How do I proceed when the paycheck is only $358?

Dear Benny,

I have a small part-time role in a retail store and I earn approximately $358 every two weeks. I am 33 years old and have been in the retail business since I was a teenager. I have left a lot of jobs and been unfairly fired. I don’t know what to do with my money.

I don’t know whether to buy a car or save for an apartment. Earning as much as I earn does not give me the luxury of owning both, so, I don’t know what to do. I’ve been thinking about getting another part-time job, but I don’t know what it will do with my mental health. I’m disabled. Or I don’t know if I will ask my boss for more hours because this job is so boring and unmotivating.

I was thinking of going back to school for an AS that way I’ll get a job, but I don’t know what I want to study. A couple of years ago I was studying my passion, which is to be a veterinary technician, but it turns out I have an allergy to 60% of dogs.

I don’t want to work with humans, although retail has helped me out of my shell greatly, so it should be something to consider.

Anyway I don’t have savings and I don’t have an IRA. I’ve wanted to open an IRA since I was 21, but couldn’t with the intermittent jobs.

I also owe a student loan. It was a simple school, so I’m trying to forgive the loan.

Anyway, should I save up to buy a car? or flat? I don’t know what to do, and I’m tired of my family telling me what to do with my money. I just want a view from the outside.



Dear confused,

I assume you live with your family. And as long as you live with your family, your family will tell you what to do with your money. So I think having an apartment makes sense as a long-term goal.

The problem is that two checks per week of $358, or $704 per month, they won’t start to cover your expenses in an apartment, even if you have roommates. So if you want an apartment, making more money should be the goal.

But how do we get there? If you can buy a car and use it to make more money, this could be a good short term goal. Since you’re on the fence about getting a second part-time job, you can try a side hustle like driving an Uber or Lyft, or delivering food or groceries. You will have the flexibility to only work when you want to, and this may be a good thing because you are concerned about the negative impact on your mental health. Although it is difficult to find a job without any human interaction, delivery will reduce the amount of time you spend with people.

However, the car is a great investment. Only take this route if you’re willing to commit enough work so that you can cover your car expenses, as well as increase your savings each month. If you do, I would suggest saving on buying a cheap used car that you can pay for in cash. Budget portion of each paycheck to reach this goal.

Meanwhile, asking your boss for more hours is a good plan in the meantime. You understand that your current job is unfulfilled, but at least you know what it entails. You don’t have to stick here for life. Just ask your boss if they can give you some extra shifts next month and see how it goes.

Employers across the country are dealing with labor shortages, so it’s a good idea if your boss can schedule extra hours for you. Also look at some of the job postings for businesses around you to see what they offer from the start of payment. Even for jobs that require little experience, wages have skyrocketed in recent months. If other companies are paying new employees more, consider asking for a salary increase.

I will hold off on going back to school until you know what you want to study. Make sure that whatever degree you are interested in has a clear career path that will help you earn more. If you decide to continue your education at some point, consider applying with an employer that offers tuition benefits. For example, you could use your retail experience to work at Walmart or Target, which recently announced that they will pay 100% of costs for certain degrees and certifications.

You have a lot of goals, and that’s a good thing. But having too many goals can be overwhelming when you can’t stretch anymore from your paycheck. Focus on one goal at a time and look for ways to gradually increase your income. Even if the work you do is boring, I suspect that you will feel more motivated when you have a clear goal that you are working towards.

Robin Hartell is a certified financial planner and senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. Send your tough questions to [email protected].

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