Every economically distressed American lacks money. That’s obvious. To an outsider, however, the anxiety that this lack of money creates in every aspect of life is less obvious. Managing resources was more art than science for our family. Without a spending or meal plan, impulsivity ruled the day. This perpetual state of immediacy was the root of many of our fears in poverty, perhaps none more debilitating than an inadequate food supply. Quantity over quality was the rule. The volume of food took precedence over its nutritional value. Full bellies, which we usually had, didn’t mean a healthy body. (More on this later and how it contributed to my manic obsession to provide my wife and kids with gluten-free, all-natural, and organic foods.) We never discussed food’s health benefits back then. We only cared about having enough food throughout the month to feed a family of five.
The last few days of the month brought a combination of creativity and ingenuity inghettonomics. In poverty, you have to be resourceful. Add a little water to milk, ketchup, hot sauce, and other malleable liquids to extend their usefulness. When we ran out of milk entirely, we substituted evaporated milk. (The taste of water and evaporated milk in cereal is disgusting.) When we couldn’t find a substitute for a particular food item—a rare occurrence, as my mother did an admirable job of managing resources—the youngest person in the family often had the task of borrowing necessary items from neighbors. That wasme. I would go from one apartment to the next until I found a willing lender. The anxiety was so intense that itmade me sick to my stomach. The fear of being turned down or worse, having a door slammed in my face, was unnerving. Returning home without the goods would have been even more problematic.
Imagine being a 10-year-old child who has to face an adult neighbor who is mad at the world and must protect precious resources for her own family. You approach the front door, knowing that someone is probably at home. Only a handful of neighbors had part-time jobs, with the remainder on public assistance, so residents spent the majority of their time in or around their apartments. Before you raise your hand to knock on the door, someone closes the curtains. You hear her telling others, “Shh, be quiet! We don’t want him to know we’re home.” You see a faint image peeping through a curtain slit. She notices that you have a cup in your hand. You knock and knock and knock. You stand waiting for another few minutes for a response, to no avail. It’s time to move on to the next neighbor. That happened to me on several occasions. It was frightening to return home with nothing to show for my efforts. Depending on her mood, my mother might issue a harsh rebuke.
A four-year degree is worth the sticker shock if it is flexible and accompanied by a world-class financial education, and as long as those with blue-collar jobs employ a white-collar mentality to create wealth-generating and legacy assets. Again, one of the goals of this book is to help each social class improve their respective standing in life. We all have room for improvement in our financial survival skills.
I’ve been a guest lecturer on high school and college campuses for more than a decade. On one occasion I provided college students with a lesson in financial statement analyses and was shocked that nobody in that class could explain the foundational difference between an expense and a liability. Middle America is familiar with financial terms, but only a small percentage of them actually have a working financial plan. Most will outlive their money and very few of them have completed an estate plan. There are so many scenarios that beg for a financial planning strategy: Is there enough insurance to cover gaps if an emergency occurs? What effect would an illness, death, or drop from a two-income family have on your assets?
Suggestions to get their financial house in order can throw their vestibular sense of monetary balance out of whack. When GISAs are off balance economically, they hold on for dear life and focus on what can be controlled. It’s not surprising to hear them express discomfort about adding more responsibilities to their plate when they don’t have the stomach to digest another time-intensive task.
Most of the participants who attend our financial wellness workshops are decidedly middle class, and it’s refreshing to see them take control of their financial destiny. Their trepidation is palpable as they hear a few rule-of-thumbaverages for how much cash––three to six months––they should keep on hand for an emergency; how expensive a house they can buy––no more than 2.5 times their gross annual income; and the need to stow away 25 times the anticipated yearly expenses for retirement in today’s dollars.
Whereas poverty is outwardly focused on personal qualities, the legacy of affluence projects forward. GAPAs take measures to ensure the family’s brand, heritage, and goodwill continue unabated from one generation to the next. This systematic approach to legacy continuity moves children and grandchildren to fulfill their potential––personally, educationally, financially, and philanthropically. GAPAs embody the spirit of former Ohio State football coaching legend, Woody Hayes’s pay-it-forward doctrine. This duty isn’t optional for GAPAs but obligatory, a rite of passage required by each family member regardless of gender.
Commemorative traits of GAPAs include philanthropist, investor, visionary, legacy progenitor, trendsetter and change agent, proactive, and altruistic. Accolades are highlighted in the funeral program without pretense. Family members, friends, and colleagues praise the decedent for a life well lived, free of the trappings of material wealth but full of personal enrichment in helping others achieve success. Attendees measure the weight of the decedent’s balance sheet by his compassion for humanity and the charitable causes his wealth will support well into the future.
While laughter is perfectly appropriate at a home-going for a GEDA, it may be quite distasteful at a GAPA’s funeral ceremony, where the atmosphere is somber and serious. The tone, tenor, and temperament of a clergy member presiding over a funeral proceeding for a GEDA of African-American descent will resemble an emotionally charged Sunday sermon with references for attendees to accept the Lord Jesus and turn away from their misdeeds since no one knows the day or the hour of death. I’ve attended a few GAPA funerals and must admit that an emotional plea isn’t the preferred method to change someone’s heart. In fact, introspection and self-reflection, in their way of thinking, are individually inspired. Sustained transformation is rational and happens organically. The legacy progenitor and change agent in the customized casket wouldn’t have it any other way.