Feast or Famine

By Jill McKenzie

February 28, 2018 3:43 PM

People in the oil patch are accustomed to long stretches of work with no days off and not a minute to spare.
Farmers might compare it to harvest or calving time, and can relate to the ups and downs of a big pay day followed by very little income.
As contractors and farmers know, the work doesn’t stop just because the cash flow has. Many people don’t know that some oil companies don’t pay for 90 days.
Can you go three months without a pay cheque when your expenses continue to pile up?
Would you be able to keep engines running, people and taxes paid and the groceries bought if you routinely had to wait for your pay?
If you answer yes, then you’re in the minority, as over a third of 2,000 recently surveyed Canadians admit they have no money left at the end of the month and are unable to make their payments (cbc.ca, Jan 16, 2018).
When you work hard with little time off, it’s easy to overspend when the opportunity arises.
Whether you’re self-employed or just work in an industry that has down time like spring break-up, it’s important to make your months of pay stretch to cover the weeks or months without (that’s right folks, she’s back to talking about saving!)
Possibly you’re not a farmer and aren’t employed in the oil patch. You might think, great, you wait 90 days for a huge pay cheque, poor you!
The fact remains, be it big or small, people must learn to adapt their spending to the situation they face. You can’t live like a rock star on unemployment, even if you can get coverage.
If you know those weeks of the year are going to come, you must accustom yourself to that budget before it’s happening.
Hard as it might be when the money is flowing in, budgeting is just as important in times of feast as they are in times of famine.
So how does a family continue to stretch a dollar when, at times, saving and budgeting don’t feel like necessities?
Truth is, you become good at what you practise. If someone buys whatever they want, whenever they want, that behaviour is near impossible to curb when income dwindles.
This leads to diminished savings accounts, burgeoning credit card debt, and paying high interest rates before the income begins to flow again.
This means that, once work picks up again, people and families have bills to catch up on and no money gets saved even though times have returned to normal.
They continue to eat out and buy whatever they like. Before you know it, the next down time has occurred and they get to do the whole thing over again—this time with less money in the bank to cushion the blow.
Sound familiar? But all is not lost. Remember, you get good at what you practice.
If you continue to live within your means even when times are good, and plan ahead for those lean times you know will come, you can come out of an extended spring break-up with limited stress and debt.
If you shop the specials, plan meals ahead and track every dollar even when you don’t need to, the pain of tightening the budget when you must is something you’ll be ready for.
For those expecting time off this spring, and every spring, it’s time to start preparing. Even though winter feels desperately long and unending, end it will. But, no matter when your slow times occur, there are ways to get ready.
The first thing many of us do on time off is either go shopping, go on a trip, or tackle a big job like a renovation.
If you know you’re going to do one of these things, prepare in advance by looking for deals.
Keep a running list of jobs you want to get done and buy the materials beforehand. Visit the people you’ve been wanting to see.
Give yourself a chance to do other things rather than spend and, when you spend at all, put some thought into where the money is going.
As mentioned, budgeting in good times really helps in the bad. Once you have good self-control, you might become comfortable with tightening the belt even more.
Have some cheap recipes that you incorporate into your weekly plan. Get creative with leftovers.
If you can overpay some bills in good times to allow yourself wiggle room in slow times, you might be relieved.
Keep a good calendar so you know what payments are coming up, what you need for school and the kids, and buy when the price is right.
You become good at what you practice. Practising smart spending in good times gets you through the bad times with less stress.

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