Sometimes You Gotta’ Bite the Bullet

Some years ago, I asked members of my Debt-Proof Living website this question: What would you do with an unexpected windfall of $10,000?

Responses ranged from saving every penny to giving all of it away to using all of it to get caught up on bills. This got me thinking: What fascinating response would I get if I changed the word “windfall” to “expense” as in, “How will you respond if tomorrow you get clobbered with an unexpected expense of $10,000?”


Suddenly, my mind races back to any number of old western movies where the wounded cowboy bites down on a bullet while doc performs some off-camera surgical procedure with the aid of a red-hot Buck knife and a bottle of whiskey.

Now, I’m not suggesting that getting socked with a big unexpected expense causes pain anywhere close to surgery without the benefit of anesthetic. What I am saying is how we respond to financial challenges says a lot about our character. We can take cover and hide behind fear and denial or we can bite the bullet, face the problem head-on and do what we have to do.

Take the couple profiled on an early episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. They bit the bullet when they sold their house and possessions and lived in their car for two years to get their finances straightened around. I don’t recall exactly how they worked this out—small details having to do with showers and running water escape me. However, their delight with having done such a difficult yet noble thing to get their lives back on track was compelling.

Another couple, Ray and Liz, were living the high life in pricey south Orange County, Calif., when they ran headlong into a severe economic downturn. Rather than rely on credit to keep up their wealthy image, they decided to bite the bullet. They sold their semi-mansion with its high four-figure monthly payment in favor of a modest three-bedroom condominium in another community. As humiliating as it was at the time, this experience transformed their lives in such positive ways, they’ve made this downgrade permanent.

The Sandoval family of New Jersey made the agonizing decision to bite the bullet for an entire school year. They moved their kids from an expensive private school to public so they could pull themselves from a financial hole. Difficult? At first. But as they look back they see benefits they’d not anticipated. The very things they feared in the public school system turned out to improve their children’s education immeasurably. Now, debt-free they’ve decided to stick with the public schools.

I chose to bite the bullet the day I sold my car to become a ride-sharing passenger. Believe me when I say this was painful. But the financial impact of no car payment, no insurance, no maintenance, no annual registration or smog-checks, no car washes, brake jobs or tire replacements eased the pain considerably.

For some, biting the bullet means canceling cable TV, taking a brown bag to work or opting for do-it-yourself manicures. It might mean cutting up the credit cards, firing the lawn guy, learning to cook or vacationing at home. Or all of the above.

When financial problems strike, it’s easy to run and hide. But it takes courage, commitment, and a can-do attitude to figure out a solution and to bite down on that bullet.

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4 replies
  1. ThistleCoveFarm
    ThistleCoveFarm says:

    I’m a victim of “Obamacare” or, as I put it, “Obamadon’tcare” and my health insurance deductible of $6,000.00 with a monthly payment of almost $1,000.00 staggers the imigination. All that changed when the insurer canceled me January 1 but didn’t let me know until Feb 3. Until first of the month, I live with the constant threat of catastrophic illness but then I’m eligible for Medicare. All that to say, in some instances there’s not much one can do except bite the bullet, hope and pray for the best.
    Over 4 years ago, I gave up sat t.v. and have never regretted it; I also enjoy the more than $1000.00 I’ve saved and the time…the time saved as been priceless.

  2. Now what?
    Now what? says:

    I’ve had rough times in the past. The downturn took my job, my savings and my retirement accounts. I had less than $1000 cash left and was thinking the next step would be to sell my car when I finally found a job (paying roughly half of what I made before). I had no debt other than a dirt cheap mortgage (you seriously couldn’t rent a bad apt. in my town for my mortgage payment). Luckily, I lived below my means before the bottom fell out & thus had savings. I fought the urge to live on credit when I was broke but that would have been my fall back plan for a sudden emergency expense. Now, I fear the bottom falling again in the future so I haven’t changed much about my lifestyle even though I’m finally earning more now than I did before the downturn. I had to buy a new(er) car recently – I paid cash. I’ve never felt so grown up. I’ve never been able to do such a thing. I have over a year of my gross salary saved. I’ve worked hard to get here but I don’t know what to do next. I have saved. I feel financially secure. Now what? I’m terrified that after all of that hard work, I’m going to screw it up by not making the right decisions with my savings. I debate how much is okay to spend. Should I go ahead and renovate my house? Would it be foolish to finally spend the $ to restore my first car? Is it smarter to invest this $ and continue to put off unnecessary purchases and expenses for now so I can continue to save up? Should I pay off the last of the mortgage (the only thing influencing my credit score)? Honestly, it takes a crisis to get me to spend money b/c otherwise I second guess whether I should be spending it. It’s hard to make a wrong decision if you just don’t do anything but that’s not a good long term strategy. I would love to read more articles here about what to do when you come out on the other side of debt or hard times – a financial maintenance plan or something similar.
    PS – thanks for the solid advice you share to help people find financial security.

  3. Emily Booth
    Emily Booth says:

    Such a great question! I am retired. But if hit with a $10K expense, where I would not want to use my emergency fund (thank you Mary!), I would zero out my annual budget for travel & some other non mandatory expenses & get a part time job to make up the difference. I would try that not buying anything for a year approach.

    I would never live in my car. I need a roof over my head & indoor plumbing.

    Public schools can be excellent. Almost all of the top 10 high schools in my state are public schools. 4 or 5 of these schools are in the city.

  4. donnafreedman
    donnafreedman says:

    Absolutely agree! In my second book I address the notion of “sacrifice”:

    “Putting off one’s immediate desires used to be a defining characteristic of adulthood. First apartments and first homes were small and modestly decorated; in fact, ‘decorate’ was often code for ‘things from your grandparents’ attics.’ Making it in the real world meant years of hard work and of using it up, wearing it out, making it do or doing without.

    “That notion may seem downright quaint to those who grew up in a culture of buy now and pay eventually. Why shouldn’t you have the latest smartphone upgrade? Why shouldn’t your first apartment have throw pillows and wallpaper borders and pillow shams that match the dust ruffle? Why shouldn’t your kids have the best that money can buy?

    “Because you pay for many months or even for years, that’s why, and because it’s not just the interest charges that hurt. Being in debt means opportunity cost – think of where that money could have gone! – and more to the point, it limits your options. How many people do you know hate their jobs but can’t afford to quit because they need to make minimum payments on the credit cards that paid for all the things they bought to take their minds off the fact that they hate their jobs?

    “…Frugal people do attend shows and sporting events, buy cars and take vacations. What they don’t do is get these things by going into debt without a clear plan to pay it off. That’s like sticking your head in a lion’s mouth on the theory that it might not be hungry today. But it probably is – and you won’t know for sure until you feel the jaws clamp down.”


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