Hole In The Soul

There’s a Spanish proverb which says ‘self-knowledge is the beginning of self-improvement’. We can’t start to improve until we know ourselves. As mentioned in other posts, since we retired, Martin and I have both received interest and questions from people ages 20 to 60 wanting to know how we pulled this off. As you read my posts, you’ll see this inquiry answered in greater depth, which, I hope will enable you to move forward with your plan to retire or retire early, depending on where you’re currently situated in life.

Over the years I’ve met many who started out with good intentions to budget, pay off debt and save more. Today there are all kinds of computer programs to help you set up a budget. I started out years ago using paper and pencil then graduated to Microsoft Money. Now, there are sites like mint.com to help you keep track of your spending. Whatever you use to set up your budget, know this. Coming up with a budget is the easy part; sticking to it takes WORK! The work starts with this idea, what I call ‘the hole in the soul’.

When I talk about the hole in the soul, I’m not talking about going to church, although going to church certainly may help. I’m talking about a life situation, which causes you to spend unnecessarily. Some of us are stress spenders. The more stressed we become, the more our particular button is pushed, the more we spend on things we don’t really need. Instead of addressing our stressor and resolving the issue, we avoid our inner discord and spend money to make ourselves feel better. Keep in mind, masking our stressor with purchases isn’t usually a conscious decision. So, my question for you is do you have such a stress point? Do you have the hole in the soul? Not everyone prevents themselves from being successful with a budget or saving more or carrying less debt because of the hole in the soul. I’m just saying, it’s been my experience, my observation that quite often there is a stress point. So, what I’m asking you to do is take a good, hard look at yourself and your buying habits and honestly assess whether or not you have a particular stressor, which is preventing you from being financially successful.

Most often the hole in the soul is centered around relationships or the lack thereof or life regrets. If you have such an issue, which carries tremendous emotional weight, until it’s addressed and resolved, it’s very difficult to focus on financial health. Some people can soldier through and accomplish their financial goals anyway. But, they are the exception. You may even have a hole in the soul because of your relationship with yourself. That was my particular hole in the soul. I never took time for myself without guilt being attached to it. I’d dance as fast as I could at work, at home, in the community. I thought I could be super woman. It wasn’t until I almost went down in flames that I recognized why I held this misconception about myself. In fact, this is when I coined the term, ‘the hole in the soul’. The lesson I learned was…if you don’t take care of yourself, you’re no good to anyone else, least of all you. When I learned to put my own oxygen mask on first and realized it wasn’t being selfish, then I was ready to save instead of spend.

I once read that top CEO’s only make the “right” decision 10% of the time! The trait which put them at the top of their game was their willingness to correct and change course. We often think we are stuck in life circumstances with no alternatives. Or, worse yet, we’ve put our lives on automatic pilot and just keep flying along without taking the controls back to manual. So, if you have a hole in the soul, plug it. See a counselor, if necessary. Have a heart to heart with yourself or whoever you need to talk to be it children, spouse, parents, in-laws, bosses or co-workers. Make peace with your regrets. Take action. Until you do, you may not be able to stop yourself from buying more shoes, jewelry, knick knacks, cars, boats, trips, trips and trips, bigger houses, more furniture, stuff, stuff, stuff while you convince yourself you deserve all this. Once the hole in the soul is plugged, you’ll realize what you deserve is financial independence. Money is nothing more than a tool. Once you harness your money instead of your money harnessing you, you’ll realize what financial freedom buys. That is when your spirit will truly soar!

Copyright 2023 Kathy Merlino All Rights Reserved

18 comments on “Hole In The Soul

    • Thanks. I hope it helps. Whether someone overspends, overeats, drinks in excess, gambles or whatever, there is a root cause which has nothing to do with the excess. Realize, accept and take accountability and your life can change. Good luck with your DA group.


  1. I’ve been reading your blog for the last 6 months and I really enjoy your writing My big day is coming up in April. I am so excited about walking and gardening and spending time doing more volunteer work. I’ve gotten so much good information and inspiration from you. I’m looking forward to a wonderful summer.


