Last week I came back from my first overseas trip. I was really nervous because I’ve never been away from my daily money management routine for so long, and Zach’s about as interested in it as he is particle physics or anything science really (who am I kidding?).
I was afraid I’d come back to find the bank account emptied, the apartment repossessed, our truck sold. Not because I thought Zach would go hog-wild like a lotto winner, but because I’ve spent so much time developing such finely-tuned machines that I was afraid one snag would throw it all off-kilter like an epic exploding Rube Goldberg machine.
I have weird fears, I know.
But here’s the cool thing: even though my two-week trip was extended by another 4 days due to Hurricane Irma taking out my inbound airport, a two-and-a-half week break from work (as the sole breadwinner, no less!), and two-and-a-half week’s worth of travel expenses, I still came back to a finely-tuned machine purring along and plenty of money left in the bank.
How was I able to do this? Simple, my friends: I was one month ahead of my bills.
Living Paycheck To Paycheck Is The Worst
It hadn’t always been that way. For most of my adult life I’ve lived paycheck-to-paycheck. Me and Zach were paid biweekly, with staggered payments, so that we always had money coming in each week. We got used to spending money as it came in.
This posed a huge problem when I switched to a job that paid out just one check per month (it also didn’t help that said check was only for a measly $2,000). The finance gods would laugh their fool heads off as they watched my feeble attempts to pace my spending.
Related: The Recovering Spender: How To Live A Happy, Fulfilled, Debt-Free Life by Lauren Greutman
We always were scrambling and sweating at the end of the month to meet our upcoming rent payment. Sometimes, we had to prioritize which bills to pay if we ran out of money too soon and leave some unpaid (hello, evil red utility shutoff notice envelopes).
Shortly after starting that job, that’s when it hit: we needed to learn to budget. If we can budget, we will know how much we need for each month. And if we can do that, surely we can save up a one-month buffer so that we can start each month with a full pot o’ cash to dole out to each our budget line items like some magic leprechaun? And if we can do that, surely we can TAKE OVER THE WORLD!
It wasn’t easy, but we did manage to make it out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. It took us about six months to save up one month’s worth of expenses. I’m still waiting on the take-over-the-world part though…
Who needs the end-of-month stress?
Now that we’re out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, we don’t have to worry one bit about having enough money for groceries, pet emergencies, or anything else. We have the money.
There’s a concept in wildlife biology. You can actually measure how stressed out animals are to things like energy development, climate change, etc… by measuring their cortisol levels—a stress hormone easily measured in blood, hair, saliva, and scat.
If you could have measured our cortisol levels before, they probably would have been off the charts. We were basically puddles of cortisol. I’m sure now you could still find measurable amounts of cortisol in us, but mostly because we just found out some French dude named Steven stole my Netflix login over the wifi at a hostel in Peru and hijacked my account.
Related post: The Ultimate Guide To The Cost Of Travelling The World
Being One Month Ahead Is Way Cheaper
I can’t tell you how many late payment fees I used to have to pay. It was like a neverending onslaught of fees. I practically subsidized my local bank and utilities (you’re welcome?).
Not only was it expensive as hell, it also kept me from moving forward financially. Now that I’m actually able to pay my bills on time like a real-grownup-pantser, it’s way cheaper because I’m not shelling out for all those stupid late fees.
And for the librarians who keep charging me pocket change late fees because I can’t remember to return books on time, I’m sorry. I really like books.
Being One Month Ahead Allows You To Focus On Bigger, Better Things
If you’re still living paycheck-to-paycheck, you’ve probably heard you need to save up a metric crapton of money for things like retirement, emergencies, house down payments, and more importantly—beer (wait—is that just me?).
When I heard people tell me how much I should be saving, I wanted to slap them. I couldn’t even make it to the end of the month without having enough money for the things I already needed to buy, and now you want me to SAVE?!
Here’s the thing though: you have to. Unless you plan on marrying a sugar momma/daddy, no one’s gonna come rescue you and plop you in the middle of a house in the suburbs with two kids and a white picket fence (or whatever the hell your dream is—that’s sure not mine. Mine involve a lot more dogs).
Now that we don’t have to worry about making rent at the end of the month, we’ve been able to save up. It’s made our life more stress-free in a zillion ways. When our cat (the closest thing we have to a kid) got sick, we could afford the $3,000 vet bill to save her. When our car breaks down, we laugh in the face of the god of fuckups like two loonies because we don’t even sweat the repair bill.
New Status Unlocked: Mermaid
If none of these things inspire you to try and get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, then consider this: if personal finance were a video game, getting out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle allows you to unlock a new level: The Mermaid.
Whose game is this? Mine. It lives in my head, along sled-dog teams made of bears and dogs that speak French when they’ve had too much to drink. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not a fun goal to check off your I’m-A-Grownup-Dammit list.
OK….So how do I break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle?
I’m glad you asked! That’s the subject for the next blog post. You can learn all about my craft beer, dining out, and science textbook addiction and how I crushed them.
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Have you broken out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle? What’s your life been like since then? Leave a comment below!