HomeexpensesTwenty-two and frustrated.

Twenty-two and frustrated.

Got an email yesterday from a PDITF reader (let’s call them Reader X) looking for ways to rid themselves of the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle. The email was much longer than the excerpt below, but I think you’ll get the gist…

First of all, let me say that I adore you and your approach to life. I read your blog with a sense of wistful jealousy and optimism that I too, some day, could have 76k in savings. That number is outrageous to me.

Whenever I read your blog, and other financial blogs, I understand they cater to people who are more… oh I don’t know… established with their jobs. People who could put $500 in savings a month with lifestyle tweaks and frugal changes. The point is, for my age, my salary is commensurate with experience. Meaning, I do not make enough money to have an “aggressive” savings plan like you and others. In fact, I am lucky if I have any money left over to save after my basic living expenses.

Do you have advice for your upstarts like me who are living on the exact amount of money they need to survive? Honestly, I feel terrible about myself because I am just treading water financially. I worry that something catastrophic will happen and my little $800 savings account wont suffice.

Before I get on with helpful advice, I have to rant for just a second and say I take issue with this line in Reader X’s email:

“Whenever I read your blog, and other financial blogs, I understand they cater to people who are more… oh I don’t know… established with their jobs.” 

If my blog is catered towards people who are “more established with their jobs” then I have failed miserably. I’m 26 years old. I am by no means established, and I really have no street cred to preach financial wisdom to those that are. I would hope by naming my blog Punch Debt In The Face I am sending the clear message that this IS NOT a place for the “good ol boys”, but regular, everyday folks, who want nothing more than to see a stupid stick figure drawing, and maybe hear a little bit about what I have to say on the topic of personal finance. Moral of the story: I am the 99% 🙂

I really like Reader X’s perspective on his/her situation. Particularly this line “my salary is commensurate with experience”. There is no entitlement in that statement. Reader X also shared in the email they are living frugally, so typical advice like “find cheaper rent, or cut out your cable bill” doesn’t really apply.

So how does one increase savings, if they don’t have the ability to increase their income at work and they can not really decrease their already low expenses? You don’t. BOOM! How’s that for blunt personal finance?

Don’t be discouraged by this, Reader X. You are only 22 years old and have the rest of your life to pad that savings account. When I was 22, I was making $38,000/year, had $28,000 of student loan debt, and about $600 in my checking account. You have to persevere this “paycheck to paycheck” season as it is just that, a SEASON, a temporary stage of life. As you gain more professional experience, you will be able to market yourself better, which in turn should/could lead to promotions or a new (higher paying) job.

I didn’t go from negative $28,000 to $75k in the bank overnight. It took me YEARS to get to where I am, and it will probably take you a while to get there as well. Instead of feeling terrible for “treading financial waters”, be encouraged that you are not DROWNING like most other twenty somethings. You, my friend, are doing exactly what you need to be doing to set yourself up for success. Work hard. Keep your costs low. Save any discretionary income you can. And smile. This is an exciting, albeit scary, stage of life.

p.s. often recommended ways to increase income are 1) Start a blog (I made $13,000 from this one last year). 2) Tutor (I made $12,000 in 2009 doing this). 3) Find a second job (serving at restaurants, or delivering pizza, is flexible with most day jobs) 4) Be content. One through three all require more of your time, if you don’t want to give up free time, you have to be content with what you have. No one is just going to randomly walk up to you and pay you $2,000 a month to watch TV. Oh, you could always get married. Dual income ROCKS!!!!




  1. I like your advice! Also, I would say to reader X that even if you can’t visibly change your situation right now (as in buff up the savings) you can make yourself stronger, train yourself, in personal finance while you are where you are now. Learn all you can and make this frugal lifestyle “deliberate” instead of just a must. What I mean to say is that so many people start making the biggest mistakes once they start getting a bit more income as they feel “now” they deserve it they start spending more than the actual increase. I’m over a decade ahead of you and earned a pretty decent income the last couple of years. But I spent it all like there was no tomorrow. Only now I’m really learning some finance 1.1. and it sometimes makes me feel sick to realize how much money I let slip away. So yeah, continue to do what you do and realize that once you gain more experience and your salary will go up, you will be in a better position than 98% of the people around you. Mentality is everything!
    Oh and Ninja, I love your blog AND the stick figure drawings. Keep it up!

