in FS, Home & Garden, Planning

Coping with Life’s Little Setbacks

I had a lousy weekend. It was one of those weekends where anything that could go wrong did go wrong. The individual problems were minor enough, but taken as a whole, it was all rather overwhelming. Some examples:

  • When I left the house to go on my marathon training run Saturday morning, the cover to porch light fell to the ground and shattered into a million little pieces.
  • Our internet connection died. And, of course, the only way I know how to contact my provider is over the internet. (Fortunately I now have an office just up the street with a working internet connection.)
  • I mowed the lawn on Sunday. For five minutes. Then the lawnmower died. The blade just sort of seized up and now will not turn at all. I have no idea what’s wrong, and I won’t have time to diagnose the problem until I return from Orlando.
  • On Sunday evening, we went swimming with a group of friends. Naturally I left my suit and towel at the aquatic center. I didn’t have time to retrieve it before my flight yesterday.

This is but a sampling of the avalanche of small setbacks that have befallen me over the past few days. As I say, no individual problem is particularly dire, but when encountered in a clump like this, they make me cranky. For each one, I imagine how much money it’s going to cost me to fix. I see dollar signs floating over the broken light fixture. I see dollar signs crawling over the lawnmower. I see dollar signs next to the DSL modem.

The Olden Days
In the Olden Days, back when I struggled with debt, a series of setbacks like this would have been more than just frustrating. Because I had no emergency savings, I would have been forced to resort to my credit cards. I would have found myself drawn deeper into debt.

There’s no question that these mishaps bug me. But I know that I’m financially prepared for them, and when I’ve taken care of each problem, I’ll be able to build up my savings and return to life as it was.

If this had happened five or ten years ago, however, it would have been a different story. These setbacks wouldn’t just bug me β€” they would have made me depressed. I would have felt like life was conspiring against me, dragging me down. I would have felt unlucky. And as I charged each repair on my credit card, I would have felt like I was sinking deeper and deeper underwater.

This has been one of the great revelations of fiscal responsibility. A broken lawnmower is still a pain in the neck, and it’s still going to cost me money, but it will cost me money that I have saved. While the money has waited to be used, it’s been earning me 2% or 3% or 4% in interest. Previously, I wouldn’t have earned interest at all, but would have charged repairs to a credit card, which would cost me 12% or 18% or 21%. By saving, I am in control of my money.

Even Steven
“You know what this is, don’t you?” Kris said when we realized I had left my swimsuit at the pool. “It’s karma.”

“Karma?” I asked. I didn’t feel like joking around. In fact, I was in a foul foul mood. I was imagining all of the dollar signs floating above my broken world.

“Yeah,” she said. “Karma. Things have been going so well for you for so long that they were bound to balance out. Just think: The site is producing income and you’re saving and investing. You’re doing awesome. These things don’t matter. They’re inconsequential. You can afford to fix them, and you will.”

My wife is a smart woman. She’s right. I shouldn’t let small problems like these bother me. I’ve put myself in a financial position where I can handle small setbacks β€” even when they come in waves. I’m going to fly to Orlando, have a good time, and when I return home I’ll tap a bit of my savings to make things right again.

Update: Just as I’m ready to leave for Orlando, the bathroom sink clogs. I pull out the drain plug, but when I do, the long “stem” to which it attaches comes loose and falls down the drain. Another minor annoyance, and probably another few dollars literally “down the drain”. What is going on? It’s as if I have a hex on me!

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52 Comments

  1. Sorry to hear about the crappy weekend prior to the much better time at Disney. I’m not sure how doing well with the site translate to these minor setbacks though.. I thought karma was more of a cause and effect thing. If you were to have stolen candy from some random kid on the street, having all those problems would seem more fitting for karma, no?

    In either case, she’s absolutely right about ignoring these little problems. They are “little” for a reason!

  2. For the record, Kris says I’m being a big whiner. Also she realized last night that karma might be the wrong term, but because I’ve opted to go iPhone-only while in Florida, it wasn’t practical to edit the post.

