How fast your financial situation can change :(

This is a comment that was left on my blog the other month. I’ve been saving it trying to figure out how to incorporate it into a post down the road, but for whatever reason it keeps popping up in my head and figured I’d just let it out here and see what happens.  It’s not the happiest of posts, but it does get you to appreciate life more, and question how you’d handle something as serious & crazy as this yourself.

Would you have done things differently?  Can you relate to what he’s going through?
Here’s Joe’s story:

It makes me sick to even think about this, but here goes.

About 3 years ago I had just finished paying off all of my credits. I was down to one car payment; and that vehicle was close to being paid off. At that point I would have only had the mortgage remaining and a student loan. I was maxing my 401k for the first time ever; I was on track.

This lasted for about 6 months until I started feeling sick. Thirsty all the time; waking up 5+ times in the night to urinate; double vision. I went to the doctor and they ran some labs; that was when I found out I have metabolic syndrome; Type 2 diabetes combined with a whole host of other problems, bad thyroid, bad cholesterol, bad triglycerides. At the time my triglycerides were at 900; the doctor told me my blood was basically turning to sludge and that I was going to be dead in short course if I wasn’t on proper meds and made sure to take them everyday.

I was in some serious depression; I didn’t know how this happened to a guy that’s in his late 20s, goes to the gym 4 or 5 times a week, and only weighs 150. Really bad genes is how.

At this point I felt all of the saving and spend thrifting was for nothing and that I was going to die without enjoying life and doing any of the things I wanted to do. Basically in a panic I started to spend like never in my life. I cashed out the 401k (wasn’t going to need it since I figured I’d be dead inside 10 years) remodeled the house, bought a new truck, a new SUV for the wife, a motorcycle, an ATV, new cell phones with big data plans, NetFlix, a Playstation 3, blu-ray discs; I don’t even remember what else. What I do know is at the end of it my 401k was gone and I had accumulated an additional $85K in debt; my A+ credit rating was now in the tank.

Now my disease is being managed and it looks like I’ll be living a long time with this regret over my head. I have begun paying it back; at this point I still have $63k remaining to payoff; I can’t afford to contribute more than a very minimum to 401k with all of the payments I have now. I’ve tried to sell the motorcycle and the ATV, but no one is buying recreational vehicles in this economy. If I could take it back and kept my head on I would have so much less stress. I don’t know how I let myself get here.

Man… crazy, huh? One minute things are great, and the next you’re told you’re dying.  Insane.  I can’t even fathom how I’d have handled this myself… to be honest, I might have done the same thing!  Who knows. At the end of the day though, LIFE has to come before all other troubles – career, homes, money, etc.  It’s horrible to end up w/ all this debt and stress and what not, but I gotta believe it feels much better to be alive :)

So if you’re reading this Joe, You can do it!!! :)  You’ve rocked it once, and you can rock it again.  I have total faith you can overcome this just like you overcome/managed this sickness!

To my readers: What do you think about all this?  Any advice for him?

PS: You can read more about Joe’s story on his blog: (diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes) in latin translates fairly literally to honey-sweet urine) where he also has a PayPal button which goes 100% to the American Diabetes Association.

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  1. Kevin @ December 15, 2010 at 9:01 AM

    That is an incredible story. While I do feel bad for him, I think it is highly immoral to borrow money that you never expect to pay back because you are going to die. I know it’s easy for me to say that without having been in the situation, but borrowing money you don’t intend to pay back stealing.

    Cashing out his 401k was fine and actually smart. That’s his money. But to accumulate debt that would never be repaid upon his death is very wrong.

    I’m glad he is being proactive in fixing the situation and hope his health gets better. I’m sure he learned a valuable lesson from the whole experience.

  2. Steph December 15, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    I suppose none of us knows when our time is up, but I can imagine news like that can put you into shock.

    I think the big thing to focus on here is the fact that he has already managed to pay off $22k in debt (in less that 3 years) and he still has a motorcycle and ATV to sell. There might not be a great market for it today, but keep them listed and someone will eventually come along. I’ve yet to list anything on craigslist I’ve not had a buyer for.

