by Baruch Labinsky
Recently I was fortunate enough to succeed in travelling from my home in Ramat Beit Shemesh to my birthplace of Winnipeg Manitoba to visit family. Having avoided any significant exposure to covid over the last year and a half, and not having taken even one covid test, I was faced with three separate tests in three countries before reaching my destination. The experience provided extensive food for thought (and some terrific comic relief) as I contemplated the similarities and differences along the way.
It started in Beit Shemesh, where I found myself being tested at an empty and completely relaxed local medical facility. No masks, no special instructions. Just fill in my personal details into a tablet, go to the tester right in front of me (with all the names of the people tested that day listed in full view), a quick swab of my nose and throat and I was finished in minutes. The testers agreed with me that the patient privacy issue had much room for improvement. A few hours later we received our ‘all clear’. The attitude towards the testing and even the mask wearing in the airport and on the plane out of the country were very relaxed. Israelis and rule keeping can sometimes be an oxymoron and thus my experience felt completely consistent with the Israeli side of my personality; fast thinking, winging it and adjust as you receive feedback.
My second covid test took place after landing in the USA as we connected to a second local flight that would take us closer to the Canadian border. In this major airport, everyone wore masks, warnings blared over the loudspeaker system about violating federal law if you removed your mask on the premises. We had booked an appointment for a test in the sole facility at the airport, which only opened up 45 minutes prior to our next flight. The private testing facility had dozens of people waiting in line when it opened, so thank G-d we had booked our appointment and arrived very early. The pre-test form included no less than six or seven multi-page declarations, of which I read only the first page. The efficient testing took place behind a glass shield wall. The cost was three times our Israeli test (and if we had taken the standard airport test in Israel it would have been 15 times more expensive) and we received the results within an hour, even though they had promised the results within 6 hours. The general feeling was one of obedience and rule following, just doing what was necessary in order to get to your next destination. Boarding our second flight, we were again warned about removing our masks, permitted only to take a brief sip of water. They were willing to report us if necessary, “so don’t make us do it” came over the loud system.
After arriving at our next destination and taking a four-hour cab ride to the USA/Canadian border, we were dropped off a hundred meters from the border and wheeled our luggage across a boulevard, the 6 lane highway, and into the border crossing gate. The sparsely populated crossing seemed to have more employees than visitors. Our documents were examined and vaccine status checked thoroughly before we could proceed to the next covid testing station. Despite having opened up a profile online with the government website, a new account needed to be set up as we were directed step by step by the 5th border official, we were privileged to have met in less than an hour. With our test kits in hand, two astronaut clad examiners began explaining every minuscule detail about how to perform the test, from “open the box, take out the test tube. Blow your nose, sanitize your hands, place the test stick into your nose, turn for one, two, three, four, …. Fifteen seconds”. “Don’t stop twisting and turning”. “It’s not far enough into your nose” and much more including the final “take the empty box with you”. No place here for contaminated garbage. I tried my hardest not to react until I had exited the garage and safely met up with my ride on the other side of the border… freedom at last!! A few days later we received our negative results. The level of anxiety on the Canadian side of the border continued to be felt as they were just beginning to open up after months of being locked down with varying levels of restrictions.
So how does my covid travel saga relate to financial planning and investment management? I took three main points from the experience with which I hope to enlighten you all.
- The difference in the costs of our various covid tests reinforced for me what I already knew – we need to be appreciative of the financial benefits we have in Israel. The excellent, relatively inexpensive, subsidized health care system is truly amazing, and this benefit is something that enables us to avoid major financial strains to our budget. Take advantage of this blessing and ensure that the funds we save by not funding large healthcare expenses are allocated towards long term expenses like retirement planning, future large capital expenses, and other big item purchases that we will need.
- Israel, the United States and Canada were working towards the same goal to ensure that all those entering their space were covid-free, but they handled it in different ways. Our financial lives, like our medical perspectives, are largely shaped and influenced by our surroundings. Under certain circumstances, we tend to behave in predictable ways. If we want to change our finances, we might need to change the environment we are in and people we associate with. Overdrafts can be contagious as can budget surpluses and smart investing. Take a second look at the people you interact with financially and ensure they provide you with the environment and encouragement that you need for financial success and if not, look for other appropriate role models.
- Health and safety rules are important but need to be personalized to our individual and communal circumstances. Basic financial rules also need to be followed and personalized to ensure we don’t find ourselves deep in financial troubles.
- Taking on too much debt is a recipe for disaster.
- Saving a percentage of our current income to fund future needs is critical.
- Invest for the long term by relying on long term compounding.
These are three rules for financial stability that we all need to obey.
As we approach Rosh HaShana, in Israel we can’t help feeling that we are in a very similar covid place to the one we were in before last Rosh HaShana, with harsher restrictions and a potential lockdown looming. Many people feel that way about their financial situation –another year has gone by and they remain out of control financially. It is never too late to learn and reinforce or create good financial habits. Our covid experiences will likely remain with us both in practice and certainly in our memories for years to come. Let’s take advantage and learn from them as we try to maximize best practices in all the areas of our lives. Wishing everyone a ketiva vachatima tova.