Doing the math

This should not be construed as counting chicken before they chirp, but I’ve been looking over the handbook for employees from the place I interviewed with last week. Just in case they think my interview went as well as I think it did, I want to look over the finer details before I might need them. Vacation schedules, paid holidays, what time does the office open, that kind of thing. I was surprised to discover one thing: If I get this job, I’d be paid monthly.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. The last time I worked for a place like this (yes, these places are of a kind, but it’s hard to be more specific without being more specific than I want to be right now), I was paid monthly. Whenever I told someone about the monthly paychecks—once a month and only once a month—it would throw a spring in their brains. Wait, they would say. What do you mean? And I would have to back up and explain that ONCE A MONTH, I got a paycheck. Twelve times a year. End of story.

What would boggle them further? I liked it. Now it helps, of course, that when you get paid only once a month, the paychecks are bigger than the paychecks you’d get twice a month or every other week or whatever. About twice as big, right, if we’re all doing the same math. In fact, the schedule was so feast or famine that I had to do something that I’d never really done before. I had to budget.

Never before or, actually, since then have I known exactly how much money I had at my disposal. At the time I was getting these monthly paychecks I had very little money at all. I had a little bit of student loan debt from my undergraduate degree and some credit card debt from the same time period. (If I’d been smart, I would have taken more loans instead of using the credit card, but I wasn’t smart. I was 21.) My goal was to pay off my student debt (including the credit card debt, since it was student living related) in four years. I didn’t want to owe it for any longer than it took me to accumulate it. Most of that debt was accumulated in the last two years of my undergrad degree, but I gave myself a small break. Four years.

And I did it, mostly because I knew how much money was coming in to the penny, and I knew how much money I needed to get to the next monthly paycheck. And then I knew how much that check would be, too. (Salaries are nice that way.) So what did I do? I saved back how much it would take me to pay my rent (so cheap! I weep to think of it now!), car payment, and utilities, to go to the grocery store for four weeks, to keep the gas tank filled, to have a little wiggle room. And then the rest? I sent off to my student loan and credit card. Sometimes I got it wrong and had to use the card at the grocery or at the gas station. But usually, I got it just about right, ate leftovers or canned soup the last few days of the month, and then started all over.

It worked for me. I was single, had very little in the way of unexpected expenses. And it was really satisfying to see a big chunk of that credit card debt go bye-bye from month to month.

This all worked rather well, in fact, until I was debt-free and then suddenly quit my job to go back to grad school and OOPS started the debt cycle over again. When I got done with this adventure, I had another student loan to pay off. I got a job, but the paychecks came every other week. How do people do this? I wondered. I never got the hang of it, though I did pay off that loan and all attendant debt before I got married. (These weird, self-imposed deadlines matter to me. I can’t explain them fully. OK, yes, I can. I grew up poor, and I don’t like to owe people money.)

Now here I am off another grad school stint. I’m happy to report that I have no student debt this time around. (I’m smarter and older now.) But I might be looking forward to a paycheck on any schedule. My husband has been paying the bills (metaphorically; I still write the checks) for three years, and as much as I like sitting around writing stories, that arrangement doesn’t sit very well with my feminism or my sense of self-worth, which knows how much I should be getting paid. It’s time to be responsible for my family. If not this job, then another one.

Actually, it’s time to go write some stories, before someone takes me up on the responsibility thing.

By Published On: August 3, 2009Categories: Life