It's no secret that living paycheck to paycheck is a reality for many people. 62% of Americans report experiencing this financial challenge. After settling bills, paying for expenses, and indulging in a few luxuries – such as ordering Chinese takeout or surprising a loved one with a bouquet of flowers – there may not be much cash left over. Inflation can cause paychecks to stretch even less, leading to financial stress. However, there are ways to take control of your personal finances and break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.
1. Build a budget
If you’re looking to improve your financial state, learning the basics of budgeting is a great starting point. A budget is a tool that helps you understand where your money is going. You could use an app, template, or spreadsheet to organize your finances. However, even writing your budget down on a piece of notebook paper is a step in the right direction.
Your budget will allow you to keep track of your income and expenses, giving you a clear picture of how much money is coming in and going out from month to month. Yet, one of the best parts of a budget is that it is customizable. It can be tailored to you and your unique financial circumstances.
It’s important to note that creating a budget and tracking your spending is only the beginning. It won't solve your paycheck-to-paycheck situation overnight. You'll have to practice self-discipline and stick to your budget's spending limits to achieve the financial future you desire.
2. Pay yourself first
Once you have a budget, make a specific category for your savings. To make sure you're putting money aside, prioritize "paying yourself first." This means treating your savings as a monthly expense, not just an afterthought.
Setting up direct deposit is one way to simplify saving. This automated process transfers funds from your paycheck to your savings account without any extra effort. If you prefer to do it manually, you should aim to set aside a predetermined amount each paycheck. By following these money-saving tips, you can break the paycheck to paycheck cycle faster.
Additionally, try not to dip into your savings account unless it’s absolutely necessary. Treating your savings as an extension of your checking account may lead to careless spending and limit your ability to stay on top of your financial goals. Instead, develop a savings strategy (or fun money saving challenge) that will help you save regularly and track your progress.
3. Live within your means
Living within your means is all about spending less money than you earn. However, in a world where financial peer pressure is prevalent, it can be difficult to resist splurging on the latest products for fear of being left out. The principle of living within your means challenges this materialistic view and prioritizes spending on needs before wants.
Your needs, which include basic living expenses such as food, housing, phone bill, transportation, and utilities should come first. It's also important to factor in minimum payments for credit card bills or any other debts as a necessary expenditure. By limiting yourself to only spending on necessities, you might be pleasantly surprised by how much money you can save.
Of course, curbing your spending habits can make the desire for your wants even stronger. Luckily, you can still spend money on wants, like a new sweatshirt or sweet treat, as long as you budget for them. If you can’t make room for your discretionary spending in your budget, you might need to consider a higher-paying job. You can increase your income by adding a part-time job or side hustle. Whenever you have excess money after contributing to savings and investments, don't hesitate to indulge in your wants.
4. Create an emergency fund
Life is unpredictable and can throw unexpected events your way. At any time, you could lose your job, experience a death in the family, or need immediate car repairs. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, handling a financial emergency without an emergency fund can lead to further debt and hinder your financial progress.
It’s important to have some money set aside for unexpected expenses. It’s recommended to have three to six months’ worth of living expenses saved up in your emergency fund. While this may seem daunting, saving small amounts consistently over time (even just $7 per day) can make a significant difference.
When you're running low on funds, it may be tempting to use your savings account as an emergency fund. However, it is essential to keep them separate. Your savings account should be reserved for planned expenses, such as a vacation or a new appliance. On the other hand, the emergency fund should be used to cover expenses you couldn’t predict. By having a well-funded emergency fund, you'll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing you're ready for any unexpected financial challenges.
5. Conquer your debt
Living paycheck to paycheck and struggling with debt can lead to unnecessary money stress and anxiety. When you rely only on your credit card to make purchases, you're just putting yourself deeper into debt. To break free from this cycle, it's essential to pay off your debts as soon as you can.
Debt can arise from several sources, including student loans, personal loans, car payments, mortgages, and more. No matter the source, having debt means owing money to someone or something. Despite the challenges, there are plenty of ways to manage your debt.
When there’s not a lot of excess cash in your bank account, you may have to choose between paying off debt or saving money. Prioritize paying off debts with high interest rates and try to pay more than the minimum monthly payment. Conquering your debt will free up money that can be used for other things that are more important to you.
6. Keep the future in mind
When you're living paycheck to paycheck, it can be difficult to focus on anything beyond the present. However, it's important to start saving for the future and take action to ensure you're prepared for it. Creating a financial plan can help keep the future in mind when making money decisions.
Begin by identifying your long-term goals. Whether it's buying your first home, purchasing a car, planning your dream vacation, or saving for retirement, having a clear understanding of what you want to achieve is the first step. Next, start saving money for these goals, even if they're years away.
You can set short-term financial goals to keep you motivated towards your larger money goals. It's also wise to research potential investments and learn about assets that have the potential to appreciate over time. Remember, even though these goals may not be in the immediate future, taking steps to plan for them now can help you achieve financial freedom later on.
You don't have to be part of the majority of Americans who live paycheck to paycheck. Breaking free from the cycle can be a daunting challenge, but with perseverance and dedication, you can overcome it. Keep in mind that these money tips are not a quick fix, but rather a pathway to success through hard work and commitment.
🏆Without a clear goal, saving money can be difficult. Check out How to Save $10,000 in a Year in 8 Steps.
🚧As you first try to break away from the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, there may be obstacles. Read 8 Tips to Stay Motivated on Your Financial Journey to overcome them.