I still remember those days in an enormous house, running out of things to do at 9am, being alone with my thoughts.
Having just married, I quit my job to follow my husband to his assignment in a country with elevated security threat. I had just turned 29. The heat was still blasting relentlessly in the desert after Labor Day. Going out on my own or after dark was not recommended.
The excitement of starting a new life in a new country gradually wore off after a month. I spoke the local language, but had no one to talk to. I would stare at the walls surrounding our small, dry backyard through our metal bar protected windows, wondering what I have gotten myself into.
I had officially become a “Trailing Spouse.”
Every year, tens of thousands of women and men leave their career in their prime working years without a re-entry plan. They chose to do so for the sake of their families – to take care of their children and parents, or like in my case, to support their spouses’ careers. While some do so after careful financial calculation, many forego their income because they put their family’s needs before earning a paycheck. Nevertheless, it doesn’t change the fact that leaving an established career path may jeopardize the greatest contributing factor to their financial health in the long run –Human Capital.
First of all, losing an income source usually means the family has diminished capacity to save and invest. You not only give up on a salary, but also employer benefits such as 401(k) match, pension contribution, health, life and disability insurance coverage, which are all safe guards for your long-term financial health. Your Human Capital is intact, but it’s not helping you create financial wealth.
Secondly, Human Capital will decrease overtime if you don’t exercise or add to it. You may not under immediate financial pressure to return to the work force, but are you able to go right back to where you left off if there is an emergent need for you to do so? How about if your family needs no longer exist and you can pursue your career again? Diminishing Human Capital is more than just short-term income loss. It’s loss of your future potential.
To me and my community, financial health is keeping our earning potential. We can budget and save and tighten our belts while not working, but none of those efforts have greater impact to our family’s financial wellbeing than being able to regain desirable income when it’s needed.
In order to keep the earning potential, we need to establish a plan to continue to grow our Human Capital, whether through part-time work, projects, continue education, side hustles, self-employment, or volunteer activities. Even if you never have to earn an income again, Human Capital helps you maintain financial health through whatever circumstances you are in. You can lose all of your earthly possessions, but you will still have your skills, ability, network, and drive to stand back up again.
Eventually I began to volunteer, study, and work again after the initial identity crisis. Today I am still a Trailing Spouse, but I have also built a business and become a Certified Financial Planner™, helping those in my same situation with their personal finance. Now I can proudly say that the best thing I’ve ever done for my family’s financial health is continuing to grow my Human Capital. I hope you will, too.