Investments You Can Make Now (That Have Nothing To Do With Your Portfolio)
Like other advisors during the current market turmoil, I am working with clients on portfolio rebalancing, tax loss harvesting, Roth conversions while account balances may be diminished, and shoring up emergency funds. All of these are good things to consider.
But are those the ONLY things you might be thinking about with regard to your investments?
“Investments” can be defined more broadly than only your portfolio. Our economy consists of many players who aren’t listed on an exchange. For those of us who invest in and are rewarded by our local communities, there are other ways you can invest money right now.
IF IT DOESN’T RUN AFOUL OF LOCAL GUIDANCE IN YOUR AREA:
• Continue to patronize your local businesses – Restaurants have been some of the businesses hardest hit by our coronavirus response. Get take-out, buy gift cards from your local establishments, tip generously if you can. If you don’t want to — or shouldn’t — go out, some restaurants that don’t typically offer take-out are doing this now – and may offer “hands free” drop-off at your door. The City of Seattle created an interactive map — #SupportSeattleSmallBiz map — showing which restaurants in the city offer takeout and delivery options. These folks can’t make up the revenue and income they’ll lose while people stay home.
Olga Sagan, owner of Piroshky Piroshky in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, created a delivery and take-out platform for local restaurants called Catch22Delivery. All your money goes directly to the business. Small businesses can sign up for free.
Some restaurants have pivoted to provide service in another way. Legendary Woodinville, Washington restaurant, The Herbfarm, is closed for dining, but open in order to provide healthy and delicious boxed meals for healthcare workers (including the janitorial staff) at local Seattle-area hospitals. The Herbfarm is keeping its staff employed while turning out thousands of meals a day, all based on donations through a GoFundMe fundraiser. Read more about this effort here.
• Arts & culture organizations need your help. Performing arts organizations in particular are in deep trouble. Most operate on razor thin margins, and ticket sales typically provide only a portion of needed revenue; the balance comes from donations. Donations have fallen off since the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 raised the standard deduction, and are expected to drop further with depressed financial markets.
To help, you can renew your subscriptions early, consider buying gift subscriptions, or making outright donations. As a ballet subscriber, I missed the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s last program on Saturday night – but the ballet found a way to work with all its performers and four unions to film a performance and send it to us. Here is more about their situation.
• Check in with your favorite venues, like movie theatres and concert halls. Many can’t operate as usual, but have worked up creative ways to try to keep the lights on, even while they are dark:
In San Francisco, the Balboa and Vogue Theatres have a GoFundMe page to support their employees. The Roxie Theatre is accepting memberships and donations. In New York, a relief fund, the Cinema Worker Solidarity Fund, has been established to help hourly theater staff who are losing their paychecks. In Seattle, the Seattle Theatre Group (STG), which operates The Paramount, The Moore and The Neptune theatres, offers a 100% match on donations made through May 2nd to help these venues, thanks to the STG’s Board of Directors and The Bradley Family Foundation.
• Shop locally online at the businesses you can’t get out to now, especially smaller businesses like your local indie book seller. Cooking bookstore, The Book Larder, in my neighborhood, is making meals for the staff at Harborview Medical Center and taking donations. In addition to selling books and gift certificates for future cooking classes, they are offering virtual shopping trips. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a tour.
• Consider offering to continue to pay (or pre-pay) personal service workers like dog walkers, hairstylists, or housekeepers and others for a few weeks if you can, even if they can’t come to work. The more people we can keep afloat means the faster the economy – all of us – can recover.
• Social isolation doesn’t mean no connection. For family and friends in vulnerable groups and high risk environments (hospitals, nursing homes), social isolation is a risk as well as coronavirus. Consider getting them a device so they can stay in touch with people – an iPad or smartphone, etc – And set aside time for a couple of lessons to help them connect with FaceTime or other tool. Buy a device lock or leash if you’re concerned about the device leaving your loved one’s side.
• Foster a shelter dog or cat. Shelters are seeing a drop in adoptions as people need to avoid non-essential activity. Fostering an animal can help an animal, the shelter, and your own isolation. San Francisco Animal Care and Control, SF SPCA, New York SPCA, and Seattle Humane Society all have found new ways to connect animals in need with people. As I write this, the New York SPCA is in need of fosters for large dogs and offers online orientations to new foster guardians. Last week, the Seattle Humane Society shifted to animal adoptions-by-appointment, and donated their personal protective equipment (PPE) to local health care facilities.
• Consider donating blood. As large employers have cancelled their regular blood drives with the shift to remote work, our blood banks are desperately low.
I would be remiss as a financial advisor if I didn’t encourage you to have a plan for what community investment you make. You DO need to put your own oxygen mask on first: make sure your Emergency Fund is stocked along with your pantry before you go online to help others.
If you DO decide to make an investment like one of the above:
• Keep track! You might not be able to sort out the receipt for the gift card and that for the donation to the restaurant months from now when you’re starting on next year’s tax return. You don’t have to get fancy; a folder with receipts, with a little detail about the transaction is a start. (Talk with your tax adviser about what documentation you need for your donation or check out this helpful guide on what you need to support your charitable contributions.)
• The CARES Act, the stimulus bill to aid the economy during this crisis, provides a “universal charitable deduction,” which lets EVERYONE deduct up to $300 in charitable donations from their income for 2020, regardless of whether you itemize deductions. It’s not an upper limit on donations – you can donate more if you’re able!
Not all investments trade on a securities exchange. Every investment — no matter how small — in our local communities can help to keep these organizations there for us, until we can once again go to them.
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