Plugging Financial Leaks When Life Is Off-Kilter

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

16 comments on “Plugging Financial Leaks When Life Is Off-Kilter

  1. You know we had our nearly year-long “life happens” thing back in 2015, and it really rocked us financially. I spent a long time after that beating myself up for the bigger, badder financial mess that resulted because of that stuff. But then I started to look at it differently. We did what we needed to do to cope and recover. It sucks, but it’s okay. We’ll get the additional debt paid off. And you’ll get your spending back on track. I have faith in us. 🙂

    1. “We did what we needed to cope and recover.” If we can be compassionate with ourselves, we can be compassionate with others. Judgment doesn’t accomplish anything constructive in either case. I have faith in us too : )

  2. We’re in the cycle right now. We have so many things going on. They key for us is to recognize it and as you suggest give yourself some slack, but not let it go too far. Once all the schedule craziness settles down (and it will) we need to pull it back in and get back to our regular plan. Don’t let complacency set in and the behavior cascade.

    1. These “craziness” times are temporary, and that’s an important thing to keep in mind as we go through them. All the best in navigating your way through this one, Brian.

  3. Why, whatever do you mean Ruth? 0:)

    But anywaaaaaaay, we’ve had so many unexpected things pop up at us in the past few years. I think we took this past year just to recover. I am always looking to find moderation in all aspects of my life. But alas, I still lean toward extremes. So if I eat something on my “no no” list, I end up just going hog wild. If we spend more than we’ve reasonably planned our budget for, we tend to just throw the cards up in the air. And yet, I will continue reading blogs like yours and creating new plans and keep trying to get back on that horse, because I have a feeling that he probably has a better sense of direction than I do!

    1. Interesting what you say about going “hog wild” when you fall off the wagon in question. I tend to do that too, but I’m trying to catch myself before it happens, brush myself off, and get back on the wagon (or the horse as you say). I’ve really learned that perfection isn’t necessary for progress, and I’m so glad that’s the case. I wonder if it’s perfectionism that makes you “throw the cards up in the air” when things aren’t perfect.

        1. When you can yell out “BINGO” like that, it means a win : ) I love your willingness to be introspective and honest, Kay. Not everyone has it.

  4. I am JUST working through this revelation myself, as well, stay tuned for Monday’s post 🙂 2017 is a disaster of a year in so many ways for us, but we are adjusting and coping. Without wishing time away, I am hoping that each week that passes will be smoother but I know we’re due for major upheaval when we list our home and sell, and MOVE. Oh goodness. Cross your fingers, for us 🙂

    1. I love it when blogs criss-cross on topics such as this! I look forward to seeing your post Monday. I will do more than cross my fingers for you. I’ll pray that things work out for the good – in ways that you can’t even anticipate now. And I believe that your release of obligations to certain family members will end up providing an unaccustomed bandwidth that will help you to deal with the upheaval that you foresee.

  5. Good things to keep in mind.

    One small thing I’d add is to stockpile things when they’re at rock-bottom prices; when I got into couponing and discovered you can easily buy bottles of conditioner and mouthwash, etc., for as low as 50 cents a piece, I bought over a year’s supply. Now whenever life gets hectic that’s one less thing to think about, saving me time and money.

    1. Very, very good idea! I have such a desire to de-clutter, the idea of stockpiling goes against the grain. But obviously, the example you mention is a great example of its benefits. Not only to save money, but to save time when things get out of kilter. So once I thoroughly de-clutter (my goal for this summer), I’ll start gearing up for stockpiling. Thank you, Natalie : )

  6. Those are 3 great strategies for when life happens. Just like eating unhealthy food, when I get a little off on spending, I remind myself I can start over again – the next day, the next week or the next month. The realization that the stress and busyness is impermanent is definitely helpful here. Also, I think just taking some time and just do nothing (relax!) is a good way to lower the stress during these times. Even if you just give yourself permission to take a few hours off can be helpful.

    1. That’s true, Amanda, and I actually did do that during the time of my mom’s move. My choice of “hours off” involved too much Netflix, though. For this next “life happens” episode, I’m going to find other ways to “just do nothing” : )

  7. So much truth in here! It’s so difficult when there are other demands on our attention/discipline. I’ve definitely struggled with this myself. I love the boundaries + slack approach. And what better tie in to that book than boundaries? Shoot me an email–I’d like to buy. And I’d love to help you promote this summer if you’re looking for people. 🙂

    1. Ah, that’s such a kind offer, Femme! I will definitely shoot you an email : ) Thanks! (And you are bang on. The book deals with boundaries and mindfulness – without using those words.)

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