Things I’ve had to get over once I stopped living paycheck to paycheck.
It’s been a while since I’ve had to check my bank account daily but the habits that came out of it were hard to shake. Being poor and having to stretch your money between paychecks is something I don’t miss at all. And it’s something that unless you have experienced it yourself, you could easily make judgments that are biased. That’s where comments about “avocado toast” and “you can just not buy that 5 dollar coffee, right” come from.
Years have passed but in the past couple of days, I was still having survival thoughts. I’ve been doing keto lately and needed to buy more almond flour and coconut oil. And seeing how much those items were had me so anxious. Seeing that and other groceries I needed adding up in price in my head was almost too much.
It reminded me that I’m not over the mindset I had to be in while I was poor. As dramatic as it sounds, living paycheck to paycheck can be a traumatic experience that takes years to truly get over.
Thinking about the grocery trip, I started to think about everything else that I did while I was poor and all of the habits that started to build. Habits that may not have made sense to anyone but myself.
You buy fast fashion
Forever 21, Papaya, all of those places had cheap clothes that I would buy more often than not. And more often than not, these clothes would immediately start to fray after a few washes or they’d rip apart in the wash. And I always bought things on sale or in the clearance section.
But buying new clothes meant saving up for months or giving up certain foods to buy them immediately. It wasn’t as easy as going to the mall that day and replacing old or tattered clothes. Many packets of ramen were eaten if I needed to buy a uniform or specific clothes for a job.
You get so used to buying things on sale or used that once you have enough money to buy new things, it feels like you’re setting yourself up for failure. That you’ll remember a hefty bill that wasn’t taken care of and you won’t have enough money for it. You wait as long as possible before buying new clothes in fear of a surprise. Or worse, that you might gain or lose weight and not fit into your clothes anymore.
I lost about 20 pounds recently and it came naturally to me to keep wearing the same size. The thought of buying new pants filled me with dread.
Meat is expensive
When I was living alone, I almost never bought meat. I wasn’t trying to be a vegetarian, I just couldn’t afford it.
What I did buy were a ton of eggs, frozen mixed vegetables, and ramen.
But mainly I bought a lot of frozen food. Things that could last a while and wouldn’t require a lot of trips to the grocery store. If I was treating myself, I might even get a Totino’s Party Pizza. It seems like it should be pretty easy to eat right, even on a super tight budget, but if you wanted to try and stretch your dollar as far as it could go, it meant stocking your freezer.
When I was single and alone, my grocery bill would be about 30 dollars a week and sometimes less. Years later, I started living with my boyfriend and our weekly bill would be about 100–130 dollars. We bought fresh vegetables, meat, and higher quality foods.
I would panic every time we got to the check out and saw how much it was. Would I be able to afford it? What bill would I have to pay late to be able to afford to eat like this? It caused issues in our relationship at first because I would be anxious for so long after every grocery trip that I would be snippy.
I had to start thinking about the price of groceries in terms of fast food. If I bought the ingredients for burgers, how many would that make? And how does that compare to a Big Mac at McDonalds? Once I started doing that, I kept seeing that I was still saving money and eating a lot better than before. I was even starting to lose weight which didn’t make sense to me since I was eating more.
You never fill up at the gas station
I remember when I was working a minimum wage job still while living alone and really tracking how much gas I used per day. There were a few times that I would put just enough gas into my car to make it until payday. Even then, the timing wouldn’t be perfect and sometimes I would be empty a couple of days before payday. This meant waiting until midnight to put a few dollars in because I knew if I used credit, my card would take a few days to process while I waited to get paid.
It’s been 5–6 years since I’ve lived like that but I just recently started filling up all the way. And it’s been even more recently that I stopped feeling a sinking feeling every time I fill up.
I’ve been making more money than I ever have but I’ll never forget the time that I was poor. Making decisions between eating and other necessities had been a reality that I hope I never experience again. Now that I can have my cake and eat it too, it almost feels sinful and it still is something deep down in the foundation of all my habits.