As you might already know, this October was one of the toughest months I’ve had since I left the US in 2012.
I was sick. Luna was even more sick. I got fined by the Swiss government (for no good reason). My landlord refused to turn on the heat, despite the fact that it was snowing, and I had to move out with just a week’s notice. And then I arrived in France to the world’s dirtiest holiday rental.
Everything eventually either passed or worked itself out, but it was exhausting and discouraging and horrible. I cried a lot. I wrote very little. And I ended the month feeling beat up and exhausted.
And along with all the physical and mental discomfort, there was also the problem of money.
$1000 in vet bills. $400 in doctor bills (a shockingly high number for Europe). $300 to the government (again, for no reason). And all the little things along the way. The coffees I bought just to be out of my freezing apartment for a few hours. The crepes I bought so that I could use the internet during my quest to fix my France housing woes. And a thousand other little unexpected things that added up.
I watched the bills roll in and felt my heart sink with every one of them.
At the time, I was just under breaking even on my expenses for the year. For a new business, this is a pretty big accomplishment and I was feeling generally good and grateful for how well my first year with the books and magazine focus had gone.
Still, I definitely didn’t have any extra cash laying around.
And so the extras were going to have to come out of my savings account.
(Insert irritated, helpless noise here.)
As you might imagine, I spent a lot of time stewing over my misfortune.
Happily (unhappily?), I’ve been through this before. In fact, it’s my pattern. If the bank account isn’t headed upward, I spiral downward. It’s easy for me to catastrophize when it comes to money. I tend to think the worst.
The happy part is that because I’ve been in this headspace before, I know the geography. I know that it’s my all-or-nothing mindset pushing the panic button inside me. And I know that all-or-nothing isn’t really the way the world works.
You see, each time we face our demons, we get a little better at it.
And in this case, I just needed a reminder—a jolt, if you will—to lead me gently back toward zen.
That jolt, unsurprisingly, started with Luna, who suddenly turned a corner for the better—rolling around, wagging her tail, clearly making her way quickly toward full health.
In that moment, a flood of gratitude washed over me. And gratitude (as I keep having to learn over and over and over again) is the solution to all manner of depression and anxiety and stress. I am grateful—deep-down-in-my-bones grateful—that Luna is still with me. And this was the first step away from the impending panic attack and toward a little sanity.
In that clear moment of gratitude, I also realized something very tangibly true: I was feeling panicked about pulling money from savings, but the reality is that this is what that money is for. I have savings precisely because life is full of missteps and emergencies and sick little Lunas who need me.
The goal isn’t to die with thousands upon thousands in the bank. The goal is to live.
A week or so later, the second step toward sanity and (dare I say) calm arrived, even more comforting and just as simple:
I was listening to a podcast interview with (I think) Ramit Sethi, who is a big financial blogger. He said he started his business because all he kept hearing from financial advisors was that to be financially smart, people should learn to budget, save, cut back. Buy less lattes (we’ve all heard that advice). Skip the wine with dinner. Don’t buy a round for your friends.
And while none of that is bad advice, he realized that his friends didn’t want to follow it. They didn’t want to spend their days toiling away and scrimping to get by in order to save up for retirement, for some nebulous idea of the future.
So he started advising people from a different perspective.
Instead of looking at where you can scrimp and save and scrape by, instead of clipping coupons, instead of pouring your limited energy into trying to save a dollar here and there, pour that energy into things that make a big impact.
What really moves the financial needle, he argues, are things like starting a business, finding a new income stream, paying off your debt. Not saving $100 a year on lattes.
In some ways, I’ve been living like that for years. But when things hit the fan like this, I definitely need the reminder. And something about the way he expressed it made me snap out of my frustration and into a proactive mindset.
Instead of watching my bank balance drop, feeling powerless and angry, and trying to figure out what I could do to save even more money (when you’re already frugal, this can be a useless and stressful exercise), I asked myself a question:
What can you do right now to move that needle back in the right direction? How can you earn some money right now? What can you do today that will make the biggest impact in your finances tomorrow?
After all, I wasn’t actually in a dire situation. Since quitting my job for a full-time freelance career in early 2011, I’ve increased my bank balance by more than 50%. Sure, this year I may not break even. Sure, I won’t be retiring anytime soon. But I am not going to be living in a box or my parents’ basement either.
The bottom line? I had time to make that money back, I had a proven track record of moving that financial needle slowly and surely into my favor, and I was going to be okay.
So after my financial freak-out(s), I made a list of things that I thought could actually move the needle. And I started checking things off that list.
