Has anyone else had that suffocating sensation of feeling helpless when it comes to their finances? I feel it on and off again and right now I’m in the on again stage. To set the stage, my wife is pregnant. A few weeks ago, I took her to the hospital because she had been throwing up non-stop for the previous 24 hours and was severely dehydrated.
The trip to the ER, which consisted of her getting two bags of fluids and some nausea medicine, came out to be $1,132.75, $100 of which we paid up front with the co-pay, and $22.92 was covered by our gracious insurance company (bless their little hearts). That leaves a bill of $1,009.83. You can imagine my utter joy when I saw the bill, especially after I wrote last week about how we got hosed a couple of years ago when we were trying to save money by doing a high-deductible plan. We’re not on a high-deductible plan. And frankly, this has happened to us before. It took months of angry phone calls to the insurance company to get them to pay the bill.
Anyway, on that same day, I purchased budgeting software from You Need a Budget (YNAB) to give it a whirl and see if it’s better than my Excel spreadsheet. As was going through and adding all our accounts onto it, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the amount of debt we already have.
An Update On Our Debt
Last October, I wrote in detail about where our debt comes from and my feelings about it. Today I ran some numbers and put together how we’ve done over the last 11 months (not including our new-found friend that followed us home from the ER).
Compared to a lot of people I’ve read about and become acquainted with, it’s not a lot. But no matter how much debt you have, it’s an emergency. And honestly, I don’t think we’ve been doing that poorly, but that doesn’t lessen the pain at all. We’ve been able to pay off my dad and our 0% computer loan (we paid it off in full when I quit the bank and they decided to switch it to a 10% loan). We’ve also come a long way in paying off my in-laws for their help with some of my wife’s chiropractic expenses from last year.
But in spite of these little short-term wins we’ve seen, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve been doing everything we can. I don’t think we’ve been treating it as an emergency. We’re just paying the minimum payments on the student loans and the car loan, and we haven’t been doing a debt snowball with the payments on the loans we paid off. Although that decision is mostly because our income situation has been so volatile with job changes and moving. This summer has been absolutely killer with random expenses that keep coming up as well. But in the end, I can’t help but wonder if any of these excuses are legit or not.
Yeah, we still spend a little discretionary money here and there. We have a date budget. We each get a $25 allowance each month, which I feel is reasonable. But there’s also the desire to give, which we do by donating tithing and other money to help those in need to our church, along with other worthy causes we come across. But we do budget every month, and we definitely try to save as much as possible without creating an environment of budget anorexia followed by binge spending. And I guess to be fair to us, we”re dropping between $600-$800/month between ongoing chiropractor expenses and pregnancy check-ups and incidentals–not something we can control.
And those costs are only going to go up when the baby gets here.
Totally worth it, of course 🙂 But stressful all the same.
So what do you do?
In times like this, it’s easy to blame your situation on certain things that may seem out of your control. But you need to be honest with yourself about what’s in your control and what isn’t. Do I need to go to FinCon this month? No. But the money I’m spending is an investment in my future as a freelance writer, and I have to deal with the consequences of that, which are tough in the short term, but hopefully awesome in the long term.
We also need to learn to balance our minds between what we can control and what we can’t. As Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer goes,
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
It’s easy for me to get caught up in the stress of what we can’t control, like all the medical bills. I do it all the time. But it’s also easy to rationalize the things we can control. One thing I’m happy about so far with YNAB is that I have all of those numbers in front of me every single time I update my budget. It’s won’t just be something I take a look at each month when I calculate our net worth anymore.
I think it’s also time we start putting together an action plan to tackle the debt. Up until this point, we’ve been in survival mode with things being in such a state of flux, but there’s nothing wrong with me seeking out a small freelancing gig here or there to put toward our debt. There needs to be balance, but without a plan, we’re just going to be stuck making the minimum payments forever.
Even after going through this whole thought process, I still can’t help but feel helpless sometimes. After all, it’s easy to write about it. The doing is the hard part. And I don’t even want to think about the possibility of one or both of our 10+ year-old cars dying the death, forcing us into more debt. But in the end, I’m an optimist. I may not have a lot of patience, but I am optimistic.
As Sonny says in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,
Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, then it’s not yet the end.
How do you deal with feeling helpless with your finances? What are some clever ways you’ve been able to reduce debt?