Thursday, September 9, 2021

The Great Re-Evaluation of 2021

We are now 18 months (March 2020- September 2021) into the pandemic. Worse yet, there is STILL no end in sight. Instead of “getting back to some semblance of normal,” we’re hearing a lot about increasing COVID-19 cases, breakthrough infections, booster shots, mask mandates, vaccine hesitancy, and events that are being cancelled (e.g., the 2021 Financial Planning Association conference).

On September 30, I will be doing a free, one-hour webinar for the New Jersey Coalition for Financial Education (NJCFE) about COVID-19 and Your Finances. This webinar will provide an overview of dozens of pandemic-related impacts on American families and action steps that people can take to stabilize or improve their finances.

Topics to be covered in the webinar include inflation, budgeting, taxes, investments, and charitable gifting. Another topic that I will be discussing is “The Great Re-evaluation,” the pandemic-inspired mindset shift that many people have had in the way they view their lifestyle, jobs, relationships, residence location, and more.

COVID-19 prompted a fundamental reset in the lives of many Americans who were freed from pre-pandemic routines, had more time for self-reflection about their dreams and feelings, and began to envision a different future. 

Has it changed your thinking, spending, habits, and plans? 

Below are five key aspects of life that many people have been re-evaluating:

Employment- The “Great Resignation” is underway as people are quitting jobs at a much higher-than-normal rate. In April 2021 alone, 4 million workers walked away from jobs and polls show many more are planning to change employers, and even industries, after 18 months of living a new lifestyle and acquiring new contacts and skills. Many are seeking higher pay, better benefits, shorter commutes, remote work options, flexible work hours, and better overall work-life balance. I can personally name at least a dozen colleagues who recently left long-time employers to pursue new career paths.

Retirement- COVID-19 has cut both ways. For some workers, it crystalized their mortality and the number of “good years” or even “summers” they have left, so they exited the workforce sooner than planned to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle. Some retired due to concerns about personal safety. Others realized they want to work longer, especially if their job now provides the ability to work from home and flexibility in work hours and location. Unfortunately, as the Center for Retirement Research noted, not everyone can delay their retirement. Black workers and those with less education are less likely to do so.

Health Impacts- From sports stars and Olympians to ordinary people, we are seeing increased attention paid to mental health and overall wellness during a time of stress and uncertainty. This includes a desire for increased life balance and fewer stressful, hard-charging, work days. People are now viewing commuting time, work-related travel, and 60+-hour work weeks through a different “lens” and many do not want to resume this lifestyle. Financial planning industry thought leader Michael Kitces recently wrote about “subtraction” strategies that people can use to simplify stressful lives.

Relationships- Again, COVID-19 has cut both ways. Some people experienced “too much togetherness” during COVID-19 lockdowns and ended less-than-solid relationships. Others reported a new-found closeness with their family and friends that they want to continue going forward. COVID-19 undoubtedly informed numerous decisions about marriages, divorces, and parenthood. Differing viewpoints about mask-wearing, vaccination, and indoor gatherings have also affected relationships.

Spending- More mixed impacts from COVID-19. For some people, COVID-19 inspired a YOLO (you only live once) FOMO (fear of missing out) mentality because it showed that the future is unpredictable and not a given. This may have led to “let’s do (or buy) things while we can” over-spending. Others with lower expenses  (e.g., commuting and child care) as a result of COVID-19 may now have adequate emergency reserves and a thoroughly ingrained savings habit.

Finally, a sobering note of caution. Some people, especially those living on the “financial edge,” have not had the ability to “re-evaluate” their lives. Out of financial necessity, they continue to work, often in public-facing jobs with high COVID-19 transmission potential, or they stay in unsatisfactory, sometimes even abusive, relationships. Some are now facing eviction.

Bottom Line: The ability to “re-evaluate” your job and your lifestyle is a privilege that is not realistically available to everyone. If you have the opportunity to do a post-COVID re-evaluation and re-set of your life, make the most of it!

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