I Have a Savings Account for the First Time in My Adult Life

jersey girl

I am bad at saving money, though I really shouldn’t be. I have been in enough situations in my life where a savings account with anything in it would have been a great help, and while I consider myself excellent at budgeting (or at least having a very clear idea of how much is in my checking account at all times), I generally subscribe to the school of thought made popular by 2 Chainz: It’s mine, I spend it.

For a while, this sustained me. Living paycheck-to-paycheck is a reality that I have accepted, and while I hope that one day I will make enough money where I don’t have to think long and hard a few days before payday about buying something I kind of need like contact lens solution, or paying the internet bill on time. For me, saving money isn’t easy, it’s a skill that I’ve actively worked to develop, but I have come to realize its necessity.

I got laid off in October, a situation that would seem impossible to save money in, but it’s the one thing that made it actually happen. I knew that I would eventually get a new job, one with a steady paycheck and stability. I knew that I didn’t want to feel the panicky, breathless feeling of not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from without a safety net. I’ve been there before. The first time I was laid off in New York, I had no savings and half a paycheck to my name, with what seemed like endless amounts of time stretching before me. I relied heavily on my boyfriend at the time, borrowing money once for rent and generally feeling like a guilty burden. I never want to feel that way again.

This time, I was lucky. I got a large severance check from my former employer which I socked away immediately. When I filed my taxes that year, I got a pretty impressive sum back. Bolstered by these two items, my savings account started to glow with health and well-being, like a sun-kissed friend just back from vacation somewhere tropical that you probably couldn’t afford. I scraped by on unemployment payouts and freelance checks, and made rules for myself, putting checks that were over $50 directly into my savings account and doing everything in my power not to touch it.

For years, a savings account felt like an unattainable goal, something that I knew I should take care of, but could never get my shit together enough to do so. Right now, it exists as the best kind of insurance, a backup if I ever find myself unemployed again. With steady work comes steady money, and I have trained myself to actually put money away with every paycheck. The money that exists tents me with a whisper every time I check my bank account.

“Let’s book a ticket to Europe and then buy some new boots,” it coos. “Why don’t you treat yourself to a new thing? You love new things!”

I had it set up so that $50 or so would fly out of my checking account every month and into my savings. If i didn’t touch this money, there it was—a baby nest egg, better than nothing. If I bought too many things and paid a big bill or two, I’d dip right back into my savings, padding what little I had with a little boost. Knowing about its existence is the worst kind of knowledge. I’ve read about ways to stop using a credit card—freezing it in a block of ice and secreting it away next to frostbitten packages of frozen vegetables and Otter pops, making it accessible only for absolute emergencies. That is something I wish I could have done with the money I set aside, but my inability to access it when I really need it would make me worry.

My sister is an expert saver, someone who makes money and then puts that money away into a giant pit that is full of money, like Scrooge McDuck’s great cavern of wealth. Whenever I ask her about how she does it, she sighs and shakes her head.

“It’s easy,” she says. “Don’t spend all of your money. Put some of your money away.”

I have a job for the moment, and now there are rules about how and when I can spend my money. I have benchmarks for when I feel okay. If there’s less than $200 in my checking account and I am a week out from getting paid, I start to panic. It’s okay to move money from my savings account into my checking account, but it has to be returned. I take loans out against myself all the time. If my savings starts to dip below three months’ rent, I start to worry, envisioning a future when I might be jobless again, living off unemployment and freelance money, budgeting my worth in the flyleaves of books and on the back of receipts.

A savings account is decidedly adult. It is the giant coffer that funds vacations to Hawaii and first, last and security on an apartment all to yourself and the fees for an exterminator and washing all of your belongings in very hot water when you inevitably get bedbugs. It’s what pays for emergency surgery for your cat after it eats a piece of thread and starts vomiting blood. It’s a quiet reassurance that you will be able to stay afloat.

 

Megan Reynolds lives in New York.

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5 Comments / Post A Comment

garli (#4,150)

Yay, congrats!

I try to never even think about the money in my savings account as existing in the real world, it’s only for horrible things like car repairs, illness and nothing fun like the new boots we all need so badly.

cryptolect (#1,135)

I know that this essay is not necessarily asking for advice, but here are my two cents: move your savings account to another bank, like Capital One 360 (formerly ING). That way, if you need the money, you can transfer it back into your checking, but it will take a few days and cut down on any impulse spending.

Poor cat, I hope that is just a hypothetical situation!

nell (#4,295)

@cryptolect Like you say, not really the point of this article but I also really endorse Capital One 360. I have both savings and checking through them–it allows me to easily create separate savings accounts earmarked for different things (emergency, grad school, etc.) Pretty much the only way I reliably save money is by immediately hiding it from myself, hence this system.

allreb (#502)

This reminds me of me. :) I had a savings account before I lost my first Real Grown Up Job, because my mother had always badgered me about putting away part of every paycheck into an emergency fund. (I don’t think *she* did this, but she told me I should repeatedly.) I wasn’t as on top of it as she wanted, but I did open an account and had stashed away a few thousand dollars when the company I worked for went under. (I was also super lucky, my expenses were REALLY low, especially for living in NYC – I was living with my older sister, and she was only charging me $300/month plus utilities and washing her dishes; the only debt I had was student loans and they were only requiring me to pay about $80/month at that point. On the other hand, I had zero financial safety net beyond that – no one in my family would have been in a position to help out if I’d run out of funds entirely.)

It was enough to get me by until I got a job about two months later – I remember celebrating when I hit my savings goal of 5k. (The new job paid better! Once I hit that goal my sister and I moved to an apartment actually *meant* for two people and I started paying real rent…) I’m still doing this and have built up a nice cushion, which comforts me when I inevitably get that WHAT IF MY COMPANY GOES OUT OF BUSINESS AGAIN?!?!? paranoia. (Of course I’ve been in this stasis for a few years now and need to start making actual choices about the money I’m saving, like how much should actually be going into a retirement fund and how much should be going towards saving to buy an apartment, etc… Well, I’m getting there.)

guenna77 (#856)

my tip – 2 savings accounts. one is at the same bank where you do checking, and you set up an auto-transfer for the day after every paycheck if you get direct deposit). usually if you have checking and saving together, you can have accounts where they automatically pull from savings if you overdraft checking. then your money is accessible, but seems fartehr away so you don’t spend it, and you’re making at least some interest. then you set up savings #2, with an online bank that gives you higher interest rates. that’s your permanent account. you never take money out of #2. every month or 2, take the overage from savings #1 (i like to keep the total in savings #1 at one month’s rent plus food) and transfer to #2.

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