Sometimes the smallest thing can trigger a profound realisation in you that propels your life in a certain direction or becomes a core truth in the way you live your life. Other times, profound changes are driven by a life-changing event. For me, it was a bit of both. One was an encounter with a client early in my career. The other when I was 13 years old and my father suddenly died.
Both of these events continue to have a profound influence on my life and drive my ambition to share the truth that anyone can use money as an enabler to living the life they want. I have very clear memories of the first few years after my father died. I didn’t really know what was going on in the background, because I was a child, but I did know that our family life changed dramatically. We never had a lot of money up to then, but afterwards we really had nothing.
It’s no surprise to me now that our family experienced financial hardship after my father’s death. I guess we weren’t your typical Aussie family in the first place. My mother was a foster carer, so our home was constantly full of loud, screaming kids who’d experienced an unfortunate set of circumstances leading them to our home. On top of this, my mother had 4 of her own children, me being the baby.
My dad, on the other hand, was a work-a-holic. He worked away from home and whenever he was home for a short periods, he was always exhausted. It was on one of these trips away, he died suddenly aged 49. It was devastating for us all. I was 13 at the time and I can still feel the shock of a loss that can never be accurately expressed, only experienced. Like most Australian families, we had a mortgage and dad was the primary income earner while mum stayed home looking after (all) the children. There was no insurance and no Will and as a result, our family was under the threat of being homeless. Any grand plans for financial security were gone with my father.
Fast forward a number of years. I’m a young, aspiring financial adviser working in a small practice, when a middle-aged women came in for help because her husband died suddenly. I was so moved to see the tension and stress she was holding across her entire body. She was consumed by fear. Throughout her marriage, she had not participated at all in the family finances and now her husband was gone, she had no idea if she would have any money to live off or even if she was in debt.
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After working with her and going through her finances, we were able to tell her that her husband had managed their finances well. We put a financial strategy in place that would make sure she had enough money to live off for the rest of her life, albeit without her husband. It was a tough conversation. But as soon as she realised she would be OK, the stress drained out of her body and she looked like a different women. The vision of this metamorphosis happening before my eyes —from fear to peace of mind — is still vivid. While the circumstances were different, this prompted me to also reflect on the loss my mother experienced when my father died and how access to the right financial advice could have helped her. From that moment, I decided this was my calling.
Consciously or subconsciously, we are all living a life path we have chosen to a certain degree. This could involve getting married, having children, a mortgage and/or a dog. It could involve a less conventional path where your career takes precedence or you choose not to have children or even a partner. It is also influenced by factors out of our control - like our parents, family situation, where we grew up or the unexpected death of a partner. Unless you are taking concrete actions to change your circumstances, you’re currently living what I call your ‘Plan A” life. It may not be perfect, and it’s probably not what you expected, but it’s a set of circumstances you’ve accepted and use as a basis for making decisions about the future.
So having set up your life around these circumstances, what would you have to sacrifice if your major source of income stopped suddenly? What would happen if the person you’ve worked with to build this life disappeared one day, never to return? It’s something most of us don’t think about because we’re so entrenched in our Plan A life, that it becomes our entire reality. As the years go by, we get more and more entrenched and imagining a different life becomes surreal or even indulgent.
Statistics tell us that the majority of us will, at some stage in our life, have to resort to a ‘Plan B’ life. The level of trauma you and the people you care about experience during this shift depends on what you do now to protect the things you’ve built in your Plan A life. And I’m not just talking about insurance. In most couples, one person takes more financial control than the other and while that person may have no interest in managing finances, it’s essential for them to at least know how it all works.
This includes really simple things like knowing the login details for your bank accounts, to more complex things like the distribution of investment portfolios.
This is an extract from Lisa Barber’s book 'A Woman’s Guide to Wealth: What my Mother Needed To Know.'
Lisa Barber is a Private Wealth Advisor, author and speaker www.lisabarber.com.au.