Nearly every year of my childhood my family would take one large trip followed by several shorter trips, venturing from London to the Caribbean and plenty of places in between. Other purchases were limited – we always drank water in restaurants and dessert was almost always skipped, despite incessant pleas from my sister and I – but my parents always carved out room in our budget for travel.
But by the time I entered college, our family’s financial situation had taken a turn for the worse – along with millions of other families throughout the country. Business had dried up for my dad, a debacle with an awful homeowner’s association drug the value of our home through the mud, and my sister was entering her third year at a pricey private school.
This was when I was forced to take note of how quickly a seemingly solid financial situation could change. I could no longer be shielded from the struggle – I was entering into adulthood without the financial backing of my parents I had, in many ways, come to expect.
My situation wasn’t unique. I was just one of the many who witnessed their parents’ financial situation crumble. But I have since come to appreciate the immense value in these tough lessons and I would guess that others have experienced a similar awakening.
Lesson #1: There is no replacement for financial independence.
It would have been awesome to have a financial safety net during my lean college years, but that would have been putting off the inevitable – learning the harsh reality of how much things and the life I wanted to live would actually cost.
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Having my parents explain the reality of their situation and being faced with the task of shifting my thinking about money from my childhood perception to one entirely rooted in the adult world was extremely valuable. This forced me to think about how I would make things happen for myself instead of expecting my parents to bridge the gaps.
Dropping expectation and learning financial independence out of necessity is painful but offers huge, irreplaceable rewards.
Lesson #2: Unexpected things can – and do – happen to everyone.
My parents were extremely diligent about money management and staying out of debt, so I never expected their financial situation to change. In fact, I never thought I would see them struggle.
Sometimes it’s not about following the rules and staying on top of things. Sometimes unexpected events – a downturn in the economy, an unexpected hospital bill, a massive drop in property values – can make your seemingly stable financial foundation crumble. Sometimes there isn’t anywhere to place the blame.
Being prepared for unforeseeable events is important – essential even – but that doesn’t mean we will always emerge from unexpected life events unscathed.
Lesson #3: You don’t need stuff. Period.
When my parents moved out of my childhood home and sold a huge portion of their belongings in the process, I was undeniably sad. I associated all of those things with the life we had built together and there was something about this purging that felt depressing to me.
I didn’t shake that feeling for a few years. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I began to understand how freeing this must have felt to them.
They learned through this financial struggle that all of the things they placed so much importance on didn’t mean anything at all. If anything they simply made having a bigger home a necessity when it shouldn’t have been.
In getting rid of what didn’t matter, they lessened their financial stress and placed greater importance on the things that actually provide value to their lives.
Lesson #4: There is always a solution and a point in which you reach the other side.
There were times when things seemed so rocky, we were all concerned about how things would pan out. The financial turmoil was extremely taxing.
And then things managed to unravel themselves and fall together in a way that no one expected. I would even go so far as to say things are better now than they were before this financial hurricane hit.
This has taught me the very valuable lesson that there is always a solution, whether the problem is a job loss, astronomical debt or bankruptcy. Someone can help and a solution can be found – even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.
What have you learned from experiencing or witnessing financial struggle?