Saving for a Life Full of Possibilities

When you save money do you save with a specific goal in mind? Do you set aside cash with the intention of buying one particular thing? It may sound strange but I’ve never done this. I didn’t purposefully set aside money for my car, my house or my rental property. I just put money in the bank every month and left it there. When the need arose to purchase big items I withdrew the funds, but I never saved that money with those specific purchases in mind.

I guess you could say I’ve saved deliberately for retirement. When I put money in my 401k I knew I wouldn’t be able to touch it until I retire, but I didn’t set a goal for any of the money in my other bank accounts. Maybe I should state this another way: I didn’t save the money with a plan to buy or do something specific. Sure, I saved for the future, but I didn’t know what that future might be.

I’m pretty sure I’m about to date myself with this next sentence, but here it goes anyway. When you were a kid do you remember hearing about Christmas club accounts? Are you shaking your head back and forth saying, “no, no, no. never heard of that before.” Okay, stay with me for a second.

Picture the grandeur of the holidays. You know, the lights, the smell of pine, a pile of gifts under the Christmas tree. In order to make Christmas such a magical holiday you might shell out a ridiculous amount of money on holiday decorations, travel and gifts.

Now we all know we should limit our gifts, use travel rewards and keep a house free of seasonal clutter, (yay minimalism), but over one hundred years ago these ideas might have been a little bit different.

One of those differences: credit cards didn’t exist. So if you did want to create a glorious Christmas experience you couldn’t go into debt and spend the next 10 years paying off whatever it is you bought. If you wanted to buy gifts and prepare a delectable meal you’d need to save up to pay for those items. So how do you encourage holiday saving? Bingo-bango bring on the Christmas savings club.

According to Wikipedia the first Christmas savings fund was started in 1909 by Merkel Landis, treasurer of the Carlisle (Pennsylvania) Trust Company. The goal was simple. Set aside a specific amount of money in your bank account each week and by the time Christmas rolled around you would have enough money to pay off your holiday expenses.

How is this different from a regular savings account you ask? Well, if you transferred or withdrew your money prior to November 1st you’d pay a penalty. So once you opened the account you were encouraged to keep saving.

I don’t remember my parents ever using a Christmas club account, but I distinctly remember my neighbor’s parents talking about one when I was a kid back in the 80s. They would talk about how much they saved each week and how big the pot would be when the big day finally rolled around.

It’s interesting, because they always saved for the holidays, but otherwise they were horrible at managing their money. They were constantly in debt and struggled to pay their monthly bills. Looking back I find it odd that they could save so well for this specific purpose and so poorly for other things. On one hand I wonder if having separate bank accounts and goals would have solved some of their money problems. On the other hand I wonder if they celebrated a memorable Christmas by forgoing payments on critical bills.

Christmas clubs aren’t popular these days but plenty of people use designated bank accounts to save for homes, cars and vacations.

I must be the odd one out when it comes to saving without a particular goal in mind. My neighbor’s parents saved for Christmas, my husband saved for a surfboard as a child and friends of mine talk about saving for a house or saving for a wedding, but nope, nope and nope I cannot remember a time when I saved for something.

I think I save to ease my anxiety. Money has always felt like a failsafe to me. I don’t know when or why I will need money, but inevitably I know that when the time comes I don’t want to fall short of having it. So I save.

I save for peace of mind. As time has passed I’ve also realized just how much opportunity money can provide.

Seven years ago I told my boss I was pregnant. Not long after that announcement I was unexpectedly caught up in a massive round of layoffs. Was it coincidence that I was let go after telling my boss? I will never know. What I do know is that I had enough money between my savings and severance to delay my return to work.

This was a completely unplanned event, but saving with no true intention other than to save, provided just the buffer of money I needed.

These days I read a lot about financial independence and the quest for early retirement. The articles and posts I come across speak a lot about options and dreams: the ability to work less, pursue passions and explore the world.

I’m not sure what path my life will take, but I want to know that my future life is not held back by a lack of money. When I was faced with the decision to return to work or stay home with my son I was blessed to know that money, or a lack thereof, was not limiting my options. The money we saved and our decisions to spend wisely would buffer my time at home.

Of course, I am beyond lucky that my husband continues to earn a healthy living to support our family, but the decision to stay home was based on money in the bank, not future earnings. Having experienced my own brush with death in my mid-twenties I know that continued employment and health is never guaranteed.

We cannot do everything we want in life, but having a solid nest egg allows us to make decisions that aren’t on the table for a lot of other people. I don’t know what my future holds, but I want to know that I am not locked into unfavorable decisions based on a lack of funds.

Saving money provides me with the opportunity to say “yes” when others have no choice but to say “no.” If I could tell my twenty-year old self what I was saving for I would say that was the goal. I just didn’t know it at the time.

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