What a difference a year makes

On Monday, October 4, 2010, I woke up and wrote in my journal:

The other day, in a particularly frugal mood, I decided not to buy Tylenol, even though I needed it, even though I was at the drugstore – a choice I am regretting now after a night of muscle-clenched, tension-filled sleep.

Why was I so tense? Because I was still $2100 in consumer debt, and I didn’t think that I’d be able to see my way out of it before Christmas, in spite of earning more money, spending less, and taking other more extreme measures, such as selling things.

That weekend, my husband A. had sold a stack of our old books for $40. I had tried and failed to sell a $100 Olympic gold coin (I did get one offer: for $80!). I had started to price out our silverware in the hopes of selling it on eBay.

I was impatient. And feeling a little desperate.

On Friday of the same week, I woke up early, after a night of insomnia, checking, as had become my habit, our bank account online. There was an unexpected $3000 in the account. Where had it come from? I was freaked out and worried that this money was not ours, that we would have to pay it back ASAP!

But, it was A’s, a ‘top up’ for his grant. Apparently, he found out about it in June, as did I. But when I think about it, neither of us, in June, understood what his bi-weekly pay was, with or without the ‘top up,’ which explains a lot of our surprise.

After a sleepless night spent reading articles on how to become debt free, I was suddenly, magically there, and then some – with money in the bank and more on its way.

To celebrate, we went out for coffee after dropping the children off at school, and we made plans to go for lunch as well. We paid for our coffees in small change. That was another strategy that we were big on then: we’d found $80 in coins lying around the apartment and were determined to use them.

But going for coffee came with another price: it made us late for our appointment with the counselor who had first urged us to come up with a financial plan.

I urged A. to try the pay parking in the back of the medical building. Big mistake. $13! For two hours. And you have to give them your keys. And A. lost his ticket. After the appointment, we had to wrangle the car keys out of the parking lot attendants. I showed them my keys, my license and my driver’s registration. It got kind of yucky. We didn’t feel very much like having lunch afterwards, but we were determined to do so, after all, we were debt free.

We felt grumpy and bummed about the parking, which aggravated the situation when A. was stopped by the police for making an illegal left turn on our way to our celebratory lunch at the restaurant. Yikes. $154 later, we decided to just go home.

The rest of the day, we felt very glum and sorry for ourselves indeed.

In fact, I don’t think I began to see the humour of the situation until this year.

Now, I like to think that there is a moral to this story, actually, maybe two.

  1. We have to celebrate each step as we take it, and not get too ahead of ourselves.
  2. Being debt-free isn’t quite enough. You also need to have money in the back to fall back on “for those times when you get stopped by the police,” as we like to say in our household, meaning for that bad stuff that you can’t always control for.