Community//

10 Ways to Save Money When You’re Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Hint: It's all about paying yourself first.

How is it that getting paid can feel so eerily similar to not getting paid at all? 

One minute there’s money in your account.  The next minute–you pay your rent, your student loans, the minimum on your credit cards, your car payment, and buy groceries for the week–it’s gone. 

The living-paycheck-to-paycheck struggle is real, and you often come out on the other side with very little to show for it.  

But you’d be surprised at how many things you can do right now to create money, seemingly out of thin air, or free up money you’re not spending strategically.  From there, it’s all about training (or tricking) yourself to be seriously disciplined about saving it.

Here are 10 ways you can create and save money now:

  1. Don’t spend your tax refund. Some people like getting tax refunds at the end of the year because they consider it a forced savings.  But that’s a cop-out. Do we really have so little willpower that we can’t save money without bringing the government into it?  We can do better than that. This year, when you get your refund, don’t spend it; save it. Then, heading into next year, adjust your tax withholdings (which determine how much tax is taken out), so that the money is spread out and added to your paycheck, rather than held for you until the end of the year. Because the money will be delivered in smaller increments each month, rather than as one big windfall at the end of the year, it will be easier to save and less tempting to make bad spending choices with your new-found bounty.  
  2. Turn your social savvy or other skills into a lucrative side hustle. If you’ve got extra time after work or over the weekends, consider using it to work some short-term side gigs. Believe it or not, there are a lot of people out there who would pay top dollar for your skills writing their website copy, managing their social media, babysitting, painting a room, planting a garden or doing other odd jobs. Not only will this help you convert time into money, you’ll also save the money you might have otherwise spent going out. 
  3. Get rid of store credit cards.  You should only have one or two credit cards, and neither of them should be store credit cards, which offer you little value once you’ve taken advantage of the upfront incentive. Instead, get credit cards that give you cash-back or points that you can use for things you would otherwise have to pay for,  such as airline travel or hotel stay ins. If you don’t travel, then opt for a card with cash-back rewards or points you can redeem for things like electronics, groceries, or gas. And if you do get cash back, have it automatically transferred into your savings account, rather than your checking. If you don’t see it, it’s a lot harder to spend it. 
  4. Marie Kondo the stuff and services you don’t use. Not only does having a bunch of stuff you don’t need decrease your joy; it’s not helping your financial situation much either. You can change that though.  There are so many sites you can use to sell anything from clothes and accessories to furniture and home goods. And there’s really no excuse not to do it. You can also tide up virtually by cutting back on streaming services you’re not taking advantage of. Think: Spotify, Apple Music, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon… You can’t possibly be using them all at once, can you?  Look for any place you can cut small charges, like $10, that add up while you’re not looking.
  5. Align your values with your lifestyle. Sometimes the things that are most important to you can also help you eliminate unnecessary costs.  For example, if contributing to your community is one of your goals, then instead of going for drinks with your friends, get involved in clean-up projects, mentoring or other volunteer work.  And maybe even bring your friends along–or make new ones in the process. Then, take the money you would have spent on drinks and put it into your emergency fund (or as I like to call it, your liberty fund). 
  6. Be a strategic shopper. There is absolutely no reason to pay full price. There are people and websites who have made names for themselves tracking every coupon, sale or discount code, and then making this information available to the public. Find them and follow them! Also, consider that most retail sites now offer discounts in return for signing up for their mailing lists. (Though make sure to unsubscribe from some of those lists or you’ll be lulled back into buying more over time.) But most importantly: buy off-season. Like, buy a bathing suit in August or wrapping paper after the holidays, when stores are trying to get rid of seasonal items to make room for the next. And get basic school supplies mid-year or at the end of a school year, rather than wait until right before school starts.  And of course, just because sales, discounts, and deals are available doesn’t mean you should buy everything you see; it simply means you should buy the stuff you need at discounted prices.
  7. Let places reward you for your loyalty. Stores are always looking for a way to get an edge over their competitors and some do that by creating rewards for being a loyal, repeat customer. For instance, check your local grocery store for savings on gas. I shop at Stop and Shop and get 2% off all gas I purchase at Shell. This has saved me hundreds of dollars over this past year alone. And this is just one of many examples.
  8. Put your bonuses to good use. When you don’t have a lot of money, it’s tempting to think of bonuses as a reward for living so damn frugally every other day of the year. But instead of doing that, put your next bonus aside until you figure out the highest and best use of the money. Is it paying off a high-interest credit card?  Putting it into your liberty fund? Or is it buying a critical item that you’ve been putting off (say, new tires for your car, a computer, or energy panels for your home, which could save you money down the road)? Use that money to dig yourself out of a financial hole rather than keeping yourself in it.
  9. Make sure you’re getting reimbursed for any work-related expenses.  If you travel for work, you may not think that a $2.00 bottle of water is worth claiming as an expense, but it adds up,  especially if you travel a lot. If you’re using your own car for travel, make sure your company reimburses you for your mileage. Other things you should inquire about are subway charges, phone bills, and meals. Often times, a company can’t authorize a raise off their normal schedule, but they’ll throw in perks that are small to them but make a big difference to you, in order to keep you happy until they can boost your pay. And make sure to use your cash-back or rewards card for any work travel or expenses you accrue. You’ll earn extra points for charges you’re being reimbursed for.
  10. Set up a savings account. Or a savings envelope.  Every time you get paid, pay yourself first. Whether it’s $10, $100 or more, get into the habit of putting money aside for yourself before paying everyone else. Forming this habit will be worth its weight in gold, especially when you have more to save each month. And with that money you saved out of sight, it will reduce your urge to spontaneously overspend on something that doesn’t serve you.

Sometimes, living paycheck to paycheck is just a fact of life, but you can make your money go a lot further, and even save along the way, by making basic modifications to your lifestyle. Your future self (and your savings account) will thank you for it.

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