Freeing Sisyphus: The Payday Rollercoaster – Mania and Depression

How many of you expectantly count down the days until your next paycheck, like the 13 days of Christmas (yes, I know it’s 12 days of Christmas, but we get paid bi-weekly, and I’m usually starting to count the days until the next paycheck the day after I receive one)? I do.

Today is payday (and casual Friday), and I woke up (as usual) excited and manic like a child on Christmas, hyper and eager to get to work -unlike the other 9 days between paychecks – to open up my simple excel file that lists what I’m going to pay and to whom. Yes, I’m in Finance, but when it comes to my own finances, I’m pretty simple. No fancy programs, just an Excel list. I enthusiastically go to each bill site, opening those webpages like Christmas presents, feeling an inordinate amount of satisfaction and security as I type in each amount, confirm payment and submit. I walk to the office kitchen to fill my water bottle like I’m on cloud nine smiling like a Dr. Seuss character, saying hello and Happy Friday to every co-worker I see. I remember when I first started working I used to get so annoyed with people that said “Thank God It’s Friday or TGIF” every week. What a mundane existence they must live I said in my know-it-all 20s. Now, I say it and mean it. Oh, how we learn and are humbled.

Many people that I work with don’t even know its payday, and when I exclaim, “It’s payday” they look at me a little confused and say “really?”. Unlike me, they grew up in Finance and had parents that taught them to manage money, so they of course have automatic bill pay set up. I’m not quite there yet, untrusting I will be able to pay on the same day every month. The money management style I learned was a little different from the save x, put y in 401K, net present value bladeblah of my Finance counterparts. My mother taught me at an early age that back in the day if you wrote a check in red ink it took them longer to process it. Under her tutelage I learned to be a master of sending a bill right in the time frame where it was late, but not too late, the art of post-dating or which bills to pay late without getting into trouble. To be fair I knew what the word principal meant at the age of 12….but that was only because I knew we were hardly paying on it.

So for the first few hours of payday I bounce around the office, pogo style, smiling like a fool (kinda like my sister in those Percocet pictures). And, then, inevitably, the crash. The paycheck has been distributed, my account balance has dwindled back to its regular size. What’s amazing is how fast it takes over, the realization that there are many, many, many more Fridays (until I’m about 60) before I can give Sallie Mae the big kiss-off. At this point, I tend to dive into a black, masochistic depression where I go back into those same webpages, torturing myself by looking at the end dates far into the future of when I will be done with certain payments, feeling hopeless. I then start to play with my Excel file with an obsessional fervor– can I pay a little more here, a little less there, and thinking I HAVE to cancel cable (but I LOVE the weather channel – yes, I’m a freak), fantasizing about some miracle that will make those bills go away.

And, that pretty much continues until the next payday…although I tend to get over the major depression by desperately seeking exercise endorphins, enjoying the simple pleasures of life and thanking God each day that I have a job in this economy (while constantly contemplating how I would handle a lay-off – PTO saved up, severance, cash out the 401K I finally started, credit card capacity, etc., etc.).

Yesterday, though, I stopped by a homeless shelter to drop off some unused personal items as I prepare for my big move (more later on that), and I was humbled and ashamed. Most of those folks don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Did that experience stop the rollercoaster – ummm, no. But, maybe I saw/felt something there that can help me slowly but surely change the rollercoaster to that ride at the Fair that goes round and round up and down small inclines and plays 80s tunes. Who knows?

So, Sisyphers, are there any nuts like me out there who anticipate payday like a kid waiting for Christmas, only to crash minutes after those bills are paid? How do you manage? As always, please comment or email at

TGIF ;).

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