A reader writes:

Several years ago I began doing very well. My friend and I started our own law firm. I bought a large house, too large a house, and paid far too much for it; but things were good and I wanted to give my kids a backyard room to run around in. So my girlfriend, kids and I moved from our downtown rental apartment to the suburbs. My law partner and I took on a case against a bank that grew into a huge case. The bank hired a large, aggressive law firm to grind us down but we kept winning, picking up more and more clients and winning important rulings that pointed to what appeared to be an inevitable win if we could withstand the cost and time, which rose to several hundred thousand dollars out of our pockets and many hours spent not working on other cases. We started leaning on our credit cards pretty hard.

Then we got a call from our adversary; the bank had filed for bankruptcy protection. It was devastating; our multi-million dollar case was now worth next to nothing.

We managed to eventually pay the firm’s bills and always managed to keep our employees paid and insured, but that meant that we would often go without any pay ourselves for months at a stretch. My formerly good credit plummeted and I got behind on my mortgage and credit cards. The bank I was paying my mortgage to had already gone under itself. I was utterly miserable; my girlfriend wanted to help but she didn’t make enough to make a real difference and we decided to keep her credit strong rather than put both of us in a hole. So I just stopped. I didn’t pay my mortgage and waited to be foreclosed. I tried, but there was no way to sell the house in this market. I saved what money I was able to pay other bills that had been piling up and to prepare to move. Eventually the bank filed a foreclosure. We told the bank to take the house which took them almost seven months to do.

What came from it turned out to be liberating. I got rid of or refrained from everything that I didn’t need or that cost a lot. I am now somewhat happy for the first time in a long while. My girlfriend had hated where we lived and it was a much longer commute for both of us. My kids didn’t really use the backyard. We moved back downtown into a small but very nice apartment, at a quarter the cost. The building is a very social place; I had barely known my previous neighbors. I am now an eight block walk to my office so even gas is barely an expense any more; and my girlfriend and I had forgotten how much we enjoy living downtown generally. I can sleep better with the stress lowered; the kids even claim they sleep better because the sound of the cars and the general hum of the city. Now I am trying to slowly build up my credit. I spend a lot less than I used to because I don’t buy things I don’t absolutely need and will never extend myself again.

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