When we set financial goals, we usually imagine that nothing will get in our way. But life sometimes deals unexpected cards. That happened recently to my husband, Khomari, and me. While we were working toward our savings goals of paying down our debt and saving for our first home, we suddenly found ourselves dealing with one of the most difficult challenges of adulthood: the passing of a parent.
For the past fifteen years, my mother-in-law battled tumors in her brain and spine, and fought to maintain her independence at home in New York. Late last year, she became unable to complete daily tasks, and was hospitalized. She showed slow signs of recovery. But, in mid-January, we were told she'd taken a turn for the worse. We needed to fly from our home in Los Angeles to New York as soon as possible.
Relying on our savings cushion
Traveling cross-country is expensive at the best of times, and doing it on a weekend at the last minute is even worse. Khomari's ticket for a Friday flight was $681, but we've been saving money and were able to pay for it out-of-pocket. When I flew out a day later, my ticket was $451. On Monday, the doctors told us that Khomari's mom only had a few days left, and she passed on Friday, January 26.
Throughout the process, Khomari and I reflected on how thankful we were to be able to drop everything and fly to her side. We had just finished large projects and were in a good financial position. So we didn't have to worry about requesting time off or fret over how the last minute travel would impact our income.
Preparing for unexpected costs
After her death, that savings cushion again came in handy as we made funeral arrangements. Khomari's mother had a sizeable amount of money in her bank account and retirement account, but the release of those funds takes time. Strapped for money, she had canceled her life insurance policies, so—in addition to our other costs—we had to pay over $5,000 out of pocket for her funeral. Based on her wishes, we decided to have her cremated, which saved us $4,500.
Do not underestimate the power of savings: You aren't just saving for things you want, but also for the things you need.
We're just beginning to feel normal again—to the extent it's possible to return to "normal" after the loss of a loved one. After going through this challenge, we've learned a few valuable lessons:
Allow yourself space to heal
After a major life event, you need time to adapt. You can always get back to your goals. And, even if you don't hit them in the time frame you originally planned, it will be okay.
Make it easy for your loved ones to access important information
Keep all of your financial information and policies in one place and ensure that your beneficiary information is up to date.
Do not underestimate the power of savings
You aren't just saving for the things you want, but also for the things you need—including the ability to be there, without worry, for the people you value.
I'm thankful to my mother-in-law for her financial responsibility, and for all the lessons that she taught Khomari and me. She has reminded me why my husband and I are working on building a strong financial footing for ourselves, and why we're working toward our future together.