Last week when I arrived at school, I opened my mailbox and found I had received a surprise paycheck for $123. This was exciting at first, and I started to plan what I would spend it on – a new tattoo? New clothes, maybe another Goodwill haul after two others in the past month? Later in bed that night, though, I began to think about the notion of a surprise paycheck, and realized that I had some new unchecked financial privilege that needed to be acknowledged.
I grew up below the poverty line, and just months ago I was anxiously awaiting every paycheck to pay bills, fix my car, and buy groceries. I moved from my small town to Pittsburgh, and due to various forms of financial aid from my school, I do not pay out-of-pocket for food, shelter, or transportation. This has led to me pretty much wasting the $90 a week I made all last semester on increasingly frivolous purchases. Coming back this semester, I realized I have no experience budgeting at all – I’ve lived either spending as much as I had on as many necessities as I possibly could, or carelessly spending because I barely ever had the chance to.
One of the most important adult skills is budgeting, and I’m legally an adult now. If something happens, I need the ability to save money back. I also need to acknowledge the sense of responsibility I have to my greater community to give back, since I would not have the chance to even be in college if it weren’t for others doing so.
So the plan is to take this surprise paycheck and spend solely on it for the next month. If an emergency happens, I do have savings. I have food and shelter and most everything I could need. I am not living off of this money. This means I should not have to spend the majority of it, if I insist on being frugal and cutting back.
My share of the phone bill ended up being exactly $23, and I paid that yesterday, so the rest of the paycheck is going into my checking account and everything else is being moved to savings. This means I have $25 a week to spend on the things I don’t really need.
At the end of each week, I will donate what is left over of the $25 to a charity or nonprofit that promotes education and greater opportunity for low-income individuals. I will highlight each at the end of each article, and share each item I bought, along with my struggles and successes.
I’m lucky to have an amazing roommate who is spending the same amount each week, so I’m not going at this alone. I’m excited and anxious and ready to see what I can do!