Get organised and use technology to your advantage. Picture: 123RF/DIMABERKUT
Get organised and use technology to your advantage. Picture: 123RF/DIMABERKUT

I recently had a conversation with a friend and client living in a retirement village. As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc, she is terrified of Covid-19 — not only for her own health but also not to inadvertently infect the people around her. As a result, she spends almost all her time confined to her small apartment.

She was struggling with retirement before lockdown started because she felt disconnected from society and that she lacked a purpose. The pandemic has exacerbated these feelings and given her too much free time to worry about the virus, the markets and other factors outside her control.

I suggested the following five ideas to make her “new normal” a bit more tolerable.

Make a daily schedule  

Planning your day is one of the best ways to deal with an uncertain environment. It forces you to focus on the issues that you can actually control, which significantly reduces stress.  

As part of her schedule, I advised my client to allocate at least one hour of her day to admin. Usually, this involves checking e-mails and paying bills, but you could also use the time to fine-tune your budget, tidy your filing cabinet, or make sure that all your fiduciary documents — including your will and power of attorney — are up to date and accessible to family and executors.

Plan for the future

We are so consumed with the present-day upheaval that we tend to forget that everything will calm down eventually. Lockdown is a great time to work on your bucket list: think about the things that are really important and dream about things that you still want to do.

You could also research and plan for something exciting, like a family holiday when lockdown is eased to the appropriate level. Doing this is one of the best distractions, and it will help you stay positive.

Use technology to your advantage 

It’s so easy to become glued to your cellphone or computer screen, exposing yourself to increasingly terrifying — and often fake — news. Rather use technology to your advantage, instead of being fodder for media businesses that need to create hype to survive.

Use services such as Apple FaceTime, Zoom and Skype for regular “fam jams”: online dinner parties, watching movies and listening to music together, or reading to your grandchildren.

Collaboration software also allows you to continue meeting your financial adviser. There’s no need to postpone your annual review — do it now. Use the time to adjust your portfolio to make sure there’s sufficient diversification to protect against future market shocks.

Learn only from the best

Taking a break from scrolling through a panicked news feed doesn’t mean you should be an ostrich and bury your head in the sand. It’s still important to stay informed, but rather seek out commentary by constructive thought leaders.

Many libraries, magazines, museums and news organisations have also lifted their digital paywalls, so now is a great time to dig deeper into a topic or a hobby that interests you. Artists are offering free online instruction in painting and drawing; musicians are performing online concerts; and famous chefs are offering cooking classes.

Be kind

There is tremendous power — and healing — in the act of giving. Now, more so than ever, we need to give more if we’re in a position to do so. This might be as simple as continuing to pay your domestic staff even though they’re not currently working, or donating to a charity such as FoodFowardSA, which recovers quality surplus food from the consumer supply chain and distributes it to organisations that serve the poor.  

If you have created generational wealth, use your donations allowance of R100,000 a person to give to your heirs now, so that you can share their gratitude. If you don’t want to hand over cash, you can write a promissory note to the value of the donation, which will effectively reduce estate duty on your passing.

At the end of the day, as my client is discovering, life in retirement is not always a blissful stroll next to a lake, as the marketing material suggests. But she is already in a better position than some of her peers because she reached out to a qualified financial planner to help her streamline her finances and make her savings last.

Do the same: implement some of the ideas mentioned above, and you’ll soon find yourself in a much happier space.

Swart is director of Autus Private Clients and is the Financial Planner of the Year 2019.

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