You know those moments, that happen oh-so-frequently in your 20s, when you realize yet another super-fun aspect of being an adult that no one ever warned you about?
Maybe it’s the amount of tax that really comes off of your paycheque, or the reality of how much car insurance costs.
Maybe it’s the real cost of living in your dream city, or how quickly those after-work drinks can add up at the end of the month.
Or, if you’re anything like me, maybe you made it to 26 years old without anyone telling you that you need to renew your license plate every year on your birthday. At least, you do if you live in Ontario.
See, no one ever explicitly told me that.
Sure, like most of the comparable how-to-adult information out there, I probably should have known. There are probably hundreds of thousands of websites out there that can tell me this in dozens of different languages. There’s probably even a book called How To Adult Properly With Your Car in Ontario.
I must have skipped over that one on my last trip to the library.
Anyways, someone finally told me about it. That someone was a municipality in Quebec, whose law enforcement officers so kindly sent me an entirely French letter and ticket in the mail after they noticed that my license plate, sitting in a Quebec parking lot for an afternoon, had long since expired.
(Honestly, props to my mom for putting me in French immersion way back when so I even understood what was happening.)
So what did this lesson in adulting cost me?
$300.00 for the infraction.
$114.00 for the processing costs.
$40.00 for the act of sending me the letter.
$4.00 for the ability to pay the fine online.
Total cost? $458.00.
So in a month where I had already planned to fit in a vet visit for The Dog, a year’s worth of new contact lenses, and rustproofing for Little Car who endures so much in the Canadian winters, I now had a surprise $458.00 lesson in how to adult properly.
Plus the $108.00 it’ll cost to actually update Little Car’s license plate.
Luckily, there were two things that put me solidly in the “I’ve got this adulting thing down pat” category, even though I was woefully uninformed about the basics of license plates.
#1. I have an emergency fund.
Even though I took the scenic route to a solid emergency fund, detouring through how not to set up an emergency fund first, in the past few months I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping a separate account earmarked just for emergency expenses. While it’s intended for The Big Stuff, like losing a job, it’s also a remarkably effective buffer against unexpected lessons that come out of nowhere. Or more accurate, out of the woods in rural Quebec.
That’s the thing about figuring out how to adult the hard way. Sometimes all it takes is time, but others? It takes money. Money that might come as a total surprise, and blow a big hole in your expected monthly budget. That’s what setting up an emergency fund is for.
It has your back, even when you probably should have known better.
#2. I track my spending.
Let me break down how this exact same month would have gone at this time last year.
I didn’t track my spending, so I wouldn’t have known what a relatively big – or little – chunk this unexpected ticket would take out of my monthly budget. I certainly wouldn’t have been looking at how to fit several large purchases into my monthly budget responsibly.
Instead, I would have straight-up panicked. I would have paid it, sure, but I would have been a puddle of stress and most likely, tears. I wouldn’t have known one way or the other if I could afford it, but instead of taking steps to figure it out, I would have buried my head in the sand – and kept right on buying my favoured $5 lattes.
Thank god I started tracking my spending.
When the ticket arrived, I think my mom was more stressed about it than I was. I read it, realized what it was, and shrugged.
Was I happy about losing an unexpected $458? Of course not.
Did it ruin my night? Of course not.
I simply accepted the lesson, transferred the money out of the account I keep for exactly this kind of situation, entered it into my tracking spreadsheet and adjusted a few other plans for the month. I earmarked some extra income this month to beefing my emergency fund back up, and called it a night.
Those two things – having an emergency fund ready and waiting, and knowing what my monthly spending looks like at a really detailed level – made all the difference in how I was able to handle the curveballs that come with adulting. Honestly, remembering how things like this used to throw me into a stress spiral only makes me even more committed to both of these things.
At the end of the day, maybe adulting properly isn’t so hard.
Maybe it just means being prepared to handle a curveball or two along the way.
Ok you guys, confession time. I know I’m not the only one who’s been hit with this kind of out-of-the-blue, didn’t-even-know-about-it expense related to Things Adults Do in their 20s. There are just too many logistics involved for nothing to have fallen through the cracks. You should probably tell me about yours so I feel moderately less like a doofus for just not knowing I had to renew my license plates every year.