How to cope with financial setbacks

It happens to everyone: savings are going up, debts are disappearing, then suddenly an unforeseen financial event takes you back to square one. It might feel like all that progress has been undone, but actually, the opposite is true.  

Jose Goitia/AP/File
Mechanic William Escalante repairs an old Russian-made Moskvitch car in Havana's Centro Habana neighborhood. Unplanned events, like a broken down car, can make it seem like any financial progress has been for nothing. But Hamm recommends looking at it a different way: what would have happened without any planning at all?

It happens to everyone at some point in their financial journey.

Everything is going along perfectly. Savings are building up. Debts are going down. Financial goals are being reached (or at least approached). It’s all chugging right along.

Then something happens.

Someone gets sick or, even worse, passes away. A car’s engine block fails. Someone gets fired or laid off from their job.

That smooth forward progress you’ve been making? It’s just been rudely interrupted.

Whenever that happens, it can often feel like you’re just not making any progress at all over the long run.

After all, this bad event caused you to fall far back on your progress. It might have even caused you to end up roughly where you started.

When you look at it through that lens, it does look painful. All of this effort… and for nothing?

I’ve been in this situation personally and professionally. I’ve worked hard and made enormous progress on many different things in my life, only to watch all of that progress fall apart because of something outside of my control.

It hurts. It’s frustrating. It leaves you wondering what the point is.

When I’m in those moments, I want to give up. There were many moments like that during the growth of The Simple Dollar, for example.

Every time I faced a crash, every time things fell apart, one simple thought kept me from giving up.

Where would I be right now if I had never bothered at all?

Your car just failed. What would your situation be like if you hadn’t spent the last few months getting your financial house in order?

You just lost your job. Where would you be without that emergency fund you diligently built up over the last six months?

It might feel like your progress is being undone, but actually the opposite is true. It’s your progress that is making this disaster much smaller than it would have otherwise been.

Bad things happen in life. One of the biggest reasons for keeping your financial house in order is so that you can build things up during the good times so that you’re protected during the down times.

If something bad happens and knocks you back to where you started, that means your effort worked like a charm. It turned something that could have been truly disastrous into something you could handle with relative ease.

That, my friends, is tremendous progress. It’s something to be proud of.

More importantly, it’s something worth repeating.

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