It’s Ok to Fall Off The Wagon

27 Comments

Last Thursday I sent a painfully vulnerable email to my subscribers announcing my separation from my husband. We broke down in a spectacular fashion after less than a year of marriage, leaving us both reeling with hurt. I think it will take a long time to sort out the emotions, so I’m being cautious with how much I share right now.

Ending my marriage has been excruciating, embarrassing, and of course, financially distressing.

It’s hard to think of any major life event that isn’t accompanied by financial consequences, and the breakdown of a marriage is no different.

To say the transition has been expensive is an understatement — and my husband and I didn’t even own a swath of joint assets.

Transitions are a bank balance killer

In the time between moving out of the apartment I shared with my husband and the new one where I live by myself, I ended up crashing in a guest room that was gloriously rent-free and also well out of walking distance of my workplace. I spent approximately $20 per day commuting to and from work on the days I decided to go into the office, and then another $15 each day on lunch.

Over the course of 3 months, I burned through my emergency fund with a zest and zeal that would terrify frugal hearts everywhere. After the damage deposit and first month’s rent, plus dishes, small appliances, and cleaning supplies for my new home, there was no money left. By the time I started buying furniture for my new place, I was funding it by skipping contributions to my retirement accounts. I bought my first, second, and third round of groceries with a credit card.

Want to go broke twice as fast? Mix business and personal

I spent November in Toronto for Financial Literacy Month and it was so expensive. I couldn’t manage everything on my business credit card which has a limit of only $1,000, so I started charging things to my personal accounts. I photographed my receipts and stored them on my phone to attach to the expenses later, only to smash my phone while getting out of a cab midway through the trip. The replacement cost me $200 and, much to my accountant’s dismay, I lost all my receipts because I hadn’t backed my phone up since June.

As an entrepreneur, I can always elect to pay myself more out of my business. For weeks, I would log into my business bank account daily and stare at the balance, trying to decide if I should personally suffer more on rice and ramen and keep cash in my accounts, or bleed the business so I didn’t feel like I was drowning. It was like a doctor asking you which leg you would prefer to amputate: the right or the left. There was no right answer, there was no choice that wouldn’t hurt.

On the upside, being self-employed meant I could do as little or as much work as I felt capable of. It meant I could sleep until 11am and watch Netflix on a Wednesday if the world felt too big and heavy for me to deal with. It also meant I was free to pack, to coordinate movers, to wait for the internet company to hookup my free TV. It meant I could go to IKEA at 10am on a weekday and roam the uncrowded aisles for the items I needed. It meant if I needed to cry hysterically 19 times per day, I could do so in the privacy of my own bedroom instead of an office bathroom.

It also meant I could lose myself in my work without anyone telling me to clock-out or go home. I can (and frequently do) spend 16 hours a day writing, strategizing, planning, calculating. I could wake up with the sun and go to bed long after it set, losing myself as much in the dreams of my business in 2017 as I do in the mundane tasks.

It’s Ok to fall off the wagon

My point is that you’re allowed to have the shit kicked out of you and respond with a night out you can’t afford and a few sweaters from the mall that you really don’t need. You will be able to pay it off. There are moments in your life where your mental capacity will be so compromised by stress or grief, that the kindest thing you can do is forgive yourself a hundred (or thousand) dollars of overspending. It’s temporary. All of it. The financial and emotional chaos.

Don’t apologize for the things you need to do (or buy) to survive.

But be aware of the tipping point. I was eyeing a $2,200 couch thinking about how much better I would feel if I only had such a gorgeous new sectional in my home. I thought that couch would make me love my new apartment, which would make me love my new life, which would instantaneously rescue me from all the heartbreak I’m currently experiencing. That’s what every potential purchase looks like from a distance: it will fix everything, you will never have a bad feeling again, you just have to buy it.

It won’t.

After the spending spree I had just to get me into my apartment and put food in my cupboards, I couldn’t stomach adding another four-figure balance to the total. A friend sold me a small couch for $200 instead.  In other words, you need to draw your line, and draw it in big black uncrossable ink so you know where to stop spending.

The last thing you want to do is pile financial catastrophe on top of your personal turmoil.

What you can recover from and what you can’t

You can recover from a $500 mistake, but a $5,000 one will leave a scar. Likewise, one bad day or night or week can be buried with time, but if you keep doing it, it’s not an accident anymore — it’s a habit.