    My advice? Keep on the track you are currently on and you will be on top of your game in no time. Once you are there, you can buy all this stuff again if you want to. Don’t let all this add to your stress level, it can’t be good for your health.

  3. Joe December 15, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    @Kevin @,

    Just wanted to reply to your comment about it being immoral to borrow money you don’t intend to pay back. I consider myself to be of high moral character and would never borrow money that would not be paid back. Luckily I had locked in a hefty life insurance policy before I found out of my illness; in the event I were to die it would more than cover all of my debts including the house and still leave some money over for my wife.

    It was a couple of months ago that I posted my original comment; since then I was able to sell the motorcycle for about 3k over what I owed on it. I sent the extra to my truck loan which should be paid off early next year. I’ve decided to hold off on selling the ATV; it has a plow attachment and we get a lot of snow around here, so I’ve been trying to make some side money with that.

  4. Kim December 15, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    i can semi relate!

    never felt the need to splurge like that (i agree with kevin’s point and i don’t even have a family of my own), but i definitely understand the panic. i was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor (NOT cancer) 2 months after moving out on my own. it’s fairly aggressive and pressing on my optic nerve (really, worst case scenario is i’ll go blind. hopefully i don’t get a head injury that jostles it too much!) so surgery isn’t really an option for me. i also have an autoimmune disease that could kill me if left untreated. but like your doc said, ” I was going to be dead in short course if I wasn’t on proper meds and made sure to take them everyday.” then you know what, TAKE THOSE MEDS! :)

    so while my mortality was certainly in the back of my mind, my more pressing issue was my now effed up finances. they were far from rock-solid to begin with! even with my employer-provided insurance, i paid over $800 OOP for my last MRI (which i need routinely), need regular office visits/blood tests, vision tests, peripheral vision tests, liver tests and 2 meds i’ll need to take for the rest of my life. it adds up. let alone this year i’ve spend almost a grand OOP for an ER visit, ultrasound and subsequent surgery (unrelated to the above) and over $300 OOP for a biopsy (unrelated to the above OR the surgery).

    i may never be a millionaire but i know i’ll be debt free one day (stared out with $33,042 as of jan 2009. will be about $20,500 at the end of this month and hopefully close to zip at the end of 2011). slow going? you betcha. but i can’t really control these circumstances. i can just plan as best i can and roll with the punches! i have absolutely no family i can fall back on, so maybe that’s why i feel extra scared sometimes, but i’ve really never felt more hopeful.

    anywho, joe, i wish you the best. please don’t fall into depression because of the past. “don’t let your past steal your future” i feel the same “how the fark did i get here” feeling you do, but i really have learned so much in the last 2 years of digging myself out of this mess. take care of yourself, physically and mentally, beause that’s so important. best of luck to you and your family!

  5. Wojo December 15, 2010 at 12:16 PM

    What an amazing story. I agree with J, though–the regret may always be there, but you can still overcome this!

    Songs like “live like you were dying” make us dream about this kind of “opportunity,” but it’s a shock when that final day doesn’t come. (Same goes for doomsday planners or trying to figure when you’ll “end” retirement by dying). Tricky, because I think most of us think like Joe–we want to make sure we’re using our resources to their fullest extent and for maximum enjoyment.

  6. StackingCash December 15, 2010 at 1:00 PM

    Thanks for sharing that story. Financial planning should also include those crazy situations. No matter how crazy, we should all be aware that anything can happen at anytime. I don’t think I would have gone that much in debt, but I would have spent a lot of money to enjoy life. I feel we save too much sometimes, how crazy is that?

  7. LB December 15, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    Joe, one thing I have to say is LIFE GETS BETTER AND YOU CAN PAY IT BACK. It may not be fun and I am sorry you had to go through all that, but there is no reason to look at what happened and dwell on the past. Use the same logic that got you in the mess, live for today and not the past. Now I’m not saying you should rack up more debt, but don’t beat yourself up because of what happened, only look forward. :)

    I personally wouldn’t have done that much shopping no matter if I was dying or not, but I have never had to deal with something so life altering. The plan I have for dying too young involves taking one awesome trip or something amazing, but I would not over indulge or leave my husband with the financial responsibility no matter what.