  2. I think you are spot on Ninja. If X can be content living how they are now, they won’t need the extra income when they get that promotion! simples!

  3. Love this post! I’m 22, a year into my first real job and have a tiny income. I’m throwing everything I can afford (not much) at my student loans but it doesn’t appear to be making any difference. This post is for me, and I love your message, thanks for not getting preachy.

  4. I believe that the reader can save something…even if it is $5 from each paycheck. My mother always told me that even if all I did was save that $5 a paycheck, it would eventually add up. Get a savings account, do the transfers to the savings account everytime you get paid (it can be more than $5, but start some where) and be amazed at the fact that you have actual savings. Sometimes, even having $50 can be a lifesaver in an emergency situation.

  5. If you focus your efforts now into working hard at your job, by the time you’re mid 20’s, your paycheck will increase.

    Everyone has to go through the stress of having a small amount when you’re young. I definitely think you should take a second job though. I got a second job in a bar in a bowling alley when I was 18 – not only did I save money, but I earned it and had fun at the same time – 3 birds, 1 stone.

  6. Esp if you are young and single, with no kids, a second part time night job is very doable. When my husb and I were married before kids we both had full time and part time jobs, and my husb continued to deliver pizza or work a second job thru a tech college untill our third child was almost 2, he was 39 when he went down to one job. We paid off a lot of debt in that time, and learned that frugal can be a choice, not just a necessity. It is both for us in our current stage of life, but it lets me stay home with our 3 kids, and hubby only works one job now.

    • That is amazing Rebecca. I need to remember this and I think that’s a great way for you to stay home with the kids! I’d love to do this too in the future…. gotta get my BF to agree to a 2nd job first! 🙂

  7. Reader! Don’t be discouraged…I was once in your situation. In fact, I started my PF blog when I was 22 as well. I was scared shitless and felt like I couldn’t save at all. The truth is, YOU CAN! Just start squirreling away as much as you can. Your savings isn’t about the number, it’s the fact that you are putting money away and you have the determination. Set goals and just keep trying – Debt Ninja is spot on with trying to get extra income. Look for side jobs and keep investing in yourself – learn, take on more responsibilities, network, etc.

  8. This comment is meant to encourage you, Reader X!

    As a graduate student, I am by definition not established in my career. Out of college I was making 24.5 k$/yr (less than the living wage for where I was living) and five years and a move later I’m up to 25.5 k$/yr (about 1/3 above the living wage). So I’ve been living on less for quite a while.

    I ASSURE you that you do not need to spend exactly what you are making to live. If you’re not going into debt and you’re just starting out, you can definitely further optimize your situation to either cut spending or make more money. You’re just at the beginning of your journey! Looking back at when I started, I did a lot of things sub-optimally but I learned and changed. I understand it’s hard to read these bloggers who are mostly further along than you are and feel encouraged. I didn’t start blogging until I had years of experience at my salary level, so what my readers see are a rather mature budget and spending habits. You CAN get there with time. You may feel like you are living paycheck-to-paycheck for some time – I still do, even though I have savings now – but you will make progress if you keep a tight budget.

    Two suggestions:
    1) Prioritize and work on one goal intensely at a time. You have already identified your emergency fund as a deficiency so put all your savings there, first. Every month try to find a new way to reduce your spending, starting with the big fixed expenses (rent, car). After your EF, work on debt, long-term savings, whatever is best for your situation.
    2) Talk to your peers to find suggestions for spending less or picking up extra money. I’ve gotten lots of great tips from other students because we all live in the same place and are dealing with the same problems. That local insight is something that blogs very likely can’t give you (though I encourage you to keep reading and participating, of course!). You may also find my post on the living wage helpful (

    We talk about this kind of thing all the time over at EPF. I have several readers who are just starting out as well and we learn from one another. I’d love to hear from you!

  9. Side hustles are good, but the reader should focus on getting a new job/career and/or open up a business. Good luck.

    • As someone who is in the early stages of owning my own business, I’ll say this: it’s not a good way to “get rich quick.” It’s a LOT of work, you wear a lot of hats, and you don’t make much money until you’ve built it up for quite a while; I’ve heard figures say you’d finally make enough for a “salary” after two years, if you don’t give up before then.

