Business slowdown in first year of debt-reduction = emotional low
DH = Dear Husband
“I haven’t been sleeping well lately . . . Thoughts of muffins, egg rolls, and melted cheese have beckoned to me from some deep recess of my brain, promising to be the answer. Except for when the knot in my stomach has stifled my appetite.” That’s what I wrote two and a half years ago in a post entitled Debt & Depression. DH and I were nearing the end of the first year of our journey out of debt, and his home business had slowed down so much that for both March and April of 2013, we could put nothing at all against our debt. Rationally, I knew right from the beginning that there would be more encouraging months than others as we took the long road to debt-freedom, especially with the variable income of DH’s self-employment.
Still, despite my rational acceptance of both high and low times of business and finances, this slowdown in the spring of 2013 got to me. “There are logical reasons for this,” I wrote of our inability to pay off any debt for two months. “We had a big property tax bill in March, and our finances had become such a mess that we had nothing left over to put against the debt. In both March and April, we had higher than average expenses. In both March and April, DH’s business was slow. Remarkably slow. After months of hyperactivity, the slow-down was at first a relief. By the end of the first slow month, relief gave way to philosophy: There are ups and downs in self-employment. This won’t last. After the second slow month, philosophy gave way to dread.”
Business slowdown now = emotional steadiness
We’re in a very similar situation now. This past summer, we experienced a “hyperactivity” in DH’s business. June of 2015 was the single highest earning month of his six years in business – highest by a long shot. And while July was not record-breaking, it was good and strong. The busyness of our summer, which was compounded by home office renovations, de-cluttering, and my having taken on summer school, was more than we could handle well, and our finances again became “a mess”. An unexpected bill in August (just when DH’s business was slow) for a gas-leak repair in our home meant some scrambling and creative financing. We’re at the “save a big emergency fund” stage of our debt-reduction plan (which is really Dave Ramsey’s plan), and as the dust settles, it’s clear that we won’t be able to add to our e-fund for the months of August and September.
But I’m not losing sleep. And no “knot in my stomach” is stifling my appetite.
“The Art of Effort and Surrender”
“Debt & Depression” wasn’t the full title of my post from two and a half years ago. It was “Debt & Depression: The Art of Effort and Surrender.” I knew at the time that I needed to adopt a new attitude. If the ups and downs of our finances were going to keep bringing me on an emotional roller coaster of ups and downs, I probably wouldn’t stick around for the ride. I’d abandon our journey out of debt as “too hard” – or “not worth it.” The attitude I realized I needed was one of effort combined with a letting go of the outcome.
Here’s what I wrote about this “new” (for me) attitude: “Give it your level best and hope, and at the same time, free yourself of any expectation. For me, it means that I can feel confident that we’re doing the right thing. We’re putting our efforts towards getting out of debt; we’re back on track with our monthly budgets; we’re communicating well; DH is working as hard as ever on his business. At the same time, I can feel peace when things that are beyond our control prevent us from reaching our goals – at least for the short term. Like unexpected big expenses. Or a few months of slow business. And longer term? If I answer the ‘What if?’ questions, I come up with, ‘We’ll stop the business. We’ll sell the house and move into a smaller one. DH will look for another job. I won’t retire as soon as I’d planned.’ Disappointing, but not the end of the world.”
It looks as though that attitude has taken root. I’m not brought down by this recent business slowdown, even though it has meant a slowing down of our progress. I’m confident that it will all pick up again. But if it doesn’t? (And that remains a real possibility for anyone who is self-employed.) Still disappointing, but still not the end of the world.
Emotional stability: an “epiphenomenon” of debt-reduction
Savvy James got a kick out of the title of my most recent post: “Metacognition in Personal Finance.” In the comments section, he wrote, “Metacognition. A great word and action, ‘thinking about thinking.’ It reminds me of a word that has long intrigued me, ‘Epiphenomenon’ which is a secondary phenomenon that occurs alongside or in parallel to a primary phenomenon.” I challenged Savvy James to write a post about “epiphenomena” that relate to personal finance, but I think I just beat him to it.
One of the things Dave Ramsey says in his book The Total Money Makeover is that once you get your financial act together, you realize that it wasn’t about money at all. I didn’t believe that when I first read it – it kind of annoyed me actually – but more and more, I’m seeing the truth of those words. For me, emotional stability is proving to be an “epiphenomenon” – something occurring alongside or in parallel to the primary phenomenon – our debt-reduction. When DH and I started this journey, I would not have said, “I need to mature emotionally.” But I did. The epiphenomena of a total money makeover can be surprising.
Keep on keeping on . . .
DH and I will keep giving it our level best. We’ll keep hoping that his business will turn around and that we will have more encouraging progress at this stage of our journey to debt-freedom. And while I would rather have had strong progress in August and September, I find myself feeling gratitude for strength in another area – evidence of another kind of progress. One that has nothing to do with money at all.