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Advice at the Water Cooler

Do you remember the days of being in the office? I know, it seems so long ago.

Nonetheless, when in the office with your colleagues is where the most potent “water cooler” talk is bred. Water cooler talk is the casual chit chat to pass the time of the work day, build professional relationships and get to know personalities. It’s when the human resources lady compliments you on your tie. It’s when the IT guy asks about your kids. It’s even when you come back from vacation and everyone wants the juicy details. These moments are jolly, harmless and generally pleasant. 

In my most recent trip to Liberia, I saw the same actions that are demonstrated at the water coolers across America at the water wells in the local villages. Boys would converse and flirt with girls. Older adults would talk about the happenings in the country, the economy and in politics. Still, generally harmless, jolly and pleasant. 

Until it wasn’t. 

While I was there, the country was undergoing a huge protest in the capitol city, Monrovia, because citizens were angry with the state of the union. To demonstrate this dissatisfaction, people traveled from far and wide to partake in this potentially violent act of freedom of speech. As my family talked about our evacuation plans, I sat in the yard and overheard many of the conversations at the well that we opened to the village for water. Instead of exchanging the usual pleasantries, the conversations were centered around the negative things in town and the forthcoming protest. This led to fear, and an hyper-scarcity mentally for a place that was already impoverished. 

Although most Americans are not physically going into the office, with the state of our country and our world, the virtual water cooler conversations are underlined with fear and pessimism about the path ahead. Financial media has amplified this uncertainty and the result for most is a growing urge to change the key activities of their financial plans. These actions lead to longer-term irreversible damage. 

Below are quick tips on keeping your composure during these trying times: 

  1. Review Your Plan: There’s no better way to trust in a plan than seeing how far the plan has gotten you. By reviewing your plan, you’ll be able to see exactly what activities have led to your growth. This comfort should only breed more commitment to your program. 
  1. Don’t Subscribe to Headlines: The financial media is supposed to cover the events in the market, and “predict” exactly what will happen next. Your job is to separate the news from the noise, and take disciplined action when opportunities present themselves. For the masses, the most prudent thing to do is to be patient. 
  1. Don’t Obsess over Statements: Unless you have zero funds invested, the market's volatility will be illustrated in your monthly or quarterly statements. Don’t obsess over what you see. As with all things, the market has cycles and this season has presented turbulence. If you can keep your head when all about you is losing theirs, it is likely that you’ll achieve premium returns in the long-run. 
  1. Adjust Where Absolutely Necessary: COVID19 has effected many businesses, which as a result, has impacted many households. If you have lost a job or have been furloughed, you should look at your budget and evaluate opportunities to save. The CARES Act also provides economic assistance for Americans in need. 
  1. Talk to Your Advisor: The thing about water cooler advice is that most of the people sharing the noise are not professionals, and usually can not give you an unbiased outlook of the state of the world. Additionally, they do not know what your goals are, and are unfamiliar with your financial circumstance. If the chatter has made you fearful, that should be your signal to speak with a professional. If you do not have an advisor, take it as a signal to begin the search. 

In the market, bad times don’t last forever but disciplined investors do. Take this time to figure out how you can tune out the noise and turn up the discipline that you will benefit from years from now.