This guest post from Heather is part of the “reader stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all levels of financial maturity and with all sorts of incomes.
In 2002, I was 28 years old with a dead husband. It wasn’t a total shock: He had been sick, and there was never an expectation that he would live until a ripe old age. But still, I had entered a very small tribe of people. I was widowed young.
For a couple of years, my husband and I had argued over housing philosophy. He wanted a “forever house”, and I wanted a small house that was easily affordable because we could always move later. Four months before he got sick, we bought a beautiful “forever house” that made both of us very happy, a house that was impossible for me to afford on my own.
As part of my husband’s illness, we put 500 miles a week on our car, so that was fast running out of warranty. Since many of those miles were across open plains and I was driving by myself, I made a push for a newer car that would be healthy through the long drives and the substantial follow-up treatment if everything went well. We bought my dream car.
When my husband’s estate settled, I had:
- About six months of his salary at my disposal
- A house that would consume that money very quickly
- A car payment that was too large
- Some lingering credit debt of my own
- A job that would not sustain me
I knew that traditional wisdom says to wait a year to make any changes after a major life crisis, but if I did that I’d be out of money and far less able to adapt. I saw two big financial problems in my life: the house and the car.
I called the financer on the car. I explained that I would no longer be making payments on the car and I did a “voluntary repo”. I purchased a used car with cash.
I put the house on the market four months after my husband died. The neighborhood gossiped. I got worried looks from everyone who didn’t know me, but my inner circle of friends understood and supported my decision. I was under contract and making a few bucks within a week.
After closing on my house, leaving my job, and getting my “new” car, I took the summer off. I spent time with distant family. I went to retreats and contemplated where I wanted to live next. I went south.
I rented a nice apartment and paid for a year up front, which discounted my rent by 15% and reinforced that I was starting to build a new life. My new town had a lower cost of living and a college atmosphere, so being a newcomer was less intimidating. I started training for a profession that actually paid a living wage.
A year after my husband died, I lived in a different state, with a different car, no debt other than student loans, a new cat, and had started towards a new profession.
I have always trusted my gut, and I didn’t see any reason to stop doing that just because I was profoundly sad and lonely. In almost every aspect of my big changes, I was happy at the outcome. (I changed cars one more time because I ended up hating my first choice — good thing it was cheap!)
The last great gifts my husband gave me were:
- His estate allowed me to finish fixing my financial mistakes from college.
- His illness introduced me to a profession that allows me to make enough money to sustain myself.
- I learned that when I was sad, I would go to the bookstore and spend $100 to feel better. I don’t do that anymore.
It is possible to make solid decisions within a year of a crisis. Financial windfalls that come from death can be life-changing. Be trustworthy, and then trust yourself.
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