Ever felt like you had a stone in the pit of your stomach after you messed up?

DH = Dear Husband

That moment you realized you’d messed up

Think of a time when you realized you had messed up. When you realized you had made a pretty glaring error in judgement. When you found yourself thinking, How did I let that happen? Why did I ignore all of the multiple indicators that should have led me a different way? Once you have your mess-up time in mind, can you call back the way you felt? That, my friends, is how I’m feeling now.

It was an error in judgement at work, and I won’t go into details. I’ll just say that I left work yesterday with the angst of a stone in my gut, went directly up to my room when I got home, and since everyone else was happily occupied, I was able to give way to the longing to stay there for the rest of the afternoon, through the evening, and overnight. I woke up this morning in the same clothes I’d worn in the afternoon. Silver lining? I had a great sleep.

Connection to debt-reduction? Margin

Have I painted a pathetic enough picture of my Friday night? And what’s the point in relation to debt reduction? Well, I’m trying to find one, and I think I’ve got it: I don’t think I would have made that error in judgement if I hadn’t been so swamped. End of school year wrap-up, graduation preparations, summer school co-op placements to find, two blog sites on the go – on top of household and family. Some people can take this kind of multiple-responsibility package in stride. But I can’t. And I know that about myself. So why didn’t I establish the boundaries that I know I need to function at my best?

I remember seeing a film entitled Margin about fifteen years ago. I can’t find it on Google – I only remember the title, and by now, there are so many videos and books using that word. The video I’m referring to is about 20 years old, and it focuses upon the widespread need in our culture to step back and simplify. The professor who narrates makes the point that when it comes to our collective management of time, we leave little to no margin. There is no time for the experience of anticipation. There is no time for reflection or rest. It’s just one task after another after another … And it’s not good.

When I consider what it is that propels me onto a margin-less treadmill, it’s ultimately consumerism – and debt. We work hard so that we can pay off what we purchased yesterday. We burn out, and we purchase for today as a means of self-medication. On credit. So that we need to work hard tomorrow to pay for it. And even though DH and I have this figured out now, and we’re not purchasing with a debt that our future selves will have to pay, we’re still left with the consequences and debt of our habits from the past. We’re making great headway. But even in our progress towards debt-freedom, we need margin. And I think that’s my point.

Tension between inspiration and nagging

Anyone trying to get out of debt has to change things up. Spend less, earn more, devote time to tracking and budgeting. That’s it in a nutshell, but within that nutshell, there are all kinds of variations. Reading about measures of extreme frugality can inspire me – but it can also have the effect of nagging at me. Why aren’t YOU cutting back more? Opportunities to take on additional paid work, in my case teaching summer school, can bring on encouraging windfalls and take out big chunks of debt – but again, there’s that nagging. You could teach night school or Saturday school and earn still more. Even with budgeting and tracking, there’s a continuum. No end of spreadsheets and analysis and finding ways to tweak the details.

Beware: self-defeating path ahead

If you’re invested in turning your personal finances around, you’ve probably experienced this tension between inspiration and nagging. Inherent in the whole effort is the danger of a self-defeating path:

  • You feel inspired to reach a new level (of frugality or income or analysis of your finances)
  • Once you attain that level, you get a nagging sense that it’s not enough  because others are doing more.
  • You either burn out or get defensive.
  • Burnout leads you to quit
  • Defensiveness makes you uninspired and stuck.

I don’t want to burn out, and I don’t want to wall myself in defenses. But I do want some margin. And of course, now that the regular school year is over, I have it. I can focus on summer school without doing double duty. I went into June knowing that I would be dealing with work overload, but I didn’t set myself up to manage it well. It’s just one month, I thought. I can do it. No. I couldn’t. At least not well. And I have this stone in the pit of my gut as a result. Regarding my mess-up at work, if I’d built in more margin for myself, it wouldn’t have happened. I’d have taken the time to consult, to research, to rework. But as it was, things were rushed and cramped. A recipe for messing up.

Right now, I’d like to self-medicate by dropping $150 or so on a 90-minute massage. That would work – for about 90 minutes. But I won’t do that. I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’m just glad I’ll have the margin necessary to figure it out. And by next Saturday, I promise I won’t be so glum.

Can you relate to that tight rope between inspiration and nagging? Do you manage to build margin in your life? Have you ever messed up and felt AWFUL about it?




