Financial Peace in Hard Times

By Catherine Shaffer. Last updated 22 February 2010. 10 comments

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.


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Guest's picture

Your post really blew me away! I was thinking, "Yeah, I know, I know." My dad had liver cancer and it was a whirlwind of chaos for our entire family, all of us kids withdrawing from our various schools to take care of both our parents (our mom was pretty much unable to help at all during this entire process) and the family business. Then, you hit us with the amazingly uplifting point of your post and the sun dawned in the horizon blazing in all its glory. Thank you very much, Catherine, for a truly inspired post!

Andrea Karim's picture

Congratulations on making it through such a tough time with your head about you, and managing to meet so many financial goals.

Guest's picture

This was a great post! There is so much turbulence in the market today, and people need peace of mind more than ever. I wanted to offer you and your readers a link to another blogger who is doing great work. If you're a fan of Dave Ramsey, you will really appreciate him! He writes about our 'childhood money messages' and how the best approach to stability in today's market is to resist letting these emotions control our buying/selling habits. It is really fascinating work, and something you should all check out. His name is Spencer Sherman, and you can view his blog at

Myscha Theriault's picture

And you're right on about the financial stability thing. It's stressful enough to deal with these family situations when they come up. If the money can just "be there", it helps tremendously.

Guest's picture

Hi Catherine,

This article is very touching. You are absolutely right: nothing is more important than taking care of the people you love. I hope the upcoming months will be more peaceful for you. I wish the best for you and your family.

Guest's picture

After my car accident a few years ago, I realized how important it is to have money for health emergencies. Just being able to take time off work and not have to worry about money in order for my body to recover was such a relief.

Taking care of your finances is not about the money, it is about being able to take care of people without having to worry about money.

Guest's picture

I lived a strikingly similiar summer with my Mother who also became seriously ill around April. Ten hospitilizations in 4 months, numerous trips to Dr. appointments, errand running, checking in, etc., etc., etc..... We blew through our summer fund before the end of summer was over BUT am I glad that we had the money, because we did not go into debt during that very stressful time. My Mom is stable now and coincidentally so is my life. ;) I truly learned the immense value of having an emergency account and a summer account that covers my wages over the summer. I hope you know that the help that you have given/give your Mom means more to her than anything in the world and one day your kindness will be given back to you two-fold. Thanks for sharing your experience!

Guest's picture

Thanks for the encouragement. We've been squirreling away funds these past years and found that during the last two we've had to go into it as things have been very tight. We're grateful the stash is there, and especially grateful we don't have to go into debt.

Guest's picture

Thank you for your post. You’ve given me a sense of hope and I am able to take another look at my finances and try to get out of the hole that I am currently in.

Guest's picture

Inspiring post. I believe that your articles are making the world a better place. If you have a chance, try reading "An Unexpected Tale" at for some additional perspective. Keep up the good work, Catherine.