We all give and take advice from many people throughout our lives, and this is one of those times where I am not giving advice, but rather talking about a decision we made, and continue to make through our lives. For some people, this is a relevant discussion, for others, and for other reasons it might not be.
During our children’s lives we tried to provide for them. We struggled to give them good, fun lives. We gave them, or hope we gave them, a good childhood filled with love, memories, and mostly whatever they wanted. We took them on a few cruises, they went to summer camps when they wanted to, they had good equipment when they played sports, and we ate out at their favorite restaurants when we could. We tried not to have our children want anything that they could not have, but we also wanted to provide them with whatever they did want that was within reason. Thankfully they were pretty reasonable throughout their childhood. We tried to teach them the balance between getting what they wanted to live a fun life, and being financially responsible in what they wanted.
Was there a cost to this? Of course there was. Sometimes we had to carry a balance on our credit card for a while until we paid it off. Long term we don’t have a lot of funds in our retirement accounts, and will probably have to work longer than we had wanted to. We made a choice, maybe not a one time choice, but maybe a series of decisions throughout the past twenty one years that really did become one choice. We put our kids first, and our retirement second. Was it a good choice? Who knows. Let’s see how we do in retirement. But in hindsight, and with the way things happened, we are happy with the choices we made.
Andrew experienced so much in his short twenty one years. He traveled to many places, he became a certified Scuba diver and went scuba diving in many, many places, he went to the college he wanted to and skied in Vail every weekend. He had good hockey equipment, he had a snowboard he loved and was proud of, and traded going away to camp one summer for a very nice paintball gun he loved to use. I am glad that he had all of this. I know he was happy, and as anyone who knew him knows – he was not materialistic at all. He asked for things, but was always reasonable. He would buy his boxers and t-shirts at Target because they were cheap and fine for him. But he liked to buy his shirts at Abercrombie, because he liked the way he looked in them.
He also knew he was loved. Not because of what we bought him, or where we took him, or what he had, but because he felt it in his heart. He could feel the love. He knew we never missed his hockey games, we never missed his soccer games when he was a little boy. Getting to our kids games and showing the our support was our highest priority. I went to every bar and bat mitzvah lesson the kids had to make sure they knew what they had to know, and to help them when I could. We made it to every school play and every concert they were in. They were, and still are, our lives.
So what am I saying to people? That depends. There are plenty of people who read my posts and have a hard time making rent every month, and maybe take a short vacation every year to the shore. Others who read my posts have all the money they ever will need or want, and their children never know from want or need, and are provided with vacations, toys, equipment, whatever. And then there are those in the middle – like us. Every thing we buy we make a choice. Each expense that we pay comes from somewhere, and it usually has to come out of somewhere else. If you work late every night and don’t see your kids too much during the week, that is fine, it is your choice. But then don’t be upset when they grow up and you are not as close with them as you would like to be. Sort of Cats in the Cradle situation. Maybe you can provide for them financially, and at age ten they have their college completely funded, but did you watch them play soccer on the weekends and take them out to dinner just to talk? How many of us have heard stories of parents who worked themselves to death in well paying jobs, only to leave their families with lots of money – but only one parent.
Don’t miss your kids growing up. Don’t miss out on the most joyous things you will ever see – your kids in a concert in third grade, your son making his first score in soccer or hockey, your daughters first recital, whatever is important to them. These things will never be relived, and trust me, your kids will remember that you were there throughout their lives – and they will appreciate it.
For us, maybe we won’t have enough to retire when we want to. Maybe we will have to work a few more years, maybe we didn’t get a fine piece of jewelry or a nice watch when we traveled. But we where happy making sure our children had what they wanted, and we taught them the value of a dollar along the way, as well as the value of their parents love.
Andrew showed me some tie dye shirts he bought when he was in Boulder, and to my surprise he told me he bought them at the Goodwill store. He went there while he was doing his laundry in town. He also had several knick-knacks in his apartment from a place called The Box in Boulder. It is a place where people donate stuff, just drop it off, and others come and take what is there. No charges, no records, just a nice place to exchange items. We brought a lot of Andrew’s items there because he learned about charity from giving the stuff he didn’t use anymore to The Box – some pictures, old electronics, speakers, clothes – he donated a lot while in Boulder. Andrew was a very compassionate person, and he always gave a homeless person a dollar, or the change in his pocket. It was important to him to make a difference in someone else’s life.
Is this advice? I hope not. I am not preaching, I am not telling you how to live your life or how to save your money. What I am just saying is to look at your priorities. If your retirement means that much to you and you want to stop working at sixty, that is fine. If you can’t see your children’s soccer game because you have to work Saturday or lose your job, that is fine, it’s a choice you don’t have. But let’s face it – our kids are our lives for most of us, make sure they know it. I know deep in my heart that both Andrew and Nicole know they are our first and only priority in life.
I hope I don’t offend anyone with this entry, but this topic has come up in so many conversations over the past months that I just felt I wanted to write about it and express my feeling. If your viewpoint is different, I do understand. If you also do not to have children, by choice or not, I hope you are not bothered by this post, but maybe you can take something else away with you. The opinions stated in this entry are just mine.