Here’s a terrifying statistic: In a survey commissioned by Financial Fitness Group in 2014, over 48% of respondents reported ‘just getting by financially’ and ‘living paycheck to paycheck’ all the time. Not just during the holiday season, not some of the time, not even most of the time. All the time.
Varying circumstances can make it seem like living paycheck to paycheck is unavoidable. Student loans, low pay and limited family support means that the burden rests squarely on your shoulders. Moreover, some of us face even greater challenges, such as dealing with physical limitations and disease, or being responsible for children and elderly relatives.
Grab those bootstraps
Buckling up may be the furthest thing from your mind, with holiday shopping and a never-ending list of expenses expected by the end of the year. We’ll show you the 7 steps necessary to do more than just get by financially. This time next year, you’ll have a lot to be thankful for.
1. Visualize your goal: You’ve likely spent countless hours worrying over your financial situation, feeling like a failure and perhaps succumbing to hopelessness. Your imagination is a powerful tool; don’t let it continue to bring you down. Focus on a new endeavor – envisioning what will life be like when you’re not living paycheck to paycheck.
Where will you live? How will you spend your weekends? Which hobby will you take up?
Has your sleep quality improved? Don’t be afraid to get even more specific: How much money is in your checking account? How about your savings account? Once you have vividly visualized these dreams, you’ll recognize them as soon as they come true. You’ll pat yourself on the back soon enough.
2. Automate your savings: Didn’t get around to saving much recently? Don’t make the mistake of trusting your future self with the decision to save. When money is tight, it’s just too tempting to spend up to the last penny, as every affordable expense seems crucial. Set up an automatic transfer when payday is expected, or better yet, leave the decision up to an impartial judge. Our genius (and free) Auto-Saving solution that also happens to offer up to 3% interest when referring friends to the service – the highest in the country – analyzes your finances, then begins putting money aside in small increments. You won’t even notice, and before you know it, you’ll have a nice cushion.
While you’re being extra responsible, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. In this metaphor, ‘eggs’ are your savings, and the basket is a single savings account. Pooling all of your savings under one account will cause you to barely notice any progress, and make you perpetually scared to dip into it. To enjoy the fruits of your labor, set up several savings accounts for different purposes: An emergency fund, a vacation fund, and even something seemingly frivolous like a new iPhone fund. Whatever keeps you motivated!
3. Clear your plate: It’s time to look for hidden money. Take a look at each of your fixed monthly expenses separately. This means getting in your with relevant figures to determine how much you can save on your rent, insurance, cell service and cable bills. It also means going the extra mile and tackling those often-overlooked recurring charges.
Some recurring payments are essential (just try giving up Netflix), but it’s the non-essential ones we tend to forget. Unfortunately, we forget them after we’ve given authorization to withdraw money from our account regularly. Take a look at your Change account to see just whom you’re paying each month, and how much you’re paying them, and make a founded decision about how to spend that money.
4. Actively seek & take advantage of benefits: Although this is a no-brainer, 56% of households do not participate in an employer-sponsored savings retirement plan, such as a 401(k). Moreover, many employees choose not to take advantage of other benefits such as health and even corporate discounts, losing the equivalent of hundreds and even thousands of dollars every year.
To avoid falling into this category, ask your company’s HR department for a benefits booklet or an employee handbook, and familiarize yourself with your state’s employment benefits laws. Odds are, there’s quite a bit of money for the taking. Take it!
5. Remove fees from your life: If you’ve received an alert from Change about impending overdraft, you’re living on the edge. What’s more, slipping below a zero balance won’t just mean buckling your belt until more money comes in. Even a mere $10 charge over your limit can lead to an exorbitant overdraft fee of up to $35 per day. That can add up quickly, burying you under a mountain of fees you may need months to dig yourself out of. What are you supposed to do, monitor your account round the clock?
If only someone invented a tool that alerts you to impending overdraft… Oh wait, we did! Predictive Overdraft Protection™ monitors your account and lets you know when there’s something to worry about. If there is cause for concern, we’ll even front you an interest-free cash advance to tide you over. And just like Auto-Saving, it’s totally free.
6. Earn more money: Wait, wait, Hear us out. As far as excuses go, we’ve heard them all. No time, no skills and no energy, to name a few. Regardless of what you may think it entails, we guarantee there’s a side gig out there for you. Figure out a way to earn extra cash every month, and then put that money to good use. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean lattes.
7. Face your bad habits: Lattes, cigarettes, music festivals… Whether or not it’s a classically ‘bad’ habit, you’re spending more than you should on one vice or another, and it’s time to own up to it. If you’re not sure what it is, here’s a foolproof method to finding out: Take a look at your bank statements from the past year, and figure out your top 10 spending categories. The usual suspects should be rent, groceries, insurance, loan payments and utilities. If you see one or more surprising categories make the list – such as flights, clothes, Craigslist, modern photography or cat toys – that’s your queue to rein it in.
Instead of waiting for New Year’s to make a decision that’ll change your life, start running through the seven steps today. It won’t happen overnight, but your finances will improve gradually until a year from now, you’ll be ready to reap the fruits of your hard work. And how’s this for a prediction: If you don’t step up now, come Christmas 2018, you’ll beat yourself over not getting yourself together a year ago.