I’m a child of the 80s and came of age in the 90s. If you don’t know much about that time period, I’ll sum it up for you: the rise pop culture consumerism. Rappers, ball players and other larger-than-life personalities defined success for us in terms of the “bling.” The more diamond-encrusted your life was, the better.
As an impressionable teenager and twenty-something, I adopted this same definition of wealth with pretty disastrous results: I nearly drowned in debt trying to chase the American Dream. Starting a family was my wakeup call. I realized that we were soon becoming part of the 57% of Americans that struggle financially*. As a newlywed and new mom, I had to make a quick decision: feign wealth with credit cards and debt or make a sincere attempt to understand how money worked. This would have to be “for reals” with the goal of building our family’s net worth for generations to come. As someone who worshipped nice clothes, pedicures and sushi outings, this was one of the hardest decisions I ever made. I chose financial wholeness for myself and my great-great- great- grandchildren.
The next few years would be grueling, exhilarating and exhausting all at once. We executed a plan to get completely out of over $120,000 in debt. (We accomplished this in 2013.) In the process, I started a business that grew to six-figures and moved deep into the inner-city where we could get a home with no mortgage. Friends and family thought we had joined a cult and gone insane. Why get out of debt? Why move to the “hood?” The answer was simple: to accomplish feats that would outlive us.
When we first moved to our neighborhood (where we still reside,) we thought it was mistake, too. Was financial freedom really worth it? Then we got plugged into this beautiful community: volunteering, mentoring, sitting on boards and connecting. As a debt-free family, we also get to home school our children and train them in subjects that matter: self-care and examination, philanthropy, exploration and tolerance. My hope is that they will teach their children and those they encounter in the same ways.
In this next phase of building wealth, I am looking forward to what we’ll accomplish, but any dollar amount will pale in comparison to the lasting legacy of service and generosity we hope to leave behind.
I drive an older car and live smack-dab in the middle of the ghetto, yet I am rich beyond my wildest dreams. Financial health is not a number. It’s not in the assets you amass, but rather in the things that you can contribute to the world to make it a better place. I’d like to think that our journey to become financially whole has been on track with that philosophy thus far.
For us, the new “bling” is financial wellness. Being financially whole, simply put, is financial security with a greater purpose. Financial health is the power to positively impact the lives of others and the world around you. It’s precisely why #FinHealthMatters.
This blog post originally appeared June 29, 2016 on Principles of Increase. It was one of the winners of a national #FinHealthMatters Day essay contest created by Financial Health Network. MetLife Foundation is a major sponsor of Financial Health Network’s ongoing consumer financial health work. To learn more about FinHealthMatters from Financial Health Network, sign up here.