Discover more from Unsolicited Advice from Erin Lowry
Using Anxiety Spirals for Good
Being anxious about "what ifs" can have a positive impact on your saving and budgeting strategies.
There is a special breed of person who can just flow through life assuming everything will just workout. Dinner reservations are never a necessity. Travel itineraries are for the uptight. Time is merely a construct to which they do not need to bend. Then there are the folks who make life liveable for the “go-with-the-flow” types. The planners who anticipate and strategize for every possible outcome.
I’m in the latter camp and I partially chalk it up to having a “the other shoe will drop” mentality.
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Despite a life of relative comfort, there’s a part of my brain that constantly whispers “this will end badly. The other shoe is going to drop, eventually.”
It’s an existence that must sound tiring to those without an undermining inner voice. But I’m a defender of “the other shoe will drop” mentality because it allows you to play defense for moments outside of your control, like student loans not getting canceled.
Those who follow me on other platforms like Instagram or my Bloomberg Opinion columns may remember the “don’t bet on it” style of advice I gave about factoring student loan cancellation into your financial plans. It’s too dangerous a game to play when decisions are outside of your control. This is why I’m a big fan of a “what if” budget and savings accounts.
Unsolicited Advice: Build a “what if” budget (and/or savings account)
There are a few ways “what if” accounts exist in my home.
Buffalo Bills Dream Fund. Peach, my husband, is a huge Buffalo Bills fan and years ago we started setting aside money each month (like $30) into a savings account called “Bills Dream Fund.” This “what if fund” is for if (I know he wants me to say when) the Bills make it to either the AFC championship game or the Super Bowl. I won’t bore you with the details of his plans, but the point is that if this happens we don’t feel tempted to pull money from other savings goals in order for him to live out a dream experience. We’ve slowly set money aside for years so that he can indulgently say yes.
Maternity Leave? I’m self-employed, which means paying for all of my own benefits. There’s no company-sponsored paternal leave. If Peach and I end up having kids, we’d have to fund my maternity leave. This encouraged me to set up a maternity leave savings account a couple years ago, despite not even knowing if I wanted kids. The point was the option to have a child and not feel stressed trying to set aside a big chunk of change each month in thennine months after a positive pregnancy test. Instead, it’s been a slow burn that gives me options if I end up having a child.
Simulated budget. Finally, my favorite way to handle a financial “what if” is a simulated budget. You consider the “what if” cost – like increased rent on a new apartment or childcare or getting a dog or student loans not getting canceled – and create a budget based on those numbers.
For example, before Peach and I moved from Astoria, Queens to Manhattan, we created a budget that accounted for a $500 a month increase in rent – because that’s what we were willing to pay. Then, we started to actually live as if we were paying that $500 extra in rent per month so we could see the ripple effects to other areas of our lives. The $500 that we added to our rent actually just went to a savings account earmarked for our moving costs. We got to experience, in a simulated way, how it would feel to pay more in rent while also increasing our savings rate for a big cost.
You can do the same with student loans. Create your budget for what’ll be like when student loan payments resume in October. Then live off that budget for the rest of July, August, and September. You can set aside money that in October is a lump sum payment towards your student loans or – if you’re hoping for an alternative solution to cancellation – put towards another savings goal.
“What if” accounts can always be repurposed to other savings or investing goals if the “what if” never comes to fruition. It got you to save and gave you options. A win-win.
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