I Live Paycheck to Paycheck

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?"
Publish date:
August 14, 2012
savings, finances, fiscal responsibility

I call this pay stub with glitter shoes.

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 dollars 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 fuck 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 fucking 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 a fuckin' 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 it from watching them, 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 OK."

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.

@msemilymccombs is soooo close to 7,000 followers on Twitter.