Normally when I book an airline ticket, I start my search months ahead of the trip, using comparison travel sites or signing up for price alerts to try to snag flights at the lowest cost possible. This time — with my child in extreme distress — my only concern was finding a flight out of Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport that would get her dad and me to Houston as soon as possible.
The nonstop ticket on Southwest was four times the price for a flight we already had scheduled later in the month to see where she worked and do some sightseeing in Houston.
We had to book a hotel room at the last minute, too, also paying a premium. But you know what? We didn’t care. Cost didn’t matter because this was life happening.
My daughter experienced a “spontaneous pneumothorax,” which is the sudden onset of a collapsed lung without any apparent cause, such as a traumatic injury to the chest.
Her right lung had collapsed. It kept collapsing even after treatment. As I write this, she’s still in the hospital, six days and counting, including a surgery Friday morning.
Thankfully, when this is all over, we won’t be bringing home debt. My husband and I are fortunate, and we understand many others couldn’t do what we did. But we also know from experience that there are many people who are unable to weather a financial emergency because they failed to save when they had the money.
Let me be clear. This column is not intended for people struggling on below-living wages who can barely make rent or put food on the table. They don’t have extra funds after paying for necessities. Rather, I’m making an appeal, written in my daughter’s hospital room, to those who can — and you know who you are — to save for certain life emergencies.
Here’s how you know this is for you.
You eat out often — several times a week between takeout and area restaurants. Dining out is your regular treat. And you still overspend at the grocery store even though you have a refrigerator and pantry full of food.
You vacation frequently, spreading the expense over several credit cards you are not paying off every billing cycle. However, if you had a major car repair, you couldn’t pay for it without incurring debt.
You’re planning a wedding — perhaps even saving thousands of dollars for the ceremony and reception. But this is a temporary thrifty endeavor. Back from the honeymoon, you’ll return to your old spendthrift ways.
In a few weeks, you’ll be planning to hit the major Black Friday sales, starting in the wee hours of the morning. You tell yourself this madness is worth it because you’re able to get a big-screen television or toys for a discount. But you never save when you spend.
You’ve racked up credit card debt for excessive amounts of clothes, furniture or just stuff, much of which you can’t even remember purchasing. You trade in your car long before your vehicle is near the end of its usefulness. In fact, you purchase a luxury model because “you deserve it.” Or, to “afford” the car you want — instead of the one at a lesser price that you need — you take out a five-, six- or even seven-year car loan.
Clearly, all the surveys about the lack of savings by Americans hasn’t pushed you to save. You just keep spending above your means to sustain a lifestyle that doesn’t include any cushion for the things in life that happen.
Trust me, this is not a brag. It’s a passionate plea from a mother who is less worried because I was able to be by my daughter’s bedside.
Start saving today for the worst-case scenario that may require you to fly last minute to be there for someone you love.
Save now, because when life happens, you don’t want to have to make the difficult financial decision not to be present when your presence is needed.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to wapo.st/michelle-singletary.