Feeling Helpless: An Update on Our Debt

feeling helpless
feeling helpless
Feeling helpless? Just stay cool.

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).

Debt Update

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.

Feeling Helpless

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?


21 thoughts on “Feeling Helpless: An Update on Our Debt

  1. We were in your position years ago and what worked for us is to find ways to make more money. It started with side jobs then turned into a blog. Then it branched out from there. Make more money and you can make all of those problems go away.

  2. I second what Holly said, as I also found ways to make extra income and threw it onto my debt at the time. Without doing that, I might still be in debt. If you feel it’s time to step up your efforts then go for it. It’ll be taxing on your time and energy in the short term but soon enough you’ll be rid of the $16.6K. I hope your wife is feeling better after that last hospital episode?

  3. I have often had this feeling. I remember graduating and still having 68k in debt with my M.A., but unable to find a job. I felt desperate and paralyzed. It wasn’t until I came up with an action plan that things started to get better. I remember feeling complete nausea and heart palpitations just looking at the numbers.

    I know you are doing pretty well with freelancing. Is it possible to live off your day job and put freelance income to debt? How about a set percentage of freelance income, so regardless of what you make you are putting 25% (or whatever you want) to debt? When I was working, I tried to put the majority of freelance income to debt. Look at your priorities and see where you can divide your freelance income — consider that all “extra” money. Perhaps 1/3 goes to an EF, 1/3 goes to pregnancy/medical funds, 1/3, goes to debt. Having a plan will make you feel much better. But budget for some fun too, because I’ve definitely blown my budget by trying to be too restrictive.

    1. We’re not in a position to live off of just my income right now–kinda got stuck in a slow-moving career path. But I do like your idea of actually defining how much will go where. I think I’m going to start putting money I earn from certain projects toward it. I’m sure it will take time, but it’ll all work out 🙂

  4. I hear you on this, as we have been in “survival mode” for the better part of the year. It’s by choice, as I decided to try freelancing after we moved. There have been job changes and rough patches ever since both of us graduated from college 2.5 years ago. As a result, It feels like we’ve been slow to gain momentum.

    I try to remember that this is temporary, and that we’ve still come a long way from what we originally started out with. We’re aware of the numbers and that’s more than some people can say. I’m sorry to hear your wife has been having a rough time with the pregnancy. Hopefully it gets better!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Erin! It’s always good to have the support of knowing someone else is going through the same thing. I’m usually pretty good about it, but every once in a while I have a little freak-out moment 🙂 I’m sure we’ll both make it someday!

      And thanks 🙂 Things have been better for her. We find out the gender of the baby in 2 weeks so we’re both stoked!

  5. As someone who has been in your spot before I want to say have patience. You have a plan, you understand what you want to accomplish, now just ALLOW yourself the time to do what you need to do to get it done. It takes time and it doesn’t have to be a race. I worked a second job for 13 years to get all debt finally cleared when my wife stayed home to raise our 3 kids. It was tough, I sometimes got frustrated, but never loose sight of what is most important in your life, you are going to be a Dad. Enjoy this time, your wife and your upcoming child. It does all eventually work out if you have a plan and stick to it.

    1. Sorry, somehow your comment made it into my spam folder! She’s feeling a lot better now, which we’re both grateful for. I ended up talking with the insurance company and they’re definitely not paying it. So I guess that’s how it goes! I’m glad you got your visit paid for, though. Definitely not a fun thing to deal with.

  6. I’m glad to hear your wife is in good care, but I’ll keep her in mind through the rest of the pregnancy. That sounds quite scary — and more than just financially. I’m amazed you keep your discretionary spending down to $25 a month. I can’t even do a week with $25!

    1. Thanks! And lol. That’s just our personal allowances. We also have a little fun money on the side to use together, although that’s typically pretty low as well. Don’t tell my wife her allowance is too low, though! 🙂

  7. Many years ago, I was overwhelmed with debt, except that my debt amounted to around three quarters of a million dollars. (Several mortgages and dozens of credit cards.) I was eventually able to work myself out of it. First thing you should do is to try to pay off your smallest loan balance, and it doesn’t matter what the interest rate is. Any excess that you can afford should be used to pay down that loan. Once it is paid off, you have eliminated a payment, and you can start working on your loan with the second lowest balance. And so on.

    By the way, I would recommend that your wife avoid taking the anti-nausea medicine or any medicine for that matter, while she is pregnant.

  8. You have been an optimist thus far…never feel helpless. In that grand scheme of things (and as that song rightly points…everything will work out)
    How? Believe its possible and work hard to increase your money sources. Wealth ultimately is a by-product of health, gratitude, patience and hard work 🙂 You’ll get there.

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