After her kids hopped out of the car and ran inside, Riley put her head on the steering wheel and sighed. When she walked in the house, she knew her husband Michael could see the tension on her face.
“What happened?” he asked.
“The kids asked if they could each bring a friend this weekend,” Riley said. “D’Arcy asked to bring Sean, and Jordan asked to bring Marcus.”
Michael looked at her. “And?”
“And?” Riley’s face grew hot; she knew Michael understood their current financial situation. “How are we going to feed two more kids?”
“It’s a couple extra hotdogs.” Michael reached for her arm.
“You know it is not just that.”
“We could ask their parents to chip in,” Michael offered.
“Babe,” Riley said, “Marcus’s father was just let go last week, and Sean’s mother is raising three kids on her income alone.”
“I could beg to pick up an extra shift?”
“I work evenings, and you have to be home for the boys.”
Michael dropped onto the sofa. “What are we gonna tell them?”
Riley and Michael were both exhausted after working extra shifts in preparation for their four-day camping trip this weekend with their ten- and twelve-year-old boys, D’Arcy and Jordan.
Over several months, Riley and Michael had set aside $350 for four days of hiking, fishing, and grilling hotdogs by the fire with their boys. With Riley working in retail and Michael at a restaurant, their take-home pay averaged just under $3,000 a month, and like 78 percent of American households, they lived paycheck to paycheck. Two more kids would mean a total of twenty-four more meals over four days. How could they buy that many additional hotdogs, buns, side dishes, and s’mores, when they still needed to buy live bait, fishing permits, and toilet paper?
Riley and Michael stretched their budget to span two weeks or more, and in that gap between pay, their children, D’Arcy and Jordan, often had to do without. More than just new clothes or a movie ticket, their strict budget had impacted the kids’ social development—Jordan had stopped begging them for a guitar, D’Arcy chose television over his soccer ball, and their friends didn’t come around the yard as often as they used to.
If only Riley and Michael could access $100 (that they could try to absorb next month), D’Arcy and Jordan’s friends could come. Payday wouldn’t arrive until the following Friday, and neither of them had family around to ask for help.
What were they to do?
Riley and Michael called their kids into the dining room.
“Kids, we’re so sorry, but you cannot bring your friends.”
D’Arcy’s lip quivered. Jordan pulled his younger brother closer, and mumbled, “Whatever.”
Once the kids went to their room, Michael and Riley sat down at the table, defeated.
The next day, Michael returned home with his energy renewed. He explained to Riley that he overheard his supervisor reminding another employee of their partnership with PayActiv, a benefit that enabled workers to access the money they’d already earned but not yet been paid between paychecks.
All employees had to do was download the PayActiv app for immediate access. He could apply for the PayActiv Visa Debit Card and have his wages direct-deposited onto it, in which case he would be charged nothing to access all the benefits of PayActiv, including his earned wages. Without the card, he could still access the benefits for just $5 per two-week pay period, charged only when he used it. He could also access PayActiv’s budgeting, savings, bill pay, and other tools dedicated to his family’s financial health.
“What do you think?” Michael said.
“This isn’t a loan?” she asked. “It sounds like a loan.”
“It’s not a loan because it’s money I’ve already earned. So there is no interest charged.”
“But your next paycheck will be $100 short,” she warned.
“I already put in for two additional shifts when we get back.”
She felt herself giving in. “What’s this about a card?”
“I applied for their Visa Debit Card. It’s like a bank card without the bank, and there is no minimum balance required.”
“No minimum balance? Are they expecting you to overdraft?”
“No overdrafts,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. Riley couldn’t help but appreciate that five years of stress had been lifted off her husband’s back.
That weekend, Riley looked out at the flames of their campfire and felt its warmth radiate through her. D’Arcy, Jordan, and their friends were playing among the brittle trees, brandishing sticks like swords. Laughter echoed in the silence of the natural world, a silence so peaceful Riley had to catch her breath.
“And you were worried,” Michael joked. His hand reached tenderly for hers.
“I’m still a little worried,” she replied. “But we needed this.”
He squeezed her hand. “We did.”
 CareerBuilder, “Living Paycheck to Paycheck Is a Way of Life for Majority of U.S. Workers, According to New CareerBuilder Survey,” August 24, 2017, http://press.careerbuilder.com/2017-08-24-Living-Paycheck-to-Paycheck-is-a-Way-of-Life-for-Majority-of-U-S-Workers-According-to-New-CareerBuilder-Survey.