In 2009, when I went on book tour during the depths of the great recession, local producers asked me what I planned to talk about on air. When I told them “how to invest for growth,” they looked at me like I was a martian.
“Invest? We have 10% unemployment.”
They were right – people were out of jobs, losing their homes, and for many, the first question on their minds was “How do I save money?”
But there was also a small group of people who had stable jobs, savings, and were eager to invest in themselves, their career, and in the stock market. The usual money advice didn’t apply to them.
The situation repeats itself today: A Morning Consult poll shows that 90% of Americans said they are ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned about the impact of coronavirus on the economy. For people struggling with their finances, I’ve created a series of step-by-step videos for what to do with your money, how to negotiate with your credit card and student loan companies, and how to build savings right now. But what about high earners?
They require different advice. Since they’ve already covered the basics, what should they do with their money?
Start by helping loved ones
I’ve spoken to several wealthy people who asked about helping family. One told me “The first thing I did was Venmo my brother.” But I received even more questions about how to have a conversation around money.
As one high earner put it, “How do I ask if they need help without being condescending?” My advice: This is a conversation worth having, but approach it delicately. People will rarely tell you about their money problems. So call and start with general questions — ask how they’re doing. Ask what they did yesterday. Be the first to be vulnerable – tell them what’s making younervous and see if they reciprocate. Send a small gift and use it as an opportunity to open the conversation about other ways you can help.
Write a large check to people who need it
First, I’m advising high earners to write a check to any loved ones who need it. In ordinary times, a gift is appreciated – but now, it can be the difference between life or death. Any giving will be amplified.
If you work with people whose services you can’t currently use, write a check anyway. If you shop at a local business, pre-purchase the services for later. For high earners, $1,000 means little to you – but can mean everything to someone else.
This is a tough conversation to have, but I encourage you to check in with them. Don’t insist, just listen. They might be too proud to ask for help. But probe delicately. Open up and talk about what makes you nervous and ask them the same.
Help Out Your Teams
If you’re a manager or entrepreneur whose business has been impacted by COVID-19, you have the opportunity to help your teams. My readers have told me about struggling with childcare, scheduling, and working from home for the first time. Consider asking your teams how they’re feeling on a scale of 1-10. When I did this immediately following Covid-19, the numbers averaged 6 – a full two points below normal. That’s a sign people are anxious.
As a leader, acknowledge the situation. If you see anyone with less than a 5, reach out or have a manager reach out. And remember to reach out to offer assistance: Can you offer to shift their hours or offer flex time to solve for their child care? Can you give them half time and pay them full time? Provide a stipend for a separate technology setup? Do your best to understand what they’re dealing with and think about small ways that you might be able to provide relief.
If you have capital to invest, continue with your investment plan. It’s funny that we’re happy when the price of eggs drops, but we get scared when the stock market goes down. Savvy, long-term investors continue investing, automatically, whether the market is up or down. Over the long term, data shows this style of passive investing dramatically outperforms trying to “time the market.”
For example, Putnam Investments studied the performance of the S&P 500 over 15 years, during which time the annualized return was 7.7 percent. During that period, if you missed the ten best days of investing (the days where the stock market gained the most points), your return would have dropped from 7.7 percent to 2.96 percent. And if you missed the thirty best days, your returns would have dropped to minus 2.47 percent – negative returns! In other words, continue to invest and don’t panic. Put money into low-cost diversified funds and focus on time in the market, not timing in the market.
If you are someone who is in the position to spend, invest or donate now, it’s time to do it and do it wisely.