My Story: Living Simply

contributed by Amy Vaughn

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When I first started visiting the Dollar Stretcher website, my husband and I were trying to pay off $10,000 of credit card debt, save for a down payment on a house, and become financially stable enough to provide for a baby. Our money makeover spanned years and included keeping a spending spreadsheet; canceling unnecessary services like bottled water delivery, pest control, and cable TV; going vegetarian; installing energy saving devices; and expanding our idea of what is acceptable second hand. We tried anything we could think of. If it was in line with our values of simplifying and green living, so much the better.

The transformation verges on the fantastic. In three years, we paid off the credit card debt. Soon after, we became homeowners and parents. My husband's 401k is going strong. Our kid's 529 plan grows each month. I have even been able to quit my job to be home with our son.

But what I want to talk about here is the emergency fund. Last month, we finally reached two months' worth of expenses covered. While it's not the recommended three months' worth, still, I am bewildered that we've been able to collect this much. An emergency fund always seemed like an abstraction, something financial advisers talked about but nobody really had. We started ours by automatically transferring $50 a month to a plain Jane savings account. Later, we joined the employee stock program available through my husband's job. Now, when either account has enough, we make a transfer to short-term treasury bills.

So, we finally have an emergency fund deserving of the name. And now I'm going to have to tap it. My favorite aunt is dying. After suffering much, she has fewer than two weeks to live. She is 1200 miles away. I need money for airfare, car rental, lodging, and food. To me, this qualifies as an emergency. I do not want to worry about money. Indeed, I am not able to. I expect I will retain my ways, such as bringing food from home rather than paying extortionist airport prices, getting the subcompact, resisting the dietary and budgetary heresy of vending machines, ordering water with my meals, and so on. These are habits. They do not take thought or effort. They will not distract me when I should be working through this loss and comforting others.

Though it started as an abstraction, the emergency fund has become a very tangible comfort in a time when solace is scarce. All the thought and effort and the daily decisions to forbear are all worth it. Being out of debt brings relief. Being set for the future is reassuring. But being able to navigate the peaks and valleys of the present, without stretching or pinching or reverting to credit, well, it's nearly miraculous.

Amy Vaughn is the author of Home Fire, a monthly column on simplifying, living green, and staying at home at

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