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Are you depending on your children?

Written by Usiere Uko
Twitter @usiere
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Author and personal finance coach, Usiere Uko, writes about the need to plan for your old age so that you do not depend solely on your children to take care of you

There is this belief that we came into the world as helpless as children, became adults and at attaining old age become helpless like children again. This implies that one will become frail and helpless, depending on others for survival. While this is true for many who simply go with the flow and let nature take its course, there are also some who live life intentionally, taking care of their health, fitness level and finances such that they go through life on their own terms, depending on nobody. I have come across many 80 year olds who are fit as a fiddle, walking with agility without a walking stick. I watched a 97 year old lady Tao Porchon-Lynch wow the crowd in America's Got Talent 2015.

I also read the story of an Indian-born British citizen Fauja Singh who at age 101 ran the 2012 London Olympics marathon (received a letter of congratulations from the Queen), and finally retired in 2013 after completing the Hong Kong marathon. Many never retire. They don't work because they have to. They work because they love to, and still have more to give. The oldest employee of IDEO, a Silicon Valley IT firm Barbara Beskind is 90. Closer home, examples include Rotimi Williams (first Senior Advocate of Nigeria), Tai Solarin and living examples like Wole Soyinka etc. These folks love what they do and keep working until the day before they bid the planet goodbye. This proves to me that we have a choice in this matter, if we choose to exercise it.

I have often wondered why parents send their children to schools they cannot afford. A couple of days ago, my wife shared a cartoon with me. In the cartoon, a man lay dazed on the floor after his wife delivered devastating news - the holidays are almost over and school fees are due. I have run into many lamentations by many parents over school fees, coupled with the fact that it comes in waves of three to four months apart, as you manage to survive one, another one is upon you. Many are in a constant state of financial pressure occasioned by choices they made by their own free will. Nobody put a gun to their head, but they still don't seem to figure a way out.

Why do parents send their children to schools they cannot afford?

Many hide under the umbrella of 'God will provide'. It is very convenient to hide under God, making a decision based on hope. God will always provide, by paying for things he ordered for. If he did not send you, you are on your own. By the way, why put pressure on other people for things God ordered for? The logical person to put pressure on should be God. We need to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. By taking responsibility for the consequences of our actions, we also take responsibility for making it right. If you cannot afford all the schools in your neighborhood, it means you cannot afford to live in that neighborhood. Eat the humble pie and find your level.

Levels will change for sure, but wait until it does before you move up. For newly married couples, it is not by force that you should invite everyone for a naming ceremony a year after you get married. You can give yourselves a breathing space and plan your family based on your ability to take care of them. There is no reward for ageing before your time due to financial pressure.

Another reason may be to give our children a better opportunity than you had. That is very noble indeed. The challenge I have with this theory is that when I study successful people, I am yet to see the correlation between the school they attended and their success in life. What I tend to see is that the school dropouts and graduates from nameless schools seem to do better than graduates from Ivy League universities. In the corporate world, going to a good school can give you an edge in getting the job, especially if an alumnus is on the interview panel, but getting in does not determine your flight to the top. Most of the skills required to get to the top are not taught in schools. With the high rate of unemployment, a sizeable number of the unemployed are armed with foreign degrees. If you cannot afford it, what is the point giving an arm and a leg only to end up as statistics?

Another reason, though hardly discussed, is investing in our children as part of our retirement plan – so that they take care of us at old age. Children are supposed to take care of their parents in their old age. That is the right thing to do. The problem arises when the child cannot even take care of himself and his family; let alone his aged parents. Many parents still regard a good university degree as a guaranteed meal ticket. This assumption is no longer valid in the information age. Many Nigerian graduates with foreign degrees have returned home because they could not get jobs abroad, not that they loved their country so much.

Thousands of indigenes of those countries have graduated without jobs, weighed down by a huge load of student loans around their necks. Graduates who cannot create jobs may remain applicants for a while.

The world has changed and the advice to go to a good school, get a good degree to get a good job has gone with the industrial age. If you have sunk your life savings on sending your child abroad or expensive schools so that he can get a good job to take care of you in your old age, you may have missed the 'bus'. You may depend on your child quite alright, but you may get what you did not bargain for.

If you pampered your child, leaving him dependent on you, rather than your child taking care of you in your old age, you may end up paying his house rent and children's school fees in your old age.

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