I paid $150 worth of parking and speeding camera tickets today. Earlier this year I got a couple more $100 red light violations (courtesy of the new red light cameras) and both myself and my husband got speeding warnings earlier this year as well.
Let me just say, Chicago is a great place to live, really. But more and more, it’s become really hard to stay afloat here in the city limits. With the schools and crime in the news daily, no wonder residents have felt the sting of urban living to the utmost for many years. On the flip side, there is phenomenal access to opportunity- a thriving financial district, a beautiful arts scene, exciting night life & dining, plenty of platforms to jump start an entertainment or political career and the list goes on. This access comes with a price, however.
The conversation continues- Why is Chicago taxing its citizens with fines, fees and burdens that make living costs so high. Furthermore, many point out that these fines tend to disproportionately affect the poor. Welp, I can agree, high taxes, rents, fines etc. can make it hard for someone barely getting by.
We made the decision long ago that we would not be taxed, fined or run out of our city because of financial woes. It’s a place of defeat no one should have to tolerate. While it would be nice if ordinances changed to lessen the financial impact for Chicagoans, it just isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. Until the laws change, we are basically self-insuring. Yep, that means we will have to take matters into our own hands and save money for little emergencies like towing and red light tickets. I agree it shouldn’t have to be this way, but if the city doesn’t have our best interest in mind, we are going to have to do the unthinkable- have an emergency savings fund. Yes! Actually forgo eating out at times and spending every dime that comes in and put aside money for emergencies. It sounds strange, but so far it has meant the difference between survival and disaster for our clan.
It wasn’t always this way for us, believe me. There were times we were one street cleaning ticket away from the brink of destruction! But as the years have gone by, we finally came to the conclusion that if the city won’t care for us, we might actually have to care for ourselves.
Dave Ramsey, one of America’s favorite financial guru’s, suggests starting out with at least a $1,000 emergency fund. Once your debt is paid down that should increase to 3-6 months of expenses.
If you live in Chicago, here are a few doosies you should always be prepared to cover (have your emergency fund in place):
1) Rising property taxes- even in the “least desirable” areas, keep a stash of cash in case your bill goes up next year. This bill is due twice a year, so save your money monthly to cover the bill when it’s due.
2) Utilities- gas bills can be up to $2,000 a year! Especially if you live in an older home without updated energy saving doors and windows. The budget plan can space this cost out with monthly payments and usually no extra administrative cost or interest.
3) Car expenses- This is a HUGE one. I once got a $200 ticket for not have a city sticker! Make sure all your stickers (plates and city) are up to date. Pay close attention to tow zones, restricted parking areas (like the ones that convert for rush hour and street cleaning.) Pay any and all parking, speeding or red light tickets right away. If they add up, you will soon get a boot. Also, be aware of pot holes, if you hit one, you could get a flat. The city will reimburse you for the cost to fix it, but it can take up to 6 months! Ouch. Let’s not leave out gas. Illinois pays some of the nation’s highest prices for gas. I’ve pulled up to the pump after people who’ve put as little as $2.00 in their tank! It gets real here, folks.
4) Property citations- Grass not cut? Fence torn up? Garbage lingering in the alley? You could get cited by the city.
5) Owing the city- Having any outstanding bill whether it’s a water bill (these get massive for multi-units), child support or infractions, you become ineligible for things that can actually put you ahead in Chicago. If you want to contract with the city, obtain a business license, serve on a nonprofit board or take advantage of the $1 lot give-aways, you have to be in right standing with the city, period.
6) Property damage: due to vandalism and aging- If you live in a high crime area, you might be familiar with the the theft of copper from air conditioning units. I know several people this has happen to (including us) that caused permanent damage to their unit. In fact we’ve not had A/C since 2012! I’ve heard of other stories where people lost electrical service due to vandalism. Besides that, Chicago is an old city with old structures. Old buildings just get old, so make plans to cover repairs for them. Another items to sock away money for monthly.
I am sure this is not a comprehensive list, but really a starting point to get you thinking seriously about protecting your income and preserving your sanity here in the “Chi.”
Can you think of any thing else your emergency fund might be helpful for to help ease the high cost of living in Chicago?