Living paycheck by paycheck


By Linda Torres (Nina Trs) Employee Retirement Services

Living paycheck by paycheck.  Isn’t that the truth for many of us?  The huge gap between the cost of living and average low wages for Brownsville residents gives the “paycheck by paycheck” phrase a different meaning.    These past few years I’ve had the pleasure of helping people from the low, middle and high class.  Regardless of class level there seems to be a similarity.  The middle class complains that they cannot save and the low class states that they can barely cover the mere essentials.  Then there are those that once in a while visit my office and blow my mind away.  These are usually custodians, cafeteria workers or bus drivers.  Once in a while I will have a client that after doing a financial analysis I realize they are what we might consider “low income” yet they do wonders when it comes to budgeting.  Somehow they manage to save $10K, $15, and I’ve even seen $35,000 in their savings (years worth of savings, of course)!  Is it possible?  At first I couldn’t believe it but after hours and hours of conversations with them I realize it’s no miracle.  I realize that the less you have the wiser or more efficient you become as far as your: savings, spending, home efficiency, grocery shopping, etc. Here is a list of the biggest money wasters. Many items in the list are obvious but nevertheless it won’t hurt to analyze it and see where your family stands in regards to it.
  • Cigarettes: Quite a number of people talked about what a waste of money cigarettes are. If you smoke a pack ($5) a day, the numbers can add up, leaving you with a lifetime bill of $89,000 over the course of 50 years.
  • Throwing away leftovers: Our society wastes a lot of perfectly good food. In fact, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the average American throws away 25 percent of food and drinks.  Be creative.  Have leftover rotisserie chicken? Make chicken tacos or chicken enchiladas for dinner with it!
  • Bank fees: There are so many bank fees you can get dinged with if you’re not careful. These include overdraft fees, third-party ATM fees, and more.
  • Workout supplements: These supplements can get pretty expensive but, are they really necessary?  Ask a few trainers if aside from a healthy diet and a good exercise regimen if you would still need fat burners or “pre-workout” drinks.
  • Heating and cooling costs: Many poorly constructed homes cause people to lose money from heating and cooling costs.  There are still some things you can do to help with this, including properly insulating your home and caulking up cracks. Turning off your water heater in the hot summer. Adjusting your thermostat.  I personally saw an $60 drop on my PUB bill when I switched from a conventional water heater to a wall-hung point-of-use tankless water heater!!! Plus I had saved by buying the tank-less heater on Ebay for $200!
  • Skipping class: Not going to class is a major money-suck. You’re paying a lot of money for your education. The average student loan is around $27,000, so by playing hooky, you’re actually throwing money down the drain. Revel in absorbing all you can during your school years, before the reality of the working world hits.
  • Food and beverages at convenient stores and gas stations: If you’re on the go, buying food and beverages at a gas station seems convenient, but is it worth the cost? Convenient stores and gas stations tend to inflate prices, so you’ll be paying much more than if you bought it in bulk or at a grocery store.
  • The lottery: You have a higher chance of being struck by lightning than winning the lottery. Playing big to win big might not exactly be a sound strategy, but limiting yourself to a few dollars might be enough to satisfy your cheap thrills without emptying your bank account.  Better yet, if you spend on an average of $5 a day on lottery tickets why NOT save those $30-$35 a week into a savings or retirement plan that could equate to over $27,000 in savings in 15yrs!
  • Buying food items you can make at home: There are plenty of things you can make at home including your daily latte. Your readymade dinner meals.
  • Rebates: Laziness might be costing you. If you’re putting off filling out and mailing in rebate forms, you may not turn them in by their due dates.
  • Returning items: It’s easy for people to put off returning an item (due to laziness) until it’s too late to get a refund.
  • Eating out too often: That’s not to say that you shouldn’t eat out, but try to mix things up by making food at home occasionally and eating out when you can afford it. Making your own food is much cheaper and, often, much healthier.
  • Bottled water: Why buy bottled water when you can drink water for free courtesy of your tap at home? Get a Brita filter ($16) for purified water you can enjoy at home.  And help save the environment!
  • Cable TV: Many say cable is a waste of money since you can access a lot of those shows on the web.
  • Not taking advantage of retirement match: If your employer is willing to match how much you put in your retirement account, you should definitely take advantage because it’s almost like getting free money.  Trust me.
  • Trading in car before it’s paid off: Rolling over what you owe on the old car to the new car can be a risky situation because you may end up paying more than what the new car is worth.
  • Paying interest: Pay back debts as soon as you can. With credit cards, DON’T, I repeat DON’T, let interest accumulate . . . If you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t be swiping in the first place.
  • Not buying generic: That’s not to say that you shouldn’t buy everything generic. You should keep in mind that some items are not worth buying name brand.
  • Lavish weddings, parties, quinceañera: can’t understand how people who aren’t rich will spend more than $15,000 on one day.
  • Dental hygiene: Three minutes of brushing and flossing per night can save you thousands down the road.
  • Charges for going over your allotted usages: Going over your minutes and data allotment can rack up a really hefty bill as the rates are higher when you go past your limit. Try to track your usage regularly or sign up for alerts that notify you when you’ve almost run out. This can apply to all kinds of contracts.
  • New things: Why buy new things when some old things will serve just as well?
  • Diamonds: Diamonds are forever, but that they are “a rock”, which is expensive due to the fake demand diamond sellers make by releasing only a few at a time. You are better off buying Gold.  Don’t believe me?  Ask your local pawnshops.  They don’t pay much for diamonds as compared to GOLD.
  • Throwing away coins: There are some who just throw away coins because they don’t like them to weigh down their pockets or they don’t have a place to keep coins in their wallet. Over time, these coins can add up.
  • Paying for services you can perform yourself: A quick Google search will help you perform many of the tasks you need done like an oil change, tech support, cake decorating/baking, ect.
  • New cars: New cars are a huge waste of money because they depreciate so much the minute you drive them off the dealer’s parking lot.
  • College degree that doesn’t pay off: One of the biggest ways people waste money is by pursuing a college degree that will not earn them enough money to pay off the debt accumulated in the process.  This is especially true for the valley.  If you plan to stay in Brownsville –McAllen make sure your career of choice is in high demand.
On behalf of Brownsville Cheezmeh and myself, we welcome any suggestions on “money savers” or “budgeting tips” that can help your fellow readers.

6 thoughts on “Living paycheck by paycheck

  1. Jennifer Nicole

    I love this article, very good and informative information. I’m going to try to put some of these into use. Thank you!

  2. Dino X Chavez

    From education and experience, I can also state that people need insurance policies that protect their income from depletion. Imagine saving for years and then spending most, if not all of it, on the replacement of lost income during a lengthy illness. Examples of income replacement policies include: short-term and long-term disability, cancer, heart-stroke, accident, critical illness, and others. These types of policies help to replace income that is lost when someone can’t work and when a family can’t work because they are caring for the sick family member.


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