- DD1 = Dear First Daughter
- DH = Dear Husband
That’s my eldest daughter, rock jumping by the ocean on a recent trip to California. I asked her if I could write about a recent development in her life, and she said I could. “I’ll try not to boast,” I said, “And I’ll try not to take credit.”
6 years of financial distress
I’ve written before about the six years of under/unemployment that DH went through after giving up on what had become a high-tech roller coaster ride of a career. From 2003-2009, we were very stressed financially, and we had no idea if or how things would turn out for DH in terms of work. I went back to teaching full-time after having resigned from my position to be a stay-at-home mom to our three children. DH tried to get his bearings and find a new direction, but he went nowhere fast. They were depressing, soul-crushing years of disappointment that we handled with a lot of denial. In 2009, DH did settle on a path, and he’s in his seventh year of running a successful home business.
It was an encouraging end to a miserable chapter, and we drank in the relief of better circumstances. But those six years left their mark – especially on the three girls growing up in the shadow of all of that stress. DD1 went through her teen years with our straitjacket financial restrictions, worry, and conflict as a domestic backdrop. She learned to work hard, developing a self-sufficient, independent spirit. And she determined that she would never get into the debt-trap that her parents had fallen into. Not a bad result for bad circumstances, but I did wish that we could have provided a more positive legacy for our children. I wished DD1 would be motivated towards, not away from in terms of managing her life and money.
“Do you have any financial advice for me?”
In 2010, DD1 flew out west – first to get her Master’s Degree in English, and later to work. By the time DH’s business was a solid success, and by the time we were getting our financial act together, having decided in 2012 to deal with our debt, our eldest had flown the nest.
There were phone calls, and there were visits home two or three times a year. In the summer of 2013, I flew out to see DD1 for a week. At that point, she had just graduated (with no student debt), and she was about to start her first “grown-up” job with a publishing company. Among the many conversations we had through that week was one beginning with a question that surprised me: “Do you have any financial advice for me?” DD1 had read some of my blog posts at Prudence Debtfree, and she generally got a kick out of them – seeing our mission to pay off all debts as a positive thing.
As a debtor who was psyched about her own journey out of debt, and as a mother who was eager for her children to manage money well from the get-go, I was only too happy to give my answer. It was simple – gleaned from the pages of the book our financial guru, Dave Ramsey, had written: The Total Money Makeover. “Stay out of debt, and save 15% of your gross income.” By this point, I had had some exposure to the more extreme personal finance “badasses” out there – those who save over 50% of their income and retire early – but DD1’s salary would be quite low, and she lived in the most expensive city in North America. If she managed to save 15%, she would be doing great.
As time passed, DD1 worked hard and enjoyed the new freedoms her income gave her. There were concerts, ski week-ends, beach volley-ball tournaments, short trips with friends . . . But there was no new furniture, no expensive housing, always a house-mate or two or three – just as there had been in her student days – and no debt. And she did get in the habit of saving 15% of her gross income. “I don’t know what I’m saving for,” she said to me once. “I don’t want a house, and I don’t need a car.” I responded by assuring her that at some point, she would be very glad she had saved. “I promise you will be grateful that you put the money aside – even though at this point, you don’t know what purpose it will serve.”
Freedom to make a change
About a year ago, DD1 started to become disenchanted with work. Uncertainty in the industry and changes in the company made her realize that she wanted a shift in career direction. “I’m going to write the LSAT in December,” she told me in October. “You want to go to Law School?” I asked. It was an option she had decided against a few years ago, so I was surprised. “Don’t tell anyone,” she told me. “Let’s just see how things pan out.”
Things panned out well, and DD1 will be starting Law School in September. She chose the school she’ll be attending – still out west – in part because “It has a really basic campus. They put their money into their programs and their students – not buildings,” and in part because it offered her an entrance scholarship that will cover her first year’s tuition.
I am so happy for her! DD1 is embracing the freedom she has, to carve out the path of her choice. Having no debt to service, she was not trapped in a job she no longer wanted. She was free to look around. Having continued to live like a student in many ways, she is fine going back to student life. Free from dependency on “lifestyle,” she’s leaned into the broad range of options open to her, and in freedom, she has chosen. Having put aside 15% of her income over three years, and having found a purpose for it, she is indeed grateful to have saved. Through her scholarship and her savings, DD1 is set up to get through, at the very least, her first year of Law School without student debt – maybe even her second year.
I am heartened to know DD1 has learned that good money management is not just about avoiding the negative that she witnessed at home as a teenager; it’s about embracing the positive – open doors of opportunity and choice. And I’m grateful to have been invited to speak into that positive.
Maybe I’m biased, but when I look at that photo above, I see an image of what I want for my daughter’s life. I see beauty, power. And more than anything, I see freedom.
What “legacy” do you hope to help pass on to the next generation? What does “freedom” look like for you? Your comments are welcome.