  3. JD– Mr. Murphy is a rat bastard who shows up at the worst times. My wife and I call these moments, “Now What’s!”

    The good news is despite the fact that they show up in threes (the old expression holds true for us), we are used to dealing with them and dispatch and forget them faster then we used to . . .

    That seems to be the key– fix it, forget it, and move on!;)

  4. Here is a short story to hopefully shed very tiny ray of sunshine onyour string of little mishaps…

    My snowblower froze up this past winter. The same dollar signs floated in front of me when that happened, especially when my mechanically apt neighbor came over, looked at it and said, “It looks like the engine has seized. That’s bad. Very bad. When was the last time you changed the oil?” (He then proceeded to snowblow my driveway and sidewalks.) I thought about how long it had been since I had changed the oil and agreed with him, “It’s very bad.” My wife called the snowblower place; they picked up the machine, looked at it, and were able to lubricate it enough to get it running again. Instead of having to purchase a new snowblower (lots of big dollar signs floating around my head) or replace the engine (lots of medium dollar signs floating around my head), we were able to repair the beast (just a few dollar signs floating).

    Hope this helps.

    –wpd

  5. Are you sure you really want to travel right now? πŸ™‚

    This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with an economically disadvantaged person of my acquaintance. Her van had broken down (she’s in the economic stratum where she can’t actually afford a vehicle but it’s very hard to find work without one) and she was recalling her mother saying “any time you have a little money saved up, the car breaks down.” Kind of the opposite perspective.

  6. There must be something in the air because that was yesterday for me. It felt like anything that could go wrong, did. Luckily none of it will end up really costing me much money, but it was aggravating nonetheless.

    Leaking fireplace in a rain storm – I’m a renter and don’t have to pay to fix it. Car break in that stole an ashtray full of coins and some cds – at least they didn’t break the door or window and the cds are also all on my ipod. Back going out – small copay for my chiropractor visit.

  7. J.D. – don’t just buy a new modem!!! If you’ve been a customer for some time now, call up your provider and see what they can do – this has happened to my mother, and her ISP gave her a free modem! Email me if you need more help on this.

    In any case, enjoy Orlando!

  8. Just keep on truckin’, J.D.!

    It’s so easy to let little things like this (especially when felt in a series) derail us from our plan. It’s not only our financial plans, but our plans to live life positively and deliberately!

  9. Karma as used in most cases in western pop-culture and new age religion is not the same as what it originally means in the religion from which the term was borrowed. It’s not simply the “My Name is Earl”-type payback for doing right or wrong.

  10. Re: the lawnmower. If you can’t turn the blade by hand at all, it’s probably one of two things: 1) the safety brake (if it has one) is engaged, which likely just means the cable is broken and shouldn’t cost you more than $30 or so, and you could probably fix it yourself with a bit of research. Or 2) the motor has run out of oil and has seized up. This will probably mean a new mower.

  11. Think you had a lousy weekend? I’ll say one word to you that will make your weekend look like a walk in the park!

    Colonoscopy.

    That was my weekend!

    (Not trying to belittle your experience of course…just trying to cheer you up)

  12. I usually find when every little thing starts going in the wrong direction it’s a sign for me to slow down. Just a thought.

  13. Wow, your timing with this post is incredible. I was beginning to let small set backs get the best of me, and I read this, and it made me think clearer. Thank you for sharing, and I hope you have a great time here in Orlando, and that the weather looks up a bit before you leave.

  14. Sounds like the type of weekend that makes you want to leave town… oh wait… you did! Hope you have a nice time in Orlando and the bad luck doesn’t follow you!

  15. My first thought was the same as David’s – after all that, you STILL got on the airplane for MCO?! I’m sure if these things would’ve happened separately, you wouldn’t have thought too much about them. Like your wife said, they’re minor incidents, and you’ll deal with them. Now enjoy your time in the sunshine state (hope it doesn’t rain on you…)!

  16. It’s almost as if you need to setup a separate account for the unforeseen. That way when it comes your way, you already have funds earmarked for it.

