You could say that early motherhood wasn’t kind to me. I suffered from postnatal depression. But, the truth is a little more complex — I wasn’t kind to myself.
I became a mother later than many, at 39 years old. Up until that time, I’d been living a pretty carefree life, taking regular overseas trips (which is a big deal when you live in the isolated island nation of New Zealand), living in expensive rentals and keeping expensive hobbies.
None of this seemed to be a problem because I had a six-figure salary. Having a high salary doesn’t mean you know how to manage your money, however. I certainly didn’t. I had credit card debt, no long-term savings and no plan. I just thought that I would always earn that much, so I kept putting off planning for my future. I thought I had plenty of time.
That was until the unexpected happened.
I returned to work when my daughter was 9 months old. As she was teething, I wasn’t sleeping well, and I couldn’t just “sleep off a bad night” when I had to get up and go to work. I woke with the alarm, regardless of how little sleep I’d had. So, my sleep debt grew and grew. And, soon enough, I was suffering from postnatal depression.
But this was a perfect storm created by debt. “Life happens when you least expect it,” as the saying goes, and debt complicates things. Because we had debt, I felt like I had no choice but to go back to work. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to meet our repayments and other expenses.
Too much debt meant that I chose to go back to work for the wrong reasons. Having debt ultimately made me depressed.
The actions of my past self — high spending and low saving — directly contributed to this by creating debt that needed servicing, regardless of my physical and mental condition. My past self was unintentionally unkind to my future self.
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Today, I have the chance to redeem these past mistakes and make decisions that are kinder to my future self. After all, I can’t predict how long I’ll live or how physically and mentally “in shape” I’ll be. The actions I take today are of huge importance to my future.
Here are the seven lessons I learned from my situation:
- Safety nets (emergency funds, long-term savings, investments and assets) are crucial to protecting yourself from suffering unnecessarily when “life happens.”
- A credit card is a future money leak if you don’t pay off the balance every month.
- I’m building multiple, diverse income streams because, just like having a diverse investment portfolio, a diverse income portfolio will protect me more from future major events.
- Consumer debt should be paid off quickly to avoid future obligations.
- Keep “lifestyle creep” in check. Turn it into “savings creep” instead.
- It’s all about mindset. A positive money mindset helps your future self immensely.
- Have as little debt as possible/necessary.
Overall, the key takeaway for me is that life happens in unexpected ways, and being financially prepared makes life easier when things get tough. If I were prepared for “life happening,” I wouldn’t have needed to go back to work as early as I did, and I may have avoided postnatal depression.
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- Watch: The Reality of Living $116,000 in Debt
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