Paycheck Chronicles

Make Sure That Your Own Mask Is On First


"Should the cabin experience sudden pressure loss, stay calm and listen for instructions from the cabin crew. Oxygen masks will drop down from above your seat. Place the mask over your mouth and nose, like this. Pull the strap to tighten it. If you are traveling with children, make sure that your own mask is on first before helping your children."

If you've ever flown in an airplane, you've heard an announcement that sounds something like this.  These kind of directions are hard to follow, because they go against your natural instinct.  It's natural to want to take care of the people you love, like putting the oxygen mask on your child before yourself.  But often, if you don't take care of yourself, you can't take care of others, either.  If you stop to put the oxygen mask on your child, you might not have the oxygen to put on your own mask, and your child probably can't help you.  If you put on your own mask first, you'll be set to put on your child's mask.  Taking care of yourself first is what allows you to help others.

The same thing is true with money.  If you try to help others before taking care of yourself, you eventually won't be able to help anyone.

I see many military members who are sending money home to their families, either occasionally or every single month.  In many cases, these same military members are using credit cards, not saving for retirement, and don't have any money for emergencies, Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves, or taking care of their own needs.

While this is a kind and generous thing to do for your family, there are several reasons it is a bad idea.

It Discourages Self-Sufficiency

Once you start giving family members money, it is common for them to expect your help on a regular basis.  And when they expect your help, they may have less motivation to figure out how to live within their own income.

This can be particularly tough when your life is still changing.  You may have a PCS move, or get married, or have a child.  All these things can impact your budget, and your ability to help your family.  What will you do if they are counting on your support and you suddenly can't give it?  It is better not to set that expectation until you are in a position to guarantee that it will continue.

You Are Sacrificing Yourself

Sending money home will certainly impact your ability to create financial stability in your own life. No one wants to go through life with debt and no savings, but it happens easily when you are giving too freely.

You Won't Have Any More To Give In A True Emergency

Let's say you send your Mama $50 a month to get her hair done.  If that's in your budget while still taking care of your own needs , then bless you!  What a nice child!

But if that $50 a month means that you're not saving, or you are carrying debt, then you have a problem.  Often, the true extent of the problem is reveals when the family member, or another family member, has a true emergency.  Let's say that $50 a month means that you don't save.  Then, your sister is in a car accident, can't work for a month, and is struggling to buy food for her kids.  You want to help, but how?  You don't have any savings, your credit cards are maxed out and your budget is stretched thin.  You can't help.

Put On Your Own Mask First

It is essential that you take care of all your needs first before you provide ongoing financial aid to your family.  This includes being debt free, having adequate insurance, having a large emergency savings account, and generously funding your retirement accounts.  This is putting on your own mask first.

Once you've accomplished all those things, you will have the financial freedom to help your family as much as you want!

Obviously, this is a very general post.  There will always be extenuating circumstances that warrant providing help to family.  Just be sure you're looking at the big picture when you do it.

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