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Prioritizing Monetary Resources in a Financial Crisis: Should You Support Yourself or Your Adult Children First?

The last time that I flew, the airline flight attendant instructed all of the passengers aboard the plane on how to handle a mid-flight emergency. She explained that in the case of an air pressure drop, oxygen masks would drop down from the cabins. She ordered adults traveling with children to properly secure their own masks over their faces, before they assist the children and other passengers with theirs. As a parent of small children, these instructions seemed counter-intuitive. I understand that my children depend on me to do almost everything and that they would not be very successful at placing their masks on without my help. I place their safety and well-being even before my own. Why would the airline tell me to secure my oxygen before my children’s? The reason, I think, is that ensuring my own mask first provides the greatest odds that we all survive. What would happen if I should run out of air while I am trying to gather my children and place masks over their faces? I may very well run out of air mid-way through without being able to put on my mask or that of all of my children. But, if I swiftly place my mask on, my lungs will be full of air and I will have the strength that I need to gather my children and place their masks on as well.

Were it not for this emergency protocol that the airline provides, many of us would do things backwards if we found ourselves in a mid-air crisis. I cannot help but wonder if this airline emergency protocol can be translated to assist with other types of emergency situations that we face with our loved ones, such as a financial crisis. This past week I met a very sweet woman whose house was set to be sold at a Foreclosure auction at the end of the month. The Home Owner’s Association was foreclosing on her house for her failure to pay maintenance fees. She owed them about $10,000. When I reviewed the court record I saw that the Home Owner’s Association had given her numerous opportunities in the past four years to repay the amounts in monthly installments and time and time again the woman would default on the payment. The total debt for which they were going to foreclose on the home was $10,000.00. During our consult, I asked her why she had been unable to take advantage of the opportunities the Home Owner’s Association had given her to save her home. She said, “because I have been helping my children.” She explained that she has four children all over the age of 35 whom go back and forth from living with her whenever they find themselves in financial troubles. “They come live with me when they are going through a rough time and then they leave and leave me in a deep financial hole every time. I have not had electricity in my home for six (6) months” she said. The lady and her children seem to all have been going through a financial crisis at the same time. But, she had prioritized giving them money to take care of their financial situations over paying her electricity and her Home Owners Association, amongst other things. Aside from the discomfort of living without electricity for such an extended period of time, this was going to result in her losing the house that she had lived in for twenty-six (26) years. Fortunately, she came to Loan Lawyers just in time for us to be able to stop the sale date and try and save her home. We may try and work out another deal with the HOA so that she can repay the fees that are due and get the foreclosure dismissed.

I do not know much about the situation that her children were in, nor do I pretend to know. There are many situations that justify giving all of our financial resources to our children before allocating them to anything else. But, there are other times, when, much like a parent flying with young children, we must sometimes understand that the right thing to do in a crisis situation can sometimes be putting our mask, be it an oxygen mask or a financial mask, on first so that we can be best equipped to serve those around us to our maximum capacity.