Trail Financial Planning, LLC is a fee-only financial planning and investment management firm located in Bellingham, WA

Spending in a Time of Covid-19.

Spending in a Time of Covid-19.

There are days when the Sun rises, but my spirit can’t seem to get out of bed.  Two days ago, I woke at my normal early hour, took our dog Josie for a wander, then returned home to find that the coffee jar was empty.  I had already woken with a glum taste in my mouth; a lack of coffee did not help.  My spirit felt as though I was wearing a damp T-shirt.  I was uncomfortable.  I felt weighed down.  I was sad. 

This blog is about finances.  Talking about sadness may seem a stretch.  But, I notice that my financial behaviors are often tied to my emotional state.  When I am feeling flush in spirit, I notice that I spend my money less wisely: a new bike, expensive coffees, or materials for a soon-to-be-abandoned house project.  When I am feeling sad, I notice that I spend my time less wisely: I don’t ride my new bike, I walk to buy expensive coffees, I putter instead of progressing on the house project. 

I don’t like feeling sad, and I don’t like mornings without coffee.  As a problem solver, when I experience a problem, my natural inclination is to fix it.  No coffee?  No problem.  I would go to the grocery store.  But shopping, in today’s world of shutdowns and social distancing, is not as simple a task as it used to be.  Shopping is a necessary activity but forces us to confront the many unknowns that currently exist.  Will I be forced into a stranger’s 6-foot bubble?  Is the virus lingering on surfaces?  Am I a silent carrier of the virus?  Could I be inadvertently spreading it?  Do other shoppers have similar considerations for social distancing guidelines as I do?  Will I be shamed/scorned/judged for my choice to follow the rules?  It is these sorts of questions, along with stories about people who have to face much more existential questions like, will I be safe if I go for a jog? that is the basis for my damp mood of late. 

So, two days ago, I went to our local Bellingham Co-op grocery store to buy some more coffee.  The Bellingham Co-op is, in my opinion, doing a very good job mitigating the risks of shopping.  I appreciate their efforts, not only to allay my concerns, but to make the grocery shopping experience as comfortable, and safe, as possible for our entire community.  Each of us has a different tolerance for taking risks.  Thank you Co-op workers!  

Not only was I feeling down, but I was also was in a rush.  I was trying to squeeze a brief shopping trip into my morning routine before work.  Outside the store, I put on my face mask.  I grabbed a basket, and I scurried inside.    I sped into the coffee aisle, which was initially empty of shoppers.  While some stores have just shut down the grind-your-own-coffee section, the Co-op has kept the bulk foods section (including bulk coffee) open, while taking steps to reduce the risk of transmission of Covid-19.  I filled a bag with the glistening, dark beans.  Ahhh, a satisfying sound.  I poured the beans into the grinder, and spun the setting to fine.  I pressed the on switch.  My nose was filled with the rich smell of freshly-roasted beans.  Mmmm, aromas of happiness.

Then I started to wonder about all of the surfaces I had just touched, and how many other people had touched those knobs.  The unknown crept in.  By this time, a few other shoppers were now in the bulk aisle, though far from me.  I noticed that they were all wearing disposable gloves.  I was not.  I remembered that one of the risk mitigation steps the Co-op was taking was a request for all shoppers to put on disposable gloves when shopping in the bulk foods aisle.  Creating excess waste is a very non-John thing to do, and in my haste, I had totally bypassed the gloves step.  I caught the eyes of another shopper staring at me.  It was difficult to read her expression from the mask.  Was she looking at me with fear?  scorn?  or maybe just marveling at my poor sense of fashion?

I quickly finished my tasks and went to the check-out.  I pulled out a personal bag to carry my purchased items.  The cashier kindly stopped me, and asked that I do that outside.  “We are asking that you don’t use your own bags inside the store.  Sorry.”  He was very sweet, but also insistent.  I appreciated his tenor, and I like to respect the reasonable requests of a host.  I readily complied. 

Outside the store, in the Sun, I shifted items from my basket into my bag.  I reflected upon my experience.  I was sheepish, which only exacerbated my feeling of sadness.  I had been in a rush.  Both my spirit and my state-of-mind had prompted me to act in a way more convenient to me (more efficient), and less considerate of others.  I didn’t pause to read the well-signed requests, I didn’t fully follow the reasonable guidelines that the provider of my food was asking of me.  In the big picture, my inattention and less than full guideline-abiding actions were probably not a big deal.  As I read it, the current thought about the risk of transmission through surface contact is quite low (link to May 28 2020 article from the NY Times).  But, none-the-less, I value living in a world where I care for the well-being of others.  I did not like noticing myself doing things that could make a fellow human feel less safe as she went about collecting food for her family.  

I became reflective, and wondered about my sad mood.  Was I dealing with it?  Was I just stuffing it deeper down?  As a problem solver, I like to fix problems.  You can’t fix a sad spirit by buying a new sack of happy spirit from the bulk foods aisle.  Emotions aren’t easily fixed.  My wife, who is much smarter about emotional matters than me, might suggest that emotions don’t need to be fixed.  Or at least fixed in the normal, use-a-wrench-to-tighten-a-bolt kind of way I approach many problems.  

Emotions need to be given the light of day.  They need to be given a voice.  They need to be allowed to live.  Appropriately, of course.  Hence, this blog post!  I realize that I haven’t been in the mood to write lately even though there are innumerable financial matters to write on.  I’ll get back to those.  Today, though, I need to allow my sadness to have a voice.

As I left the Co-op, I noticed that someone had put informative stickers onto the sidewalk in order to prop our spirits:


Those made me laugh.

Then, later that day, as I was squandering some time on my Facebook feed, this video, called “Muna’s Diary,” showed a brief bit of life of a girl in a refugee camp in Yemen:

When I watched this, I wept.  Tears are a voice for sadness.  Tears are a way to dry out the dampened spirit. 

Thanks for reading. 

Keep safe.  Care for others.  Practice joy.

John Chesbrough

I am a financial planner and investment manager. I also am the owner of a fee-only, independent financial advisory firm called Trail Financial Planning. I enjoy working with people who care for others and their community – parents, firefighters, therapists, doctors, nurses, and teachers. I may be spotted at through my blog or on the many winding trails of Whatcom County. To learn more, or contact me directly, please visit my firm's website: