Monday, November 28, 2011

Making It Last

I try really hard to live within each paycheck. When I put money into savings, I intend it to stay there unless I need it for an emergency or something I have wanted for a long time. In that respect, I am also working on an emergency fund in case I did lose my job or I needed a big car repair. We all know what it is like to check our bank balance and realize there are five more days until pay day and there simply isn't any more money left. I usually budget, but I've been really bad about it once again. I just assume I have enough until one day I sit down and do the bills. This weekend I did just that. I had several bills to pay, including my biggest expense, my rent. After looking at my checkbook I realized I had just $30.77 left in my account for the rest of the week. When I checked again today, another transaction of $30 went through. Now I am down to just 0.77 cents!

My sister is in Americorps, a national service program that, among all the important work it does in countless communities, also helps eliminate poverty in our country. When she accepted her term of service, she also accepted to live in poverty. She was no longer accustomed to her usual lifestyle and had to give up many things and luxuries. As Christmas and the busiest shopping time of the year approaches, I can't help but think of the many people who have very little and are struggling right now week after week to pay the bills. I consider myself very lucky in this respect, that I am able to have a savings and still (in most weeks) am able to live within the bounds of my paycheck making for a pretty comfortable life. But what would it be like if it was uncomfortable? I've decided that until the end of the week I am not going to spend any money. Well I can't actually. I only have 0.77 cents in my bank account! Of course, I could always transfer some money from savings, but I don't want to live outside my paycheck. I want to make it work the way it should, without overspending.

I could obviously make things really uncomfortable by not using my heat or keeping my lights turned low. Seeing as how I am lucky to be paid up on my electricity bill my biggest challenge will be food. I've been traveling a lot lately, so I don't have a lot of groceries in the house. If I am not going to spend money until Friday, that means no coffee at the local coffee shop, no lunches out, and meal preparations at home. Here's what I've discovered just after one day of trying to make it last. I have a lot more food in my cupboards than I thought. Yes, most of it is canned food, but for thinking I didn't have any food and that I needed to go grocery shopping again I quickly came up with a few meals. Tonight I made a simple dinner, but it was good. I had spaghetti with olives and canned tomatoes. I grated some cheese on top. I also roasted acorn squash (that up until now was a Fall decoration on my dining room table!). My lunch today was also very simple. I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, apple sauce, and pickled beets. A bit random, but it filled me up. For breakfast I had toast and a fried egg. See, pretty decent for thinking I didn't have any food! Often I overlook the food I have and choose to buy more food or to go out to eat, when with a little prep and creativity I can make due.

Next time you find yourself low on money, challenge yourself to live with what you have. Some people don't have a choice. There are thousands out there that are struggling and hungry. This week I am especially thinking of them. By putting myself in this space, even if I am still living pretty comfortably, I can better relate to what it feels like to not have enough money or enough food and how difficult it must be to live paycheck to paycheck. When was the last time you found yourself in this space? I know when I get my paycheck at the end of the week the first thing I am going to do is give some money to Seattle's Union Gospel Mission to help someone who is down and out.

How often do you live paycheck to paycheck? How do you live creatively to make your money last?

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