Coping with Life’s Little Setbacks

by J.D. Roth

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:

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 — 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 — 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!

Updated: 19 May 2009

Do what's right. Do your best. Accept the outcome.
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