Periodically—especially as a young person—especially as a New Yorker—and certainly as that troublesome, but admittedly fun combo: you find your back against a wall. You hate your boss. You don’t love your boyfriend anymore, but you share an apartment. Or you were the last one to find out your company was going under. Enter Jezebel’s brilliant concept: The Fuck Off Fund.
It’s like a ripcord you could pull In Case of Emergency, which would rain cash on your problems. But here’s the thing: if you just happened to have a couple thou’ lyin’ around: do you think you would use it for a better life? Or would it all have gone down your gullet in the form of nights out, vacations to save the relationship and afterwork drinks with your fellow miserable employees?
Sure, everyone should log into their bank account and slip a dollar into the ole rainy day fund. But… how much precipitation would you have to witness to empty it again?
Let’s try a new idea, The Ulysses Approach. Neil Strauss, author of The Truth: An Uncomfortable Book about Relationships, put it like this: “In The Odyssey, Ulysses (or Odysseus), wanted to hear the beautiful singing of the sea Sirens. However, all men who heard the singing of the Sirens became so bewitched by it that they would wreck their ship on nearby rocks or leap out of the boat to their doom.”
Everyone needs a backup plan. Keep it a secret. Even from yourself.
Ulysses had this crew stop their ears with wax and then they tied him to the mast. He could hear and enjoy the Sirens’ song without ruining his life.
You can and should have an emergency fund and you can start today for pretty much no money with those finance apps, that also won’t ruin your life.
The easiest one, which you should set up now and which is almost painless is called Acorns. You add your bank account and it rounds up your daily transactions. $9.99 for Spotify? $0.01 into the Fk-Off Fund. But $22 flat at Happy Hour? Beware, bartab drinkers! That’s $1 into the F.O.F. You’ll see that you won’t really care about these charges coming out of your account weekly.
Usually when I check my bank balance my internal chat goes like this: “You HAD to buy those shirts in Paris, didn’t you? Oh, and pick up the tab with that girl who never WhatsApp’d you back. Sigh. C’est la v—oh! I didn’t even notice $2.44 into Acorns. Good job, buddy!”
This account is invested in a simple portfolio for you, which is a great way to start and learn about many different personal finance things later in life. One day you will high-five yourself because of the magic of compound interest.
It doesn’t matter if you have a 401k or your wife will have a pension after retirement: Everyone needs a backup plan. Keep it a secret. Even from yourself. Here’s mine after just a few months of collecting some spare change. I travel a lot and I don’t buy very much with cash:
Brass tacks: Acorns is $1 a month. But, as in most things, that can be rough when you’re just starting out. Just lash yourself to the mast, Ulysses! It’s better off there than in your checking account. After you’ve put some money away you can switch up to Betterment a similar platform that runs on regular contributions, but has a more generous fee structure and comes with a hearty thumbs up from the great Mr. Money Mustache. Ideally by this time next year you’ll put $100/mo into your F.O.F. without batting an eye (which will lower your fees).
BONUS: If you actually have to activate you F.O.F. and you clean out your Betterment account: there $0 in fees and they won’t close your account like Acorns or a traditional bank account would. Move out, go to graduate school, backpack with your recently divorced friend. Whatever. It’s there for you when you come back.
(There is also the more complex Wealthfront. Which has some benefits. But I’ll just say it: isn’t very much fun.)
The real key to the F.O.F. is that when you’re mad at your job, your girlfriend, your living situation: it ends there. You don’t resent it. You get ready for change. And you put a dollar figure on it. Is this job/lover/etc worth making me feel worthless? Are they worth blowing the F.O.F.?
When you’re ready to go down the personal finance rabbit hole, check out this piece I wrote last year and dive in. Personal finance gets a bad rap, which is dumb. Being in charge of your money puts you in complete control of your life. Trust our editor, Ken, it’s about the most punk rock thing there is. But, to the point: What is more punk than being able to tell someone to Fuck Off?