Monthly Archives: August 2015

Surprise! It’s a financial emergency!

Sometimes life can catch you off-guard with a big financial surprise.  For me it was an unexpected major (read: expensive) repair in order to make my aging Subaru pass inspection. (For those of you new to Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth requires a pretty extensive annual inspection on automobiles.)  For many law students it was a technological breakdown in the computer communications between Penn State and the Education Department that delayed the disbursement of Federal Graduate PLUS Loans, which in turn delayed living expense refunds.

Being caught off-guard without enough money is never a pleasant experience.  You may find yourself making calls to delay bill due dates.  You could face overdraft charges.  You may have to take on credit card debt.  You could have to borrow from family.  You might need to dine on ramen more frequently than is appetizing.

emergency_fund 2

The ideal solution, of course, is to have an emergency fund.  A savings account that you can tap into in situations where you unexpectedly come up short.  If you don’t have an emergency fund…now is the time to start one.  It’ll start small and grow larger over time.  And eventually, what would have been a financial emergency in the past is just an inconvenience that takes money from your emergency fund.  Ideally, your emergency fund should be large enough to fund three to six months of your living expenses.  But the world isn’t ideal, so if you could set aside a minimum of $1,000, that’s at least a decent cushion.

But what do you do until you have your fund established?  That’s when you have to leverage your own financial flexibility.  Maybe that involves family who can help.  Maybe it involves credit cards.  Maybe you have to sell something.  Maybe you just have to fend off your creditors for a short time (don’t ignore them…ask for extensions!).  Only you know where your own financial flexibility lies.  The important thing is that when the unexpected happens, you know what resources you have available to help you handle the situation.

And hopefully we’ll never have to deal with another Grad PLUS Loan disbursement delay!

How valuable is your time?

Last week, at the peak of Penn State undergrad move-in days, I found myself standing in line at a State College big box discount store, watching befuddled students and parents trying to figure out how to ring a giant plastic drawer unit through the self-checkout lane.  I knew it was move-in and I knew the store would be insane.  I had other options.  And I went anyway.  Why?  Frugality.

I was in need of a new sleeping bag for a camping trip in the State Forest last weekend (a frugal woman’s vacation!).  And I knew I had two options.  I could go to the sporting goods store and pay more than I wanted to.  Or I could go to the discount store, brave the move-in crowd, and save myself ten to twenty dollars.  My time and my sanity are valuable to me.  But in this situation, I would likely only have saved myself about ten minutes by going to the sporting goods store rather than the discount store.  My time is definitely valuable.  But “one dollar per minute” valuable?  I don’t think so.

When you’re trying to weigh out the frugal option versus the convenient option, you should definitely factor in the value of your time.  But be careful not to overvalue your time.  A lot of times the frugal option makes a lot more sense.  Besides…you wouldn’t want to miss out on the entertainment value of undergrads trying to run jumbo items through the self-check, would you?