This guest post from Sue is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success or failure. These stories feature folks with all levels of financial maturity and income.
I've always been a saver. Even as a child, my pocket money was more likely to end up in my piggy bank than in my purse. I'll admit that living in a remote English village with little opportunity to make impulse purchases probably helped.) But I've often wondered why I saved.
My savings tended to build up and never be spent. I lived within my means. But I never had a use for all the money I was saving; I never knew why I was doing this. Then, last Christmas, I discovered what financial freedom really means.
My younger brother has been ill for as long as I can remember. From birth, he had complex medical needs, as well as physical and learning disabilities. He spent much of his first few years in hospital, and was frequently rushed back in with serious infections, or deterioration of his medical conditions. Over the years, these emergencies became less frequent, partly due to advances in medical care, and partly because we were better at managing his health out of hospital. However, I always knew that the call might come.
Last year, my brother became increasingly unwell. He was on antibiotics a lot of the time, and his quality of life was decreasing. Although we didn't want to think about it, we knew that he was nearing the end. In November, he was admitted to hospital with a severe infection, needing more intervention than he could get at home.
I couldn't cope with living so far away when he was so ill, so I arranged to go up and see him. I paid a hefty last-minute train fare, and took time off work, knowing that it would probably count as compassionate leave, but prepared to take unpaid leave if I needed to. I knew I could afford it. My brother improved, was discharged, and I came back to work. I had taken the maximum number of days off that my employer allowed for compassionate leave.
However, the following weekend, my brother was rushed back into hospital by ambulance, and it was clear that this time it was life-threatening. I again rushed back, explaining things to HR on Monday morning. My brother died a week later, just before Christmas. He was 29.
Due to the holidays, we couldn't hold the funeral until the new year, meaning I took over a month off work, only two weeks of which was covered by my pre-booked annual leave. I wasn't able to use my pre-booked train ticket, and had bought two expensive last-minute tickets, on top of extra clothing as I'd come home with just a couple of changes of clothes. As far as I knew, I had also “used up” my allowance of compassionate leave.
That's when I realized what financial freedom means. Because I had been saving for a life-time, my costs didn't matter. If I had to take the time as unpaid leave, it wouldn't actually impact my budget. I had the cushion to take it. I could take the time to grieve and recover without worrying about the money.
In the end, the costs weren't as bad as I anticipated. I was able to get a refund on the unused pre-booked train tickets, and was given “discretionary” compassionate leave to cover the extra time. But I didn't find that out until later. Knowing I could afford the worst-case scenario gave me peace of mind when I most needed it.
What does financial freedom mean? It means that when your life crumbles around you, the one thing you don't have to worry about is money.