Financial Security: Ode to Selfishness

Financial Security: Ode to Selfishness

© Yuri Arcurs Selfishness Woman Financial SecurityFor those who’d rather listen than read …

Financial Security Ode to Selfishness

We’ve all heard the admonition that on airplanes, we need to put our own oxygen masks on first.  That way we’ll be able to put them on small children and others who need help.

Your finances are no different.

I was working with a 54-year-old woman this week.  We were developing a spending plan that made sense for her real financial situation:  her real income and her real expenditures.

She said she wanted to downsize from her large family home because she’s eating into her IRAs to keep it going.  She’s widowed and her sons are out of college.  She said it was tough to give the house up, because it’s where the children grew up and there were so many memories.

But the higher and higher property taxes and maintenance were killing her budget.  With the bad economy, she didn’t think she could get a raise at work; her last request had been denied.  She was already working 45 to 50 hours a week just to hold onto the job, so the company wouldn’t give it to someone cheaper … and younger.  So finding a second job to supplement her income was out of the question.

When I asked what the obstacle was to downsizing, she said, “Well, my boys can’t find anywhere else they want to live because rents in those places are so high.”  I asked how old they were.  “They’re 28 and 31.”  Do they have jobs?  “Yes.”  Do they know you’re struggling financially to hold on to the house?  “Yes.”  Have they offered to help with expenses or mortgage payments or something?  “Well, you see, they’ve got car payments and credit card debt.” Do you have equity in your house so you could actually sell it?  “Yes.”  And is your credit still good enough to qualify for a mortgage  “Yes, so far …”

My recommendation was to sell the house.  To get into what she could afford on her income and still put money into her retirement, not take it out.  Someplace where she would still feel comfortable and safe.  It was time for her adult children to stand on their own feet and stop jeopardizing her financial future.

What would you have her do?  Do you think that would be selfish of her, to sell the house?

How I Feel About Selfishness

You see, I believe in being selfish.

I feel there is a time when your children need your assistance.  And even after that time, when that assistance can be monetary without it affecting the mother’s finances adversely, so be it.  (Within reason.)

But I believe women all over the world have been ingrained with the expectation of selflessness, putting all others (especially their offspring) before themselves.  And this has resulted in many women living their later years in poverty … unnecessarily.

We can see the implications in the statistics:

Forget the 2011 U.S. Census that says that more than 17 million women were living in poverty that year, compared with 12.6 million men.  Or that single mothers are having the hardest time of all, with more than 40 percent of those who head families now living in poverty.  And let’s ignore the income gap, where women earn 77 cents for every dollar paid for similar work done by a man.  [By the way, this means average lost wages for a woman of more than $10,000 each year … and a lifetime of lower Social Security contributions which will affect what she’ll collect after retirement.]

Instead let’s focus on those long-term results:  on the older population.  For those over 65, 10.7 percent of women live in poverty compared to 6.2 percent of men.  For the record, in 2011 the official poverty guidelines were $10,890 per year for an individual, $14,710 for a family of two and $18,530 for a family of three.  How does anyone live on $10,890?

So Why Be Selfish?

  • Because selflessness that means your children don’t learn personal responsibility – but instead rely on someone else to bail them out – is setting them up for a lifetime of failure, or at least unhealthy dependence.  They are being denied the opportunity to be responsible for themselves.
  • Because selflessness that leads to financial distress means you may well become a burden on your children as you age, precisely when they are in their 40s and 50s and are feeling the heavy load of educating their own children.  Ask those in midlife today, who are part of the sandwich generation, taking care of their Boomer parents …
  • Because selflessness that means putting yourself last results in poorer health and a depleted ability to love and show real compassion when it’s appropriate … and truly needed.
  • Because, conversely, responsible selfishness means empowering future generations of women through role modeling, showing them they have the right to factor themselves into financial decisions.  That will help break the generational cycle.
  • Because selfishness is about being loving, kind and caring towards yourself … in body, mind and spirit … so you can be of use to yourself and to others when it’s called for.  By serving your own needs and requirements first, you’re actually in a better position to help others.

By selfish, I don’t mean living at the expense of others.  I’m talking about others not living at the expense of your well-being.  I see it as making commitments to yourself that you honor, just as you would honor a commitment made to someone else.

It means that when someone accuses you of being selfish, you recognize that they’re just upset because you’re failing to do whatever it is they selfishly want you to do.

Most of all, being selfish is the precursor to being responsible for yourself and for your life, while holding others responsible for their own outcomes.  In short, it’s a win-win.

And what’s the cherry on the cake?  I believe that “selfishly” taking care of oneself financially is the greatest proof of self love.  And we all deserve that.

So where do you disagree with me?  Where do you think I “just don’t get it?”  Let me know in the Comments section below.


Bio: Sharon O’Day lost everything at age 53: her home, her business, everything. But how could that be? She’s an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret “weapon,” if you will, behind many individuals in high places. Yet she did! Since then, with her finances completely turned around, Sharon has gone on to interview countless women. She’s done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.