      • The risks involved are pretty tough to overcome also. You must have the personality for it. Hard work is right.

    • Unless you can advance in your job you have now also. I would want to say it does take a bit of patience because it does take time to accumulate money. There are usually necessities of life that need to be bought like food, clothing, shelter, and transportation that will set you back. Fortunately once you are able to build up a decent wardrobe, pay of a carand house, your savings will ramp up even more then. Do your best to buy quality items that don’t need to be replaced or repaired too often and that should help along the way too. Oh, electronics can be an obstacle to wealth too, at least for me it is :/ always wanting my latest and greatest toys…

  10. Good advice. I’m impressed that at 22 they are really giving their personal finance some serious thought, but then again, they have to be somewhat realistic with where they are in life right now. They have a whole lifetime to hit panic mode. lol!

  11. You can do it! I just turned 22 and thus, I am in the exact same situation as Reader X! It’s so scary. I finished school, and I am interviewing, and have no idea what my future holds. I am trying to stay optimistic!! We survived this far, right? You are not alone Reader X

  12. This person needs 1) some sort of side hustle, and 2) to check out their local library for books either pertaining to the field they work in, or some of the general “how to win friends and influence people” type books. Then they need to network like heck and keep their eyes peeled for other day jobs! In this economy raises are scarce (I haven’t had a raise in the 4 years I’ve worked in my current job) so lots of times a move to another company is the best way to get one.

  13. I think the reader did have a good point. I think a majority of PF blogs are written by people who are better off than their target readers. Many are geared towards people who have money to invest and save. I think it’s important to read a variety of PF blogs, those that cater to where you are, and those that allow you to dream of where you want to be.

    • Great comment! That’s what I’ve noticed as well. Many of the PF blogs I started out reading were all written by people who were where I wanted to be someday. There were things I could learn from them, but mostly I knew it was going to take a lot of work to actually get there.

      I learned much more once I branched out and started reading a variety of blogs. Those that include real life struggles and issues with handling life and finances. I found those to relate much more closely to my situation.

  14. I think one VERY IMPORTANT thing to note that was not mentioned in Ninja’s post or in the comments is to WRITE DOWN A BUDGET. Perhaps you already do, but if not… you do not have a budget until it is written down. You might be amazed at the amount you’re spending in certain categories. For example, by “I am lucky if I have any money left over to save after my basic living expenses.” You may consider all food as basic living expense, because you need to eat, but after looking at your spending on paper you may be suprised at the amount you’re spending to eat out. Make an excel spreadsheet showing every category of your spending: rent, utilities, groceries, eating out, Starbucks, insurance, gas, student loans, etc. and then write down everything you spend for at least one month – putting it into the categories. You may be very suprised at what you find, and you can use this as a starting point to see IF there are areas in which you can cut spending. I used to spend $500/month on groceries for myself, our husband, and our baby… and I thought that was pretty good (I still think it is). But then I started making a meal plan and planning out my lunches and dinners every week. This has been helpful for multiple reasons: 1) I don’t have to figure out what to eat for dinner everyday, 2) I am making a list of groceries from my mealplan so that I have a list when I go to the grocery store. It used to drive my husband crazy that I’d buy things at the grocery store that sounded like good dinner ideas at the time, but then they’d go bad because they’d go bad or because I didn’t have all the necessary ingredients to make then into a dinner. NOw we use everything we buy on groceries because we follow the meal plan, AND now we only spend between $50-75 per week on groceries – $300/month at the most! Hope that’s helpful. I HIGHLY encourage everyone to have a budget. You may be suprised where your money is going. Dave Ramsey says something like, “Tell your money where to go, instead of your money telling you.” You might also look at your overall spending and decide to cut your cable bill, lower your cell phone minutes, etc and then you can put that into your savings/towards any debt.

  15. I would try other ways to increase your income. Maybe find a better paying job or find a side gig. My side gig in my blog, mystery shopping, and some surveys a couple times a month. It’s all little, but they add up quickly.

