When was the last time that you felt like quitting? It was a couple of weeks ago for me. I was writing my post for the week, which talked about de-cluttering our finances. The post was turning into a guilt-inducing post, which I did not want, but I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t coming together. I had worked on it, and I woke up early in the morning unable to sleep and worked on it. I started to wonder if these posts had helped anyone. I felt like quitting. As these negative thoughts bombarded me, I started remembering the reasons why I am so passionate about helping others learn to manage their personal finances. The reason has to do with grief, pain, and peace.
A couple of years before my Dad died, he went through financial stress. My parents owned many assets, but all of their wealth was tied into the real estate market. Dad worked as a realtor and a landlord. He also ran a construction crew, and he owned his home. During the recession of 2006, home prices plummeted, building of new homes decreased, and lending practices tightened. As his income decreased, he borrowed against some of the properties.
After Dad died in 2009, I prepared the accounting reports for the rental units and realized that there wasn’t enough cash coming in to pay the expenses of all of the rentals. One morning I woke up at 4 am to work on his business accounting. As I realized how much pain he experienced during the last few years of his life due to financial stress, my chest hurt! It was one of the most painful times of my life! I remembered these lines from Emily Dickinson's book, The Complete Poems, which I had memorized in my youth: “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I can ease one life the aching or cool one pain…. I shall not live in vain.”
At that point, I decided to direct my pain outwards by serving others. If I could help one family, even if it was my own family, then it was worth my effort.
I contacted my family finance professor from college and thanked her for encouraging me to live what she taught. I will never forget when Professor Lown told our class that if we earned an “A” grade in her class, but we didn’t live what she taught us, that the “A grade” wouldn’t mean a thing. I started volunteering at a financial counseling nonprofit agency. When I could no longer work in the office, I wrote a blog for them. I taught a class in my church about financial principles and then wrote a book about those principles. I was later asked to write for Wasatch Peaks Credit Union, which I felt grateful to be able to do.
Although the pain surrounding my father’s death has subsided a lot, grief does resurface. Sometimes grief is almost predictable: holidays, my dad’s birthday, Father’s Day, and family events. Other times grief hits me unexpectedly, like snow hits in May.
That’s what happened the night before I finished the post about decluttering finances. I had a bad dream and woke up in the middle of the night crying for my daddy. I was missing him. No wonder the post would not come together! Finally, I ran out of time and had to pause work on my post so I could wake up my kids and help them get ready for school.
My husband Ty came home from the gym that morning and said, “I wasn’t feeling it. I couldn’t get into a rhythm while I was swimming. My arms felt dead tired.” Then my son threw tantrums after he woke up. He and I got into the car 3 minutes before school started. Several kids were already in the car, and the emergency lights were flashing. I turned the key, and nothing happened. My five-year-old was innocently sitting in her pajamas. The neighbor’s cat pooped in our sandbox. Then, the internet stopped working on my Chromebook, losing half of my work. It was my version of a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. After a good cry, I got back to work.
Even though I felt like quitting, I remembered the quote, “We are not our feelings.” It came from Steven Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He taught that no matter what happens to us, we can choose how we respond to it. I teach this saying to my kids, but that day I applied it to my situation. The sun was shining! Friends and family came to help me work on the car and take the kids to school. I finished the post late, but it wasn’t a big deal. The credit union staff treated me graciously.
I’ve been thinking about what I learned from my dad’s passing. With Father’s Day coming this week, I want to share some financial lessons I learned from my Dad’s death. I hope that they can help you and your family.
Life insurance IS a necessity!
While planning my dad’s funeral, I searched through mom’s piano books for the right song to play. When I flipped to Bridge Over Troubled waters I knew that it was the song Dad wanted. I wasn’t very familiar with it at the time, and the music was too difficult for me to learn to play in that short period of time. Obstacles kept coming. Our family friend told me that he was just getting his voice back from laryngitis and didn’t think he could sing because he could barely speak. He also did not know the song, and we only had a couple of days to prepare. I almost gave up, but we found a way to perform it: my sister played the left hand while I played the right hand, and our friend was able to sing.
Here are a few of Simon & Garfunkel’s lyrics that I felt were like messages from my dad to my mom. Even though it isn’t the typical song I’ve heard at funerals, my dad wasn’t the typical person.
“When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all
I'm on your side
When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down….
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Sail on, silvergirl
Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way
See how they shine
If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind.”
Because my dad had life insurance, my mom didn’t have to worry about finances at the time of his death. Our lives stopped. There was so much grief, sorrow, and adjustment to having him gone from our lives. Mom had to get used to daily life without him and had to do many of the tasks that he used to do. His life insurance policy provided the “bridge” to help us get through this troubled time. What a relief that my mom was able to pay any bills. Even the mortuary bill was paid directly from the life insurance so that we didn’t have to pay money upfront. That period of time was rough enough without the financial stress!
When I refer to life insurance, this includes being self-insured. If you have enough assets, you can get to the point where you can self-insure if you choose, but I still consider that life insurance. Life insurance enables your family to continue on paying for their financial expenses after you and the income you provide are gone.
Over-leveraging increases risk of financial failures
Last Saturday, we saw a lot of dads teaching their kids how to fish as part of Free Fishing Day. Picture this: A man was walking with his fishing pole in his left hand and his daughter’s hand in his right hand. It reminded me of fishing and camping trips with my dad. He taught me to ride a horse. He taught me to love being outside in the mountains. Dad also taught me to help others.
Dad taught me to pay off debt. He paid off cars as fast as he could, and he refinanced his home into a fifteen-year mortgage. But in 2006, when his income decreased, he overleveraged, and this taught me that financial storms will come to everyone. I learned that we can lower our risk by decreasing our debt and saving for emergencies. Because of what my parents went through, I have spent the last 8 years working on paying off our debt and “saving for a rainy day.”
When we had a income crisis two years ago, we were prepared and we worked through it together. We had a lot of peace during that turbulent time. We experienced peace knowing that we both had marketable degrees with experience. We had peace knowing we could pay for six months of expenses. Emotionally, this was one of the hardest times of our marriage, but it strengthened our marriage. I was Ty’s cheerleader to help him recover his lost confidence. Within a few months, he realized that his employer did him a favor by releasing him. He felt very fortunate. Our story could have ended in bankruptcy, foreclosure, or divorce. I’m thankful that we were spared all of those.
The housing market is really good where I live right now. Homes are selling within a few hours in some cases. I considered selling our home this year, but I realized that to upgrade our home, we would increase our debt, which will increase our risk. We didn’t feel comfortable doing that.
I feel thankful for the lessons grief has taught me. They are gifts that have helped me so much. I’m thankful for my dad. He is my hero! I’m celebrating his life and celebrating dads! What’s one thing you have learned from your dad?