You Are Forgiven
SUBJECT: I FUCKED UP
I work hard, I play hard. I have a job, it’s an okay job. I make enough money to have some fun and to pay my bills. A student loan bill. A car payment. A credit card. I try to keep a cushion of $500 in my account, usually. I have no savings.
Literally two weeks ago I was totally okay with this.
But then my uncle was diagnosed with cancer, a week after my best friend’s dad had a heart attack. They’re my parents’ age, and they’re going to die and now for the first time I have realized that this is going to happen to my parents, too. And now I know I’ve fucked everything up. And I can’t believe it. I’ve been so dumb.
My parents live across the country. It’s a $400 plane ticket. If—when—something happens to one of them, I’d be able to get a ticket and get there, to be with them, but that’s as far as my cushion will get me.
If I don’t work, I don’t have money. Two weeks not working, and it all comes crumbling down for me. I won’t make rent the next month. I won’t make my car payment. I should have been thinking of this. I should have known that this could happen, should have prepared. I fucked up. Even if I start saving now, it will take so long to be any amount of consequence. It’s too late and I feel like a fool.
SUBJECT: RE: I FUCKED UP
Joel you’re going to be okay.
Half of Americans are one crisis away from poverty, so it’s not like you’re the only person who woke up today and thought, “Shit.” A lot of people aren’t prepared. More people aren’t prepared than are prepared. You’re not alone.
Also, this panicked feeling you feel? It will go away. It might be gone already! But you should at least try to remember some of it. A little panic is good for you. A little panic might help you from actually panicking when something actually happens, which, please remember, it hasn’t.
One really important game that I learned from my mom is: What is the worst that can happen? Let’s play. If one of your parents got sick tomorrow, what would happen? You’d use your $500 cushion to buy a ticket and fly across the country. If the ticket is more than you have, you’d borrow the money from a friend, or you’d put it on a credit card. You’d figure it out, and you’d get home.
And then you’d take one day at a time. You’d talk to your parents and you’d talk to the doctors and you’d look at your bank account and you’d start to weigh your options. But we’re doing worst case, so worst case is you can’t afford to fly back and forth, and so you stay. You get fired. You call your landlord. Worst case, he says you have until the end of the month to get out of your apartment. Maybe a friend can move your stuff for you. Worst case, your stuff gets put on the street. It’s just stuff. Maybe you can call the company that services your car loan and work something out or maybe you can’t. Maybe you just stop making payments on your car and it gets repo’d and you wreck your credit score. You call and defer your student loans. Worst case, you default on them. You will not be the only one.
Maybe you lose everything you’ve built for yourself in your town.
But you’d be home with your family, and it would have been your decision, and in the end, worst case, you have a wrecked credit score, no apartment, no job, and no car. But there are worse things than starting over.
You haven’t fucked up. Even if every terrible thing that could happen happens right now and even if it all falls down, you’ll make it through because what’s the other option? There is no other option.
But first: Forgive yourself for not having saved money and for having gone to the bar and bought video games or whatever. Really. Actually forgive yourself. You can’t change the fact that you haven’t saved or that you’ve spent a lot of money on a lot of stupid stuff, and dwelling on it is such a stupid and futile exercise. You needed every single one of the dollars you spent to make you the person you are today, to get you to the point where you could think, “Shit.”
I tell myself that and it works sometimes. Try it. And then once you calm down, take stock of your life and make some changes. That’s not my bag really, but it probably means adjusting your lifestyle so that you’re spending less than you earn, so you can use the difference to put in a savings account or pay off some debt. For me the first step was to stop using credit cards, and then to slowly pay those credit cards down. I still have zero dollars in savings, and that kind of freaks me out, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. Because even if shit goes down tomorrow, I’ll figure it out. And so will you.