Saving for the Apocalypse

Financial plans for an uncertain future.

Photo credit: Remixer96, CC BY 2.0.

The morning after the election, I woke up and started reviewing my budget to figure out how to put more money in my savings account. I work in higher education at a state university and Republicans have been steadily cutting education funds for years. Donald Trump’s policies on education have been varied and contradictory. On top of that, my workplace is in the middle of budget cuts — we’ve already been through a voluntary retirement program and additional layoffs on top of that.

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In a world and future that seems exceptionally uncertain, reviewing my budget and allocating more money towards savings seems like one of the few practical things I can do. It feels like saving for the apocalypse.

I am only paid once a month, so budgeting is important unless I want to end up with $20 bucks before payday. When I started this job, I created a savings system. I separate my paycheck immediately between my three savings accounts (emergency, house and short-term savings) and two checking accounts. One checking account is for regular bills (rent, utilities, credit card, Roth IRA, etc) and the other checking account is for groceries, gas, shopping, and other extras. I’m planning to use my short-term savings account for a Disney trip in January.

Right now, I put about 15 percent ($450) into my savings each month per paycheck and I think I can up that to 20 percent ($650) without too much strain. I have $4,000 in my savings already and my goal is to have $10,000. I already have to contribute 10 percent of each paycheck to my work retirement system and I contribute $200 per month to my Roth IRA. Retirement is far enough in the future that my accounts have time to recover, should the stock market take a temporary drop.

I have employer-provided healthcare, but a repeal of the Affordable Care Act would mean that my birth control and preventative care costs will rise. I have a high-deductible plan ($2,000 deductible) that I am keeping for 2017, but I am going to start contributing $50 to my health savings account each paycheck starting in January. I have $4,000 in my HSA account right now. If costs get really bad, I can switch my healthcare in December 2017 to a traditional plan with smaller co-pays, if the high deductible plan becomes too expensive for me or an emergency forces me to drain my HSA.

Food and consumer product prices will probably rise during Trump’s presidency if he pulls us out of our free trade deals. I am so bad at budgeting for groceries and eating out. Before the election, I felt secure enough to continue like this. Not anymore.

According to my Mint account, I average about $257 per month in groceries and $595 in eating out (including restaurants, fast food, coffee shops, etc) each month. That’s ridiculous for where I live. I found a chart that attempts to clarify when people spend “too much” on food, and I’m going to start budgeting $200 per month for groceries and $75 per month for eating out. I will probably continue adjusting that number until I figure out what works for me.

3 Signs That You Spend Too Much Money on Food

I have a small graduate school loan of $8,198 that I am putting $200 per month towards, and I’m going to increase that to $300 per month.

I’ve also been picking up freelance work in writing, copy editing, and tutoring. Because it’s additional income, I haven’t focused much on getting more work. I’m going to start sending out two pitch emails per week and looking for ways to pick up more tutoring work as well. If I can make an additional $700 per month, I could have my graduate school loan paid off in a year.

Things I will continue to pay for: Netflix, Hulu and my nearly $80-per-month boxing gym. (If things get tight, I can cut the gym.) I will continue to donate monthly to Planned Parenthood. I bought digital subscriptions to Slate Plus and The New York Times, and I also plan to buy a local newspaper subscription. As a former journalist, I should have done this earlier. Good journalism is worth paying for and more important than ever for the future.

I’m also going to get my passport. Just in case.

I can’t predict how this Trump presidency is going to change things or what will happen in the future. Small, tangible actions are the best way to help me combat the feelings of dread and helplessness. I haven’t started building a bunker (yet!), but I am preparing in the best way I know how.

Tiffany Johnson is a former journalist that lives in Ohio and writes about books, finance, and more.

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