Through our twenties, Megan and I (well, mostly me) got into a mountain of debt. Cars, trips, entertainment, and just plain “things” were being spent upon all the time. There were quite a few medical costs sprinkled in there too. By the time we hit 30 years old, we were at our wit’s end with bills. Megan’s disability prevented her from working, and besides that, she had her hands full with a toddler either way.
It had become so stressful to manage money. It was beyond overwhelming to sit down and process numbers and balances and interest rates and minimum payments. I had relied upon Megan to do most of this for quite awhile, but it came to a point when it overwhelmed her as well. Some bills slipped through the cracks, late charges piled up, credit card bills became ridiculous (to be fair, mostly by my own doing), and there was even a moment where we feared our electricity would be turned off.
“Stop, I’ve got this” was about all I said. I relieved Megan of her duties. My analytical, geeky personality made magical spreadsheets and consolidated the view of all of our accounts into one place on the web. I set up auto-bill pay online, and eliminated the need to write checks and snail-mail them to our creditors. I set myself a standing appointment to review everything at least twice a month, and at just about any point, I could tell you down to the dime what was in my bank accounts.
We got aggressive. Extra money went towards debt. I held on to my car for a bit longer than normal before upgrading to a new one. We took less weekend trips, started eating better at home, rather than going out, and quit spending money on frivolous crap.
By the time her organ rejection started somewhere about two years after taking over, we were attending our crossfit gym, happily able to pay the monthly bill, with no credit card debt, a single car payment, and low costs for food and shelter. I was making good money, getting a raise every year, and we were socking some money away for retirement.
Her hospitalization actually improved that situation even more. Other than spending more on gas for daily drives to visit, we certainly weren’t going out to eat, paying for the gym, or even needing to buy the same amount of groceries.
Aaaand here we go…you know the drill.
“Then She Died”
Well crap. What the hell have I been saving up for? What good is retirement savings if I’m going to retire alone in the woods in a one-room shack? Since I don’t have to consult anyone, I might as well do what I want. “Interesting…there’s this thing called Camp Widow that might be helpful…might as well put a flight, hotel, and admission on a credit card.”
My brain had reverted back to my early twenties. That stupid little piece of plastic was “therapy”. I could buy whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted, and it hardly cost a thing, especially now that Megan was gone. I met Sarah at that first Camp Widow, and, let’s be honest here, all those trips you’d seen us take, and all this “adventure” we’ve been on? It’s gotten EXPENSIVE at times. Not by her doing…oh no…it was all mine.
The problem was, it was deferred expense. I hadn’t re-adjusted yet since Megan’s death to being logical with money. I had started my “second chapter” or whatever you want to call it, but it was started with a much larger salary than my first. It started with higher limits and less balances.
It started with blinders on.
The blinders are off now. The past year, and especially the past few months, we’ve been buckling down, trying to reign in expenses. I’ve been religious about my spreadsheets and tracking money going in and out. Things still slip through the cracks, but the bills aren’t late and we’re living pretty comfortably.
And it has sucked. I hate looking through all of it, knowing that nobody is going to repossess our home or cars, the lights will stay on, the heat will still be keeping us warm, and we’ll have running water, yet knowing that we can’t even go have a decent dinner and a beer outside of the house. Knowing that even making it to Camp Widow will stretch us too thin. Resenting our dogs, just because we can’t leave the house for longer than twelve hours, because we need to pay to kennel them. Even resenting that I have to pay so much for health insurance, precisely because we “don’t need it” anymore.
But there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. Sarah has become more and more involved with our finances as a couple. She has generously volunteered to take over reviewing the bills, effectively relieving ME of my duties, just like I did 6 years ago to Megan. We’ve made a plan for the future, and while it will take some sacrifice and adjustment, it should get us to where we want to be, WHEN we want to be.
Money is, by and large, the most frequent cause of stress within any relationship. We’re not poor, by any means, but we’ve been stressed. I’VE been stressed, and it rubs off. I can’t turn in my widow card selectively…refusing to be identified by it in most aspects of life, yet using it as an excuse for spending money recklessly. Having my teammate understand that some “retail therapy” may have not been the worst thing at the onset of my widowhood, but it needs to be curtailed is exactly what I needed.
Just in the past week, I’ve felt less stressed about money. Sarah is not taking it all on by herself…we’re taking debt and bills on as a team. It’s a bigger milestone to me than I think she even realizes. Six years ago, I removed Megan from that team, when it comes to money. A little over three years ago, she effectively resigned from ever being part of the “finance department”. I have indeed felt alone in this for quite awhile, even though we’ve discussed it damn near weekly for over a year.
It may seem mundane. It might not even have all that much to do with widowhood itself, but this is a big step in “digging out of the hole”, both in money, and in loss.