When we bought our house the backyard required some work. The previous owner enjoyed potted plants quite a bit, so the majority of the “garden” was actually plastic pots scattered around in the garden beds. We took quite a bit of time and energy to fix the backyard this summer so that it was functional.

For example, when we moved in there were three completely useless sheds out back. We tore those out, and have converted that space into usable garden area. They also had two raised garden beds that were past their prime, so we removed those as well and now have some grass and flowers in their place.

Starting Our Vegetable Garden

Between that work and laying out landscaping fabric, defining a grass/garden border, planting, weeding, seeding, and mulching we spent a TON of time in the garden this summer. For me, this time was a financial investment. We were working towards having a decent vegetable garden that would provide us with a ton of veggies this summer, and even more next year when we can plant things earlier and have some more established plants. I was incredibly excited to see the rewards of all our work coming up at the end of summer and into the fall.

An Unfortunate End to Our Vegetable Garden

Where It All Went Wrong

We did manage to get a few small harvests from our garden. We got three or four large cucumbers and some squash, and were just beginning to harvest all of our tomatoes when disaster struck. We went away for the week, and our house sitter unknowingly left our backyard gate open. This was great for the deer that live nearby, and they had a wonderful buffet over the week that they were here.

Everything that we worked so hard for is now gone. The tomatoes have been torn to shreds, the beets had their tops ripped off, and the carrots were “harvested” too soon. Even a bunch of the plants that we were hoping to save for years to come, like some hostas, were also eaten right down to the ground. In short, our backyards went from fall-harvest to complete destruction in just one week.

It is sad, and very frustrating, to think of all the “sunk costs” that had gone into this garden without any sense of real reward. It's disheartening to think that all that hard work we put in was essentially for nothing.

Overcoming Setbacks

However, we are trying to not allow a small setback to prevent us from continuing on towards our eventual goal. There's always going to be setbacks whenever you're working towards a specific goal. Perhaps you're saving up for a vacation or for retirement.

Inevitability, life will come along and prevent you from completing your goal without some sort of trial or tribulation. Your emergency fund may take a hit, your income might drop, and you'll have to reevaluate whether or not you can still meet that goal. For us, this was a setback, but it was only a set back for this year.

We'll be able to save some plants, replace some others, and put some more work into the yard this fall and next spring and get right back on track. Even though we already sunk a lot of costs into the garden, that money would have been spent regardless of whether or not deer got into our yard. Sure, we'll have to spend more money this fall buying vegetables rather than just picking them, but that's a decision we have to make based on what is available to us now, not on what could have been.

The reality is, if we had never spent any money on the garden and we had a backyard that had been eaten by deer or never cared for at all, we would spend money fixing it up so that it is an enjoyable place for us to spend time and garden. It doesn't matter if the work we did was undone, we'll happily do it again.

Likewise, regardless of what disaster may befall you, always base your financial decisions on what is true right now, not what could be true. If our garden wasn't properly fenced off, then yes, it would be a foolish decision to keep planting things for the deer to eat. Leaving the gate open is not something that will happen every week, and we're confident that our garden will be bigger and better than every next year.

What unfortunate circumstance caused you to rethink your sunk costs?

About Alan Schram

Alan Schram writes about personal finance and his encounters with it in his everyday life. Alan is recently married and is looking to save money on expenses and reduce his debts.