It is rare that financial advice will make a person cry or pump their fist in the air, but this brilliant and powerful Billfold essay about the importance of a “fuck off fund” by Paulette Perhach might do both those things. It’s an important read for us as adults, and also as parents, because we need to teach our kids this stuff.
In “The Story of a Fuck Off Fund,” Perhach writes about the importance of maintaining what many people refer to as an “emergency fund,” but she calls it a “fuck off fund.” Basically, that’s a stockpile of enough money to support oneself and pay all one’s living expenses for a few months if everything goes south, because things can go south very quickly.
The essay starts off describing the path of many young, female college grads. You start off with a low-paid job, but you have potential. You want to not look like a college student, so you buy a nice skirt. Maybe you treat yourself to a pair of designer heels or finance a slightly more grown-up car. You move in with a boyfriend. Everything is great. You love who you are. You’re the girl who would kick a boss in the shins if he made a pass at you. Who would never be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t respect you.
But then it starts to go dark real quickly. The boss makes the pass, but you can’t afford to lose the job. The boyfriend belittles and undermines, but you can’t afford to pay first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit to get a new place, so you stay. You blame yourself for not being the person you thought you were, the person who’d shout, “Fuck you!” and dance all the way to HR and flip her hair on the way out of the building. But it’s not that you’re weak, it’s that you couldn’t afford it. Like many recent grads, this hypothetical “you” has debt and little savings. Without rich parents or savings, flipping off the pervy boss could mean being homeless.
But then Perhach tells the story again, and this time the title character forgoes the skirt and the expenses and lives hand-to-mouth until she has a cache of money in her bank account. She misses out on a lot of temporary fun, but when the boss makes the pass, she dances all the way to HR, because the job can go fuck itself. As a reader, one wants to simultaneously cry and applaud.
Everyone should read that article and take its lessons to heart, for oneself and for one’s kids. We all need financial independence. It’s not about being shallow or superficial or valuing money over personal relationships. It’s about freedom and having a safety net and not being trapped by some dumb lack of money.
Perchach’s essay is terrifying to read, because it’s really easy to go down that first path. I think most of us do these days. But Perhach’s essay points out how important it is for everybody, male or female, to maintain independent savings. Maybe one moves into an apartment that turns out to be hideously shitty. Maybe one’s roommates turn out to be knife-wielding cultists. Maybe one’s company suddenly outsources one’s job to New Zealand. Hell, maybe one needs to pay for an abortion. I don’t know. But a person needs an emergency fund that is all their own. We need them, and we need to teach our kids to have them.
Over on Jezebel, one commenter said that her grandmother gave her the same advice but called it her “walking money.” Because it’s the money that lets you just walk out if you need to. Out of a job. Out of a relationship. You can’t buy your way out of all your problems, but a certain amount of financial independence makes a lot of problems go away.
Money isn’t everything. But not having it can be everything. Money gives freedom, and that freedom lets us be who we want to be–the woman who would kick a boss in the shins and walk out rather than smile through an inappropriate grope. We owe it to our kids to teach them to be responsible about money, and encouraging them to have a “fuck off fund” is part of that.