Stories of Living in a Paycheck to Paycheck World

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pen, Calculator, Calendar and check Book

Takeaway listeners have started a conversation about food stamps, which pushed us to think hard about the calendar and the days of the month when checks and benefits come in, and the days when things are tights. 

Roughly three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, with little to no emergency savings, according to a survey released this year by

We asked about the days of the month that are better or worse for your budget, and about the rhythm of the checks that come in and out of your bank account. 

Takeaway listener Katrina Paschal works in health care administration in Rockford, Illinois—a city with a 13 percent unemployment rate. She is lucky to have a job, but she still lives paycheck to paycheck, with the month's finances stretched to the limit.


Katrina Paschal

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer and Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [14]

tammy from illinois

It is ridiculously hard.It's been like this since at least 2007.I am living on un employment.There are times When I am working and I don't need to certify for funds.I apply for jobs at least every day.I need to working so I sink furthur into debt.

Nov. 18 2014 04:32 AM

@tom LI NY from Long Island NY: I'm also from Long Island, we live paycheck to paycheck too, and I do have school-age children. A good school district contributes to the value of your property, though, so it's in your best interest to have good schools in your area, even though no one in your house currently attends.

Also, might it be better for you to sell that house and buy a small(er) apartment? You wouldn't have such high taxes and could pay off some/all of your debt.

Nov. 14 2013 04:03 PM
Layella from Brooklyn No Longer from Pennsylvania

I work as an executive assistant and am making $9.41/hour. I am late on my rent all of the time and last year I was homeless for four months. I never went without a job and fortunately, I have many friends in the city who helped me out. Sometimes I relied on the kindness of strangers for places to stay, potentially putting myself in dangerous situations. I was lucky. Nothing very bad happened. How is anyone supposed to live off of less than 10 dollars an hour, let alone save? It took me four months to get back into an apartment and it was an illegal one at that. I have since left New York for a better, if less exciting, life.

Nov. 14 2013 09:53 AM
Leilani from Jacksonville

I'm a single mother with 3 teenagers living off of a net income of 28k/yr. I am able to make ends meet but it means my kids are uninsured and the car I drive I paid cash for, but its also 13 years old. I use a spreadsheet to make sure I don't overspend and that my monthly obligations are taken care of first. I'm lucky that my job gives out an annual bonus that I use for modest Christmases and save the rest for emergencies.

Nov. 13 2013 05:38 PM
tom LI NY from Long Island NY

I wouldnt call what I'm doing living...not as I once did, or ever imagined at this point in my life. Single male, 50, I inherited the family "homestead" - a house in the 'burbs on Long Island NY. I am severely underemployed, working for a big box retail chain, and while I am the only one I need worry about right now (no wife, kids, or even pets!) I am hemorrhaging money all over the place.

There is no "catch-up" week or even days. I get paid every other Friday (which is really hard to budget in that lag week!) and every month - especially this one (school taxes due) I am sinking more and more. Some extra debt still lingering from medical bills from '08-09, plus the normal stuff, like utilities, etc. All being paid on credit, or a little more'n bare mins on the CC's.

While we all cry about the property taxes here on LI, its truly the school taxes that are doing me and others in! They are 60% of the standard cost of living here, and every time a budget comes up its passed (I got hot hit another 500 for the year!) - with no real respite (the NY STAR rebate is not enough) in sight So the elderly and property's like mine where no children have gone to the schools or will in the near to distant future are paying what neighbors with 2-4 kids are paying! Sometimes more! (As many around here are housing grandchildren, renters, etc.)

That aside, I have no social life unless its on the extreme cheap or free. (dating is out of the question when I have to consider each dollar I spend on frivolities like a round or two of Starbucks coffee!) I can only afford the bare maintenance on my vehicle (oil changes, new wipers, etc) the bigger house repairs have to go by the wayside (so the value of this inheritance is dropping!) I let certain health issues go too, as the possible multiple co-pays can truly add up over a month of more. And forget the idea of preventative services, as they are not covered!

The only basic costs I do not scrimp on is my diet. I was raised to make sure I eat properly, and not substitute junk for real food. But I'm not extravagant at all! Keep it simple, and healthy and real.

I wish I had a buy-week or two to maybe try and save some funds! If only...

Nov. 13 2013 04:29 PM
Paige from Brooklyn

I work for myself not really by choice but by reality. Sometimes, I have no idea when a check is going to arrive. Most clients are good about it and pay fairly quickly but there are others who take at least 30 days past the day I sent the invoice. Sometimes, they forget them altogether. It also depends on the clients' background. My clients who've been freelance writers and journalists (who feel my pain) tend to pay on time or early. The ones from corporate America? Ha. Ha. Ha. I've learned how to budget as a result. I consider it a miracle when the ones that don't pay on time pay. And of course, they're the ones who expect you to be oh so committed to their work. Whatever.

