If it's possible to say that anything good has come out of the recession, I'd say it's been the impact it's had on my parenting. As a single mom living in Manhattan, I'm proud to say that I've finally re-aligned my values with the way I was raised. And Mom always taught us that every penny counts!
Prior to 2008, my work as a brand consultant had me building effective campaigns for an elite clientele, and enjoying a lucrative career that supported a more-than-comfortable lifestyle. Back then we traveled the world, had a four-bedroom house in New Jersey, even a second apartment in Manhattan. Life was good!
So good, in fact, that I never worried -- or even thought much -- about our finances. Like many, I believed that if I worked hard, success would always follow and so even though I earned a good salary, I never thought twice about throwing down a credit card, or cavalierly spending ahead of my income. I was confident I could always make it up. Boy, was I wrong.
Financially Fit has been nominated for a Webby for Best Online Film and Video for “How-To and DIY”. Please help us win by voting hereIn September of 2008, the bottom fell out of my industry. Not only did the phone stop ringing, I discovered that the entire network of people I relied on for work had lost their jobs. The economy was in a free-fall, and I'd gone right off the cliff with it and worse yet -- I had no safety net. In fact, I'd just resurfaced from a month long vacation that had eaten up savings and put me in the red. Overnight, I went from a person who never had to worry about money to someone who had literally run out of money.
By November, I was in a panic. Manhattan is expensive enough, but with two kids and zero income I was terrified. I started selling off the cars, the wedding crystal, jewelry. When that was gone, I sold my clothes, electronics, dishes -- even old shoes. I took whatever jobs I could, scratching out enough change some weeks just to buy groceries. It was rock bottom.
Suddenly, I was forced confront to my roots, and appreciate what my mother, also a single mom, had gone through raising us on a meager existence. Despite struggling financially, she'd always emphasized resourcefulness, determination and a strong work ethic. In fact, she called my sister and I "the Intrepids", and I realized that more than anything, I wanted my kids to be "intrepid," too.
Before the recession, I'd been an indulgent mom with a loose pocketbook; if my kids wanted something, they'd usually get it. Now, I realize that that I hadn't been teaching my kids the values my mother had given me…. I was committing mothering malpractice!
So, I changed my ways. I started treating money like what it was -- a precious commodity that may -- or may not -- always be there. And while I often pulled financial McGyvers just to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, I also started getting serious about my business. No longer could I just rely on a few high-end clients. I knew I was going to have to broaden my scope and be a little more nimble. I learned new skills, added new services, and found a new customer base.
We made the ends meet, and finally, after five years, my business has slowly started to recover. That said, my attitude towards money will never be the same. Here's just a few of the lessons I'm trying to teach my kids:
- Pennies have to be earned: I don't believe in giving my kids an allowance anymore. Now they earn by doing chores around the house, and since I don't pay much, just 10 cents a job -- they really do have to work for it!
- Look in unexpected places: My daughter once asked me what a recession was, and I told her it's when no one has any money. She protested, "What do you mean? There's money everywhere!" and it turns out she's right -- when you look down, Manhattan's covered in change (sometimes bills, too!). My kids have made a game of it -- and we don't just stop there. We've found cash in places, frankly, I'd never thought possible. My son took a liking to the bottle-return machine at our local grocery store, and now it seems unthinkable how much money we were just throwing away before!
- Know a penny's worth: I try to talk openly with my kids about our financial choices, because I want them to have a realistic understanding of what things cost and how hard they have to work for something they want. I'm teaching them the value of value, which, thankfully, I learned from my own mother (even if, for a while, I strayed away from her lessons). Some people look at a penny and think it's trash. I'm proud that when my kids see a penny, they think, 'treasure!'
Though the recession has given me one heck of a wake-up call, I've had the opportunity to teach my kids to be intrepid, too. I know that no matter what, I'll never take my family's financial security for granted again.