When Positive Change Turns Painful

We were doing great until suddenly, we weren’t.

Image: nancynance

When the recruiter rattled off the salary I was being offered at my new job, I literally dropped my phone on the floor. Including the annual bonus, it was double what I had been making. When I shared the offer with my husband, Bobby,he pulled a bottle of champagne,from the fridge and popped the cork. Some friends had gifted us that bottle months before. We’d been saving it for a special occasion.

My new job was in a bigger city, about an hour from where we owned a home and had both worked at a state university. After weighing the pros and cons of trying to sell our house, which of us would commute and whether it was worth leaving behind a group of close friends, Bobby and I decided I would bite the bullet and make the daily drive in our 2008 Nissan Versa — a beater, to be sure, but a reasonably dependable one with good gas mileage.

The only catch: The commute would be temporary. If Bobby found a new position that paid more, we would move. But even with my higher salary, paying rent on top of a mortgage (until our house sold) didn’t seem like the smartest idea. We’d lived month-to-month since we’d gotten married six years earlier, and we saw this as a chance to turn things around.

Just a couple of months later, a new opportunity fell into Bobby’s lap. A friend from college mentioned an open position at his company, It was the type of work my husband did, and so, a few phone calls later, he had scored a pretty sweet telecommute gig and more than a 20 percent bump in his salary.

In a matter of about three months, we went from living month-to-month to having so much disposable income we didn’t quite know what to do with it.

So we moved. Neither of us had to commute anymore, and since Bobby’s new job required some travel, it made sense to live closer to the nearest airport.

We borrowed money from a friend and prepared to put our house on the market. We figured we could swing rent plus mortgage for a few months until it sold, and we’d pay back the money, no problem.

Neither of us had ever had this kind of disposable income, certainly not since we got married, so we mutually decided to splurge on a few items we’d been talking about for a while. We replaced our sagging, uncomfortable bed with a sleigh bed and new mattresses. We purchased a really awesome bunk bed for our kids. Bobby got the kind of big-screen smart TV he’d been wanting for years. I finally got my coveted DSLR camera, and we bought a family iPad for Christmas.

We figured we’d live large for a few months, then turn our attention to the future. Our new family income was going to be life-changing.

Then Bobby lost his job six months in. At his six-month review, the company simply opted not to keep him. No fault, just not a good fit.

And suddenly, we were making less than we were before I had accepted my new position. We had some new, fancy stuff in our new, fancy apartment, and we couldn’t really afford any of it. Our house hadn’t sold, and our savings, which had been pulled from my retirement for closing costs on our house, started dwindling rapidly.

In short, it was ugly. It was worst-case scenario. It was nightmarish.

It’s so easy to look back and think about how I could have done things differently. But I also know myself pretty well, and I know, given the same situation, I would be prone to the same mistakes. I’ve never had a lot of money, and I don’t know how to deal with it.

So here’s what I want myself to remember next time I have a chance to improve my financial situation (because I believe it will happen):

Ask for help

I didn’t know what to do with my new income, and as a result, a lot of it slipped through our fingers more quickly than I would have imagined. Even just sitting down for a session or two with a financial advisor is better than not planning at all.

Pick your splurges more wisely

Our new jobs were worth celebrating, but we celebrated without reservation. I’m not sad about having comfortable mattresses or a nice TV, but I do wish we’d been a little smarter about saving versus spending. An extra cushion of a couple thousand dollars would come in handy right about now.

Don’t borrow money from friends

This is maybe the part I hate the most, because our friends really helped us out, and now we are struggling to repay them. They have been wonderfully understanding, but I feel pretty awkward about the situation, which makes for a strained friendship. Again, through no fault of theirs. Even if it meant waiting longer to move, not borrowing from friends is clearly a better decision.

Budget, budget, budget — and then actually stick to it

I love budgeting. In theory. In practice is a different story. I’m good at telling my money where to go, but only on paper. When we got our new jobs, Bobby and I even talked about the idea that we should live on significantly less than we were making, but I guess we both just figured we’d get around to it eventually. No rush, right?

Be generous

One thing I absolutely don’t regret from our wild, brief romp into upper-middle class status was taking more opportunities to be generous to friends and good causes. If anything, I would be more generous next time. I would just make sure it’s in our budget.

I’m still enjoying my “new” job that’s not so new any more, and Bobby is seeking out freelance opportunities. What started out as an awesome change for our family turned into a somewhat painful learning opportunity, but I hope all of it still will mean positive things for our future through lessons learned.

Misty Mathews is a communications professional, writer, wife, mom and all-around kick-ass person. You can follow her on Twitter (@mistymathews) or find more of her work at mistymathews.contently.com.

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