Just because you earn a good income doesn’t mean you’re able to save.
In fact, millions of people don’t have enough in their bank accounts to cover an $1,000 emergency should something go wrong. Others barely have any retirement savings, or their net worth is in the red due to debt they just can’t get out of.
It doesn’t matter how much you make if you spend every available dollar that you take home. You’ll be stuck in the same paycheck to paycheck cycle no matter what unless you look at your situation, take steps to change your habits, and prioritize saving over spending.
Here’s a 5-step process you can use to help break the paycheck to paycheck cycle and start building your savings right now.
Address the Problem
There are countless reasons that you might realize might be stuck living paycheck to paycheck. Maybe you just overspend on things you don’t need. Perhaps you don’t realize how much you’re spending and on what. Or your expenses truly could be higher than your income.
If the last reason describes your situation, it’s time to work on earning more money. There are only so many costs you can cut. But your potential to earn is unlimited. You could:
- Search for a different position.
- Take on more responsibility at your current job and earn a raise.
- Take a part-time job doing something you love.
- Monetize a hobby.
- Start freelancing or consulting on the side of your day job.
For many of us, however, it’s not that we don’t have enough money. It’s that we’re not spending mindfully. If you overspend or just don’t pay attention to your cash flow at all, it’s time to change your habits.
You can stop living paycheck to paycheck, but it will take commitment to putting savings over spending. That might be a little easier to do if you take the time to understand what you actually value.
Focus on Your Priorities (and Eliminate Expenses That Don’t Provide Value)
Think saving money means you need to stop spending and deprive yourself? Not exactly. It’s more about spending your money in a way that adds value to your life, and cutting out the costs that don’t.
To do this, you need to understand your values. What’s important to you? What do you find meaningful?
Now, look at your spending.
Do nights out on the town every weekend align with what you value? It could if you value your friends and community — but you can also spend time with your friends and engage with your community by hosting dinner parties or finding free (or cheap) activities to enjoy together.
Go through every transaction you made in the last few months. Be honest with yourself as you evaluate each: did spending the money add value? How? Was there a less expensive alternative? Do you regret any transactions?
This is a good way to start spending mindfully on things that matter to you.
Revise Your Budget
Now that you know what you actually value and took the time to cut out the expenses that didn’t align with what you find important or meaningful, update your budget to reflect the changes.
When you do, make sure to include your savings or investment goals as a line item — and fund those goals first each month. If you still can’t make room for savings, put more costs on the chopping block.
Again, you don’t want to deprive yourself. The point is to create a budget that reflects your values. You should feel free to use your money in a way that makes you happy.
That happens most often when we spend on experiences or services that provide us with more time in our day (like hiring a housecleaner or using Taskrabbit to have someone run an errand we hate doing).
Focus on cutting costs that revolve around status symbols (or what you buy to impress other people, not to enjoy for yourself) or material goods. These purchases simply don’t provide lasting happiness, and there are more important things to make room for in our budgets.
Set Up Systems and Track Your Spending
Once you understand the root of the problem, it’s time to move forward with a sound spending plan. You’ll want to set up not only a budget, but something that allows you to track your spending, too.
After all, a budget doesn’t do you much good if you still don’t know what you spend on (and if you’ve overspending in certain categories).
A financial planner can help you set up a system for your cash flow, too. If you work with an expert, you get the added value of coaching and accountability along the way.
Crush Your Lifestyle Creep
To stop living paycheck to paycheck, you must spend less than you earn. This is why the paycheck to paycheck problem is one that applies to countless people regardless of income.
You can make an incredibly good living earning hundreds of thousands of dollars — but the problem isn’t how much you make. It’s how much you spend. And too often, we increase our spending anytime we get the opportunity: when we get a raise, a new job, a big client for our business….
When this happens, you suffer from lifestyle creep. It’s when you always spend as much as you can and just break even every month. Your lifestyle keeps getting upgraded — but your savings?
Well, you’re consistently behind on your goals.
Stop lifestyle creep before it happens. It’s always easier to keep your spending stable than it is to let it spike, and then to cut out luxuries you’re used to enjoying.
Whenever you get a raise or start earning more money, consider investing 50 percent of it. Or increase your existing contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement plan or an IRA. Create an automatic contribution so that you never see that “extra” money, and aren’t tempted to spend it.
Try to stick with your existing budget even if you start making more money. Avoid the temptation to add in more expenses every time you earn more money, and you’ll break the paycheck to paycheck cycle you feel stuck in now.