The Markets may be down but so is my Weight

January 2009 ~ There I was again, in the midst of a financial “reawakening.” As if my last divorce wasn’t enough to cause me to rethink some of my financial decisions, the upheaval in the economy had really tightened my purse strings. I had to stop watching my IRAs & 401(k)s because it was too depressing.

Losing $20,000 overnight might be just another “spin of the wheel” to some Las Vegas big spender, but to me… it was my future retirement plans going down the drain. I was almost 47 with dreams to retire when I was 55 for a career doing something I loved. Instead I’ll be stuck at an unfulfilling job for another 25 years before I can retire and claim my “maximum” Social Security benefits.

I’d thought about finding another job that made me happier. But I was fortunate to have the job I did, even if it was a dead end.  So I learned to do a little constructive financial planning instead.

Gone were the days of eating out with friends two or three nights a week. I treated myself once or twice a month if it was a special occasion.  Dinner and a movie out? Now dinner and a movie in.

Gas prices curbed some of my activities. I ran errands on the way home from work during the week and avoided driving out on the weekends. It made the weekends boring, but my house wasn’t that clean since before I moved in!

My house was a little cooler that winter than it was the year before because I kept the thermostat down, and found that I really liked the sweater I couldn’t live without that I bought three years ago and never wore. I ran full loads of laundry once a week and not just those few items that I really had to wear because they made me look thinner.

Speaking of thinner, my new eating habits brought about some desirable affects. The markets were down, but so were the numbers on the scale when I stopped buying all that snack food to eat during the day.

January 2011 ~ Now I’m almost 49.  That dead-end job laid me off the day after I wrote the original article.  I was out of work for three months before getting picked up by another company, paying me 45% less than what I had been making.  If I thought my budget was tight back then, it became even tighter after that. 

The first call I made when I was able to compose myself after losing my job was to the mortgage company to try to work out some arrangements.  Unfortunately, they didn’t want to negotiate, & didn’t want to participate in any of Obama’s plans.  I didn’t even realize they had that option. 

Those IRAs & 401(k)s… gone.  Cashed them in to try to save my home… which in retrospect was a foolish thing to do, but I never imagined that things would hit as rock bottom as they did.  Now I owe taxes because the banks didn’t withhold enough, and I lost my house anyway to a bankruptcy.  An attorney advised me that letting it go that way instead of just in a foreclosure would keep the mortgage company from filing a deficiency judgment on me.  It wasn’t what I wanted to do, but when I couldn’t afford to make my house payments anymore because I had to choose between food or lights, lights or water, water or gas in the car, gas in the car or medicine I needed… well, you get the idea.

Maybe in another year will be back to making the kind of money I was making before my own personal crash.  I don’t know if I’ll buy a house again.  It’s actually kind of nice to be able to call the rental agency and say “fix this” instead of having to figure out how I’m going to afford to get it fixed. 

My budget will always be tight now because I don’t ever want to be in the financial position again that I’ve been in this past year. Things have been rough, but I know that they haven’t been any rougher for me than they have been for millions of others in the same situation.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned through all of this, however, has been about what is really important to me.  For years I collected books and DVDs for that dream retirement life when I would have time to spend reading or just relaxing watching a movie and not working so hard all the time.  I sold them all to buy groceries.  I got pennies compared to what I paid for them, but what was more important to me at the time was eating, not keeping every season of CSI or Sex in the City.

I woke up one morning during all of this remembering only one thing from a dream.  “Sometimes losing everything doesn’t mean losing any thing at all.”  Those “things” I’ve lost in the last two years… they were just things.  The things I haven’t lost… my friends, family, self-respect, and mostly, my faith… those are the things that are really important.