I’m Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck

I’m Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck

I no longer have any credit card debt. I have an emergency fund. I’m paying down my six figure student loan debt and increasing my net worth at a decent pace.

Even though I’ve made massive changes, you would never know it from my thoughts or activities.

I still check my accounts multiple times a day. I still have trouble sleeping the night before payday. I still spend the majority of my money as soon as it’s deposited, although now it’s mostly used to pay off debt.

I’m still living in the paycheck to paycheck cycle.

I feel like I’m on a financial roller coaster, and that the ride never stops. If you’ve ever had an unhealthy relationship with money (or anything else), you’ll know what I mean. When payday rolls around, a euphoric rush hits you as you crest the top of a peak. You hover there for a moment before your stomach drops out as you plummet back down. Money seems to evaporate in a glut of spending, and the distance to the next payday stretches out in front of you before you begin the slow, rickety climb back up.

Is saving money always positive?

I know my financial situation has drastically improved this year and I don’t want it to seem like I’m not grateful for my advantages or pleased with my progress. This obsessive behavior is beneficial to me in many ways – I’ve paid off a substantial amount of debt, been diligently saving for retirement, and reined in my impulse spending.

My net worth keeps going up, but what about my self worth? I do generally feel proud of myself for finally taking control of my finances, and for making so much progress this year. At the same time, the underlying feelings of inadequacy are stronger than ever. I wrote about all of the comparison that happens in the financial independence community recently, and I was absolutely including myself in that category. Starting out with six figures of student loan debt has instilled this sense of always being behind and trying to catch up. I’ve read amazing stories about early retirees around my age that were able to finish working before I really even started. Avoiding these comparisons altogether would be ideal, but unrealistic to ask of my very human brain.

Will this feeling ever go away?

If I’m being honest, probably not! I think achieving debt free status will add some much needed stability to my financial situation, but I’m not so naive to think that my relationship with money will be ever be completely healthy.

Aside from the fact that I have chronic imposter syndrome and nothing I do seems to alleviate it, unstable emotions around money are tough to avoid. I can’t just quit currency. At the very least, I need to earn and spend regularly to buy shelter and food to survive. I can’t save up a certain amount and let it sit predictably in a savings account either, because keeping up with inflation requires growth and growth brings volatility. A time will come when the swings in my investment accounts will be gains or losses of thousands of dollars rather than hundreds. I already have to be careful not to check my accounts too often, and I only have about 2% of my retirement target saved!

How do I find balance?

I know what I theoretically should be doing to find balance, but I’m struggling with the execution. I could be meditating or doing breathing exercises or writing affirmations or starting new hobbies. I could be doing any number of other things, but it seems like I’d rather be obsessing about money.

It’s so easy to open the spreadsheets or web browsers and recalculate my debt free date, or my retirement date, or my net worth. I can login and check my accounts and investment balances with a few keystrokes. Even if I’m away from the computer I could probably tell you the numbers by memory. I’m just not a ‘set it and forget it’ type of person.

Acknowledging my feelings is a great first step, but I need to focus on getting off of this roller coaster ride if I want to be financially and mentally successful with money.

Do you obsess about personal finance too?

24 thoughts on “I’m Still Living Paycheck To Paycheck”

  • Once you become conscious of how your money works and how you can make it work better for you, you can’t really ignore it anymore. My only debts are a mortgage and about $10K on a zero-percent loan that I’m steadily paying off, but I still do play around with my spreadsheets and every so often look at my investments. Although I’ve gotten away from the idea of looking at my investments like I’m going to do something with them. I’m in it for the long term, which means no touchy unless I’m changing my approach to something instead of trying to time the market!

    Don’t beat yourself up about being so obsessed right now. You’ll eventually find a happy medium where you feel comfortable with how everything is going and you’re just checking in to verify it’s all doing what you expect. Keep up the progress!

  • Absolutely, I’m also the kind of person that checks their accounts every day. Finding balance is very difficult, but of the things you mentioned, meditation has helped me. I use the Headspace app, wherein each session takes no more than 15 minutes. Other things that help me are exercise and spending time with friends.

  • I sure do. Definitely relate to that rollercoaster feeling. I think the way I’m wired this is always how it’s going to be so it’s on me to learn to deal with this…

    • I feel a bit wired for obsession too.. my coping mechanisms aren’t always the greatest, but it’s something I should work on.

  • It’s really hard to break out of any thought pattern. I applaud you for making such big strides and meeting your money goals. 🙂 I also used to obsess over my money. I think talking about money really helped me calm down with the obsessive thoughts. I knew I was tackling the problem, so I didn’t feel a need to second-guess myself all the time.

