When Mike Smith’s wife Tanya suffered a stroke during a routine surgery for a persistent cough, the couple’s world was turned upside down.
Tanya suffered an allergic reaction to the anaesthetic and, following the surgery, she was diagnosed with Locked-In Syndrome, a rare condition that severely limits a person’s movements. In Tanya’s case, she was able to communicate only with up-and-down eye movements.
Mike became Tanya’s devoted carer and advocate until her death in February 2018, when she developed pneumonia as a result of a lung infection.
Mike originally shared his and Tanya’s story with Six Park in 2019. He has remained in touch with the Six Park team, as a client and friend, in the following years as his life has continued to change.
“I entered an extreme state of grief when Tanya had her original stroke,” Mike says.
“When she passed away that was compounded; my level of mental turmoil was horrific. I couldn’t do anything. People talk about depression, and I was depressed – I was in situational depression beyond all comprehension. Tanya passed away in February 2018, and it’s only in the last eight months that I feel I’ve been able to function adequately, mentally.”
After Tanya’s death, Mike consciously chose to give himself two years to absorb the loss he’d suffered without trying to return to work; his financial planning gave him confidence he could do that.
That time has not been easy.
As a result of health issues, Mike went through five surgeries over a year and a quarter, which he describes as “less than ideal”.
“I was tied to my home state of South Australia during that period. I had intended to travel to Western Australia as part of the longer-term plans that Tanya and I had made together, but I wasn’t able to do that – I missed the window of opportunity.”
And then COVID hit.
Financial and emotional security during difficult times
“I found myself in South Australia in January, when the early inklings of COVID started to make themselves known, and then I couldn’t go anywhere for quite some months,” Mike says.
“All this time, I was living in a van with a trailer – I don’t have a permanent home except my van, which I had converted from an accessible taxi I’d bought to care for Tanya. After a couple of winters I realised it was not suitable living accommodation, so I bought myself an ex-rental motor home – a very long, tall vehicle that I can stand up in. It has a kitchenette, a toilet and a shower, hot water, fridge and freezer and a bed. It’s quite comfortable for one person and a dog.”
“Financially, I was not worried at all during the COVID downturn – although I would describe myself as an inexperienced investor, I’m very comfortable investing in the market. I found, originally, investing with Six Park using ETFs as the ideal methodology for me, so when the market tanked during the COVID stuff, it didn’t concern me as there were several other things going on in my personal life.
“During this same period, my father was in the process of passing away, which was very difficult. I inherited some money from him, and a very good portion of that went into my Six Park portfolio.
“I guess the message there is that if you have a good investment mechanism set up prior to difficult things happening, then when they inevitably do happen, you know what to do with your money – it’s very easy and not stressful.”
Living off dividends while supporting his family
After finally dealing with his own health issues, Mike’s daughter-in-law in Canberra had a serious car accident.
“She broke her right leg and right arm and asked if I could be her carer while she recovered. That took about eight months – driving her to doctor’s appointments, cooking for her and my son, looking after their cats and my dog Ella, mowing lawns, all the things that needed to happen.
“At the same time, I didn’t have to be concerned about my finances. For someone in my situation, my living expenses are not very great. Despite the fact that my total amount of dollars invested is not prodigious, the amount I get back through dividends is enough for me to live on.
“My original intention was to accumulate enough wealth that I could live off the dividends, and that is actually what I’m now able to do. I know that wouldn’t be the case for most people, because I’m able to live off very little funds, but it’s interesting to contemplate. I do encounter a lot of people on the road that don’t realise how little money they need to live if they’re not trying to support a mortgage.”
“I don’t think I could have done any better”
Many things have changed for Mike in the past couple of years, including his perspective over time. But he says some things remain unchanged.
“There are some aspects of my perspective on life that have remained absolutely rock-solid – my feelings toward Six Park and the investment methodology that Six Park has provided me are a very strong positive for me.
“I think that, sometimes, we make decisions and we reflect upon our past decisions and we think we could have done a bit better. But, in this circumstance, I don’t think I could have done better. I’ve always been quite enthusiastic about my feelings toward Six Park and that hasn’t changed at all.
“To give a bit of a parallel, I have a superannuation account that I’m moderately comfortable with, and in the past, when I was younger and still working, whenever I went to a new employer I just went to that same fund. Six Park has a very similar place in my mind – I think of it as being alongside my superannuation.
“If there is a singular lesson that I would reinforce, it’s the value of sticking to the original investment plan that I had a few years ago, which has certainly fulfilled my expectations of what Six Park would deliver over time. I don’t think that can be overstated by someone in my situation. The confidence I have in Six Park comes from fulfilling my expectations over time – Six Park has never let me down.”
Back to basics: compounding and a long-term approach
Mike recalls learning about the idea of compound interest as a high school student.
“I didn’t do much with that idea, as most young people don’t,” he says.
“Now, when I look back at the reporting mechanisms that Six Park and Sharesight provide, I’ve seen very good results and it’s reinforced those very early thoughts and lessons I learned as a teenager about the merits of compounding interest. And, of course, the last couple of years have been particularly problematic from an investment perspective for many people, but I never doubted the direction I’d taken – I’m very happy about hitching my wagon to Six Park’s horses.”
Canine saviour: How Ella has helped Mike’s mental health
Mike and Tanya’s beloved black Golden Retriever Ella has been critical to his recovery.
“She’s my continuing ambassador when I find myself in a campground; people come over to meet the dog and force me to engage in conversation, which isn’t my first preference but an important thing to do for my mental health.
“She also enforces some regularity upon my day – as soon as I get up in the morning, I take her outside; I do that again before bed. Throughout the day I need to walk her and feed her and take care of her needs. I’m usually quite a loner, but Ella compels me to interact with people when I may not otherwise, which is good for my mental health as well.”
“We find strength we didn’t know we had, regardless of how hard it is”
Mike’s resilience and recovery have been continually tested in the years since Tanya’s death; following his father’s death, his own health struggles and his daughter-in-law’s car accident, Mike recently learned that his brother has stage 4 brain cancer.
However, Mike remains determined to be positive in the face of ongoing challenges.
It took a little more than the original two years Mike gave himself for his mental state to “come good”, as he says.
“But now it is good. When I was going through this turmoil, it was hard to take a perspective that wasn’t about me or Tanya. There is so much turmoil in so many people’s lives; our experience isn’t unique. We don’t want to cope with this level of trauma, but we find strength we didn’t know we had, regardless of how hard it is.