How grief shaped my relationship with money


Cherry blossoms in the rain (South Korea, 2016)

Last night I lay in bed, unable to sleep, trying to decide if I should write this post or not. I was torn between it being either too personal or coming across as unfeeling and callous. But the truth is that while this blog is primarily focused on the money, money and particularly The Brat Experiment are inherently about much more than just money. They are about life, and more specifically my life. Our financial decisions are so intertwined in personal choice, personal values and personal experience that only a crazy person would try to pretend that they are not. And so this blog post is a recognition of that: a recognition of the messy, overlapping, wonderful highs and unthinkable lows of life (whether it’s financial or personal) and how they shape us.

Today I am sad. I am sad because today marks 16 years since my Mom died. For those of my dear Readers who struggle with Maths or aren’t familiar with the intricacies of psychosocial development, this basically means that my Mom died at one of the worst possible times in my development that she could have. To say that her death has had a profound impact on my life is a mammoth understatement. Her death has impacted on me and my identity more deeply than most parent deaths do. Unsurprisingly then, her death has also had a profound impact on how I view money. And so, today, I thought that I would voice those lessons that impact on how I deal with money:

  1. People die. Rather obvious I know, dear Reader. But I state it because most of us ignore the next logical step from this statement. And this step, the real bugger, is that, dear Reader, you will die too. How kak is that?! And we have very little control over when or how this happens. The implication of all of this is that plans sometimes get cut short and so we shouldn’t leave our happiness and dreams for the end of our lives (traditional retirement) because the reality is that we just might not get there. This means that I am happy to take slightly longer to reach Early Retirement/Financial Independence because I want to have a good quality of life and tick things off my dream list while getting there.
  2. Always ensure you have an updated Will and Testament. My Mom didn’t. She updated it after she got married but never updated it after she had kids. Thank goodness this wasn’t too much of an issue financially as my Dad was the main breadwinner. But even my 13 year old brain could see the potential financial disaster at the time. Planning is key. Chatting about what you want to happen should something happen to you is key. And giving yourself the opportunity of being heard when you no longer have a voice is vital (especially if you have a lot of money that could make things complicated for those left behind!).
  3. Perspective. Your relationship with your loved ones and your relationship with yourself are without a doubt the two most important things in life. Spending time with and making time for your loved ones is important. Looking after yourself is important. Making memories is important. Going on holidays together should be a priority. Money is not. Money is simply and only a means to an end. If something goes wrong financially I know that in the scheme of things it’s ok, it’s only money. It can be replaced. But this perspective is also why I want to retire early: I want the freedom of being able to prioritise my life around my loved ones rather than around the need to make money.
  4. Bad things will happen. Horrific, unimaginable fuck-ups will occur from time to time (both financially and personally). But you will survive. Even when you have NO clue how and NOTHING more to give, that damn sun will keep coming up. And somehow things will start to shift, you will start to adapt to the new order of things and somehow, miraculously, you will find your way out. Even if our finances were in a complete disaster and miles from where we wanted them to be. Even if we have a horrible, miles-over-budget week in The Brat Experiment. Even if today is unredeemable. I know that tomorrow is another day. And I can try again. What a privilege.    

    Road tripping to see my brother (South Africa, 2016)