We’ve all had months where everything seems to go wrong.
For me, a bad month left me not wanting to write on this blog for nearly a year.
I’d long been sharing my story here about how embracing a simpler life had allowed me to tackle problem debts.
And I’d been so proud to celebrate that moment, after years of hard work, where I finally declared myself debt-free.
What I hadn’t written about publicly was that at around the same time, my wife and I had decided we wanted to try to start a family.
Fertility treatment, as many of you will know, is a bewildering, time-consuming and often very expensive process. There are no guarantees about the outcome even when, as in our case, the only real hurdle to making a baby is that you’re both women.
The fact I was on a sounder financial footing was a massive help, taking away one aspect of potential stress. I was able to save up money for the first time in years, and was happy to put it towards the treatment.
As we sat in the clinic waiting room each time, we could ignore the huge banners advertising ‘payment plans’ and just hand over cash whenever a bill was presented to us. It felt good. (Well, as good as paying strangers to put your nether regions under a literal spotlight ever feels.)
And in the summer of 2019, after months of tests, appointments, injections and procedures, we finally got that positive pregnancy test result.
Then two things happened nearly at once.
I was planning to meet a friend for lunch and had been driving through a car park when I got in the world’s slowest car crash. Despite events happening at the pace of a clapped-out milk float, the fact my car was so old meant the repairs weren’t financially viable. It was a write-off.
The other driver admitted being at fault and I got an insurance payout covering my car’s value, but my poor old banger was worth so little that I suddenly had to find a fair chunk of money to buy another vehicle with.
Then I had a miscarriage. It was physically tough – I ended up being taken to hospital by ambulance – but it also hit me harder emotionally than I would have expected.
After recovering, we had to decide whether to restart our fertility treatment from scratch, including buying in more donor sperm at a cost of many thousands of pounds.
We opted to continue, but both events meant I suddenly found myself substantially in the red – again.
After all that work to pay off my debts, it felt like I was just back at square one.
And, of course, we didn’t know how our fertility journey was going to end. It was all such a gamble.
It seems silly to admit, but I couldn’t face writing about any of this on here. I didn’t feel emotionally strong enough to talk about what I’d been going through, but I also felt like I would be a fraud if I blathered on about money and minimalism without mentioning that I was back up to my eyeballs in debt.
This was pretty much a year ago. I’m now sitting here, typing over my huge belly with our baby now three days overdue.
And this month, I’ve just paid off the last bit of my credit card balance and I’m finally back at debt-free again.
Here’s what the experience has taught me:
1. Stressful or expensive situations are easier to manage if you are not already in debt
Shitty things happen to us all, often costing us money out of the blue (2020 has taught us that). Personally, if I hadn’t spent years tackling my original debts, maybe we wouldn’t have been able to continue with our fertility treatment after the miscarriage. As I was debt-free, I could make the choice to take out debts again, but if I’d already been maxed out at the time, this choice would have been taken away from me.
2. Getting out of debt is easier if you’ve done it before
You will know what works and what doesn’t from the first time around. I knew how to go through my spending, switching suppliers on all household bills and cutting back on non-essentials, throwing all extra cash at the debt pile. I also knew to track and reward my progress to keep my motivation strong.
3. Simplifying your life makes it easier to see what’s important
It’s been a turbulent 12 months for our household: accidents, pregnancy loss, financial upsets, new pregnancy through a global pandemic. My wife and I have had to give each other a fair bit of emotional support through it all. No doubt most people will have had other similar or different worries to cope with. But minimalism and simplicity can help to level off the bumps in the road. Home can be a calmer space and you can free yourself from some of the usual societal obligations to live a certain way. My new car is by no means flashy, so even though I had to borrow money to pay for it, it didn’t take me years to pay back – a mistake I’ve made before.
4. An emergency fund helps you sleep at night
I quickly ate through my small emergency fund when the shit started hitting the fan, but I made it a priority to build a new one as soon as I could, even before I started tackling the debt pile. Even if you’re paying down debts, try to have a small amount of cash set aside in an easy-access account. It’s a huge psychological comfort.
5. Pregnancy makes you miss gin
This has nothing to do with anything I’ve written about above. What can I say? I like gin.