  17. Maybe the word Kris was looking for was samsara. She did use the term karma relatively accurately; the good *and* bad stuff that happens to you is the result of your positive and negative actions in both this life and your past lives (if you believe in this stuff). But then she hinted that bad stuff was sure to happen to you *because* things have been going well. That’s not really the case. It’s true that we’ll always have something to complain about, some source of dissatisfaction – and that’s samsara.

  18. JD,

    Sounds like you’re still subconsciously stuck in your old life. You’ve changed your financial habits to provide you with security and peace of mind, but when something goes wrong, you still react to it as if it were a large setback like it would have been if you were still entertaining your old money habits.

    This is not necessarily a bad thing as it probably keeps you sharp about maintaining your possessions to avoid even these minor setbacks, but there is certainly a balance you have to strike between that and the stress level it causes you when something goes wrong. You didn’t build up your savings for nothing!

  19. I understand entirely. We’re still in your earlier stage of trying to climb out of debt, and whenever we get extra money to get ahead and pay down debt (tax return, big eBay sales, etc.), it seems that something, somewhere goes wrong. Our van needs repairs, the main drain for our kitchen sink/dishwasher/washing machine clogs beyond our ability to fix, the roof starts leaking, on and on. It’s to the point where whenever we get some extra money on top of our usual income, I immediately start wondering what will break first.

    But we keep trying, and we’ll eventually get to where you are. It looks like the frustration never fully goes away, however. πŸ™‚

  20. Sorry about the setbacks. Our latest is that the TV we purchased in March (that’s right, 2 months ago) went out yesterday. This is a good example of how being frugal can sometimes backfire. If you’re thinking about buying a cheap, non-name brand TV, which in our case was a $350 Dynex, don’t do it!

  21. First of all, LOL!! Yeah, I totally have days like those. And I can see the dollar signs floating, too. I thought only I was weird like that. πŸ˜‰ (Unless you were joking, and then I look REALLY weird now.)

    My problems are fewer, but way more dollar signs: An expensive dental visit tomorrow (crown/cap/whatever we’re doing, my estimated cost is $435 or something. Ick.) and a car that just won’t behave. πŸ™ (She’s been acting up for three months now, changed out two parts already and we’re still not 100%, but getting there. I just have NO clue how much it’ll all cost in the end.)

    Hope it all gets better before it gets worse!

  22. For this, karma is not the right term. If you’re really interested, you might want to look into the history of the term luck as something to be built through actions.

    Also, if you’re inclined to such things, Mercury is currently retrograde. In my case, whenever this happens, my internet is guaranteed to regularly drop and repair of its own accord.

  23. I thought she was going to say “karma” cuz of your attitude towards “charity”! πŸ™‚

    Anyway, we had water all over our bathroom floor this morning! My dh is working on figuring out how to fix it.

    You asked, “What’s wrong?” I’d answer….”Life happens.” Some days things just don’t go as we hope with a bunch of small aggravations. Then something really bad happens or a loved one dies and we get perspective on what’s really important.

  24. I have some Greek relatives who are very superstitious and they would say you are having this bad luck because you invited it on yourself because you are advertising (bragging) how well you are doing financially (remember Arachne?). and so the Gods have a particular enjoyment f*cking with those kind of people. This also explains why John Lennon died.

  25. I hope things turn for you. Luckily, all the problems you’re experiencing seem to be small ones. Of course that’s probably little condolence – the problem at hand is always THE problem, and never seems small. Hang in there and best of luck to you. Enjoy FL.

  26. I hear you, I hate the little set backs in life. They are just big enough that you have to deal with them, but small enough that you resent taking care of them. Resent them for the money it takes to make them right and the time.

  27. Take heart, JD. It happens every time I get ready for a trip out of town…. my world flips out and starts bucking and roaring. To the degree of the chaos happening in my life beforehand, is the degree I have an unusually WONDERFUL TRIP.

    Enjoy!

