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The Gift that Keeps On Giving

Have you given this to yourself?

My mother gave me the gift of life, but she also gave me another gift. 

My mother gave me the gift of Choice.

When I was a child, I was (and still am) a voracious reader. Books opened up the world for me, and it was a world I wanted to see. To say I dreamed of seeing it would be an understatement. It was a calling. An imperative.

However, the fact was that I grew up in a small town in the middle of a state that was in the middle of the United States. It was a treat just to go to Chicago, which was five hours away, much less to another country. 

I grew up and went to school with the same classmates. A new girl from Georgia was exotic. Going “abroad” was alien.

It was also expensive, and an impractical expense at that. While I grew up in a financially secure household, spending money to “see the world” wasn’t a priority. It wasn’t even a choice.

Yet, it was a choice I was given because of my mom.

How?

My mother gave me the financial means to choose to pursue my dream.

She didn’t write me a check. She couldn’t. She did it another way.

She invested on my behalf.

In the 80’s, investing was becoming more mainstream, even trendy. Investment clubs were springing up all over, including in our small town. My mom’s interest was piqued, and so she joined an investment club to learn about investing.

(My mother is passionate. She doesn’t do things halfway. She throws herself wholly and fully into whatever she points her focus. Being a mom. Going back to school as a thirty-something adult and mother of two to get her university degree. Teaching. Bird watching. Gardening. Quilting. Investing. Disco dancing. Knitting. Traveling. Parrot-raising. Cross-stitching. Being a grandma. There doesn’t have to be a theme. There just has to be passion. She has it by the boatloads. And a huge heart. Plus a wicked sense of humor. Did I mention personality, too?)

Well, the financial wheels started turning in her head, and it wasn’t long before she started eyeing the pile of very secure but very low-interest earning bonds that my grandparents had given my sister and I on every birthday and every major holiday since we were born. Soon, my mother grabbed the pile in one hand and me in the other, we cashed in those bonds and invested the money in the stock market, specifically a mutual fund.

Fast forward about four years. I was a junior in university with the opportunity to study abroad in Spain but no way to pay for it. University was costly enough. Studying abroad was a superfluous expense. In fact, at that time, studying abroad was so out of the realm of “practical” and “normal,” I was trying to figure out how I would get permission to go, much less ask for help to fund it.

Studying abroad was superfluous, but not superfluous were the gains my little stash of invested bond money had made in its new mutual fund home.

The $1,000 that had been invested had more than quadrupled. What bonds could never have done for me, price appreciation, reinvested dividends and the magic of compound interest had.

I went to Spain, and not only did that money pay for one semester, but it paid for two.

It opened up the world for me, and it opened up doors of opportunity.

My second semester I spent studying business at the Universidad de Sevilla (University of Seville) and also did an internship at the bank BNP (now BNP Paribas). Without a doubt, my study abroad experience was a big part of the reason why Abbott Laboratories hired me into their prestigious financial management training program.

It opened up a whole new world for me.

(Worlds, in fact. One of my assignments for Abbott was in Germany, where I met and fell in love with a Swede, married him, had two precious boys – now young men – and we are enjoying our 25th year of marriage and 8th country as expats.)

All because of the power of choice that investing in my financial future gave to me.

The gift of choice has made all the difference in my life and now my life’s work. Today I am no longer a financial planner for Fortune 500 companies, but instead a well-being coach in Self, Body and Money. 

Well-being in all three areas are important for all of us. However, as a woman I know how easy it is to prioritize other things over our well-being. We are so busy taking care of other things and other people, we stop prioritizing taking care of ourselves. We stop taking time for self-care, and we often delegate our financial well-being to someone else. Money is especially easy to delegate because of its questionable moral character.

However, money is neither good, evil or something to be ashamed of. It is a tool, just as is exercise, nutritional food or meditation. Our health, safety, security, and ability to meet our needs and wants – and those of our loved ones – are all impacted by our financial well-being, however we define that.

It is particularly important that we women recognize the importance of getting engaged in our financial well-being because, while we have made tremendous progress in many areas, money is still a source of vulnerability for us.

That is because:

We generally earn less in our jobs than our male equivalents or our male partner.

We tend to live longer than our male partners.

We often are the ones in a relationship who take time off from our careers to take care of kids (or other family members, such as ailing and/or aging parents), which can lead to lower pension benefits (if any pension); lower retirement savings (if any); and overall loss of lifetime earning power, not only because of the actual time off from work, but also the impact it can have on the position and salary level at which we re-enter the workforce.

We often delegate the handling of finances to our partner (or other advisor), especially if we aren’t the “breadwinner.”

We may be less familiar with financial matters, due to lack of exposure for different reasons (and often a lack of education, which goes for both males and females; despite money being something we have to manage every day of our lives, we receive little instruction about money management when it comes to our formal education).

And we are more negatively impacted financially in the event of divorce or death of a spouse.

Financial well-being, like well-being in Self and Body, is about the power of Choice. 

It is a choice that we have control over. We can choose to be engaged in our well-being, to support ourself so we can support our loved ones and have the fulfilling life experiences that we want to have. 

We get to choose to give that gift to ourself. 

The gift of feeling good. The gift that keeps on giving. 

I know it is a gift that has made all the difference to my world. 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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