DD1 = Dear First Daughter
DH = Dear Husband
When DD1 was in her teens, DH and I were going through our horrible years of his career shift. Job loss, financial stress, my unhappy return to full-time work, uncertain future . . . Not a great scene. DD1 was keen about her sport and looking forward to post-secondary studies. She did not have an easy time of it. She financed her athletics by coaching younger athletes in exchange for her own training, and through the air-mile points and financial generosity offered by a small group of sponsors. She would nap in change rooms, write essays in airports, and constantly arrange financial, travel, athletic, and academic logistics.
As a parent, I felt badly that DH and I couldn’t support her more. I felt rather sheepish about the huge efforts she had to put into forging her path as we stressed and cut back and worked and wondered uncertainly about how we would forge ours. DD1 did not get life handed to her on a silver platter, but she managed to thrive in her sport, competing in fifteen different countries in three different continents. And she managed to achieve her undergraduate degree at a local university – only half financed by her parents – so well that she earned scholarships to work towards her masters degree on the west coast. She lived like a poor student, rooming with other students, always working part-time, and she managed to graduate without debt.
Have I boasted enough? Not quite. Last year, when I visited her just as she started her first full-time job, I took it upon myself to offer financial advice. “Stay out of debt,” I said, “and try to save 15% of your gross income.” It was advice straight out of Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover – advice that I had certainly not followed at her age. DD1 has launched into her career and has faced the brutal learning curve that is classic for the newbie. Her work is punishing for long periods of time through the year, requiring relentless travel and sixteen-hour days. She earns a fairly typical, fairly low starting salary, and she’s living in a very expensive city. But in her eyes, that salary is a jackpot. Accustomed to living on very little while paying tuition fees as a student, she sees abundance in her modest income.
Her company flies her to two conventions each year, and so far, three of them have been held within a few hours’ drive of our home. DD1 has arranged to take at least a few days to visit us each time – without either of us having to foot the bill for the flight. Perfect! She’s home now – even more perfect since it has been the first week of my two-weeks’ summer holiday, and I’ve been able to spoil her a bit. Just a bit mind you. Maternal gushes have to be held in check by the debt-reduction budget. But on Wednesday, I treated her to lunch downtown at the market. It was lovely – complete with good weather, a long walk (I opted for free parking at quite a distance from our destination), fabulous food eaten outdoors, live entertainment from a busker doing her Irish dances right in front of us as we ate dessert, and a bit of a shopping excursion. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get better than that.
We talked and talked and talked about everything, and at one point I had to ask the question: “Did you manage to put by any savings in your first year of work?” DD1 isn’t sold on our recent frugality kick. She reads my posts and listens to our talk with amused tolerance, but she’s not committed. So I ask these questions with delicacy, and with no expectation of a ready answer. But she did answer. She has saved. 15% of her gross income. I’m so proud! “But I didn’t deprive myself of anything,” she said. “I ate a lot of take-out. I traveled to Seattle with some friends to watch a baseball game. I traveled to Yellowknife with my cousins. I’ve joined a beach volley-ball club. I’ve bought clothes . . .”
We couldn’t offer DD1 the kind of support I wanted to give her through her teens and early twenties, and I wish we could have. But in the end, I believe it has served her well. Would she be as content with her lifestyle now if she hadn’t learned to live under the poverty line for so long? Would she have been able to handle the crazy busy times at work if she hadn’t spent years working hard to pursue her sport and her studies? I don’t know. But I do know that she’s happy. I do know that although she has no idea what the future holds, she’s hopeful. And I do know that there is nothing like seeing my child live her life with a wisdom I didn’t gain until I was much older. When the landscape has been difficult, it’s wonderful to see something beautiful blossom.