By Andres Guerra Luz
Some people have to live paycheck-to-paycheck, but for me, I did it because I was dumb.
It was my freshman year of college and I was a student worker at Arizona State University, where I study journalism. At my job, pay was good. It came every two weeks, so I had to make sure not to blow my whole paycheck in one week. In hindsight though, I realized I should have extended that idea to saving between the paychecks, because when an issue arises, it’s always good to have a stash saved up. It took firsthand experience, however, to learn that lesson.
The same year I started the job, my friends and I planned a weekend trip to Sedona and Flagstaff, which are two towns about a couple hours north of Phoenix. They are typically cooler temperature-wise and even get a little snow in the winter, despite being in a state known for its heat. In Sedona, there’s this natural water park that we all wanted to go to and right after that, hit the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff and look at the rings on Saturn. The ride up there was really nice, and I felt the security of just getting paid that day, so it seemed like nothing could go wrong.
But then we had to stop for gas, and like the upstanding friend that I wanted to come across as, I offered to pay. The payment period at my job just ended, so the theory was that I would get the money that Saturday and be able to flaunt it the whole weekend, including paying for my friend’s gas. But when I swiped my debit card at the gas pump, I kept getting declined for “insufficient funds.”
What? I just got paid today, I was thinking to myself.
After swiping the card 10 to 20 times, my friend just ended up paying for it himself and I sat in the back of the car, wondering why my card wasn’t letting me flaunt my cash.
What I thought might have been an isolated incident at the gas pump turned into a series of embarrassing and soul-crushing “it’s okay I got you” from my two friends, movies prefaced by “you can just pay me back later,” and meals at sit-down restaurants where splitting the bill involved one of my friends having to pay on my behalf and me feeling a little more dead inside.
I found out later that some weird glitch caused the paycheck to not go through and, because it was the weekend, I would get my money that Monday. By the next week, my friends had their money, I regained a fraction of my dignity and any crisis was more or less averted.
But the situation made me think, what if I was a parent? What if I had house bills? What funds would I have set aside for emergency situations? I decided that, when there is more at stake than my pride, I would like to have money on hand to cover emergencies. Now, I’ve built up a savings account of about $1,000, and will keep adding to it as I make more money.
Practicing budgeting techniques might not be an option for everyone, but for the people that are able to do so, even saving 5 dollars each paycheck could lead to a substantial savings fund that can help in emergencies – or when you take a weekend trip with your friends.