Repeated behavior saves or buries you, one-offs don’t.

This is why a $50/week contribution to your retirement account that you increase every year is better than hoping for a big income tax refund to put in your accounts instead. It’s also why consistently putting an extra $100 on your student loan balance pulls you out of debt years ahead of schedule instead of languishing paying off a loan for a decade.

I had an emergency fund because I saved one. My credit cards were empty because I don’t live in debt. Because I was financially responsible most of the time, I could handle a month or two when I wouldn’t be. I’m not in the mood to lament the money I spent carelessly — or otherwise — in the last little while.

Instead, I’m just glad to right myself and my checkbook now that I’m on the other side.

Get back on track

Your financial success will likely not be defined by unexpected expensive events that knock you temporarily off track. It will be defined by your steady day-in, day-out behaviors and habits, and it will be defined by how you pick yourself off after you’ve fallen.

I get a lot of emails from people beating themselves up for racking up too much student loan debt or blowing through a financial gift and having nothing to show for it. It can be agonizing to go back through old bank statements and see money wasted that you so desperately need now. Your only choice is to stop and change course.

Once money is spent, it’s gone. There’s no use crying over it. It might take you a little bit of time to rebuild in the aftermath, but the sooner your stop agonizing over it and start taking action, the better off you’ll be. You have a limited cognitive capacity to worry about your finances, so I would encourage you to spend it trying to find ways to earn more instead of mourning what’s already spent.

I put away my credit cards, reinstated my retirement contributions, paid off my business expenses, and maybe if there’s room in my new single-girl budget, I’ll start putting a little bit in a savings account for that couch.


27 Comments

  1. AnnyRoni

    Thank you for sharing.
    I went exactly through the same spend once I separated. It’s somehow part of the cleansing and redefinition into the new self. It’s a process of self-discovery.
    Keep your friends and family near. Tough decisions lie ahead.
    I truly believe it’s these tough times that make us even more stronger. Chin up, muster up that courage, and forge ahead.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through a tough time, Bridget. Kudos to you for being vulnerable and sharing these experiences with your readers. I think it’s important for people to hear. And you’re totally right. Sometime self-care means too many delivery orders or a few splurges at the mall. I have no doubt you’ll get back on track and having an amazing 2017. Sending positive vibes your way.

  3. Tracey Mac

    Great post! Self compassion is necessary to survival but yes eventually we have to put our big girl pants on. Always good to have that reminder. On another note I really hope that gorgeous sectional finds its way into your home eventually =)

  4. Zoë

    “Your only choice is to stop and change course.” – best quote. And this is true for all of life’s events, isn’t it?

    Congratulations on moving forward. Yes, the transition is hard and sad, but it takes strength to make changes, and that’s something you clearly have.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. I went through some personal drama earlier this year that just about drained my emergency fund and I felt so much shame around it. But I think you’re right that it really boils down to this, “Repeated behavior saves or buries you, one-offs don’t.”

    I hope you’re indulging as much as you can and enjoying your new place 🙂

  6. Priscilla

    Bridget, so sorry that you are going through all this. As a loyal reader, I appreciate you being so candid and opening up about this even though it’s never an easy thing to talk about. You will get through this, even in the darkest hour and come out being stronger than ever. Take good care of yourself 🙂

  7. <3 Moving is SO expensive, stressful, and time-consuming. I hate it so much. I wish I lived in Calgary because we just sold all the pieces you need to furnish a living room recently plus a bunch of dishes.

    Reading your post has filled me with heartbreak for your emotional chaos and also feeling a bit reassured about my own expensive fall 2016 not necessarily being a habit. As someone commented in my emotional post about my layoff, a huge part of why I was able to spend time processing it emotionally was because I already had the financial plan and emergency fund in place. Your finances will recover from this – you are strong Bridget and you will bounce back from this. Totally save for that couch though (in the eventually timeframe) – we bought a $5500 sectional this year and it is amazing.

  8. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. But the most complicated and challenging life becomes, the more I’m learning I have to have more patience and show myself some kindness. I make everything my fault, and I always remind myself that I’m making excuses and should be doing x, y, and z in order to be so much better off. That’s a great recipe for making yourself really miserable. And it took 30 years, but I’m finally figuring out how to be OK with okay at times, if that makes sense.

