Saturday, January 24, 2009

The financial consequences of "just in case"

I am a cautious person who believes in being prepared. I save my money and keep some cash in the house and in my wallet. I have at least two weeks worth of food available in my pantry and basement just in case. I rarely let the gas tank gauge in the car fall below half a tank. I take my car to the mechanic twice a year to have it checked over, the oil changed and the tires rotated. I have several CFLs available in various wattages for when the incandescents or other CFLs in my home need replacing. I have at least one replacement for body lotion, shampoo, conditions, soap, razor blades, contact lens solution, cotton balls and Q-tips so I have a ready supply.

Why am I telling you all this? While you may be wondering why this strange, obsessive woman is roaming free in the upper Midwest, I will demonstrate the benefits to my behavior. The first reason: I like to have backups. I feel more secure that when that light bulb goes out I can change it, or the winter weather prevents me from going anywhere, I can survive on my backup water supply and full pantry for however long my life is disrupted. I find it gratifying to turn to my cabinet, pantry or basement storage and grab the next bottle of contact lens solution or container of deodorant without cursing that I forgot it on my last shopping trip. This means I do not have to make a single trip for one item and then end up buying six other things I do not need but decided I wanted.

Being American, I am dependent on my car for getting me to and from work. If I need to buy items or visit my family, I need to drive my car. For these reasons, I schedule semiannual maintenance of my car to ensure all systems are working well. This saves me time, money and aggravation. Why? By having my car looked over regularly, I am able to fix items before they become critical and leave me stranded somewhere. Regular maintenance is likely to reduce the total cost of ownership by anticipating problems before they become catastrophic.

However, this "just in case" mentality can also have its downside. I need sufficient space to store these extra items, which can add clutter to the house. This need for storage may increase spending because now I require another shelf in the basement to store all my back up items. Deciding to get an item may lead to buying more than needed. While I am thinking "just in case" as I buy my third wool blanket from the thrift shop, do I really need three wool blankets with one down blanket and three cotton blankets at home? I blame reading Sharon's blog for this particular weakness.

Whether being prepared and doing preventative maintenance balances out the expenses associated with greater storage needs depends on execution. Living in an area where severe winter weather can mean impassable roads and loss of power, and summer brings severe thunderstorms with a chance of tornadoes, stocking up seems prudent. I am shielded from temporary disruptions in food supplies with my pantry stockpile and can keep myself warm without power under all the layers of blankets I have. This security is worth more to me than a few extra dollars in my savings account.

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