There Are No Awards for Martyrs, Just Tombstones

Dina here …

A little more than two months before my due date, panic set in.  Though I had much experience as an aunt and babysitter, and in spite of my life-long fantasies of motherhood, the moment was quickly approaching where my life would change forever.

Change, even joyous change, can be terrifying.  In my case, a difficult twin pregnancy kept very dire possibilities hanging in the balance.  My husband was eerily calm; if I didn’t know better I would have thought he was medicated.

I spoke to my sister-in-law, whose support was always there for me like a welcoming smile.

“Were you scared that you wouldn’t be able to do it?” I asked.

“Childbirth?” she laughed.

“No.  I can’t even think about that!  What if I can’t do this job?” I was near tears.

Every twin book I read described delirium to the point of doubling up on feeding one baby, while accidentally starving the other.  Was this really something I would do?

She laughed and gave me the best advice I have ever received, “Stop reading these books because what they can’t tell you is how you will feel about your babies.  You will throw yourself in front of a moving train for them, and you won’t think twice.  It’s a lot of work and you’ll be exhausted, but your heart will be so full of love that you will be able to do things you never imagined.”

She was right, of course.

Though my sons are no longer babies, that reflex to put their needs ahead of mine is very strong (even when it is not beneficial to them, or me).  I am not alone in having mastered this “talent.”

Perhaps it is biology, or maybe it’s not, but women (in general) are too good at putting themselves second or third.  We would be smart to remember that there are no awards for martyrs — just tombstones.

The data backs it up, of course.  Women earn less than men because their careers have often taken a backseat to caregiving for children or parents.   They have less saved for retirement, because of this — yet they live longer, on average, than men.

Many times I have talked a mother out of funding a college savings plan in favor of contributing to her malnourished retirement account.  The “carrot” is for her to get financially secure and then she can eventually set up a college fund.  It’s obvious, but needs to be repeated:  There are no loans for retirement.

The often-used cliché is true — if oxygen masks come tumbling down on an airplane, parents have to put on their masks first before helping their children.  Here is what this looks like in the world of personal finance:

  • Fund an IRA or Roth IRA (maximum contribution rates are $5,500 or $6,500 for those 50 or older).
  • Participate in your employer’s retirement plan – whether there is a match or not.  If you are already contributing, work towards funding it to the maximum.  My colleague, Bill Sweet, put together a checklist that gives guidance on funding minimums among other useful information that can help you sock away more money and reduce your tax burden.
  • Set aside money every month to pay yourself first.  This can be used for an emergency fund if you haven’t established one.  Make sure any short-term funds (for goals taking place in five years or less) are kept in cash; money for longer term goals can be invested.
  • Pay off high-interest credit card debt.  Unless you have a special 0% financing deal, pay off this debt ASAP.  Reverse compounding is devastating to long-term financial health.
  • Make sure you have adequate TERM life insurance that will get your child through the college years.
  • Do not neglect basic estate planning — have a will, durable power of attorney and health care proxy established.  If your children are minors, make sure that you select a guardian (to raise them in the event of your demise) and a trustee (who will handle the finances).
  • Check the beneficiaries on life insurance policies and retirement accounts to make sure they are current and accurate.

If you’ve tackled this list – congratulations!  Now is the fun part.  You get to plan for your financial future so that your goals are not merely wishful thinking.

Mothers, if you have trouble finding the time and motivation to get started — think of your kids.  Being financially secure is not a selfish indulgence — it is most beneficial to those you care about.  If you’re not sure where to start, check out this blog that I wrote earlier in the year.

By taking these steps, you won’t need to throw yourself in front of a moving train to help your kids.  You might just be there with your feet up and a tiny umbrella in your drink guiding your daughter to be the financially savvy woman you have become.

Tell me where you are on your journey or what questions you have by emailing me: