The below is something I wrote for my two step sons, who are in their mid- to late-twenties. For a long time, I’ve wanted to give them some advice that could help provide structure as they begin to navigate their “grown up” years. Given the recent transition our family has been in, I finally sat down to put pen to paper, which resulted in this blog post.
Put It in the Books
Well, it’s been an interesting year, hasn’t it?
A year of highs and lows, beginnings and endings. There’s been a lot going on, for sure.
But through all of the ups and downs, a few things have remained consistent. Like buoys strategically placed along the rough ocean waters, or a far away lighthouse, offering a beacon of hope for the future.
While the waves may be rough at times, you can still count on a few remaining standards:
- We are a family, and that won’t ever change.
- No matter how dark the night, the sun will always rise the next day.
- The NY Mets will usually find a way to screw up a lead — but true fans will remain loyal, for better or for worse.
And while I still have your attention, I’d like to throw a few ideas your way, just in case life becomes even more complicated and hectic. Because as we get older, it’s sometimes difficult to maintain the level of interaction we used to have when we were all under the same roof.
Back when we would eat meals together, and watch TV together, and discuss the normal, interesting things that happened during your school day.
When our free time was dictated by where your travel sports teams wanted to take us, and what playoffs would be televised that night.
And when we once in a while would play board games on the living room floor, as our funny little pup would walk right across the board, sending little blue and pink people-pieces everywhere.
Do you remember those days? I’m not sure if you do.
But I can — quite vividly.
And even though they say “blood is thicker than water”, I don’t think that’s always the case.
Because while I’m not your biological mother, I sure feel as close to you both as if you were my own flesh and blood. I’d like it to stay that way, although I know things may get tougher going forward.
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you how proud I am of you both, as young men who have persevered through many challenges while growing up.
You had a childhood that was more complicated than many of your friends’. And I never knew what place I truly had in your lives, or your hearts.
We didn’t do a lot of “emotional sharing” when you were younger, and maybe we should have.
But when it all comes down to it, you both have succeeded beyond measure. And I know things will only get better as the years progress. So with that being said, there are a few words of advice I’d like to share with you.
Because hey, wouldn’t it be totally uncharacteristic of me to not give you some sort of advice right now? (I mean, was there ever a time I didn’t try to tell you what to do?!)
With that in mind, I do want to share with you some wisdom I’ve learned over the years. (And I use the term “wisdom” quite loosely — as I’m 100% certain you both are on a better track than I was at your age.)
Here are some life lessons I’d like to impart to the two of you, who I consider to be my greatest accomplishments — My sons.
Life Lessons While You Are on Your Journey
1. Start an Emergency Fund
First and foremost — You need to set aside money as an emergency fund. Because this is where your father and I faltered on soooo many occasions. We had no emergency savings, so when things happened, we were out of options. Everything fell to a credit card (if we were lucky enough to even have one available.)
So make sure you set aside an emergency savings, and keep at least $1,000 – $2,000 in it at all times. That’s just a starter amount, to get used to the idea. Ideally, you should have more.
And don’t touch it, unless you have an actual emergency. Example: car breaks down, new tires are needed, emergency vet bill, ER visit, unexpected doctor or dentist bills. But if you have to use some of it, make sure you fill it right back up again for the next time.
Do not use it to go shopping or buy electronics or go on vacation. This is how people fall into unexpected credit card debt. Something happens, they do not have an emergency fund, and they resort to using credit.
2. Do Not Rack up a Balance on Credit Cards
This goes along with the advice above. Although it would be unrealistic to say you should never use a credit card. That’s just not real life.
Don’t use a credit card to live your daily life. Don’t use it to buy groceries, or pay for gas, or buy lunch, or go out to happy hour. (Unless you pay the entire balance in full. Every. Single. Month.)
Credit cards have a nasty habit of accumulating in a way that you don’t notice at first. Then all of a sudden, you owe several grand to a company that is greedily charging you 25% interest on that debt.
Do yourselves a favor, and just don’t fall into that black hole.
3. Don’t Order Takeout for Dinner Every Night
If you take a look at your bank account, do some quick math by reviewing how many times you’ve had takeout over the past month. Add it up, and think about what else could have been done with that money.
Could it have paid a bill? Covered a car payment? Gone into a savings account and earned interest for the future? If you think about all of those meals that are now distant memories — were they worth it? (And we won’t even get into the charges for certain beverages.)
Learning to cook something from home, no matter how simple it may be, will save you thousands over a year. Plus it could be fun to create recipes with friends, and you can be proud of learning a new skill.
Cooking is not hard. But it takes practice, and some patience. As you both know, I’m not someone who loves to cook. But I understand the value of saving money, and sometimes sacrifices need to be made in order to have a better future.
4. Respect and Cherish Those Who Are Closest to You
Whether you are in a relationship, or just have really close friends, make sure you let those individuals know what they mean to you. The people who are closest to you are the ones who will support you through good and bad times. They will be the ones you can lean on in times of insecurity or trouble.
Do not take them for granted. If you’re really in it for the long haul, let them know you will always be there for them. And then follow through by actually showing them.
