What Financial Health Means to Me
June 29, 2016
This is an entry in the #FinHealthMatters contest sponsored by Center for Financial Services Innovation and FinCon. This is my first year attending and the prize would help tremendously. One of the winners will be selected by top engagement on Twitter and Instagram using #FinHealthMatters. I’d appreciate your support by sharing this post with the hashtag on Twitter!
My parents did their best. Graduating from high school, daughter of immigrants, I headed to college armed with a $1000 scholarship, a minimum wage job, and the knowledge that it was my turn to study hard and make good on their sacrifice.
Ignoring for a minute that I’d been experiencing increasingly debilitating bouts of idiopathic pain, I couldn’t hide the thrill of embarking on Ye Grande Adventure of Adulthood.
“Weeping may endure for a night…”
It happened fast. Mom was diagnosed with diabetes. There were complications, she needed surgery. I stepped in with my meager paycheck temporarily, I thought, until she was better. Post-surgical anxiety and depression set in, the diabetes was complicated by a stroke, the stroke left her unable to work, and her inability to work sent her into a tailspin from which she never recovered.
Managing the household in her stead, an endeavor chronicled here for moral support and posterity, was more downs than ups, more tears than laughter.
To my horror, I discovered that Mom and Dad had been using credit cards to fill in gaps for years, paying only the minimum payment, to the tune of $100,000. It didn’t make sense! They worked 365 days a year. We never ate out, never vacationed, rarely shopped. Where did it go?
Answer: They’d been helping our extended family for decades.
I couldn’t leave. No one could pick up the pieces. Their family was unwilling to return the help, Dad was out of work and Mom wasn’t well. I felt obligated to fix the mess while hiding our shame from more affluent friends. (Y’all, everyone was more affluent than we were.)
The next decade blurred into a haze.
I ran the overtime meter, paying the bills, cutting swaths off the Family Debt, started my first IRA, started saving, and brought home my college diploma without any debt attached. Success, purchased at a steep price.
At my lowest point, sick with embarrassment, in chronic daily pain, seeing our car get repossessed because Dad lied to me, and having to fix that humiliating mess, my hope faltered. And then Mom died, suddenly.
Reeling, I stumbled into my new reality.
While I was focused on my family, my life path had changed, irrevocably. The stress of trying to settle my family on firm ground exacerbated my long-elusive diagnosis (fibromyalgia) so the career I’d dreamed of was impossible. And now, Mom, my inspiration and strength, was gone.
Any hope of rescuing my good health was sacrificed on the altar of filial piety. Now my job was to create my own financial safety net before my body gave out. It was time to make my own way in life, career and especially money.
“…but joy cometh in the morning (Psalms 30:5)”
I learned to plan: for tomorrow, for forty years from now. I needed to pay this month’s bills and know we could pay next year’s. I needed to know we would retire someday. Saving and investing were top priorities, equal to paying off that crushing debt, and I never regretted it for a minute.
Financial health means we work for our future, instead of scrambling to escape the morass of our past.
It means PiC and I were home together with our JuggerBaby when ze was born.
It means that we can afford reliable (expensive) childcare.
It means that when, not if, my health declines further, we don’t have to choose between medical care or food.
It means we can support those in need, lend a hand, and celebrate friends and family.
It means that we can grow old, keep a roof over our heads, and try to leave the world a better place than we found it.
:: What was your moment of joy, when it all turned around for you, financially? How are you financially fit? What drives you to do better?