Financial Peace in Hard Times
Six months ago, I had plans. Lots of them. Career plans. Vacation plans. Financial plans. Then everything fell apart. My mother became ill. She had already been ill, having been diagnosed with cancer in 2005. However, her general health deteriorated drastically in March, and there followed five weeks of hospitalization, followed by a major life change. She moved in with me, and I became her primary caregiver.
One crisis followed another. When we thought we had her other health problems resolved, we learned the cancer was back. For a long time it seemed everything was getting worse, and suddenly we were spending more time in the Emergency Room than some of the people who actually worked there (or so it seemed). I started to feel like I was friends with the security guard who printed out my badge each time. Unlike on television, you tend not to meet the same doctors and nurses on repeat visits—in fact, over the course of maybe a dozen emergency trips, we never saw the same medical staff twice. Only my friend the security guard. In the middle of all of Mom's health problems, my husband fell ill, and also made a couple of trips to the hospital.
I am pretty sure there was a whole month where we had a doctor's appointment or a hospital stay every single day. One day, after a long and stressful summer, I decided that, for once, I was going to take my son to the pool with friends and relax. And so I did. I sat there in a pool lounger, knotted up with tension from my scalp to the soles of my feet, and things seemed slightly better. I told my friend, “I think I am starting to relax.” Then I got home and my neighbor told me that an ambulance had arrived to take Mom away. That's how my summer went.
Where am I going with this? Well, all my plans were dashed to matchsticks. The career plans got put on hold. The vacation plans went down the toilet. Everything was postponed, canceled, or ruined. Except for those financial plans. See, last year, my husband and I got serious about paying off all of our consumer debt, and getting on a robust budget that included savings for many of life's little surprises. I began keeping track of every penny we spent, and aggressively paying off our creditors. I used much of Dave Ramsey's program, and established a $1000 emergency fund. At first, it was difficult. With the increased credit payments, we were barely breaking even every month. Twice within the first six months, I had to dip into the $1000 emergency fund and then repay the fund.
Sooner than I thought, we sent in our last credit card payment, and shortly after that, our last car payment. All of a sudden we were debt free except for the mortgage. That was in March.
And you know what happened in March. So here's the thing. All of that planning and work carried us straight through to today. We've had a couple of automobile breakdowns, a couple of budget overruns, some ups and downs in income, and one very strange pet accident. We've eaten far more restaurant meals than any budget-conscious family should. Gas prices have gone up. Groceries have gone up. But we're okay. I was able to pay in cash for every unforeseen emergency, and focus on what mattered most—my family and my health. All of the sacrifices we made to get on top of our consumer debt were absolutely worth it.