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If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you’re not alone. A recent study published in November last year found that seven out of ten US residents live without a financial safety net. While this isn’t an ideal situation, there are ways to make the most of it and (eventually) get out of it.
For anyone struggling with the daily burden of living paycheck to paycheck, we’ve asked financial experts to step in and help explain how everyone can make the most of the situation. While their tips can help you save money, they can also be used to start building a stronger foundation that can put you on the path to financial independence.
Discover: the reasons why you are still living paycheck to paycheck
Also see: 50 Insane Ways to Burn Your Salary
Get a budget
The first thing to do is set a budget and stick to it. Jay Zigmont, founder of Live, learn, plansaid stopping taking on more debt was essential to help break the cycle.
“Lock your credit cards (away) and make debt not a choice,” Zigmont said. “The first step to getting out of debt is to stop going into debt.”
While credit cards are an obvious factor here, there are other red flags to avoid, including predatory payday loans. Budgeting can help you avoid these pitfalls.
“Budgets are like diets; the best is the one that works for you,” Zigmont said.
“Along with my clients, I encourage them to budget for musts, shoulds, coulds and won’ts,” Zigmont added. “Musts are all the things that keep a roof over your head and/or that you have to pay for. You first pay your Musts before going to your Shoulds. If you really get paid paycheck to paycheck, you may never get your power, which reflects your discretionary spending. Add up your must-haves; and, if they are more than you take home, you must either cut some expenses immediately or undertake ancillary work.
Negotiate better rates
Once you’ve organized your budget, it’s time to see what kinds of adjustments you can make to your spending. In some cases, there could be savings hidden in plain sight, as noted by senior counsel Lyle Solomon of Oakview Legal Group.
“Look at your current plans to see if there are any areas where you could save money,” Solomon said. “Are you getting all the benefits included in your phone plan? Do you watch the cable TV you pay for? Is there a chance you could get a better deal from another provider?”
The same can apply to any insurance you pay for, especially when it comes time to renew one of your policies. You can save money by bundling your plans, as some insurers will give you a discount if you have two or more with them.
Find: The states where you’re most and least likely to live paycheck to paycheck
Granted, this approach won’t work with all of your expenses; and, although you cannot choose a gas or electricity supplier, you can try to negotiate these rates.
“Alternatively, you can reduce your usage to reduce your expenses,” Solomon said, “even if only by a small amount. Many utility companies offer free energy audits, during which they assess your home and identify ways to make it more energy efficient while saving money.
Look for cash back benefits
While looking for better rates with your bills, you can also look for ways to save on other essentials.
“While it’s important to reduce discretionary spending as consumer prices rise, learning how to salvage more for the things you need to buy can reduce rising costs,” said one savings expert. Andrea Woroch noted. “It’s also a good idea to review your current credit card to make sure it’s earning you the most for the kinds of purchases you make the most.
“Switching to a credit card that offers grocery rewards or gas discounts can make your money grow. Compare credit card reward programs on sites like CardRates.com to find the one that best suits your needs and will earn you the most for your purchases.
Be frugal when shopping
When you need to buy something new, that doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be “new”. Woroch recommended buying used and refurbished items for these must-have items.
“Buy fashion resale sites like Swap.com that sell gently used clothes, shoes and accessories for the whole family to cut spending by 60-70% on average,” she advised. “Meanwhile, OfferUp is a great place to find used toys and household items, and Best Buy or eBay sell certified refurbished electronics, appliances, and even power tools.”
Start funding your savings
Once you’ve sorted out your expenses and secured the best rates, it’s time to start thinking about how you can start saving.
“Look for a savings account that pays interest but has limited access, so you can’t just transfer the money to a checking account,” Solomon said. “Make an initial contribution to your savings account after opening it, then contribute to it whenever you can.”
Learn: How to build your emergency fund when living paycheck to paycheck
He noted that some savings accounts can be opened with a minimum as low as $25. Once done, you can make deposits there automatically.
“Even if it’s just $10 or $20, knowing that you’re gradually increasing your savings takes the stress out of living paycheck to paycheck,” he added.
If the automated strategy isn’t working for you, he also recommended a “pay yourself first” strategy.
“Before you do anything else with your paycheck, put a modest portion of it into your savings account,” Solomon said. “Depending on your estimated expenses, it could be $5 one week and $25 the next. This strategy will ensure that you save at least some of your income.
To be patient
Obviously, living paycheck to paycheck is not ideal; and, while these changes may help, it will take some time to begin to see any real impact.
“Patience is the key to success,” Solomon warned. “It takes time and energy to get the most out of life from paycheck to paycheck. There are a few areas where you can reduce your expenses and it may take some time. Making even small contributions to a savings account can be incredibly relaxing and motivating.
“But you can do it,” he added. “To be patient.”
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