When Bad Luck Hits You in the Wallet

I won't lie. We got creamed this year. We weren't expecting to have surgery on Nana's other leg. We didn't expect our air conditioning system to die. We never expected our truck to need repairs, or a washing machine to replace. We didn't expect a new kitten.

• We did expect a big hay bill. If you have goats, you need hay.
• We expected $1000 in landscaping costs for the front yard.
• We expected to fork over a few grand for fencing.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, we didn't buy the fencing yet, which helped to defray the cost of Nana's surgery. To be fair, if we'd had the fencing up, maybe I wouldn't have had to chase Iko across the street, tearing my clothes and flesh, while worrying if another car was going to race by when Nana decided to follow in hot pursuit.

It's all relative. Nerve-wracking, but relative.

Every year we make a plan for the things we'd like to buy for the year. Unlike normal people, we haven't bought clothes in years, or taken a vacation, but we have reinvested in our home by updating the kitchen, the landscaping, and the animal pens.

We also make allowances for taxes, insurance, and the occasional emergency repair or replacement bill. I usually earmark a few thousand dollars for unforeseen incidentals.

This year kind of sent us a whammy of bills nearly one after the other. If they had been spaced out I might not have noticed, but piled up, you notice. Hard times.

I don't regret the surgery, the washer, the truck, or the kitten, but I am kind of mad at the AC. 😭 That one was unfair!

It's very easy to get depressed when you get slammed all at once, so I want to share what we do when the world gets heavy.

• Keep a good attitude. No matter how bad things get--and things have been worse than this in the past--we try to look at the bright side. Yes, Nana needed surgery, but maybe now she'll be pain free for the next ten years of her life. I wish I could get the same assurance for my knees.

Yes, the washer was a big expense, but I really hated that old (undependable) washer. I'm glad it died even if it cost me.

And we didn't need a kitten, but you know sometimes it's not about us. It's about the little guy who's in more trouble than you. There's always more than one way to look at something.

• Know what you have. We keep an eye on our bank balance. We're retired, so we live on a set stipend every month. The difference between us and most people is that we can put our finger on what we can spend at any given time. Which leads me to...

• Learn to do without. We put off replacing the air conditioning system despite being the height of summer and triple digit temperatures. It's uncomfortable, but not horrible. It was a trade-off we were willing to make so we don't see our savings take a nosedive.

• Don't go into debt if you're retired or not working. We have a rule in this house. If we can't pay for it with cash, we don't buy it. It's saved us from a lot of impulse buys.

That said, there are no absolutes. There may come a time of dire circumstances where you have no choice but to go into debt to save someone's life. Hopefully, those times will be few and far between. All you can do is use your best judgement and have a plan to recover.

• What can you cut? When money is tight, I go into overdrive in the frugal department. We cut out eating out, entertainment, shopping, and pare my food budget to the bone. We eat from the freezer and make do with what we have in stock. See "How to eat when you're dead broke".

If you're really in a bind you can...

• Take on a second job or freelance.

• Sell your stuff. If you have a second car, a bike, furniture, or gym equipment, it could be enough to get you solvent again.

• Carpool

• Move in with friends or family. I really hate to suggest that one, but desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures. The important thing to know is that it's only temporary.

You feel defeated when life keeps handing you bills. That's why it's important to stay proactive and stay on top of debt. Cut back, reorganize, sell stuff, rent your time, trade, or hunker down and nibble at that debt until it's paid off. This happens to everyone at some point, so don't go into pity mode. It's life.

Getting out of debt was my number one goal nearly all my life. The most free I've ever felt was when we paid off the mortgage--our biggest debt.

I used to have a popup message on my computer reminding me every month when the mortgage note was due. I left the reminder running for a whole year after we paid off the house just so I could smile every 10th day of the month. 😊 Ask Greg. He thought it was hilarious, but it really made me feel good.

Have you ever faced a seemingly insurmountable debt? How did you handle it?


B.E. Sanderson said…
Yeah, it hasn't been a good year for the ol' retirement account. Some whopper stuff hit us earlier in the year, but it wasn't nearly as awful as it could've been. (Keeping a positive attitude definitely helps.) The pay-job I took on last year helps, too. Thank goodness we don't have a mortgage or car payments.
jacabur1 said…
Not retired, yet, but these is are good questions Maria. "Have you ever faced a seemingly insurmountable debt? How did you handle it?"

Between Karl and I a rash of seemingly never ending debs are something that seems to have to be faced more and more in our later years of life. The closer he gets to retirement age the harder financial hits seem to snowball.

The latest this year were the multiple kidney stones poor Karl had to try and have blasted, 3 times in all since first time on his birthday back in December of 2017.

Why 3 times before it was a done deal, simple first time Dr. could not find the stone the day of initial procedure. 2nd time he had a high fever, A1 flu no less and a bad infection in his bladder. 3rd time was the charm and he was done.

Done until all the lovely huge hospital and other assorted/related bills started coming due. Nana's surgery bill totals were comparable to how much we were going to pay out if the health insurance company through his company had not negotiated the totals down to a little less "painful" amount for us.

