Sometime ago, I posted a poll asking my Everyday Cheapskate audience, “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 it to get caught up on bills. This got me thinking: What fascinating answers 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?”
Perhaps you recall the John Wayne movie 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, hide behind fear and denial, bite the bullet, face the problem head-on, and do what we must.
Take the couple profiled on an 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 precisely how they worked this out—small details about showers and running water escape me. However, their delight in 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 big bucks 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.
It’s been quite a few years since the Sandoval family of New Jersey made the agonizing decision to bite the bullet for an entire school year. They moved their kids from a pricey private school to public so they could pull themselves from a financial hole. Difficult? At first. But as they looked back they saw benefits they’d not anticipated. The things they feared in the public school system improved their children’s education immeasurably. Once 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, and 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, 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 find a solution and bite the bullet.
How will you respond tomorrow if you get clobbered with an unexpected expense of $10,000?