  8. Doctor S December 15, 2010 at 1:10 PM

    hmmm… real interesting story. Kinda makes you realize there are more important things in life than your personal finance. However, none of us can even imagine what it would feel like if someone came up to you and told you “You are going to be dead soon.” Honestly, if someone told me that, I would start doing everything I always wanted to in life and if I beat the disease eventually, I could point to an amazing state of mind that gave me the strength to beat it.

    It sucks his financial situation is where it is now, but what the hell does it matter… He’s alive. Everytime someone asks me, “How are you doing today?” I answer the same way everytime… “I’m just happy to be alive.”… done deal. Money will come and go.

  9. danielle December 15, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    First of all, I’d like to say, No one knows what facing death is like until you’re facing it. So I can’t even imagine what that feeling is like, and how heavily it can weigh on your spirit. With that said, Joe’s gotten himself out of a mound of debt before, and he can do it again if he stays focused. Lesson learned, now it’s time to focus and begin again. I have faith he will be in an even better financial situation in the next couple years.

    AND I totally agree with Doctor S above. He’s alive, and yes, money will come and go. That’s the same for ALL OF US.

    On a side note, my best friend cashed out her 401K to pursue her dream of living abroad and attending grad school. Some people would disagree (and do!), but it didn’t stop her from living her dream. She’s now loving life, creating new memories, experiencing things she never would have if she’d stayed here in the states, and doesn’t have a 401K. I think she’s OK with it.

  10. Stephanie December 15, 2010 at 1:41 PM

    Man, I was all bummed out this morning about having close to $0 for the remainder of the holiday season (with a couple gifts left to find), but reading this put things in perspective for me. I can make do with what I have, get creative and still give meaningful gifts, and be happy in that I have my health and wonderful people around me.

    It’s so easy to get lost in your own woes and forget that a lot of people like you have it worse. Hope you’re on the track to getting things patched up, Joe. Sounds like that despite the drastic detour, you still have your sights set on the horizon and know how to get there. And thanks for the change of view!

  11. Briana @ GBR December 15, 2010 at 2:00 PM

    Joe, I can’t even imagine being in that situation. Don’t feel regret; living your life to the fullest is what you were doing, and I have to say I probably would’ve done the same thing. Now it’s just something to work on :)

  12. Carrie December 15, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    i can relate. just over a year ago i was told i had cancer at age 25.

    fortunately i had really good medical insurance so my medical bills cost me only about $1000 for the entire treatment, but i did dig into my emergency fund to shop out of depression.

    i am a lot less interested in just saving money for the sake of saving it now. i’m definitely spending more on things to make my home a more comfortable place to live and i got a new dog which significantly improves my quality of life even though pets are expensive.

    i’m still maxing out my roth ira and putting what i need to into my 401k to get the maximum company match, but other than making sure i earn more than i spend i’m not saving much anymore. i’m enjoying what i have now.

  13. BruceBucks December 15, 2010 at 2:35 PM

    @Kevin @ I don’t think you should tell Joe what is moral and what is immoral. He has a right to live the life the way he chooses. He went through a difficult time and that is how he chose to deal with the situation. He was facing death, and that can be extremely difficult to think about. I cannot imagine what I would do if I found out I was dying. Joe it sounds like you have been through a lot and you are working to get rid of your debt. I bet that in the end you will be a better person for persevering through it all. Best of luck my friend.

  14. Janie the Jane-Jane December 15, 2010 at 2:36 PM

    That is really sad…I can totally relate! He just needs to put his big boy pants on and realize that it isn’t his fault that he thought his life was over! So he over spent…check please! He needs to realize that his life has just begun…every day that he wakes up. Worrying won’t solve the problems…but phone calls and working your butt off will! I wish him much health and fortune this new year! I am on a path of my own that will be a tough road but I know I too can accomplish great things!

