One father learns from his own father’s financial mistakes

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May 2015 was probably the worst month of Jerry Porter’s life. Halfway into the month, Jerry, 43, tore his bicep while helping a friend move. But he didn’t want the injury to sabotage a long-planned trip to Ohio to visit his father, a Vietnam veteran, for Memorial Day. So the North Carolina resident made the seven-hour drive solo.

When he returned home, Jerry underwent an MRI to learn the torn bicep required surgery—and he was looking at paying thousands of dollars out of pocket toward his healthcare deductible. “I’m a worrier by nature,” he says, and the surgery was top of mind following the Ohio trip. Then just days later on May 30, Jerry received news that his father had died suddenly.

Grief and shock sent Jerry reeling. And the emotional turmoil was compounded by the fact that Jerry’s dad had no financial plans in place. Just a few days after learning of his loss—and with his arm still recovering—Jerry was back in his car for another seven-hour drive to sort out the logistics of his father’s estate. “I had to drive his car back to the dealership, because it was a lease,” he says. “I had to gather and deal with his belongings and settle all of his accounts. The cemetery couldn’t work with our timeline because we insisted he deserved a military service. It was a lot.”

A reality check—and a cautionary tale for the future

Jerry and his wife hadn’t planned to spend thousands of dollars on his father’s funeral expenses, and pulling that much money out of their own savings—even as they paid for Jerry’s surgery—would have seriously impacted their family. So Jerry reached out to the Social Security office and U.S. Army about funeral benefits. In the end, both agencies provided some funds, though the Porters were still hit with a final bill of about $5,000.

After the funeral, Jerry’s arm surgery seemed to take on extra significance. “It made me realize I’m not as young as I used to be,” he says. “And I wanted to do better to make sure that those I care for aren’t in the same position I was with my dad.” Though Jerry and his wife had long been able to follow a monthly budget and set aside a bit of emergency savings, he worried that their long-term savings plan would come up short—and that gap would one day fall on their daughter’s shoulders.

Inspired by the newly launched onUp Movement, the couple met with a financial advisor and reallocated more of their monthly income toward their 401(k). They sit down every six months to check their balances and assess their goals. “You never want to talk about financial planning—especially the what-if scenarios—but I should have talked to my dad about this,” he says. And he’s found that talking eases his worries about the future, rather than ratcheting them up. “I feel so much better since we started doing this. The hardest part is taking the first step.”

Jerry isn’t only building his own savings: He opened a 529 savings account for when his 10-year-old daughter is ready for college. “She’s 10 years old now, and her big dream is to move to California and open a cupcake shop with her best friend,” he says. “And I want to help her live those dreams.”

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