Mad Money

On motherhood and the necessity of a Fuck Off Fund

Photo: Herr Olsen

“Mad Money” is what they called it. When my grandmother was young, it was a dime. That’s what it cost to call home for a ride if your date was getting too fresh. I can’t tell you the last time I’ve seen a dime, but I can tell you I think about my Mad Money all the time.

I’ve been poor before — living behind a strip club, don’t own a raincoat, eating beans out of a can, can’t turn on the heat this winter, they-caught-a-suspect-on-my-block poor. I was young and healthy, so poverty wasn’t a sentence, but a phase. I’m a survivor and there’s not much I won’t do, if I have to. I will shovel manure, shave my head, eat a bug, walk off mad and Mad Money-less, with no game plan, no safety net, just pure conviction and gritting my teeth.

But now, I am a mother. Now I know terror. I know waking in the night and planning every detail of my next move, should the unthinkable happen. I think of the unthinkable often.

My backup plans range from seeking shelter with family members to living in a camper to buying Airbnb-able property to support us. I will eat from the dumpster behind the grocery store, but my children will not. If I want to be the one raising them, I will have to be very, very clever. I will have to think of everything, I will have to be prepared.

How many women are forced to stay put, where they’re unwanted, unloved, unfulfilled or unable to provide the life they wish for their children, all because of simple financial arithmetic? Things are not so simple these days — first and last and security on shelter, deposit on utilities and my blasted car just broke a whatever. When it comes to it, you don’t know who will help you but my Mad Money whispers, I’m here for you. It can show up when I need it, it can vouch for me, it can open a door, an account or a window for us all to jump through. Or buy a pony.

We are not in danger; we have savings and life insurance. But the what-ifs hunt in packs, and the what-ifs are why I will never again judge a woman for turning a trick. I’m sure I’ve said I’d never do that, but I have two mouths to feed and I would rip my heart beating from my body to fill those bellies. No man, even paid or forced, can touch that heart.

The only person I’ve ever been mad enough to walk away from was my father. My mother walked away from him when I was in first grade, and I can imagine that my later departure went hot to that scabby wound. But the man taught me to stand up, taught me to fight, to take no shit, and I didn’t. We eventually reconciled, and when he passed away, he left me the greatest gift he’d ever given me, other than his love: a fully funded retirement account.

That account lurks in the recesses of my mind, whispering to me when I’m biting my nails. But how far would it get me? Is it enough? (Do men worry about things like this?) Why don’t we teach women to plan, prep and secure themselves financially? Having children changed everything for me, and the freedom I once felt to get mad and leave has left for good.

That such a thing has been provided for me further inspires me to teach my little women to look after their finances. My father didn’t teach me that, but he obviously knew it. I will tell my girls, and show them that saving money is really a way to save yourself.

My prescription is as follows: For women looking to avoid the fear, the late night nail biting benders, the out of your mind with fear googling of rentable property and mental lists of what possessions you can sell, start saving. Even if you’re light on your feet, agile in the twist and turn of the world. Even if you don’t have children, even if it’s just someday, even if it’s maybe. Because what if? What if you love someone like a laser ray shooting from your body, and what if they depend on you for every single thing? What if you didn’t plan them but then you ended up basking in their every breath? What if you never thought you’d be that person, a mother, a single person, a battered person, an unemployed person, but then suddenly, you are?

Bunny Byrne is a journalist, failed landscape painter and feminist collage artist who makes her home in Charleston, South Carolina.

This week, we’re celebrating the Fuck Off Fund. This story is part of this series.

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.