Almost as soon as your paycheck hits your account, it’s spent. It goes to your landlord or mortgage payment, your creditors, service providers and monthly subscriptions. When it comes time to buy groceries, you have to delay the trip until the next payday. That’s what it can be like to live paycheck-to-paycheck. If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Approximately 78% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.
Breaking out of this cycle can seem impossible, especially when you have high-interest credit card debt. Plus, it may seem like unexpected expenses are always around the corner, ready to eat up any money you have managed to save. Sometimes it’s a necessary car repair, other times it’s a birthday gift you feel obligated to buy for a loved one.
It’s true that living paycheck-to-paycheck is often the result of basic living expenses outpacing income. Even if you’re still looking for ways to increase your overall income, preparing to get out of the paycheck-to-paycheck habit now will be a great benefit. With the right mindset and resources, you can make progress toward paying down your debt and saving for your future.
Living paycheck-to-paycheck with a good income
First, let’s dispel the myth that only people with low incomes live paycheck-to-paycheck. Even if you start making more tomorrow, that does not necessarily translate to an increase in savings and a more financially secure future. The truth is that anyone can find themselves living paycheck-to-paycheck, no matter how much they earn each month.
Consider these statistics broken down by income level:
- $100,000 or more: 9% live paycheck-to-paycheck and 59% are in debt
- $50,000 – $99,999: 28% live paycheck-to-paycheck and 70% are in debt
- $49,000 or less: 51% live paycheck-to-paycheck and 73% are in debt
Though everyone’s financial obligations are unique, there are a few common trends that can contribute to a lack of emergency savings and the inevitable struggle to cover monthly expenses aside from not earning a large enough income.
Financial analysts highlight several reasons Americans may live paycheck-to-paycheck:
- Overuse of credit: Convenient access to credit has allowed people to pay for expensive vacations, cars and other goods they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford.
- Skewed asset-to-income ratio: Expensive assets like new cars, boats and other recreational items rarely increase in value after purchase.
- Medical expenses: Collectively, Americans owe more than $81 billion in medical bills.
- High cost of living: For many workers, wages have stagnated since the 1970s and housing prices have risen dramatically.
- Student debt: With the rising cost of college, students and their families are taking on an ever-increasing amount of college debt.
Some of these barriers to financial stability are harder to overcome than others. Getting out of debt and earning more money are tasks that take time, sometimes years. By chipping away at debts and making smart budgets, it gets easier to move away from the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.
How to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck
Escaping the paycheck-to-paycheck life requires motivation, dedication and some good fortune. You can’t control everything, but when you have actionable steps to take, you can focus on your priorities and start making progress.
Write out your reasons for wanting to change
Putting your goals and ambitions on paper makes you more likely to achieve them. In fact, neuroscientists have found that people who vividly describe their goals are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to be successful than those who don’t.
Whether your goal is to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, get out of debt or save for the future, write out why you want those things. What will you do with your savings? How will spend your time? How do you want to feel? Write it down and read it every day until you accomplish your goals.
Track your expenses
If you don’t track how much you spend, you’ll never know how much you could be saving. Finding a tracking method that works for you is essential for success. Some people prefer to record their transactions by hand, while others use smartphone apps to automatically track spending.
One area where you might notice high spending is your food budget. You need to eat, so making cuts here might not be possible. However, eliminating costly processed foods could give you some wiggle room.
Make cuts that work for you
You may find that non-essential entertainment expenses eat up money that could be used for debt repayments. Consider whether your $150 cable bill is really worth it. Likewise, you might have monthly subscriptions that you don’t need—there are many cable cutting options, giving you more flexibility with monthly expenses by eliminating multi-year service contracts. However, with all the great digital options, costs can add up fast. If you can’t decide between the many streaming services, consider alternating between them to keep your entertainment options fresh without the compounded expense of multiple different services.
Want to cut the cord completely? Find ways to replace these with cheaper—or free—alternatives. For example, check out this list of ideas in Portland and start planning fun weekend adventures that won’t hurt your pocketbook. Many free and low-cost local entertainment options are just a Google search away.
Pay down your debts
When you can’t fully pay down your credit card debt each month, you accrue interest that increases the amount you owe. Considering the average credit card interest rate is 19.24%, those payments can add up quickly.
A healthy and manageable amount of credit card debt is ok, but it shouldn’t become a barrier to saving for your future and affording basic living expenses. Some of us use credit for emergency spending and this can be very useful. However, if revolving credit payments are making it difficult to save, you may need to adopt a debt repayment strategy. Learn more about the two most popular debt payment philosophies to start making your plan to become debt-free.
Ask for help
Getting ahead with your finances can seem like trying to climb a mountain by yourself. It’s possible, but you don’t have to do it alone. Depending on your situation, the amount of support you need may vary.
If you’re struggling with overspending, you could ask a close friend to help you stay on track—maybe even a buddy system to help each other and reach your individual goals. Even casual conversations about good financial hygiene can motivate you to stick to your goals.
Knowing your financial habits and behaviors is a key part of understanding your strengths, weaknesses, and how they impact your overall financial health. To learn more about what you can do to get ahead, consider registering for our free financial wellness resource and completing the “My Money Personality” quiz to gain insight on your money personality. Once you’re registered, you’ll also have access to personalized content recommendations, courses, and more.