The surprising answers are shared in her posts, articles and an upcoming book. Today her mission is to show as many women as possible how to become financially free for the long term, through her coaching programs. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve … if they’re willing to do what it takes!

  • Gail Lax

    So…so agree. It is time for your kids to have their own lessons in life

    • I’ve never understood parents that thought their kids would learn AFTER the parents were gone … or ran out of money themselves.

  • This has really made me think Sharon. When it comes to our family budget, I do tend to put my own needs right at the bottom of the pile. Time for a rethink!

    • We really need to move ourselves up that list, Carolyn. It even has implications for our inner child, subject of your last article … Glad you’re rethinking it!

  • Being responsible is not being selfish… usually it is the one who is not being responsible that is good at putting a guilt trip on those being responsible by calling them selfish. Great article, Sharon.

    • And, boy, are they good at laying on the guilt, Pat! 😉 And it sure is easier to avoid getting into these situations than getting out of them …

  • Wise advise – and really makes me think – this is timely!!!

    • Glad the timing was good, Sue. As you know so well, the seed only grows when the soil is ready to receive it!

  • Lucy

    Que excelente artículo Sharon… de acuerdo contigo.
    La cultura latina nos hace muy protectoras con nuestros hijos… asi que de acuerdo contigo debemos tener cierta dosis de “egoísmo saludable” que nos permita cuidar de nuestro futuro o retiro y disfrutar el fruto nuestro trabajo con holgura y sin stress…

    • Finalmente, son todas las culturas, Lucy. Pero estoy de acuerdo que unas son mas protectoras que otras …

  • Alexandra McAllister

    That was wise advice that you gave to your client. Being responsible is not being selfish! Thank you for sharing, Sharon.

    • Nothing else makes sense in that kind of situation. Allowing more time to pass will not improve anything, since expectations are already “baked in” …

  • Bravo, as usual! There is no selfishness is taking care of yourself and shelter, food, finances, etc. all fall into that category. In her case, we’re talking survival. Of course, her kids had car payments and bills. They failed to factor in their free rent and spent to the max. Amazing how quickly those same kids would find another place to live if asked for rent. We are mothers. Not doormats. And, our baby “mothering” stops after our kids grow up. After that, the “mothering” should turn into a nice form of friendship, respect and love. Not resentment, heartache, and financial worries.

    • Ah, Ms Martha! Love seeing the clarity in your position! There are so many ways of “helping” kids without enabling them … including modeling personal responsibility.

  • Sharon, wow…her kids should be contributing financially to the upkeep of the house by paying rent and giving her money for their food expenses as well…then she could keep her house. Although, as Martha mentions, they might not stay if they were paying. We don’t do our children any favors by allowing them to not be responsible. I like how you put it…you have to put your own oxygen mask on first!

    • I saw that you tweeted that out as well, Sherie, thanks! This is a message that has to get out one way or another … whatever the solution, depleting her retirement accounts is not the solution!

  • What about the two sons each getting a second job to pay rent, utilities, and groceries? They would have to do that anyway if they didn’t live with mom. She would do that for them if she could, so why don’t they do it so she can keep her house?

    • That would be the logical solution, Terree, but unfortunately this wasn’t a new discussion. My purpose was to empower her by having her investigate her options and have a Plan B. Needless to say, this is not a pleasant situation for anyone …

  • Yes, I agree, responsible selfishness = self-care! Great post, Sharon!

    • And you’re keenly aware of how important self care is, aren’t you, Meryl? 😉

  • Cathy Taughinbaugh

    Good advice – I agree as well. Her children are at the age where they should be living their own lives and not depending on their mom for support. It can be difficult, but in the end letting go and finding a smaller house would be the best thing for everyone.

    • It’s not the solution for everyone, but sometimes it’s the only thing that makes sense, as you say, Cathy.

  • This is spot on, Sharon! And if she does not do this, there will come a time when she will likely need that money to support herself in an assisted living facility or to pay for in-home care of some kind, and it will be a service (a selfless act) to her sons that she not have to call on them for that kind of financial support. It is very difficult for women, I agree, to engage in “responsible selfishness,” (loved that term!), but it’s imperative they do it for their long-term financial security and peace of mind.

    • You obviously “get it,” Lisa. In one sense, it’s a matter of short term versus long term. A short term fix — which in the example wasn’t even “short” — results in long term financial distress. The sad part is when the parent doesn’t see it …

  • This is a daily issue with “children” every day, at any age! well thought. Bravo sharon.
    Je suis pour la responsabilité individuelle! Love. G.

    • Gérard! What a pleasant surprise, I didn’t realize you read my writings! And I know from the way you and Annick raised Raphaëlle that individual responsibility IS high on your list!

  • You and I are a lot alike in our beliefs…I agree we need to be selfish too. Great post Sharon!

    • I know we are, Anita. I’ve seen that in our writings, our comments, etc. Nice to find a kindred spirit! 😉

  • Sondra W.

    Cheers to selfishness!! Thanks Sharon

  • A lot of good and useful ideas! Thank you for sharing this!