You know how when you take out money from an ATM, you usually have the option of getting a receipt or not? I never choose to take the receipt. This is not because I want to save paper in an effort to be environmentally conscious or something. I mean, really. Environmentally conscious? How can I take care of something as big as the whole environment when I can’t even face up to what number might spit out at me on a slick piece of paper from a machine that I ask to speak to me in French so that I won’t really know what secrets it holds? All I want is my $40, plus fees. I don’t want anything else, including the knowledge of how much money I have (or don’t have) at my disposal. That knowledge is too much responsibility for me. But so what I’m wondering is, am I alone in this? Are there actually adults out there who like to know how much money is in their checking account? Or, wait. To take it a step further, are there actually adults out there who have savings accounts? That contain more than the minimum amount? Do these financial unicorns really exist?
Well, yes. These adults do in fact live among the rest of us mere mortals. And good for them! They should definitely feel proud. The thing is though, that those people with a comfortable economic cushion—you know, the kind of cushion that means if you were out of work for a year or so you could live solely off your savings—are a rarity. A new survey by Bankrate.com reports that “fewer than one in four Americans have enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses…50% of those surveyed have less than a three-month cushion and 27% had no savings at all.” Even more troubling is the fact that the survey showed that despite “an increase in job security, a higher net worth and an overall better financial situation” in the past three years, Americans rarely have more than a hundred dollars stashed away for emergencies. Which, I don’t know exactly how it is in the rest of the country, but here in New York, the only emergency that a hundred dollars will get you through is one in which you absolutely must go out and have dinner at Aska or something. And I like a beautifully curated tasting menu as much as the next person, but I’d hardly call that an emergency.
It’s strange, probably, that I can be so flippant about my own economic irresponsibility, while also being fully aware of how devastating it would be for me if I went to the ATM one day, tapped the button that says français and then proceeded to find out, in words that I only vaguely understand, that there was no money to be had, that I was running on empty. But I’m also fully aware that my type of irresponsibility is a privilege, one that is a combination of luck and hard work, one that I both earned and fell into. This privilege doesn’t involve massive amounts of money (thus my ongoing ATM-phobia) but it does involve a certain amount of freedom and independence, both of which are things that modern adults are supposed to crave, right? Right?