Nov. 13 2013 03:41 PM

Registered nurse working in SUNY Downstate Hospital in Brooklyn NY, living with the feeling of "impending doom", possible closure, layoffs taking place every few months to help finance Long Island College Hospital and prevent THEM from closing as well. No one to blame but myself, but since the economic collapse, I've never been able to get my footing. I've never been this close to being homeless, never been without a job since I was 13 years old. Yes, thirteen (i changed the age on my working papers in the 1970's to work and help at home). My story describes many of my friends, family and associates.

Nov. 13 2013 03:34 PM
debbie mcdermott from St. Louis City, MO

I'm always amazed at the "horror" stories that I hear from people who must life as poor people. I've never lived any other way. I came from a large family with plenty of issues but my parents had really strong work ethics which they passed onto my siblings and I. The problem was that only one of us went to college and the rest of us have always worked unskilled labor jobs. I began working at 14 for a pizza place and continued working until I became disabled from complications of Juvenile Diabetes which I'd had for over 30 years. I was let go from my job of 23 years and had no choice but to get Social Security. I get paid the 4th Wednesday of every month which can mean waiting five weeks or four, depending. My early life experience combined with knowing how to live without much but also having learned how to make the most of what I have gives me an advantage others might not have. I sometimes imagine writing a book called "How to Live Poor" because I'm sure that once people learn just how much less they actually need to live on they'd be shocked. I'm sure that I'd be just as freaked out by living check to check if I hadn't done it my whole life but I can't imagine how anyone could live any other way. I don't believe Americans should have to learn to live poor but if it does nothing else it can rally the people who are suffering right now into action and stop the powers that have brought so much misery down on the heads of the American people.

Nov. 13 2013 01:07 PM
Amanda from Portland, Oregon

I just got my first "real" job and am finally living above the poverty level. As soon as Sallie Mae got wind of that, of course, they came calling to collect on my massive student debt. I get paid on the last working day of every month and as such am sure to write out my budget before every paycheck so I know how much I can spend on gas and groceries. After rent, student loan payments, utilities, insurance and credit card payments I have about $200 left over every month for food and fuel. Emergency savings? I'm lucky if I'm not eating brown rice, American cheese and salsa for every meal. Once I pay down the credit cards I used to buy furniture for my new apartment, hopefully I'll have the means to open a savings account.

Nov. 13 2013 12:50 PM
Sophie from Florida

If you're living paycheck to paycheck, you shouldn't be eating anything other than beans and rice until you have a buffer of at least one month. Anyone spending any money on "wants" instead of "needs" is not spending their money well. Stop paying for cable TV or anything else other than basic housing, vegan or vegetarian eating, and cheap but reliable transportation.

Nov. 13 2013 12:45 PM
Heather from Portland

We live paycheck to paycheck. My husband is a teacher and is paid at the end of the month. I am a social worker and have been looking for a job for over two years. We have one child. Unfortunately, we are not living within our means and are getting more and more in debt. Its a horrible feeling.

Nov. 13 2013 12:42 PM
Ann Frye from Hannibal, MO

No "play" money until the second half of the month? It makes more sense to me to have no "play" money until the first half of the next month is covered. I've gotten along for most of my life on way below median income, have no debt (didn't buy it if I couldn't afford it). As a senior now, I have no debt, considerable savings, and above average education, most of which I paid for. I feel strong sympathy for those who don't have enough to live decently, but little for those who must regularly indulge.

Nov. 13 2013 12:37 PM
adrienne Darku from michigan

I am thankful my husband is a chief. Before I got married it was cereal for dinner two nights before pay day.

Nov. 13 2013 09:58 AM
Lorraine from Northen New Jersey

monetary order of expenses:

2 cheques a month (I’m not working so living on one income with in place of high incomes

1st cheque: rent, health insurance, utilities, groceries on sale, put off medication refills, car gas if can
2nd cheque: health insurance, utilities (try to put off); stock up for 1st half next month,

Have to limit donations to good causes, no movies or dinners out, memberships, wine and beer purchases.

No cushion for unexpected need for money: i.e. doctor’s appointments, clothes, car. Have always clipped coupons, but reducing savings (i.e. must buy two to get deal, etc.)

Every now and then, a small left over to hoard for emergencies, stamps, helping friends

Nov. 13 2013 09:55 AM

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