When the Punches Come Your Way

Alina Tugend has been writing the Shortcuts personal finance column for the New York Times for the last 10 years, and her final column ran a few days ago. The topic: Rolling with the punches. “Life is flux,” she writes, quoting the Greek philosopher Heraclitus — in other words, “change is the only constant in life.”

As a lead-in, she tells the story of Teresa Mears, a 58-year-old who over the course of eight years experienced: the death of her partner, caring for her mother who developed Alzheimer’s, struggling with work during the recession, and the lost of her house. Rolling with the punches, Mears cobbled together some freelance work and downsized to an “inexpensive house in a 55-plus community in suburban Fort Lauderdale.” She’s now feeling good about her situation. Mears: “When you’re young and something doesn’t go right, you think it’s the end of the world. When you’re older, you’ve seen it happen before, you know it will work out — and if not, you’ll move on.”

I think it’s good to be reminded that we all go through financial setbacks; we wallow for a bit, and then figure out how to move on. It’s much easier to do if you have financial and social resources (an emergency fund; friends and family who can offer job leads or a couch to crash on). I met Ester about eight years ago when we were both editors at a college guide site, and we were promptly laid off after the financial crisis. I didn’t have much in emergency funds then, so I went into survival mode, immediately figuring out unemployment benefits and running through my list of contacts to find freelance work, which I was able to do a few weeks later. And of course, as you know, things worked out.

My mother’s birthday was last week, and while we chatted on the phone, the mood of the conversation became very dark. She had called me the minute she woke up to thank me for the check I had mailed her earlier that week (it may sound unconventional to some of you to send a birthday check to your mother, but that’s how it’s always worked with us); to make a long, complicated story short, the conversation turned to: “What if I were to lose this house? I wouldn’t be able to fit in your New York apartment.”

“Mom,” I said. “That’s not something you should be worrying about. If things ever got really bad, we would figure it out. I would take care of you.”

She sighed. “Okay,” she said. “Okay.” And I hoped that she believed it.

Photo: Erin Khoo