Everyone’s talking about what they’d do if they won the BILLION DOLLAR Powerball. Hey, I bought a ticket. A chance at $1.4B? Two dollars to daydream of what it would be like to have more money that I could ever spend? (At least, I’m pretty sure it’s more than I could spend. But everyone thinks that, right?)
So in the midst of these Powerball fantasies, somehow I’ve managed to get caught up in an entirely different sort of escapism.
Downton Abbey is back on PBS. I’ve been addicted to this Edwardian aristocratic fantasy since the beginning, with its glimpse of a very different time and place. This season will be its last, and I’ve looked forward to savoring every Maggie Smith one-liner, seeing if Lady Edith or the Bates’s can ever escape their bad luck, and savoring just a bit more time in the Upstairs/Downstairs world.
(No, that picture is not Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey is filmed. It’s the Biltmore House in Asheville NC. For a price, you can tour it and have dreams of American, rather than British, opulent glory.)
Will Lady Mary give in to blackmail or find a man “worthy” of her? Will Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes get married? And If they do, will Mrs. Patmore still have to run interference and ask about their sex life? Will we get to see cute Tom again?
Downton has still got me on the edge of my seat.
Except now the denizens of Downton are scaling back, and Downton Abbey doesn’t look as much like a fantasy anymore.
I admit I’m a week behind. Downton Abbey is not the most kid-friendly show, so I haven’t managed to carve out time for the latest episode. The first episode, though, had all kinds of dour news to offset Anna Bates name being cleared of murder at last.
The aristocratic Crawley family has been struggling to find their way forward in a post-agricultural economy since World War I ended, but this final season seems to have put their money struggle front and center. Almost as soon as the first episode starts, Lord Robert’s informing his butler that staff cuts are imminent.
Most tellingly, a fellow aristocrat has sold his estate, auctioned off most of his aristocratic trappings, and warned the Crawleys: “This life is over for us. It won’t come back. … I’m afraid we held on for far too long, and now there’s nothing left. Learn from us!”
Downsizing. Downton Abbey is supposed to be an escape from reality, and here it looks like the present.
The Problem with the Soft Landing
Our income dropped last year, and like Downton’s estate-selling aristo, we waited a while to make our adjustments. Oh, we didn’t have a houseful of staff (or even a weekly maid) and we hardly live in a landed estate. We didn’t have car loans or credit card balances, but we had a bunch of everyday expenses and discretionary spending that people have when they aren’t focused on maximizing their long-term returns.
I lost my job and had trouble landing a comparable one.
When life hits you with a setback, whether it’s a hit on the stock market, a lost job, or a house that won’t sell, it can be easy to think you can wait out the change. You think you’ll bounce right back, especially if you have a cushion to fall back onto. We do. We still have an emergency fund. It’s just not where it used to be. Jon and I still have savings. We still have income.
We also still have a mortgage payment. Our family still needs groceries, insurance, and electricity. We still want to put money away for retirement, and education, and a rainy day.
For far too long, we kept our Y membership and our inflated grocery bill, our takeout habits, and our expensive phone plans. We didn’t adjust to our new reality. The fact that we had a cushion meant we could absorb the hit for a while, but it has taken a while to climb out of the cushion.
It’s kinda like the Trampoline Park my daughter and I visit sometime. The first time we went, I jumped off the ramp into the foam pit and got my soft landing. I didn’t know it was going to take 10 minutes to climb out again.
Unlike water, you can’t easily float on top or swim through a foam pit. You shift, try to get your footing, sink a little, shift a little, shimmy, and eventually, you get out on your feet again.
Now I know to avoid the foam pit. It takes a lot energy to climb out, and it smells like sweaty feet. If you’re going to plunge from a height, though, the foam pit is a better landing than a concrete floor.
Don’t Face Reality Like a Downton Abbey Aristocrat…Belatedly
It’s easy to inflate your lifestyle when money is coming in. It’s not easy to bring it down when the money isn’t. It’s even harder to deflate when you don’t accept that you need to be making moves quickly.
We’ve made moves on the savings side, though there are a few more to make. We’re making moves on the income side as well. Life is moving back to equilibrium, back to adding to saving instead of using savings, back to wiggle room.
But we would have been there faster and would have more wiggle room now if only we’d recognized that we needed to match our changed circumstances when the changes actually happened, and not 6 months later.
You can’t plan for every setback. Job loss, health problems, and other not-so-happy things in life happen. The best you can do is work to provide yourself a cushion to absorb your setbacks.
And sometimes, you need a moment to catch your breath before you get up.
Take your moment. But then get up. Don’t let your moment stretch into weeks or months. Learn an important lesson from a show about 1920s British Aristocracy, who didn’t recognize a new reality and evolve their finances.
“This life is over for us. It won’t come back. … I’m afraid we held on for far too long, and now there’s nothing left. Learn from us!”
When change happens, change with it.
How have you adjusted to a new reality? Were you proactive and on the ball, or did you wait just a little too long before changing your habits and mindset?