Friday, September 14, 2012


What's in your genes, your DNA? Every family has a medical history. So too does every family have a family financial history - FFH. Both are important. We talk about the one, the other not so much.

My family, without going in to too much detail, has a financial history that is unhealthy and unhelpful. A friend and I recently had a conversation in which she said something that included the phrase "persistent material poverty" referring to the middle class Black family in the Caribbean and it stopped me in my tracks. It gave me pause because this is precisely the thing I have been struggling with for a decade now. We are well educated, a couple of PhDs, an ABD (all but dissertation), several Masters degrees, and more undergraduate degrees than we know what to do with and yet, persistent material poverty. Not poor, but no deep resources. Not poor, but not free to say, "Hey, what about Disney in Paris next summer?"

Persistent material poverty.

Say it a few times, and then having done that, take a look at your family. If it describes your family a little too well, maybe it's time to shake things up and do something about it?

At some point, you have to ask yourself whether you and your family are on an upward/forward financial trajectory. Standing still, treading water or holding the line are not enough. As costs grow (particularly for health and senior care), treading water becomes drowning. I don't know how else to describe it other than to say that when you stand still and everything else moves without you, you end up at the back of the pack.

Lest anyone accuse me of trying to keep up with the Joneses or the Kardashians or anyone else for that matter, it should be pointed out that my goal has nothing to do with anyone named 'Jones'. Unless of course, inflation, thy name is 'Jones'? That's the only 'Jones' any of us need try to keep up with. That alone can keep you very busy, very busy indeed.

So, take a moment to consider your family's financial history. Mine is not good but I'm working hard to try to drag us in new direction. Some are coming, some are not. Even now, I'm faced with a reality that pains me deeply: being the second generation to lose a house to bad planning and a refusal to communicate and work collaboratively. My great-grandparents' home was lost because among their EIGHT children, they could not figure out how to pay the land rates and taxes. My grandparents' home is likely to have to be  sold because my mother's generation and mine have been unable (I should say 'unwilling') to figure out the best way forward. (This is probably my grandpa's fault since he's made us joint heirs to it and we cannot agree, though I'm not entirely sure we've even tried to.) We have been unable to identify a route to a brighter, more prosperous future. I can't begin to say how deeply that pains and offends me because, having been down this road before in our previous generation we should know better.

It is said that when you know better, you do better. This is not always the case. SOMETIMES, when you know better you do better. You have to make the choice to do better. Please try to make that choice. It really is worth it.

Persistent material poverty.

There's no need for it. Know better. Do better. 

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