Living paycheck-to-paycheck is a difficult and stressful situation. Your paycheck arrives. Bills are due the next day. You divide your paycheck, and like an onion sliced into pieces, it just makes you cry.
Of course, nobody deliberately wants to be trapped in this cycle, yet 80 percent of people in the United States are in it, unable to get themselves out of the situation.
How to do that? The simple and boring answer is “budget.”
You’re probably tired of hearing the word “budget” from friends and financial advisers. The word has become a cliche that you would probably take for granted, or write off as one of those things that people rave about but don’t actually work.
“I know, I know but budgeting doesn’t work for me. All the time.”
Wrong. Boring as it sounds, the budget is the most powerful tool available for you to escape the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.
Here are some rules to make budgeting really work.
Consider These Successful Budgeting Tips
The reason why many people fail at budgeting is because their budget is too restrictive. Do you start picking at your hair or biting your nails when you exceed your budget? Then budgeting is making you nuts and will never ever work. You’ll simply throw in the towel and forget about it.
Give your budget some wiggle room by having a set amount for every possible expense in a month. Have a budget for birthday gifts or leisure activities. If you didn’t use it, then roll it over to the next month, or transfer it to another expense category.
Break down large expenses
Take for example life insurance premiums that are due every 6 months. If your premium costs $2000 a year, that’s $1000 semi-annually. That’s a shock expense if you do not prepare for it. And it eats up a large portion of your paycheck. As a result, you’ll be scraping by the next couple weeks.
Swiping your card or getting a cash advance for it will only put a band aid to your problem. But when the bills arrive, have you got the 1000 ready?
Prepare for your large expenses by breaking it down to a few dollars every month. Large expenses are less frequent so you have enough time to save for them before they arrive. And because you’re breaking it down to smaller expenses, you won’t feel its pressure on your budget.
Budget for every possible expense you may have
Expenses have lots of categories. Examples: groceries, mortgage, medical/dental checkups; then there utilities such as telephone, water, electricity, cable, propane gas, and internet. To top it off, there are credit card bills, car loans, and insurance premiums.
Listing all your possible expense categories is an eye-opening exercise. It gives you a clear picture of where you are actually spending your hard-earned money.
Now what you need to do here is to assign a value to every expense category you have. Of course, you should also have a category for “savings” and/or “investments” too.
By doing this, you won’t be caught by surprise when an expense suddenly pops up. Running out of propane gas while cooking pasta? No worries. You have a budget for that.
What if I run out of money for a certain category? You might ask.
Simple and stress-free approach is to transfer some of your budget to another category. For example, you may want to transfer some money for “fun” to your budget for daily expenses. Having done that, you also have to limit your fun activities to adjust to your budget capacity. You may want to postpone that movie date or dine out until next month. Doing this makes your budget more flexible and less stressful for you.
Again, a budget that is too restrictive will only make you complain right away and give up on budgeting. And that is, for the most part, the reason why people say budgeting doesn’t work. They quit right away because they can’t make it work!
Use your last month’s paycheck
Individuals who live paycheck to paycheck receive their salary, divide their income, and poof, it’s gone. Imagine not having to do that. Imagine not having to spend your paycheck for the month. Isn’t it liberating?
Now that’s the ultimate goal of your budget. It should gradually allow you to live on last month’s income – or even income 6 months ago, why not. When you have that money sitting on your account, stress flies out of the window. You don’t need to time your bills with your paycheck. You’re basically free of those kinds of worry.
Find a way to be able to save an amount equivalent to a whole month’s income. You can do it slowly but surely by keeping part of your income or you can do it fast by working extra or selling stuff. When you are able to live on last month’s income, you have arrived at the sweet spot – you’re out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.