Do you find yourself stressed, worrying about being able to pay your monthly bills before collecting your paycheck? If so, you may be living paycheck-to-paycheck.
The definition of living paycheck-to-paycheck is a situation in which "an individual must meet all financial obligations with current earnings from one pay cycle to the next."
According to research done by employment website CareerBuilder in 2017, 78% of US workers responding to a survey said they were living paycheck-to-paycheck.
More than three out of four people in the U.S. working full-time live paycheck-to-paycheck, according to recent research, and one out of 10 earning more than $100,000 a year worry about making ends meet.
A 2018 study found that the median U.S. household has $4,830 in a savings account to cover emergencies. Between bank accounts and retirement savings, the same study determined the median U.S. household held about $11,700 at that time.
And that's not even accounting for emergency expenses, with a home, or car, or anything else that occasionally needs repair or maintenance.
20 Ways to Stop Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck
1. The First Thing to Do is Track Your Spending
The first most important thing you can do is get a clear picture of what you spend, and compare it to what you earn. Take a 2- or 4-week period to track everything you spend, whether it is cash, or credit, or check, or debit. There are two basic ways to handle your money to get out of debt, which should be a goal for anyone living paycheck-to-paycheck, because the interest on debt grows faster than on savings: make more money, or spend less than you earn.
2. Keep Track of Fees for Withdrawals or Surcharges on Bills
If you are always waiting for a paycheck to pay bills, you probably will wind up paying something late, which invariably will result in an extra fee being placed on your next payment. If you're tracking expenses, don't forget to track or include the cost of late payments, ATM fees, and any other surcharge such as for data use that you incur.
3. Add Up All of Your Debt
When trying to live "within your means," or even below it, you need to consider how much you owe and compare it to how much you make. This includes especially large recurring debt, like rent, or a mortgage, car payment, credit card and other bills.
4. Figure Out if You Are Making Enough Money to Afford Living Where You Are
Once you get a handle on your spending, and your debt, the next step is to compare it with your income - your paycheck, tips, invoices for services, disability or insurance distributions, whatever income sources you have and what the average pay period brings after deductions for things like taxes, health insurance, and union dues.
If you just have enough, on average, every month to cover your expenses and debt, you are living paycheck-to-paycheck. If you have any left over, you need to start putting that somewhere for emergencies, such as a day without pay, a job loss, or repair or maintenance of household items or transportation.
5. Identify any Bad Money Habits or Attitudes
Almost everyone growing up in modern society either likes money, or hates it. But everyone needs it for day-to-day living. Tracking and comparing your income and expenses can help you see how you spend money, what you spend it on, and maybe even why you spend it. This knowledge can help anyone change or break a bad money habit.
6. Change Won't Happen Without a Reason or GoalYour first goal is to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck. But, assuming you can, it helps to have a goal to strive for beyond that. Are you hoping to save for something, like make a down payment on a house so you can get some return for the money you now spend on rent? Or another car? A trip? Retirement? Even something as simple as clothing or an event can be enough of a goal or reward for the discipline it takes to break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck merry-go-round.
7. Look at How Often You Visit an ATM, Grocery or Convenience Store
Pick one day a week to go to the place you frequent. This helps you track not only your spending, but what you're buying. Impulse buys are reduced the less often you visit.
8. Rank Discretionary Spending from Must-Have to Want to Have
Another benefit of tracking expenses is to see whether an expense qualifies as a necessity, or a desire. Common places to spot the difference are in grocery bills, if they include "junk" food, snacks, sodas or other non-essential products; dining out for lunch or dinner or both, (instead of buying groceries you can use to make meals at home) and transportation. Are you making large payments on a car that you can't really afford, or that requires frequent expensive repairs? Are you paying for public transportation for distances you could walk?
9. Start Saving by Cutting Discretionary, Non-Essential Spending
Most people who work like to spend some of their hard earned wages on unwinding, social engagement, or entertainment. You don't have to withdraw from society to save money. But if you go out one night of the weekend, for instance, and stay home the next, you may be surprised to see you're spending less.
10. Stop Buying Lattes or Other Items You Can Make at Home
Financial guru Suze Orman notes people with a $1-$3 daily latte or other habit don't realize they are losing up to $1 million they could have saved if they made the beverage at home instead.
11. Determine Your Fixed Costs
Fixed costs are the monthly expenses that don't change much or frequently, such as housing, utilities, and maintenance like a garden or lawn, a pet, even predictable items like a visit to the barber or stylist.
