” to break the monotony of quarantine. If you do order one, don’t forget to buy the straps, which usually sell separately. 

Volunteering and giving: We are all giving what we can in some shape or form. Supporting local businesses, volunteering time at food banks, and sewing and donating masks are among the more popular activities. Personal safety is the top priority, but there are ways for us to help those that may be less fortunate, no matter the circumstances. This is also a great way to find some sanity, and promote personal emotional health, in trying times. For those who would otherwise be subject to RMD requirements, you still use Qualified Charitable Distributions to give in 2020. Other unique tax rules created in the CARES Act apply this year to those who have the means to donate. 

Sending post-cards to those in need: When I read this one, it seemed so easy that I wish I had been doing this already. Sending notes and postcards to seniors in nursing homes, high school and college seniors, workers on the front lines, and others who may be in need is a great way to support those who have had their lives significantly interrupted while we battle Covid-19. 

Catch-up on projects (and paring down): We all have project lists for our homes, some of which may include “paring down”. Now is a great time to set some time aside for these pursuits. Whether it’s as simple as making sure the garbage can is “full” each week, getting a small dumpster or “bagster” (a Waste Management product), or tackling some larger home projects, staying busy and active is worthwhile and productive. And now more than ever we have a sense of what’s really necessary for our lives. 

Journaling and lists: Sometime in the future we’re going to be “remembering the 2020 quarantine”. This may be the first time this has happened in the US, but it’s likely not the last. Keeping a daily journal to record thoughts, emotions, and tactics could be helpful down the road and is a good way to release tension and anxiety today. And it will serve as a record for what we are all experiencing right now. The most helpful journaling tip I received was from a client who said they take time daily to record what brought them joy and happiness that day, which is also a good mental health exercise. 

Sleep and maintaining health: Clients and health experts alike have talked about the importance of maintaining a healthy diet and getting sufficient sleep in times of unrest. Sometimes easier said than done, making this a personal focus can help us deal with the day-to-day slog that is “shelter at home”. I’ve found myself eating a diet filled with “comfort food”, eating bread my wife is baking, and not always maintaining a balanced diet right now. I suspect I’m not alone. And working on a daily routine that ensures proper nightly sleep needs to be a higher priority, too!

“Office Hours”: This idea came from our CEO, who is in charge of the distance learning structure for his own kids. To balance the day between work and availability for education he’s setting “office hours”, and his kids are able to plan their workflow around that availability. It adds structure for parents and children alike. 

Control your information intake and sources: It’s very easy to get caught up in “information overload” right now. Our state and federal governments are giving daily Covid-19 updates, the 24-hour news channels are “all Covid-19, all the time”, and our daily personal interactions are focused largely on pandemic discussions. We can all control the sources of information we choose to consume and can make a conscious effort to quiet the mind throughout the day and avoid the presumed overload. 

Being open, talking about fears: Physical health is the obvious concern for most these days, with significant efforts in place to avoid viral outbreaks while our public health systems gear up and testing is more widely introduced. There are those for whom mental health is a serious concern, and right now it’s more difficult than ever to seek assistance. Those with anxiety or depression, those who work on the front lines or whose daily work is directly related to the Covid-19 response, and those with friends and family in these positions all find themselves feeling helpless at some point. There is still a stigma surrounding mental health in our society, though it’s slowly diminishing. If you need assistance or are feeling overwhelmed, reach out to friends, family, or professional resources (telehealth is often available) to verbalize what you are experiencing. There are people out there with the desire and capacity to help! And, this recent interview with Dr. Wm. “Marty” Martin, TPC’s Psychologist is a great resource for understanding some of the mental and emotional challenges you might be facing

Review with TPC to update your plan: While we’re exclusively virtual at this time, The Planning Center is here for you! I’m still holding my normal reviews with clients throughout “shelter at home”, and am always available to hold one-off meetings to discuss concerns or opportunities related to recent market volatility, job changes, or just the desire to know “am I okay?”. We can walk through your plan, make the necessary adjustments based on the current circumstances, and review how, or if, we should make adjustments. Or even if you should consider a sustainability focus in investing. Having peace of mind concerning your financial stability can allow you to focus on other areas of concern, and help each of us get through this successfully. While we’re working for you behind the scenes, we understand that’s not always visible. I can’t answer questions left unasked, and I’d prefer to over-communicate with you right now than stay silent. Our website houses our blog and we have a page devoted to Covid updates and information as it relates to personal finance and markets. We are continually creating content, and linking what we think may be helpful on both of these pages. Additionally, if we’re not already scheduled to meet, you can find my calendar HERE

Michael Branham, CFP® is a Sr. Financial Planner in the Alaska office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm. Email him at