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Living Paycheck to Paycheck

My fingers shake as I open the envelope, praying that it will be a good check, that my tips this week were enough, that I got enough normal priced massages versus special prices. This is my life every week, wondering if I’ll have enough for rent, credit card bills, insurance - health and car - and groceries. Sometimes there’s just barely enough to scrape by, and sometimes I have enough left over to put some money in savings, although that’s not often the case. I’m not poor by any means, but I definitely live paycheck to paycheck, as do most of my friends.

According to a survey from Charles Schwab, 59% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. 3 in 10 adults have no savings at all, according to Bankrate’s Financial Security Index.  Due to inflation, and a higher cost of living, Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Julie, a woman who just this year got out of living this way, said: “Prior to this year, it was like constantly digging myself out of a hole that kept refilling with dirt. Which is how I imagine 90% of the country feels right now too.” Referring to Covid19 and the impact on the economy it will have. It is frightening to me that I currently have no job, no income, no unemployment, and no savings - because I live paycheck to paycheck. “Honestly, when I did it (lived paycheck to paycheck) I didn’t think much about it because I was so used to it and just paid my bills, and the idea of having a savings account or anything just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. But it was more noticeable when I would have a bigger expense like something with my car because then something didn’t get paid on time.” My friend Heather said. And this is where debt comes into play, as we put things on credit cards because we don’t have the money, and then we get into more debt trying to cover unexpected expenses as well as our regular expenses. 80% of Americans are in debt. That’s 8 out of 10 people! It’s a horrible cycle, and one that I can’t see my way out of. Many other people feel the same way.

It’s especially frustrating when you hear from the older generation that we just have to “work harder” or “work smarter” and yet wages have remained stagnant for the middle class. Although paychecks are bigger, their purchasing power, when inflation is accounted for, has barely budged since the 1970s. Though the upper class has better purchasing power than it did, and that purchasing power continues to grow, lower to middle class purchasing power has barely budged. The middle class makes up about 50% of the United States, according to the Pew Research Center. It’s too easy to compare yourself to people who aren’t in this position, using social media or just hearing about your friend’s amazing vacation to Munich. But truly, most of us are in the same boat.

So how do we get out of this? Although there are trite articles about how to get out of living this way, it really comes down to the economy. There needs to be a huge shift in order for us all to quit scraping by, and I’m not sure when or if this will happen. That doesn’t mean all is hopeless. We can of course try to get out of debt, live below our means, start a budget and stick to it, etc. But until the day when our economy catches up, don’t beat yourself up for living this way. I for one sure as hell won’t judge you.


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