We’ve all heard the financial advice to have three to six months tucked away as an emergency fund. The idea is that if you get laid off or have to take a leave of absence from work, you won’t be forced into debt to survive.
But the reality for most people is that an emergency fund with that much money is a pipe dream.
I spent most of my 20s in school or in entry-level jobs. I didn’t even start thinking about an emergency fund until I was in my 30s. At that time, I worked in a fairly entry-level position which is another way to say I wasn’t making much money. I was working in a nonprofit organization which is another way to say I was making less money still. On top of all that, I’d come out of graduate school with debt. Paying off the debt was a higher priority, for me, than the emergency fund.
But I knew the importance of one, so $10 and $25 at a time, I tried to squirrel money into a savings account I named, “Don’t Touch.” If it hadn’t been such a struggle I’m not sure I would remember this. But it was, so I do. I remember when I finally had $1,000. That day, I firmly declared myself as the owner of a true emergency fund.
And even though the best practice of six months’ reserves was a long way off, at that time it felt like a monumental accomplishment.
I don’t have specific memories of hitting other milestones, $5,000 and $10,000. More. It’s only the $1,000 that I remember with clarity because of how much work and how much time it took. And because I felt so proud of myself.
What does this have to do with a Supersize LIFE?
Last week I shared my announcement that I finally put a deposit down on my future home. Before that friends started to worry about my lack of forward momentum with no tow vehicle and no rig decision. They worried I was pushing myself into a corner and truly would be homeless by the end of the summer. I had one friend who said she couldn’t be more surprised considering how much research I’d done, considering how many lists I created and, generally, how organized I am.
But, I can see now, it had nothing to do with organization. It didn’t really even have much to do with making a decision. I’d been leaning toward the Oliver for a while and the factory tour confirmed my instinct. In fact all along I’d felt it would’ve been no contest if it weren’t for the price tag on the Oliver. Remember it is triple the cost of, say, the Casita.
In other words, my reluctance to commit to a rig had everything to do with my first emergency fund.
I had it on my Master List to make the rig decision by January 2017. Then when I booked the trip to Tampa for the RV SuperShow, I told myself I’d wait until after that. But still I’d have a decision by the end of January.
When the RV show and January came and went, I told myself there was still time. My new deadline was March. March was still enough time. Then March came and went. As did April. That’s when friends started voicing concern.
There was no fanfare 10 days ago when I casually emailed Anita at Oliver Travel Trailers and ordered the rig. I wrote a big check and made the deposit. I signed the contract and in another week, I’ll write an even bigger check. And when I pick up the rig at the end of the summer, I’ll write a bigger check still.
The combined total of those checks is the equivalent of two years of my current living expenses. That’s four emergency funds. Four!
In recent weeks, I have revisited that feeling of success when I reached $1,000. And I figured out what took me so long to write the rig deposit check. In the span of 12 weeks, I will write checks that will deplete my savings account. Twelve weeks. Twelve tiny weeks. That’s 84 days.
It’s money that took me years to save. It was saved, at times, in the tiniest of increments.
My mind knows that these three checks I’m are the reason I cut coupons, bought generic, keep the heat in my house two degrees cooler than I would’ve liked during the winter months and generally went without for so long. But my emotions have struggled with the idea of giving up two decades worth of savings. All that work gone in the span of 84 days.
It’s hard. But hard is the price of trying to make dreams come true. It should be.
If I can make myself think only of that, those checks should be the easiest I’ve ever written.