Back into Debt - From Rags to Reasonable

Just when I thought I was out… I got dragged back in.

It was almost 2 years ago that I became debt free. I had finished paying off my tax debt, polished off those pesky student loans, and it was great. Being debt free was awesome. All of a sudden the money delegated to minimum payments was mine again! I had banished the lingering shadow of those ignored CRA calls,  and shrugged off the feeling of owing someone something!

I could finally move on to other kinds of money goals. Retirement. Building my POG collection. Maybe traveling from time to time. Money goals that were actually fun.

Well. I guess it’s time to sell the POGs, because I am no longer debt free.

Apparently, I’ve been sitting on a debt this entire time. A debt that’s been getting more expensive every day.

My first warning sign came in November. I woke up with a really bad toothache. One week later I was swollen faced and shelling out for a root canal.

That one I could handle. It was expensive. It wasn’t fun. But I could handle it.

It was what the X-rays revealed…

34 little chompers of debt (I think there are 34… although that seems like a lot … I just counted with my tongue, which I will acknowledge is not the most amazing counting tool).

Look. I’ve known that I’ve had dental work to get done. I’ve known for years. I would intermittently go in, get a few things done, be overwhelmed by the problem and leave again. Why should I spend money that I don’t have, in order to spend time in a place that I absolutely hate, in response to a problem that, most of the time, is pretty easy to ignore?

Because, contrary to the popular youtube campaign, it doesn’t get better.

Debt remains debt.

And the great (not so great at all) thing is that it doesn’t just sit there. It grows. It gets worse.

In my case, simple fillings became less-simple root canals. Less-simple root canals that also need not-so-easy crowns. All of which is not-that-cheap. And now, instead of the moderate maintenance costs I avoided, I have more than 10,000 dollars of dental work that needs doing.

Yup. That’s a lot of dollars.How I got back in Debt - From Rags to Reasonable

When I got the treatment plan cost estimate I just thought it was funny. Why not a million dollars? Or TEN million? It’s basically Dr. Evil sitting across from me, pinky raised.

Over time it’s become less Mike Myers circa Austin Powers, and more like Mike Myers circa Love Guru. Or in other words, it’s not funny at all.

Being in debt is the worst, because it’s hard to remember what it was like to not have it. It immediately feels permanent. It feels hopeless. Where do you even start? It’s an insurmountable task. It makes me want to do nothing and just hope that ‘future chris’ is better equipped to deal with it.

But the fact is he’s probably not going to be. He’s not going to hit the lottery (although I did buy a scratcher last week… no dice). And dentistry isn’t gonna get cheaper (no matter how much I flirt with my dentist). No insurance company will sweep in and save the day… although sadly it’s my best hope…

And do you know what the worst of it is? The best case scenario still involves me sitting in that chair getting double root canals, a handful of crowns, and more fillings than I want to talk about.

In fact I will pay for the privilege.

Worst. Reward. Ever.

But here’s the thing.

There’s only one way I will stop having nightmares about my teeth falling out. And it’s to make a plan, and figure this out.

I would love to provide a perfect model for artists struggling with their finances. But the truth is I’m just another freelancer in the trenches trying to figure this stuff out. Shit happens, and when you don’t have a ton of resources and something goes wrong it can really throw you off track. But even though emotionally it feels hopeless, intellectually I know that I can do it. I’ve done it before, and the good news is that I know so much more now.

So expect a lot of that over the next few months. I’ll keep you updated on my efforts and share some tools that I’m using.

But to kick off the debt talk, here are four things… mantras that I’ve been trying to get in to my brain over the last few weeks:

  1. Stop blaming yourself: There’s no point in beating yourself up for what got you in to trouble. I’ve spent much too much time lying awake at night wondering why I haven’t been going to regular cleanings in the last 5 years. It doesn’t matter now, and beating yourself up doesn’t help. It’s time to start fixing it.
  2. Don’t wait: Ignoring the problem won’t make it better, and it’s not going to change without you doing something. Now is the right time to do something.
  3. Talk about it: Don’t be ashamed. Lots of people are in debt. There’s nothing wrong with you. Shame can keep you from reaching out and getting help from your community. Forget the shame. You’re in debt now, but starting today that’s going to change.
  4. It’s not impossible: This situation can change, and it’s going to feel great when it does. It’s that ever popular turn of phrase…. How do you eat an elephant? …. One bite at a time.

Hope you like elephant….


If you’re looking for some support, or want to give some… send me a note. I’d also love to hear from you guys about debt in general, or more specifically how you handle dental/medical coverage for yourself and your family. It’s a big issue in our community. I’m working on a few posts about it, but man…. the information out there is bleak. I’d love to hear about how other artists are getting the job done!

You can also check out my debt workbook (it’s only a buck, and will give you a simple structure to start chipping away at your debt.. dental or otherwise)

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