Fuck Off Fund

Why Do We Need To Talk About Fuck Off Funds…Again?

Life Since The Fuck Off Fund Became a Thing

I was sitting in my cubicle the day one of my stories, written as part of an exchange with another writing friend who was also in a slump, got published. In the web browser screens hidden behind the proposal for an environmental engineering company I was writing, I saw on Facebook that a few local writers I respect had reposted it. Around 9 a.m., when Jezebel posted a story about my story, I whipped around and looked at the office, as if someone were playing a trick on me.  

Cue everything I’d been working toward for years and years and years: Getting enough freelancing writing work to quit my job. Offers to write for The New York Times and Marie Claire and Cosmo. An agent who wanted me to write a proposal for a “financial memoir.” A publisher who wanted to make my writer’s course a book.

Then some big life changes. New Year’s Eve of 2016 was the last night I spent in the apartment I’d shared for five years, and then I went out on my own. It was more conscious uncoupling than Fuck Off. Also, deaths in the family, over the last few years, in quick succession: my mom’s mom, my mom’s younger brother, my mom’s dad, my mom’s older brother. Then, a man who bragged about groping women’s p-words, they way I learned we could be groped at a concert when I was 15, became the president. All around me, structures collapsed, floors I thought were solid gave way. 

I still had my Fuck Off Fund. My uncle who’d been the traveler and hippie left me $6,000 after his death. My grandpa, the hard worker and saver, left me a gift of $10,000. With all my work finally online and no apartment lease, I decided to take the trip I’d promised myself while in Peace Corps and struggling through the mental crucible that was learning to speak in Spanish: three months through South America, ending with the visit I’d promised my host mom. I would be one of those digital nomads in the shiny photos, easy. 

I zoomed out to all of the continent on AirBnb, and asked where I could stay for $20 a night. I found a spot in the hills of Colombia I’d ridden through on a bus from Bogota to Medellin seven years before while kind of looking for work teaching English, and I reserved a month in a house with a backyard where I could work through a first draft of my book. I would earn US wages and live on South American prices. I would spend what my uncle left me on the plane tickets, the way he would have wanted me to, and save the money my grandpa left me for a down payment on a house, the way he would have wanted me to. I would earn my keep as I traveled. My Fuck Off Fund, of course, would not be touched.

The trip worked out beautifully, at least in the photos. I flew to DC to march on January 20th, then headed down to Colombia. I got my first draft of my book done in that backyard and walked two hours a night to train for Machu Picchu.

I got my mom down to Ecuador, to hear her laugh while boogie boarding in the waves of the Pacific. I got my most scared friend down to a bamboo house where she had a bilingual love affair in which I got to play wingman and interpreter. I wrote a 4,000-word review of eye makeup removers, I rode the salt flats of Bolivia with a group of Italians. I wrote personal finance content marketing, I galloped on a horse again. I interviewed experts on children and technology over Skype (roosters crowing in the background), I learned a little Quechua. After 7 years, I just showed up at my host mom’s house in Paraguay, which is one of the best things I’ve gotten to do for anyone.

In short, it was the year I became this woman, and this woman is the only woman I’ve ever dreamed of becoming:

But…

But the money was going out faster than it was coming in. This is something I thought I could cure myself of, various ways. I thought Peace Corps would cure me of spending more than I earn, because I would truly understand my privilege. I thought being The Fuck Off Fund Chick would cure me of spending more than I earn, because I had so publicly stood for something I thought was so important. I thought setting up a system of passive income, tracking my spending on Mint, living for a while in South America. But no, I still was not cured of the thing that has followed me my entire life: I am bad with money. Bad doesn’t cover it, but we’ll get to that. 

On my way home, one of my clients paid for me to come to a credit union conference in New York, where I hung out with the brilliant personal finance writers and businesspeople I’d gotten to know through the Fuck Off Fund: Jane Barratt, Kristin Wong, Erin Lowry, Stefanie O’Connell and more. Standing in the lobby of Ellevest, Sallie Fucking Krawcheck, who once got a severance package worth $6 million, said, “Todd! Todd! Do you know who this is? This is the Fuck Off Fund Girl!”

Being bad with money had landed me here, among the money geniuses, dancing with a man in a tree costume at Tavern on the Green, with Bolivian dog bites on my ankles not yet fully healed. 

Life was hysterical.

Back to Life, Back to Reality

Then back to Seattle, where I would live as a single, freelance writer for the first time. And where I found a $650 flight to Italy, to visit the Italians I’d met, and just booked it, laying in my friend’s fold-out couch where I was staying while looking for a place. Because: impulse control issues. I hadn’t yet touched my Fuck Off Fund, and I was sure that I’d be able to pick up work and get back into regular life in one smooth sail. 

