The Big Bad Wolf: A Financial Hardship Letter to Myself

In the spring of 2011, just five minutes after the school day ended I got a call from my mom. Honestly, it was sort of strange for her to call at that time because we usually chatted in the mornings on my way to work.

She knew I had practice, after school activities and a million things to get through at the end of most school days.

Up until her call that day, everything was pretty normal and uneventful… until I heard the tone in her voice.  What she said on the phone that afternoon would turn out to be one of the worst days of my life.

At age 50, my mom was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of Ovarian Cancer…

My mom was a great lady who would end up losing her battle to cancer prior to her 52nd birthday. Just 51, she was the mother of three boys, but she also raised and guided hundreds of kids over the years as an in home daycare provider.

She was a  special, hard-working, thrifty lady who surprised her doctors with her will power when she lived with her cancer for 15 months. Initially diagnosed right at the end of May, her doctors were worried she wouldn’t make it past July.

Anyone who knew Pam can attest to this statement: she was one of the toughest, most hard-working ladies they have ever met. Her life lessons are what made me the man I am today and continue to strive to be.

Read more: Why We Want to Be Free

A Financial Hardship Story

My mom taught me a lot about finances…

From working hard to never accumulating credit card debt, I was raised to be thrifty and resourceful, thanks to our Scotch-Irish background. Like many others from the millennial generation, I was also taught that college was my ticket to a good life.

My mom could be thrown into the group of parents didn't know what they didn't know. They thought that going to college at any cost would provide a better life than what they had to endure. My mom thought the reason she had to work so hard and never made globs of money was because she didn’t go to college (which is not true).

However,  there is a lot more under the surface that meets the eye when it comes to finances. As hardworking as my mom was, she had a lot of financial highs and financial lows. When she passed away her medical bills were through the roof, she hadn’t been able to work in over a year and her home mortgage was un-affordable.

My mom would tell you this… she had a problem with spending as I have alluded to before. She knew how to make money, but she also knew how to spend it. I got the same habit pretty honest up until about 2 years ago.

And because of my mom’s struggles with finances, I now take personal finance really seriously, which is why I passionately do my best to help others realize they should do the same.

Generational Similarities & Differences

Unlike my mom who was a late baby boomer, the millennial generation is in quite a unique position. On one hand, we have had college and student loans impressed on us since an early age, and on the other, we have seen the world shift to the technology era we now live in.

Even with the seemingly endless opportunities the tech age provides, some things remain constant, like personal finance. In fact, with consumerism and social media, the more old school when it comes to personal finance, the better.

The facts don’t lie – nearly 7 in 10 adult Americans do not have $1,000 saved. Coupled with the spend first instead of save first mentality, 78% of working adults live paycheck to paycheck. Maybe just as alarming, pensions and retirement are being placed on the individual and upward estimates for someone my age is that I will need at least 1.8 million to retire.

I can tell you, with nearly 80% of the adult population living paycheck to paycheck, while retirement is falling more and more on the individual, and student loans are increasing at an astronomical rate,  things will be really interesting in the next 20 years.

Change was needed.

For me, the real eye opener was when I saw my mom pass away. It actually took me three more years to truly wake up, but  I saw a woman who worked so hard for everything only to have most of it stripped away from her with her cancer diagnosis.

When she lost her ability to produce, she was no longer able to afford her home that was already too expensive because of the lending practices that were common in the early 2000’s. As her arm ballooned and with no way of making money, my mom would eventually lose her house she worked so hard to provide after she passed away.

Did you know that adjustable rate loans, unemployment and medical expenses are 3 of the top 4 reasons why people foreclose on their homes? The 4th …… consumer debt.

My mom had little in savings before she got sick and when she passed away she had zero to her name. At age 25 and 23 my brother and I, along with our step-dad, were paying for a $10,000 funeral ( I had no clue the average funeral costs $7,000-$10,000) and trying to figure out what we were going to do with the house.

The funeral costs didn’t matter, I wanted to do right by my mom, but I never in my wildest dreams thought I would have to go through any of this at age 25. On top of all this, I was dealing with the emotional toll of losing my mom.

I realized that my eventual kids would never have the pleasure of knowing their grandma. My emotions really started to kick in when I thought about my 13 year old brother who was at such a pivotal age would be enduring middle and high school without a mom.

Prior to my mom’s death and even after, I was a classic 20 something year old with a degree and a job. I worked really hard as a teacher and spent tons of energy coaching two high school sports. On the weekend I had as much fun as possible which is code for I spent a lot of money.

What I failed to see was the long term picture. I once read that at age 30 you should have one year’s salary saved, I was nowhere close to that at 25. My mom taught me to pay down loans quick and not to use credit cards, but I was just like her in many ways when it came to spending.

It took time, it took growing up, and it took finding the right woman, but I finally started putting it together in 2016. I starting taking my finances serious and stopped living in the moment. Life is long and I never wanted to see financial struggle impact my future family.

1 Capture

The Big Bad Wolf. 

I’ve been called frugal and cheap. I have heard the comments about being so tight you squeak. There are some that say you can never plan for kids or you will never pay off your student loans. Those things are all controllable in my opinion. Either you choose to save or pay down debt, or you make the choice not to.

What is not controllable … is when the big bad wolf comes knocking.

Did you know that nearly 1 in 4 Americans are an emergency away from financial disaster. 

Much to my entire families surprise, we never thought my mom would leave this world at the young age 51. There is not a day that goes by where I don’t think about what it would be like to still have her here with us.

However, every day without her is another reminder of how awesome of a mom she was and I thank my lucky stars she made me the man I am today.  When I was 23 I paid every bill on my own. I know I might have friends reading this right now, who’s parents still pay their car insurance, cell phone bill or gas card.

And there is nothing wrong with that, I am just glad I had the financial stability and independence to cope with the loss of a parent. My main aim now – to make sure that if something ever happened to me my wife and future kids would be OK.

The Federal Reserve says it pretty plainly – economic well being boils down to your ability to withstand financial disruption. For my sake and anyone who reads this sake, I hope nothing ever happens that causes a financial disruption or emergency.

So what do you do?

If there is anytime to ever take advantage of your financial position it is now. There is no specific date or age that makes it better to start, it is when you decide that you need to take financial control.

As a football coach, when we game planned we had to stick to the basics and prepare for “anything.” Teams would roll out new packages, formations, and personnel simply to exploit our weaknesses. If we were not prepared it could get ugly in a hurry. This parallels right with personal finance.

For starters, make a list of 2-3 bad spending habits that maybe you could hon in on. Next, look into reading these three articles that will really get you on the path to financial success.

Start With a Budget – a step by step process to creating your budget

Stop Comparing Yourself Financially – don't keep up with Mr & Mrs. Jones

How to Pay Yourself First – learn to save, pay debt or invest FIRST before spending.

Thanks for reading and feel free to share. I know I relate to stories and I aim to include more reader stories in 2018, so if you have an awesome story feel free to contact me right here!

Do you have a financial hardship story you want to share? Comment below 👍

Josh writes about ways to make money, pay off debt, and improve yourself. After paying off $200,000 in student loans with his wife in less than four years, Josh started Money Life Wax and has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, Huffington Post and more! In addition to being a life-long entrepreneur, Josh and his wife enjoy spending time with their chocolate lab named Morgan, working out, helping others with their debt and recommend using Personal Capital to track your finances.