When Scraping By Isn’t


A client recently asked me to meet with his friend to talk about commercial real estate brokerage.  This friend was interested in making a career change and wanted to talk with someone in the real estate business.  He was trying to decide between the residential and commercial sectors.

Ethan (not his real name), is 30 years-old and was being laid-off by his current employer.  He started working immediately out of high school and had a good job.  Unfortunately, as with most people, he was at the mercy of his employer.   They could no longer afford his salary and gave him notice that they were letting him go.  Ethan is married with three kids and a fourth on the way.  His face lit up when talking about his family.

Ethan is a Dave Ramsey follower, having brought EntreLeadership with him to our meeting.  He’s also read the various investing books such as Rich Dad, Poor Dad.  He was very bright and I enjoyed talking with him.

Ethan’s in-laws were selling him and his wife a rental home under market value.  He was very excited about this opportunity and said he would flip it once the repairs were done.  I asked him questions about retaining the property for cash flow versus flipping it, but it was clear he had a vision of a single paycheck in his eyes.  Everyone has a different journey regarding real estate and mine wasn’t the same as his which is okay.

What gave me pause, though, was a statement he made because it was something I’ve said before and I’m sure countless others have said as well.  At one point, Ethan shook his head and muttered, “I’m tired of just scraping by.”

Scraping By

Most of us have been there.  We’re living paycheck to paycheck and wondering where the house payment is coming from.  Groceries go on the credit card.  Gas goes on the gas card.  The kids' shoes go on the Target card.  Every day is a struggle because we’re living the life of the undisciplined.

It’s the worst and it will suck your soul dry.  No one feels alive living this way.

That kind of scraping by is miserable.

However, there is another kind of scraping by. 

It’s when every dollar is allocated for a purpose.  Those initial "dollar missions" might be to build a small emergency fund.  Once that’s done, you focus on getting out of debt.  You’re not going out to dinner every night.  You’re buying things you need, not want.  Oh, those wants, look great, but you know that if you give into them you’re going back to that life of misery you just escaped.  So, you continue the struggle.

I take my lunch to work every day instead of eating out.  Initially, the guys in the office joked about my lunchbox.  Now, they ignore me.  I’m not included in their daily lunch runs anymore.  When they ask why I bring my lunch I tell them, “I’m on budget lock down.”  Everyone accepts that answer and leaves me alone.  The reality is that my lunch costs a fraction of what they are paying for the comfort and convenience of eating out every day.

We eat at home almost every night.  Our meals are planned in advance and there are often leftover nights.  I love leftovers, by the way.  The credit goes to my girlfriend.  She doesn’t mess around with the groceries.  She has a budget and she plans the week.  When friends ask if we’ve tried the hot new restaurant in town, we shake our heads.  I used to try them all.  I told myself that I needed to know all the hot places due to my profession.  It was a lie I convinced myself of so I could eat out regularly. 

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The talk around the office about the latest hot television series goes over my head since we don’t have cable.  I’m teased for being cheap, but again I just shrug and say, “budget lock down”.  However, I remember when my cable and internet bill ran over $200/month.  I had all of the coolest channels and could be part of those discussions.  I was never happy, though, and could barely pay my monthly bills.  Besides, $200/month annually is equal to two full house payments – just to watch TV?

My car is fully paid off which was easy when it was paid for with cash.  Of course, it was used when I bought it and not a flashy late model.  Do you know how much my clients care that I bought a used car?  Zero, zilch, nada.  Do you know many friends with car payments cared?  A lot.  They are still suggesting I get a new car.  Why is that?

The last exotic vacation I took with my family was attached to a business trip.  It was the greatest vacation I’ve ever had and it made sense because I was already headed to San Diego for business.  Is San Diego exotic?  It was enough for me and my family.  It was also frugal and smart.

Others watch my lifestyle and don’t comprehend what I’m doing.  It looks boring and I’m okay with that.    

But for the first time in my life, scraping by isn’t what it looks like.  I can afford to do all those things mentioned and more, but I'd be giving up my goals in exchange.  That's something I'm not going to do.    

The funny thing is this is how I should have been living my life when I was a salaried employee making a 1/4th of what I’m making now.  Instead, I spent every dollar and more due to the availability of credit cards.  Now, I’m living more frugal than ever. 

Scraping by when you don’t have to is radically different than scraping by when that’s all you can do.  I’ve done both. 

This version is a heck of a lot more fun.

What about you?
Do you look at scraping by as a choice or
is scraping by dictated to you by your choices?