Updated on 07.27.07

Personal Finance In A Family Crisis

Trent Hamm

Over the past few days, a family emergency occurred and many people gathered together to say goodbye. These are challenging, emotionally hard times. I spent a lot of time comforting my wife and just being there for her and other family members, and just quietly watching things.

One particular thing stood out in my mind, though: everyone immediately began sharing resources in a way that would never happen in a “normal” situation. People were buying food, bringing things to the house, and helping each other out without even the slightest hesitation – even the tightest of people brought prepared meals to the house for people to eat and such.

Why did this happen? Why does it take a family crisis for people to pull together like that? I think this phenomenon actually is the result of several little things all pointing in the same direction.

For many people, their family and close friends are of penultimate importance. We go through our lives taking them often for granted, but when a moment like this happens, real priorities emerge. For many of us, it’s often family. I was amazed at the number of people that congregated there within a day of the news.

When we sense that someone in that group truly needs help, we will help as much as we can. My wife and I had a ton of things going on, but we dropped it all and immediately went because we were needed. It became clear that for us, family trumps all.

Expenses become basic and money ceases to matter. Stuff was needed for lunch. so we went to the store, got plenty of food, and just paid for it. The food was basic – bread and cold cut meats. Most of our meals were very simple and inexpensive, but it was good and there was plenty for all. For the things I purchased, I didn’t even think about the cost at all. Why? There was a higher priority than personal finance.

In fact, as we left, I just took some cash from my emergency fund in order to pay for anything that might be needed. I didn’t even think twice about it, because to us, this was an emergency.

The moral of the story? Crises expose what’s really important to you. For us, it’s family above all else.

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  1. Jay says:

    Great post! Its nice to put a perspective on getting/making/spending money. It is very true that money assumes secondary importance during a crisis. My dad was diagnosed with early stages of throat cancer last year and started on chemotherapy. I decided it was best to take unpaid leave for a month and spend time with my folks taking care of them. That trumped any monetary gains I would’ve had by working during that time. This is why we save for emergency funds, right? :)

  2. Eric says:

    “For many people, their family and close friends are of penultimate importance.”

    I would think that most people don’t place their friends and family as their next to last important part of their lives.

  3. David says:

    My thoughts are with you on whatever is going on Trent.

  4. limeade says:

    It’s a shame that it takes a crisis for us to realize this sometimes. Whatever it is, I hope all is well.

  5. Jeremy says:


    There are many things much more important than money in this world – thanks for the reminder.

  6. Vincent says:

    You’re exactly right about crises exposing what’s really important to you.

    My dad had a small heart attack a couple of weeks ago. He’s fine, but at his age (66), anything like that is scary. I get really annoyed really easily with my dad, and was angry at first at him for not taking care of his diet like he knows he should. But it didn’t matter when he was laying there in the hospital bed. I made the drive to the city (traffic and all) several times to see him with my brothers and sisters-in-law, despite obvious expense and inconvenience. We bought gifts and spent time with him and so on. Expenses stop mattering at times like that.

    Sorry you guys are going through a rough time, Trent.

  7. Avlor says:

    Sorry to hear your family is going through a tough situation. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  8. Todd says:

    Man that is so true. It is life. You just kind of have to accept that people are the way they are. You can only control your thoughts and reactions. Be happy that you rose to the occasion in this situation without thinking twice.

    It sucks to sink to that level and become petty but we all do it from to time.

    My prayers are with you Trent.

    BTW I love your blog. I just started reading it in June. I’m a business major striving to graduate Cum Laude in May and get my MBA in 4-5 years. I really have been learning the value of time, money etc… these past few years in college.

    Thank you for your blog.

  9. kevin says:

    “For many people, their family and close friends are of penultimate importance.”

    I really like this line, and I would think it’s true since you can’t quantify the term “many.”

    I would say that either God or a spouse would be above family and friends for “many people.”

  10. Erica says:

    Great post, thanks for the reminder.

  11. Ian says:

    @kevin: Yeah, it might be true, but it’s still not what he meant. Look at the last line of the post. He means “ultimate”, not “penultimate”.

  12. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Yes, penultimate, because ultimate is your own life and health. It’s next to the ultimate.

  13. DJ says:

    My condolences to your family, Trent.

    Now regarding finance and crisis, it irks me a bit when people talk about the sacrifices they make during these times, classifying things like spending extra money on food, traveling, canceling plans with friends, etc. as sacrifice. That is not sacrifice. That is the least you can do. It’s nothing to be patted on the back for. This is what family and friends do for each other if they have the relationship that they should.

    And penultimate means next to last. So Eric is right.

  14. FrugalTrader says:

    Times like that makes us realize that money isn’t as important as what we make it all out to be.

    My condolences Trent.


  15. Cathy says:

    I just wanted to say that my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  16. pfodyssey says:

    I believe it is true that the “difference between knowledge and wisdom is experience”. Unfortunately, it just seems to take a really long time get that experience. It is no mistake that sayings like “if I only knew then what I know now” don’t quite resonate until you reach a certain age. I think the same applies here as it relates to family and its importance in life. In the end, it’s all the really matters. I think we all intuitively know it to be true…it’s unfortunate that is sometimes takes not so great circumstances to remind us.

  17. Brip Blap says:

    Having just gone through a similar crisis in my family involving the loss of someone very dear and central to our whole extended family, this is very true. Concerns about money go out the door, but we were reminded of another great point. Our relative had gone to great lengths to prepare his finances, arrange for the funeral to be paid for, his wife provided for, his wishes regarding even the smallest details of his estate to be communicated, etc. Preparing all of this was a great comfort to us, since it eliminated any worries about trivial matters and allowed us to concentrate on remembering his life and honoring his memory.

    Worrying about paying for plane tickets, etc. would be petty concerns about money. Worrying about how to provide for your widow, find out where you hid all of the account numbers, etc. would not be petty, it would be unfortunate. I really was touched by how much effort he had put into making sure WE wouldn’t have to worry. Made me remember I needed to get my affairs in order, too, no matter how healthy I feel.

  18. kevin says:

    Not to be a grammar freak or anything, but I just learned that penultimate means “second to last.”
    so my previous post is totally wrong and makes scense in light of that.
    Thus, penultimate really should not be used as “second place.”


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