Join the Conversation


  1. My goodness, Ruth, you need a HUG! Yeah, I’ve been in all of those pickles you mentioned. I’d love to tell you how I dealt with it, but the Type A personalities will just label me a slacker. But you know what? If you’re poor and your house is a mess, people say you’re lazy. If you’re rich and your house is a mess, people call you eccentric. Let’s get over what other people think and let’s just figure out what we can do to make ourselves happy. If you could wake up tomorrow morning and your life was EXACTLY how you’d like it to be, what would that look like? Maybe write it down so you can focus on it until it appears for you. I remember a story about Jim Carrey putting a fake 10 million dollar check on his fridge back when he was struggling, and eventually, he got a real one. What an inspiring visualization story. P.S. I just love Jim. 🙂

    1. I work with someone who one time, many years ago, did a juggling act at a Yuk Yuks in Toronto. After he had finished, another guy his age did a comedy act. That guy was Jim Carrey. So my colleague met him way before he became famous. This isn’t so much a case of worrying about what others think as it is a recognition of the fact that by allowing myself to take on too many responsibilities, I became less competent for each one – as demonstrated by my “mess-up” at work – which impacted other people. My vision for life exactly the way I want it is one with plenty of margin, way less stress, and lots more freedom. I wouldn’t mind the 10 million dollars too : ) Thanks for the hug, Kathy : )

      1. I like a LOT of margin! 🙂

        Hey, if you’ve never seen it, check out comediansincarsgettingcoffee.com . Last week was with Jim Carrey. Such a sweet episode. 🙂 You’re getting there Ruth. You’re figuring out exactly what you want your life to be and you’re getting there. More Hugs! 🙂

  2. I’ve had days like that. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I’ve found that sometimes I just need to unplug for a little while and get outside. It’s a frugal alternative to shopping 🙂

    1. I’m about to go on an extra long walk with our dog. As far as he’s concerned, it doesn’t get any better than that : )

  3. Whenever I felt like I wasn’t do enough on the debt repayment side I ran the numbers. Could I take a P/T job, sure, but at what cost? Time away from family? Net gain a few hundred dollars a months and it would have shaved 3-4 months off our debt repayment. Over all it wasn’t worth the sacrifice of not seeing my wife and kids.

    Margin is important too. We need to smell the roses once in awhile. My wife took our daughter to a concert this week and everyone was so caught up in taking video/photos with their smart phones to post on social media that they didn’t sit back and listen to the great live music and singing that was right in from of them.

    Your nap sounded wonderful! 🙂

    1. In my case, the cost of taking on too much was making a big mistake that impacted people at work. Ugh! I’ve noticed that about pathological image/video-capturing too. People don’t experience things because they’re too busy capturing the thing they’re supposed to be experiencing. I’m going to guess that your wife and daughter decided to soak in the music instead : )

        1. You are right, Brian. I did learn from it. Our mistakes are great teachers, but in this case, I just wish I could have learned BEFORE making the mistake.

    1. Tonya, it’s incredible to me that you are on a cleaning mission because what I long to do now is clean. I think it’s part staying away from people (while I’m working through my mistake at work) and part therapy – symbolically declogging my head of excess stuff by throwing out excess stuff in my house. It’s a theory anyway. I hope your place is beautifully clean now.

  4. Oh my dear friend: I can identify, as you so well know. Not much margin around here right now either. We skipped our sabbath this weekend. There is SO much to do. Dear son asked me if we could please take tomorrow as our sabbath. “Are you kidding?” I thought. NO WAY! But I said yes anyway, and thanks to this post, I’m so glad I did. Thank you so much for sharing your mistakes in an attempt to encourage and help the rest of us. You are a gem!

    1. It’s kind of cool that your son asks you questions like that. I’d like to know more about your “Sabbath philosophy”. Not reserved for Sundays I gather. I’m glad you took your day of rest too. I hope it will keep your judgement more sound than mine was. I’m convinced that in busy times, we all have to be especially careful to get rest. I hope your margin-less time ends soon : )

  5. Yes on all fronts. It’s not debt, but income level that pushes me. After a rough spring, I’ve been learning to turn down work if it doesn’t work for me. I’m crazy busy enough, and I guess in that way I’ve built in some type of margin. It’s difficult, though. Hang in there, but don’t allow ambition to completely take over! Easier said than done, I know.

    1. You definitely have built in some margin by turning down the work that “doesn’t work for you”. I’m glad you can relate. Somehow, it’s better to know I’m not the only one facing these challenges. Thanks : )

  6. I deeply relate to this post. In particular, the need to “step back and simplify” and how consumerism keeps us on a treadmill of fear and worry. While camping a few years ago with a girlfriend, we used a step ladder as a coffee table at our campsite. It worked perfectly to table the coffee cups, books, a flashlight etc. Not something you’d buy at De Boers, but beautiful nevertheless in its functionality. Of course I come back to the city, my values change, and suddenly I fret over the fact that my living room currently has no coffee table at all because it’s such a big decision… Now, where’s that stepladder?

    1. I like your honesty, Laurie. If we could only tap into that camping contentedness in the city …

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