So, this past week was a bad financial week in my household. We had a car accident that totaled our mini-van last Tuesday and then as we were driving up to Lake George for our camping trip our remaining car over-heated and the engine blew. So, now we are stuck having to replace both cars at the same time. At first I was panic-stricken, as is my worry-wart nature. Then I said to myself, “You know what, this is life.”  Time to let go and let God (as they say). I sometimes hold on so tight to the purse strings that they start to cut off my circulation. My husband often tells me that whenever he asks me any question, my first response is “what’s it going to cost?”

Although I can’t pretend my budgeting OCD will ever go away, I’m trying to see financial setbacks as just detours on the road to financial freedom. There was a time, when I can honestly say that I had no idea where my money went and I had no financial goals. Now, I know that I want to be debt-free and I have made a plan to get to that destination. I have to learn that financial setbacks and mistakes are going to happen, but that I can learn from them.

What I can do now is try to prepare as much as I can and listen for my internal GPS to recalculate my route. One day I’ll hear those beloved words, You have arrived at your destination.”  Lamenting my mistakes for too long would be like standing by my smoking car on the side of the highway crying instead of getting on the phone to call for a tow-truck. Does it stink having to pay for a tow and two cars right now? Yes. Does lamenting my situation move me forward on my journey? That would be a big NO.

I’ve decided to share my top 3 financial detours with you and what I’ve learned from them so that maybe you can learn from my mistakes too.

Financial Detour #1: Where the heck are we? Before we got married, my husband and I split bills down the middle without actually co-mingling our money. After we got married we kept this arrangement because it seemed fair. Bills would be divvied up based on our separate incomes and any money we had left in our individual bank accounts was ours to do with as we pleased. Unfortunately, my husband and I didn’t get on the same financial page till we found ourselves moving to a single income when my daycare business failed. By then, we each had a fair amount of credit card debt the other didn’t know about and neither of us really could say where our money was going every month.

Lesson Learned: Get on the same page with your significant other and do it now, before an extreme change of circumstances forces you to do it. You can’t move forward toward financial independence if you and your partner are driving different cars. Once we combined accounts and got real about our debt, we were able to make a budget and design our road-map out of debt. Happily, we are continuing to move out of debt, albeit slowly, but all that matters is that we keep moving forward together.

Financial Detour #2: Not having AAA. Only once you’ve broken down do you regret not having AAA. I know I did as I sat on the side of the highway with my family waiting for a tow-truck last Friday. The financial equivalent of AAA is an emergency fund. Sure, you may not need a financial cushion this minute, but boy will you regret not having one when your bank account hits the red and is hemorrhaging money. Before we went down to one income, I didn’t give an emergency fund much thought. I lived in the moment, crossing my fingers that nothing bad would happen. Then every car repair or unexpected expense felt like the end of the world because I didn’t have money to cover it.

Lesson Learned: Now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I know one of the most important things to have is an emergency fund. Financial experts like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey recommend having at least a starter fund of $1,000 and then build up to roughly 6 to 8 months of your monthly income. Luckily, we had an emergency fund in place when we lost both our cars this past week. Although we were just starting to grow our fund, we did have enough to cover most of the purchase of two used cars. We’ll still have to take a small loan to cover the difference, but it won’t be nearly as devastating to our budget as it would have been if we had nothing.

Financial Detour #3: Calculating my self-worth in dollars. I suspect that I am not the only stay-at-home mom that has struggled with doubting my worth because I don’t have a pay stub that places a dollar value on my time. Perhaps I might have felt differently if my husband and I made an advance decision that I would stay at home with our kids rather than having it thrust upon us by circumstance. As it was, going from work-for-pay to work-for-family (a.k.a. for free, mostly 24 hours a day, and mostly unrecognized), I had a hard time recognizing my value without a way to quantify it. Let’s face it, in our society you are defined by your work-for-pay job. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a stay-at-home mom and I sometimes feel a little self-conscious, wondering if that somehow makes me a less valuable person in their eyes. After all, there is nothing in that job description that would indicate to people that I have a BA degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Nor does it say that I’ve worked for nearly 10 years coordinating marketing and special events for various non-profits.

Lesson Learned: I had to change the way I viewed myself (sans paycheck). The world is going to think what they want about me. They will try to quantify my worth based on my paycheck (or lack thereof). So I have to know how important my job is – I am responsible for two little lives and the way they turn out will be a result of how good of a parenting job I do (along with my husband of course). I can’t afford to wait around for society to recognize how valuable a mother’s work really is, I have to know it for myself. I am CEO of our family finances. I am my children’s first teacher. I am my husband’s anchor. Without me, his life would not be the same and the same goes for me. I can’t feel guilty that I don’t contribute dollars and cents to our budget. Frankly there’s no time for guilt on this road; not if I ever hope to reach my destination.

Staying at home with my kids has been amazing. The things I can do for and with my family is invaluable and it’s given me the chance to pursue my dreams. I’m finally working on writing that book I’ve always wanted to. I used to say to myself, “I can’t do that because I’m too busy with work and the kids,” but really, I just used my job as an excuse. You can’t fail if you never try, right? Well, I’ve learned that you can’t afford not to pursue your passion even if you never get a dime for it. Money is important, but it does NOT define you.

Hopefully you can learn something from my financial detours. If you’re feeling brave, share your financial detours with me and the other HV Parent readers and we can all help each other on the road to financial independence.

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