Those blog posts came from the limited perspective of yours truly: someone who has never had a problem making a modest to adequate amount of money, but who has always been terrible at managing it. (I’m a little less terrible these days.)
I’m one of those lucky bast*rds who has always had job opportunities thrown into her lap (except that one time). And I’ve never been slapped with ungodly medical bills or other expensive emergencies (except that one year when Brian and I had to pay $5k in taxes! Holy heck!). Nope, for the most part, I dug my own financial grave. I didn’t fall into debt, I chose it.
So this week I’ve been reflecting on the many people who struggle financially not because they are naive and irresponsible like I was, but because sh*t happens. Life happens.
Many of these individuals are hopeful and content.
It kind of makes me scratch my head. It makes me wonder what their secret is. If I were eating at a restaurant with them I’d call over the waiter and whisper, “I’ll have what they’re having.”
I love the story of my parents’ rise from poverty to stability. But not just because there’s a happy ending to it. (How awesome is this: They reached their goal of sending all 4 of us kids to college, they’ve traveled all over the world, and they’re financially set for retirement.) I love their story because they found a way to be content no matter what was in their wallets at any given time.
My parents have a lot of interesting stories about living in poverty throughout their youth and young adulthood. When they first moved to the US together they had $10 to their name, as well 2 bowls, 2 spoons, 2 forks, and 2 knives. Oh, and clean underwear. (Phew!) They had to share a house with 5 adults in my dad’s family, all of whom had also recently immigrated from the Philippines.
(By the way: God bless my mother for enduring life with her in-laws. I LOVE my dad’s side of the family but they think they’re royalty. They’re like the Kennedys but not as rich or good looking. Hehe.)
Despite the fact that my parents were college educated “A” students in their home country, they had a hard time making ends meet in the US. My mom worked a cash register at a supermarket. And at one point my dad was an accountant by day, a pizza delivery guy by night, and a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman on weekends. No job was too blue collar for my parents– not even for my dad, who was once celebrated for having a photographic memory and for graduating valedictorian in his home town.
My favorite story from my family’s early years happened while my dad was at the house of a family who seemed interested in buying one of his encyclopedia sets. They were having a spaghetti dinner at the time my dad had rung their doorbell, so they invited him in for a plate. And for some reason they thought it would be a good idea to put that plate on his chair.
I think you know where this story is going.
My perpetually jolly and sometimes socially awkward dad (think Santa mixed with Winnie The Pooh) accidentally sat right on his own plate of spaghetti. Yup…butt full of meat sauce. And the family felt so badly about it that they bought $1,000 worth of encyclopedias from him.
I like this story because of the way my dad tells it. He always laughs while he recounts the details. He is not bitter about what he had to endure for his family — he is proud. And that makes me proud.
I didn’t know about my family’s early years of financial hardship until later in my life. The stories came as a complete shock to me. Why? Because my earliest childhood memories were of jokes, and food, and music, and siblings who put me in the oven, and watching my parents practice ballroom dancing in our den. We were happy.
It seems that the secret to being content despite financial hardship boils down to: courage, faith, hope, gratitude, perseverance and Love. But what do these lofty ideas look like in real life?
Since I battle so much with anxiety, what I find most helpful is looking at the big picture and, on a spiritual level, having trust and gratitude. At night when Brian is asleep, I put my arm around him and think about how blessed I am, and how perfect that very moment is simply because we have each other. (Yes, even when I look up at the ceiling just above our bed and remember that sheet rock and wood beams are the only things that separate us from my parents in their bed.)
It’s not just about reaching financial goals (although it feels SO kick-ass when you do). It’s about who you’re with while you’re striving toward these goals, and how much gratitude and joy you *choose* to experience along the way.
Your Turn: How do you find joy and fulfillment during financially difficult times?