A metaphor
Underneath the OakKris and I did more yardwork today — it never ends. We wheeled out the chipper and continued to grind away at the branches and the leaves. We spread the resulting mulch at the base of our blueberries and grapes.

After about ninety minutes of work, however, disaster struck. Kris was pouring a tub of oak leaves and acorns into the hopper when the chipper ground to a halt. I crossed my fingers that there’d be a quick fix, but no such luck.

I am not a handy man. My father was good at diagnosing and fixing mechanical problems, but mostly I just get frustrated. Still, I’ve learned that it’s worth my while to toy with things before taking something in for repair. I figured it would cost me at least $100 to repair the chipper, so it was probably worth at least an hour or two of my time.

I steeled myself for the task and dove in. After disconnecting the spark plug, I began opening the various access points, looking for possible jams. There were many. After an hour of minor frustration after minor frustration, I managed to get the chipper in working order again. Just in time to put it away for the season. (While I’d been working, Kris raked everything else by hand and carted the leaves over the garden plot in the wheelbarrow.)

That wasn’t the end of my trouble, however.

Next we got out the chainsaw to cut up the larger branches. Wouldn’t you know it? Whoever used it last — probably me — had put it away with an oil leak and a dislodged chain. I had to spend another twenty minutes tinkering with the chainsaw to get it operational.

I tell these two anecdotes not to encourage you to perform your own maintenance — though that’s a worthy goal — but to emphasize the value of persevering when you simply want to give up. These sorts of problems make me want to curl into a fetal ball, but I force myself to deal with them.

The same is true with my finances.

An explanation
Over the past few years, as I’ve worked to eliminate my debt, my “money machine” has become jammed from time-to-time. In February of 2006, somebody smashed a window on my car, stealing my cell phone and a couple thousand dollars in camera equipment. We had to spend a large sum to repair some sewer pipes this summer. Our vacation to Europe, while fun, was an unexpected expense that delayed my goals.

Along the way, there have been dozens of little glitches, all of which were frustrating. But I’ve learned not to give up. It’s natural to get a little glum when your financial plans go wrong, but I’ve found that if I solve the problem and move on, I actually feel much better in the long run. Here are few points to keep in mind when you run into unexpected financial trouble:

  • Believe in yourself. Though you may not know exactly how to solve the problem at hand, trust in yourself to find a solution. You’re smart. Stay positive, solve the problem, and learn from the experience.
  • Seek help. When I encounter a setback, I often seek advice on the web. I also have a small collection of how-to books that help me deal with problems, financial or otherwise. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and family for support.
  • Keep the larger goal in mind. A setback is just that: a temporary roadblock on your journey to something more important. Ignore the present and keep your mid on the future.
  • Relax. When something goes wrong, my first reaction is to become tense and to storm around full of doom and gloom. That’s not smart. It doesn’t accomplish anything. I find that if I simply relax, take things slowly, and keep everything in perspective, I’m much better able to problem solve.

Though equipment problems tempted me to give up today, I’m glad I didn’t. The leaves have only begun to fall. We still have several more hours of yardwork ahead of us in the coming weeks before we’re fully prepared for winter. But when we’re finished, the place will look great.

Likewise, I’m glad I didn’t give up on my debt when I was faced with setbacks. It would have been easy to do so. But I know that when I’m finished, being free of my consumer debt will feel awesome.

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