7 Lessons My Kids’ Puzzles Taught Me About Financial Independence

by David@MoneyNing.com · 2 comments

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

– ­Nelson Mandela

That’s what I thought when my kids opened the gift they got this past Christmas.

You see, my friend gave us two puzzles as presents. A 1,000 piece monster for my 11-year-old, and a 500 piece head-scratcher for my 8-year-old. My kids opened the boxes right away, spreading all 1,500 pieces all over the house. Meanwhile, I was at the back looking like Albert Einstein because my hair started graying out immediately from the thought of having to finish the two massive dilemmas that have invaded my living room and also from me starting to pull all my hair out.

Luckily, my kids couldn’t care less about what I looked or felt like. They started plugging away, fitting each piece in willy-nilly. The approach they took was far from the most efficient, but they were making progress. It certainly beats good old dad at the back with the paralyze-in-fear approach.

Without doing anything special, my kids were reminding me about the power of getting started. It reminded me of my own journey to financial freedom. It reminded me about this very site, MoneyNing.com. When I first started on the road to be financially independent, I was far from an expert in personal finance. All I knew was that I wanted to build wealth. All I knew was that I needed to save and make more money. I didn’t know about index funds, tax-loss harvesting, or Roth conversions. It didn’t matter that nothing I was doing was efficient because I was spending less than I make. I was saving. I was making progress.

Instead of being just like those around me and complained about the problem endlessly without doing anything to improve the situation, I did something about it. I even started a website talking about my struggles and small wins.

It wasn’t smooth sailing by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m living a decently comfortable life after 15 years of starting the site. Instead of talking about the power of compound interest and what could have been, I’m a living testament that slow and steady wins the race. After all, I was saving and investing since I was a teenager and those savings have been growing for almost three decades. I’m not so rich that I can afford to buy everything I want, but I’m wealthy enough to have the means to buy anything I want.

Are you doing something to improve your finances these days? Or are you going to just let another day slip by? Today is the day to do something about it. Learn from my kids. Here are a few other things I’ve learned about financial freedom watching them work with the puzzle pieces:

1. The struggle can be enjoyable too. It’s not always going to be fun all the way. Far from it. There were times when we wanted to give up. There were times when we really wanted to throw the pieces onto the big pile of mess. Still, when you finally find a piece that fits – that just makes your day.

You might be looking at your 30-year mortgage and think that you’ll be long gone by the time you are debt-free, but keep at it anyway. Made it another year closer to paying it all off? Celebrate. Reached a round-number milestone by consistently paying down your debt? Celebrate. Celebrate those small wins and make sure you realize the progress you are making towards the promised land.

2. You will get help if you keep at it. I jumped in the fun shortly after seeing them play, effectively giving them solid help because, at the very least, I increased the man and brain power by 50%, turning two people into a 3-man team.

Things might seem daunting when you first set out to save for retirement, but you never know where the help might come from. Who would’ve thought that the Fed would push rates so low that so many could save hundreds of dollars every money with a refinance, especially after years of everybody warning of the inevitable rise in interest rates? If you are already in the game of saving, you’ll eventually find the power-up that will propel you towards freedom.

3. You learn tricks along the way that you won’t know ever existed, and that could change everything. When I joined my kids, the first thing I told them was to find all the pieces that were an edge and to connect those first. Then, we worked on sorting the pieces by colors. What I told them wasn’t complicated, but how will my kids know what to do unless I told them those simple tricks? Same thing with personal finance. Nothing I say here on a weekly basis is really that complicated, but take some time to follow the simple advice and the results speak for themselves.

4. Feel at peace with the fact that some things just take time. If you keep rushing through the journey, you likely won’t speed it up that much and you run the risk of giving up. I almost gave up on the puzzle a few times. I’m a pretty impatient person, and I just wanted to rush through everything. There was a day or so where I tried to power through, working on the puzzle instead of on the website, skipping breakfast, and forgoing lunch.

I just burned myself out in the end. I almost quit. Do you do that whenever you get the urge to give saving or getting rid of debt a go? You get all hyped up and you sacrifice everything to save every penny, only that doing so makes you miserable and you end up quitting.

5. I know it’s much faster to keep the intensity up 110% the whole way through, but there’s no shame to take short breaks either. It’s actually the better way. The only reason why I came back to keep working on the puzzle was that my kids came back a day later and they were working on it again. Seeing them in the activity piqued my interest and gave me the motivation to continue the journey.

For them, they didn’t care that it wasn’t finished in a day. They just wanted to keep going and get closer to the goal. That’s the long term attitude we should have with building wealth – consistency and not giving up.

6. There are unexpected benefits once you are on your journey too. I didn’t know when I first started, but I noticed that I can work on the puzzle and listen to an audiobook at the same time. In fact, I can probably clear off a bunch of books I wanted to listen to but was too lazy to finish.

Similarly, saving has many unexpected benefits. When I first started, I treated saving for retirement as if the money I saved will only benefit me once I quit work. Eventually, I realized that having a cushion helps calm my nerves whenever there’s a crisis. I realize that the most valuable prize money can buy is peace of mind. I would’ve never guessed when I was young and just wanted to have a higher standard of living.

7. And there are hidden benefits you will never know. It’s said that working on a puzzle will help with improving short term memory, excise the left and right brain, relieve stress, and offer a great way to connect with family. My kids still don’t know how the past few days helped them. It doesn’t matter though, because help it did.

There will be benefits that may or may not be noticeable if we keep working on improving our finances. But does it matter that we don’t know?

It actually didn’t take long for their passion to sort out the beautiful mess to rub off on me because I joined in to help put the pieces together too. We learned a lot, had fun along the way, and finished the puzzles after a few days.

“You will never win if you never begin.” – ­Helen Rowland

Amen to that.

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