If you read a lot of personal finance literature, you’re familiar with the concept of an “emergency fund.”
Life happens. When it does, it can be expensive. An emergency fund is easily accessed cash that can cover an unexpected car repair, a broken pipe, or the like. These things fall in the category of “known unknowns.” You don’t know exactly what unexpected expense will arise, but you can be pretty sure something will happen. Having savings means you can absorb the expense without going into debt. This is why Dave Ramsey advises even people with significant debts to save $1000 first, before paying off loans. That baby-steps emergency fund often keeps people from going deeper into the hole.
There are many parallels between time and money. I think this is one area where seeing parallels can lead to good choices. Good time management means creating the time equivalent of an emergency fund.
This is easily accessed time that you can deploy when something unexpected happens. If you have this open time, then an emergency means you don’t need to “borrow” from other priorities. You have a place for the emergency to go. Slack in your schedule means you stay on track.
One of the best ways to do this is to avoid scheduling things for a multi-hour block somewhere in the week. Friday afternoon is a common choice, as it tends not to be anyone’s peak productivity window. If nothing happens, great! Quit early. But more likely, a client whose project is due Thursday will call on Wednesday with some additional requests. Anything scheduled for Wednesday will need to move. If Friday afternoon is open, it can go there. If Friday afternoon is already packed, then you start having to borrow from future weeks, which are equally packed, and then the time debt starts to add up.
To be sure, there are some challenges involved in a time emergency fund that aren’t there for money. Once you create a financial emergency fund, it’s there unless you spend it, whereas even the wealthiest person would see her time emergency fund disappear once those minutes were in the past. You have to keep creating the time emergency fund again and again.
But if you do, life can feel reasonably calm. I was thinking of that today, which was my “time emergency fund” day for the week. I don’t have choir rehearsal tonight because we’re not singing this Sunday, and I managed most other projects and calls into Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday this week. It was going to be a gloriously open day!
And then it wasn’t. Snow and frigid temperatures meant the schools had a 2-hour delay this morning. I also managed to break my iPhone, necessitating a 2-hour visit to the Apple store to purchase a new one, followed by finding various files and setting up my accounts. I was rather annoyed at myself about the whole (expensive) phone debacle but I was happy that at least I had the space in my schedule to absorb it.
Do you have a “time emergency fund” in your schedule? What have you needed to use it for recently?
Photo: I’m sure I’ll have all sorts of fun with the camera on the new phone. Definitely snazzier than the model I’ve had for the last 3.5 years.