The 11 Year-Old Pay Stub

Today I’m beginning the slow process of returning to a normal schedule. I do have plenty to say, it’s sitting down at the keyboard that’s the hard part. Thanks to all the condolences passed along from readers and fellow bloggers – really meant a lot to our family.

Those who have lost a loved one know the various phases of grieving we tend to go through. I’m still in the “numb” stage that seemed to last up to and immediately following the Memorial Service last Friday. Now I’m feeling a deep sadness, and am really missing my mom. I talked to or saw her every single day for 32 years.

While the feelings of losing Mom a week ago are still raw, I know she would be telling me to buckle down and get busy. I wish more of her tenacity rubbed off on me!

Over the weekend I had nervous energy and decided to grab a few crates down from the attic, and out of the garage, to look for opportunities to de-clutter. While looking through old pictures and documents I found something interesting – a pay stub dated June 1998. The hourly rate: $5.50.

That doesn’t tell the whole story. I only had 21 hours that pay period, and about 20 hours from my other part-time job. I was newly married, and without benefits, because neither part-time job would hire me full-time. My wife relocated to marry me, so she was unemployed for the first few months we were married.

When I did finally land a job earning $18,700 a year with benefits we thought we were rich. My wife was working for $6.00 an hour in a medical office. Combined, we didn’t earn $30,000 a year, but we lived like we earned $60,000.

Fast forward a decade. Now the situation is reversed. We are making a conscious effort to live on much less than we earn. Instead of living like we earn twice as much, soon we’ll be living on half of my income alone. What’s different? Our priorities.

Back then we got caught in the trap of keeping up with the Jones, and the media, and even what we thought to be an ideal lifestyle. I spent money to impress the new in-laws, to “provide” for our first child, and to buy a “safe” vehicle since I was now a family man.

Looking back, spending money didn’t impress my in-laws, it only made me look pretentious. And $100 toys meant nothing to my baby daughter, but a little floor time in the evenings helping her learn to crawl, watching her giggle and coo meant the world to her.

Hindsight really is 20/20. There are no such things as a financial mulligan, so I try not to spend too much time obsessing over the mistakes I made in my 20’s. Instead, I admit my mistakes, promise to never repeat them, and look to the future with optimism. And there is much to be excited about.

By the end of this year my wife and I will be debt free for the first time in our marriage. We are already car debt free, another first-time achievement as a couple. We’re also planning to have our fully-funded emergency fund in place by Christmas.

For years I’ve closed my eyes and day dreamed about how it must feel not to owe anyone a dime. How it must feel to know several thousand dollars are in the bank ready to handle your next emergency. How it must feel to budget your next paycheck and have money left after paying bills.

Dave Ramsey describes this feeling as “financial peace,” and I think that is a great description. It will definitely be a weight lifted off my spirit. For too long I toiled at bad jobs, worked through vacations, and put up with more crap than I should have because I had debt. Never again.

I sure am glad I saved that pay stub. It reminded me of all I have to be thankful for today, and how far we’ve come. Instead of being stashed away in the attic it now has a permanent spot on my bulletin board, serving as a reminder of the turnaround that’s possible when you really put your mind to it.


  1. That’s a wonderful story and I’m glad that you’ve begun to post again; I know this period must be difficult for you. You may not be able to turn back the clock for yourself, but you can warn young kids like me not to make the same mistakes.

  2. That sounds very similar to my story. I started working when I was 13 for $1/hour. When I got married, we lived on my wifes $7.5/hour. Here is the complete story.

    “A Detailed Look at My Job History Tracing Back to When I Was Thirteen”

    You should dig through the boxes a little more and see if you can find more paystubs so that you can rebuild a complete story of how you got to where you are now.

  3. I’m also glad you’re back at it.

    What strikes me most about your post is that you and your family are very mindful of your decisions. You are living life on purpose rather than letting it just float by.

    Thanks for setting the example for me today.

  4. “For years I’ve closed my eyes and day dreamed about how it must feel not to owe anyone a dime. How it must feel to know several thousand dollars are in the bank ready to handle your next emergency. How it must feel to budget your next paycheck and have money left after paying bills.

    Dave Ramsey describes this feeling as ‘financial peace,'”

    This really struck me. I’m at that point, but I still struggle with money. The temptation is always there to spend more. It’s not always easy to hold back when you know you can afford it!

    I keep a tight rein on my budget, but I still get frustrated sometimes.

    Then there is investing…a whole new crazy world. Do you keep your money safe and earn 1.x%, or do you gamble it all in the stock market in hopes of upping that? Sheesh!

    I’m glad to hear you’re doing well. I just don’t know that I would say this situation brings about financial peace. I think it all has to do with your personality, and learning to be happy with what you have, which can happen at any point during your financial “awakening.”


  5. This is an excellent post!! Very encouraging.

    So good to see you writing. My husband’s mother died at the beginning of this year. He was very close to her. It has been hard for us too.

    Mrs. White

  6. My condolences to you and your family 🙂

    I’m curious, if you don’t mind sharing (and it may be here somewhere on your site) but what town and/or state do you live in?

    I think pay rates are soooo variable, I would find it interesting to know….
    Keep up the good work 🙂

  7. Frugal Dad – I’m so happy you are back! I think if you continue to do what you are so good at doing (writing), your sorrows will go away quicker.

    Congrats on being almost debt free too. I was rooting for your Auburn tigers who won!


  8. You know, sometimes the opposite happens, as far as paychecks go… 20 years ago, Husband was making more than $50,000 as a mechanical engineer. He burned out after decades of the pressure, and started as a bus driver for the local school district: approx. $11/hr.
    Today he makes nearly $15/hr, but we still have to watch it really carefully. However, I sure wouldn’t say our situation is that much more horrible because of it. Happiness and contentment have nothing to do with money. Trust me.