Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Mutual Friend Account and the Emergency Friend

Any good book on finances will tell you about the importance of building up an emergency fund, and that same good book will tell you about mutual funds.  To which I say, all good and well.  True, true; I believe.  No argument.  But even as I mull over those monetary funds, I focus more on investing in the mutual friend account and having a good set of emergency friends.

In my book, the reason friends come before funds is largely moral/ethical/theological.  I'm one of those kooks who think that people come before things or money.  I even believe that community comes before self.

But I'm also practical and cheap-to-the-bone, and I think that people-before-money has some real tightwad benefits, too.

Consider the mutual friend accounts I have.  I was actually thinking about this the other day as I'd borrowed the apple peeler/slicer/corer from my friend June.  When I broke it [horror and shame], I actually considered buying a new one.  But before I did so, I schmoozed with some of my other gardening friends, one of whom (Judy) suggested Craigslist, which led me to a finding a local, gently-owned machine for just $15.  So let's say that my friendships with June and Judy saved me $30 over buying a new contraption.  In contrast, I'd need to set aside $500 in a mutual fund earning 6% interest (after taxes) to net the savings I'd need for this particular purchase.  I'll choose June and Judy over the mutual fund for sheer quality-of-life reasons.

I have friends who keep me running, who cut my hair, who remind me how to forgive other people, who help me raise my kids.  All of these are things I could shell out money for, but I don't.  Friends are financially advantageous for a Miser Mom.  I'm in a lovely holding pattern of having strong friendships that enrich my life, both in emotional and in financial terms.

But let's think about worst case scenarios.   Let's think about emergencies.  Why?  Because I do think about this, all the time.

For example, I have a page of photocopies of all the credit cards (etc) in my wallet, just in case I lose it or it gets stolen.  For years, I had an emergency (money) fund in case my husband lost his job; now that we're hyper-focusing on paying off the house, we have a line of credit instead of an emergency fund, but the emergency fund will re-emerge once the home is paid off.

And for the same reason, I have a list of Emergency Friends.  This list of Emergency Friends was especially important to me when I was a single mom.  Now that I'm married, a lot of "I need help!" pleas can go straight to my guy, but it's still true that I carry this list around with me of who I can call if things go wrong or I need help.  Some examples:
  • Plumbing/carpentry woes:  My dad or my brother-in-law.
  • Child-care needs: my husband, K-daughter, several close friends, several students.
  • Dog care: two different neighbors.
  • Garden disasters:  June, Judy, and several others.
I don't want to list their names below, but I also keep lists of people I can call for professional reasons.  Here are some of those categories that matter to me, although of course your categories will be different:
  • Teaching questions (mentor in my department; mentors on my campus in other departments; mentors from math at other campuses).
  • Research questions (ditto the three categories above).
  • Funding issues:  there's a guy I know in Indiana who knows the NSF well.  And I have a few contacts at the NSF.
This past summer, I got to see what happened when I didn't have an emergency friend at the ready.   The 15-year-old boy we'd brought into our home, C-son, was getting to the point that we were needing outside help.  The day before he blew up, our social worker Amanda the Amazing was working with us, casting about for alternatives to just pulling him out of the home.  "Do you have any friends who might be willing to take him for a few nights?" she asked.  It was when I realized the answer was "no", that I fully realized I was completely in over my head with that kid.  I have friends who have my back with all my other kids, but not one of my friends could deal with C-son -- nor would I feel comfortable asking them to do so.  That was the light-bulb moment that convinced me it wasn't all my fault things weren't going well.

That's the scary/yucky side of the Emergency Friend list:  not having one.  But the more positive side of this is that making a List of Emergency Friends and Mentors is an incredibly gratitude-producing experience.  And better yet, each time I've been willing to tell people that they're on my list of trusted advisors, that made the relationship even stronger.  It developed that portfolio of assets, if you want to use financial lingo.    It made my life more stable, more comfortable, and richer in all senses of that word.

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