Recognizing the new normal
Adjusting to Sudden Economic Changes
by Kamia Taylor
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After surviving a catastrophic accident, and watching friends and family members go through divorces, layoffs and major illnesses, I have concluded that the one thing we all do that destroys our finances is failing to immediately accept the new normal of our lives. Quickly adjusting to sudden economic changes is important to your monetary well-being.
For nearly four years after being incapacitated by a drunk driver, I constantly talked about when I was going to be back to "normal" and what I would be able to again accomplish. This was despite the fact that I had gone from being the major bread winner and walking easily to being unable to work and using a wheelchair. It's nice to dream big and hope for the best, but by not focusing on where I was at that very moment, a lot of the really poor decisions were made.
Instead of adjusting to the changes, I bought items I couldn't hold up, didn't take the necessary steps to protect my finances, didn't do what was needed to make the house more accommodating to my life, and wasted time and money that didn't need to be wasted. I could have sold all of the things I had purchased to renovate the property and paid several bills. Instead, it all sat waiting to be used "someday when life was normal again." I told myself I would be back to work soon enough and didn't bother to apply for food stamps, disability, utility assistance, or anything else. When the time came that I realized I didn't have any money for groceries, and we were down to our last $14.86 with no hope of more money coming in any time soon, the applications I then sheepishly completed took weeks, if not months, to process, and we faced real starvation.
So when confronted with a major life change, what should you do? Allow yourself a very brief period to mourn the loss of life as you knew it. Then you simply must accept your new normal. It doesn't matter what you used to do, have, or be. The old you is gone, possibly never to return. So grit your teeth and do an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses and what you have as of today. Be ruthless.
If you're unemployed and entitled to compensation, go down and put in that application the very next day. If you have no means of income, apply for whatever assistance your state offers, whether welfare, food stamps, etc. Yes, it can be humiliating for someone not accustomed to doing so, but it's less discouraging than when your lights get shut off and you're shivering in the dark.
Get over the embarrassment you may feel and immediately tell your friends and family members what has happened. I didn't ask for help and tried to do things alone when I was no longer capable of doing so. In today's world of social media, it takes only a moment to let everyone know what's going on in your world and to ask for their suggestions on dealing with whatever challenge or catastrophe has come your way. Once I got over my pride, I was amazed how much easier my life became because people really do want to help and often have wonderful ideas.
The same applies to your creditors and monthly bills. Why wait until they're hounding you, or you've given them the dollars you needed to survive on? You may plan on getting another job or receiving a windfall, but until you do, you're broke. Let them all clearly know that. Be implacable. Don't give away one dime that could feed you or keep a roof over your head. Let them offer you whatever solutions exist. Once they do, deal ruthlessly with your budget. You now need to be in survival mode. That great credit rating isn't the first thing you need to protect.
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Cut every expense you can. Your family may have grown accustomed to wonderful Christmas gifts, but let them know it won't be happening this year. Sell that second car. Turn off the cable TV. Because you already have lost so much, it can be nauseating to systematically get rid of what little conveniences you have left. But, isn't it better to do it earlier and voluntarily instead of having everything torn away from you because you didn't?
I promise you that the sooner you accept whatever your new normal is and aggressively learn to live within it, the better off you'll be. And if, as most of us hope, life does improve, you'll be much better positioned to enjoy the better times when they do come.
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