Running on Empty

Richard Quinn

AT 75 YEARS OLD, I find myself living paycheck-to-paycheck. I now understand how that feels and how it can happen. But you can put away the violin: It’s only temporary.

Being fiscally conservative, I don’t like being in debt or having unpaid bills. I even pay credit cards before they are due—or I used to. Until a month ago, I paid all my bills, with considerable money left over at the end of each month. I also had significant savings outside of my retirement accounts. Now, there is no money left at the end of the month and my non-retirement accounts are empty.

Did my income drop? Nope. But I greatly changed my spending, at least temporarily. The fact that this is temporary does not help me sleep better. The fact that, within the next several months, I will again have money in the bank at month’s end doesn’t ease my current stress.

All this has got me thinking about the folks whose paycheck-to-paycheck life is not temporary and how much their situation is driven by spending, not just income. Indeed, for all but the chronically poor, I suspect spending is the key factor.

I was talking recently with a young woman, who relayed her story about ending up each payday with $2 in the bank. Then she noticed I was looking at her well-manicured nails. “Oh, that’s the one thing I just have to have,” she said, as we sipped our drinks in a high-end coffee shop.

They say there are two sides to every story and two parts to every equation. I see that as especially true when it comes to money matters. In determining most people’s financial situation—whether good or bad—spending matters as much as income. But getting people to acknowledge that is a major challenge.

So how did I get into my fix? I bought a new residence and took on a large mortgage, because we hadn’t yet sold our current home of 45 years, plus my wife sees all new furniture as part of the deal. Now, we’re not only paying the mortgage, but two property taxes, two utility bills and so on, as well as a hefty homeowners’ association fee. That means we’re living pension check-to-pension check and Social Security-to-Social Security.

My goal was to make the move less stressful, so we can be in the new place before having to leave the old. But I fear I may have traded one stress for another.

Richard Quinn blogs at Before retiring in 2010, Dick was a compensation and benefits executive. His previous articles include Taking Your LumpsPain Postponed and Sharing It. Follow Dick on Twitter @QuinnsComments.

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