How to stop living paycheck to paycheck
Find yourself running out of money before payday? Here's how to spend less and save more without sacrifice.
This post comes from Angela Colley at partner site Money Talks News.
In a recent study conducted by the American Payroll Association, 68% of the 30,600 people surveyed said they would have difficulty if their paycheck was a week late. In other words, more than two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.
It's a situation I know all too well. I lived paycheck to paycheck for years, sometimes running out of cash days before my next payday. I spent too much and racked up debt. My entire financial safety net was the $50 minimum required to keep my savings account open.
My game-changing moment came when my paycheck bounced and the financial tightrope I was walking on snapped. I had to borrow money from family to keep from being evicted. I knew I was going to have to change something to keep that from happening again.
For the next few months, I worked on my finances. Now I have a pretty decent emergency fund, some money saved for retirement, and even a few investments. Here is how I did it.
Adjust your attitude
For some, living paycheck to paycheck can be a lifestyle choice. In my case, I chose to ignore my financial reality and live beyond my means, so I never got ahead. To help myself change my attitude toward money, I made a list of goals and rewards:
- Pay off debts to improve my credit score so I could one day own a home.
- Build an emergency fund so I could start saving for fun things like a vacation.
- Stop wasting money on little things I didn't need so I could buy bigger things I did need later on.
Creating a vision of what I could have in the future made it easier to make better financial choices.
Create a savings-friendly budget
Surprisingly, I had a budget, but it was a horrible one that only accounted for my living expenses. It looked something like this:
- Monthly income -- $1,800.
- Rent -- $750.
- Utilities -- $85.
- Cellphone -- $85.
- Internet -- $45.
- Remainder -- spend on whatever!
I didn't budget for any of life's other necessities like toilet paper and food, and I didn't plan for the future. As a result, I paid my bills, paid the minimum amount due on my credit card, and wasted the rest of my income.
To meet my goals (and realize my vision), I needed a better budgeting system. So I created one that included every purchase I made in the month -- like groceries, personal care products, dog food and the little extras. And then I included putting money into savings. For years now, I've put 10% of my income into my savings account automatically. It's part of my budget, just like rent or car insurance.
Once I had a detailed budget, I figured my financial situation would improve -- and it did. But I still found myself running out of money every month. Curious as to why, I saved every receipt for a month. At the end of the month, I added it all up and realized I was spending far more than I thought. All of those small purchases here and there were killing my budget.
Since then, I've kept track of my spending. Now I use online budgeting software like Mint.com to track where my money goes, and I haven't gone over my budget in years.
Trim the fat
Once I got my spending under control and had some money set aside for emergencies, I started focusing on one of my bigger goals -- paying down my credit card debt. I added up how much I owed, about $2,500, and set a one-year goal to pay it off. To do so, I was going to have to come up with about $210 a month.
Here's what I cut:
- Cable TV -- $65.
- Gym membership -- $45.
- Magazine subscriptions -- $33.
- Monthly hair color at a salon -- $85.
Now I watch Netflix, take my dog for a run every day, read blogs and keep my hair its natural color. I don't miss any of it, and I was able to pay off my debt in a year. The following year, I started putting that extra money into my "vacation funds" account. Trust me, seeing my favorite bands at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, was better than sitting in my living room reading Cosmo.
Don't trade life experiences for money
Living in New Orleans, it was just accepted that if I went out, I had to spend a ton of money. Every weekend my friends and I ate at a nice restaurant, bought concert tickets or racked up a hefty bar tab. I was new to being on my own and thought spending hundreds a month on social activities was just what adults did.
I thought I was going to have to sit alone in the dark every night to save money. So when the weekend rolled around, I told a friend that I needed to start saving money and she said, "Me too!" That is when it hit me. Most people don't love being broke. And maybe if we had something cheaper to do, we could all save some money.
So I went to my city's tourism center and made a list of every free activity I could find. I found free concerts, fireworks shows, festivals, parks and museums. Now my friends and I still go out every weekend. I still buy the occasional ticket to see the Saints play or eat at a nicer place, but most of our activities are free.
The bottom line: I didn't give up my life experiences just to save a buck. I still have fun.
More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:
I trimmed all the fat and even some lean meat - can see bone. Cable - gone, cell phone - never had. Hair salons - keep my hair long and get a trim once a year, natural color - with some gray. Gym - get my exercise doing yard work and housework. Can't cancel i-net - daughter needs for school. Make just over 2K before taxes. Mortgage -850. Have a child, no child support. Have been supporting a sibling( in another country) 100% for almost 4 years. Sometimes I do not know myself how I do it. However when times were better I was able to create an emergency fund, had to use it on a new water heater, roof repairs, etc. Try to do myself as much as possible, tiring but satisfying.
Article has useful advise for young people, how not to get into too much debt at a youg age. But not much use for someone like me: woman, over forty ( yes, I have a college degree - actually 2) - written off. At the moment I am surviving OK, but seriously going down. Is this an american dream?
One last comment to the Pewter -do you realy think that romney would be better in the White House? People up that high serve the same lord, no matter what party they belong to, and not me or you, unless you belong to rich boy club.
US, quo vadis?
If i hear one more idiotic nut sack preach the virtues of saving while still in debt im gonna puke.
Lets do the math for once. Betty Brainless has a credit card at 15% apr with a $1,000 balance . She takes some dumb advice and opens a savings account with an extra $1,000 that magically drops out of heaven.By the end of the year she earns a measely 1% interest if she is lucky - a whole extra $10. But on the credit card she pays 15% or $150 a year plus all their nice bonus and annual fees. Betty thinks that she is $10 ahead buts she is actually at least $140 behind.
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Editor Bev O'Shea lives and works in the foothills of the Appalachians. A former copy editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Orlando Sentinel, she joined MSN Money in 2007. She's a fan of sunsets, college football and free shipping, among other things.
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A writer for MSN Money since January 2007, Donna Freedman won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. She also writes about smart money tactics for magazines and on her own site, Surviving and Thriving.
Mitch Lipka has been warning people about scams and shining light on questionable business practices for more than 20 years. Mitch, the consumer columnist for The Boston Globe, has also been a reporter and editor at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Consumer Reports, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and AOL. He won the 2010 New York Press Club award for best consumer reporting online and was honored in 2011 for his reporting on child product safety.
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