I read Revanche’s contemplative post recently about feeling rich and poor at the same time. It struck a chord because I know all about getting close to a goal and then having the rug pulled out from under you.
Our own history
It seems like the recurring theme in Tim’s and my relationship has been nasty financial snags. Just when we’d start to make steady progress, some expense would rear its ugly head.
While we were struggling to pay off student and medical debt on about $35,000 a year, more medical issues would cause extra bills. It wasn’t just doctor visits — although at one point we were paying more than $300 a month just for those co-pays — but also incidental expenses. Like when the steroids made Tim gain so much weight that he needed new clothes. Twice.
Eventually, we were able to pay off the debt. We’ve even built up savings. But there have been plenty of surprises along the way.
There was the time our car got totaled (someone else’s fault). And the time the replacement car got totaled (our fault).
There was the $7,000 in hospital bills for Tim’s two, uninsured trips to the ER.
Plus the $16,000 we’ve paid in the past five years for repairs, replacements, insulation, etc.
All of this in and around saving $26,000 for Tim’s dental implants. All of that effort, all of that saving — not for some positive net worth goal, but just to avoid falling into the negative.
Feeling vs reality
We’re done that portion of our lives. But it left its mark. It’s exhausting and disheartening to feel like you’re always striving for zero.
Of course, that wasn’t really the case. We did have money that would be left over even after Tim’s teeth were paid off: a medium-sized emergency fund, subaccounts (for other goals) and even a modest IRA.
But the emergency fund wasn’t real savings. It was there, well, in case of emergency. It was not to be touched. Nor were the subaccounts, since those are also earmarked.
So it felt like we were just working to get back to a neutral state, even when we had $26,000 in the bank. And all the logic in the world couldn’t overcome my fear.
Anxiety runs rampant
And so, even as our savings balance is just $135 under my magic number, I don’t know if I’ll feel safe.
I mean, what about medical expenses?
I’m on a marketplace plan now. My maximum annual out-of-pocket was $4,000 on Medicare. My deductible on the new plan is $4,200. I have standard co-pays on routine stuff like doctor visits, but I’d be on the hook for 100% of a lot of other bills. One or two major procedures would put a huge dent in our finances.
And what about our car?
We have only one. And drivers in Arizona are only slightly better than those in California. Turn signals are a novelty. Mainly, you watch the surrounding vehicles like a hawk and just assume that every car is about to suddenly swerve in front of you.
I tell myself that we have a car worth enough that it almost definitely won’t get totaled, even if we are in an accident. But what if it did? How much would insurance reimburse us? How much would we have to take out of savings to get something comparable? Not to mention the hike in our insurance rates.
Or what if a major home repair becomes necessary? Our main HVAC unit is only five and a half years old, but you never know. That’d be $8,000, I believe.
Or what about termites? We found another spot they’ve been active. Orkin came out and treated it, but how much damage have the lil bastards already done?
And apparently they got in via a crack in our foundation. What does that mean in the long-term? Will we need to do major repairs for it?
And so on and so forth.
The fact is, we have the money to cover most of those eventualities. I mean, not all of them at once. But at least one of them. Maybe even two.
But then we’d be set back, and I have no idea how long it’d take us to get back to where we are. Our progress is a lot slower (except for this month) without Tim’s SSA check.
And so, like Revanche, I end up feeling poor and rich at the same time. Rich because we can afford emergencies. Poor because I feel certain that they’re right around the corner, destined to wipe us out.
I’m not sure if that’s an indication of a low-level anxiety disorder or a realistic assessment of our situation.
Not real poverty
To top all of this off, I then feel guilty. Because calling myself “poor” — even if we have to spend every penny in savings — is a cavalier attitude. It’s an affront to people actually in poverty. Or even to people teetering on the brink, people whose every cent goes to covering their bills.
I’ve never actually been poor. Even when, technically, I was. Because even at my worst, even as I had to credit card debt to pay my for my prescriptions, I never felt truly poor.
I had a credit card in case of emergencies (not that I liked using it, not that the balance didn’t worry me), and my mom was there for me. So I always had food. I always had a place to live. And I never worried about utilities getting shut off.
So to people who have experienced actual poverty — or even those who have been close — I’m sorry for using the word. But viscerally, “poor” feels like a real possibility.
Accentuate the positive
So I just have to focus on reality rather than feelings. Focus on the fact that being able to afford emergencies is the opposite of poverty.
To remind myself that being able to undertake pricey renovations — we’re going to start switching over to double pane windows — is proof that we’re… Well, certainly not rich, but definitely doing okay.
That, yes, our huge* front window will take up 40-60% of our savings; but it’s a choice we’re making. A choice, rather than a necessity — which is pretty novel.
And that the other antithesis to povery is having options. And we have plenty of those.
Have you ever struggled with the conflicting rich/poor emotions? How do you guard mentally against the “What if”s?
*Seriously, huge. About six feet by eight feet. It’s composed of multiple panes. We may