Lessons from Living Paycheck to Paycheck

For the past few months my husband and I have been (artificially) living paycheck to paycheck. While thankfully it’s not quite the same as really living paycheck to paycheck, it’s been a good reminder of what doing so was like.

In other words, it’s a good reminder that I never want to go back to the life when I really did live paycheck to paycheck.

As you may know, living paycheck to paycheck is when you use all of your money each pay period to meet financial obligations and eat. There’s no wiggle room in your financial life — no money for savings, investing, or splurges large or small.

You’re right on the edge, and the smallest mishap can put you over it.

It’s stressful, to say the least.

In our case, we’re still putting money into retirement, but we’ve recently depleted one of our non-emergency savings accounts (due to a series of hefty on-going vet bills) and we haven’t been able to build it back up.

There are two reasons for that. One, the bills are still happening, so instead of building that fund back up, we’re continuing to pay the vet. (Both our cat and dog are having problems.) Two, we’re funneling our extra money to the mortgage.

Of course, right about now is when my husband’s car has an issue, and I screw up my tracking and somehow forget to record a THOUSAND DOLLARS in spending.

Boy did that ever bring back memories of the scramble to figure out how I’m going to make ends meet. While I do have an emergency fund (as opposed to when I was truly living paycheck to paycheck) messing up my tracking is not an emergency. It’s a (pretty big!) mistake.

I got to experience the stress of living paycheck to paycheck all over again, just on a milder scale.

So what are the lessons?

    • Every month is going to be an unusual month, so plan for the unexpected.


    • Do whatever it takes to get your financial life in order and to keep it that way. Getting and keeping some wiggle is paramount. Your body will thank you as its released from all that stress.


    • Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up. Instead, change what you need to change in order to prevent it from happening again.


    • If you’re married, work together to support one another and improve things, starting with one achievable goal that you both agree to and focus on.


  • Take advantage of the resources that are out there. (Blogs, books, community classes and groups.) You can do it, and there’s lots of help available.

So now it’s your turn. If you’re currently living paycheck to paycheck, what is the thing you could change that would help most? If you’ve gotten your financial life in order, what was the turning point for you?


  • The hardest, but to me, most important element:

    “Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up. Instead, change what you need to change in order to prevent it from happening again. “

  • I’m so sorry your babies are sick! I hope everything works out and they get back to their well and happy selves again soon. Ug.

    As far as the moolah thing, the turning point for me was getting out of debt and letting go of my car. The amount of money I can save now as a result is significant. Even with tracking, I really don’t think I realized how much money was going down those two drains.

    • I hope they get well soon too. The dog seems to be improving, and the cat is at least not getting any worse, so that’s positive.

      And it is amazing how much of many people’s spending goes toward debt & transporation….

  • The Wife and I actually live paycheck to paycheck also (at least regarding our main checking account) because it provides me with some sort of urgency to make sure I stay on top of things. Seems like you are in the same situation.