When I was a little, I kept a small green backpack embroidered with Sesame Street characters at the foot of my bunk bed. It was my “just in case” bag, assembled after a terrifying fire safety assembly. I’d known just what I’d pack: Cabbage Patch doll (plus outfit changes,) black patent party shoes, swimming lesson certificates, and feather collection. Since these, my most prized, possessions were zipped away, I couldn’t play with them as much as usual. It was hard, but that was the price of being prepared for a phantom house fire.
Sometimes I think about this backpack and wish my grown-up self was just as willing to stave off momentary wants and plan for life’s fires. I won’t. I don’t exactly believe in a savings account. I used to blame it on a genetic incapability. I was never particularly gifted at math, which I thought was a prerequisite for wanting a savings account. And writing isn’t a career in finance. So it wasn’t my fault that I never had excess money lying around, I rationalized. Writers aren’t supposed to have money, or even care about it. Yet, the fact is I make more now, than I ever have in my career of unpaid internships. My savings account, however, probably has no idea that I don’t still babysit.
Out of excuses, I have been forced to stare at the fact that my casual dips into the red are not a side effect or an accident, but a choice. To most, like any bank employee, this is wrong. And maybe sometimes it feels like I should be putting money aside, instead of investing in my closet or whatever else I happen to want from the bodega. But, I am really good at ignoring this feeling and defiantly swiping, because what am I saving for?
I know what it takes to pay my rent, keep my phone on, and get to and from work. I know enough not to live beyond my means. I am not in debt. I know, I could put whatever is leftover from my expense list under my mattress and not have a massive panic attack when my car gets impounded. But even armed with this knowledge, I don’t really make an effort to save and inevitably when my rent is due, I have enough to write the check and buy a pack of gum.
If you’re someone who religiously puts a portion of each paycheck in an account and anticipates putting down a deposit on your first house, you’re probably thinking: dumb, entitled, annoying. But what is the real harm in it — I’m single. There’s no wedding looming or a kid who needs a bowl of mac and cheese. Even if I could afford a dog, I wouldn’t have time for it. And to be honest, I’d rather have a gym membership than a 401K and it’s an either/or situation. I don’t think I’m alone either. Like many in my age/tax bracket, I don’t really want to rationalize going without in the present in order to plan for an amorphous future. I understand that maybe that future might contain big ticket items — wedding, houses, cars, kids, college tuition — but then there’s a version that will not. And until I get to a point where I want to fork over a couple thousand dollars to live somewhere with a walk in closet, it’s difficult to see the purpose of saving for something that feels completely irrelevant to how I live now. Right now, living is going to dinner with friends, complaining about shitty $20 manicures, paying to have my laundry folded and dropped off at my doorstep, and buying kale everything.
Saving on the other hand, is a nice thing, I should probably do, but don’t really want to. It’s little more than a “just in case” bag — a sense of security that answers the question of what do you do when something happens.
I think that’s the other part of the story. Because there’s never really been a question of what I would do if something happens. Conveniently, it’s always been figured out. It’s not the “just in case” bag I would have assembled, but nevertheless it’s always sitting at the foot of my bed, reminding me that there’s a way out if you get into an accident and don’t have health insurance or you need to pay a ridiculously high brokers fee. I know how fortunate I am to have been born with a pair of knee pads because in my 20-something years I have fallen down quite a bit. I also understand that as I leave my 20s they are wearing thin. There are times I wish I’d been forced to break my own falls. Pick myself up. Pack my own just in case bag. Then maybe I would view saving differently. But retraining how you think is difficult — even once you are technically financially independent from your parents (read: pay your own cell phone bill).
It requires completely forgetting everything they’ve drilled into you: we are there for you, we want to help, we will do whatever it takes so you can have exactly what you want, you should have whatever you want. It requires deciding that you want to pack your own “just in case” bag because only you think that feathers count as a priceless possession, and moreover because you are capable of it — even if there is a part of you that enjoys still feeling cared for and wants to take a cab home. I don’t know when it will click and my savings account will stop looking like a penny bank. I know I probably shouldn’t have bought $60 worth of juices today because I literally just pissed that money away. Keeping the change is hard, so if you’re doing it, great. For now, I’ll be trying to calculate if I can buy this coat and still pay my rent on time.