“Can You Take Care of Me Now?”

Nadira Ramlackan – Manager at Stnce – talks about when tragedy hit and put a financial strain on her mother.

Stnce is a platform that believes confidence is the key to taking financial ownership. This is part of a new series we call, “Not at the Table!” where we ask people to address the elephant in the room – the taboos of personal finance. 

When it comes to managing her finances, my mom can get overwhelmed. She is a very self-assured person. She’s a go-getter and knows what needs to get done and how. However, when we visited the bank together, she confidently explained to the banking personnel that I would be managing her finances. Although this was not a surprise to me, I immediately knew I had my work cut out for me.

I lost my dad in January 2016; he fell ill three years before that with a brain aneurysm. When he passed away, all of their financial responsibilities fell onto my lap. Even though I knew he looked after the finances in the relationship, I didn’t realize how little my mom was involved, which included paying bills and the mortgage. So, I immediately stepped into my dad’s role to make sure everything stayed in order. As a family, we never talked about how much we owed or how much we could afford to spend because dad’s responsibility was looking after the finances. One day, my mom received a phone call saying that she was behind on her credit card bill. It turned out that she assumed I had already taken care of it. And that was the turning point.

When tragedy hits and you lose the most important person in your life, everything changes overnight. You wake up having to deal with bank accounts and investments you didn’t even know existed.

Growing up, I’ve heard my parents talk about their finances, but my dad always shouldered the responsibility. Even though they both worked and brought in an income, mom looked after the home and stayed away from it. In a way, that kind of transparency in a relationship was refreshing. I can’t imagine any of my friends having that level of trust where every paycheque goes to their significant other and they rest easy. Nowadays, there’s a lot of scepticism, and generally speaking, many couples have separate accounts. So, from that perspective, I feel that I have learned a lot from my parent’s partnership and unity.

Now, when I hear people say, “my husband looks after that,” it has a whole new meaning for me. I’m getting married in April, and a part of me can’t wait to pass certain responsibilities over. But, I’ve started to pay more attention to that mentality because I don’t want to be 60 years old, like my mom, and be in a situation where I don’t know the status of my finances. When I get to that stage in life, I wouldn’t want to feel overwhelmed, like I wasn’t in control of my life; not to mention the possibility of having to potentially deal with an emotional trauma such as death at the same time.

When tragedy hits and you lose the most important person in your life, everything changes overnight. You wake up having to deal with bank accounts and investments you didn’t even know existed. Learning new skills at 60 years old coupled with grief is challenging. You lose the support you had when your spouse took care of the financial responsibilities. Because of that, the biggest hurdle was convincing my mom to work with me but more importantly for her to find the confidence to take ownership her own finances.  She’s so accustomed to dad handling it that she doesn’t feel money is her area of expertise. People always say that you’re never too old to learn, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I think the lesson here is that you are never too old to learn, and never too young to start preparing yourself for whatever life throws at you.

My mom is a very motivated person and knows what she wants. At the same time, she doesn’t like to discuss finances because she isn’t sure about how much she actually knows. But I think having discussions with people allows for transparency and reinforcement of knowledge. It’s important to know that you’re not alone when you become a widow.

When we visited the bank together, it felt like a role reversal because I’m so used to my mom teaching me everything. She’s always said things like, “Make sure you get a good education. Make sure you get a good job. Make sure you save enough money for that house and car you want. Make sure you know how to manage your finances.” But this time it’s my responsibility to guide her.

Through working with my mom, I’ve realized that gaining independence isn’t just about having accounts under your name, you have to know how to look after your money as well. Understandably, there are a lot of things to manage when it comes to spending and budgeting. It’s not enough to be frugal. Keeping up with technology is just as important as learning new information to make informed financial decisions. My mom recently purchased an iPad, her first tablet ever at the age of 62, and is learning how to shop and do her banking online (something second nature to most young people). I think the lesson here is that you are never too old to learn, and never too young to start preparing yourself for whatever life throws at you.

The process of reorganizing my mom’s financial life has prompted me to reassess the state of my own finances. I’ve discovered there are a lot of things I didn’t know about my investments or how to get a better return. So, I’m looking at stock prices more closely and subscribing to business articles to become more aware of issues like what’s happening in our economy and how the events affect me. With my dad’s passing and the demand it’s had on my mom, I’ve realized how financially vulnerable I could be if I didn’t recognize where I need to improve my financial knowledge – that I need to prepare myself for the future. Between two generations of women, my mom and I have become more aware and more confident about financial management.

 

As told to Cara Lau exclusively for Stnce.

Illustration by Teddy Kang.

We make taking financial ownership approachable and relatable. Interview has been condensed and edited.