This guest post from Avistew is part of the new “reader stories” feature here at Get Rich Slowly. Some reader stories contain general “how I did X” advice, and others will be examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. For the past year or so, Avistew has been an active and eloquent commenter on this site. Here’s her story.

Many readers of this blog started their journey with debt, and had to learn to save. My journey was the opposite. I had to learn to spend. The important part of “Get Rich Slowly” for me was always the “Slowly”. I used to think I was doing fine: I put money aside every month, I barely spent anything — I didn’t even need to pay a rent. But I was miserable.

This is how my life was before, when my husband and I were living in France:

  • I had a stressful, minimum-wage job. I worked in a frozen-food store, which meant I split my time between carrying boxes of frozen goods into a huge freezer (which made my asthma worse) and dealing with customers at rush hour. I hated it.
  • I didn’t pay rent: My parents let my husband and I use an small apartment they owned. For free. This came with a heavy price, though. My parents would drop by without warning, and meddle with our life constantly. But it meant free rent, so we put up with it.
  • We were more than frugal — we were cheap. We bought the cheapest of everything, no matter if the quality wasn’t there. We dropped what we called “luxuries”, basically anything that wasn’t needed to survive. We bought food, but no junk food, no frozen pizzas, no chocolate, no desserts (save for fruit), no treats. Ever. We never bought drinks: Water was good enough and we could get it from the tap. We never ate out or ordered in. We didn’t buy any entertainment-related things. No books, CDs, DVDs, or comic books. No going to the theatre. Everything we owned was borrowed, a gift, or something we had purchased prior to getting married.

We were piling up money, so we thought we were doing things right. But it was never enough. I started being obsessed with money. We could never save enough of it: I wanted to cut off more and more. Sometimes I’d go without eating just to spend less.

I’d forgotten that money is a means, not an end. I’d forgotten that the goal is to save up to have a good life, not to have more money.

And then the crap hit the fan.

And here my troubles began
First came the health problems. My husband’s psoriasis (which is stress-triggered) spread to over 90% of his body, accompanied by intense swelling. He had to spend two weeks in the hospital before he was allowed to come out.

Without him to keep me sane, I stressed out more and more. I started having anxiety attacks and developed agoraphobia. I quit my job after having a breakdown in front of everyone in the store.

My parents were worried. The became more present than ever, even when I told them about my stress, and that I needed them to stay away, not contact us unless contacted, and not drop by unannounced. They kept doing it all until I became terrified of them.

Soon after my husband was released from the hospital, my parents came banging at our door one night. When I refused to see them, they accused my husband of keeping me locked up against my will. They threatened to denounce him to the police, and said they would get me in an asylum.

I was already completely panicked, and this didn’t help. Both my parents are doctors, I thought, is there a way they could do it? I would certainly seem crazy to anyone who checked up on me. Hell, I seemed crazy to me.

They were noisy enough to alert the neighbors, who made them leave. We were completely panicked. What if they came back? What if they had us taken away and separated? We needed each other more than ever.

A survivor’s tale
My husband is Canadian, I’m French. We decided right away that we’d move to Canada, stay with his parents at first, and get our own place once we could afford it. We immediately booked plane tickets online. This was Friday. We bought the first available seats on Tuesday.

We had a weekend to get ready before leaving for another continent. That weekend was in some ways the hardest of my life; in other ways, it was a blessing.

We had to sort through all our possessions. With such a short notice, we didn’t have time to sell anything. Neither could we take everything along, with only two suitcases allowed each.

  • Books and the like mostly had to be left behind. The bibliophile in me cried the hardest at that. I had books from the time I was born until the time I got married, only a year prior. Every one of them had memories attached to it.
    We gathered those we couldn’t live without and had them shipped — at a hefty price.
  • CDs, DVDs, videogames had to be packed without their cases. That was probably harder than it should have been. How can you care so much about a plastic case?
  • Furniture, appliances had to be left behind. What wasn’t too big to take along or ship wouldn’t have been compatible in Canada anyways.

And we left. We sent the keys and a letter explaining everything to my parents from the airport. As soon as the plane took off, we felt so much better. Like we had escaped from a prison. (But for the most part, we’d built that prison ourselves.)

Learning from the past
We were adamant that we wouldn’t make the same mistakes again in Canada, so here’s what we did:

  • We left my husband’s parents’ place as soon as he got a job. We could have stayed longer — it would have been cheaper — but who knows how that would have turned out?
  • We established an actual budget. Up to that point, it was “buy whatever is cheapest”. Now, with an actual budget, we know if we can treat ourselves without putting a hole in our pockets.
  • We created entertainment categories. One for the two of us, and one each. Now we can have a date, or buy something we like, and we don’t need to worry too much about it. Because we have our individual fun funds, we can buy a gift for each other without spending each other’s money.

The biggest lesson there though is that although money is important, it’s not that important. [J.D.'s note: Repeat after me, everyone: "It's more important to be happy than it is to be rich."]

When we left, it cost us a lot. Plane tickets bought a few days before the date, boxes shipped the day before we left, and of course all our utilities had to be cancelled on such a short notice, so there were fees involved there. If we hadn’t been living in France, the hospital stay might have ruined us, too.

But the thing is, we didn’t care. We didn’t think the money was as important. And sure, we wasted a lot of it. Had we not pushed ourselves so much, we wouldn’t have had to spend nearly as much. But we’re glad we spent it.

My advice to everyone would be: Invest in yourself. Invest in your happiness, your health, your education. If you don’t, it’ll cost you more than you’ll save. (Financially or otherwise.)

And you know what? We’re still saving! We didn’t make the opposite mistake of overspending and going into debt. There’s a middle ground.

I think there’s a danger, when you used to be in debt, to overdo it and make the opposite mistakes. To become what I used to be. I want to tell you: It’s not worth it. Try to reach a balance. If you’re saving, you’re saving, and that’s good. Could you save more? Maybe, but make sure it’s worth it first.
Sometimes, it’s better in the long run to save less.

Reminder: This is a story from one of your fellow readers. Please be nice. After nearly a decade of blogging, I have a thick skin, but it can be scary to put your story out in public for the first time. Remember that this guest author isn’t a professional writer, and is just learning about money like you are.

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