Earning More Money to Break the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle

It was the single most effective thing I did.

Photo credit: David Jones, CC BY 2.0.

I had to double-check the numbers, just to be sure.

If I worked this many hours of overtime at this rate, and this much was taken out for taxes, and then it gets added to my regular pay… Wait. That can’t be right. Let’s run these numbers again, just to be sure. (Math is not my strong suit.) Uh…did I just DOUBLE my take home pay for the last pay period?!

I had known working all that overtime would result in more take-home pay, but I hadn’t bothered to do the math as I clocked each extra hour. When payday came around, I was stunned at my bank account balance. I had never brought home such a large paycheck before; naturally, my balance had never been so high. I didn’t even know how to process what the numbers meant; I just stared at the digital numbers on my screen.

That paycheck was the single most powerful paycheck of my life. That paycheck meant I earned more money, which in turn meant I was able to finally break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

I’d been working towards breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle ever since I started getting a regular paycheck. I always tried to save what I could, but between residing in a high-cost-of-living city and caving in to one-too-many impulse purchases, sometimes there just wasn’t any money left over at the end of the month to save. I wrote slimmed-down budgets that I mostly stuck to, went on semi-successful shopping bans, and embraced frugal habits as best as I could, blaming myself for every lapse of discipline even as I knew that the money I spent on that single splurge (or even ten equivalently-priced splurges) wasn’t going to push me out of living paycheck-to-paycheck.

My savings balance hovered right around three digits, and I was in perpetual fear of it dipping to a two-digit figure. What I did manage to save almost always got spent on my annual trip overseas to visit family. After each trip, my savings balance would be right back where I started: too low.

It was disheartening, to say the least. But I figured that that was just always how it was going to be, given the fact that I have no intention of leaving my beloved (but expensive) city and visiting my family overseas once a year was a non-negotiable.

But then I got that paycheck.

The extra money completely shifted my mindset about how to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. The answer, it turned out, wasn’t mere frugality. The heart of the solution was earning more money. By earning more money, I was able to do what I hadn’t when I focused solely on saving: pay my all of my bills in full, put money into my savings accounts, and have some extra “fun money” for spending. It gave me the boost I sorely needed to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. When my take-home earnings went back to normal levels, I no longer counted down the days to payday like I had before because I had begun to live off last month’s income.

It was revolutionary, at least to me.

Doubling my take-home money in a single pay period isn’t sustainable in the long-term. That paycheck, while a game-changer for my finances, came at a cost to my physical and emotional health. I spent so much of that two-week pay period working that I turned down happy hours, skipped workouts, rescheduled date nights, and got minimal amounts of sleep. Forget work/life balance — my life was all work. I may have been flush when payday rolled around, but I was also miserable. In addition to everything else that extra money did for me, it taught me that there had to be more sustainable ways to earn more money than by literally doubling my workload (there are).

I don’t plan on turning down future overtime opportunities at work, because I enjoy the work that I do and the extra money is always welcome. However, I am working towards hopefully getting a promotion this year, as well as finding ways to diversify my income, even dabbling in passive income streams. I want to continue distancing myself as far as possible from the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and increasing my various savings account balances (rainy day, travel, retirement, etc). I also want to be able to enjoy life outside work, which means finding that elusive work/life balance even while I strive to boost my earnings. Earning more money is the single most effective thing I did to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, and I resolve to find other ways to earn more money in 2017.

Amanda’s love affair with words can only be matched by her struggles with numbers. She blogs at musicalpoem.me and can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

This story is part of The Billfold’s “Resolve” series.