I pitched new stories to my editors and got some more assignments for November. I contacted book reviewers to get more book exposure. And I started, little by little, to feel like at least I was doing something, I was moving forward. I wasn’t really powerless in this situation.
So this is how I’m slowly making my way back to quiet determination, peace, and joy. It’s still hard to be not quite breaking even. I’d be lying if I said I had it all figured out, that I no longer feel stressed about where I’m at. It’s still not my favorite thing to dip into my savings account. But, again, this is why I have savings. To save me, to save Luna, to fund a year or two of building up a new living through travel writing, to support the mistakes and mishaps and unexpected jabs.
Yet again, I remind myself to keep going. Always, always keep going.
What are your strategies for dealing with financial freak-outs?
I’m sooooo glad things are starting to look up for you (and Luna)! It’s amazing how easily we let ourselves spiral into thinking the end of the world is upon us. And yes, that is what your savings account is for!
Hugs from me and Andy!
Good for you, Gigi, for turning your emotions around and focusing on the positive. And thanks for sharing your journey with us and reminding us that our savings *are* for those rainy days that pop up.
Glad things are looking up.
What’s with the Swiss fine and big medical bill? The vet bill is easy to understand for anyone that’s ever had a pet. But I though Switzerland had universal health coverage for people…
The Swiss health system is a little different from the rest of Europe. Everyone has to be on coverage, but there’s a choice as to what coverage. My health insurance is expat insurance, which covers both Switzerland and my travels and while things are usually cheaper, I guess there are occasional exceptions to the rule (for example – the doctor visit was only $18, but bloodwork turned out to be almost $400).
The fine was because apparently you have to register your dog twice in Switzerland…and they don’t give a crap if no one told you about the rule. You have to pay the fine anyway.
Register your dog twice. Of course. How obvious.
Are you done with Switzerland now, or were you just in search of heat?
Just renewed my Swiss residence card, so I’ll be back there mid-December. Biarritz was a long-planned trip (way before all this drama).
Drama always sucks. But it seems under control now, which is all one can ask for. Hang in there and enjoy the winter!
Congrats on finding a bit of hope and sunshine in a seemingly impossible series of events. I am glad things are better now and at least now you know to register Luna twice. I assume it is once every six months?
You at least had/have savings to cover these expenses and that is good. I know it sucks to see your balance slowly dwindle but, at least you have savings a lot of folks in the US are so deeply in debt and are living paycheck to paycheck to cover the basics never mind emergencies.
Hopefully the new year will be better.
No, every six months would be far too logical. ;) It’s two different registrations once per year each.
Good for you! We all get in the dumps over $$, and we all need a reminder. I LOVE his advice. No one wants to spend their life constantly scraping by because, what sort of life is that? Instead, find new revenue streams and move on. Well done. Glad Luna (and you) are feeling better.
Agreed! I was so happy that I listened to that podcast. Wonderfully timely.
I’ve read your blog for a few years – as someone also traveling with their dog I particularly like your posts on Luna.
Anyway, I just wanted to say ‘thanks’ for your honest stories and inspiration :)
This article was a bit different and I enjoyed it too – I’m going to check out Ramit. I’m not a ‘scrimper’….I would much rather find new ways to make money and hopefully hit a few big ‘wins’.
Thanks. I always appreciate hearing when people are enjoying my work. :)
I love following your and Luna’s adventures. I can relate on the frustration of “when it rains – it pours”. I mostly enjoy your candidness and honesty about these things as well. Life is full of ups and downs and it’s refreshing to meet people who are willing to share those “moments of weakness”, where we are in despair and looking to find a way out. We are not alone, and like you said, “Keep going”. That’s the key to all of it.
In my travel and life experiences, I’ve had to just let go of things that were completely out of my control, and remind myself that, “this too shall pass.” Missing you and Luna and look forward to seeing you again soon! Bon courage!!
Obviously there are people who are in dire financial circumstances but, outside of that, I think it’s all about perception and the buffer we need to feel comfortable. I get into major stress outs because I don’t have enough money then I remind myself that it’s kinda meaningless anyway – it’s not a tangible thing so long as I have a roof over my head, food and the ability to earn an income.
Like you say, moving forward is the main thing. I don’t believe in a lot of airy-fairy trusting in the universe stuff but I do believe that when you take action, things happen. You get on people’s radars and create opportunities.
Financial woes are the worst. It can make everything else seem bad as well. I hope December is a better month for you.
[…] And is it harder sometimes? Absolutely. Especially in the past six months, being ill, dealing with unexpected moves, and all the financial stresses that come with those things. […]