It’s one of the worst feelings you can ever have. That moment when you see there is still a week left until you get you next paycheck and you have no money, little food and you have no idea how you are going to make it. Your mind starts racing trying to figure out where you might be able to get a few extra dollars and it’s not long before you hit full panic mode as you scramble to figure out what, if any, options you have. I was there years ago when I was just out of college and just after my fiance had moved in with me. I found out she had $80,000 in credit card debt that I hadn’t known about until then. While we scrambled and were able to make things work until the next paycheck came, we made the decision that the situation would never happen again and it was the steps we took to resolve the issue which were far more important than securing the money until the end of the month.
As soon as I realized we didn’t have enough money to last until the next paycheck, I treated it as a major emergency. It entailed a number of long nights with a lot of crying, denial and shouting before we came up with a plan that we both were on board with. We took some drastic steps that went far beyond what most people would do, but it did allow us to wipe out the debt in less than two years (and taught us the great importance of an emergency fund).
The first step was acknowledging that this was a major issue. My fiance had always lived paycheck to paycheck and that had become her norm. Even though we were in the process of planning the wedding, I said that I wasn’t willing to get married until the debt was gone (you can imagine how this went over at first). Once it became clear that this was not a negotiable point, we started to put together a plan to actually tackle the underlying issue of the debt that was causing the paycheck to paycheck problem.
In the end, we ended up making three huge sacrifices that neither of us would have chosen to do, but are sometimes the choices that need to be made when an emergency appears. This included moving out of the apartment we had into the basement of her parent’s house (something that I really didn’t want to do, but did to show that I was willing to make as much of a sacrifice as she was). We both also took on additional work, her doing a job that she didn’t especially like, but made a decent amount of money. We also cut things back drastically so that we were living on about 60% of my old salary, even while all the additional money was coming in.
To tell the truth, I don’t remember a whole lot about those two years and it seemed to go by in a whirlwind. With two jobs and doing some extra work on the side, I was working far too many hours which made the days all run into one another. They were tough, but somehow we managed through them and came out in a situation where we would never have to worry about facing the “I have no money” until the next paycheck scenario.
The lesson here is that while the fact that you have no money at the end of the month may seem like the emergency, it really is only a symptom of the true emergency — the underlying situation that created the issue of not having money at the end of the month in the first place. How that situation gets solved depends a lot on your particular situation and the options that you have (and are willing to take), but chances are it is going to mean disrupting the norm that you have had until that point and make some major sacrifices to change things for the better. Most of all, you are probably going to have to find a reason that will motivate you to make those changes (not being able to get married until the debt was gone was highly motivating to us) which will give you a reason to endure the tough times ahead.
While I was far from happy about the decisions that we had to make at the time, in retrospect they were a great learning experience. I know that I can do things that I had never imagined that I could do before then, and that has stayed with me until this day. Learning to make the difficult decisions, coming up with a plan to make the goal attainable and then following through are all lessons that apply to many other parts of life that has served me well, and although I would never wish anyone the situation of having to figure out what to do when there is not enough money at the end of the month, if you are able to lift yourself out of that situation, you will have given yourself a number of useful skills that can be used throughout the rest of your life.