When things turn around – for the better

I recently realized I needed to change my tax withholding information for work. I wasn’t taking enough deductibles each year (as evidenced by the refunds I’ve been getting for years), so I submitted a new W4 form a few weeks back. The results are in, and it’s pretty amazing – I actually got a 10% “raise” in the process.

If I were my mother, I’d be shouting “Praise God!” to the heavens, Praising His Name to everyone within earshot. And I’m almost there, myself.

It’s just now sinking in. The more I think about it, the bigger news this is for me. This changes everything. It’s pulling me back from the brink in so many ways. Even just that little boost is making the difference between a barely-scraping-by subsistence frame of mind, and actually feeling like I can plan my life.

It’s pretty phenomenal. I have now gone from being strictly hand-to-mouth… pinching pennies each week, sweating it out about how much I run the heat and electricity, driving on fumes till I’m almost out of gas by the side of the road, postponing necessary car repairs that will prevent larger problems later, and buying those $2.94 lunches at work each day.

For the record, it’s actually pretty filling, considering how cheap it is, and I can buy at the cafeteria cheaper than I can make it myself, but now the thought that I actually have a choice, is just phenomenal.

Holy crap. And all of a sudden, the world looks that much more friendly. I have been seriously stressed about money for years, now, and after realizing my mistake, I did something about it. This is all coming from my troubles after my TBI in 2004, when my brain stopped working the way it was supposed to… and it’s coming at a time when my spouse and I have been pushed to the absolute limit of our endurance. The money situation has been literally tearing us apart, and this break comes at a critical juncture, when we are going into a winter season that promises to be cold, with neither of us able to afford getting sick from not having enough heat.

Now, with just this little boost, I can quit hovering over every cent they spend, harassing them over every cup of coffee they buy on the road, instead of making it at home, fussing over ordering a large size versus a medium or small size, and worried over which utility is going to threaten us this month with shutoff.

Just a little bit can make a huge difference. And looking back at my tax forms, I realize that I didn’t do the math correctly there, either, and I did not get the full refunds I was entitled to. So, I’m going to be refiling my taxes from the past three years in the coming weeks, and it looks like I’ll get something from that as well.

Which means I can pay off some debts that are sucking us dry each month, a little bit at a time. I just might be able to fix my 15-year-old car with the radiator problems, iffy starter, and bad struts. I might just be able to have an electrician come in and fix the wiring in the dining room that’s been out for the past several years, because we didn’t have the money to get it fixed. And I just might be able to buy some new pajama bottoms — the ones I wear are about 10 years old, and they’re getting threadbare. When I look around the house at everything we have here, most of it has been given to us, and the rest has been cobbled together, piece by piece. We have very few truly nice things. We don’t live like paupers, and we have almost everything we need to live like normal human beings, but it’s a humble existence, truly.

I’m not complaining. I’m just noticing.

And the thought of things turning around… well, that’s just phenomenal. Indeed, coming out of the past three years of severe lack and limitation — every “extra” dime we’ve had has gone into paying off the mountain of debt we acquired over the years (especially since my TBI in 2004), and it has been hard. We have done without so very much. So very, very much. Basic medical care. Basic necessities. And the opportunities to see family, who are all several states away. I’ve had to pass up job opportunities, too, because I did not have the extra money to front the airfare to go to the home office and get “face time” with the higher-ups. It’s been hard. Really, really hard.

But this is changing. Which means I need to shift my perspective away from just survival, to how to manage this new “windfall”. 10% more money in the bank might not seem like a lot, but it’s actually even more than that, relatively speaking. See, a good 2/3 of my paycheck goes to paying off the mortgage as well as old debts, each month. So, that leaves 1/3 of my paycheck for us to live on each month. (Nothing like trying to buy groceries, the night before payday and having the cashier tell you your debit card was declined. Horrible.)

But now with this “raise”, taking the amounts set aside for mortgage and debt payments out of the picture, I am actually seeing over 40% more takehome pay, each paycheck. That puts it in a better perspective. Relatively speaking, after the money is allocated to the house and those creditors, I am seeing almost 1-1/2 times as much pay, as I was seeing before.

Yes, that makes all the difference in the world.

And that means I need to make some adjustments. I need get out of the hand-to-mouth way of thinking, and squirrel some of this money aside. I need to beef up the house and car repairs fund that we had (and drained) earlier this year. I need to look at the long-term plan for getting rid of the debit load and saving for the future. I know I need to get a new (to me) car, because my trusty little commuter car is having more and more problems, so I need to plan for that, as well.

Long story short, I have some thinking to do. And planning. My spouse and I need to sit down with the numbers and make a plan — that’s based on future prospects, rather than just a knee-jerk reaction designed to ease the pain of daily existence (as has been our tendency for many years, now). I’m coming out of a very dark place, and things are turning around for me, and I need to adjust accordingly.

So, it’s time to sit down and look at numbers. And get priorities together. And move ahead. Just move ahead.

The crazy thing is, I woke up early this morning – around 4:00 a.m. – feeling incredibly down. I was so depressed and felt so hemmed in, it brought me to tears. I felt like there was no way out, that I was stuck, and I was never going to get free… and that part of my brain that loves to give in to despair started thinking about how much my life insurance was worth, and how I was worth more dead than alive. That comes up, every now and then, when I am feeling stuck in a corner with no way out. It’s horrible.

Then I called my bank and checked my balance, since my paycheck went in at midnight. And everything started to look brighter. As in, blindingly.  Everything turned around, just when things were seeming their darkest. And it went from the abyss to the mountain top.

Now, granted, there are still challenges, and I still have a lot of work to do, but this is a start. It gets me out of the red and to a place where I’m doing slightly better than just breaking even. I have years’ worth of backlogged obligations to take care of, and now they don’t have to hang over my head anymore. I can take care of these things, one at a time. Systematically and regularly and with a good plan that makes sense and as my spouse’s cooperation. I don’t have to live in horror and dread because of a bad credit rating, because now I can suddenly afford to pay for things when they come up.

And life is good again.

How quickly things can turn around. How quickly they can change. I just need to keep steady and not lose my head over things… and make sure my spouse is in synch with reality. Already, they’re starting to talk about skimming a little bit off the top, here and there, so I need to nip that tendency in the bud, before it puts us back where we’ve been.

I’m tired of being here. I need to get out. I need to move on. Make the most of what I have — however much or little that may be — and get back on the good foot.

Use my head. Be smart about things. And go. Really go.

The bottom line is, I must never give up. Because things might just turn around radically without me ever expecting it. Never give up. Never, ever, ever give up.