Visit the family or save your money?

Having children or family on more than one continent is now almost normal. This trend is challenging families to stay connected. How do we balance the books, continue to save and at the same time feed our “emotional tank” with a healthy dose of family time?

Mary and Tom have two children who are both living outside of South Africa. As they head for the last few years of their work life, before formal retirement they are challenged with many questions. Do we sell up and follow the children? Do we save our bonus this year for our retirement or take a trip to see our new grandchild? How do we fill the empty nest years when the birds have flown so far away?

Sam and Linda live in London. They are young, starting out in life and exploring the globe while holding down great jobs that will look great on their CV. They are still not sure at this stage if they will settle back in South Africa even though they long for home and miss the family. Their first baby is on the way and they are excited that their parents will both be visiting over the holidays. They know that instead of saving more money, they have to use their savings to help fund the air tickets for their parents who cannot afford both the travel and visa costs.

These scenarios are close to home for many of us. Managing this trend both financially and emotionally is challenging. Here are some tips to help with the process:

• Ensure that you are equipped and skilled to use webcams, skype and facebook. This will keep you connected with conversations that allow you to feel like you are all around the same kitchen table.
• Consider starting a family blog that allows all family members to contribute, add pictures and stories that hold together the fabric of family life.
• Put some money aside each month into a special travel fund so that you do not feel the pain of spending one lump sum around bonus time.
• Consider that you have a life beyond your children and become involved purposefully and ensure that you do not spiral down into a depression.
• Make new friends and cherish the ones you have. Many of us will need this support structure when we grow older if our family is far away.
• Plan exciting trips to the family far in advance to ensure that you have this to look forward to.
• Be careful not to follow your children to the other side of the world, because you may sell up, say goodbye to your life here, just to discover that soon after you land and settle, they are ready to move on somewhere else. Liberty spokesperson states “Your life saving and funds may not allow you another move.”

Make a conscious choice to actively use rituals and celebrations to create family memories. Certain things make families unique. The size of your family, values, religion and favourite holiday destinations are unique to each family.

Plan that special family picnic for the family get together. You may have a special place at the sea that has built memories for your children. When your family arrive in December plan a trip with your grandchildren to keep the memories alive. Having breakfast together with your special pancake recipe and baking experience will cement the memories long after the holiday is over. Visit that special place where you enjoyed milkshakes. Go for a walk and collect odds and ends from nature and come back and make a collage that you can keep on your fridge long after the holiday is over… Laughter, time and memories are the soul food that helps families to survive this new global trend.

This is not the “dream” we signed up for. Technology has changed the world into a flat connected structure that calls the name of some of our family members. It may even offer you that opportunity for a season. Try and see these changes as opportunities and embrace what it brings. Ensure that you have your own savings and risk profile on track and balance it with seeing parts of the world and experiencing life that may not have been part of your earlier plan.

Family is one of the most important institutions on the planet. Building memories, staying connected and supporting one another can be done at a distance. It just takes a positive mindset, time and learning a few new skills. Take up the challenge and be the glue that binds your family together regardless of distance and time.