Top Strategies for Stretching a Public Service Income

Written by: Staff Writer

Choosing a career in public service has many rewards. It’s no secret that being a professional death investigator is stressful, high pressure and exhaustive. Men and women work in this profession for a lot of different reasons. The drive to flush out the answers, look for pieces that fit together to make sense of someone’s chaos, while making communities safe for citizens who have no clue what lurks behind the next corner, are some of the top reasons given. You work long hours and see the worst of society, for pay that is less than what you deserve. But it’s often fulfilling, nonetheless.       

An unfortunate fact when you choose public service is accepting that you will not make the salaries made in the private sector. You have two choices when it comes to your finances, make the right choices to use your money in the most efficient way, or find a different job. If you want to continue in your current career path, the key is to manage your paycheck with the same tenacity as you manage your cases.     

It’s not easy living on a tight budget, yet it can be done if you practice self-control and commit to making the tough choices about how you spend your money.    

The first step to managing your money is to know what your financial picture looks like. You need a budget. Carve out some time from your schedule to make it happen. Sit down with your pay stubs, bank statements, monthly bills, and receipts—account for everything you spend. If you know you have to pay income taxes each year, estimate what that could be and either see your payroll department about deducting additional money to cover it, or set aside a specific percentage to place in an interest-bearing account. There are a number of online budget spreadsheets already set-up, download one and enter your expenses and income. Your goal is to have enough money at the end of the month to start growing savings.     

Plan ahead and make sure you set aside enough money each payday for your bills, to buy groceries, put gas in your car, and pay necessary expenses. Understand the difference between your wants and needs so your planning works. This is difficult, especially if you have a family. You need a reliable phone because of your job. Does your 13-year-old daughter really need a thousand-dollar phone?

No one said budgeting would be easy, but if you are serious about stretching your paycheck you have to control the money with your brain, not your emotions. If some of the people you investigate had left out emotion and thought about what they were doing, they wouldn’t be in trouble.    

Ask questions before making purchases. The usual culprits that suck money from your pockets are things like clothing, eating out, recreation and not researching before making large purchases. Do you really need to pay more monthly for your vehicle than your mortgage or rent? Making thoughtful, practical choices by stepping back and seeing the big picture over a momentary rush of buyers’ euphoria will save you a lot of money.    

Once you know your budget, stay with it. When you eat out, pay attention to how you order. If in a group setting, ask the waitress for separate checks so you don’t end up overpaying for your meal. Why should you pay an equal share of a six-person check when you had the special and your friend had fresh Maine lobster? If you want a fancy cocktail, you can have one, then switch to something less expensive. You can easily spend a couple hundred dollars on drinks alone, if you are not careful. Don’t let a single night blow your whole month’s budget.     

For personal time, find inexpensive ways to have fun. Every town has free or lower cost things to do. Go online or talk to the Chamber of Commerce and find out what your town has to offer. It can cost a family of four over $50 to get into a movie and that’s just the tickets. Go to a matinee and it will cost half that. Stay home and have a family game night or invite some friends over. If dating is a part of your life, you should add it to your budget. Spoiling your date is nice, but so is having enough money to buy groceries and pay the electric bill.     

Approaching money management logically will put you far ahead financially. When you live on a tight budget it is necessary to make spending decisions thoughtfully.