DH = Dear husband

Roadblock to debt-reduction in the early days

In the first year of our journey out of debt – from June 2012 to June 2013 – we paid off more than we did in any of the 4 years that followed. $50,000 down! It was a year of good income with no extraordinary costs – unlike year #2 and the new roof and year #4 and the renovations. Our mission to reduce debt was fresh and fueled by lots of adrenaline.

Despite the great progress we made in that first year, there were two months  when we couldn’t put anything extra against our debts. Here was my response at the time:

“I haven’t been sleeping well lately … Thoughts of muffins, egg rolls, and melted cheese have beckoned to me from some deep recess of my brain, promising to be the answer.  Except for when the knot in my stomach has stifled my appetite … In both March and April, DH’s business was slow.  Remarkably slow.  After months of hyperactivity, the slow-down was at first a relief.   By the end of the first slow month, relief gave way to philosophy:  There are ups and downs in self-employment.  This won’t last.  After the second slow month, philosophy gave way to dread.”

Perspective from 5 years later

I have to muster up compassion for that angst of 5 years ago. From this perspective, I can say, “It was only 2 months!” as well as “You’ve had such great success in paying off debt so far! This blip will be absorbed.”

Of course I didn’t know it would be only 2 months then. DH’s business has always been subject to risk factors, and for all I knew, it was failing. And as for our progress up to that point, I actually had too-high ambitions. My original hope was that we’d pay off over $50,000 per year and be out of debt in 5 years. It wasn’t until later that I recognized that we were on a 7-year trek.

There’s something else I have to take into consideration. When I felt that angst, we were still over $200,000 in debt. We were still worse off than the record-breaking national average household debt-to-income ratio – and too old to be in that position. Yes, we’d made big strides forward, but we were still close to the poor financial health that was the starting point of our journey out of debt.

Our current roadblock

This past October, multiple stresses made our lives go off-kilter, and one of them had to do with DH’s business. Not able to disclose much (because DH didn’t want me to), I wrote “DH operates a home business, and there are always ups and downs with it – resulting in variable income, and variable debt-repayment. DH’s business is currently undergoing a stress test. We’re all feeling it. I can’t say much more than that.”

The change DH made in his business (which I completely supported) has resulted in significantly lower revenues for almost half a year now. It worries us, but I’m not being tormented by thoughts of “muffins, eggrolls, and melted cheese” promising to be the answer. And there’s  no knot in my stomach. No “dread”.

The difference? We’re in much, much better financial shape now than we were 5 years ago. Our remaining debt is a small mortgage that we’ll pay off later this year, and we’re cushioned by savings. We’re way, way below the national average for household debt.

What if? back then vs. What if? now

I did my best back then to get out of the discouraged funk I was in. “If I answer the ‘What if?’ questions, I come up with, ‘We’ll stop the business.  We’ll sell the house and move into a smaller one.  DH will look for another job.  I won’t retire as soon as I’d planned.’  Disappointing, but not the end of the world.”

Now there’s a difference when I answer “What if?” DH can keep the business going at a reduced level and start a phase of semi-retirement. I’ll retire in 2019 as planned, and we’ll see at that time if it would be wisest to stop the business and sell the house or not.

Freedom from financial stress

Good financial health doesn’t mean that worry goes completely away or that the passive, head-in-sand money management approach is an option. We do have worries about this extended blip in DH’s business, and we’re having to focus as we navigate through it. But it’s not overwhelming. It’s not distressing or depressing. And I promise you that it would have been 5 years ago.

Have you ever been through a time when reduced income was very stressful? Are you well cushioned with savings to see yourself through an unexpected reduction in income? Your comments are welcome.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Join the Conversation


  1. It’s amazing the difference in perspective when you have some savings and financial stability. That’s really one of the most important reasons to attain them…so that when life happens, your stress level doesn’t shoot through the roof. There were times when I was between jobs and my reserves started to dwindle, and because I was supporting a family and keeping up with the Joneses, I started to panic. Later on when I was self-employed, supporting just myself and living frugally, a period of reduced income was manageable.

