New Debt Reduction Analogy: It’s Like Getting Control of a Flea Infestation

This is one of our flea traps – with over 40 caught. (Ugh!)

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear 3rd Daughter

Our dearest Rocky died November 7. When we went to the vet in October to get him treated for fleas, some blood work was done, and it indicated he was having trouble with his kidneys. After another few weeks, he stopped eating and drinking. More tests confirmed kidney failure as well as cancer. DH, our two youngest daughters and I were all with him at the end. Heart-break – which was of course followed by more heart-break November 20. It was so strange that Rocky and my mom left this world within two weeks of each other. They had a very special bond.

Fleas

The flea treatment Rocky received was very effective. The medication was applied to his skin – between his shoulder blades – and (I think I’ve got this right) it made his blood lethal to the fleas that bit him. So they didn’t. He was comfortable within a day or two.

If Rocky had lived, all fleas that were trying to survive apart from him would soon have been done in. Even strands of fur from a dog treated with this medicine carry enough poison to defeat any flea in their paths. As it was, the fleas had no such weapon to confront, and so they were free to fight for survival.

“Our vet told us that fleas die off in 3 or 4 days without a host,” my cousin’s wife said to me. We found out that that was not strictly true. I learned more about fleas than I ever wanted to in what was essentially a forced crash course on the topic. Here are some basics:

  • There are 4 stages to a fleas life – egg, larva, pupa (when they’re in a cocoon), adult.
  • Adult fleas can survive on human blood, but the eggs they produce while ingesting human blood don’t always do well.
  • The pupa stage can last for as long as half a year.

Our flea story

Itchy ankles

Within a few days of Rocky’s passing, DD3 was getting itchy ankles. It didn’t take long to identify the cause: fleas. We assumed the biting would soon stop – since there was no longer a canine host for them. But it didn’t stop. We tried denial for a few more days, but DD3, besides dealing with grief at the loss of her dog and anxiety for her grandmother, was getting tormented by persistent bites. And my ankles were itchy too …

Salt & baking soda (and washing, storing, vacuuming)

Our crash course began, and we learned that a combination of salt a baking soda would kill fleas. “Sprinkle it on all carpeted areas, as well as fabric-covered furniture, mattresses, and box springs.” We used 9 kg (20 pounds) of salt and the same amount of baking soda to cover

  • all of our upstairs carpeting (stairs, hallway, 4 bedrooms)
  • 4 bed mattresses and box springs
  • a fabric couch

Besides throwing out all of Rocky’s bedding, we threw out the old fabric couch and chair he had always sat on. We slept on sleeping bags on top of our salt-and-baking-soda-covered mattresses. Every sheet and pillow case, every item of DD3’s clothing went through our washing machine. We stored pillows, comforters, and blankets in garbage bags in the shed for two weeks. (Fleas can’t survive freezing temperatures.) We moved as much furniture as we could off of the carpets and into two bathrooms to keep things clear for the vacuum cleaner. (Picture bumping into cluttered storage in the bathrooms at night …) We let the salt and baking soda do its work for a week, and then it was time to vacuum. Everything. Daily vacuuming was then necessary.

Flea traps

At first we bought 2 flea traps and rotated them around different rooms in the house to find out where the worst-hit areas were. After we’d vacuumed up all of the salt and baking soda, we wanted to be able to tell if we’d solved the problem once and for all, so we bought 2 more traps. The first 2 were so littered with fleas, we could no longer tell if new ones were being caught. 3 fleas in one new trap. 5 in another. For several days now, there have been no additions. The whole ordeal took a full month.

So how is a flea infestation like debt reduction?

  • At first we didn’t even know we had a problem with fleas. And then when it became clear that something had to be done, we tried denial – which didn’t work. DH and I had “normal” debt levels for a long time, and we didn’t know that was a problem. When our income plunged due to job loss, the vulnerability of our finances became very clear – but we continued to live in denial of it.
  • DD3’s misery, combined with my itchy ankles, became a call to action. We were jolted out of denial. High levels of financial stress likewise served as a wake-up call for us. We took our heads out of the sand and faced our financial situation head-on.
  • “Experts” said the fleas would die within  days without a host. But that wasn’t true. We had to research, learn, sift through accurate and inaccurate information, judge which strategies would be best to solve our problem. “Experts” also have a lot to say about personal finances, and it can be very confusing. We had to research, learn, sift, and judge to set ourselves on a path to financial health. (We chose to follow the strategies outlined in Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover.)
  • It took a lot of focus, commitment, and work to follow through on our chosen flea-destroying strategies. And at times, it felt like drudgery without result. The fleas were persistent! In the same way, we have had to maintain our commitment to debt reduction for the long haul – even through times when it has felt like a hopeless effort.
  • We beat the fleas. We are also beating debt. In the 5½ years since we started our journey out of debt, from our original $257,000 total, we’ve paid off almost $200,000.
  • Fleas need a host. When Rocky was no longer there to bite, they tried us. The fleas loved DD3; they liked me; but they didn’t touch DH. Go figure! Debt needs a host too. DH and I had to change so that we no longer had the composition of debt hosts.

