Maybe you’ve already started to reflect on where 2019 has taken you, and what you want to focus on in 2020. You’re planning a trip, or figuring out how to get back to the gym regularly, or thinking of starting a hobby. But have you thought about your money?
When I started writing about money for Lifehacker back in May, I introduced myself by asking two questions. I wanted to know the best thing readers had done for their money so far in 2019, and I wanted to know what they wanted to learn about money here at Lifehacker.
The many, many responses illustrated how much our readers care about improving their financial situation, whether they're focusing on saving, starting to invest, or thinking about how to take care of their kids’ educations. And it showed me how much you want to continue to learn about how you can best manage your money.
So with the end of the year upon us in a few short weeks, I want to circle back to that original discussion. Think back on the whole of 2019: what you bought, what you didn’t buy, what you messed up, what you messed up but figured out how to fix before it cost you.
I’m not expecting you to have a bunch of financial resolutions lined up; nor do I expect you to buy into making New Year’s resolutions at all.
But if you’re up for sharing (either again or for the first time), I have two questions for you:
1. What’s the biggest money lesson you learned this year? How did you apply it to your own financial situation?
2. What’s one thing you want to improve about your finances in the next year?
To kick things off, I’ll tell you what I learned this year. And boy, is it a boring one: I learned how important it is to have a big fat emergency fund.
In October, I had to visit the emergency room for something that luckily turned out to be minor. Then, a few weeks after my ER trip, I got in a car accident. I was fine, but my car ended up totalled. It was my first new car, and I had just paid it off a few months prior. I was absolutely loving life without car payments.
And all of a sudden I felt like I was in an expensive spiral of bad luck. Between co-pays and medical tests my insurance didn’t fully cover, I paid close to $US1,000 ($1,457) for follow-up visits and tests. And while my insurance company cut me a nice check for the value of my car, I knew I’d still need to come up with a few thousand dollars in order to get another set of wheels (but a used set this time).
My emergency fund saved the day, over and over again. I was suddenly so glad I never gave into the temptation to pull all that cash out of my high-yield savings account and use it toward my ever-slowly-dwindling student-loan balance.
By resisting the urge to make my money do something instead of sit there, watchful and prepared, I protected my monthly budget.
When the emergency room asked for a form of payment for my co-pay, I didn’t think twice before opening my wallet (although physically doing so took me a minute). When my gut told me to wait a few weeks before buying another car, I went out and bought a bike and a new helmet so I could get around my neighbourhood. And so on, until things got back to normal.
Of course, now it won’t surprise you that my goal for 2020 is to build my emergency fund back up while still working toward my debt payoff goal. But seeing the power of my emergency fund convinced me of its importance once and for all.
But enough about me. Tell me about you. What did you learn? How did you learn it? What do you want to do with (or for) your money in 2020?