Alan Thomson, Certified Financial Planner

Peace: Stress-free state of security and calmness; the absence of mental stress or anxiety

Most will concede that peace in our lives is a bit of an elusive concept. Like many who are reading this article, childhood cancer assaulted my family’s stress-free state of calmness just over 15 years ago. Having spent my working days in the financial services world, I have come to believe that financial peace is no less elusive. Below are some thoughts on finding financial peace, particularly after our world has been under siege.

We reasonably believe the story that financial peace is a result of saving 20% of one’s income, living within ones means, and planning for the future. To be clear, these are all good things in and of themselves. However, they don’t hold the keys to financial peace. In fact, in the hardest times of our lives, these “keys to success” may only serve to frustrate our sense of financial peace.

Personal financial planning often centers on the balance of short and long-term goals with our needs and wants. When crisis erupts – such as when we watch our children fight for their lives, our short-term long-term scales cease to operate correctly. Indeed, for many of us the scale may completely break as we avoid making decisions with our personal finances.

After the trauma, how do we navigate back to a financial peace that eludes many in the best of circumstances? Though there is no definitive recipe, the below represent my thoughts and experiences. They are stepping stones I identified as a financial planner a few years after my wife and I lost our daughter, Hayley, to AML.

Grace  Putting together a bookshelf or installing a new garbage disposal? Maybe those are times when we can skip step one. This is not the case after a crisis; all steps must be followed and the first is giving grace. Allow yourself and your partner and your family to feel extra helpings of grace with regards to financial decision making, past financial mistakes, or general avoidance. Everyone reacts differently to the challenges faced when peace is removed, and the stress may take their financial habits to different and possibly competing extremes.

Trauma may create doubt about the future and foster a carpe diem financial mentality. Conversely, traumatic experiences may also lead us to overprepare and hoard finances. Communication is essential to recovery, and during those conversations, let grace abound. Regardless of how family trauma tilts your short-term and long-term scales, recognize the changes and be generous with grace as you and your family navigate your new financial world.

Joy  Most of us reasonably question how we will once again find joy after a trauma. We have seen the most innocent among us suffer deeply and joy may evade us for a season. What we have experienced, though, gives us a new insight as to where we find durable joy.

Ultimately, the suffering with which we have come face to face exposes the false joys and gives us clarity: clarity that our happiness going forward will be based neither on our balance sheet, nor income statement, nor upon any of the stuff our finances may afford. Rather, our deeper, more durable view of joy in our lives becomes elemental as we continue down our path towards financial peace.

Purpose represents the third stepping stone on our journey. When our worlds are shaken, so too are our priorities. We ask ourselves, why? Why us? Why our family? Naturally, we will struggle with our purpose, and specifically the purpose of our suffering. I firmly believe finding the purpose of our struggles is not terribly important. Believing there to be a purpose, though, is critical. By what other means can we possibly proceed into a future filled with just as many unknowns as our past?

When we recognize that there is purpose to our circumstance, we find encouragement to return to our short-term and long-term scales and re-calibrate them correctly. Our scales will never return to their original settings. We will recalibrate them informed by a past filled with heartache and grace, a present experienced with a more meaningful understanding of joy, and a future resting on the firm belief in a purpose to our challenges and our financial decisions. Yes, our scales will forever be set at a custom calibration… and that is a good thing.