Learning from New Barriers

I’ve been lucky when it comes to savings and investing. Lucky and without barriers. I didn’t realize how lucky until recently.

I’ve always been a saver. I’ve had role models in saving and frugality. I’ve also had incredible motivation. In high school, I only worked during the summer. I had to make my money last!

I opened my first savings account when I was very young. I stashed away any dollars I got my hands on, so the minimum opening balance was never a problem. Most banks are lenient with minimum balances for youngsters anyways.

After a few summers of working, I started my first investment account. The $3000 minimum wasn’t a problem. I was so good at making my money last through the years that it piled up. I had the cash sitting in my savings account. At least this would allow it to grow.

When I started my IRA, I was consolidating bank accounts. One happened to have exactly $5500. I had no other plans for the money. An IRA felt like destiny.

My 401k didn’t offer any barriers to entry either. I could put in 1% of my salary. I was just starting my student loan destruction journey and I wanted as much as possible going to my loans. 1% was the minimum I could invest without unenrolling from my 401k. Unenrolling felt like a barrier, so I did what I could to avoid it.

Now that is all well and good. I’m 30 and I’ve planted several solid investment seeds. Each of these accounts are easy now. I add to them when I want with an amount I want.

Starting my taxable investment account has been a different story.

We bought a house and that’s priority #1. It needs work. We knew that. I knew that. Taking care of the things we need to do has been expensive, much more expensive that I could have anticipated pre-move.

With that said, I don’t want to get behind on my goals. I’ve set and accomplished a major money goal each year for the last few years. Opening a taxable account is the next step. I don’t want to put it off. However, having nearly all of our money going to house projects has left little for investing.

I want to stay with Vanguard. $3000 is the minimum for most of their funds. I can’t come up with that right now. I’m staying true to my priorities, and there isn’t $3000 to spare after everything else. I lowered my hope to $1000.

I’m struggling to come up with $1000. My saving plan has me getting there in August. That’s what I’m comfortable setting aside. I don’t have the time, energy or resources (still no internet!) to hustle right now. That’s all I can spare.

I’ve never felt a barrier to saving or investing like this before. Most of it is artificially imposed, but I’m true to the jobs I’ve given my money. This isn’t an emergency. It is not a car. It is nothing I’d attempt to justify for the travel fund.

But what if this scarcity was reality?

What if the emergency fund was my rent money? My travel fund was all I had to buy groceries and my car fund had to cover gas until next payday? I can’t set aside any of that money because I need it. I can’t make it unavailable because it is my lifeline until the next payday.

I hate to admit that I’ve never really understood Dave Ramsey’s 1st Baby Step. Whenever someone calls into the show and says they are on BS 1, I didn’t get it. Really, it takes you awhile to set aside $1000? Stop going out to eat! Put down the Starbucks!

Until now, I’ve been blinded by my own privilege to never know what it feels like for it to take a few months to come up with $1000. This whole process of evaluating where I can squeeze out a few extra dollars has been a lesson in empathy.

I may not get it yet, but I’m a few steps closer to understanding.

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2 comments

  1. I was an avid listener to the Dave Ramsey podcast towards the end of grad school. Back then, $1000 was A LOT, because I was making $22k/yr and essentially living paycheck to paycheck. My situation was also different, because I knew I wouldn’t be making $22k forever. So I always try to think back to that period of my life and what it would be like to be making $20-30k a year for many years, with no hope for a significant raise. It totally changes the equation.

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