Adulthood sometimes tracks you down.
I was ugly-crying in my car, alone and slowly being buried in snow. In my mind, I was disappearing into the mountain I was trapped upon.
Earlier that night, I had attended my little brother’s play performance in my hometown. I live in Portland, but my hometown of Bend is about three and a half hours away by car. It’s definitely not a big deal to go there for holidays. I hadn’t been there in a bit and this was a big day for Little Bro. So I went.
Budgeting for the trip wasn’t a big deal. It’s about three gas refills and food, so maybe $ 110. Definitely something I thought I could handle in my budget (which was shaky at best).
At this point, I was “working on” saving up $ 5,000 so I could move out of my current living situation. I was earning just enough as a freelancer to cover my bills and basic expenses, which meant I spent a lot of time staring at my savings goal and wondering how the hell I was going to ever reach it. It was a constant reminder that I wasn’t charging a lot for my freelance work. It was a ghost telling me: You’re lazy. You’ll always be poor. You’re going to work forever but never get rich, just like your parents.
These ghosts were still chatting to me throughout my visit to Bend. I had goals, but they still felt too big to be real. So I was avoiding them. You don’t need a high net worth to enjoy life, after all.
That was when the storm hit.
The snow I encountered on the Santiam Pass that night was nothing compared to the winter we’d seen in Portland earlier that year. I had had no inkling that the snow would be insane that night. A few snowflakes were starting to come down once I passed Sisters and entered the forest.
I ignored it at first. I had driven through the frozen hellscape that was Portland in January without tire chains. I could handle this.
But the snow didn’t stop. In fact, it came down even harder as the trees became denser. Before long, my tires were stopping of their own accord thanks to the density of newly-packed powder.
The panic started, but not fully: I had tire chains in the trunk. So like a good woman from the Pacific Northwest, I pulled them out and started to put them on my tires. A young woman (who had, ironically, attended the same play performance as I had) pulled over and helped me put them on. I helped her in turn, and she drove off toward home.
In good spirits, I started the car. A few feet of driving with extra traction through the powder, and the chains snapped off.
Now I lost it. I came out of the car and realized that not only had the slightly-too-loose-but-still-pulled-tight chains fallen off the wheel, but they were now entirely would around the axel. Even if I could reach around the tire, they were likely too tangled to reset. The soldier who pulled over to help me couldn’t even get them off.
All the while, snow came down.
After much exasperated arguing, I realized that AAA was not going to help me. Anything chain-related was out of their wheelhouse. All they could do in terms of a tow truck was connect me to one. It was 1 a.m., the time I was supposed to have arrived home in Portland.
I bit the bullet and put a tow truck on my bank card ($ 190). I hated that I was pushed to this and that tow trucks in my area charged so much. But for the first time, I felt shame that I didn’t have savings that could have helped me. For the first time, I understood what that goal meant.
Savings aren’t a status symbol. They’re the treasure you collect that is supposed to help you, whether it’s moving away or tending to an emergency. By avoiding filling up that treasure chest, I may have avoided the tedium of extra work or the awkwardness of asking for more money, but now my so-called adventure was cut off at the knees. It was juvenile.
At last, the tow truck came to drag me about 300 feet to a snow-safe location. I stayed overnight with a second brother, and headed out for home the next morning. Of course I stopped at Walmart for new chains ($ 90).
Traveling from Bend to Portland, you can go either through the Santiam Pass or through the Warm Springs Reservation. Both are 176 miles long. Fearful of damaging my car, I opted for a third route: The desert route through the Dalles.
The Dalles (a singular name for one town) is a traditional cowboy town out in the high desert of Oregon. Driving to this town requires you drive through 131 miles of farms and dusty desert. From there, it would be about 98 miles to my suburban Portland tow. That’s 229 miles for the whole route, for those keeping score. All to avoid the mountains and any more potential damage to my car.
Turns out, this was the best route I had ever taken home from Bend. Growing up in California has made me a huge fan of deserts. A storm on the high desert means a few snowflakes (or giant raindrops) might bother the cows. My car didn’t groan on the sharp turns. Even when I crossed over the Washington border temporarily to pop onto the main highway, I wasn’t worried. After the mountain, I wasn’t afraid of anything.
I’m still watching my car to see if there’s any lasting damage. So far, no. But I’ll likely have to replace the shocks ($ 1,000) soon just because the car’s finally hit 100,000 miles. I feel bad that my travels to Bend may have caused premature aging on my car.
But this is the post-storm difference: I don’t feel scared saving up a thousand dollars to fix something on my car. It’s a project, but that’s all it is. When I have that money, I’ll fix it. And I will.
My budget isn’t loose anymore. It’s neurotically tight and rigid, and I don’t negotiate it anymore. Savings are now a non-negotiable monthly expense. $ 5,000 still feels like a lot of money, but not when I chip away at it little by little.
If I get a boon, great. I’ll put it in my war chest. But chipping away is still better than nothing. It’s worth being a little uncomfortable in the moment. Even if I only have a few hundred dollars in savings, that’s still enough to theoretically get me off a mountain. And I’ll never let myself get that stuck ever again.
Brit McGinnis is a copywriter and author of several books. Her work has appeared on XOJane, SparkNotes and anywhere fine stories are sold. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
It Took a Snowstorm for My Financial Goals to Sink In was originally published in The Billfold on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.