This post is part of The Gift of Debt Series an eight-day, multi-blogger extravaganza hosted by The Fiscal Flamingo. The series is designed to give you the permission to kick up your heels, embrace your debt with glee and look forward to finding the gold at the end of the rainbow. Follow along in the series as we tell the story of our gift and encourage you to find yours.
One thing I’ve noticed about the personal finance community is that a lot of people are writing about how to become financially untouchable. They write about having the requisite six months of salary in the bank; recession-proof diverse streams of income; insurance for every imagined concern and calamity; and kung-fu budgeting skills that Bruce Lee would choke on. We aim to maintain our financial independence, capable of managing the ebbs and flows of an unpredictable economy and changing circumstance.
For myself, these are all things I’m working towards but I believe there’s something missing amidst all this good advice. It can be summed up simply, we need people. We need each other. Sometimes I think we miss that fact while we’re busy building our Fortresses of Financial Solitude.
I remember my life as a young single mother going to University in my early twenties. Even though I had next to no financial resources, I had everything I needed. In some ways, I had more. And it wasn’t because I had thousands of dollars in my bank account. It was because I built relationships and found creative ways to connect and enrich my life.
In my case, need was a powerful motivator. I didn’t have a lot of money, or a car, or anything else really…but I did have family and friends. I was close with family and they could always be counted upon to help out with childcare when they could. Also, I knew a group of single mom’s who traded babysitting with each other. I didn’t often trade babysitting but it was nice to have that group of ladies that I could call when I needed a little extra help. When paying for a babysitter wasn’t an option, I could rely on some friends in a similar situation.
Food was always my biggest expense and I was always looking for ways to save some money. One of the advisors at school mentioned the community kitchen program. The idea was simple: a group of people get together, pick out recipes, plan out a grocery list, and organize a day to come together and cook everything. At the end of the day, you came away with nine or ten different freezable meals that you can reheat and eat whenever you want it. This was a really nice way to join up with people I wouldn’t normally have met and spend time cooking and getting to know each other. It was a really cool experience!
Student loans didn’t give me a lot of money for living so I had to work. Unfortunately, any money I made would automatically be deducted from what I received from the government every semester. Another problem was that I didn’t have a car and transit was pretty limited in my little city. University was right across the street from where I lived so it made sense to try and get a job on campus. I ended up getting to know the people on the student paper and was voted in as News Editor the following year. It paid an honorarium and wasn’t taxable and hence, not considered income. The year after, I was voted onto the student council and was paid an honorarium with that as well. My loans weren’t reduced and I made some much needed money to supplement what I was bringing in with student loans.
The take away message is that we need each other. All through time, people have banded together – from a group who hunted and gathered together to farmers that formed a collective to protect against crop loss. Money is just the latest method of transacting an exchange of goods and services and should never be considered the end goal. It is merely a tool. It buffers us against our need to connect, to trust, and to rely on each other.
While we’re on our way to becoming financial aficionados, we will need to remember that. Being resourceful isn’t just about finding a way to stretch a dollar – it’s about relationships. Knowing this is the gift that debt gave me.