    1. I love that: “so that when life happens, your stress level doesn’t shoot through the roof.” Well said! And life is going to happen one way or the other, so it really is worthwhile to be ready for it. Thanks, Gary:)

  2. I find it interesting that you make this comparison to others “We’re way, way below the national average for household debt.” We are all on our own unique path, with our own unique circumstance. It is amazing how having a plan reduces stress and anxiety over a bad situation. When I lost my job in 2015 and roughly 80% of our income we didn’t panic because we had worked for the five previous years to build financial stability. I can’t imagine the outcome if we were not in that spot when the job loss occurred.

    1. Yikes! I can see why you call that a “comparison to others.” What I meant for it to be was a benchmark for our own progress. We used to be way above the average household debt; now we’re way below it – showing that we’ve come a long way. Does that make sense? I remember being worried about your family when you lost your job, Brian. But you took it very much in stride. That was such a great example of being prepared and gaining peace through a major episode that is usually a major stress.

  3. It’s a whole lot easier to weather those storms with a safety net in place huh? That’s too bad about the business though and hope it turns around soon! But you’ve come such a long way and I think you can handle anything thrown your way…here’s hoping it’s “good” challenges!

    1. Thanks Tonya, I’m sure you can relate to the instability of a downswing in business more than most – since you’ve been self-employed too. Thanks for the good wishes – and thanks for making me feel like Wonder Woman: “I think you can handle anything thrown your way…” 🙂

  4. Oh my goodness, I look back at all the stressful times, like the one just 2 years ago, and I thank God for every time he carried us through the sand. Too bad we don’t recognize it quickly while it’s happening. I know He’s doing it for you guys too. 🙂 *Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    1. Kay, a woman at church gave me that verse just yesterday morning – regarding something else completely. That’s kind of cool. (Do you think someone is trying to tell me something?)

  5. It’s great to hear that your financial growth has allowed you to stress less during a down-turn in business, and even look forward to semi-retirement and retirement soon. This is exactly the type of thing I wrote about this week–gaining financial flexibility, being able to handle the unexpected, whether good or bad.

    1. Thanks Kalie. You know, it’s true that we have to be ready to handle the financially unexpected good as well as bad – though I had to think that through after reading your comment. I love it when other bloggers write on the same theme at the same time. Great minds think alike!

    1. Thanks, Mackenzie. I think it will get better – but the timing has been slower than I would have guessed.

  6. What a difference a plan can make in one’s stress level, eh? You and your DH have done extremely well in reducing your debt, so much so that you will be debt free this year regardless of whether his business cools off, or not. You have so much right going for you now – you will soon be debt free, have your emergency fund topped up, have investments and will have a paid off house; plus you will have your wonderful teacher’s pension to add icing to your cake. You will be fine. Perhaps your DH would enjoy being semi-retired, having the luxury of time to ride that “hog” of his dreams? I predict your future looks bright :).

    1. DH read this, and he said, “Nancy knows more about me than I do!” I didn’t know what you meant by “that ‘hog’ of his dreams” – but he did: the Harley. You’ve really summed up everything so nicely and positively here! Thank you 🙂

  7. How funny we’re thinking on parallel tracks today! Looking down the barrel of the recession we’re coming due for, I was getting all worked up but going through all the steps of understanding how we’ve prepared, my gut finally accepts that we’re much better off than we’ve been in the past. It won’t be perfect and it would suck to lose a job in the recession but it shouldn’t be nearly so bad as it was the first time around.

    1. Great minds really do think alike (see Kalie’s comment). I hope that knowing you’re in a better position gives you some peace of mind as we brace ourselves for the inevitable recession. (At the same time, I hope you don’t experience job loss – even if you are well prepared for it – because is does suck no matter what.)

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