What the Toilet Paper Shortage Reveals About Some Americans

by Wayne Johnson, MBA, CFP®, AEP®, CAP®, Financial Planner | April 14, 2020

I was not one of those people who hoarded toilet paper when the coronavirus epidemic began to materialize. In fact, I am now running low on toilet paper. The last two times I have been to the grocery store, the paper goods aisle has been completely wiped out…no pun intended.

What does the toilet paper shortage really reveal about some Americans and what does that have to do with our attitude about our financial future? I’ll eventually get to my explanation. 

Aside from the obvious inconvenience of being without toilet paper, the shortage has created clever memes on social media, a myriad of jokes, TP artwork, TP birthday presents, and restaurant campaigns offering a roll of toilet paper for every carry-out order. The shortage has also created the opportunity to serve others and showcase generosity in a very tangible way. Simply put…if you have extra toilet paper, share it with your friends, family, and neighbors!

On a deeper level, I believe the toilet paper shortage reveals much more about some Americans. It reveals an underlying fear and panic of going without, being out of our comfort zone, and an attitude of selfishness. Going even deeper, the need to hoard toilet paper could be revealing that the luxuries of life are more important than life itself. Perhaps it is a momentary diversion to have toilet paper be the object of our obsession rather than facing the reality of the pandemic itself. 

A friend I know has contacts within the grocery industry and explained that even within the supply chain, the warehouses are nearly out of toilet paper. Obviously not a good situation for the public at large. Yet the supplier also knows production is in high gear and eventually the shelves will be full again. The same is true with our financial future. Right now, the markets are volatile and some days our portfolios are shrinking, but history shows there is substantial hope that the market will come roaring back even stronger than before. 

As our Managing Director Lance Gunkel explained in his recent video, it’s healthy and wise to create “emotional distancing” between us and our investment portfolios. Constant obsession and worry about how this volatile market affects our portfolios use up too much emotional energy. That energy could be more wisely used to handle the things we can control, like how deeply we love and care for each other.

So, why panic over toilet paper? Or why panic over our investment portfolios and financial future? As comedian Bob Newhart said to one of his therapy patients in a hilarious famous clip of The Bob Newhart Show, “Stop it!” 

Let’s give ourselves permission that it’s OK not to panic. Trust in the system, trust in your resilience, and trust in your God, but don’t panic. Our nation and its people are strong, and we’ll get through this.