How to Handle Financial Setbacks

Have you had months like this?  This month, thanks to a number of extra jobs, I earned an extra $750 that was not budgeted for.  Woo hoo, I thought.  Finally time to add some money to our meager emergency fund!

And then it happened.  The slow, painful erosion of that extra money.  First, my husband had to file to renew his green card, and that was an extra $450 we hadn’t planned on spending.  Then he had to buy a text book for his graduate class that cost $60.  I went to the dentist and found out that I owed $320.

Within a week’s time, I went from being excited that I had earned an extra $750 to pad our savings to paying out $830 in unexpected expenses.  Now, instead of looking at a generous surplus for the month, I was looking at a $80 deficit despite all of my extra work.

You’ve had months like this, too, no?

If you face one of these months (or years, as it sometimes goes), there are a number of strategies you can use to handle the disappointment.

Feel Sorry for Yourself

I admit, I do this.  When I got the last bill, I went in the bedroom and had a good cry.  However, if you’re going to feel sorry for yourself (and it’s okay if you do), try to limit how long you let yourself do this.  I prefer to only feel sorry for myself for a few hours at most.  Anything more than a few days, and you’re wasting time.

Practice Distraction

Another strategy is to just take some time to unplug and forget about finances.  Maybe take the night off and watch an engrossing movie or read a good book.  Just do something to take your mind off your financial troubles.  Have a good night’s sleep, and wake up ready to face the world again.

Count Your Blessings

Of course, the opposite side of feeling sorry for yourself is to feel encouraged.  Yes, it’s disappointing not to have that extra money to put in the savings account, but consider the alternative.  If I hadn’t had the opportunity to make extra money, I’d be $830 in the red instead of just $80.  That is a lot to be grateful for.

Recognize Finances Are Often Like the Stock Market

Financial advisors remind clients that the stock market will go up and down, but if you keep your money in the market for 20 years or more, you’ll be ahead at the end, as historic data shows.  The same is true for your finances.

If you keep working hard and making smart moves, eventually you’ll be ahead financially.  Making smart money moves creates a snowball effect.  The more you’re able to save, the more of a cushion you have.

Maybe scrimping will give you more money to pay on your debt.  When the debt is gone, you’ll have more money in your budget every month.

Maybe you make extra money that will allow you to buy some food in bulk at a discount, saving you money overall, which in turn gives you more money at your disposal.

Recognize that you are likely making progress, even if it feels painfully slow.

What do you do when you face financial setbacks?

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Melissa works from home as a freelance writer, virtual assistant and blogger. Her blog, Mom's Plans, reflects her desire to plan life one step at a time while caring for and homeschooling her children (ages 9, 5 and 3) as well as paying down debt and saving for a house.


  1. Gina Helton says

    Glad we aren’t the only ones! Unexpected medical expenses, planned medical expenses (surgery) that we need to save up for, expenses related to taxes that were also unexpected. All while trying to save our 3-6 month emergency fund. It feels like a setback, but we are determined to get back on track this month!

  2. Sharlene says

    I think that if you’re getting older or just to a point in your life when you know you’re going to need surgery and you don’t think you’ll be able to afford it, planning to move to a state with better medical coverage for low-income households is a feasible option. I moved from MA to FL knowing full well that my situation would be the reverse; I’m still low-income and have absolutely no medical coverage now, so I can personally recommend not doing exactly what I did if your health history is becoming complicated. I sacrificed health coverage to move somewhere where I thought there would be more jobs, and it isn’t exactly working out, only now I have no medical coverage.

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