Dealing with Financial Drought: A Recovery Plan

by Sarah Winfrey on 2 September 2008 12 comments
Photo: Drought

You know how it goes. One minute, you have extra money sitting in the bank just waiting for you to play with it. The next, your car needs repaired, or the cat gets sick, or the roof falls in and there's no way you can afford the bills without dipping into savings. Not only has your "fun money" disappeared, but so has some of your emergency fund, general savings fund, or goal-oriented savings fund. And we all know what happens next: more catastrophe, more bills, more dipping in when you meant with all your will to save this month.

Financial drought sucks, but it happens to all of us. Not even the wisest, most frugal person on the 'net can avoid it. What we do when the savings numbers are slipping backwards, however, can determine how much we actually lose during the drought and how quickly we bounce back.

Know what to expect.

All sorts of negative emotions can accompany financial drought. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wondering if it's all your fault, or if you're lying awake at night wondering if you could have seen this coming and how. Your emotions may run particularly close to the surface during and just after a drought, or you may find yourself unable to feel at all. However you respond emotionally, know that you will and that it will go away when things get better. Expecting an emotional fallout of some sort can, rather ironically, help you keep your equilibrium when you're in the middle of the drought. You won't be nearly as tempted to follow them into an unwise choice or to change your financial plan on a whim.

Rather closely related to that point, know that things will get better. Financial drought doesn't last forever. It might seem like it's going to when you're wading through it with the water at your neck, but it doesn't. And knowing that it will end can make all the difference in the world. 

Take stock.

Sometimes, an emergency fund isn't enough. I hate to bring up depressing stuff, but it's true. When life throws a really big lemon, not even the most overfunded emergency fund in the world can make lemonade. But you know what? That's ok. Sure, it means taking money from somwhere else, maybe from a goal-oriented savings account, or a general fund, or even a loan. And that sucks. Even this worst-case scenario, however, isn't the end of the world. Are you alive? Check. Relatively hale and whole? Check. Ready to get back on the pony? Well....maybe.

Wherever you find  yourself after the bills are paid or the wells are dried up, look around. What's good? What's wretched? What can you change? What will only make things worse if you tinker with it? The answers to these questions will help you figure out where you are. And generally, when we know where we are, the way forward becomes much more clear.

Your goals are still your goals.

Even when you're negatively saving towards whatever it is you want, that thing you want is still your goal, and don't you forget it! It's easy to lose sight of your goals when your finances take a dip for the worst. When you're taking money out of your savings account instead of putting it in, it's so easy to let the doubts wiggle in. It might start with a, "Wow, I guess we won't be able to buy the boat in April," but quickly progresses to, "Maybe we'll never be able to buy the boat," and in the worst cases becomes, "It was silly of me to try and save for a boat." Nip those thoughts in the bud. Your boat (or car, house, horse, roadtrip, cruise, whatever) is worth the time you spend saving, the effort of saving, and the money you save. Just because it may not happen when you wanted it to happen doesn't change that. Knowing that your goals have value can help you stay focused and oriented even when life tries to throw you off.

Not only that, but remembering the value of your goals and staying focused on them can help you bounce back after the crisis. Sure, it sucks to be in the hole with your savings account, but at least you still have one. And there's something out there that you want! Focusing on your desire wil help you save even when it feels hopeless to do so. Because that day where everyone sees you having accomplished your goal? It's out there somewhere, and your saving makes it come quicker. 

Take your time.

All of that said, give yourself some space to figure out where you are, where you want to go next, and how to get there. A drought can change a lot of things in your life, not the least of which are your energy, stress levels, relationshps, and general health. An extended, sudden, or particularly intense drought can impact all of these and more for the worse. So give yourself time. Maybe you need to sleep every Saturday afternoon for a month instead of assessing your finances. Or maybe you need a day at the beach, a chance to finish that book you got into before it all started, or a couple of massages. Whatever it is, you have time for it. Let your whole self take a deep breath before you dive back in. 

In addition to healing some of the hurts of drought, taking some time can give you a different perspective. It can help you notice that the world isn't out to get you, no one actually seems to hate you, and things look remarkably similar to how they looked before the drought. What a relief!

Get back on the pony.

Whether you decide on a recovery plan or just jump back in to what you were doing before, get started. Maybe your drought has lingering consequences and you can't save like you used to. That's ok; save what you can. Sometimes, a drought shakes us so deeply that we can't bear to risk again. That's ok; do it anyway. The more you follow a plan and get some money back in savings, the more you'll be able to stop expecting the worst. And once you've done that, well, you've overcome the drought.

What sorts of droughts have you faced? How did you overcome them? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments.

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Guest's picture
Guest

It's great when you say "Even when you're negatively saving towards whatever it is you want" and all the other stuff you said. It helped me see that the plans I have to revitalize my home are only dead if I let them die. I just happen to be currently negatively saving, HA! I love it.

I'm usually a very optimistic person but I had all but moved into the basement of a friend's house with my ruminations about how this "drought" would play out on my cash flow. This article basically is telling me "snap out of it!".

Thanks.