  16. Ninja, I don’t think you’ve failed – but Reader X makes a fair assessment about target audience. You linked to a blog post you wrote from 3 years ago as evidence that you’re no more established than Reader X. 3 years ago, that may have been true – it certainly was for me…

    Within the past month, you had several posts about your $20K car purchase which was made in cash (too bad you couldn’t get those delicious credit card rewards). There was also a post about travelling – difficult and ill advisable for the Reader X’s to do during the paycheck to paycheck season of life unless they want to finance it on credit cards :/

    I don’t think you’ve failed, but you are not in the paycheck to paycheck season anymore – to the Reader X’s out there, that is far more established and that’s totally okay.

    • I still disagree. Would I ever try and say that I am in the same position as Reader X? Absolutely not. I know that Girl Ninja and I have a generous income for our age. That said, the content of my blog HAS NOT CHANGED over the last three years, when I was in the same position as Reader X. My message has been, and will continue to be consistent, work hard, save, and minimize expenses.

      That message transcends income and is applicable to people making $100,000/year or $20,000/year.

      PDITF is not for the uber financially savvy, but for the simpletons who want to try and make the best of their situation 🙂

      • Ninja, I like you, but I disagree with you on this point.

        While your message/approach to PF may not have changed over the years, your content definitely has changed as your income/season of life has changed. The personal part of PF is different for you than it was a few years ago: then it was student loans, now it’s new cars.

        I think Reader X made a good point- there aren’t many blog writers out there with a situation like his. But, I think your reader should take comfort in this. By being wise about money now, s/he will pass out of the paycheck-to-paycheck situation more quickly than his peers.

  17. I can definitely relate to reader X. Not only is reading other financial blogs encouraging, but it also can be discouraging. Reading about where a financial blogger is now, and comparing that to your own financial situation can be a bit depressing. One has to realize we all started at bottom, and we all go through our own journey of life. Ninja might progress to a higher net worth faster than you do, but at one point he was in the negatives as well.

    It is important to keep perspective when it comes to your finances. Take the steps you need to, to put yourself in a better financial situation, and try to find contentment in your life stage. If you’re always longing for something else, you will miss out on the joys of eating Ramen 5 nights a week, and watching your favorite episodes on hulu.

  18. I would have told Reader X – to start an ING account or some type of online savings account as the starting point. This put up a buffer between me and my money when I first started my blog and it was the best thing I could have done. I felt like it wasn’t mine anymore and allowed me to save a lot.

  19. If you decide to look for a side job, you might consider house/office cleaning. It’s not *difficult* to do if you are detail oriented & organized, and it pays pretty well too. I make an extra $100 a month for 4-5 hours of my time. Not a ton of money, but it’s also a relatively low time investment too.

  20. I have to agree with Ninja’s above comment “That message transcends income and is applicable to people making $100,000/year or $20,000/year.”

    I am currently 22 and earn approximately 27,000euros per year so approx $34,000 which is not allot here in Ireland with ever increasing cost of living. I still am currently living pretty much paycheck to paycheck however i have managed to put 400euros a month slit between savings and investments over the last 5 months,ever since i started reading this blog and emailed Ninja thanking him for it.

    So from another 22 year old who is not yet established in his career i have found this blog to be a god send really – as otherwise i might not have adapted this frugal lifestyle to start savings young, and i started with 50e a month up to now over 400e in less than a year .

    Consider what skills you can offer to others such as tutoring, landscaping, cleaning as these side businesses will all help even if its just to go straight into savings.

  21. Thank you for this. It’s really hard reading about all the ways people can cut back, etc. and for my wife and me there’s nothign more to cut back. We’re at the edge. We can’t make more money unless we sell our kids and take second jobs. So it’s nice to hear that, yeah, there’s a season of just getting by and extremely slowly building up savings… and when you’re there, just persevere and you’ll get through.

  22. I’m 23 and making less than 30K a year, so I totally understand where reader X is at when it comes to living paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes it’s hard to persevere, but I know you will gain much from this experience. Over the past year I’ve noticed that I am more disciplined when it comes to money and that I am most creative when I have to stretch my dollars.

  23. Thank you for this post! I just turned 23 and I’m in a very similar situation. Although I was fortunate enough to have my education paid for (Thanks Mom and Dad!), I racked up a bit of credit card debt. I have never missed a payment but at times the balance creeps up instead of going down.

    You are completely right though, I just have to get through this temporary season. In the mean time I live in a precious place and can pay all of my bills. The extra fun stuff will come in due time 🙂

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