‘I Am Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck … and Think It’s Okay’

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We bring you this post from xoJane.com

I don’t have a lot of deep dark secrets. The vast majority of my life is up on the Internet for my mother and potential future employees to see. There are a few things I don’t write about at the specific request of loved ones, but somebody knows everything about me. My therapist and my best friend from high school at least have the entire picture.

But then there are those pieces of information that aren’t secrets exactly, but that I’m sort of scared to volunteer. Like this: I’ve never voted! Let’s move on from that one before you have time to think about it.

Also, I have never in my life maintained any kind of savings for more than a few weeks. Every other Thursday, Bank of America sends me these “courtesy notices” that are like: “By the by, you are a joke of a person who has $1.69 in her account. Watch out for emergencies!”

Not a big surprise, considering the fact that I’m a 29-year-old recovering addict with a history of compulsive shopping, but recently I’ve had reason to believe I’m not a total outlier.

See, we’ve been playing a little game around the xoJane offices lately, called “who has the least amount of money left the day before pay day?” It is truly sad. Last week I had something like $168 left and everybody was amazed, even though it was only because my account had been compromised and I was without a debit card for a few days. Most of the time, we’re all down to our last few dollars.

I do have some valid reasons. I spend a grand a month on therapy, which is something I’ve decided to prioritize for a few years. I’m in debt. I need a lot of dental work. But I also just buy a lot of stuff.

I no longer use credit cards, but I do spend all my money as quickly as I make it. Anything not earmarked for rent or bills goes to cute dresses from Modcloth, glittery shoes, tattoos, nice haircuts and pedicures with chair massages. My lifestyle expands to fit my paycheck. Every time I come into “extra” money — a bonus, a freelance check, tax returns — I intend to finally really start that nest egg I know I’m supposed to have, but watch myself fritter it away on nice things for myself instead. God I love nice things.

I don’t feel guilty for treating myself. I do feel bad when I can’t afford an unexpected expense because I already spent any surplus cash on several tubes of that Limited Edition MAC lipstick I’m addicted to because it’s not going to be around forever you know. And I feel super guilty that I can’t manage to keep even just a little bit per check in my savings account in case I lose my job or need major surgery or have to leave my fiance in a hurry tomorrow.

Articles about women and finances are kind of like my thinspo — images of perfection that are meant to inspire but actually just make me feel like shit about myself. Even in the ones where people [redacted: screw up] financially, the mistakes are always in the past, viewed through saintly retrospect by women who seem to have it all together now.

Nobody’s ever just like: “I’m a complete mess financially and that’s just the deal right now, thanks.” And if they are, they’re hit with a wave of righteous indignation from people who I can only assume have perfectly adhered-to Excel spreadsheets and have never impulse-bought a pair of stupid polka dot socks or whatever just because they put them right next to the register.

The amount of judginess and even ANGER directed at women who dare to admit they don’t have their shit together financially always shocks me. In the end, it’s my money to use stupidly if I decide to, and it’s not really hurting anybody else. Live and let live like an idiot, am I right?

The truth is, I’m modeling the financial behavior I was taught. You know how some girls call themselves “skinny fat”? I feel like my family was kind of “wealthy poor.” Well, not wealthy really, but a solidly middle class family that was always broke. My mom made a pretty good living, especially considering neither of my parents graduated college, but my parents just weren’t very good with money. Between my father’s sometimes-unemployment, what I gather was/is a healthy amount of debt and their poor spending habits, I grew up hearing “we’re broke” constantly. Also, our house was always filthy and I wet the bed well into elementary school and often went to school reeking of pee, so you can perhaps forgive me for feeling that my social status was markedly different from that of my peers.

When it comes to money, we learn from watching our parents, even those who veer in the opposite direction in protest. Which doesn’t mean we can’t change and improve, just that it’s not easy and it takes time.

My financial behavior is one area I am working on, but it’s far from the top of my list right now. Staying sober from sex, drugs, alcohol and my eating disorder all trump my spendy habits, especially when splurging is one of the less destructive ways I can still soothe myself, like how I ate whatever kind of junk I wanted while I was counting days off drugs. HARM REDUCTION, BABY.

But honestly, I don’t think I should even have to justify it. I live paycheck-to-paycheck. So do a lot of other people, some of them because they have to and some of them because they like spending their money on what they want to spend it on and some of them because they just haven’t mastered the skills of budgeting and saving. In the words of the great philosopher Whitney Houston, “It’s not right, but it’s okay.”

All of us are getting by the best way we know how. Let’s all keep our eyes on our own bank accounts, before we overdraft.

LearnVest Editor’s Note: While it’s your individual decision if and how you’d like to tackle your money issues, we’re here to support you either way. If you are trying to get a handle on your spending, check out the My Money Center to track your budget, or try Cut Your Cost or Get Out of Debt Bootcamp.

More From xoJane

I Married Young … And I’m Ashamed of It
I Don’t Resent People With Trust Funds
Beauty Products I’ve Loved Since Middle School

  • ranavain

    I LOVE this. Thank you so much. It’s good to know that there are people who write for Learnvest with REAL problems, as opposed to “I make $100K a year and it’s just not enough whine whine whine.” It’s good to know that people can be, you know, HAPPY. :)

  • Jane Doe

    Wow, I really dislike this particular article, and don’t understand why Learnvest decided to publish it. I understand that personal finance management can be daunting, but it seems incredibly immature to stick one’s head in the ground and ignore what’s happening. Perhaps it’s worked out well so far, but at some point, behaving irresponsibly is going to cause a major issue.