  15. Brent December 15, 2010 at 2:43 PM

    this is a ridiculous story. This guy has a wife maybe kids (was not mentioned). He learns he’s going to die soon and becomes irresponsible. Cashes out the retirement and accumulates a ton of debt since he figures he wont have to pay it off or that he “needs” to live life since he won’t be around much longer. Let’s assume he does die. Where does that put his wife? I dont have any empathy or sympathy for this guy or his actions (of course i feel bad about his disease but its no excuse). He and his family were always better off to save, whether he’s going to die or not. I find it very selfish of him to do all of this since it would leave his wife in a terrible mess if the time did come. Since he’s gonna live, he now has to deal with his irresponsibility and rightfully so. I find this to be a terrible story either way! I hope he can work his way out of debt and find financial security and peace for he and his family once again!

  16. Joe December 15, 2010 at 3:22 PM


    I mentioned this in a comment I posted above as well; but I already had, and continue to carry a generous life insurance policy. In the event of my death my wife will not be left holding a large bill, but rather quite a hefty check after all bills, including the mortgage have been paid. In that respect I was quite responsible. Additionally my wife and I are what we call even-earners; our incomes our both within a couple of grand annually and we both have life insurance policies that would pay off the bills and then some to help the other out in the event of our passing. With the bills gone, either one of us could support the family on a single income. Also, this was not a one sided decision either, my wife was going through a lot too; just as it is a major event to learn you may be about to die the same can be said of learning that your spouse is going to die. When we first found out my wife thought it was a good idea that I quit my job so I could enjoy what “little time” I had remaining. As scared and mixed up as I was at the time I still told her that wasn’t in the cards that I wasn’t going to put that kind of burden on her, but again, if and when I do go the burden to her would be purely emotional burden, not financial. Also to clarify, my wife and I both had seperate 401ks; only mine was cashed out.

  17. Brent December 15, 2010 at 4:08 PM


    I give a pat on the back for anyone who carries a life insurance policy to take care of his loved ones. I’m glad you are able to live longer and be with family that much longer. From reading your last post it sounds like you are privy to paying off debt anyways and should have it gone in not too much time. Good luck!

  18. retirebyforty December 15, 2010 at 5:14 PM

    My triglycerides went up to 2000 a few years ago. I worked with the doctor, still taking medication, try to eat better and now it’s more or less under control.

    Advice? You must have already modified your diet and if you haven’t seen a nutrition specialist yet, do it. Just keep working at paying back debt and don’t stress out too much, it’s not good for your health.

  19. Brian December 15, 2010 at 5:20 PM

    So long story short: Joe paid off his debts, found out he might die, got depressed, spent a bunch of money to pick himself back up, finds out he isn’t dying soon, begins to pay down debt again. Sounds like what I would have done in the same situation. In fact, my wife suffers from severe depression and buying presents for others seems to give her the biggest boost out of a depressed state so what you did sounds very familiar (and why we try to stay away from the mall). So I kinda understand the buying splurge. It may sound irresponsible to some that haven’t through depression, but to me it sounds like a person just trying to enjoy what time they have left with the ones the love.

    Glad to know that Joe is back on the road to recovery!