However Karl is not done. Now since May he has had ongoing issues with his right ear, there is a small hole in the same eardrum poor guy had surgically repaired almost 14 years ago.

Infection has been eradicated but he is still fighting with the hole to see if it will close on it's own or need another surgery.

To add insult to injury he ended up with an overnight hospital stay after all when the Saharan Dust hit the first time a few weeks back so more bills will be forthcoming from the initial ER set and then the hospital/physicians/tests done and etc.

Not insurmountable but not something to sneeze at in one 7-8 month period either.

"How do we handle it?" One bill at a time, one frown at a time, one panic attack at a time over what is next and we go on with life. After all it is all we can do, just like every other responsible adult on the planet.

I know this is too long but it helped to just "vent" I guess. LOL
Maria Zannini said…
BE: I keep saying I should take on an outside job. My biggest problem is the drive. Most jobs won't pay enough to be worth making the trip every day.

re: mortgage, car note: Good for you! Most people can't say that and it haunts them. I know some experts say you shouldn't pay off a house, but I don't think that's true anymore. The tax breaks for house ownership virtually disappeared over ten year ago.
Maria Zannini said…
Jackie: It is incredibly tough to pay for medical treatments once you're retired. Since Obamacare our insurance has skyrocketed to over three times our original amount. That's fine and dandy if we were working, but retired, it's a strain.

I hear you on back to back illnesses, especially when they require hospital visits. I hope Karl gets over his infections. The only thing I can recommend is to make sure you get all your surgeries and one time shots taken care of before he retires.

You can't see into the future on what you might need, but you can take care of things you will need while you still have an active income.

Good luck, hon.
Angela L Brown said…
You have had a quite a bit on your plate, so much so that it seems to be reaching the edge, yet I like the suggesions you provide.

Re: Move in with friends and family

That can be a diffifult one. Sometimes, that can be the best way to address what may seems insurmountable otherwise. It is important to remember that when doing so, to keep the "temporary" angle as close to the front of your mind as possible. Also bear in mind that depending on the situation, try to make your presence as much of a benefit to the family or friend allowing you to stay there.

I am the only source of income for me and my daughter. We have a little bit of time before I reach retirement. In that time, I am making small steps to reduce my debt and restructure the way I budget because I am moving my daughter from home school to a private high school starting this fall.

It will be tight, and I know my daughter's education and future is worth the effort. Because of some of the budget changes, though things will be tight, they are looking doable. We'll have to wait a few years before we make any big travel plans, and that is okay.
Maria Zannini said…
Angela: It's been rotten luck, but what can you do? We've been through rough waters before so I'm not worried. Agitated, but not worried.

re: try to make your presence as much of a benefit to the family or friend

That's a good point. Like any favor, people are more apt to be receptive if we make ourselves useful, or at least not inconvenient to them.

re: high school
Oh, my! High school already?! It seems like only yesterday she was just a little bitty thing. Now I'm starting to feel old. LOL!

I'm proud you were able to home school. I'm betting she'll be way ahead of the other kids.
Great post, Maria! I really like all of your suggestions, especially keeping a good attitude - it's realistic, not all rose-colored-glasses. And the reminder that there are no absolutes because you never know.

And I love that story about the mortgage reminder note. :)
Maria Zannini said…
Madeline: I kid you not, I specifically left that reminder just so I could be assured of one smile that day. :)
LD Masterson said…
I remember not long after we got out mortgage paid off, I received a call from a guy who "guaranteed" he could lower our mortgage payment. I told him I doubted that but he persisted. Finally, I agreed to let him do his pitch. He started out by asking what our current payment was. I told him zero. The silence on the line was delightful.
Maria Zannini said…
Linda: ROTFL! Atta, girl!
Betty said…
I remind myself when having to deal with replacing things, etc., that it is only money. I'm grateful for what I have and grateful I have what we need, but also realize there will be those days when I have to spend the money even though I don't want to. We're really good at cutting back when we have to. The first thing that goes is dinners out and we can usually save quite a bit in a short period of time just eliminating that. Hubby will be retiring within the next year or two so that disposable income we've grown to like will have to be reallocated. Its doable and manageable though I'm sure just temporarily I'll miss it just a bit.

Maria Zannini said…
Betty: It's a bit of an eye opener when you realize you will never again bring in disposable income, but you get used to it. It just takes a bit more planning and awareness than when we had steady jobs.
Michael Keyton said…
Good advice, Maria, which clearly helped you weather this particular storm. For me personally, money was tight after buying my first house, and then finding interest rates zooming up to 17%. Money was tight again when we decided to educate our children privately. What we could have spent our money on! :) Now, like you we're on fixed incomes, and we make trade offs. I 'had' to go on that damn cruise. Now I can't afford new spectacles - for a time at least. The only good thing is we're saving on food bills since the cruise. We ate so much we're now living on eggs and porridge in an effort to lose weight - except on Sundays. Yay.
Maria Zannini said…
re: 17%
Wow! I think the highest I ever saw the interest rates was 12% here. Our first house was 6% I think. The last one was barely 4%.

re: cruise food
I'd never get Greg home if he had a taste of cruise food. He gets mad at me if I cut him off from seconds. :D