Outside this fine morning, the sun was shining brightly in a blue sky. There was no evidence whatsoever of clouds, rain or rumble. I deduced, therefore, that I did not need to drag along an umbrella or jacket; I could spend the day - based on the information I was given sensorily - dry, warm and safe.
Thus, I left the house without the aforementioned umbrella or jacket and started off with confidence that my day would proceed according to plan.
Five hours later, as blue changed to gray then black, I - drenched and cold, shaking my fist at the sudden foul turn of events, plans ruined - couldn't help but wonder how I could have prepared better for this bitter, unexpected atmospheric shake-up. Even the weatherman let me down!
Our financial skies tend to be as fickle; one day, you're confident that you can pay all your bills into the unseen future, eat at restaurants comfortably a few times a week, buy the latest upgrade in technology (hey, I work hard, I deserve it and I need to keep up with my friends!), plan for retirement (well, sure, if I have money left over after xyz of course, retirement), put money away for the kids' college, pay off debt, savings (uh...ok, if I have enough money left over after all that, maybe savings...)
But life, often stormy and unpredictable, can take a sudden shift: a layoff or reduction in income, an equally unexpected increase in expenses, credit card debt, household repairs, childcare issues, medical expenses, and so on. Financial climates, like the weather, can change quickly and with little forewarning.
Metaphorically speaking, saving for a rainy day is always a good idea, but one the average American pushes to the back of the closet. It's always the last thing on our rapidly growing list. The reason for this is what teens today refer to as "YOLO", You Only Live Once. Most folks agree that bills need to be paid, but the consensus gets a bit sketchy when it comes to what (bills to pay first) and how much (when experiencing fluctuations in income). People want to live richly even on modest incomes; the thought of being frugal and careful with spending is more frightening than saving for...well, what may not happen. What probably won't happen. Live for today, don't worry about tomorrow. We'll worry about hard times if and when they hit.
Saving for a rainy day. No, not as much fun as living in the moment. Not as much fun, granted, as up-to-the-minute technology and nice cars and new furniture, and Starbucks coffee, loaded, with whipped cream (remember, you deserve it!).
Yet, saving for a rainy day provides a lot more relief when the rain starts to fall and you know you're covered. Just like when you're dragging that umbrella around - inconveniently, no doubt - until the moment you need it, and the drenched are standing there looking at a dry you, relief etched on your face.
At some point, we all have to make tough financial decisions. By saying "No" to expensive items and frivolous purchases, we say "Yes" to our peace of mind and our security. We can't stop rough times from coming, but by preparing financially, we can make those tougher times less stressful and still have good lives. What makes a good life anyway: is it "things"? Living just for today with little thought for tomorrow? Or living smart, prepared, comfortable yet not in excess, content in the little things, joyful in those moments that don't cost a single penny.
For frugal families, "YOLO" has a much different meaning. It doesn't pertain to a day, a week or even a year - it's a lifelong attitude. It means living within your means so you don't have to worry about how you're going to make mortgage payments (low payments, since you bought a small house with an equally small mortgage). How you're going to get from point A to point B (you own all your cars and have no payments). How you're going to feed your family (you eat at home, with inexpensive ingredients, learn to cook and bake, buy on sale, freeze, and don't waste). How you're going to make it during a stormy financial climate (you've cultivated an umbrella of security by saving money on a regular basis, keeping your debts and purchasing low, living frugally) and for all this, you know you'll be okay. YOLO = You Only Live One (Life), not One (Day)...
...for where will "living it up for one day" leave you in an unprepared tomorrow?
Revised and reprinted from September, 2012. All rights reserved.
Sharon L. Cece © 2014