Are you living paycheck-to-paycheck? If so, you’re not alone. There are management strategies to help stretch the dollars so you don’t run out of money before your next paycheck. The tips in this article will help you stretch your budget so that maybe you’ll even have a few bucks left over at the end of the month!
Break the Cycle
Find yourself living from paycheck-to-paycheck, eating a steady diet of ramen noodles and counting change to put gas in your car until payday? I feel you. And I’ve been there. When you start living paycheck-to-paycheck, getting a payday loan to get through, then trying to pay it back — or pawning your stuff to get groceries, you may be stuck in a cycle that will continue to get worse until you break it.
It’s hard to rethink your budget when you’re down to the last few dollars you have to live on for a few weeks. Pawn shops, online surveys, yard sales and freelance work may help you get through until the next paycheck. Then consider starting the new month with a brand new strategy.
Write Down Your Spending and Your Income
Before you can effectively manage your money, you need to know how much you have coming in and how much you need to put out each month. Sit down and honestly write out your bills and your average spending for one month.
This means if you hit Starbucks on the way to work Monday through Friday and spend $5, it needs to be on your list that you spend $100 a month on Starbucks. The same goes for using vending machines, Redbox and fast food drive-thru windows — if you spend it, write it down.
You may end up surprised to see in black and white how much money you spend each month. If you need help, there are apps like Mint and others that will tell you where your money goes, but it takes a few months for them to see the habits and let you know. So to get started right away, lean on that pencil. But for a longer term look, use an app to help you keep tabs.
Eliminate Unnecessary Spending
Do you need tacos from the truck on the corner three times every week? Or can you pack a lunch and save the dough? Would a movie online be cheaper than tickets out for the whole family?
One thing that helps many people save a few bucks is avoiding expensive conveniences. What you and I consider unnecessary is going to be different, and I’m not here to judge — so if you need those movie tickets, hey, go for it. If you love that drive-thru coffee, that’s great. But if you can live without it, and you need to free up cash, that’s a great place to start. Little changes can make a big difference.
When you make your budget, be sure to write down which part of the month each bill is due. This way you can split things up from paycheck-to-paycheck. Assign specific bills to the paycheck they will be paid out of. This helps you know in advance of each pay period how much money you need to cover the bills. It’s also a great idea to put away some money for larger bills that come out of the next paycheck. Splitting it up is really helpful. Again, knowing what you have coming in and going out will help you make the best choices to keep your budget in line.
Some people use cash in envelopes to make sure they keep that spending under control. Would this work for you?
Grocery Shop for the Month
Grocery shopping is an area where many people find that they are overspending. If you go to the grocery store a few times a week to pick up just enough food for a few days, not only are you probably purchasing convenience foods and paying more for smaller amounts, you’re also wasting your time and gas money by repeatedly making trips to the store.
Bulk purchases are almost always cheaper per measurement than small amounts. For example, a family pack of 12 center-cut pork chops can often cost less per pound than a pack of 4 center-cut pork chops.
Bonus: prepping meals in advance can reduce eating out.
Make a monthly menu, make a shopping list, do all of your grocery shopping near the beginning of the month and get family packs of as many items as possible. This will save you money and eliminate the stress of wondering what to make for dinner each night. Spending a few hours at the beginning of the month to organize everything could save you a great deal of money in the long run.
Make Even a Little Extra
Enroll in every cash-back or points-per-purchase program you can. Those extra dollars come in handy, and it doesn’t cost you anything more than what you are already spending. Free money for filling your car with gas or paying your bills with a certain card are no-brainer ways to make a few coins here and there.
Many freelancers learn early in their careers not to put all their eggs in one basket. You can do the same thing even if you have a full-time job. Look for any way you can make some residual or extra income.
Make some money every month by putting a few pieces of your clothing you don’t wear or household goods in consignment shops. You can even make a few extra dollars every week playing certain games on your phone while you relax after work. We’ve got some great roundups on side-jobs you could check out, too.
Does it seem hopeless? It isn’t. Start by identifying your strengths and weaknesses. Do you know how to budget but need to make more money? Maybe a side-gig would help. Do you make enough money but struggle to budget wisely? Is bill timing an issue? Maybe smaller payments mid-month would help. Believe it or not, you are not the only one in your situation.
There are websites dedicated to helping people learn how to budget and how to manage finances. These sites contain many tips and ideas that will guide you toward making a change in your financial situation. I know, it can be overwhelming for me, too. If it’s so bad that you truly feel hopeless, please look for assistance from local agencies dedicated to budgeting and financial recovery. It doesn’t have to be hopeless, but you do have to take the lead.