Telling the Kids

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I’ve got so much shame wrapped up in my money profligacy that I hide my new turn towards getting out of this mess from my kids. I say the reason we don’t have a pile of cash for their college is the 2008 crash, but the truth is that the money had been largely gone by then — because we had been spending way beyond our means for more than ten years.

I’ve even kind of blocked out all the details. We inherited a million bucks in the mid 1990s, by 2010 all that was left was a wee bit in Roths and SEPs that couldn’t be easily liquidated and some work retirement accounts.  I’m pretty sure that before 2008, we were down to nearly nothing else. But honestly I don’t remember. I was pretty much disasociating from the situation.  Then the market crashed. So to tell the kids the reason there’s no college money is the crash is a total lie.

We’d been milking that money for years, mostly for perfectly good things: kids’ preschool (which easily rivals college costs). Down payments on houses that, when we moved when the market shifted, we lost in the next turn. At least one terrible fiasco from a money manager. But also, mostly, there were the monthly drains of about $3,000 because we werent’t budgeting and living within the means of our income.

I feel terrible because I had taken on the job of paying the bills, and I let it get out of control, and I would have occasional binges of spending. And then I’d hide it. And then it would get worse. And then we were broke. But broke making around $200k isn’t like broke at poverty wages, so it’s easy to deny and carry on like everything is fine.

Oddly I have a kind of nostalgia for my days in my early twenties when I was actually making poverty wages and didn’t have credit enough for a credit card. I had nothing. But I wasn’t in debt either. But that was truthfully misery too.

So I am so happy that I now make the kind of money that I can get out of this mess in a few years and still cash flow kids’ college expenses. A little late to the party, but I am happy to finally be here.

We are super fortunate. But I need to remember that it could all fall apart in a heartbeat, so I need to carry on like there’s no tomorrow.

[photograph by Pat Turner]

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