In a recent poll at my Everyday Cheapskate website, I asked: What would you do with an unexpected windfall of $10,000?
Responses ranged from saving every penny to giving all of it away to using it to get caught up on bills. This got me thinking: What fascinating answer would I get if I changed the word “windfall” to “expense,” as in, “How will you respond if tomorrow you get clobbered with an unexpected expense of $10,000?”
Perhaps you recall the John Wayne movie where the wounded cowboy bites down on a bullet while a doctor performs some off-camera surgical procedure with the aid of a red-hot buck knife and a bottle of whiskey. Now, I’m not suggesting that getting socked with a big, unexpected expense causes pain anywhere close to surgery without the benefit of anesthesia. What I am saying is how we respond to financial challenges says a lot about our character. We can take cover and hide behind fear and denial or bite the bullet, face the problem head-on and do what we must.
Take the couple I met years ago, when we were guests on an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” They bit the bullet when they sold their house and possessions and lived in their car for two years to get their finances straightened around. I don’t recall exactly how they worked this out — small details having to do with showers and running water escape me. However, their delight with having done such a difficult yet noble thing to get their lives back on track was compelling.
Another couple, Ray and Liz, were living the high life in pricy Orange County, California, when they ran headlong into a severe economic downturn. Rather than rely on credit to keep up their wealthy image, they decided to bite the bullet. They sold their semi-mansion with its high four-figure monthly payment in favor of a modest three-bedroom condominium in another community. As humiliating as it was at the time, this experience transformed their lives in such positive ways they’ve made this downgrade permanent.
It’s been quite a few years now since the Sandoval family of New Jersey made the agonizing decision to bite the bullet for an entire school year. They moved their kids from a pricey private school to a public school so they could pull themselves from a financial hole. Difficult? At first. But as they look back, they see benefits they’d not anticipated. The very things they feared in the public school system turned out to improve their children’s education immeasurably. Now debt-free, they’ve decided to stick with the public schools.
I chose to bite the bullet the day I sold my car to become a ride-sharing passenger. Believe me when I say this was painful. But the financial impact of no car payment, no insurance, no maintenance, no annual registration or smog checks, and no car washes, brake jobs or tire replacements eased the pain considerably.
For some, biting the bullet means canceling cable TV, taking a brown bag to work or opting for do-it-yourself manicures. It might mean cutting up the credit cards, firing the lawn guy, learning to cook or vacationing at home — or all of the above.
When financial problems strike, it’s easy to run and hide. But it takes courage, commitment and a can-do attitude to find a solution and bite down on that bullet.
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