My expensive, horrible, no-big-deal, normal month

A few weeks ago, I was doing dishes and had a load of laundry running. Suddenly I heard the sound of rushing water—something was wrong. I ran into the bathroom. The washing machine wasn’t draining, all the water was backing up into the bathroom. I could hear all the drains gurgling. I grabbed a bucket and tried emptying the washing machine by pouring the water down the sink drain. That backed up too.

Ugh. You know that feeling when you know it’s bad? When you know something is really wrong? I hate that feeling.

I ran down to the cellar to take a look at the pipes and I no sooner got down there, when a drain exploded spraying gray water everywhere. I frantically shut off all the water and ran upstairs and called a plumber.

While I waited for the plumber, I worried about the money. And then I realized it had been a long time since I’d experienced that feeling. I haven’t missed it.

Since I started budgeting years ago, I’ve felt in control of my money—which I realize now—has insulated me from worrying about money. I know what’s important to me and I budget accordingly. Even when things were tight, the budget cleared a path forward. I didn’t have to stress about money.

Anyway, back to my plumbing problems…

I live in the country in an old farmhouse and the septic system is pretty old. It occurred to me that the leach bed may have failed and the entire system might need to be replaced. That could cost anywhere between $7,000 and $15,000 depending on what needed to be done.

I’m all about rolling with the punches, but this could be a very large punch. And I can’t exactly postpone the work. I can’t live here without water.

To make it worse, the plumbing crisis comes on the heels of two very expensive vet bills for two of my cats (totaling just under $1,000) and a new car battery. “Why does everything have to happen at once? Why?” Because, the universe, that’s why.

I could feel my stress level rising. It was the not knowing. I needed to know: what would I do if I need a new septic system? How would I pay for this?

Refinancing was an option. I could refinance and just roll it into a new mortgage and carry on. But that is a big decision. And refinancing is not a simple fix, and it comes with its own costs. How much could I afford before needing to refinance? $7,000? $10,000? $12,000? Where was my limit?

The Answers Lay in the Budget

So I opened it and looked around. I had $1,300 in a category for replacing the furnace. Ok, I could take that. There’s $1,200 in one category to finish up some work around the house. Ok, that gets me to $2,500, and that wouldn’t be too painful.

I was starting to feel better.

I could take some from my new car category, I just bought this car and it’s running fine. So now I’m at $4,000. I do have a healthy emergency fund, so there’s that.

This wasn’t going to be too bad. Not because I make loads of money or because I’ve got it all together, but simply because I’ve been using Rule Two: Embrace Your True Expenses, to spend less than I bring in, always thinking long-term. Some of these funds have been building up for years. Those reserves are now giving me options I would not have had otherwise. I expect unexpected things to happen, I just don’t know when they’ll happen (all at once apparently) or how much they’ll cost.

As I looked over the budget, finding dollars here and there, I realized: This will be ok. I might be able to roll with it after all. Would it hurt? Yes, it would be painful, but doable. And if I ultimately decided it wasn’t, and refinancing was the best way to go, at least I’d be making that decision with a full picture of my financial situation in front of me. I wouldn’t be making this decision in the dark. I’m still in control.

Finally, Plumber #1 arrived, and determined that the main sewer line was clogged. Hooray! A clogged sewer line? Oh man, this is the best news ever!

He was unable to free the clog and recommended Plumber #2 who specialized in this kind of thing. I was dialing his number as Plumber #1 was pulling out of the driveway.

“Well, it’s $115 for a weekend service call and another $290 to snake the drain. Do you still want me to come out?”

“Yes, please come now.” I budget, I’ve got this. Come at me clogged sewer drain! I will take you down with my emergency prevention funds!

Budgeting gives you the calm you need in a crisis. It gives you the ability to stay focused on all your priorities, and weigh decisions thoroughly. It removes worry.

You see, in the middle of all this, I was still able to pay bills, start some Christmas shopping, pick up some materials for a quilt I’m working on, and take my mom out to eat. I even signed up for a hiking course at REI.

Before YNAB, any one of these things would have been a crisis. Most likely, I would have reached for the credit card and then worried about how I would pay it off. I would have lost several hours of sleep.

Not this time. I budget, therefore I am.

  • Clogged sewer drain: $550.
  • Expensive Kitties: $1000
  • New Car Battery: $160.
  • Peace of mind from being able to handle any financial decision: Priceless