  20. brewcitybabe4 December 15, 2010 at 5:41 PM

    well, I’m not sure if this e-mail has “inspired” me or not, but its definitely given me something to think about and any constructive feedback would be greatly appreciated. I am a self-admitted compulsive debtor and spendor but recognized my bad behavior about 6 years ago now. I did well at paying down some of my debt but then was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer a little over 5 years ago. I did NOT go shopping crazy when I was initially diagnosed and did what I could to pay down the debt. However, after about 3 years in remission I started feeling “better” about life and somehow managed to put my debt level back up to where it was prior to my diagnosis (and then some…). I really struggled a lot this year to get things back under control financially and took a class this fall in financial planning and management because I just didn’t have ANY tools to work with (i.e. a budget!). So anyway I had my first cancer recurrance in January of 2009 and am looking at a new recurrance of my disease and am scheduled to have surgery, chemo, radiation, etc starting in January of this next year. Now, I have been working my budget plan for only about 3 months and doing fairly well – a few hiccups here and there, but nothing disastrous. BUT after reading all this it got me thinking…I changed jobs 3 years ago and have not rolled over my 401K from my last job to my new one. I still have about 25K in cc debt that I would like to pay off which this 401K would take care of and then some. I also need to replace my 12 year old car. Anything that may be left after these two payouts I would likely roll into my current 401K or some other type of investment. Because my chances of making it long-term truly are NOT in my favor, would it be the worst thing for me to cash this out at this point? It would certainly give me some more financial freedoms and peace of mind and I would definitely up my current 401K contribution at my current company to start building up a new amount (even though I doubt it would ever get up to a level the old one is at since I was at that company for nearly 10 years). I’m guessing I have about 2-3 years maybe (5 at the most) to enjoy what’s left of my life. I’m single and have no dependents. In addition to my credit card debt I have a student loan from grad school that I would need to continue to pay on. I have a small life insurance policy that would cover the student loan debt once I’m gone if necessary. Even though I do have health insurance through work, I do still worry about medical bills as not everything is covered. I contribute the max to my FSA as I can, but its still not always enough to cover everything for the year. Thoughts? Suggestions?

  21. Yana December 15, 2010 at 6:40 PM

    I can relate to spending money like you’ve never done before when you think you might die prematurely. I have done that. However, I wouldn’t spend to the degree Joe did, because there are people I love who would need as much financial security as possible if I were not around. For me, there’s a balance between financial security and getting what I want right now – there is really not that much I want short term and in proportion to what we have. Not that we have that much, but with all the spending I’ve done as though I won’t be here next week, I don’t see that it is something to regret. If you can keep on living after losing confidence that you can, the only thing you should be doing is celebrating! But not by spending. LOL.

    Joe went overboard, that’s what.

  22. TeacHer December 15, 2010 at 7:41 PM

    I wonder how much information he had about his condition before he panicked. As I was reading this, I was thinking: metabolic syndrome, hmmm, not optimal, but a manageable condition. Then at the end he came to the same conclusion. So, I guess the first thing I would say is: make sure you fully understand the condition and/or get a second opinion before you do anything rash.

    I would also say that this is a good opportunity to, as they say, put money in its place. Sometimes as people who are very focused on personal finance it consumes us. Maybe your reader should look at this as an opportunity to readjust the role that money plays in his life. Is it really the MOST important thing?

  23. Cesar December 15, 2010 at 8:06 PM

    Life is to short to be stuck in a rut.

  24. One Frugal Girl December 15, 2010 at 9:43 PM

    I can totally relate to Joe’s experience. Five years ago I landed in the hospital on the verge of death and I completely understand the fear of being sick and dying. I didn’t go on a spending spree, but I did spend time after my doctor’s and hospital visits in stores trying to escape my situation. I didn’t buy anything there, I just wandered around in a daze trying to avoid the reality of my life.

    I think the key to life is living like every day as though it’s your last. This doesn’t mean you should spend all your money, but rather that you live in the every day moments of your life. That you truly experience the moments during the time you’re given.

    I just finished reading a great book called ‘The Untethered Soul’. It probably wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it talks a lot about living each and every moment to the fullest so that you do not fear death once it comes. The author points out that you don’t need a bucket list to say you’ve lived a full life.

    One of my favorite passages reads, “Don’t be afraid of death. Let it free you. You should be experiencing life that’s happening to you, not the one you wish was happening. Don’t waste a moment of your life trying to make other things happen; appreciate the moments you are given. Don’t you understand that every minute you’re a step closer to death? This is how to live your life. You live it as though you were on the verge of death, because you are.”