A long-time follower of the tiny house movement, I found a tiny place two blocks from my old apartment in Capitol Hill. Literally 150 sq feet, a 10’ cube with a galley kitchen and a shared bathroom. And here, May 22, is when I first breached my Fuck Off Fund. $2,000 for the first and last. Then $1,000 again on May 29, a fold-out couch from IKEA. Then May 31, June 5, 11, 29, $1,000 more, $500 more, $500 more. Patches stretched over the gaps in my spending. That juggle of dollars and time. 

I would stop soon, of course, because I was the Fuck Off Fund Woman. I would put it back real soon.

Only I didn’t. Only the opposite. A patch here. A patch there.

Meanwhile, my “financial memoir” didn’t sell. “Publishers wanted a prescriptive book,” my agent told me. Which was laughable. I’m a writer who’s bad with money. I can’t tell you what to do. I just now happened to know a lot of people who could. Guys, I never meant to become someone people mistook for a personal finance expert. I only wrote about my own weaknesses, and people mistook them for my strengths. 

Back and back I retreated to old ways. Complaining to mom about money, and her saying, “Do you want to use my credit card to pay for your insurance this month? You can pay me back.” Because it wasn’t “borrowing money,” but instead the cozy euphemism “using my credit card,” I did it, and then I somehow owed my mom $2,000 again. So that $2,000 I had left in my Fuck Off Fund wasn’t real.

It is shockingly clear to me that I will spend whatever money I get my hands on, no matter how much that amount is. Because something is wrong with me, something I haven’t been able to fix by living in country where people live on so much less, something I haven’t even been able to fix by getting 15 minutes of fame for being the woman who inspired a million other women to practice financial self-defense, something I’m scared will lead to serious fucking ruin, the kind my family knew when I was a kid, if I don’t do something serious. The kind I would never want to repeat if I had kids of my own. The kind I fear will land me as the one in every six women 65+ living alone and living in poverty.

In some ways, it was the best year of my life. I think the loss of financial power was masked by how much I grew powerful in other ways. Suddenly I had a voice, I had many options for work, I had a bit more confidence with each country I traveled through alone. If you could graph these happiness, aliveness, and gratitude, they were off the charts. But they don’t pay the bills.

So Welcome to This Blog

I have a new idea for a book, which we’ll start at a blog. We’ll be writing something prescriptive, here, but I’m not the one who’s going to do the prescribing. I’ve asked my financial friends to help me get to the bottom of being bad with money, to talk about saving myself, and to help me rebuild a fuck off fund of $10,000 over 2018

Because what I realized is that I’ve never saved a Fuck Off Fund, little by little. I got out of debt little by little, paid off $20,000 with a job at a tech company. But the Fuck Off Fund I had at the beginning of this year I had earned in a chunk, and I put that chunk away. I didn’t touch it back then, because life was easier back then. I lived the DINK lifestyle for a while, then worked on my art with a supportive partner. Now I’m freelance writing, living in the city, on my own, needing to make choices day-by-day about putting my financial security ahead of the lattes, the lunches out, the new dresses. I’m back here again. Fall down a million times, stand up a million and one.

“You don’t have to be perfect,” said Tonya Rapley, of My Fab Finance at the Lola conference on women and money. “You just have to be committed.”

In the lobby at that conference, while I stood waiting to get breakfast with Kristen, author of the forthcoming Get Money, I went to get money out of the ATM and found my balance: -$200.

Oh life. 

Me with my money ladies at Lola

The thing is, I’m right in the life I’ve always wanted, freelancing, traveling, and writing, and if I don’t do something drastic, I’m going to lose it.

Plus, we should mention the fact that 2017 became the year of the #metoo, the year we were all reminded of the need to keep ourselves as powerful as possible.

So here I am, naked financial fuck up, committed again to being the one practicing financial self-defense, to getting up, to forgiving myself even when I’m so far from perfect there should be a name for whatever I am, something with money that feels like an alcoholic is with gin.

Are you like this, too?

If so, see you January 1st.

What Is a Fuck Off Fund?

You’re telling your own story: You graduated college and you’re a grown-ass woman now. Tina Fey is your hero; Beyoncé, your preacher.

You know how to take care of you. You’ve learned self-defense. If any man ever hit you, you’d rip his eyes out. You’ve seen Mad Men, and if anyone ever sexually harassed you at work, you’d tell him to fuck right off, throw your coffee in his face, and wave two middle fingers as you marched out the door.

You get your first internship. You get your first credit card. You get to walk into Nordstrom, where your mom would never take you, and congratulate yourself with one fabulous black leather skirt, and the heels to match.

Your car? It’s the car of a college student. You get a lease, graduate from the rusted Civic to last year’s Accord.

You get your first student loan bill, and look at all those numbers.

Your life turns into a stock photo tagged “young professionals”: you and your new work friends, hanging out at the bar across the street from the office. The cocktails cost twice as much as you paid when you still measured time by semesters and nights by cans of PBR.

The college boyfriend gets serious. You move into his place, spruce it up by buying your first coffee table together. Ikea lets you put half on your newest credit card.

Your internship ends before you find a permanent job. You pay minimum payments, then max out your cards again buying two days’ worth of groceries and filling your gas tank halfway.

