I view crisis in dollar signs.
An accident. A piece of bad news. A new pain. An unexpected challenge. They all ignite the same first thought: how much is this going to cost me?
When the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic started to sweep the U.S., I was lying on a beach in Mexico. I started to wonder how such a global health crisis would impact my husband and I financially, but I quickly shooed that thought away. When I get home, I will deal with that worry.
And slowly, the fear of a blow to our already strained finances started to grow. As more and more businesses closed and millions of Americans filed unemployment, I knew that we were not invincible. Not surprisingly, I was laid off (temporarily) from my retail job. Those checks paid my rent, but it was bearable because my husband still had his job. We would have to tighten our purse strings, but we would survive. It would be OK.
Then, on Friday, my husband was put on furlough. This was my exact worst fear. Losing our income was more terrifying to me than getting sick. I was naive to think I could beat the illness if I got it, but I was convinced that if this got ahold of us, it would ruin us financially. If we did have a means to pay our bills, what did we have?
I don’t have a great relationship with money. I have always been extremely stingy, to a point that is unappealing and drys up joy in life. Spending, even on things I need, gives me an intense guilt. I’ve spent most of career working in journalism and non-profits, so while I have had money coming in, it’s never been a lot. Many times in my life I’ve worked more than one job, and it wasn’t until my last job before I went to graduate school that I had a pretty decent income. Even so, I didn’t feel relaxed about money.
My anxiety with money intensified when, after I quit that good-paying job to follow a new passion, my husband lost his job about a year and half ago. He got a job a few months later, but it wasn’t brining in the money we needed, and eventually, the income dried up. I worked part-time and took every shift that I could in the fear that we would eventually run out of money. I ran myself ragged between school and two jobs, but I saw it as necessary. Money worries woke me early in the morning, and they hung on my shoulders throughout everything. I couldn’t enjoy a drink out with friends or a Saturday morning grocery shopping trip without the anxiety that I didn’t have the money to be doing whatever activity.
Then, in early 2020, we got a break when my husband got an offer for a great job. It would give him some good earning potential down the road, but the best part was that for the first time in almost a decade, he actually enjoyed what he was doing. I could finally relax a bit about money issues, even though we would still have to budget given that I was still in school and our savings accounts took a hit the year before. But, it finally felt like we were going to be OK.
Then the world fell apart.
I knew something was wrong when I went into the room where my husband was having a conference call and saw his face. It wasn’t somber or upset, but I knew something big was happening. And, then he told me, furloughed.
I cried. He had been at that job for a month, and now we were going back to white knuckling it through our bills each month. And this time, I couldn’t try to fix my worries with extra shifts or picking up side jobs to bring in money. We were just going to have outlast the storm, and hope that we can get enough money to pay the unrelenting bills.
A big regret that I had in the year that my husband was underemployed was the attitude I carried each day. I made everything about money. I screamed and cried and threw a fit at the circumstance I couldn’t change. And, I scrambled with fixes and tried to do anything to make it better. All I wanted was for the day to come when my husband got a constant-paying job that made him happy, and at times, it felt like it would never come. All of my joy was sucked dry because I linked my happiness to the amount of money coming in.
For reasons I will never know, I get another attempt at this attitude. I get the chance to make this not about money and to have faith and hope that we are are going to be OK. I have the opportunity to focus on what we do have, instead of what we don’t, and let that carry us to the dawn.
Even without paychecks, we have a lot to be thankful for. I will start receiving unemployment this week, and my husband’s application is now in as well. I am still making a few hundred dollars each month through my graduate assistantship (which I was offered to continue this summer), and we plan to use every penny of our stimulus checks (mostly for rent, and our checks combined won’t cover two months, because Welcome to Chicago, but we will take it). Because I’ve been stingy, or smart, I have an emergency savings that can hold us over, and both sets of parents have offered to help us. Plus, we still get to keep our health insurance, and my husband and I both will have jobs to return to when it is safe to do.
We are not alone. This situation is hurting many Americans, and honestly, while I don’t know many other people who are in our situation, I do believe there are people who are worse off. It feels like we don’t have a safety net given our last year and a half, but there are tons of hands around to catch us. We are not alone, and we never have been.
I spent most of yesterday feeling sorry for myself, like I can’t believe we are in this situation again, but it’s not the same situation and we are not the same people. We can get through this. We have the grift and the faith.
Even in a global health crisis, there is so much to be happy about, and none of it has to do with money. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to catch up with so many friends, and I’ve had the time to write, run, bake, and do all the things that nourish me. People are rallying together to help each other, and there are hundreds of stories of people being their best.
Most important, all of my people are healthy. My husband and I have never been stronger in our relationship, and it’s been pure delight to actually spend time with him. We are healthy, we are together, and we are OK. No amount of money can beat that.