Here are some highlights of the conversations I dreaded:
“What exactly are you buying?”
“Do we really need that?”
And if I was really in a bad mood:
“Don’t you know THIS is unsustainable?”
This used to throw me into a funk for the day. Immediately I would calculate how I could get through to the next paycheck. I would start the same exercise for the Nth time — what could I do to avoid going further into debt? This was a never ending process for me. Every week it was the same exercise. I was living in the “Groundhog Day” from Hell.
My health deteriorated and I couldn’t sleep. This had a snowball effect. I became more prone to imagining the worse case scenario because I was tired and in poor health. The damage from this type of mindset became pervasive in my interactions with those closest to me.
I knew I was an irritable husband and father — OK, I was a BAD husband and father. I was no fun to be with for my wife. I was crushing my kids creativity every time they had a cool idea that would cost something.
I became an introvert to other family and friends. I couldn’t support them. My life’s lens was so clouded I had no perspective into their lives. On my worst days I let my negativity cloud my perspective and my counsel. I became so negative I was the last guy you would call to talk about your problem. This created an enormous amount of regret when I did find a moment of sanity. Regret then propelled me deeper into my personal abyss.
I tried reasoning with myself. I had a running dialogue going in my head. I was stuck with a paralyzing conclusion. I was going to go broke and there was nothing I could do.
My life and lifestyle as I had known it was going to disappear. Forget retirement. Just survive.
I only hoped I could keep my family together. I was making a multiple six figure income. I knew I didn’t deserve anyone’s pity. I had done this to myself. More regret.
I never had been tough on the expense side of my life. I was an easy mark for a flashy new thing, a spontaneous experience, or an upgrade. Earn more was my motto.
The Global Financial Crisis had punished my paycheck by 60%.
At the end of 2011 I got the first indication my earnings were not going to improve any. Secretly, I hoped this wasn’t true. I figured if I kept delivering better numbers my bonus would be right back where I was before the GFC.
So, I downsized my apartment. I saved 35% on my rent. I eliminated several smaller things. I tried to be tough on non-essentials but I was still burning cash. My rent was far and away my biggest expense and even though I had dramatically cut that expense. I was still hemorrhaging.
In 2012, my bonus stayed flat despite my business growing over 30% again. All hope was now gone that the paycheck paradigm would change in my favor. Since my bonus often equaled or exceeded my salary I bundled the two to determine my allowable expenses. This had worked for 25 years, until it didn’t.
My income opportunity was broken. My retirement plans were crushed, and worse yet, I was over 50 and my job was not certain. I also had lost the mental clarity to attack my new reality.
The world had changed and I was screwed.
That Was Then, This Is Now
Fast forward to today and I am back in control of myself and my finances. I have developed a new expense regimen that works. I don’t sweat the texts and emails telling me about another hit to my bank account. I’ve developed new income streams to supplement my current earnings and pay for my retirement. I enjoy the intellectual thrill of this pursuit and I’m making money. I feel like I’m liberated from depending on my job for my validation.
I have peace of mind and I’m a positive person again. My wife can’t believe the changes I’ve made. My kids run towards me and want to spend time with me, not the opposite. I’m having fun again. I have more energy every day. I look forward to rising early. Every day I’m working on improving a few things that make my future even brighter.
My experiences have taught me to seek out like minded individuals and listen to them. I had to synthesize things I learned from many sources. My friends and family couldn’t help me and I was all alone in this mission.
Last year I invested in my education to help with my personal well being and financial opportunities. My reading list was over 40 books and audiobooks and I subscribed to a variety of blogs and podcasts. I spent a lot of time pursuing topics that interested me.
Today’s economy is more perilous than even a few years ago. Plans are being drawn up today to right size when the economy rolls over. It seems like the best case scenario is a prolonged environment of diminished earnings growth. This can either depress you or fortify your resolve. Starting a new discipline to change your future today can prepare you for whatever will happen.
Having a plan is having hope.
I came to realize there was no single source of help for me. I had a life event that caused me to lose perspective. I had never dealt with something like this. I didn’t know where to begin. So, I invested thousands of hours and spent thousands of dollars without knowing if I would find a solution.
Fortunately, I can confidently say there is a solution.