  • I definitely check my accounts constantly. I know it won’t make anything happen faster but sometimes I’m looking as though I can maximize one teeny thing more. I feel some very mild stress mostly just realizing I’m doing pretty much I can already! But I think the habit came from days of unemployment I always feel I need to double check everything is as it should be! I’ve been unemployed 3 times since graduating and once just scraped by on a 0% interest credit card for 5 months. I had to watch my expenses like a hawk back then so its also partially a habit now. It doesn’t help that were pf bloggers 😛

    • Being unemployed is definitely stressful! I took the opposite approach where I ignored everything until I started working. DO NOT RECOMMEND. Both strategies cause a lot of anxiety. I’d like to get to a balance eventually when my debt is paid and savings is automated.

  • I agree 110%. I am OBSESSED with getting my money right. We want instant gratification with getting our finances correct too! I HATE waiting after years of piling up the bad debt. I want to grow my savings fast, but I am too aggressive where I then sometimes get behind on bills because I emotionally think I need a savings buffer before I can go on. Then, of course, I use the new savings to pay the past due bills and get a guilty feeling and re-turbo charge my daily savings rate and get behind again. I know the rational thing to do would be to pay bills on time and lower the savings rate in the short-term, but my emotional brain says whats the motivation in that not seeing my net worth increase while chugging along in the rat race. I had to realize there is NO quick fix. This will take a loooooong time! I hate it. It is very hard to have a normal life outside of thinking about money when we are trying to pay off our debts.

    • Ditching debt is very much a mental game! I’ve done the same where I overpay on debt and then go back into debt on the credit card float later. You’re so right, there is no magic pill. It’s easy to get into debt but TOUGH to get out. You’ve got this! Just keep going. Eventually it will start to happen faster.

  • I think this is a pretty type A response to most situations – we are out of debt (other than our mortgage) but we have a ton of other goals that are easy to obsess over in the financial realm.

    And my current obsession, getting ready for our Hawaii trip next month(for $1500!). While I do get satisfaction out of the preparation and get excited about the savings, I can easily take it to the obsession level.

    In all areas of my life, I’m trying to act more Type B, but it’s definitely a difficult thing. Somewhere in the middle is probably where contentment lies.

  • I definitely relate to all of this. I don’t have a ton of student loans left to pay off, but I do have some credit card debt. It’s all interest-free at the moment, but that doesn’t change the anxiety I feel about it, and the fact that I’m totally on the paycheck-to-paycheck rollercoaster. I can’t wait until it’s paid off and I can stop throwing what feels like all my money at it!

    I’m definitely prone to obsessively checking my various accounts/apps and spending lots of time thinking about how much I should put towards paying off debt/my investments/my emergency fund. In some ways it’s a good thing (like it’s productive things for my money that I’m obsessing about), but it’s also just tiring. But it’s also how my brain works so I have to get over that!

    • Even 0% debt is still debt, especially on credit cards! I understand those anxieties. I’ve ended up accidentally having to pay interest on top of one of the 0% transfers so I’m never comfortable having a balance.

      I’d like to eventually check less.. but it’s about finding that balance where I feel secure in my finances but not obsessive.

  • I definitely relate to the obsession with finances. The only debt I currently have is my student loan(s), but I still re-work numbers every single day to see how I can put equal amounts into savings, retirement, and debt. It’s almost like I have this nagging paranoia that I’ll momentarily lapse into a temporary state of amnesia and go back to spending frivolously, completely undoing all the work that I’ve been putting in to become more financially stable. I’m trying to learn to relax a bit more but it is hard to do once you’ve had that mindset shift.

    • I’m nervous sometimes that I’ll relapse too.. It’s been about a year since I’ve changed a lot of habits, but when you’ve spent so long in that cycle it really does take time to feel confident.

    • I am the same way. It’s similar to the twitch I get when I check my phone notifications. I need to work on that more.

  • #inspiring af.
    Imposter syndrome. Nightly anxiety. Student loan debt burden. GET OUT OF MY HEAD. No but seriously, I am so appreciative of you being open about your situation. We need more of this kind of transparency from… well, normal humans rather than millionaire-by-30 software engineers.

    • Get out of MY head. I was just saying on Twitter how I’m over the words ‘optimal’ and ‘efficient’ because of the financial independence community. I love words and they’ve ruined those ones for me.

      I am a human person, not a math equation!

  • I absolutely still obsess and worry about money. I think that the mentality is so engrained in my psyche that, even if I become 100% debt free, I will still check my accounts and feel that I live paycheck to paycheck.

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