Children First

Something happens every time you fly on an airplane.  As the plane pulls away from the gate the flight crew runs through a series of safety instructions.  It goes something like this, “In the event the cabin has a loss in pressure, oxygen masks will come down from the console above you.  Place the mask over your head and pull on the strings to tighten the mask like this.  If you are traveling with children, secure your mask first, and then help your child with their mask.”  Before you know it, you are airborne and off to your destination.

As parents, our natural inclination is to put our child’s mask on first.  We want to make sure our kids are taken care of.  This is not only true regarding their safety, but also their success and happiness in life.  We want to make sure that they have every opportunity to grow and thrive.  There is no shortage of private schools and tutoring programs to help parents provide their children with every advantage.  It doesn’t stop at education.  There are sports academies, dance and art schools, and private lessons for almost anything.   Beyond that, there are plenty of tech devices and other things out there to give your children better odds for success.

It is not my point to weigh the merits of any of the above resources.  In fact, my family has participated in many of them, some beneficial, some not.  My point is that in many cases the current and future financial cost of providing these “advantages” to our children is greatly underestimated.  We work with families every week that are trying to find a balancing act between providing daily needs (or wants) and setting aside resources for the future.  Even upper income families find themselves with cash flow that doesn’t allow room for everything.  The common denominator is stress, and the resolution is often to give in to our desire to help our kids and relieve the stress, despite the financial consequences.

So, what are some of those consequences?  In terms of current financial costs, we see the sacrifice of fundamental financial basics and instead see limited savings and high debt.  We see the stress that financial strain can place on a marriage.  We see a feeling of helplessness as current expenses limit progress toward the future.

What about the future?  The “future” is a funny thing – it seems so far away and then one day you wake up and it is staring you in the face.  Future costs can be even more impactful, especially as life expectancies grow longer.  Failure to set aside resources for the future (or carrying debt into retirement) can result in the following:

  • Working longer because you must
  • Lowering your desired standard of living in retirement
  • Foregoing medical needs, home maintenance or other expenses in retirement
  • Possibly moving in with the kids, the very ones you were trying to help.

As I write this, I am speaking as much to myself as to you.  Our instincts lead us to “put the mask on our children” before ourselves, but the airlines have it right.  By taking care of ourselves first, we will ultimately be in a better position to help our children.  The idea that you can catch up in a limited amount of time is risky and unlikely.

Discouraged?  Don’t be!  In most cases, thoughtful planning can help you work toward both your future security and the success and happiness of your children.  There will likely be some give and take. It may take adjustments to your retirement goals, your current lifestyle, or both.  And it could be that some of those “advantages” for your kids are not as advantageous as you think and could be reconsidered.  My prayer for you would be that on the morning you wake up and the future has arrived, you can roll over and go back to sleep, confident in your financial resources and satisfied that your kids are thriving.

Chris Langford

Chris graduated from Texas A&M University. In 1985, he married Julie, also an Aggie, and they have three sons and a daughter…all Aggies. Chris is an active member of Grace Community Church and enjoys exercise, traveling and music, but is especially fond of the outdoors. Chris would consider a great day to be hiking a long trail in the mountains, skiing on fresh snow, or rappelling down a slot canyon.
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