As an accountant for small business owners and families and the mom of three 20-something young ladies, I have had plenty of experience with living paycheck to paycheck and helping people who are in that stage of their financial life. Here are a couple of tips that will help alleviate some of the stress and position you to break the cycle:
– Don’t borrow on credit – If you are living paycheck to paycheck you can hardly afford interest payments on top of everything else. An easy way to avoid borrowing is leasing or buying something that is not-so-nice for now. Remember that every-time you make a sacrifice to avoid a payment, you are laying the foundation for healthy spending and saving. If you need a car, lease the least expensive car that will meet your needs or buy a car that isn’t glamorous, but gets the job done. When deciding which option is best for you, be sure to factor in the insurance expense on a lease – which can be pretty high since it’s a new car – and the maintenance expense on a clunker. If you don’t need a car, don’t get one. Consider a bike or scooter instead.
– Buy on sale – School shopping for three kids was never inexpensive. So we would go straight for the sale rack at the back of the store and make our rounds to every store they liked. Rather than shopping for clothes every month, shop once a season because the last seasons clothing was always on sale when they are bringing in the new stuff. Grocery shopping is a big chunk of the monthly budget but definitely less expensive than eating out. Make it a challenge to only buy items that are on sale. If you must eat out, go somewhere that does not require you to tip a server. Even if you want to treat yourself to good food and nice ambience, there are plenty of small deli’s and specialty food stores that have excellent selections and self-seating. Oh yeah, and drink water!
– Budget and save – Planning ahead is really important. You know that car registration, school tuition, or medical expense is coming – so plan for it. Find some amount that you can save and make it automatic. My daughter works at a restaurant part-time. She saves her tips tries to pay for her living expenses on her paycheck alone. After only 5 weeks, she had enough to buy a plane ticket for her vacation next year and now she’s saving for spending money. If you get a paycheck from your employer, use direct deposit and have a reasonable amount – $50 is better than nothing – per check deposited into a savings account while the remainder goes into your checking. Finally, know your spending. People who are aware of their spending tend to spend less. Check your bank account frequently and make sure you never overdraft – for some folks that habit alone will save them hundreds of dollars each year.
With a little planning and creative shopping, living paycheck to paycheck does not have to be stressful. If you can get comfortable with living this way – imagine how easy it will be to build your wealth and credit when you are earning more!