One major fixed cost for men which is rarely considered is shaving. The expense of razor blades doesn't go away and isn't a discretionary item, just like soap and hair care and toothpaste.
When fixed expenses take up a significant part of every paycheck, there is little left for other bills.
12. Reduce Your Housing Cost
One fixed expense that most often exceeds all others is housing. Financial advisers suggest still you shouldn't spend more than 28%-30% of your monthly income on rent, mortgage, renters or homeowner's insurance and property taxes. If your housing consistently costs more than that, you might want to consider downsizing or moving to a different area.
13. Consider Whether to Sell Your Car for a Cheaper One
Another fixed cost and a source of debt for most people is a car payment. It has been said any new car loses 10% of its value the moment it is driven off the dealer's lot. In most cases, buying a car is not an investment. It is an expense. According to a study, the average midsize sedan loses $7,419 in value its first year, and most of its depreciation happens in its first two years. This means you could buy a two-year-old vehicle for less than anything new. In fact, Edmunds, which did the study, also came up with a used-car "hack" that takes advantage of the first depreciation -- recommending you buy a 1-year-old used car, even of the current or just past model year, and resell it after owning it for about three years, just before it takes another large depreciation hit.
14. Make a Budget
A monthly budget that clearly shows what money comes in and where it goes is the next logical step on your path to getting out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. If you want to eventually start saving - and you should, as life and unemployment are unpredictable - a budget that you stick to can help you spot any money not accounted for.
15. Open a Savings Account
Now, this is a big step toward your goal. Because once you have followed all the advice above, and come up with ways to cut your spending - or increase your income - you want to start saving for emergencies. The only way to truly break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck trap is to have a financial "cushion," something saved for an emergency expense, or something happening to your job. This is going to be where you put the money you see that isn't spent or allocated for spending in your budget, or that has been freed by cutting expenses or growing your income.
16. Most Advisers Recommend: Pay Yourself First
The purpose of the work you did to get to this point was to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck spiral. As saving is the most important step toward that goal, now that you know what you spend, and how much you bring in, and where you could cut some expenses to save some, don't go back to waiting to see whatever remains after meeting your budget. The money you save should always come out of your check first, not last, so it isn't spent.
17. Automate Your Savings
The easiest way to make sure you start saving is to log onto your online bank account, and set up an automatic transfer into a savings account. Thanks to your budget, you'll be able to determine how much to transfer. It can be as little as $20 a month. The purpose is to see money you aren't spending start building. Seeing a bank balance automatically grow helps you stick to your goal and your budget.
18. Put Your Savings Somewhere You Can't Get to Easily
If you can move your savings into a checking account, at the same bank, or spend it using a debit card, you may be too tempted, and too often, to spend what you're saving. A better place for your savings is an account that is less accessible. Ideally, you'll save your money in an interest-earning savings account, or in a money market or other means of earning money on your money while it sits safely away. A good place to automatically save money is if your company offers a 401(k) plan, which is intended for your retirement.
19. Or, Use Your Savings to Pay Down Debt
The general rule for emergency savings is to try and build up to the equivalent of three to six months of your necessary monthly expenses. If you have credit card bills and are only able to pay the minimum monthly payment, you will likely never truly be free of the paycheck-to-paycheck fear of an unexpected expense or event. Most credit cards charge more in interest on a carried-over balance than any bank (the average credit card interest rate as of May 2018 was 16.93%.) Your goal should be to pay off the balance on the card, or cards, completely, freeing up more money for savings, then always pay the card or cards in full every month - not spending more than you can pay. Being free of debt means one less fixed monthly expense in your future budget. Less expenses mean more savings - especially if your income increases without your expenses growing.
If you are planning to use your savings to pay down high-interest debt, like a credit card, financial experts still recommend keeping at least $1,000, or one month's living expenses, depending on which is higher, in your emergency savings account while paying off the debt. Roughly a third of U.S. residents say they would have to go into debt if hit with a $1,000 emergency. Having that much saved will keep you from turning to your credit card, and incurring more debt you can't really afford.
20. Lastly, When You Get a Raise, or Any 'Extra' Money, Save It
If you can find, with a budget and carefully monitoring your spending, no 'extra' money to start saving for a rainy day, put away any money - a raise or bonus or tips - that isn't accounted for in your budget. The same goes if you sell something on Ebay (EBAY - Get Report) , have a garage sale, or get a tax refund - the only way to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck problem is to develop a cushion on which to land if something knocks you off your perch.