I’VE BEEN WORKING from home for nearly two months. Many friends and coworkers are tired of the lockdown. I seem to be an oddball: I feel happier and less stressed.
I’m not oblivious to the reality of today’s pandemic. As I write this, my uncle abroad is facing a hard time getting urgent medical care. Millions of others across the globe are also suffering.
Against such a gloomy backdrop, I feel almost guilty in seeing a positive side to the lockdown. Examples? For me, the biggest benefit has been the time and energy saved by not commuting. I also like being able to weave small personal chores in between office work. I can plan my hours better and get more done in a day.
I’ve also been better able to manage my health. My weight resembles the growth chart of an inflation-protected Treasury bond fund. Occasional short-term fluctuations in either direction are common, but things creep slowly upward over time. Stuck at home, I figured I could devote extra time to better eating and fitness habits.
Though I try to eat a balanced diet, with lots of vegetables, fruits and fish, I wasn’t consistent in my good eating habits. Now that there’s more time to prepare healthier and tastier meals, I have no excuses. I’ve been cooking every other day.
Meanwhile, there’s no morning rush to get ready to leave for work. When the weather gods smile, I start my day with a walk. There’s an abundance of blooming trees and songbirds in our area. My cousin, who lives next door, joins me in the evening, when I take a second walk to help me unwind. The good eating and the exercise seem to be working. I feel healthier and more energetic. I’ll miss that sense of wellbeing when things get back to normal.
Time at home has also given me more time for my portfolio. Early in the market decline, I did some spring cleaning, including buying a leveraged, closed-end real estate investment trust (REIT) fund. Anticipating the market might fall further, I also placed a low-ball limit order to buy its non-leveraged sibling. I didn’t expect the order to get filled quickly, but it was.
It turned out that equity REITs had a terrible week, collectively dropping more than 40% from their recent peak. On top of that, this particular closed-end fund saw a widening of its discount from net asset value, which is the value of the fund’s portfolio on a per-share basis. I got lucky that both happened simultaneously, pushing the market price below my limit price.
When the dust settled, I realized that a thorny and longstanding issue with my portfolio was gone. My income from dividends and fund distributions was low—a result of the prolonged period of low interest rates and high stock valuations. The recent purchases took care of that anemic income. Fingers crossed, the new estimated portfolio income will cover much of my ongoing discretionary expenses. To be sure, income from stock investments is never guaranteed. In difficult times, dividends may be reduced, suspended or stopped permanently.
My most prized gain in this lockdown period has been reconnecting with college buddies. The 10 of us lived in the same wing of a student hostel. Since then, we’ve each ended up in a different part of the globe. But we recently managed to regroup over the internet. The global stay-at-home mandate made it possible to find time for all of us to chat together.
In addition, I found more time for my passion for financial education. I volunteer with a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education. Its local chapter collaborated with the city library to host a series of free online educational talks during April, which is financial literacy month. I was tasked with giving two webinars about planning and financial independence. That means this time at home gave me the chance to do something I’d never done before: give a presentation to the general public.
A software engineer by profession, Sanjib Saha is transitioning to early retirement. His previous articles include Ready or Not, Spring Cleaning and Working the Plans. Self-taught in investments, Sanjib passed the Series 65 licensing exam as a non-industry candidate. He’s passionate about raising financial literacy and enjoys helping others with their finances.