Wednesday, June 29, 2011

How much trouble can we get into?

My friends over at ChristianPF did a blog post on why it's important to have $1000 set aside in an emergency fund. I commented that sometimes that's not enough and other agreed. I was reminded of the first time I saw this, although at age 10 I know I didn't understand it.

My older brother and his roommate were preparing to take me for a weekend of sailing on a local lake. They loaded up the sailboat, a tent and camping supplies for the weekend and the three of us (and their dog) were ready to go. Just before we left, my brother asked his room-mate how much cash they had. They totaled the bills in their wallets and my brother said "how much trouble can we get into?"

When we got to the lake, we took binoculars and found an island suitable for camping. We prepared to sail to the island and realized we'd left the rudder and daggerboard back home. Not good for sailing. We decided to paddle the sailboat to the island, my brother and I would set up camp while his roommate made a trip back home for the pickup. When the roommate got back, he flashed his headlights at us (no cellphones) and my brother set out paddling to pick him up.

Did you know there are laws preventing the use of boats on the water after dark without lights? In hindsight, this seems like a good idea, but at the time we didn't know. My brother was picked up by some sort of lake patrol who escorted him back to our island. Since I was watching I knew something bad was going on, so I picked the only defensive weapon I could find, an axe, and went to defend my brother. I'm sure the lake patrol thought it was funny, to be greeted by a 10 year old boy with an ax.

The fines were due immediately and my brother paid them. The lake patrol took him to get his roommate, which created another funny story, but not for today. The next day, we sailed the lake without problems.

The moral of the story is to always think "how much trouble can we get into?" Car troubles can easily run into hundreds of dollars and if you need your car for work, that's an emergency. Heat/AC troubles can exceed $1000 and in SC weather, a breakdown can be an emergency (and we frequently use both in the same week in spring/fall). The question of how much you need in an emergency fund is based on "how much trouble can we get into?" If you rent an apartment, you can probably get into less trouble than a homeowner.

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