My parents came to visit me for only three short days recently and I miss them already. One of the reasons why I wanted to leave my stressful job in finance was to spend more time with them. I flew back to Hawaii four times in 2012 and three times in 2013 to visit for two-to-five weeks at a time. But our first meeting of 2014 was in September.
Totally my fault. Life seems to always get in the way.
Ever since going to college, I’ve longed to make my parents proud. My goal was to do well in school so I could earn enough money to support myself, a family, and them. They took care of me for the first 22 years, it’s only right I take care of them.
Some children have no problem accepting financial help from their parents as adults. That’s probably because they weren’t bad like me. I got in a lot of trouble as a teenager, and I really feel guilty for giving my mother so much heartache. I wanted to make up for all the money they spent on me by proving they didn’t raise a dead beat, but someone who could be independent as soon as he graduated college.
I also suffer from money guilt because I grew up in developing countries for the first 13 years of my life (Philippines, Zambia, Malaysia, Taiwan), and frequently went to China and India for work. Every time I’m about to buy something I don’t need, I think back to the times when I witnessed destitution. Every time I eat, I try and eat more slowly in order to be mindful of the starving.
Developing countries are full of hope and growth, but the juxtaposition between the haves and the have-nots is very stark. The poor are extremely poor and the rich are obnoxiously rich. You want to help, but after a while of helping, you come to the realization that the poverty is endless – like trying to catch a rain drop moments before a monsoon washes you over.
My parents earned middle class wages as US foreign service officers. They were frugal and taught me the importance of saving. Thanks to their good money habits, they were able to send both my sister and I to college without anybody taking on any debt. College tuition was lower back in the 90s, but it still took a lot of discipline to save ~$100,000 a child for college on an average government salary.
Because I went to public school, there was a surplus of my college fund that was invested in the stock market some time during my junior year in college. I still can’t believe William & Mary was only $2,800 a year in tuition. Junior year was when I started getting interested in a career in finance. The stock market was the most exciting thing I could think of at the time.
Fast forward to my parent’s recent visit. Before hugging my mom and dad good-bye at the pier before they left on a cruise around Cape Horn to New York City, my mother gave me an envelope as she so often does when we meet. Perhaps it’s Chinese custom or maybe it’s because she’s always so thoughtful that she always wants to help me even though I’m an adult.
Every time she gives me an envelope with a check, I decline because I want her to enjoy her money during retirement. But I’m also careful not to offend her good gesture either. Rejecting people’s gifts can get tricky. In the end, I’ll accept and cash her check if it’s under $150 bucks. But if it’s over $150, then I’ll leave it in a drawer somewhere and let it expire. I was once cleaning out my coffee table when I found a check for $200 from my mom from three years prior! I told her and we laughed together.
This latest check of hers was a whopper. It was so much bigger than the others; I cannot disclose the amount. All I can say is that it was a good portion of her annual income while she was still working. I only found out how big the check was when I got home after dropping them off at the cruise ship. I immediately told her over e-mail that there was no way I could ever accept the check.
True to form, my mother in her often jovial manner insisted that I cash the check. She told me to use the check to fatten me up, or do some remodeling, or whatever I’d like. She told me that the cash wasn’t earning any interest in her account, and to please take the money.
She then said something really heart-warming and a little melancholy, “Well, I’m just trying to make the best use of my money, finding different purposes for it (other than sustaining life) from what your financial blog promotes! After all, you are one of my beneficiaries. So why not use it while I feel like doing it once in a (long) while.”
I was touched by her response because it makes me happy when my parents read my work. One of the main reasons why I started Financial Samurai was so that I could provide another way for my family to communicate since we live all over the country. But, I was also sad to hear her response because I never like to think about death. Every time someone or a pet passes away, my heart sinks to my stomach and I don’t want to do anything for days.
This was our fourth e-mail exchange about me refusing and her insisting. In the end, I decided to deposit her check and figure out a way to make good use of her money.
USING HER MONEY WISELY
One of the reasons why my mom is amazing is because she is so selfless. She’s not wealthy, but she always gives her money away to causes she believes in and people she cares about. She is always thinking of other people first. You know the type of person who spend hours preparing an amazing meal, but never gets to eat any of it because she’s always up and about to make sure your glass is full and the food is warm? That’s my mom. We’ve got to insist she relax and join us often times.
She doesn’t need much money at all to be happy. I’m sure she could live off $1,000 a month in retirement and not have any problems whatsoever thanks to zero debt. To be content with so little is a wonderful gift I strive to emulate as I get older.
I have to imagine that all any parent wants for their children is happiness and to feel like they still have a positive influence in their lives. So I thought long and hard about the best way to honor my mother with her contribution until I finally came up with an idea.
By the time everything is done with my house, I’ll probably end up spending at least $100,000 in remodeling costs. It’s an old house that needs a lot of work, but I knew what I was getting myself into when I first bid on the property.
I wrote my mom,
“Thanks mom. OK, I have cashed your check! Thank you! I will use it to pay for our new roof that is 25 years old and falling apart! A new roof costs a lot and should last for a long while. Feel great knowing that you have literally provided a roof over my head and my future family’s head! We will name it “Mom’s Roof” and it will always be there to protect us. :O)”
As soon as I hit send, I began to cry. I was touched by her generosity, but I was also reminded that nothing lasts forever. Mom’s Roof will eventually need to be changed in 15-20 years. By then, I’ll be 52-57 years old and I hope both my parents will still be around.
MAKE IT COUNT
Accepting gifts from parents will always be difficult for me. I just want to give back to them and make them happy instead. But when I ask my mom if she needs any help, she always says “no.” My father is very frugal as well, and has carefully planned out their financial needs. The best I can do is to stay out of trouble, stay in touch, and keep on going.
If you suffer from money guilt, I think the best thing you can do is honor the opportunities you have. Don’t waste them because there are literally millions of people out there who don’t have the same chances. Work your hardest until you pass out at your desk. Take more risks because others can’t afford to. Accept financial assistance with humility and figure out a way to honor the helper. Find ways to give back. Sooner or later the guilt will be replaced with fulfillment. I’ll let you know when my feelings change.
Readers, do you suffer from money guilt? Do you ever wonder “why me and not them”? What are the things you do to overcome your money guilt? Do you have a difficult time accepting money from your parents as an adult? How is money viewed in your culture between generations?