Have you ever had to deal with fleas? Have you even noticed that bugs seem like biting some people more than others? Are you a debt host? Your comments are welcome.


 

 

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  • Oh my gosh what a tough month it’s been. Fleas are the worst. I luckily never had them in my apt (my cat is only indoors so that helps). but my friend’s cat did and I hated going over there because it kind of feels like you’re going crazy being bit but not really “seeing” anything. I never thought about comparing to flea infestation to debt (lol) but it does make sense when you put it that way!

    • We also felt like we were going crazy! Especially since the fleas were bothering DD3 so much more than me – and not DH at all! What’s with that! And they kept surviving our first efforts to get rid of them – when we didn’t understand the whole 4 stages of life thing. I hope your friend was able to get the better of them.

  • Great analogy. So sorry to hear that you lost your beloved dog also – what an emotionally draining time for your family. And then add fleas into the mix! We had a flea infestation about 30 years ago and back then we used a chemical spray to kill them – who knows what it did to us as well? They were gone in about two days though …
    I am praying that your family will have a special Christmas in spite of all the heartache of the past couple of months.

    • Your are right about the really bad timing involved here. As for the chemical spray, I was ready to try anything after a certain point, and I actually bought some heavy-duty spray. DH was the one who wanted to avoid using it, so I returned them. It took longer, but we eventually managed.Thank you for your kind words, Nancy.

  • Oh man Ruth! I’m so sorry. I don’t know anything about fleas, but that sounds just miserable. Glad you’ve conquered them. It sounds like Rocky and your Mom really did have a strong connection for sure. At least they’re together. That must be a comfort for you all.

      • You know, there was a strange comfort in Rocky and my mom keeping each other company in this way. They say dogs are very attuned to their loved ones, and I think it’s very possible that Rocky declined so quickly because he sensed that my mom was leaving.
        And thank you, Kay : )

  • Oh no, sorry to hear about Rocky. Never easy to lose a family pet, but within weeks of your mom. I’m hoping everyone is finding comfort during these difficult times. I once was a caretaker for four dogs and three cats, long story and yes we had a bit of a flea issue. I can attest it certainly takes focus, commitment, and hard work to rid yourself of these pests. Similar to that pesky debt. 🙂

    • Rocky actually died first, but huge as the loss would normally have been, it was eclipsed by my mom’s decline. He was absolutely in love with my mom.
      4 dogs, 3 cats, and “a bit of a flea issue” – Oh, that sounds bad!

  • Ruth, I’m so sorry to hear about Rocky, especially so soon after your mom passing (that’s a great picture of them BTW). And as if grief were not difficult enough, a flea infestation really topped things off. I’ve never had to deal with fleas, but I can see how apt the debt analogy is. Now you’ve conquered the fleas and soon enough you will be done with the debt, too.

    • Rocky went first – I just wrote about him second (I’m going to edit my post because Brian thought the same as you.) You are right about the really bad timing involved with all of these events overlapping. It will take me a while to recover from November. But I’m with you in thinking that we will conquer that debt just as completely as we did the fleas. Thanks, Gary : )

  • Just the thought of fleas gives me the heebies. They do seem to pick and choose their favorite hosts. When I was much younger, sans the internet or any real fleabusting options, it was often me! Fleas and mosquitos, such pests.

    We had good luck with Fleabusters when we petsat a friend’s dog that had fleas, but it was sure a fraught experience trying to make sure that all the powder didn’t get anywhere near Seamus or JB, and that they didn’t get infested either. Yuck!

    I’m so sorry you had a double loss in the same two weeks.

    • Thank you, Revanche.
      Mosquitoes love DD3 as well. There must be a certain blood type that they go for. Now, did your friend know that his/her dog had fleas when you were pet-sitting? I’m going to guess (and hope) not.

  • Sorry for the loss of your dog, my dog died a couple years ago and I still cherish the memories and funny moments that each of them bring to a household.

    Fleas were bad in our neck of the woods this year because we had a mild winter (2016-17). One person we knew needed their house treated twice to get them all gone. That was a hair-splitting time, especially since we had been there before they knew they had fleas and were paranoid about getting them in our own house.

    Long story short, great analogies and congrats on the debt-free fight too.

    • Thanks, Josh. We had a mild winter in 2016-2017 in these parts too. (Though we certainly aren’t having a mild winter this time around!) I’m glad the fleas at your friends’ place didn’t end up going to your house. 2 treatments for their house … Ugh!

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