It’s a vicious cycle: Get paid, pay the bills, have nothing left for two weeks.
Living paycheck to paycheck is a stressful issue that attacked me after graduating college about a year ago. I stare at my empty bank account cursing under my breath. How did it get this bad? Of course, I know how it happened: I quit my last job before I had one lined up. I was furious, and quit spur-of-the-moment. That led me to spend most of my savings while looking for another job. It was a stupid mistake that I am still reeling from.
When comparing my lofty expenses to my sparse income, you would wonder — how the hell is she still paying for this? The Answer: I have NO idea. My credit card is maxed out at $1,500, and I make payments of a couple hundred dollars whenever I have something left over.
What’s in my savings account, you ask? $26. That’s a hell of an emergency fund.
With my 9-6 job, more than half of my income goes towards my rent, which happens to be pretty reasonable compared to other options in Lexington. Did I splurge to feel safe and have a garage? Absolutely. The rest of my income goes towards my car payment (my last car crapped out), my student loans (gross), and paying for internet, cable, utilities, and my cell phone bill. I also have to eat (though I’m a vegetarian, which can help lower the cost) and fuel up that car.
The result of this cycle is a higher-than-is-safe stress level that I need to change. It doesn’t help that I like to “treat” myself to a trip to Target or Chipotle with that credit card. However, given the stress that I feel every single day thinking about my money I know I need to put a halt to this drama. Here are the four steps I’m taking to break out of the cycle of living paycheck-to-paycheck.
1. I comb through my expenses with a fine-tooth comb.
I started printing out my bank statements and using two highlighters to decide what was necessary and what wasn’t. Rent Payment? Necessary. That tasty burrito bowl? Not necessary. I then added up all the unnecessary expenses, and came out with a total I was not happy with: $574 in one month. Seeing how much amounted from all the times I swiped for something I didn’t need made me see where a lot of my money was going, and I got mad at myself. But if you don’t take the steps to fully see your mindless spending, you can’t do anything about it.
2. I leave my credit card at home.
This sounds so cliche, but just do it. Especially if it has barely any money left on it, you don’t need to use it up. I always used to pay my credit card off every month, but then the balance got too high, and I needed to pay for other things — like my cat’s kidney stone. I have decided that that card is not allowed to be swiped until it’s at a zero balance. Not an $800 balance. Zero. Out of sight, out of mind; plus, when it’s maxed out, it’s not like I can use it anyway. (For the record, I hid it in the bathroom.)
3. I utilize my cash-back.
This super-evil aforementioned credit card does, however, receive excellent cash-back perks. While it usually prompts me to use my points for an Amazon gift card, I always redeem the cash-back into my savings account. I’ve redeemed a few hundred dollars since getting the card, so that’s extra income that certainly helps. Sometimes I spend it, and sometimes I am able to actually save it. Either way — it’s nice to have.
4. I embrace the frustration and use it.
I get mad at myself for getting into this mess, but I’ve started using that frustration as method of self-control. No, you don’t deserve that extra-shot latte. Is it harsh? Yes, but I need to hear it from the person I trust the most. And it works. The frustration is what makes me see that this isn’t easy and needs to change. I would love the peace of mind that comes with having money in my bank account, no matter the time of the month.
Breaking the paycheck to paycheck cycle is something that requires effort every single day. It makes me angry, but the frustration drives myself to do better. Money isn’t just going to appear in my bank account, unless I fight to put it there.
Jaime Wogoman is a freelance writer living in Lexington, Kentucky. She’s a self-described caffeine addict and lover of all dogs.
Image via Unsplash