    Learnvest, in the future, I’d much rather see an article on “strategies to avoid making impulse buys” (like that polka dot sock example). We all understand that it’s hard to change and there will be setbacks, but I really don’t understand how a personal finance site can say it’s fine to just keep making mistakes and not learning from them. Why not publish an article by someone with a less blase attitude who IS trying to change but maybe isn’t completely successful? I think it’s a shame to glorify this person’s poor financial management so that it’s something others see as a viable option.

  • Mara

    I also thank you for writing this…sometimes it is good to hear a real and common way of life.  I guess it is all about owning the way we do things…I can’t go and spend all my paychecks and then run to my parents because I need money..but if I spend my paycheck at marshals and just suck it until the next one it is a totally different story.

  • Cc11782n

    Thanks for writing this article and being so incredibly honest!! I was living paycheck to paycheck too, same as you, as a choice because I had other priorities. I tend to get overwhelmed if I focus on too many things at once. Eventually, I got tired of living like that (and the credit card emergencies kept mounting up), so I started to really manage my finances (guilty of the excel sheet you mentioned!). Its a personal choice, which I’m glad you pointed out. You can’t just control your spending overnight, or if you don’t want to – just like people who want to lose 50lbs can’t just lose it overnight or without the willpower to lose it.
    Great job LearnVest for sharing this!

  • Lauren

    I understand that this an essay — her opinion. But isn’t this EXACTLY the sort of thing Learnvest is trying to combat? There needs to be a part 2 here — an intervention, or a plan for her that can be written in another post. Or at least a sidebar or something that has advice. Publishing this essay is basically saying “Hey! It’s OK that she’s not saving for retirement!” And from what I understand, while this makes a great clickable post, that is not Learnvest’s mission. 

    • Lauren

      And another thing (god, I am sorry I’m feeling so opinionated today!): As is evidenced by some of the comments below, this article puts women who live the same way at ease. Which is again, the opposite of what Learnvest is aiming to accomplish.

  • Aasas

    this woman is an idiot.

  • Leah

    Learnvest, I get that you’re not the Wall Street Journal, but can you PLEASE get some real stories and intelligent commentary that HELPS women who are interested in making their lives better? “I live paycheck to paycheck, don’t care and won’t change a thing” is NOT a “story,” nor does it help women get to the point in your tagline ”where life gets richer.”

    You’re losing credibility by the article these days.

  • Witter

    What about retirement? Are you just going to work until you die?  This is not a good plan. Have fun living off cat food when you’re too old to work.

  • Iroinic3500

    i would imagine LV’s stance would be more in line with “I am living paycheck-to-paycheck as I am working through addiction recovery and therapy, and building a nest egg is lower on my list of priorities. Right now spending helps me with my recovery process and tackling too much at once can be overwhelming and discouraging.  Until I am ready to tackle finances, I need to focus on one thing at a time and get there when i’m ready. hopefully soon”

    I believe a message like this would be much more in tune with LV while taking into account that life happens and real people may have more pressing priorities besides financial control. I would love to see an article like this- more current status than retrospect.

  • http://twitter.com/Lbeemoneytree Lauren Bee

    As a personal finance blogger I appreciated a different take on finances. I don’t think it’s healthy, but she has a point-if she wants to live that way-she can choose to. And there is a lot of financial judgement-especially among women. I haven’t been perfect with my finances this month but I feel myself judging this lady. 

    Still–I’m not sure this is what Learnvest wants to be putting out there, especially since she is clearly making no effort to change her spending habits.
    http://www.lbeeandthemoneytree.com

  • Phylicia Lyons

    It is extremely annoying when people say in so many words that “it’s their prerogative” to live paycheck-to-paycheck and that “it’s no one else’s business but their own”. The reality is that as a society, we wind up “picking up” the tab for people who neglect to save….these are the people who RELY on social security benefits, medicare/medicaid and other social programs while in retirement. And those programs, for the record, are a cost that each and every one of us pays. So, it is my business.

  • amkade

    Hi all, 

    Thanks for your lively debate. To be clear, LearnVest does not espouse living paycheck-to-paycheck and our hope is always to help you gain control over your money and live your richest life. 

    Of course, there are varying levels of financial awareness, acumen and, frankly, motivation, and this essay shows one extreme end of that spectrum. It comes from a partner site rather than being commissioned for LearnVest in particular, but we hear you, and wish you all the best luck with mastering your own money!

    • Jane Doe

      Why does the editor’s note at the end say “we support you either way?” Whether this was commissioned for LearnVest or not, LearnVest chose to publish it – and I find that extremely disappointing.

      • KLeal

        I think the positive thing about this article is that she has NO credit card debt. She is in the positive and working through the things that matter most. I think the message is that if you don’t have things 100% together, it’s okay. Work in progress. Or maybe it’s to light a fire under your butt to get your stuff together because you don’t want to be like her. Either way, I thought it was a refreshing take on the subject.

        • Tiffany Marie

          I agree, KLeal; I know how she feels. You can only do so many things at once, and honestly I think she has her priorities right for now. The author is dealing with much bigger issues right now, and staying clean is a more important step in her life. Obviously, if she could save some money on top of everything else right now that would be great, but if she tries to do too much too soon she’ll get burned out fast, and probably drop all of it. 

          Not to mention, she’s learning how to deal with addiction, so when she gets to the point where she has a good handle on her addictions she’ll already have the tools and experience to overcome her spending addiction, and she’ll probably do it faster than the rest of us. :) Thanks for the article, and your honesty, Emily!

  • lizlemony

    Thank you so much for this. Really great perspective on the matter… need some cheering up now and again!