Tuesday, May 8, 2012

This is Personal


I was eight years old when it happened. I missed school because I was sick, and spent the day at my grandparents house. Mom came over around 4:00 with my five year old brother to take me home. It started to storm, so she decided we should stay for dinner. I was happy, because I could continue to watch what was one of my favorite television shows.

I was sitting on the recliner watching TV, and my five year old brother was peeping over the window sill watching the storm. Grandma walked past me to pull him back from the window, Mom walked in to turn off the TV, and Grandpa walked in to talk to me. That is when it hit, without warning.

The tornado was such a violent and frightening sound, something that cannot be re-created in a movie. When it passed, I sat up confused. I did not understand why I was getting rained on. I saw Grandpa, but I didn't see anyone else. The eerie silence was broken by Mom screaming for my brother and I. She unburied herself from the rubble and stood up a bloody mess. We found my brother and our grandma, and began to move to the center of the house.

In that instant, everything changed for our family.

Mom loved to teach. She was an elementary special education teacher. She was very driven. She graduated from The Ohio State University in less then four years and quickly earned a Master of Education degree at Wright State University. As hard as she worked as a student, she had to have worked harder as a teacher. Even when she was home, she was grading papers or writing IEP's. After the tornado, her career eventually came to an end.

Mom's injuries were permanent. She has chronic shooting pain down her arm, which doctors suspect could have triggered Multiple Sclerosis. As hard as she tried to continue to work, she could not. She fought through it for a number of years before the pain of her injuries and the fatigue of the disease was too much to handle. She went on disability.

My father was a robotic arms instructor for Siemens, but around the time I was finishing college, my father's job was outsourced. My dad did not skip a beat. He had a second job for most of his life. He had accumulated quite a few rental properties over 25 years, a business he began to build as he finished college living in a railroad car. While doing so, he saved enough money to buy a rental property, and made sacrifices throughout his life to grow his rental business. His retirement was diversified, and he was confident he could absorb his job being outsourced.

Then DHL left.



My father's rental properties were all located in my hometown - - Wilmington, Ohio. As you can see from the embedded 60 Minutes special, when DHL left the company took with them 10,000 jobs from a community of 12,000, and a third of my father's renters.

Yet again, my father figured out a way to recover.

Natural disasters, job losses, economic collapses, all headlines you see in a newspaper. The experience you have living through each cannot be captured with a picture or illustrated with words. I am not sure how you prepare psychologically or emotionally for such events. Fortunately for us my parents were financially prepared for each catastrophe, easing the pain and challenge of the circumstances substantially.

Our standard of living did not change much. Disability insurance provided enough income to continue to live our same lifestyle. Adequate health care paid for the endless trips to the Cleveland Clinic and the University of Cincinnati Pain Center for Mom. Emergency savings helped cushion the initial blow of DHL pulling out of Wilmington. A diversified retirement portfolio absorbed an early and unanticipated exit to Dad's career. All valuable lessons my parents modeled and I lived. Yet one lesson stands out from the rest.


My father drove the worst car I have ever seen. If you look closely enough at the picture, you will see there are no door handles, they all rusted off. So my dad eventually ran metal fish wire through the door. To open it, you yanked on the wire like you were starting a weed eater, and the doors instantly popped open. That is only one illustration of what most people thought was an abandoned vehicle.

My first year home from college I asked my dad why they never drove a nicer car. Instead of answering, he asked me to get a calculator. He asked me how much a monthly car payment would be for a normal new car and to plug the number into the calculator, which I did. He then asked me to plug in the monthly cost of full coverage car insurance, which I did. I multiplied that number by 12 months, then by 20 years. I was taken back by how much money my father saved. I sat quietly for a few moments, and then Dad looked me in the eyes and told me "Son, we never drove new cars because we did not have the money to send you to college if we did. And I will not have any son of mine living in a railroad car like I chose to in order to pay for a college education."

The lesson did not have as much to do with paying for college or making sacrifices as it did making an understood financial choice. He went on to make it clear to me that money is just a medium of exchange, and you should spend your money consistent with the people and the things you value the most.

I was fortunate enough to have two parents who understood what financial tools and concepts I needed to look inward to solve some of life's greatest challenges. Not everyone is so lucky, and that is just not right. Every child deserves to be empowered with a financial education, and our schools need to make the commitment to provide one.

So now when you get a "tweet" from me about personal finance or my students experience a lesson they believe I take a little too seriously, you understand why. I believe the most powerful thing I can ever do for a student is to give them the financial tools they need to do powerful things for themselves. So for me, this is personal.




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