You Are Forgiven


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.


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.


18 Comments / Post A Comment

mbmargarita (#781)

One of my favorite Billfold posts so far, I think! Sometimes I don’t like reading the Billfold because I just start stressing “I’m doing it wrong, even when I’m doing it right I’m spending too much on X or not checking my credit score enough” or whatever– because it’s great to be financially savvy and mindful about this stuff, but it sucks to start obsessing. (I stopped doing weekend estimates because they made me start feeling weird and bad about spending money on the weekends– and what else are weekends for?) So I just think that while we’re all being financially aware and educated, we should also remind ourselves once in a while, IT’S JUST STUFF. And that it will be okay.

shannowhamo (#845)

@mbmargarita Yes, me too! I try not to beat myself up for being a Logan and not a Mike. But I had to just tell myself that it’s okay to have fucked up and instead of admonishing myself for racking up a bunch of stupid consumer credit card debt, just let this site be an inspiration to be better. Having $500 in checking to spare sounds like a huge improvement compared to literally spending down to the last dime every pay period (my style, until recently.)

@mbmargarita I stopped doing the weekend posts for the same reason, because I am bad at estimating how much things cost, so even if I only bought what I said I did, my numbers were almost always over. I like reading The Billfold but don’t participate that much because it just stresses me out. I really like hearing all the points of view about “doing money,” I just don’t like sharing how I do mine all the time.

eagerber (#1,958)

Hear hear. This is so beautiful — it almost reminds me of a Cary Tennis exchange on his column. Such a thoughtful reply, Logan. Thanks for so much for sharing this! It’s awesome. :)

@eagerber YES – v. Cary Tennis, maybe even Dear Sugar. Loved it.

bgprincipessa (#699)

This is so wonderful!! Brava Logan. One of my favorite posts to date.

Mae (#1,769)

Logan, you’re killing it lately.

laurafayesmith (#3,012)

So smart, and SO TRUE. Right after I quit my job to freelance, my husband’s company started doing massive layoffs. We looked at each other in fear and started a panicked “What if…” session. Our conclusion? The worst thing that would happen if we were both unemployed for a long period of time would be the loss of our home. And we suddenly realized, if that happened, we would be FREE. Because essentially, we work as hard as we do to pay for the house and all it’s connected expenses. Without it, who knows what adventures we might have? It lifted a huge worry off our minds, and made me feel better about pursuing my passion and not having a steady job. Whatever happens, we will figure something out, because there is no other option than to do just that. For all I know, there is totally different lifestyle out there that I would love even more than what I have now.

nogreeneggs (#154)

Wow Logan, you sound like you’re in a great place!

The other day I actually had the opposite realization Joel had. I was chatting with my grandma on the phone and she told me to make sure I enjoy my youth and not to feel bad about pampering myself now. It was something I really needed to hear, I’m a compulsive saver and I’ve been really stressing out about an upcoming trip to Europe I’m taking. It just seems so expensive! But then I thought, what would I do with that money otherwise? It would just sit in a savings account, earning less than .8% a year. My grandpa is not doing well health-wise, but you know he and my grandma lived full and awesome lives together. They lived within their means but they weren’t afraid to go on trips or spoil themselves occasionally. I really aspire to be more like them and not live in fear of whatever makes me a compulsive saver to begin with (financial uncertainty).

inspector_tiger (#2,651)

@nogreeneggs I’m a bit like you! I’m a compulsive worrier. I always worry that if I buy this, or won’t get a decent job I will end in bankrupcy by age 30. Or something.My parents are not very financially savy so I’m the clichè kid who’s over conservative (in financial respects).
Funnily enough I’m planing a kinda expensive trip in europe too! (Well, I’m already in Europe, but I’m going to France/Spain/Portugal, so that’s a european trip still :))

nap city (#2,801)

This gave me all the feelings. I keep going to type more and then I keep stopping because of all the feelings, so I will quit trying to articulate the mess of my head and just say thank you.

frenz.lo (#455)

In some ways I feel like the advice I’m about to give is right up there with cutting out lattes, but! I think if you grew up middle class and got an ok job, sometimes it literally does not occur to you that this is a possibility. Joel could get an extra job. I think forgiving himself is important and necessary, but he’s like 3 weekend catering gigs or a couple of sleep studies away from cushion + round trip plane ticket.

AitchBee (#3,001)

@frenz.lo I’m sloooooowly wrapping my head around the idea that I COULD get a second job for additional income (“more work” for “more money,” as it were). The cognitive resistance is definitely to the “could,” not the “should have to”.

@frenz.lo That’s a good point – if he currently works a regular M-F 40 hour kinda job, any extra work could be the way to padding up that account.

janicek (#612)

@frenz.lo you’re so right about everything you just said. I recently had a (totally self-inflicted) financial crisis and the thought of another part-time job didn’t cross my mind for one second until my boyfriend suggested it. But I got a second temp job, had a very stressful few weeks and am now in the black again and feeling much more confident about my financial future. It’s a great option, if you can find one.

selenana (#673)

@janicek Yeah! Second temp/contract/side jobs are the key! A second steady job stressed me out because I like to sleep and eat and be home sometimes. But short/one off jobs give an extra bit of pocket cash and then are over!

rorow (#1,665)

i also had a similar experience recently, and it’s actually a result of this site. i’ve been stressing lately about why i’m making exponentially more money than ever before and yet i’m still living paycheck to paycheck. time to make a change! this site has inspired me to build up an emergency account, and i’m my first $500 on my way to that.

navigateher (#555)

THIS RIGHT HERE is why I love The Billfold.

Comments are closed!