Could You Scrape Together $400 If You Had To?

There was a time when my husband and I couldn’t

$400
(Image: File)

The other night my husband and I were watching PBS NewsHour (yes, we still watch it, though we still miss Gwen Ifill).

Paul Solman was interviewing Elizabeth White, author of the book, Fifty-five, Unemployed, and Faking Normal. She was inspired to write about her financial difficulties after reading an article in The Atlantic by Neal Gabler, who had stunned his readers by admitting that he would have difficulty scraping together $400 in an emergency.

That got my husband’s and my attention. Neal Gabler? The film critic on Channel 13? That would be like Van Jones saying he was financially strapped. We just figured that people in the public eye are managing their finances—and are earning enough money to manage!

 

Not Making Ends Meet

 

Gabler’s article is pretty astonishing. He hadn’t lived a frivolous life, though he had made some choices I wouldn’t have made.

But then I’ve made pretty imprudent choices of my own. I think it’s interesting that Gabler used the figure $400—because that’s the exact amount I couldn’t come up with at one point in my life. I ended up borrowing the money from my sister. It took me about 15 years to pay her back.

Hopefully, you can avoid the mistakes my husband and I made—and perhaps that Gabler made. At any rate, here are some tips you may find useful.

  • Work. I know that seems obvious, but for me, it really wasn’t. Once I had my son I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. So I quit my job at a great company that had been providing the health benefits for my husband and me. I have admired the young women here at BE who have gotten married, had children, and come back to work. They seemed to understand the fundamental need to earn income which I had somehow failed to grasp. For years, our family paid for my unwillingness to work full time outside the home. Have a dream business idea? Want to pursue the freelance life? That’s fine—just keep your day job until your business can really support you.
  • Buy a house you can affordor keep renting. My husband and I bought a home in Rockland County—giving up our tiny but lovely apartment in Park Slope, Brooklyn—and now increased our monthly outlay in shelter and commuting costs by an unconscionable percentage. Not only that, but once we purchased the house we really couldn’t afford to do anything else—no more vacations for us! Had we purchased a two-family home, things might have been different—but no, we didn’t want to live with other people.
  • Live within your means. This is basic, old-fashioned, unsexy advice—but it works. There was a time when we paid tuition to have our children in Christian schools—money we could hardly afford. I met other parents who were also struggling financially but who believed so adamantly in keeping their kids in a Christian school that they went into debt to do it. Thankfully, that wasn’t us. Our finances forced us to learn about money management, and today…

I am happy and grateful to report that my husband and I are debt-free. We have more than $25,000 in savings. We are still married! And we still live within our means.