When Unexpected Expenses Prompt an Existential Crisis
I grew up with this notion that the goal of being a productive member of society is affording your own home. Because rent is just throwing away money and a house is an investment.
With the full admission that the following is the epitome of a first-world problem, this year I have not exactly been feeling blessed to own a home. More specifically: this spring/summer I have found myself longing for the good ol’ days when I was in school and shortly thereafter, when I rented and the solution to any problem was call someone else to deal with it. Not only could I call someone else, I didn’t have to pay for it! I mean, sure, I maybe had to wait for a fix, but still.
Perhaps we brought this on ourselves. I think I mentioned in the spring how my husband decided we should Make The House Look Good before our oldest graduated from high school, and thus began a flurry of home improvement tasks. That was fine—I mean, it was our choice, and we knew (theoretically) what we were getting into—and so we bought several tons of landscaping rocks and paid someone to clean and stain our deck and fence, and then of course there was The Bathroom Project. (The bathroom is lovely. It also still has a broken drawer in the brand-new cabinet. I don’t want to talk about it.) We shelled out a fair amount of money but were deliberate in our choices. Responsible home ownership! Look at us go!
I was nervous about the money. This is because I am always nervous about money. This is also because I am a ridiculous, neurotic human, because we are comfortable and also careful with our spending. We budgeted, we went ahead with the repairs/improvements, and everything was fine.
Over the summer, the Home Ownership deities had the last laugh. First one air conditioning unit stopped working, then just a few weeks after that was fixed, the other. (Mind you, I am glad for the southern custom of having two HVAC systems in two-story homes, otherwise we would’ve been very uncomfortable during the outages.) Then—for good measure—the AC in one of our cars went out, too. My garden was besieged by squirrels and fungus this summer, so the bounty of free (because gardening is totally free, haaaaaaaaaaaaa) produce we usually enjoy was a bust. One of the outside spigots sprung a leak. A tree fell over in our yard. Our oven freaked out and started beeping non-stop in the middle of the night for no discernible reason, and although it seems to be fine now, I’m pretty sure it’s just… waiting. There was the predictable last-minute flurry of shopping in packing a kid off to her first dorm experience.
I was managing. I mean, it’s been a pretty expensive summer, but okay. Stuff happens.
Yesterday, I walked into the little bathroom off my office and I tripped. Understand, I’m capable of tripping on dust motes, so this was unremarkable… and yet, I felt like I’d tripped on… something. I flipped the light on and examined the floor. I rocked my feet back and forth. While there was no water I could actually feel, the floor felt swollen and soggy. The Pergo—which we just put in last year, after 8 years of my office being the “eh, we’ll get to it eventually” room—was curling at the edges. Something was leaking underneath, obviously. My husband not only came home early to investigate, he went into the crawlspace to do so (hero points, right there), and although he located the issue, we do need a plumber to come fix it. But the plumber can’t come until later this week, so we just shut the water off to the bathroom for now. It’s not clear yet if we will need to replace the floor (or how much of it we’ll need to replace, I guess). And this morning I discovered nibbled edges on the candy stash in my office closet. Because of course we apparently now have mice, too. (I want to say “a mouse.” The damage is small, and there is no evidence of mice in the kitchen or pantry, thank goodness, but I also know that there is never just a single mouse.)
The plumber is coming. Pest control is coming.
We can afford what needs to be done, and in that sense we are very lucky. Also lucky: I have been doing a lot of volunteering lately instead of working, because we can afford it, and because the older and hippy-er I get, the more I want to give back to my community, and because with less than a year left at our local high school, this is my swan song of service before I’m done.
Every unexpected expense throws me into a tailspin of guilt, though. I should be working more, I think, because here’s all these expenses and I’m not earning nearly what I could. What happens when something really big happens and we don’t have the money for it? This is me catastrophizing, not anything based in reality, though of course the reality of catastrophes is that they’re always possible, and overwhelming by definition (you’re welcome). For everyday home-owner annoyances, our finances will be okay whether I work or not. For catastrophic ones, well, maybe more money will help, maybe not. The bigger issue is that I feel like I should be doing more, even during times when I’m already doing too much.
After I groused for a while about this to a very patient listener, she asked me, “So what, exactly, is the amount of money you need to earn in a year to feel like you have a right to exist?” I didn’t have an answer, but then, perhaps that was the point. I feel unworthy when I’m not making “enough” money, but 1) my worth as a human is not tied to my salary and 2) “enough” is not a quantifiable target.
I don’t know if this is a female thing, or a mom thing, or just a me thing. I know all the recent expenses have exacerbated my natural tendency to fret about this stuff, but I also know the amount of time I spent self-flagellating over whether or not my income is “okay” is… not normal. I have one year left before both kids are out of the house and I don’t want to spend it worrying about money (especially because it’s not necessary).
So: Now all I have to do is figure out how I calm the heck down. I’m open to suggestions.
Photo source: Depositphotos/auntspray
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Published August 30, 2016. Last updated May 14, 2018.