  25. Molly On Money December 16, 2010 at 8:31 AM

    It seems like when Joe was sick he had some regrets saving his money and becoming debt free. My advice to him would be to think back to why he had those regrets.
    He has experienced both sides now (being almost debt free with retirement vs. having a large debt). It sounds crazy but having both experiences gives you all the information you need to make the right choice for you.

  26. J. Money December 16, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    Thanks for sharing all your thoughts & words of advice everyone! It’s crazy that so many of you are currently experiencing diseases and heart aches like this :( I don’t know if I would be so free about telling everyone on a blog, so thank you for doing that.

    This stuff affects everyone differently, but for me it gets me super sentimental and mushy. I get so caught up in the day to day activities in life and I forget to *truly* appreciate what’s happening right this instant. I literally just held a baby for 20 mins right now and almost missed out completely because I was so determined to write this comment… what’s more important – my baby niece or this comment at this *exact* second, you know?

    Anyways, I tell you guys this all the time, but thank you again for being so open here and supportive. To me, to the guest post’ers, to the stories we feature here – it’s wonderful.

    @Joe – Putting this stuff out like you do inspires me. Keep being YOU.
    @Carrie – My heart goes out to you! I had no idea… as cheesy as it sounds, I feel closer to you :) And also not in a stalkerish kind of way, haha… I think it’s awesome you’re improving your quality life the way you wish like that. AND still saving, wow.
    @brewcitybabe4 – I’m sorry to hear your situation too :( I think the best thing for you to do re: the money is to speak with a financial planner and set up a 2-3 year game plan. There are so many ways you can make your money work best for you, and a planner could help you with the pros and cons and suggest the best route based on your situation. Or, you can follow what feels the best for you and what would make you emotionally content. There are always 2 sides to these things – the financially smart way, and the emotional one. Sometimes they both align together, and others not. But if you always choose the one that helps you to sleep at night better, I say you’re on the right track :) This doesn’t directly answer your question, but hopefully it helps a little bit.

    Guys — Thank you.

  27. Cassie December 16, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    My heart goes out to this fellow. To flip from perfectly healthy without a care in the world, to “you’re going to die” and back again like that is absolutely gut wrenching emotionally. I’m an anaphylactic, and I’ve been close to the end 3 times now, so I have an inkling of an idea about what he went through. It’s going to take time for him to build back up to where he was, but I hope he’s learned something from his experience. At the very least, I hope he learns that the most important parts of his life don’t require vast sums of money, and that the toys are only temporary. He’s already made a dent in what he owes, and I wish him the best of luck with the rest of it.

  28. Andy December 16, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    First of all, forgive yourself. Then, pick the pieces up. Sell what you can and if possible get a second job to pay off the debt. You need to be willing to work and sacrifice in order to fix the situation that you created with your own irresponsibility. If you are not willing, then you cannot be helped. Also, Do not CONsolidate your debt. Debt consolidation is nothing more than a “con” because you think you’ve done something about the debt problem. The debt is still there, as are the habits that caused it – you just moved it. Bottom line: Get back on the bandwagon.

  29. thisisbeth December 19, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    This story made sense to me. Depression makes people do weird things–it’s not just sitting in a room wanting to die. I went through a minor depression a few years ago, and piled up a small amount of debt, but unfortunately left me with some bad money habits I’m still trying to overcome. I think Joe has done a fantastic job with all he’s been through. When life goes crazy, we can’t always make the best decisions–hindsight can tell us what we should’ve done, but until we get there, we have to make it up as we go.

  30. Joe December 20, 2010 at 10:16 PM

    Thanks for the feedback from everyone. Seems things like this happen more than we know, but we still never expect we are going to be “that guy”. Bottom line is that it is a life changing event; I made a lot of mistakes when I first found out that I’m now making up for. I’m not the same today as I was the day I found out, but nor am I, nor will I ever be that guy I was before finding out. At first I was just full of a lot hate, desperation, and self-pity. Now I’m just living life again and hoping for the best.

  31. J. Money December 21, 2010 at 3:16 PM

    We’ve got your back, brotha :) Thx again for sharing your story with us!