By Tai Stewart
Ever since I can remember, my dad was always the financial manager in our household. He knew how to support 8 kids and a wife on less than $40,000, and we didn’t lack any basic necessities. As the eldest child, I was the recipient of most of the financial lessons since I saw most of the changes that our family went through over the years — career changes, mission work, and new babies.
Dad was the Dave Ramsey of the neighborhood before we had ever heard of him. In our house, cash was king. Saying “credit card” was like saying a bad word, and would likely land you an impromptu lesson on how credit cards are slavery and the borrower is, indeed, slave to the lender…no ifs, ands, or buts about it. My parents’ house purchase was the only debt they had, and that came years after I became an adult. My dad’s emphasis on academic excellence did get me through college on full scholarships and grants. After all, how else would I be paying for college with seven younger siblings at home?
Dad taught us how to plan for expenses, eat well on a budget, and save for large purchases. We seemed financially healthy. But looking back now, I realize that all our financial planning was always short-term, at the most six months to a year. We were missing a key element, long-term financial planning. There was no retirement account set up and no life insurance policy in case one of our parents passed away. Dad just made sure immediate needs were met and that we had a basic emergency fund. One of the toughest lessons I’ve had to learn firsthand is that Americans are underinsured or not insured when it comes to taking care of our loved ones after we can no longer provide for them.
In 2011, one early March morning, my dad suddenly passed away at home when an undetected heart condition caused his heart to stop. In that moment, everything changed. We lost our family’s leader and my mom lost her husband of nearly 30 years, whom she relied on for many things. In addition, there were still kids and grandkids living at home to provide for and bills to pay. We suddenly had to figure out how to plan an affordable funeral with our limited combined savings, and create a plan to make sure my mom and the younger kids could handle the household finances with a new, lower income budget. I always assumed that we were financially healthy because we never went hungry, we had all our basic needs met, and God always provided. But I’ve since learned that being financially healthy doesn’t only mean having money for the here and now, but also careful financial planning for a time when you will NOT be here.
According to Financial Health Network’s Consumer Financial Health Study, 57% of Americans — approximately 138 million adults — are struggling financially. The passing away of a household’s primary financial provider just adds fuel to the fire when there is no long-term plan in place for death or illness. As financial educators, we have a responsibility to make sure everyone we know has a long-term financial plan in place in case of death or illness. It’s the healthy way to win financially.
This blog post originally appeared June 29, 2016 on Saidia Financial Solutions. It was one of 10 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.