Prudence Debtfree Stumbles at Finish Line (Ugh!)

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD3 = dear third daughter
  • DD2 = dear second daughter
  • DD1 = dear first daughter

“You’re worried about what you’ll write on your blog.”

Last week, I wrote rather cryptically: “Ironically, with our total debt-freedom only weeks away, DH and I were off our game.” I then vaguely stated that “we faced our current mess. What would we do to deal with it? A mortifying thing, but we got it figured out.”

All week I’ve had a nagging stress about this “mess” in the back of my mind. “I don’t think it’s so much that you’re worried about the state of our finances,” DH said to me when I talked about it yet again. “You’re worried about what you’ll write on your blog.”

Not quite true – but partly true.

The income-tax-return-effect

One of the bad money patterns from our past that DH and I have come to recognize through the 6+ years of our journey out of debt has been what we call the income-tax-return-effect. When our children were younger, DH and I received significant income tax refunds each year. We’d do our taxes, and it would be all about the refund. “We’re going to get $1,380!” And we’d start fantasizing about what we’d buy with it. (Already this is painful to write about!)

Since we knew the money was coming, we’d go ahead and buy the things we had settled upon ahead of time – and put it on credit. And then when the money came, guess what we did. We spent it again!

A bad old pattern seeps in

DH and I allowed the income-tax-return-effect to seep back into our finances this summer. Since the beginning of 2018, I have made reference to our projected debt-freedom date of September 2018. This summer, without being aware of it, DH and I gravitated back to that “We’re going to get a tax refund!” disconnect.

I believe (though DH doesn’t) that this disconnect was compounded by the fact that I received the second – and bigger – part of my inheritance in July. It falls in the range of an average inheritance, but it is by far the most substantial amount of money we have ever dealt with. We’ve been very intentional about using it to speed up our mortgage pay-off (by 8 months) and to invest. However, I’m convinced that good intentions and even good execution have not stopped our brains from becoming a bit addled by it.

So my theory is that we unintentionally allowed the promise of debt-freedom + the knowledge that an inheritance had increased our wealth = seeping in of income-tax-return-effect. “You just got excited a little too early,” DD3 very kindly said after I’d explained it all to her.

The anatomy of our mess

What did we do this summer?

  • We rented a cottage in the Bruce Peninsula with 2 other couples for 5 days.

We hadn’t had this sort of trip for over 6 years – “this sort” meaning that we paid for our accommodation instead of staying at people’s houses. It wasn’t crazy expensive, and it was such a beautiful part of the world! I’m glad we went, and I hope we go back again. It’s just an indication that we were exiting debt-payoff mode a few months early.

  • We went camping for 10 days with DD3, DD2, and our puppy Kobe in August.

The last time we camped for any amount of time was 5 years ago – and I was racing between the park and my summer school job in the city the whole time. It was l-o-v-e-l-y to sink into the relaxation that comes with camping. And we had a great time introducing Kobe to swimming, camp fires, and tents. DH and I upgraded to cots instead of air mattresses – again, a purchase we wouldn’t have made in full-on debt-repayment mode.

  • DH doesn’t get vacation pay.

We did not take into account that DH’s income for August would be reduced by half – because he was away for half of the month.

  • We bought 2 bicycles.

DH and I had been riding bikes that were old (about 25 years), heavy, and worn. We decided that the one treat we would would give ourselves from the inheritance was the purchase new bikes. We bought them, and they’re great! But as DH pointed out last night, we spent more than the amount we gave ourselves. With lights, fenders, bells, carriers, water bottles and their holders, not to mention taxes – we ate into our budget.

  • I did a celebratory debt-free spa day with our 3 daughters.

Ever since we started our journey out of debt, I planned to treat our girls to a spa day once we were out of the red. DD1 studies out west, and we see her only 2 or 3 times a year. She came home at the end of August – so close to our debt-freedom date of September – and we decided that this would be the time to do our spa day. It was f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s, exceeding even the high expectations each of us had for the day. But it was also e-x-p-e-n-s-i-v-e. And while I don’t want to take away from the great experience that it was, we should have waited for DD1’s first visit after we were truly debt-free.

Debt-freedom in September?

