As a child, my mom and I moved almost yearly. I went to three different elementary schools as we crisscrossed in and out of school districts. We fashioned ourselves interior decorators every time we moved, upselling our old furniture and thrifting high fashion replacements on my mother’s med school student budget. When one apartment didn’t have a closet, we found the perfect antique armoire at a fire sale. I watched my mother feign indifference, call the salesman’s bluff when he said he wouldn’t go lower, get him down to the price she wanted, and charm him into thinking he was the one getting a deal.
Turning lemons into lemonade is my mother’s greatest skill, second only to moving. She turned what could have been a turbulent environment for a small child into an adventure. As I look around my apartment now, her influence is everywhere. Almost all my furniture is from Craigslist — my favorite digital yard sale. I have a habit of making U-turns when I see garage sale signs, and asking for discounts is a knee-jerk reaction anywhere with handwritten price tags.
I didn’t tether my identity to my address as a child. Instead that anchor was, and still is, my grandmother’s house. Elouise Jacquelyn Mclemore was a double major in mathematics and sewing. She taught at the same schools her five children attended. They all avoided her class, but she tutored all of her grandchildren, myself included. My grandmother’s house was the control center for our entire family. My cousins have always felt more like siblings, and their children like my nieces and nephews. It didn’t matter where my mom and I lived. If juggling med school and raising me got to be too much, we could always move back to Grandma’s house. And, at times, we had to.
I also moved in with my grandmother after I graduated from college. I was new to the whole adulting thing and needed some time to figure out how to take care of myself sans dormitory and meal plan. As always, she extended her home. I had the privilege of a built-in safety net, and no idea how to create my own financial security, beyond repeatedly depending on the fail-safes my grandmother built.
Unfortunately, financial literacy isn’t something I learned from my family. My ancestors were sharecroppers and didn’t have any money or fiscal wisdom to pass down. There was no blueprint for stability, let alone success. So my parents struggled to figure it out on their own. After being saddled with student loan debt, they loathed credit. I grew up thinking the “C word” was the Voldemort of personal finance. I avoided it at all costs.
With two degrees under my belt, I knew far more about spending money than saving it. I was content navigating the world as a highly educated financially illiterate 20-something with an irrational fear of credit cards, until I decided that I wanted to buy a house. I got my first credit card at 29 years old. The limit was $100.
With my financial adviser’s help, I’ve learned to budget and set financial goals, charting a path toward a more financially sound future. Then life happened: I broke up with my boyfriend, got a new job, moved to a new city and learned I had a low ovarian reserve. I was suddenly forced to face an uncomfortable possibility: Meeting someone I want to spend my life with might not happen during my fertile years. So now I found myself facing a choice: Should I invest in freezing my eggs to help ensure I can have children when I’m ready? Or should I invest in a house? Will I be able to afford both?
I have had to think long and hard about what buying a home means to me, which led me to thinking about my grandmother’s house.
My grandmother passed away just over a year ago. Her house still belongs to our family, but we rarely go in it, for fear of stumbling on our longing for her. We’re all still very close, but admittedly a little lost now that she’s gone. At times, family functions feel like being in an orchestra that’s missing its conductor. Our control center is closed for healing right now.
I want my children, and my children’s children, regardless of how or when they get here, to have a safety net like the one my grandmother built. She created a world where a single mother was confident enough to take a leap of faith and go to medical school with a newborn. A world where the worst possible scenario means pouring my love into my godchildren, nieces, nephews and baby cousins.
So I’ve decided to forgo egg-freezing for now. Homeownership is the best next step in my family planning journey. I feel a responsibility to create a financial safety net for myself and for my family moving forward. I hope to share the weight and expense of child rearing with a life mate, but that isn’t guaranteed. I need to be financially prepared to bring a life into the world with or without a partner. For me, that means investing first in things that will help my money grow. A home should help with that, as well as provide a safe harbor for me and those I love.
As it turns out, you need to have a credit card for more than a year to prove you’re responsible enough to own a home, so to achieve my goal I’ve moved into a smaller apartment to save more and build my credit.
At 30, I am still comfortably within my window of healthy egg production and am willing to wait a couple more years, and possibly invest in egg freezing when I’m more financially stable.
In the meantime, I’m willing to see where life takes me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, there is no one-size-fits-all way to build the life or family you want for yourself. We get to make our own blueprints, and with every twist and turn, learn to love the wild ride.