  28. I hear ya on how annoying set-backs can be. My dad was always very conscience of finances, and he used to tell me: “As soon as you think things are going well, and you have a bit of extra money and that you’re financially set for the month, SOMETHING ALWAYS HAPPENS. And so, you should always put aside a bit of money for those things. Always have a “Something Always Happens” fund that’s outside of a regular emergency or savings fund.”

  29. What Betsy said! Crazy stuff has been happening to me, and my friend cleared it up with those 2 little words! Betsy, do you know when things will get back to normal???

  30. Yeah, I don’t arrange my life by astrology or anything like that, but Merc Retrograde is definitely noticeable when it comes along.

    Mercury affects all sorts of technology, like computers and electronics which tend to break down during a retrograde period. It also affects communication, so there’s lots of misunderstandings and small mistakes during retrogrades, both IRL and on the internet. It also affects travel as well.

    On the positive side, it’s a great time for getting stuff fixed up around a house, for taking care of all sorts of things you’ve been “meaning to get to”, and for getting back in touch with old friends.

  31. A few years back if this series of unfortunate events happened to me it would have definitely caused me to slump into a massive depression. Now days although my financial situation is nowhere near to the extent where I could dip into an emergency fund to cover them, I’m working on it; these sorts of things no longer cause such issues. I’ve learnt that things like this are minor annoyances when you look at the big picture and will be sorted one way or another even if it’s not immediately.

    Hope the Orlando trip has gone hassle free.

  32. Oh, JD!
    I have to admit that your post made me feel a bit better, though please don’t think that it’s BECAUSE you’re having difficulties. Rather, now I feel less alone.

    We are in the same place as Ken, it sounds like, still struggling with the debt, and the last couple of months we got SLAMMED. The car needed a new clutch, to the tune of $1k, the oven destroyed itself (LOTS of money and about 6 weeks oven-less) the espresso maker leaked all over the kitchen floor and needed many parts to make it go again, and while the oven and the espresso machine were in parts all over the kitchen, the kitchen sink backed up, severely enough that the plumber had to be called! One of the computer hard drives had to be replaced,(not something that can wait when you’ve got a computer based business), taxes were more than we expected, and a handful of other, smaller things went wrong. Oh yeah, and not money-related, but not minor, either, a mountain lion ate my cat.

    It’s remarkable how so much can happen at once, making me feel like we will never be able to get ahead, and yet, it is also a really, really good lesson for me in why we have to try even harder, and get to the point where there is an emergency fund of any kind.

    I’ve only discovered Get Rich Slowly recently, and you have been a great help to me, mostly in keeping my spirits up and my intent on track, but you also caused me to open an INGDirect online savings account! I really appreciate what you are doing with this blog, and I also find a lot of the comments from other readers to be very helpful. I know I’m repeating myself, but it is nice to know I’m not alone; it’s kind of amazing how much that helps.

    So, thanks for sharing, and I hope all your little issues get resolved fairly easily.

  33. JD, control is an illusion. Just remember that. Even when it seems like you’ve got it all under control….wham!! But at least these are small things, and not a big thing, like a bad diagnosis. Don’t forget to count your many blessings!

    We had several setbacks ourselves over the past few weeks – after 6 years and 2 shop visits, husband’s laptop finally died for good. New one was necessary. Goodbye $$$. Stepson announced a sudden marraige in Hawaii, wants us to come. The timing could not be worse for us financially (digging out of debt) and even if done frugally, there’s nothing cheap about Hawaii. But we’ve got to be there. Goodbye $$$. I had two broken fillings/cracked teeth and needed 2 crowns over the past month. Goodbye $$.

    Thank goodness there’s money in the savings for all of this, that’s what it’s for. Extremely vexing, but you just have to put your game face on and keep on living! Enjoy Florida!

