The Second Time I Lost My Life Savings

I like to joke that there have been three separate times in my life where I have “lost my life savings.” The third time it happened, which was the time I spent my saved $10K (and then some) to try and launch a freelance music career — and, honestly, it isn’t quite fair to say that I lost my life savings, when I really only spent my available liquid cash and didn’t touch my 403(b) — anyway, the third time it happened, I realized just how easy it was to both save and spend everything you had. (That Kickstarter. My heart weeps when I think of the money I lost on my Kickstarter.)

I’m actually very good at saving, when I have more money than I need for basic living expenses. This is a bit like saying “I’m actually very good at eating balanced meals when someone cooks them and puts them down in front of me.” But I think it was easier for me to spend my “life savings” on a crazy idea because I had already, previously, seen all of my hard-earned money spend down to nearly zero.

The second time it happened, it had to do with a group house.

I should tell you right now that I’m a little fuzzy on the details. I can’t remember, at this point, who owed money to whom. What I do remember is that the landlord would only accept one rent check, instead of one check from each group house member. (You can already see where this story is going.) So someone had to collect checks from everyone else in the house, deposit the checks into her bank account, and pay the landlord.

This was not my responsibility when I first moved into the group house, but there was one month when the person who was supposed to do it didn’t have enough money to cover her part of the rent, so she asked if I could collect the checks (excepting hers, of course) and pay the rent and she would pay me later, you know? Again, I feel really fuzzy on the details, and I couldn’t say at this point who owed me what. What I do remember was that the landlord started to come to me for the complete rent payment, and not everyone in the group house always paid me back. (Especially this one person who, like, moved in and then disappeared? It was a weird thing, the sort of thing that only happens in group houses.)

It didn’t take a lot to blow through my “life savings,” because at that point in my life I barely had any savings to speak of. But yes, to quote The Billfold, it was here and then it was gone. And then I moved out, and lived in a different apartment with a roommate and a landlord who was happy to accept one check from each of us.

(With my life savings spent, I also became eligible for food stamps, which is worth noting only because I was in grad school and they told us from the very beginning that it would be in our own best interest to get on food stamps. Urgh. Um. I didn’t give in and get food stamps until I stopped having enough money to buy food, and I still don’t feel great about the decision.)

So you save money, something happens and you spend it all, and you rebuild. I’m in the “rebuild” stage right now. Get myself out of debt, build up my emergency fund, maybe start contributing to my Roth IRA in two years. (While, in the background, my 403(b) keeps growing and growing just like everyone promised.)

But that means another “spend it all” cycle may be in my future. If I’m lucky, it’ll be something like condo ownership or a round-the-world tour to research my novel The Round-the-World Tour; if I’m unlucky, it’ll probably be medical expenses.

I feel like I’ll be okay with it, because it’s happened a few times already, but this sort of thing changes as you get older. There’s a quote from North and South, which we’re going to discuss on Thursday but I’m going to spoil this quote for you now, that has kind of gotten stuck in my brain:

“He does not understand what it is to find oneself no longer young — yet thrown back to the starting-point which requires the hopeful energy of youth.”

Oh, Mr. Thornton. I understand, even though I’m still young(ish) and perpetually hopeful.

One of the songs I wrote, and that did in fact end up included in a Kickstarter stretch goal, included the lyric “I wish that I had all the moments of my life at once, to know that they were good.”

But we don’t get that.

So we have to save money instead, with the idea that someday of course we’re going to be asked to spend our life savings, because that’s why we saved them.

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