Getting Back to Normal After a Disaster

Life on earth has never been perfect, but you’d have a hard time convincing some people of that. It’s not that they are ignorant. They have selective memories.

Perhaps you can identify if you long for the way things used to be—before the disaster, when life was predictable; when mortgages were simple, retirement accounts moved in only one direction (up) and students could carry their 100-percent-financed college degrees straight into six-figure jobs.

Now that it appears things are no longer quite so perfect, you’ve put your life on hold. You’re anxiously pacing the floor trying to hold on until the insurance claim pays out, you’re called back to work, real estate sales bounce back, your loan modification comes through or some debt-settlement scheme that returns your life to the “perfect” way it was.

Here are some immediate ways to bring order and calmness back into your family life after the chaos and confusion that follows a disaster.


You can’t get through a crisis alone. Since we all were impacted differently, it is vitally important to talk about the stress and pressures you have experienced with the people closest to you. Reach out to friends and family. It will empower and help both of you.

Accept what you cannot change

As hard as it is for some of us to accept the fact that we cannot control everything, that is the truth. If you’ve lost your home, a loved one, or filed for bankruptcy—as terrible as these events have been for you—you cannot change what has happened.

Change what you can

Thankfully, far more aspects of your life fall into this category. These days, it seems that, for every letter I get from readers who is filled with gratitude that I nagged them to death to get out of debt, to build a Contingency Fund for emergencies, to fund a Freedom Account for irregular expenses and to make that shift to living below their means, I get one from someone who is beside him/herself with regret for just not getting around to it. The old “it could never happen to me,” has happened.

Focus on the future 

Normal may be a setting on your clothes dryer, but it is not an economic condition. Every moment you hang onto the past, longing for the way things used to be, is a moment lost in the present. As far as possible, concentrate on where you are and plan for how you will face the future.

Save more

Start beefing up your savings—your CF, retirement account or other savings vehicles. Even if all you can save right now is your pocket change, do it. Get serious about cutting back even more than you think possible so you have more to save. I predict that in years to come, if you have one regret it will be that you did not save more money.


If you find yourself over your head in a house you cannot afford, it’s time to move. You need to downsize into a house you can afford. Of course, I do not know your exact situation, but if you are hanging on by a thread, hoping that a loan modification will suddenly make your home affordable, think very carefully. And, weigh every issue.

Get a job

If you are not working because you’ve given up, or you’re holding out for something that fits your idea of “normal,” let that go. Reality means a job you can get right now. Find a job. Then work at upgrading to a better job.

Headed for college?

The days of a fully-funded education that you can pay back at a more convenient time, may be gone. Let me say this again: Get a job.

“F” words

Say them often and let them become part of your reality: faith, family, and friends. Without my faith, family, and friends, I don’t know where I’d be. Develop these things in your life.

Create your plan 

If you are still in credit-card debt, now’s the time to get serious. I mean it! Revisit Chapter 7 in my Debt-Proof Living book. Create your RDRP today, and commit to it as you’ve never committed before. If you’re not familiar with Debt-Proof Living that’s a change you can make right now. Check your local bookstore, library, or here.

I have noticed over the years that winners accept their realities. They don’t sit around waiting for things to change. They don’t complain and they don’t make excuses. They do what they must to make things happen. 

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3 replies
  1. Gladys Terry says:

    Mary, I know that you have addressed this topic before, but I could not find it. I am successfully paying down my credit cards to a very low balance. I believe that you said it was not a good idea to close out a card, but how much of a balance do I need to maintain.

  2. Marie says:

    Hi Mary, I just want to know that 10% of your income that you pay yourself first with. Can you spend that or are you meant continully save it?
    Thanking you.

  3. Luisa says:

    Great advice, Mary. I was lucky enough to come across your column years ago and it changed my life. I just retired and your advice over the years helped make my retirement secure. Thank you.


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