A recent Wired magazine article explores the irresistible drive to keep moving experienced by people lost in the forest. A 2009 experiment challenged people simply to walk in a straight line without deviating from it in two places without navigational clues: the Sahara Desert and a forest in Germany — not one pulled it off. The article notes, “Errors quickly accumulated, small deviations became large ones, and they ended up walking in circles.”

Fear is the worst enemy of prudent decision-making, but given free rein when it comes to your money, it wreaks havoc 100 percent of the time in exactly the same way as for those lost wanderers. You find yourself disoriented and possibly moving toward the very danger you’re trying to avoid.

Popular media has been fanning the flames of fear for months concerning the coronavirus and its effect on the economy. The question here is not whether this pandemic will have significant negative results for America’s balance sheet; it’s how to navigate around the “fear factor” and walk in a financial straight line as those negative results play out. Getting through the financial forest we’re in without a clear, navigational financial plan is akin to walking through the wilderness without GPS. Fear will drive you off course every time.

So, how to navigate around the fear factor? Get a map. In my experience, crises such as the current pandemic shine a bright light on the value of financial planning in four distinct ways.

The first is easy. A financial advisor has access to more, better, and often less inflammatory information. While articles peddled to advisors can contain their fair share of hysterical click-bait, many look at boots on the ground data rather than some media outlet’s self-serving spin on that data. News aimed at the retail investor, i.e. you, is someone else’s take on what the data says. News aimed at your advisor likely contains the raw data itself. Can you dig some of this out for yourself? Sure. But that brings us to our second reason why a financial plan — and planner — are so valuable.

Time. Sifting through the firehose of financial information spewed out in times of financial upheaval is a full-time job. As is avoiding the “small deviations that can become big ones,” seen with our hikers wandering around in the woods.

Finding a financial planner who also provides investment advice yields a third and crucial value-add. When the fear factor is running rampant and you feel panic rising in your throat, it is probably because you find yourself asking the default question we all ask ourselves when fear wins out: “What is going to happen to me?” Your financial plan answers the question we all should be asking, which is, “what should I do?” Because when you pivot from “what’s going to happen to me” to “what do I do?,” you move back into the driver’s seat rather than assuming you’ll have to end up wherever the winds take you.

Since a good financial plan is built for a range of investment rises and falls, your best bet usually is to fasten your seatbelt and stay the course when the market gets choppy; you’ve planned for this. When I-95 is backed up, you may hop onto Highway 17 for a bit, but you continue forward in your original direction. In the same way, when we hit uncharted waters such as the unprecedented voluntary shut-down of our economy sparked by Covid-19, your investment manager/planner may employ tactical measures to adjust course for the duration and then steer you back to your original route.

The last value is the most ephemeral, but study after study done by the financial services industry repeatedly find that it is the most looked-for element by advisor clients: Coaching. From Portfolios to People, published by the Vanguard Group in 2018, concluded that “focusing on behavioral coaching … helping clients adhere to their long-term plans … (is) the greatest potential value” advisors add. Why? The fear factor.

Uncertainty slams you with the almost irresistible urge to move, even when you don’t have the answer to “what do I do?” Before you start running in circles, get thyself to a financial planner.

Beverly A McBride, CDFA, is president of Crew Financial Collective, 400 Main Street, Cottage 5, St. Simons Island. For more information, call 912-268-2176 or visit www.welcometocrew.com.

Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network®, member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. Fixed Insurance products and services offered through Crew Financial Collective.