Your bank app upgrades to a new feature that combines all your balances — the shiny Nordstrom card with the Visa and the Chase Freedom you were only supposed to use for emergencies — and tells you that somehow you owe people seven thousand dollars.

Your boyfriend offers to cover the rent for a while. You get a job a few months later, but you’re that many loan payments behind. Your first paycheck feels like a breath of air that gets sucked right out of your lungs.

Your new boss, who seems nice, calls you in his office, shows you a picture of his kids. He jokes about his son, then as you’re laughing, he puts his hand on your arm, gives you a little squeeze. You smile it off.

You wait to pay the electric bill while you’re gathering up the half you owe, and the lights go out. On your phone you see the email about the $50 late fee. Your boyfriend asks how you could be so stupid. “I am not stupid,” you say. You would never be with someone who called you names, but you would never be able to make first, last, and deposit right now, either.

You say yes to payday P.F. Chang’s with your new co-workers, because you want to make friends, your turkey sandwich sounds boring, and what’s one more charge? You buy a halter dress you know you can’t afford, because it makes you look like the successful young woman you want everyone to think you are.

Your boss tells you that you look nice in that dress, asks you to do a spin. Just to get the moment over with, you do.

Your boyfriend asks you how much you paid for it, says it makes you look chubby. You lock yourself in the bathroom until he bangs on the door so hard you think he must have hurt himself. After he falls asleep, you search Craigslist for places, and can’t believe how expensive rent’s gotten around town. You erase your Internet history and go to sleep.

A few weeks later, your boss calls a one-on-one in his office, walks up behind you, and stands too close. His breath fogs your neck. His hand crawls up your new dress. You squirm away. He says, “Sorry, I thought…”

You know what to do. You’re just shocked to find you’re not doing it. You are not telling him to fuck off. You are not storming out. All you’re doing is math. You have $159 in the bank and your car payment and your maxed out credit cards and you’ll die before you ask your dad for a loan again and it all equals one thought: I need this job.

“It’s ok,” you hear your voice saying. “Just forget it.” You scurry out of the room, survey the office half full of women, and wonder how many of them have secrets like the one you’re about to keep.

At the apartment, your best guy friend calls. After you hang up, your boyfriend says you laugh too much with him, that you’re flirting with him, probably sleeping with him. You say it’s not like that. You yell, he yells. You try to leave, he blocks your way. When you struggle to get by, he grabs your wrist in the exact way they pretended to in self-defense class, and you know to go for the eyes, but you don’t know how to go for his eyesHe yanks you back until you fall and crack the coffee table.

He seems so sorry, cries, even, so that night you lie down in the same bed. You stare up at the dark and try to calculate how long it would take you to save up the cash to move out. Telling yourself that he’s sorry, convincing yourself it was an accident, discounting this one time because he didn’t hit you, exactly, seems much more feasible than finding the money, with what you owe every month. The next time you go out as a couple, his arm around your shoulders, you look at all the other girlfriends and imagine finger-sized bruises under their long sleeves.

Wait. This story sucks. If it were one of those Choose Your Own Adventures, here’s where you’d want to flip back, start over, rewrite what happens to you.

You graduated college and you’re a grown-ass woman now. Tina Fey is your hero. Beyoncé, your preacher.

If any man ever hit you, if anyone ever sexually harassed you, you’d tell him to fuck right off. You want to be, no, you will be the kind of woman who can tell anyone to fuck off if a fuck off is deserved, so naturally you start a Fuck Off Fund.

To build this account, you keep living like you lived as a broke student. Drive the decade-old Civic even after the fender falls off. Buy the thrift store clothes. You waitress on Saturdays, even though you work Monday through Friday. You make do with the garage sale coffee table. It’s hard, your loan payments suck, but you make girl’s night an at-home thing and do tacos potluck.

You save up a Fuck Off Fund of $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, then enough to live half a year without anyone else’s help. So when your boss tells you that you look nice, asks you to do a spin, you say, “Is there some way you need my assistance in the professional capacity or can I go back to my desk now?”

When your boyfriend calls you stupid, you say if he ever says that again, you’re out of there, and it’s not hard to imagine how you’ll accomplish your getaway.

When your boss attempts to grope you, you say, “Fuck off, you creep!” You wave two middle fingers in the air, and march over to HR. Whether the system protects you or fails you, you will be able to take care of yourself.

When your boyfriend pounds the door, grabs your wrist, you see it as the red flag it is, leave a post-it in the night that says, “Fuck off, lunatic douche!” You stay up in a fancy hotel drinking room service champagne, shopping for apartments, and swiping around on Tinder.

Once your Fuck Off Fund is built back up, with your new, better job, you pay cash for the most bad ass black leather skirt you can find, upgrade to the used but nicer convertible you’ve always wanted, and start saving to go to Thailand with your best friend the next summer.

Yes, that’s a better story.

It’s a story no one ever told me.

It’s the kind I’d hope for you.