#FinHealthMatters: I Pick Up Pennies

Monday, August 8, 2016

By Abigail Perry, I Pick Up Pennies

FinCon and Center for Financial Services Innovation partnered up for a contest to have bloggers explain what financial health means to them. Here’s my take on the subject.

Most people think of financial health as a state of being. To me, it’s about a conscious journey toward stability.

When I got engaged to Tim in 2006 — me on disability, him struggling to work around severe health problems — I put us on a laser-focused repayment plan for his $20,000 in defaulted student loans.

Isn’t that financially healthy?

Our income was less than $40,000 a year and we faced a constant onslaught of medical expenses. But what could we do? We lived on as little as possible and threw every spare cent at debt.

Isn’t that financially healthy?

Sometimes the debt would increase as new medical expenses hit, like when Tim needed a $12,000 medical procedure. We were often exhausted and frustrated, but we didn’t let ourselves become disheartened. Instead, we just kept plugging away.

Isn’t that financially healthy?

A two-year engagement allowed us to get the best deals for an affordable wedding. Among our hacks were a free venue, food paid for with rewards program gift cards, music on an MP3 player, a relative as an officiant, and reselling the tablecloths, utensils and dishes at cost.

Isn’t that financially healthy?

Tim got laid off at the start of the recession. I gained a small side gig, bumping our income up to $3,100 a month. Unfortunately, $700 went to rent, $500 to insurance, and $200 (or more) to medical co-pays.

Still, we made the best of the situation. We’d keep the bare minimum out of Tim’s weekly unemployment check. The rest (and anything left over from the previous week) went to debt. This meant progress four times a month instead of two.

Isn’t that financially healthy?

When we moved to Phoenix for health reasons, I bargain-shopped every moving option. Ultimately, we took only what we could fit in a 6′ by 7′ by 8′ container.

We sold or donated the rest, then began the 1,400-mile trip from Seattle. We used fliers at rest stops to find hotel deals, paying $40–60 a night.

Isn’t that financially healthy?

Once I finally found a job I could do from home, we paid off the last $7,000 of debt in five months.

Isn’t that financially healthy?

Okay, our net worth those first five years didn’t match most people’s image of financial health. But our attitudes and our actions were always focused on financial stability. Meanwhile, we’ve bounced back — and bounced back stronger — from each money obstacle we’ve hit.

Not to mention that since 2011 we’ve bought a house, paid for more than $15,000 in repairs and replacements, and had to replace our car twice (paying for the last one in cash). Yet we still managed to save $27,000 for Tim’s dental implants.

Isn’t that financial health?

When the last dental bill comes due in September, our savings account will be drained. But finally free of that looming expense, we’ll consider ourselves financially healthier than ever.

Besides, our good money habits — careful budgeting, tracking expenses and prioritizing savings — will let us build our finances back up and weather any future nasty surprises.

Those habits are the key to financial health. They’re ones that should never stop, no matter how high your net worth.

So no, financial health isn’t a state of being. It’s a state of mind. It’s a work in progress. Above all, it’s a journey — one that, if you’re reading this post, we’re on together.

What’s your definition of financial health? Do you think you’re making headway?

This blog post originally appeared June 29, 2016 on I Pick Up Pennies. It was one of 10 winners of a national #FinHealthMatters Day essay contest created by Financial Health Network. MetLife Foundation is a major sponsor of Financial Health Network’s ongoing consumer financial health work. To learn more about FinHealthMatters from Financial Health Network, sign up here.

By Financial Health Network on August 9, 2016.

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