The line graph of our debt-repayment isn’t smooth. Its bumps reflect the differences in progress that we’ve achieved over the months and years. But it goes in one direction: down. We never went back into debt once we started our journey out of debt in June of 2012. Until August of 2018. (Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!)

In September, we will pay off the last of our mortgage: $1,400. But will we be debt-free? Because of our summer self-sabotage – even after a mad scramble to throw all available reserve moneyΒ  at our bills – our line of credit sits at $3,800. (U-G-H-!)

DH and I had our budget date last night. We plugged our numbers into the new and improved spreadsheet he designed last week … and it looks like we’ll be able to cover it! The dream of debt-freedom in September is still alive! I wasn’t expecting that, and we certainly don’t deserve it. 3 things are working for us:

  1. August was a 3-pay month for me, so we’ve got the money to cover the remaining mortgage without dipping into September’s income.
  2. We have been maxing out our monthly mortgage payments at $3,000, so the lower payment this month is significant.
  3. We don’t need to keep any income from this month in reserve for October’s mortgage payment – because we won’t have one!

If DH has a good business month, we might pay off the line of credit before the end of September. Otherwise, my 2nd pay of the month – the last Friday of September – will do the trick.

Transparency

“You don’t need to write about it,” DH said to me last night – knowing how mortified I am by the whole thing.

I considered that option, but decided against it. Could I really let out a virtual debt-free scream when we’d paid off the mortgage – even though we’d dug into our line of credit? No. When I started this blog, I committed to honesty – to giving a genuine account of the good, the bad, and the ugly of debt-reduction for us.

I would never have guessed that we would make such a colossal mistake so close to the finish line! But we have. And I think there’s value in knowing that the forces that kept us in chronic debt for so long are still waiting in the wings – ready to attack once we think we’ve arrived. DH and I were dumbfounded. “We can’t take our eyes off our money,” he said.Β  “It so easily gets out of control. We have to stay vigilant.” Amen to that.


Can you believe this?!Β Have you ever sabotaged yourself in reaching a goal SO close to the finish line? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of flickr

About author View all posts

prudencedebtfree

18 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Thanks for the transparency, Ruth. It illustrates how easily we can fall back into bad habits, or just get off course quickly when not as focused on our money. We have had our share of bumps after paying off our debt. Our son and daughter’s high school graduation was a challenging time for us. Good luck! It’s hard to keep up such intense focus for a long period of time, sure you hit the speed bump but you course corrected and will be debt free any moment now!

    • Thanks Brian. There’s something about those times of celebration that is at odds with limiting budgets. I can see why it was tough for you to keep things balanced at such an important time for your twins. It is a good sign that we “course corrected” so quickly. In the bad old days, we wouldn’t have thought there was anything to correct. I’m hoping that we can settle into a consistent but not always intense focus on our finances as we move forward. An absence of focus definitely isn’t an option.

  • Ok, I get that you want to not fall back into bad habits, but I don’t think any of those things you did sounds that bad honestly. You hadn’t done those things in awhile, you spend some quality time with friends and family, and you are still on track! I think you are being pretty hard on yourself. And honestly, I think you’d tell me the exact same thing. πŸ™‚

    • Hmmm … I probably would tell you the same thing. You got me there. Let me just say that what we’ve done to prolong our indebtedness in part bewilders me – in a nonjudgmental kind of way. A sort of “What the …?” Just not what I expected. (And yes, in part I have been judgmental about our mistake.) Also, although each thing was OK in itself, we weren’t on top of things. Such as – we should have taken enough money to cover all purchases connected with the new bikes, and we should have taken DH’s lower August pay into account as we planned the month. Those are pf basics. But there. We’re human, and we’re not always functioning at 100%. Message taken, Tonya! Thanks.

  • Thanks for sharing, Ruth. Reading your blog really helps me with being intentional about my money. I’m learning tenacity and mindfulness even moreso!
    Miss you!
    Sherry

    • Sherry, that is music to my ears! I’m really glad that this example of a lack of money-mindfulness is helping you to become more intentional with your finances. Head-in-sand personal finances just don’t do well. All the best at your new school! I’ll miss you too πŸ™‚

  • DD1 here. I’m sorry this is stressing you out, but am still so proud of you! A mini stumble at the finish line usually doesn’t wreck a well-run race. Spa day will never be associated with regret in my mind.