    • Hi Anne,

      Thank you for the comments about my writing/blog. Congratulations on your impending retirement! I’m excited for you as it will open up a whole new aspect of your life.

      Best wishes,


  2. thank you for your articles. i recently retired 1 week ago. i was not really planning it until next year. i quit without notice because i was overwhelmed and could not see an out. i am receiving social security and have medicare but still was not ready to retire. i am now in transition and of course feeling in limbo. i know i will have to go back to work after i have surgery . i plan to return to work in jan 16. i want a part time job. i miss being able to help other people and be able to do nice things for people as while as myself. i am trying to stop spending unless it is really needed.i keep buying food and wanting to cook . i enjoy cooking . when i think of the job i left i don’t regret it .i could not find anything in it that made it tolerable after a while. i know i should have left earlier but if i look back on my usual behavior i always wait to late. so now have to go forward and know everything will be fine. im telling myself to relax and breathe and enjoy this stage in my life. i will continue to read your articles because being informed will help.


  3. Such good advice! I retired in 2011 but it took me until the beginning of 2015 to understand I did not need to keep buying. I probably have everything I will ever need (and more). I quit spending on things I thought I had to have and started saving instead. Took me the entire year to make the transition but now I enjoy staying home and just enjoying my life. Now when I do go somewhere or buy something it is without regret that I am spending on something I really did not need or want.


    • Donna, thank you for writing this. I’m retiring in a year and making a budget and I’m obsessed with thinking I need to have the same amount of spending money that I have no – money for clothes, furniture, decor, etc. Thank you for letting me know that it may not be necessary.


  4. I have used the phrase “hole in the soul” for years. I know what mine are, just not sure how to fill the holes. I overeat, because as a child there were many days there were only mustard sandwiches or pork and bean sandwiches. So, now I feel I need to eat as much as I can because there may not be food tomorrow, intellectually I know there will be. The hole in my soul differs with the truth. I have found some of the journey is to forgive myself for not having the answer about how to fill that emptiness. I have decided to try to buy a little 2009 red smart car convertible with 4383 miles. Do I need it, NO! Do I want it, YES! I have done so little for myself my entire life. I always provided special things for my children, and amazingly, one has turned out very selfish and uncaring, go figure.I have been thinking about doing this for myself for several months, if I need the money I will sell it in the future. I want something for myself, to feel the wind in my hair and the sun on my face. The job I am retiring from, has been VERY stressful and demanding. I had a stroke a little over 2 years ago and have been fortunate and came through with very little swiss cheese in the brain. I am hoping the memories that I have lost are not wonderful ones. The two memories that were forgotten was painting a 2 story house on a terrible scaffold, and a boating trip. So..if it is not worse than that, I am blessed. The great thing about forgetting, is someone has to bring it up to know it is missing. LOL I figure, we work on filling the “holes in our souls” for the rest of our lives. What works for one person will not work for the next, and forgiving ourselves for being human is the greatest gift we can give ourselves. Thank you Kathy for your blogs!


    • so many thoughts come to mind after retirement . i think it is because now we have time to feel and think about what we are feeling and put it in its proper place in our life. enjoy your 2009 convertible you deserve it and whatever else you feel will fill your holes. I’m doing the same thing. i retired 5 month ago and it is different than what i thought .i am just becoming able to accept it. what did i expect after working for 40 years? work was a large part of my life and i did not have another plan.


  5. Thanks for your reply. Little did I know this process would be so stressful. You go to Social Security, try to plan the best you can, which I did very little. Then you live happily ever after. I went to Social Security in 2014 and asked what I would receive if I retired that day..was quite happy with the amount. I went back to Social Security last month and was stunned..the first person had made a mistake. The mistake was $600.00 a month..OUCH..are you kidding..and no retribution to the person that made that mistake. I told the man I was talking with..no wonder they have the guard in the building and the glass partition between us. LOL. But, I will survive..and move on. I want to start Social Security on July 1st, making the 1st payment on August 1st. and my appointment isn’t until May 23rd..I hope they know what they are doing.


