Surprised By Income

By , October 11, 2016

An odd thing happened last Thursday, although it took me a bit to figure out what it was.

In the morning, a friend posted something on Facebook about trying to remember not to spend her Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) on luxuries rather than necessities. Later in the day, I received an email from the PFD Administration telling me where to access my tax information.

Were the PFDs being distributed?

I know that they come out around this time each year. I’d learned a few weeks before that this year’s distribution would be $1022.00. Apparently, I never bothered to learn when that amount, for each of us, would be deposited in our bank account. Eventually, I looked it up, and learned that on Thursday, we received a couple thousand dollars by direct deposit (see Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend: It’s Not Just Free Money).

This confirms a paradox I’ve observed for a long time. While we live “on the edge” financially (see Living on the Edge: Security Through Insecurity) we live far more comfortably than many Americans.

One would assume that in our household, where one of us holds a seasonal, “part time” job, and the other freelances and writes, that we would track the annual windfall of the PDF carefully, knowing when we’ll receive it, and waiting impatiently to apply it to our finances as soon as possible. Clearly, that isn’t the case.

Neither do we live from paycheck to paycheck. Anymore.

We used to do that. In the early years of our marriage, we struggled, like most college students, and continued to do so as I began an exciting but low paying career. Eventually, we increased our earnings, and improved our frugal practices, until we built up savings beyond our monthly bills. We considered ourselves middle class, and continue to do so, even after our incomes fell below poverty level by most calculations.

In this regard, we differ from many, perhaps most Americans. We know so many people who literally live from paycheck to paycheck, even in double income homes! Since many (although sadly, not all) of these people are intelligent, thoughtful, and careful with their money, we don’t know what combination of the following leads to this state. Is it the burden of living on grid, with the monthly load of debt through municipal utilities, rent/mortgage, lack of a supporting garden? Is it different aspirations: bigger television, new car(s!) every few years, “keeping up with the Joneses,” extensive travel? Expensive hobbies or recreational habits? I certainly can’t say for sure, nor do I expect that one single answer accounts for all.

Of course, for too many, the reason is clear: medical debt. There but for grace go we—for now, that’s not an issue for us.

What I do know is that if we lived paycheck to paycheck, or desperately awaited each year’s PFDs, our life would be far less joyful, content, or satisfying than we find it to be.

So, I’m glad that the PFD deposit took me by surprise this year. It makes me feel that life remains on the right track.

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