  34. If it makes you feel better, I’ve run through about $5,000 in emergency expenses in the past two months.
    -In the beginning of April my sewer line, for the first time in 4 years of living in the house, starts backing up. I spend ~$200 to get it roto-rooted.
    -1.5 weeks later the sewer line quits working. I find a guy to do a free camera inspection and he says its buggered and need to be replaced. Next day the contractor comes and digs up the yard, replacing the line and the main water line stop box for $2,150.
    -3 weeks later we get heavy rain all weekend. I come home on a Sunday night to find wet carpets in the basement. The sewer contractor had inadvertently plugged a drain tile that discharged into the yard. Insurance said he wasn’t negligent so no reimbursement. I hired a basement “waterproofer” to extend the retrofit sump system around the rest of the basement perimeter — $1,750.
    -And last week I take my car to the mechanic for a grand total of $900 in repairs.

    Still, I’m maintaining an upbeat perspective. If this had happened years ago when I was still living paycheck to paycheck without an emergency fund, this would all be debt right now. Of course, I’ve got to work that emergency fund back up now, but it sure beats being in debt.

  35. This post seemed to come at the perfect time for me (first time commenter!). I’m a year out of college with no loans, but managed to save enough of my starting salary to max out my IRA this year as well as build myself a comfortable emergency fund. (All while living in Los Angeles no less!) Last week my dog gets sick & needs an emergency vet visit, and Xrays, an ultrasound, and antibiotics. Money down the toilet I kept thinking.. money that was giving me a beautiful number every time I looked at my savings account. I was depressed about it for a couple of days until I realized how proud of myself I should be. A massive emergency like that and I could weather it because of my good savings habits! I also realized that coming home to a happy healthy pet meant a lot more to me then some obscure number sitting in a bank account gathering minute interest every month. Still.. I’ll be living (extra) frugally for awhile until I feel comfortable that I’ve made up the expense.
    Thank you for the encouraging post!

  36. I took a decorating class once. The advice I got was appliances are designed to fail at approximately the 7 year mark. If you have appliances past this mark you are ahead of the game. My washer is now 12 years old, but my dryer 5. I just had the water intake valve replaced on the washer. (Clorine apparently ruined this one.) In the meantime I have stashed a few dollars for repairs on the side. Hopefully I can ward off replacements the same way.

  37. Hey J.D.,

    If you look at your situation from a Law of Attraction perspective, everything that has been happening to you and is happening to you is exactly the way you intend it – regardless if it is unconscious or not.

    We always leave clues as to why we create the results we do – and it always starts with your thinking. You even said yourself,

    “For each one, I imagine how much money it’s going to cost me to fix.” ~ J.D.

    … and since you imagined “how much money it’s going to cost,” and gave energy to that image, you keep projecting and attracting inwards circumstances and situations that “cost you money.”

    It all begins with the way you think. Change your thinking and everything changes.

    Consider a different perspective:

    “On Sunday evening, we went swimming with a group of friends. Naturally I left my suit and towel at the aquatic center.” ~ J.D.

    …well at least you brought an extra change of clothes!!! That could of been embarrassing if you didn’t πŸ˜‰

  38. While a series of little problems like this is definitely frustrating, keep in mind that every one of these is firmly in the camp of ‘first-world problems.’ At least you’re not worried about having clean water, a place to live, or food to eat.

  39. I started thinking exactly what David and Jean said: Don’t board that plane! But I’m glad you’ve made it to Orlando.

  40. i’m going through the same thing JD

    just found out i’ll be paying $600 out of pocket (brakes/rotors/oil-change) for an old car i rarely even drive anymore.. the only reason i’m fixing it is because it was a gift from my uncle.. and my brother (who is jobless) still uses it on a day to day basis

    i spent 2k alone on car insurance (6 months) and a vacation already this month.. so i’m glad i have that emergency fund to keep me afloat.. it’s going to take me a couple of months to get back on track w/ my goals

  41. NatalieMac.. you’re right

    our problems are petty compared to those poorer countries.. sometimes i tend to forget how blessed i am

    i’m taking a trip to the philippines (where my parents are from) at the end of the year.. i know seeing how they live out there will make me appreciate what i have here in the US.. at least i hope it will

  42. You are right … when we have our financial house in order, these kinds of small setbacks really don’t matter!