  6. I am retiring in a couple of weeks from a 21 year career in healthcare marketing. As Director of Marketing and Communications, I never thought I would ever rise to such a high position. I was lucky and had great mentors. But I am a bit concerned. Friends have warned me that after a certain “honeymoon” phase, I will likely hit a rough period where I feel restless, out of place, bored and depressed. How can I avoid this? I have lots of interests and I think I can keep myself occupied with arts and crafts, reading, friends, etc., but I live in a climate where winters are often long, dark and very wet. Long periods with no sunshine, just “chain mail skies” till late Spring. Is it inevitable that I will experience a discontent? How can I get past this?


    • Hi Mary, Please read my post on the menu entitled ‘Stages of Retirement’. There, I discuss what sociologist Robert Atchley called the phases of retirement and yes, one of them is what I call the Disillusionment Stage. It is pretty much what your friends are warning you about. It is not necessarily going to happen to you although most retirees experience it if only for a day or two. You need to give yourself two years to acclimate to retirement, carve out your new identity and establish new routines. So, give yourself time. Also, look for a new purpose in your life. For many retirees that is the arts and crafts you mention. Take classes to increase your skill level or try a new art form and meet new people. Learning to draw opened up a new world for me. Ultimately, it is up to you to get past this stage and it depends on so many factors including your personality, motivation, self-direction and interests. Just keep moving ahead and remain open to new experiences. I hope this helps. Let me know how it goes for you. K


  7. 1st know that it is normal. don’t rethink your retirement . start to do things that you are interested in. do some things that you may not have considered. be open to new activities . volunteer to help. this gives you purpose. it is something about helping those in need that is fulfilling even if you thought you would not enjoy it.
    enjoy not having to jump out of bed and move fast. relax. your earned it. you may still need or want a part time job for additional money. there is a big decrease in play money. USE YOUR CHANGE IN INCOME STATUS POSITION TO HELP DECREASE MONTHLY BILLS. TALK WITH MORTGAGE COMPANY AND WHOEVER YOU MAY STILL OWE.


  8. Afternoon Kathy, I ran across your blog on the stages of retirement a few months ago. I retired in January from a library manager position and two weeks before leaving the organization I completed a library building project with a grand opening attended by over 500 people. It is both pretty sweet and daunting to retire from such a career high point (this was my third new library project–and let me tell you it is a fantastic feeling to know that your work will have a big impact on so many people’s lives), now this sets the stage for what you call “retirement disillusionment”.

    I found your blog a few months ago one evening after my husband had gone to bed after watching TV for several hours once again. He has been retired for several years, while I have not yet made 6 months. Within days of my retirement, we were packing our rental house and moving to San Diego, CA where my husband has siblings and the weather is nice most of the year. Due to health issues I have not been able to get out and enjoy the various activities available in the area –I go in for knee replacement surgery next week. I have looked into workshops, and most started the week we arrived and the next session begin the week of my surgery, so I have not been able to get out and about. I appreciate your comments about giving yourself 2 years to acclimate to retirement–it seems as if there is an expectation to know exactly what you will do for the rest of your life within weeks of retirement. I also appreciate the info regarding multiple phases–it is a process to be explored, appreciated and relished.

    If you could consider a potential topic–retired folks who rent rather than own, or who live in apartments/condos versus a house. Because of the type of dwelling we have chosen to live in, many of the activities you enjoy or need to take care of are not available or necessary. I do not ever expect to own a home again, the housing market being what it is–this is certainly a different mindset for the retirement situation.

    Anyway thanks for your column/blog and I look forward to reading your entries. TS


  9. I think several times before I buy anything now. I do have everything I need. Always think if it’s something I can use. It seems to help.


  10. Hi Kathy,
    I guess I may be retired. I was laid off in January 2015.

    Last week I was able to volunteer helping clean out the houses of flood victims in West Virginia where I live. Going through that process made me want to clean out my own house. It is amazing how much stuff we collect, most of which we never use for very long.

    Thanks for your blog. It nails down several things I have noticed about my self.


    • Hi Peter, Thank you for the positive feedback! I’m glad to hear the blog is helpful. Yes, it is amazing how much we accumulate. You may want to read my blog on “Will Decluttering Your Life Make You Happy?” Best to you. K


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