Guest's picture

Even in the times of The Great Depression, millions made it through. I take comfort in FDR's inauguration speech that addressed this Nation's serious problems back then and use it as inspiration for our much less serious financial times now. That post "Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself" at http://shanelyang.com/2008/04/24/nothing-to-fear-but-fear-itself/ provides additional helpful tips on how best to deal with these times, including a summary of the key concept in the bestselling self help book "Who Moved My Cheese?" Good luck, All! : )

Guest's picture

This is a timely post as I am dealing with some financial drought right now. After our kids were born my wife had planned to return to work when the youngest started the first grade. That was a year ago. Two years ago she was diagnosed with a progressive chronic disease called fibromyalgia. It causes her much pain and in fact has led her into depression. During that time I was also diagnosed with a progressive disease, Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes. We have spent quite a bit of money trying to find something that works to reduce my wife's pain. She has seen traditional doctors, holistic doctors ( not covered by insurance ), and now a psychiatrist and a psychologist and acupuncturist. Things are getting better ( but she is still in pain ) but at this point she is not able to work while our medical expenses have increased considerably.

We are trying to figure it all out but I have the sinking feeling that we're not going to make it financially.

Guest's picture
Guest

To Khurt

On our white board on the fridge is a sentance. It reads, "We're still here." An older lady told me of the really rough times she and her family went through and said, "We thought we wouldn't make it, but we're still here." I can relate to your troubles, and though there's no way for us to fix things for you, just know you're not in this alone.

Guest's picture

I thought I was doing well earlier this year buying 4 x investment properties. Unfortunately I've had to put a new heating system in 2 of them costing £5000 in total.

I sometimes wonder if I would have been better paying down my debt with the cash I've laid out rather than investing.

As always, the best advice is not to dwell on it but rather look on the bright side.

Guest's picture

Like Guest said - "Thanks - I needed that". I think a lot of people need that kind of motivator to keep them going. It's rought when stuff happens unexpectedly, leaving you feel like a financial failure, even if it wasn't technically your fault. Like many things in your life, you have to learn how to pick yourself back up and keep going to make sure your finances stay in order. Remember your goals and moving forward is a never-ending process. Thanks for the reminder!

Guest's picture

We once went through a bit of a drought thanks to miscalculations - it was horrible that it affected me so much; I wish I hadn't been so emotional about it. I just felt like we tried and tried to get out of a hard place and failed anyway. But it's true, these times do end and when they do you realise that perhaps you haven't done too much damage after all. In the end, things turned out fine.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Guest #1--I'm so glad this met you where you were at. Sounds like things have been rough lately. I hope your drought lifts soon!

Shanel--That's a fabulous link! Thanks for your encouraging comments. And you're right...for so many facing drought, it could be so much worse.

Khurt--Ouch! I feel for you and your wife. Fibromyalgia isn't fun--my mom has it. And it can be so hard to get relief! I like what Guest #2 said--"We're still here." You know, sometimes I think that victory is in looking around and suddenly realizing that you're still standing, after the wind and the rain have passed.

Guest #2--Well, I pretty much said it in my response to Khurt. Thanks for your words; they're good and true.

Uncommonadvice--Wow...that's rough. Here's hoping things come together for you.

Savings Toolbox--You're welcome. And I like your thoughts on how we need to be reminded of what we already know. It's so easy for us to despair when we don't need to. Our feelings get away from us, our fears seem larger than life, and we crumble. It's so true.

Neimanmarxist--Ok, first of all? Fab username. Secondly, you know, you're right. Everything ends...and most of the time, we're still standing.

Guest's picture
Carol

The last two years have been very scary for our family. My husband was overcome with bipolar mental illness and plunged all my good intentions into an abyss of debt like I'd never seen before. As his illness progressed and was misdiagnosed, he became unable to work, so I became the sole breadwinner, working 2 jobs and trying to help with his illness, too. Our house, which we are in no danger of losing, has fallen into disrepair, because there just is no money. He recently found a medication that seems to hold a lot of promise, and I have gotten a little help from relatives. But we still have an unbelievable amount of debt, and one working spouse.

Your post was a nice reminder that things will be better someday and to not let my dreams and hopes fall by the wayside. I know things are now improving for us, and there have been "positives" to what has happened, too. I've learned a lot about myself, a lot about marriage, and a lot about stretching pennies. Probably, had this not happened, I'd be lacking in a lot of wisdom that I have now. As "they" say, "Wisdom comes from experiences, and mistakes". How very true.

Sarah Winfrey's picture

Carol, wow. That's quite a story. I'm so glad things are getting better, and that my post encourged you, too. I love your point about learning things from drought times. It's so true! If we didn't have those hard times, and that includes but isn't limited to financial hard times, we wouldn't be the people we are or become the people we want to become. Thanks for sharing.

Guest's picture
emilster

This is a great post. It's true, no matter how much you save, there could be times of financial drought. Thanks for the post!

Myscha Theriault's picture

We're rolling with a particular situation right now that is totally kicking our butts. It's exhausting, but we're muddling through. And you're right about remembering to not follow your emotions off a cliff. It's easy to do, if you allow it.