    • Awww! Thank you so much for commenting, DD1. I will never regret our spa day either. It was so lovely for me to spend that luxurious time with you three πŸ™‚ I do find it incredible (I almost wrote infuriating) that we managed to decrease our debt for every single month up to month #75 of our journey out of debt, and then we blew our record. I’m sure there’s fodder for a Master’s thesis in there somewhere. Thank you for your encouragement. It’s true that a stumble at the end won’t ruin the race. And speaking of proud, I am mighty proud of you too πŸ™‚

  • I just want to say that stumbling across the finish line is how most marathoners (all but the professionals) finish their race. You would be shocked by how many sub-4 hour marathoners have to walk across the finish line (I was among them).

    Anyways, having this little stumble now reminded you that your journey isn’t actually over, just the debt repayment part. Onward and upward! Also, I’m so glad that your daughter commented. If I’m running a blog in my 40s, I hope my kids sometimes comment.

    • I didn’t know about stumbling marathon runners. Thank you for that, Hannah. (And you’re a sub-4 hour marathon runner!) You’re right about it’s not being over. I’m expecting it to be different, but we’ll have to figure that out. I loved it that DD1 commented too! (You might have to wait until you’re in your 50s before your kids comment πŸ™‚

  • This feels like a ” ” anonymous meeting. Im this case the blank is the spending. I am still on that recovery mode. I have spent more than I would like now for more years than I would like to admit. You dust yourself off, and get back up.

    I have an old mountain bike that lasted me now 20 years. 2 sets of brakes, 2 sets tires, a new seat and grips, but the rest is original. My problem is that 2 years ago, I purchased, all cash, a new street bike. My mountain biking days are behind me. The problem is that I bought more bike than I needed, but hopefully this one will last as long as the last one has.

    • I’m with you on the “spenders anonymous” thing. (And there actually is a Debtor’s Anonymous organization.) There really are addictive patterns in over-spending, and it takes a lot of self-awareness to catch them. “You dust yourself off, and get back up.” I like that πŸ™‚ I think you did well to buy a new street bike with cash. Can you sell the mountain bike?

  • Oh Ruth, it’s a big milestone to celebrate and you just got a little carried away a little early. I think it’s an important reminder that people still need to pay attention to their finances after their debt is gone. I’m glad it will all work out and thanks for being willing to share your experience with all of us.

    • Thank you, Gary. I was beyond certain that once we were out of debt, we’d stay out of debt – but clearly it’s not a done deal. And I hope that this will serve as a reminder that we’ll have to continue to pay attention once we hit a genuine $0 debt.

  • At the end of the day, we are all human. Lord knows I’ve made plenty of financial mishaps and mistakes in my lifetime. I know it bothers you, but what you guys did this summer, really isn’t that bad. You guys have been paying off debt for 6 years. Going camping is okay. You have wonderful memories and now you just pick up and keep going. I mean, how many people can say that they will be mortgage-free after next month? I am so, so proud of you and your journey Ruth, You inspire me to no end!!! xo

    • Awww, thank you Mackenzie! Camping isn’t bad – even with new cots πŸ™‚ And neither is anything else – even the spa day celebration. The timing and planning were wrong – but as you say, we’re human. This bothered me a lot more when I was uncertain about sharing it. Now that I have, I feel better. This being transparent thing is a good deal πŸ™‚

  • We all stumble from time to time. Whether we catch ourselves or keep sliding on our bellies is what determines if it’s really a big deal. This awareness is how form good habits! Or non awareness is how we form the bad habits. You spent on quality at least, precious memories with your family and friends, and it’s recoverable. You didn’t spent $20,000 on a vacation Best of all, it reminds you to stay aware of missteps in the future.

    And transparency is awesome because it gives you an extra layer of will power in the form of readers who will let you know if you’re treading down a dangerous path. I also take power and strength from knowing I want to share with my readers which is a great form of accountability.

    • Thank you, Revanche. The fact that our awareness was on point in response to this back-sliding is the silver lining of the whole thing. And you are right: I can’t regret any of the things we did this summer – though I do regret the thoughtless timing and lack of foresight. The transparency has been good for me. It’s not stressing me anymore πŸ™‚

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *