Living paycheck to paycheck can be a limiting (and somewhat scary) routine, Grownups. Blogger Chonce Maddox explains how she broke the cycle.
My parents lived paycheck to paycheck, and so did everyone I knew.
I did, too: I’d get paid every two weeks, go on a spending quest to pay bills, make purchases I’d put on hold because I couldn’t afford them the previous week, pay for a little entertainment, and so on. It was a vicious cycle.
Before my next paycheck would come in, I’d need to penny pinch and cut back significantly just to get by. I’d be desperate for my next check so I could do it all over again.
My paycheck controlled me—it was the puppet master and I was the puppet. It told me where I could go, what I could spend, and how I was going to live my life.
I didn’t want that to be my life story, so I broke the paycheck to paycheck cycle. I finally feel in control and have peace of mind.
Here’s how I stopped living paycheck to paycheck.
I Calculated Living Expenses
I wanted to see how my monthly spending compared to my general needs. I knew I was spending more than necessary each month, and my goal was to get at least one month ahead so I could live on the previous month’s income without having to wait for my next paycheck.
Calculating my fixed and variable expenses was easy and gave me a target. I knew I needed to save a certain amount of money to meet my needs for at least one month. By saving that money as a bare minimum, I’d no longer feel stuck waiting around for a paycheck.
I Said No
Saying no to myself was what really allowed me to reach my goal. I realized that by saying no to my impulse choices more often, I could say yes to myself more when it mattered most.
I stopped going on a spending frenzy on payday and decided to lie low. To help, I took all my credit cards out of my wallet and let my significant other hide them somewhere in the house. Getting into debt would only delay my progress in terms of breaking the paycheck to paycheck cycle.
It wasn’t a big shocker to see that I survived just fine without the extra unnecessary spending—and I was able to stretch my paycheck further.
Saying no to myself was crucial because it gave me the confidence to say no to other people. When others asked me to do things, pay for things, or attend expensive events, I had to say no so I could reach the savings goal I set for myself.
This was hard at times, but it was only temporary and put me in a much better financial situation.
I Maximized Bonuses and Extra Earnings
Now that I was living below my means, I was able to start maximizing other earnings like bonuses at my job, my annual raise, and side hustle income. When I received a 10 percent raise from my employer, I maintained my current living standards and saved the extra money.
I opened a high-yield online savings account and deposited $50 to start. I tried to save as much as I could each month, even if it wasn’t a lot to start. Over time the balance grew, and saving became fun and exciting for me for the first time.
To earn extra money, I did the following:
- Started freelance writing
- Joined loyalty rewards programs like Swagbucks to earn gift cards to cover some regular expenses (e.g., toiletries, clothes, household items) to free up more of my income
- Sold items from my home online and at local consignment stores
- Took on brand ambassadorship gigs by demonstrating products and preparing samples in local stores.
Earning extra money so I could save more and meet my target goal faster was a must. I realized while I had to rein in my spending—as a recent college grad with an entry-level job—I also had an income problem which would work against my goal to break the paycheck to paycheck cycle.
I Found a Secret Weapon
The biggest enemy to someone who lives paycheck to paycheck is not having any savings lined up as a backup. Opening a savings account and making regular contributions is the secret weapon.
Unexpected expenses will pop up, and they’ll seem like emergencies to someone who is living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford any surprises. Even though I didn’t earn much, I couldn’t afford to spend every penny I earned each month, then cross my fingers and hope that I wouldn’t have to make any additional purchases until I got paid.
Saving at least one month’s expenses and a baby emergency fund of $2,000 helped set me on the right track.
Because I set myself up to save more, I no longer live paycheck to paycheck. If my car needs a new battery or new brakes, it’s not a financial emergency because I have the money saved up.
If I want to sign my son up for a sport, I have the money to do so. I’m also not adding up nickels and dimes and stressing out over how I’m going to pay my rent next month.
A life that isn’t bound by your next paycheck is possible—and will provide you with so much peace of mind. I wouldn’t trade that peace of mind for anything.
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