Freedom From Money Worries: A Great Legacy

  • 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.


28 comments on “Freedom From Money Worries: A Great Legacy

    1. The impression I get from reading your story is that your kids are well on their way, Brian. There IS hope, and it’s so great to get confirmation of it!

    1. I love that photo, so I won’t disagree : ) I think that by taking on our debts, my husband and I might just have gained more trust from our children. What a nice thought! Thanks, Emily.

  1. Great story. One thing to always remember is that our kids learn from us, not only in what we tell them, but in what we do. So while your practical advice surely made a difference, I think it’s safe to say that watching you and how you handled things over the years of struggle and even after were certainly things that turned into positive building blocks for her.

    1. It would be heartening for me to know that some of what we did during those difficult years provided positive building blocks instead of negative ones (as in “I do NOT want to end up in my parents’ situation.”) – but whether or not they did, I am happy that it wasn’t too late to provide some positive foundation afterwards. Thank you, Mr. Money Beagle.

  2. This is very inspiring. We have an 8-month old, so we still have a couple years before the lesson of money management is brought up. But I want to start them young with managing things like treats or toys, something children can relate to but learn about budgeting. They only get so many jelly beans per month & once they are all gone, no more until the next month. They can eat them all at once or eat one each day. I’m curious if other parent’s teach lessons in this way & if they work for most children.

    1. I think it’s a great idea to start money lessons young. I would just say it’s wise to steer clear of nagging and lecturing. If you have a solid plan in place – like your jelly bean idea – stick to it. The experience of running out of jelly beans early – and not being enabled with an advance – will sink in far more effectively than too much advice about better planning. What a proactive dad! All the best in passing on a great gift to your child.

  3. That’s awesome, and it’s amazing to see how little habits like saving 15% can lead to a dream that few can imagine. A JD without six figures of debt is an amazing accomplishment (at least here in the states), and it’s awesome that your daughter is going to make it happen.

    Best of luck!

    1. Thank you, Hannah. I think that it’s very common for law school graduates in Canada to have six figures in debt too – in fact, I just confirmed it with a quick Google search – so having that first year (and possibly more) taken care of in advance is a real bonus : )

  4. That’s a great story and even better lesson. I hope I will be able to instill as much financial sense into my kids. I was the one that was “really good” with money in my family, and I got out of school with $64k in loans, and I had about $16k in credit card debt…
    My family didn’t see an issue with either of those because, A) school loans are “good debt” – ugh… B) you’ll get a job where you can pay those cards off in no time, don’t worry about that. – ugh again. Horrible advice, just horrible.
    It’s great to see situations where good financial sense is passed along, even if it’s a “learn from our mistakes” scenario. It sure beats what I got passed along, lol.
    Side note – I still went back to grad school, and got to finally “just go to school” and not work at the same time, but I still lived like I was making $40k/yr, and not $20k like my stipend allowed. I supplemented it with loans and credit cards… ugh…

    1. Lots of “ughs” there, Mr. SSC. I feel your pain. The difference for me was that in my case, my parents were horrified by my debts. I just thought they were old fashioned and didn’t get it. That’s my ugh! I’m glad that those early mistakes won’t haunt you for the rest of your life. You’ve more than made up for them. And I wish you well in passing along your new wisdom to your children. My one piece of unsolicited advice: Don’t nag. Let them make their mistakes and feel the consequences (guaranteed by whatever system you put in place) with minimal parental commentary. Here’s to keeping “ugh!” moments out of our children’s lives!

  5. Great work, Mama! And I love the photo!

    My daughter is six, and I want her to learn that freedom and choice are much more important than things. I hope she has the discipline I haven’t always had, and understands the implications of her decisions, both short- and long-term.

    1. Those are great values to pass along to her, Amy. Just avoid the temptation to bail her out if she makes an error in judgment. If you and your husband get a good system in place and stick to it, she’ll learn so many lessons just through experience.

  6. I want to pass on a legacy to my children that encourages a mentality where working for money is abnormal. I want them to be in a position where they think that money working for them is normal. Of course, they will have to put some labor in, but if they are smart and wise with what they earn, they’ll be able to see their efforts pay off in ways that the majority of people aren’t.

    1. That outlook takes a paradigm shift for most people. As a society, we’ve normalized the idea that you “deserve” to live the life now. Max out – and use debt to do it. If you can instill in your children the idea that their money can work for them, you’ll be setting them up for privileges that few have. A great goal, Latoya : )

  7. That’s awesome! You both should be proud!

    “What am I even saving for?” It’s such a great question!! I recently came to my ah-ha moment with this question. I wrote about it a while back (End-of-history illusion) and what I tried to explain in theory parallels perfectly with DD1’s real life story.

    The answer to “What am I saving for?” is YOU DONT KNOW, just be ready for whatever it is. It’s so easy to think nothing will change in the future, and what you’re doing today will be what you will be doing tomorrow. We continually underestimate the number of changes/opportunities that will come our way. It’s not a question of IF something new and exciting that you’ve never thought about before peaks your interest. Its a matter of WHEN. Are we going to be ready for it?

    Now DD1 know what she was saving for. 🙂

    1. I remember that post you wrote, Luke : ) It took me a long time to get that concept figured out too. I would think, “We’re going into debt for this (whatever it was), but it’s no problem. We’ll pay it off.” Then, before having paid it off, there would be another something for which to go into debt. Ugh! Then when the really important dreams couldn’t come true because of financial constraints, it came as a shock. No more of that!

  8. What a GREAT story Ruth!!! And awww, you must be so proud of your daughter 🙂 I hope to instill good financial advice with my daughter as well as she gets older.

    And also, that is an awesome picture!

    1. I’m with you on the picture, Mackenzie : ) It’s tricky business trying to pass on wise money management. I think the best way is to walk the walk without too much talking the talk. All the best!

  9. Whoa ! Great job Mom + Dad to work your way out . DD1 FANTASTIC ! I’ve come and gone in both directions . Sadly my son’s only picked up the bad part . I’m heading down the successful biz path (say a prayer). Congratulations all around. I’ll be around. Patti H2

  10. Patti, your son’s story isn’t over yet. Maybe he’ll end up coming and going in both directions too – and stick with the good part. In the mean time, don’t enable him or bail him out – but be ready to encourage him with the possibilities. There’s your unsolicited advice for the day ; ) All the best in your business. I understand the uncertainty and excitement involved.

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