At Prudence Debtfree this past weekend, I posted for our 5th anniversary of debt-reduction. $180,000 down – $77,000 to go! One of the points I made concerns a reality that I’m living now. “Nobody pays off debt in a vacuum. Life continues to happen, and it’s not easy to stay focused on a long-term goal like debt freedom in the midst of it.”
When “life happens”, finances leak
I don’t know about you, but when “life happens”, my ability to control …. well – just about everything – falls off. For example, during the two month period of March and April when we were focused on getting my mother moved into a retirement home, life was off-kilter. It was busy! There were appointments with mom’s doctor, the staff at the home, her real estate agent. A constant stream of e-mails zoomed among the 5 siblings as we back-and-forthed about big decisions. We had hours and hours of grunt work with mom’s move, and later on, the emptying of her condo.
Things fell through the cracks on a regular basis during those weeks. The grocery shopping didn’t always get done on the weekends, so there were frequent mad dashes to the store. Piles of unwashed dishes by the kitchen sink became standard. Scheduling conflicts happened time and again.
And as a result, there was money spillage- especially with regards to food. I don’t even want to tally up the number of meals that I ordered at restaurants over March and April. When “life happens”, there are both logistics and emotions at work, and I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who finds it all combines in financial leaks that make a stressful time that much more stressful.
Between discouragement and complacency when “life happens”
Early in our journey out of debt, I would get discouraged when our efforts to stick to a budget were thrown off by life. Gradually, I grew more philosophical about it, but I think I’ve actually become too complacent. I really blew the budget with my mom’s move.
This week at his site Debt Discipline, Brian wrote, “I just need to get back to basics about debt and be a little more disciplined myself.” That comment resonated with me. I don’t want to go back to the days of emotional roller coasters every time too much is going on, but I’m setting higher expectations for myself. (Kay, I already know what you’re going to say about this!)
3 ways to plug financial leaks when life is off-kilter
- First of all, acknowledge the temporary craziness. Have compassion for your situation, and don’t expect to perform as well as usual. Cut yourself some slack. I did pretty well in applying this strategy with my mom’s move. For instance, I found working out at the gym to be a burden, so from mid-April to mid-May, I put my membership on hold. Also, when I reconnected with someone after more than 10 years, I let her know I wouldn’t be able to get together with her until my mom’s condo sold. In several different ways, I reserved energy that I needed to devote to my mom.
- Be aware of how much “slack” you’re giving yourself, and be prepared to put boundaries on it. I could have done better here. You might say, “Well of course you spent more on food when you were helping your mom!” At least some of you might – and there’s some truth to that sentiment. But I didn’t put boundaries on the slack I cut myself when it came to this type of spending. I would go out to help my mom thinking, “I’ll just eat when I get home again.” But I know better than that! When I get hungry, I get HUNGRY, and I don’t think I ever once followed through. I should have been more proactive – packing snacks and eating strategically before heading out. I could have done that, but I was in a sort of denial. If I’d been more honest about it and expected a reasonable amount more of myself, I would have plugged that leak – at least in part.
- Let the people in your life know that you need their support. This is another area where I could have done better. I have recognized in myself the fault of expecting people to know what I need without my telling them. Even though I get annoyed when other people seem to think that I can read their minds, I do the same myself. I could have asked directly for more help – in specific ways like dishes, groceries, walking the dog, meal preparation. Things would have been more sane if I had, and the leaks would have been more contained.
“Life” continues to “happen”
Shortly after my mom was settled into her new home, my children’s book came out, and I suddenly had the task of marketing it. During July and August, when I’m off work from school, I’ll have lots of time to devote to it. But now, it’s something that I have to squeeze in here and there, and although this book is a very positive thing, it’s making my life off-kilter yet again.
So I know that for the month of June, things will be out of control, and I know that I want to navigate it well. Somewhere between discouragement and complacency, there’s a compassionate yet accountable happy medium, and I plan to find it – and keep the financial leaks plugged.
Have you experienced financial leakage when life gets off-kilter? Can you think of another leak-plugging strategy to add the the 3 I’ve mentioned? Your comments are welcome.
*Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons