The Two-Paycheck Household (With One Wage Earner)

Editor’s Note: Country living isn’t always easy. Sherry Ellesson returns to our blog with an account of her past year, and some homespun philosophy that may help you through difficult times. We’re looking forward to hearing more from Sherry soon.

close up of Washington on dollar billHello, Lehman’s Friends – long time, no write!  In fact, I think it’s been more than a year since I contributed to the newsletter, and I’ve missed it.  In times past, I sent in ideas for curbing costs (that dollar bill fastened on the hot water faucet in the kitchen was an unusual one), edible landscaping, and even some fun with farm equipment; but last spring – in May, to be exact – I got a wake-up call that sobered even this eternal optimist.

I had arrived home from work one beautiful Friday afternoon, and stopped at the end of the driveway as usual to get the mail.  The pasture was getting tall and I gauged I’d have a good three hours for bumping around on the tractor, pulling the big mower behind me.  I knew that May was when the ten-month budget plan and envelopes from my local propane supplier arrived, so I wasn’t surprised to see the bulky envelope in the box.  The monthly fixed amount had crept steadily upward over the past six years from $240 to just under $400, so I was thinking in terms of perhaps a $30-40 increase.  I was not in any way however prepared for what was on the inside of the envelope-book cover.

What? $525? I closed my eyes, looked away and looked at it a second time.  My knees nearly buckled and I had to lean on my car to stay upright.  I’m not sure how I drove the rest of the way up the driveway, but I could feel my heartbeat in my ears and images of losing my house – the one I had designed, built and was still working on the interior of – swam in front of me.  It couldn’t be.  They had to have sent me the wrong budget package – this must be for someone with an enormous house – perhaps someone whose place wasn’t well insulated or who was careless….  The business office of the propane company was closed, of course, and it would be two days before I could go and speak with them.  Two days of pencil-whipping my budget passed, examining what pockets of emergency savings might be expendable (there weren’t any) until finally at lunchtime on Monday I went to the counter at the propane office.

There hadn’t been any mistake, they reassured me.  Regrets, but it is what it is.  The best they could do for me was spread out the annual total over eleven months instead of ten.  To say sleep eluded me for several nights would be an understatement; but it was in the wee hours of prolonged prayer one night that I got what seemed like a picture of myself not losing the house, but approaching how I made a living differently.  I would find a second job, and do what I had to in order to keep my home and farm intact.  I must have gotten the signal clearly, as the way things unfolded that day sounds like fiction otherwise.

I was teaching a class on using the State’s automated accounting system for grants, and was pleased to have among my students a woman I had interacted with numerous times from my prior position in Central Accounting.  She made light mention of her “part-time second job” and I asked where that might be.  By the end of that mid-morning break, I had the website I needed to go to submit my application, and the promise of a recommendation to the hiring manager.  Serendipity carried me through the next two days and two successful interviews, and by the following Monday, after a mere week that had started out so awfully, I had a commissioned sales position in an upscale department store.   The base hourly rate was a bare minimum, but if I were willing to put in an average of 20-25 hours a week, it would be enough.

The summer passed almost unnoticed, as I rearranged my life around a work day that ended promptly at 4:30 at my office, drove home to let my dog and cats out, get them fed, let the dog out once again, change into the all-black outfits that are the store’s dress requirement, and make the drive back into Dover for a typically four-hour shift.  The Christmas season ramped up beginning in October, and the hours got to be longer with the store often open until 10:00, 11:00 or sometimes even midnight.  One week I calculated that between the two jobs I had put in 74 hours and had developed the corresponding  raccoon eyes of the chronically sleep-deprived.  I often joked that I should buy stock in one particular cosmetic company because the amount of their concealer I was using to cover the dark circles under my eyes was surely driving up their stock.

Nonetheless, looking back now over this past ten months, I find that not a day goes by that I am without gratitude because when I most needed an answer, one came through that was so elegant.  My job with the state has morphed from working with numbers to being a trainer and working with people; I have a second job in a place that’s clean and cheerful where the hardest thing I do is polish glass display cases, and although I’ve had to put my Masters degree on hold, the coursework I’ve done won’t go away and I feel good about the idea that whenever I can re-balance my life, it’ll be waiting.


I hope all of the folks who are reading this will reflect on how often things just fall into place, exactly as they should, when we mistakenly believe that we hold all the cards and make all the decisions.  Have a wonderful April, all.

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11 years ago

I hear you! I actually have 2 jobs too – full and part time. I was talking with a co-worker at the second job and she also does the 2 jobs thing as well. We both said nowadays it is hard to live on just one paycheck.

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