The little things do count. A kind word, a smile, a gentle hand, and even a compliment every now and again. Also — harsh words can hurt. A lot. Especially when there is no apology afterwards. Which brings me to the next.
5. If You Screw Up, Apologize
I realize it’s difficult to admit if you are in the wrong. But no one is 100% perfect. That just doesn’t exist. You’re bound to mess up every once in a while, and that’s okay. I’ve certainly done it plenty of times.
But the great thing about making mistakes is you learn from them, and can improve for the future. Plus you have the opportunity to make amends.
Saying you’re sorry doesn’t make you appear weak. A true, genuine apology conveys that you place value on the relationship, and want to make things right. The bigger person will always own up to what was said or done, and do what they can to make things better.
6. Be a Kind Person
I know we didn’t attend church when you were growing up. But there are some basic ideals that all humans should know and follow.
Treat people the way you would like to be treated. When someone is a jerk to you, turn the other cheek and be the better person.
Hatred and jealousy will never get you anywhere. Look inward to yourself, to find any unresolved issues that are making you feel the way you do. Because you can’t control if someone else hurts you. But you can control how you react to that pain. How you move forward. And how you recover.
Sing, dance, and rejoice — how could music not bring you joy?? Be nice to children and animals; they depend on you.
Be kind. Do not be nasty or mean. Don’t make fun of others just to get a laugh.
Do nice things for the heck of it, because it makes you feel good, not because you want attention or credit.
7. Forgive People Who Have Done You Wrong
Humans are complicated. You don’t know what anyone has lived through to get where they are. What they’ve had to endure or persevere through. What they witnessed as children, or struggled through as adults.
People are not 100% bad, or 100% good. You can’t always blame someone for doing wrong by you. But what you can do is choose to forgive them.
It doesn’t mean you’re giving them a free pass to mess with your mind or heart again. And it doesn’t mean they are without accountability for their actions. But it does mean you are in control of your emotions, your memories, your learnings from what has transpired.
Do you let the past dictate your future joy? Or do you make peace with what has already happened, and move onward with your journey?
8. Don’t Forget the People Who Played a Part in Who You Are Today
They might not even be related to you. In fact, most of your major influences won’t be. Since you have absolutely no control over who is in your family, but you do have control over who you choose to spend your time with.
They say you’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Whether you realize it or not, these people have shaped your beliefs and actions. They’ve affected your mindset and helped you establish your hopes, dreams and future goals.
And on the flip side, also remember you might be influencing others as well. Don’t underestimate the amount of impact you may have on others. Continue to be the great examples that I know you are.
9. Remember That People and Experiences Are More Important Than “Things”
This one’s a biggie — so you may want to read this through, take a breather, and then read it again.
Because it matters.
Most people go through their entire lives chasing a dream. And that dream is inevitably tied up with dollar signs. The most common dreams have to do with status symbols, sparkly trinkets, flashy bling, designer brand names and Insta-worthy moments.
People work their fingers to the bone to get that next raise, so they can upgrade their homes, their cars, and sometimes their life partners.
And what happens once they get that promotion, or McMansion, or Audi? They start craving the next best thing. And the next, and the next.
To what end?
At what point does someone actually become happy?
Here’s the thing: Happiness has nothing to do with material things. If you’re unhappy in the present time, then all of the material objects in the world will not make you happy.
And if you’re already full of joy, then you don’t need any of that other junk to sustain your happiness.
Stuff doesn’t matter. People do. Experiences do. Actions do.
And kindness matters.
Forget about chasing the American dream, and really think about what will bring you joy. And who will bring you joy.
Then once you find that person, hold onto them, be honest with them, and spare no affection — give them all the love you can muster, each and every day.
10. Take the Time to Just Relax
You don’t need to be constantly “doing”. Take a few minutes to sit and be present.
Take a breather. Social media can wait. Your buddies can wait. Decline all of the bar invites for one Friday night, so you can just stay in and chill.
Life goes by at 100 mph as it is. Before you know it, you’ll have missed entire decades. And you’ll wonder how you got to be in the place you are presently.
That’s why it’s important to take it all in. Assess where you are, how you got there, and where you’d like to go in the future.
Literally and figuratively.
This is your one life. You are in charge of navigating it, but you must do it with intent. Many things in your life are out of your direct control. But you can control how you react, and you can also determine your next steps.
Cause and effect. High points and low points. Trial and error.
Don’t just let life happen to you. Be an active participant.
Summary — Life Lessons
Okay, well that’s all I’ve got. I hope you gained something helpful from all of my rambling. Always know I am available for any questions you might have, anything you need to vent about, or even if you just need a sympathetic ear.
Enjoy life. Savor the experience. Stay close to the ones you love.
Robin is a full-time business professional who has worked in the insurance industry for over 20 years. She is also a personal finance blogger who shares her first hand experience with the struggles of money and debt. On Mastering the Side Jam, she focuses on ways to maximize efficiencies to make & save money, pay off debt, and live your best life.
She has been been featured on The Money Mix, Rockstar Finance, The Financial Diet and Women’s Money Talk, and has been quoted in various online publications.