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An ache of uncertainty, a sprinkle of happiness, and a dash of, what did I do?

I am referring to building an emergency fund, of course.

In a world of heartbreaking pandemics, job loss, and civil unrest, a cush emergency fund is far from optional. My mind still tries to untangle how all of that happened in 2020: Year of the Dumpster Fire.

But, unicorns make everything better. Ask Scotland, it’s their national animal.

Uncertainty: Life’s Pointy Side

When trying to capture a unicorn, I never know when it could pop out of the woods and scare the sprinkles right outta me, just like a fluffy emergency fund. Crushing accidents, expensive office visits that were supposed to be routine, and acne-inducing job loss are a part of life’s magical treat called surprise.

These chaos bills have instilled a deep desire for a weighted blanket of emergency money. As a low-income earner (annual wage rhymes with less than $35,000), my comfort zone was $10,000.

Currently, my emergency fund sits at $9,246.86.

A Sprinkle of Happiness

I decided on that number long before I used my budget to justify building an emergency fund. When my financial beast started to take hold, I realized I could calculate how much I spent every year because I have been keeping a budget since 2013. It was a terrible budget until 2018, but I had insight into my annual spending.

After a bit of questionable calculator use, my annual spending is the size of a pony. My little pony that would be comfortable in a hobbit house.

Barely cresting the five-figure criteria, I could live on a $10,000 stud for a year. I know, my life is wild and frugal. It’s a weird combination for all parties.

There are certain traps I set up that allow for this frugal lifestyle. I’m debt-free outside of a mortgage; credit cards, student loans, and car loans aren’t things I need to wrangle; and I have a permanent roommate/companion/sharer of shenanigans, Mr. BuLL. We chip in equal percentages for groceries, housing costs, and other living expenses.

Having someone to share costs of living has allowed my money to be directed elsewhere, like building an emergency fund.

Build Traps, Lots of Traps

My fancy traps include a specific amount ($10,000), a way to cut expenses (Mr. BuLL), a separate savings account for building an emergency fund, and a name. I named my emergency fund, Skilled Sailor after the quote, “A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor,” by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As a Navy vet, it has a special kind of sparkle.

Of all the parts of building an emergency fund, crafting a name was a small slice of happiness. Just like naming a tiny human, unicorn, or freakishly large mole, names have a way of dishing out hope and making things logical in a frequently illogical world. Pay no mind to the post about building an emergency fund AND capturing unicorns!

With all the big traps of building an emergency fund taken care of, I added cushion to Skilled Sailor through small money-sucking traps.

I send small amounts to Skilled Sailor from my primary income as a Park Ranger.

In the past, I have used other methods like rolling over credit card rewards, random money won or found, even birthday and Christmas money would get roped into savings.

Of all the ways to build money for my emergency fund, the biggest saver was galloping towards a frugal lifestyle and changing my mindset. I went from a spender to a saver. This wasn’t a fairytale start. When I first started working, I lived paycheck to paycheck, participated in unrestrained buying, and drained my retirement account. It was a tough start to a magical journey.

I still grapple with guilt of money loss, but I try to question ol’ grumpy guilt with, would I be the frugalnista I am today if I didn’t know the stench of loss?

Little burps of change included: adjusting how I shop by being intentional with my purchases and doing research long before I step into a store. A minimalist lifestyle unburdened my house’s stuff problem along with it’s maintenance and storage issues. I choose free hobbies like hiking, drawing, and reading library books. Each of these tiny changes led to a small savings, which I dumped into Skilled Sailor.

The Book Battle

I inspect one aspect of my lifestyle and try to make it free. Take my reading habit that is boarding on obsession.

I was a strong reader as a kid but, I feel unsure of that statement because my memory is questionable even under the best of times. For a chunk of my childhood, we moved every two years. As an introvert, making friends was hard even without the awkward new girl look. So, I turned to books. It’s easy to find a companion in someone else’s head.

As I grew up, my family moved less, which produced a steamy plop in reading. I was more concerned about looking cool than embracing the book nerd that I am.

Middle age fixed that!

I rediscovered my love of reading when, once again, I lacked friends. 

The wrinkly, middle-age difference was once I picked up reading, I haven’t stopped. If anything, I go on wild, yet nerdy, binges. At one point, I bought more books than I could ever read and collected books I didn’t want to read. I thought I would feel smarter after slogging through rusty pages of boredom.

1,225 pages of War and Peace, anyone? Praise Scotland’s national animal – I stopped doing that!

Currently, I am devouring books that interest the person that I am today (sci-fi novels, personal finance, and nonfiction happiness) which is an average of five books a month. I used to buy all my books which for ease of math were $10 apiece without taxes, fees, or shipping.

That is $600 a year, on books.

This is why I replaced a book-buying habit with book-borrowing. I would rather pay for the inconvenience of waiting for a library book and going to pick it up than parting with hoarded money.

A Unicorn: The Best Form

The chances of capturing a unicorn are uncertain, just like the chances of needing an emergency fund. I can lay all the traps I want, but I could still lose. 

I’m okay with that.

The fact that we have a world where unicorns and emergency funds are a thing* turns questionable messes into something a bit more magical.

How do you capture magic for your emergency fund? I would love to hear your sprinkle-filled thoughts!

*Books count people!

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