Speaking to Paulette Perhach, author of "A Story Of A Fuck Off Fund"
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Paulette Perhach On The Fuck Off Fund

“Before, my options were… I don’t know what. Call my mom? I’m in my thirties and that’s no longer cute.”

Paulette Perhach, author behind A Story Of A Fuck Off Fund, gives us the true definition of fuck you money.

Paulette Perhach knows a thing or two about a Fuck Off Fund. She coined the term, after all. In a viral essay for The Billfold, Paulette wrote about a character (or rather, an archetype) who graduates college feeling independent but makes poor financial decisions. The result? She ends up sexually harassed, disillusioned, and broke. The story is then retold. The woman leaves college and salts money away into a Fuck Off Fund. This time, when unfortunate circumstances fall on her, she has fuck you money to fall back on.

The story was both provocative and polarizing. Many a thinkpiece picked it apart, exploring what it meant in today’s shaky economy. Some praised the vividness of the portrait, while others considered the advice obvious. On the original article on The Billfold, one commenter wrote:

Whoa… I should have a savings account? This article is absolutely genius! Yes people, all adults should have a savings account. If this article is so enlightening to you perhaps I should let you know that you also might want to look into investing in insurance, electricity, and water.

But if the advice is so blatant, why do so many people not follow it? And what made Paulette’s story about fuck you money compelling to so many?

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A Story Of A Fuck Off Fund read more as an unsettling premonition than advice. As you read the piece, you aren’t skimming through how-to’s, you’re living a fraught, cash-panicked existence. That’s because turning advice into art is one of Paulette’s specialties. Her writing is born from her own experiences. This story of FU money  is inspired from her life.

It seems fitting that when I spoke to Paulette, she’d recently quit her job to pursue writing full time. While some people might scoff at the notion of walking away from full-time employment, Paulette was only quasi-anxious. She hadn’t quit blindly.

She explains, “It’s nice to have that freaking out kind of be a fake out, because if I don’t have enough money I have backup. Whereas before, my options were… I don’t know what. Call my mom? I’m in my thirties and that’s no longer cute.”

So, how did she get here? What happened before she created her fuck off fund?

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Paulette didn’t grow up in a money savvy household. When she was seventeen, her father died in an accident. In addition to coping with the tragedy, when she graduated college she was left with money from the related lawsuit.

This is where the advice becomes – as that commenter might say – “obvious.” Pay off any debts. Create a rainy day fund. But like many people, Paulette had no guidance, even though her intentions were to be fiscally responsible:

“I told myself, ‘this is going to be the time that I get straight and do right.’ I ended up buying a house in 2007 – you know where this is going.”

She short-sold the house and graduated college with a mound of student debt. Feeling deeply unhappy, she participated in the Peace Corps in Paraguay. Here’s where I expected her life changing, mind-altering moment to occur, but that’s actually not the case.

Paulette Perhach in Paraguay

Paulette in Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer; courtesy of Paulette Perhach

Even as Paulette financially struggled, the reality of being in a bad situation never fully hit her. She slid into a sad, unrealistic optimism that prevented her from moving forward.

“I expected to be my own protagonist,” she says. “Of course my story was going to go great! Of course no one will sexually harass me, of course I won’t have emergencies. Because I’m me.”

“A vacation or a treat is essentially an emotional experience. When you have to wrap it in a shame bomb, it’s ruined.”

But when Paulette returned back from Peace Corps, her situation had remained exactly where she’d left it. She moved in with her mother and soon realized she couldn’t continue ignoring the parts of her story she didn’t care for. She had to take action.

“It was my own mom who told me I was being a taker,” she admits. “I wrote about this in a Salon article called My Own Private Recession. I kept messing up, and I knew she would bail me out. The person on earth for who I was this precious baby had had enough of me. I pushed my own mom to the limit, and I didn’t want to be that person anymore.”

One more incident pushed her to the edge. Paulette arrived at a music festival with her boyfriend at the time when she was told the price of admission would be $140 – $100 more than she’d anticipated.

That $100 jarred her. Sure, maybe she had the extra cash on hand, but she couldn’t actually afford a $140 music festival ticket. She had too much debt.

“I can’t do this,” she admitted to herself. “I can’t afford this.”

She and her boyfriend climbed back into the car and drove home. Paulette had endured six hours of driving for naught – or so it seemed. In reality, she’d reached a breakthrough.

“It really sucked, but it was a point of being honest with myself. I knew I had to take care of me. I called a career coach and said, ‘I have no money. Is there anything you can give me as a first step?’”

She recommended The Overnight Resume, and from that point forward, Paulette’s journey became a search for knowledge. She read voraciously and picked up new skills via Lynda, LinkedIn’s skill-sharing site.

“What’s rich to me is my freedom. My biggest luxury is my time, and doing what I love.”

Soon enough, she was offered a job writing tech proposals. Even though she was “desperate” for a job, her reading had taught her to negotiate, so that’s exactly what she did. It made a difference. She was granted considerable commission, and finally, she went to work. It wasn’t completely smooth sailing, but taking charge of her finances filled Paulette with confidence:

“My job was really scary. I was underqualified for it. It was trial by fire. But I stepped up the challenge, did a good job, and was getting rewarded for it. That win-win situation was nice.”

Paulette Perhach's author photo, she wrote A Story Of A Fuck Off Fund

Courtesy of Paulette Perhach

With a healthy income and financial savvy to her name, Paulette was able to pay off her debts, create a “mini” emergency fund of $1,000, and eventually create what would be her FoF. Her next focus will be learning more about investing while cultivating her full-time writing career.

After ten years of trying to be a writer, these simultaneous career and financial achievements could not be sweeter for Paulette. Of course, that doesn’t mean she never stresses about money. But she can now enjoy her life while still handling money strategically:

“I want to go to Southeast Asia this year. It’s not just like – ‘I’m going to go to Asia.’ Reward yourself by doing the work first and saving up. The first time I went, I was tallying up how much it would cost and worrying about how I’d handle it the entire time. A vacation or a treat is essentially an emotional experience. When you have to wrap it in a shame bomb, it’s ruined.”

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One of the most striking sections in A Story of a Fuck Off Fund is when the main character – in the financially savvy version of the story, of course – leaves her boyfriend and reports her boss’s inappropriate behavior. She then spends the night at a hotel ordering room service and planning an international vacation with her best friend.

This is Paulette’s financial independence in a nutshell. Becoming financially responsible – having a fuck off fund – doesn’t mean total deprivation. It means reward, and peace-of-mind:

“What’s rich to me is my freedom,” Paulette says. “My biggest luxury is my time, and doing what I love.”

photo credit: averie woodard

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Aliza Kellerman Aliza Kellerman is the Manager of Content Strategy at WiseBanyan. When she's not writing about the life and times of the IRA, she's hanging out with her pug.