My Debt Made Me Depressed — but These Are the Lessons I Learned

Debt complicates everything.

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.

Read More: 50 Ways to Live the Big Life on a Small Budget

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.

Related: How I Take Care of My Mental Health Without Going Broke

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.

More on Debt: 30 Ways to Dig Yourself Out of Debt

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:

  1. Safety nets (emergency funds, long-term savings, investments and assets) are crucial to protecting yourself from suffering unnecessarily when “life happens.”
  2. A credit card is a future money leak if you don’t pay off the balance every month.
  3. 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.
  4. Consumer debt should be paid off quickly to avoid future obligations.
  5. Keep “lifestyle creep” in check. Turn it into “savings creep” instead.
  6. It’s all about mindset. A positive money mindset helps your future self immensely.
  7. 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.

Click through to see what this money expert has learned since having kids.

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