    You’re remarkably brave for sharing your story. I know you’ll land on your feet, and all I can say is thank you for sharing. Onward and upward. <3

  9. Very sorry to hear that. Be sure to look after yourself. This time a year ago I was newly separated and it was (for me) a great thing financially but tough emotionally. Transitional times like these are hellish on the finances (were still finding our balances) but the only way is forward.

  10. First, sending you <3 during such a stressful time.
    Echoing other comments here, but I experienced the same financial breakdown and rebuilding cycle when I separated/divorced my ex husband.
    FUCK, IT WAS SO HARD. I so get it. But I took away so many lessons from that experience, including that I wouldn't share bank accounts again. Just a personal choice, as it's working fine for me and my current hubs.
    You are so amazing, strong, smart, and generous in spirit for being vulnerable enough to write this. Thank you for sharing.

  11. Kelly

    Such a heartfelt, honest article and thank you for sharing. I’m sorry times are tough for you right now. Wishing you all the best for 2017 and I hope this time next year you are sitting on that new amazing couch, sipping a sparkling of course 😊

  12. Tommy

    I’m sorry to hear about your breakup! Your writing in this post tells us that you’re handling it as best as possible and that you’re keeping a level head, which is amazing!

    I didn’t know you were in Toronto in November. I would have let you crash in my condo for free (yes the couch – because there are two roomies living here paying my mortgage for me). I enjoy the company of analytical thoughtful people so it would have been a no-brainer.

    I’ve suffered huge setbacks in life too and was able to crawl back out. Fortunately you have a long time horizon to get back on your feet, and you will!

  13. Alyssa

    Thank you so much for your honesty with your readers, Bridget. I am in so much gratitude for your blog and your resources, as I’m sure many others are.

    It really is the day-to-day habits that shape our lives. The dark times can come, but they will also go. They will likely go faster since the daily habits of self-love and commitment to living a financially abundant life are a buffer to so many of life’s difficulties.

    With gratitude,

  14. Rodrigo Rodriguez Sotelo-Jaurrieta

    You, Farnoosh Torabi and Paula Pant have been inspirations for me. I really like how you elaborated on treating yourself, but also on drawing the line and getting back to reality. It’s how my father used to tell me when I was growing up,” you’re gonna cry? Ok. Go ahead and cry. But when you’re done, you get your ass up and you go back and finish what you started. Cry all you want, but you’re not going to quit”. Your blog inspires many!

  15. Sorry to hear about the separateion Bridget. But you will get through it. The important thing, I have learned from personal crises in my life, is NOT to make any major financial decision for at least 3 months after the crisis hits. You need that much time for your brain to internalize all that you are experiencing and get back to a new ‘normalcy’. You didn’t need that $2200 sectional couch – so good job avoiding that.

    • haha I 100% agree with the not making major financial decisions in crisis… that’s what stopped me from buying a condo and choosing just to rent one instead. Only making one major life decision at a time!

  16. Wow, I’m really sorry to hear about your difficult times. Divorce and moving can be so emotionally and financially taxing. Thanks for sharing your story and certainly you give great advice.

    No need to beat yourself up for falling off the wagon from time to time. Especially when you’ve got big things going on. Splurge a little and let yourself worry about some other things.

    Then, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get on with things! Great story!

  17. I’m so sorry to hear about this. All loss is difficult. My oldest son passed away 4 years ago and I was a mess for a long time. Hang in there. It won’t always feel just like it does today.

  18. Thanks so much for sharing this. Beating yourself up about overspending only makes things worse, especially in a tough emotional situation. This is so huge and must be difficult for you to write about it Bridget.

    Thanks so much for being brave enough to share.

  19. I’m so sorry to hear about this. I hope you can heal in your own time.

    I’m not sure if this is too late, but I check out my local Freecycle for furniture and household items. It’s like Craigslist but everything is free. You can put out a request for items; I think it’s super useful, especially when you’re in dire straits.

    I fall off the frugal wagon all the damn time. It’s easy to forget what you’re aiming for and to buy the $2,200 couch because it would be nice and because you deserve good things.

    But it’s all about maintaining discipline and realizing objects don’t make you happier and they don’t heal you.

  20. Greg

    Sorry to hear that you are going through some tough times.

    In regard to loosing all your receipts that you had taken photos of, consider setting up Google photo backup. You can set it to backup any time you have WiFi access and your photos will backup automatically without you ever having to worry about it.
    https://support.google.com/photos/answer/6193313?co=GENIE.Platform%3DiOS&hl=en