When I was four years old, my parents bought me a clear plastic, house-shaped box. The box was divided into three parts and adorned with various stickers, including some words I couldn’t yet read. The long, skinny box was my childhood piggy bank. When I found a penny on the ground at my preschool, I would shove it in my pocket and excitedly drop it into one of the three slots when I got home. By the time I could read the stickers, I had a notable pile of coins sitting at the bottom of “Spending,” “Saving,” and “Giving.”
I believe this piggy bank is one of the best things my parents could have done for me. The practice taught me, from a young age, both generosity and delayed gratification. I so enjoyed the feeling of dropping my small handful of coins into the collection basket at church that I started to direct my spending towards others, as well. My relatives often bring up how when they would take me birthday shopping, I would inevitably spend my gift money on small gifts to give my parents, sibling, and grandparents. And when I saw something I wanted at the craft store, my parents would tell me how if I waited a few weeks, we may find a coupon or see the kit on sale. The pile of tooth fairy and birthday money would shrink less if I waited. So, I did. I only had so many baby teeth after all. Typically, within a week I had forgotten about the craft kit or toy completely.
A good friend is currently in the process of leaving her long-term marriage. The other day she told me about how on her youngest child’s eight birthday, she wrote a journal entry: only ten more years until I can leave. It broke my heart to see the sadness in her eyes, to know that she had been so unhappy for so long. I was proud of her for finally having the courage to say, “enough is enough.”
But what came next shocked me. She had not paid a bill or managed her finances in anyway since she was married. Halfway through her forties, my friend hasn’t paid a bill, done taxes, looked at her bank account, planned for retirement, or made a purchase without permission since she was in college. He husband managed all of the family finances. She didn’t say it outright, but he sounds like a controlling guy.
I consider myself financially literate. I learned young about living within my means, paying myself first, and preparing for future uncertainties. I learned that at least half of each pay increase or bonus should be redirected to debt repayment, retirement funds, or emergency savings. I began saving for retirement since 22 and have ramped up my contributions at every chance since. I have an emergency savings account that could keep my household afloat for a year. I have no debt. Our cars, home, and everything therewhithin are fully paid off. We’re financially free–at least could be, temporarily.
I told me friend about a concept I’ve been adhering to for years, but just recently saw defined: the Fuck Off Fund. The fund is basically an emergency savings account meant to help you expediently exit a shitty situation. Find out your boyfriend has been faithful and want out? Boss pushing you too hard or making inappropriate comments? Ready to leave your current city and take a risk someplace new? The Fuck Off Fund is perfect for any of the above situation, and so many more.
My boss always asks me what I spend my money on. My home and car are paid off; I don’t travel or eat out much; I don’t buy expensive clothing or jewelry. “You make good money,” he tells me, “have some fun!”
He make more than double my income. He rents a huge home in a nice area; he leases three luxury vehicles; he wears expensive clothing and watches; he buys every new Apple product upon release; he travels extensively. And he struggles to make all of his payments each month.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen the riptide of consumerism draw into many, and then drag them further and further beneath the surface.
“The key to eternal happiness is low overhead and no debt.”
When you live simply and focus on long-term goals, it’s easy to find happiness in the everyday. Though I’m not particularly happy in my current job, it’s incredibly reassuring to know I could quit any time and be totally fine.
My friend became giddy when I told her about the Fuck Off Fund, and I hope that she starts her own. And I hope that more people decide to take back power in their lives; I hope to see more people say “no” to the superficial extras and “yes” to a promising future of self-reliance and financial freedom.