Got Me Down

Richard Quinn

THIS IS A NEW feeling for me. I’m constantly stressed about money. The thing is, there’s no valid reason for it. Nonetheless, I’ve taken to constantly checking all the details of our finances—investments, bank accounts and, most important, spending.

All this from the guy who says a budget isn’t necessary.

While I still believe in my simple strategy—don’t worry how you spend, but never spend more than your after-tax income minus savings and never charge more on your credit cards than you can pay off each month—I couldn’t help checking exactly how we’re spending our money. I found that all of our ongoing expenses—housing, utilities, taxes, insurance, even my wife’s salon visits—are easily covered. But I also found there’s a chunk of change going toward eating out. I’m thinking that’s indicative of the stress factor and that I’m trying to buy myself some relief.

What’s going on? Upon reflection, it seems everything that’s going on is what’s going on.

The stock market is nuts. Don’t tell me that, in the last two years, my average annual return was 16%. I’m looking at the $300,000 decline in our net worth since Feb. 1. Next, I calculated that 2023’s Social Security cost-of-living adjustment will be at least 7.3%. But somehow, I don’t find that comforting, especially when I just spent $6 a gallon to fill up my car.

Participants in a recent survey said their first line of defense against inflation was to travel less and eat out less. I can understand why.

Adding to my stress: My car was damaged in a freak storm. A piece of roofing smashed both headlights and short-circuited the car’s computer. The dealer just called and said the repairs will cost at least $6,000, plus sales tax. Yeah, a big portion will be paid by insurance, I hope, but it still adds to my stress.

On top of that, I received a notice from Medicare that it denied two charges stemming from my recent surgery. The charges were $8,000 each. I have no intention of paying those surprise charges, but it’s still unsettling. I can’t imagine how a person who doesn’t know much about health insurance would deal with such a notice.

If the current economy and stock market can stress me out, what’s it doing to the majority of Americans, who have far less money?

We’ve been through times like this before. But it’s little comfort to most Americans that this too shall pass, that sooner or later inflation will wane, and that the stock market will recover. There are lessons to be learned—about portfolio diversification, being a long-term investor, having an emergency fund, watching discretionary spending. Perhaps we should even rethink the type of car we drive—and where we park it.

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