We often hear statistics that simplify the story of a person down to a single number. We do that too – we share the statistic from Marketplace-Edison Research that finds that nearly half of Americans would have trouble coming up with $250 for an unexpected expense. But people are more than numbers, and so I wanted to share a story that reflects our learnings from hundreds of conversations we’ve had over the years.
For the sake of anonymity, we’ll refer to this person as Daniel.
Daniel is in his early 30s and has made a good life for himself between his fulltime job and a side gig he’s picked up along the way. Daniel loves the people he works with and admires the company he works for, and believes that corporate leadership has tried to do right by its people. Daniel makes a livable wage, but it’s exactly that – it allows him to live, not necessarily thrive. He’s able to keep up a car, which he needs for his commute; has decent health insurance from the company; and also saves a tiny bit for his retirement, because he hears that’s the right thing to do. Daniel lives outside a small city, and he shares an apartment with a friend. Daniel also has always been devoted to his family.
Daniel was swimming along just fine, and then someone in his family had a medical emergency. He needed to move back to his hometown and financially support his family.
Daniel had tried to save a bit of money when he could, but it wasn’t regular and it was intended for his dreams. And so even after dipping into his limited savings to cover his family’s bills, he needed more money. Daniel could’ve continued adding to his credit card balance, but knew it wasn’t wise, and he was trying to avoid falling into the predatory cycle of payday lending. So, he decided to take some money out of his retirement savings.
But getting his hands on that money was tough. Daniel started bouncing around his company’s HR and Payroll and Benefits departments, trying to figure out how to tap into the precious savings he’s built up – all to help his family get through their crisis. . Three days after the latest hospital bill was due, he found out that he wouldn’t even receive the money for another week, and only after paying a penalty of 10% plus taxes. At the time he needed cash the most, he had to deal with paperwork and penalties.
Daniel, thankfully, eventually received that money and floated by in the meantime with a bit of help from his friends. But without that help, Daniel and his family were facing not having enough food in the fridge, missing bill payments or even eviction. Potentially, Daniel could’ve been left jobless as a result of his being distracted by these “personal issues.” Daniel’s story is being repeated thousands of times in every community across the country – people are doing the best they can, but one disruption sends them spiraling down a dangerous path.
When I asked Daniel about what he wished would’ve happened, it was clear – he didn’t want to be in that position in the first place. He wanted options that fit his lifestyle and helped him build up some protection from the unexpected. Beyond that, he wanted the opportunity to save for what he wanted out of life – a vacation, a grad school program, a more reliable car. Daniel wasn’t interested in becoming rich, but he did want to be secure enough to be there for his family in their time of need – and he wanted to do that on his own, with his dignity intact.
And that’s at the heart of why people want to save – this idea of dignity and self-determination. I have been finding that when we talk with people and hear their stories, people already fundamentally know that savings is important. Sure they need to save because there are just so many things that can go wrong, like the family emergency in Daniel’s case. But this impending sense of doom isn’t the reason that people want to save. People like Daniel want to save because he’s proud of the life he’s built and dreams for his own future.
And it’s for those people – people like Daniel – that we’ve built Sunny Day Fund™.