On Safety Nets vs. Spending Now

Those sundaes aren’t free, but if you stick with those friends for 10 years, you’ll end up richer for the experience.

So yesterday I wrote about the idea of counting your safety nets like they were sheep, and noted at the beginning that I had about one month of an “emergency fund” saved up (by which I really mean “it’s all in my checking account, but it’s there and it’s a buffer”).

But if you have been reading all of my posts and tumblogs and tweetlogs with a critical eye, you might notice that I’ve gone on three Caribbean cruises in the past three years, or that I spent most of Monday night getting really excited about the menu options at this restaurant where I was going out with friends.

“Surely,” you might say, “surely you would have a larger emergency fund and/or less debt if you went on one fewer cruise or ordered 25 fewer cocktails!”

(25 cocktails at $15 per cocktail including tip comes to… $375.)

The conversation about saving vs. “well, you’ve got to enjoy life now” is a fairly well-covered one, and might be one of the Top Three Financial Struggles we all experience. It pales a bit in comparison to the conversation about saving vs. “well, am I going to eat this weekend or keep the electricity on,” of course. It’s a more privileged question, but it is a question that everybody deals with no matter their level of income and expenses. (Remember, of course, when McDonalds advised its workers to avoid the simple pleasures of chewing gum so that they might save that dollar.)

Because the question is so well-covered, I want to change it up just a little bit. It’s not always about spending to enjoy life now; it’s about spending to invest in the people who will make up your future.

I’ve written before that the year I saved $10,000 was the year I didn’t have any friends. Likewise, the year I did the telemarketing thing and literally timed my bus rides so I’d avoid peak hours and save quarters was also a pretty lonely year.

Money facilitates friendships, whether we like it or not — and, as you all noted in the comments of the safety net piece, friends are another form of safety. I’ve donated to friends’ GoFundMes when they’ve had financial difficulties. I’ve helped my friends out and they’ve helped me out.

Not that we should think of friends like mutual funds, like: “Well, if this person’s career takes off, maybe she can help me too! But if she loses her job, I’ll buy her a few rounds of drinks so she can still hang out with us!” But that’s sort of how it ends up working out, in the end.

Money also facilitates relationships, which theoretically facilitate stability and provide a base from which to build a life that earns even more money, although:

— if you base your relationship off the idea that it will increase your income, you’re doomed

— you can also lose a lot of money (and stability) during breakups, divorces, and relocations for partners that turn into breakups after you arrive

— ha ha the mommy penalty ha ha I’m going to sit in a corner and cry now

And no, you don’t need bling to date (do the kids still say “bling?”), and you don’t even need a lot of money to have friends, but the frustrating part of adult life is that, once you leave school, you have to pay to occupy any building that isn’t your home, your workplace, or the public library. So to have friends or form partnerships, you need to pony up for that $15 cocktail, or at least for the $5 well drink or $2 Coke or $4.50 pumpkin spice latte.

Which brings me back around to my three Caribbean cruises. I can’t even write “three Caribbean cruises” without feeling gross and guilty, but the truth is that paying to go on the JoCo Cruise turned out to be one of the best investments I’ve ever made in myself. Most of my friends right now are people I met either on the cruise — or after the cruise when people I did meet on the cruise said “hey, you should meet this other cool person.”

So yeah, I had to pay to go on the three cruises — gaah I am frowning at myself every time I type “THREE CRUISES” — and I still have to pay every time I want to meet those friends in a place that has four walls and a roof. And I paid when I ended up dating one of those friends, and I paid when we eventually broke up.

Should I have picked the savings instead? Who knows. That number isn’t even real, because I could have ended up needing to spend the money on something else. (I’ll write another piece for you next week on all the times I tried to save money only to end up spending it on something that was disappointingly not what I wanted to save up for, like paying late rent on behalf of the roommate who skipped town, or, you know, foot surgery.)

Anyway. That’s what I’m thinking about, this afternoon.

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