By Michelle Alexander | The Atlanta Voice


When I think about the first time I received an actual paycheck, I reflect back on how happy I was to finally earn my own money.  

After graduating high school, I did not land a permanent job immediately and was not sure what I wanted to do for a career.

However, I did secure a 4-week summer job at a local church.  

I also knew at 17 that I wanted to prove that it is not how much you earn, but what you do with what you earn.  Managing a paycheck seems to come easy to some and forever escapes others.

I was hired as a senior counselor at the church’s Summer Day Camp program which paid $90 a week.

Back then, $90 was a lot of money for a teenager to earn.  I remember feeling empowered in managing my earnings by first paying my Mom for living expenses—$10 whole dollars.

She said, “You can’t live anywhere for free.”  

With the rest of my earnings, I purchased tokens for $6 to ensure transportation to and from work for the next week. I also put aside lunch money so I did not have to look hungry in front of everyone at the camp.

If I knew then what I know now, I would have brown-bagged lunches and saved the money.  But back then, my chips, a drink, and a hero sandwich were only $2.00; yes, $2.00, so bringing lunch was not a thought.  

If you have been keeping up, my total weekly expenses amounted to $26.00.  This left me with $64 of discretionary income (Income-Expenses).

So, here is where I made the most of my earnings.  

I was able to renovate my room with a new paint job and flooring with the first paycheck.  I painted my room, which was rather small, and my uncle installed the flooring.  This helped to save on labor costs.  

By using my friends and family discount at the paint store, I still had funds left over after my purchase.  

Each week, I saved — “keyword: SAVED” — my discretionary income and accomplished another goal.  I knew I would eventually land a permanent job, so I made a wise decision to save my funds each week instead of free falling.

Notice a theme here: “Learn to make wise financial decisions leads to financial security.  

Now, I know that $90 cannot really run a household, but it was a lot for a 17-year-old who managed not to spend every cent of her paycheck.  I did land that permanent job a month later.  

By saving instead of spending, I was prepared for my new gig.  I was able to purchase tokens again to get me to and from work until my first payday, purchase a few new pieces of clothing for my new job, and buy lunch.  

The lesson here is that paycheck management can be done at any age.  Spend less money than you earn and you will always have money to spend.  

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