The Gift of Time

When I was six years old my parents declared bankruptcy. Within a year they were divorced.

They met while working at McDonald’s as teenagers. He was a cook and she worked the drive-thru. Neither of them came from money and no one in their families had graduated from university either. My parents tried to change that by enrolling in community college, but they both eventually dropped out. That’s where I enter the story.

As a kid, my relationship with money was one of scarcity. Though my sister and I never went hungry, we also knew that there wasn’t much to go around. We slept in the same room. We ate fast food off the dollar menu. We didn’t have cable television. But, it wasn’t until years after my parents separated that I realized just how little we had. That’s when I learned about the bankruptcy. The bankruptcy that changed my life.

But, it wasn’t the financial part of the bankruptcy that affected me, it was how that bankruptcy led to my parents’ divorce. Because the weird part about my parents’ divorce was how well they got along after everything ended. My father was still welcome at my grandparents’ house (his ex in-laws), my mother would still hang out with my father’s sisters, and I never saw my parents fight with each other.

While I was lucky to grow up with parents who got along so well post-divorce, it was also quite confusing. Because, when you’re a child of divorced parents, you end up wondering why your parents broke up in the first place. And I didn’t know why. So I had to find out. I needed an answer.

Years later, I found it. In chapter 7. The bankruptcy. That’s where all the problems started. Without that bankruptcy, I was sure that my parents would still be together. That’s what I told myself. That was my answer.

And ever since then, I’ve had a fear of going through what my parents went through. I’ve had a fear of losing someone I loved because of money (or the lack thereof). So I vowed to never let that happen to me. I wasn’t going to follow in my parents’ financial footsteps.

That’s why I’m here today. My tweets. My blog posts. My book. They all lead back to that bankruptcy—back to that moment when I needed an answer.

Because deep down I still wonder—what if my parents had known more about personal finance? Would that have made a difference? Would that have prevented the bankruptcy?

Who knows? Either way, I can’t go back and change what happened. I can’t help them. But, maybe, I can help someone else. Maybe I can point a curious student in the right direction or get a struggling couple off the wrong path. Maybe I can prevent others from making the same financial mistakes that I made.

That’s why I published my book Just Keep Buying earlier this year. Because I wanted to write a guide for my younger self. I wanted to find the 23 year-old me and tell them, “Read this! Don’t do what I did.” Ultimately, I wanted to give them more time. Time that I’d already lost.

Because everything I write isn’t really about money, it’s about time. Time with your loved ones. Time to enjoy yourself. Time to live the life you want. In the end, all of your money will be converted back to time anyways. If not now, then later. And if not by you, then by someone else. Possibly after you’re gone.

So give the gift of time this season. Because you never know how you might change someone’s life, or the life of their partner, or the life of their family.

Nick Maggiulli and his family, 1994

Happy holidays and thank you for reading!

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