National Save for Retirement Week has gotten me thinking about my own savings journey, especially when I was in my late 20’s – the age of today’s millennials. I have always been a saver, but in my early working days, I was usually saving for “something” as opposed to for “someday”. Contact lenses, a bicycle, for example, when I was in college, and later, as a new wife, saving for a car or a home purchase. But saving for the unexpected was really not on my screen.
Fast forward a couple of years, and I was a new mother who had decided to take a sabbatical from work and return to school. At that time, I was thinking about staying at home with our daughter and working part time after I finished an accounting program. My husband and I had some savings, so I wasn’t too worried at the time.
Then, eighteen months later, my husband was laid off as a recession hit his industry hard, and suddenly we were parents with an eighteen month old, a mortgage and no income. It didn’t take long for us to run through our savings – but we absolutely did not want to ask our parents for help. My parents still had three kids in college, and my husband’s parents were retired and would only be able to lend us money, if that. So we borrowed against the cash value of our life insurance, worked hard to find jobs and thankfully were both employed before we ran out of money.
So what did I learn? First, having savings for those unforeseen situations is absolutely essential and we should have prepared better for that. And secondly, it felt really good, once it was all over, to have been able to get through a tough time as a couple and figure it out for ourselves. We learned from adversity and I think that we grew up a lot as a result of that challenging time.
As I think about my boomer cohorts, however, and our millennial children, I believe most of us wouldn’t hesitate to rush in to help our children financially through a time like this – and I think we have raised our children to pretty much expect it. While most of my generation would never have asked our parents for financial help, I think we are guilty of having raised our children to do exactly that. Personally, I wish I had spent more time teaching my children about the discipline of saving and the financial security it can bring. I learned the hard way, but I have had a disciplined approach to saving ever since – whether it’s for retirement, college educations…. or a broken down washing machine!