A Month by Month Guide to Saving $1,000+ and Ending the Paycheck to Paycheck Lifestyle
It’s an easy cycle to fall into — living paycheck to paycheck.
And it’s a hard cycle to break.
Payday comes along, and it’s time to funnel money toward rent and (overdue) bills. And that doesn’t count groceries or other necessities you’ll need before next payday.
But, trust us: There are ways out — and we want to help.
How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck This Year
One of the best ways to tackle the cycle to the cold, hard ground is to take it step by step. No, you won’t get ahead overnight; this is going to take time. But, in the end, it’ll be worth it — and it doesn’t have to be hard.
Follow these steps for the next 12 months to save your first $1,000, get into the habit of saving and break the paycheck to paycheck cycle.
But First: Open a New Bank Account
Keeping your newfound savings in a dedicated account makes it easier to avoid spending it. (Out of sight, out of mind, right?)
Here’s one we love: Chime is an online-only bank account that offers some unique features other banks haven’t caught on to yet.
- Chime doesn’t charge overdraft fees, monthly maintenance fees, foreign transaction fees or minimum balance fees.
- Chime customers have access to thousands of fee-free MoneyPass ATMs around the country.
- When you set your payroll up for direct deposit to your Chime spending account, your paycheck will post two days before payday, giving you more time to plan, save and pay the bills.
- You can open an easy-to-access, connected savings account. It allows you to automate your savings with features like the round-up tool, which will round up your transactions to the nearest dollar and dump the change into savings.
- Its mobile app boasts more than 2,000 five-star reviews, making managing money super accessible via iPhone or Android.
- It has a “Pay Friends” feature, so you don’t have to mess with cash, math or other apps to split the bill.
Plus, it takes about five minutes to sign up. The bank verifies your personal information, takes note that you’re at least 18 or older, then you’re good to go. No opening deposit required.
Note that the biggest complaint is a lack of mobile check deposit, but Chime assures its customers the feature is coming soon.
For an account that’ll help you strike up savings — and that’ll pay you two days early — check out Chime.
Month 1: Start Investing (Seriously, You Can Afford This)
If you’re like most of us and wish your money would just take care of itself consider starting an investment account through Acorns.
You can start small — with $5 — and stack up change over time with its “round-up” feature. That means if you spend $10.23 at the grocery store, 77 cents gets dropped into your Acorns account.
Then, the app does the whole investing thing for you.
The idea is you won’t miss the digital pocket change, and the automatic savings stack up faster than you’d think. For example, Penny Hoarder Dana Sitar was able to stash $420 away per year.
But the beauty is you can set your own pace with Acorns’ features, so if you want — and can afford — to invest $1,000 faster, go for it.
The app is $1 a month for balances under $5,000, and you’ll get a $5 bonus when you sign up.
This app could help you save $420 — or more! — by the end of a year.
Month 2: Start a Passive Income Stream
Start bringing in money you don’t have to work for — like, at all.
If you’re a regular Amazon shopper, the ShopTracker app will pay you each month for contributing to research to help companies understand what people are buying online. Companies use this information to improve the online shopping experience.
To earn a $3 Visa gift card today, plus $3 for every month you share your purchase info:
- Sign up and download the ShopTracker app on your Windows computer and Apple or Android phone. It takes about two minutes. You’ll need to answer a few questions about your Amazon use to qualify.
- Open the app and log in to your Amazon account to automatically share your purchase history.
- You’ll receive your Visa e-gift card code for $3 via email within 48 hours.
- Take a couple of minutes to share your purchase history to earn another $3 each month.
Your information is collected securely by The Harris Poll, a trusted market research company for more than 20 years. ShopTracker removes your name, shipping address and any personal payment information before reporting your purchase history.
You’ll earn $3 today and another $3 per month — that’s $36 a year.
Month 3: Get Back the Money You’ve Already Spent
One simple way to save money is to earn an unexpected refund for something you already bought.
Start by getting money back for those online impulse buys.
One of our secret weapons is called Paribus — a tool that gets you money back for your online purchases. It’s free to sign up, and once you do, it will scan your email archives for any receipts. If it discovers you’ve purchased something from one of its monitored retailers, it will track the item’s price and help you get a refund anytime there’s a price drop.
Plus, if your guaranteed shipment shows up late, Paribus will help you get money back for what you paid for shipping.
To save on your pricy groceries, there’s another app we recommend. It’s called Fetch Rewards, and all you have to do to earn rewards is take a photo of your receipt.
No scanning barcodes; no searching for offers; no store limitations.
Here’s what to do:
- Download the Fetch Rewards app. (Pst: Enter the code PENNY to earn 2,000 free points!)
- Create an account with your email address or through Facebook.
- Take a photo of your grocery receipt (must be from the past 14 days).
Fetch Rewards finds opportunities for you to earn rewards for your everyday purchases.
Every time you scan a receipt that includes one of more than 250 participating brands, you’ll earn points — without worrying about matching specific product offers.
If the app does find a match, you’ll earn even more. For example, we recently saw an offer of 2,000 points when you purchase a Suave female hair product. And another for 2,000 points for a 12-pack of Blue Moon.
Once you collect enough points, cash out for a gift card to any of a number of retailers. For example, 10,000 points will get you a $10 Sephora gift card. Or 3,000 points will get you a $3 Panera Bread card.
Go ahead, and start fetching points toward gift cards by downloading Fetch Rewards.
(And, yeah, we somehow resisted the obvious “Mean Girls” reference. You’re welcome.)
If you earn back just $5 in price drops and cash back per month, you’d bank an extra $60 in a year!
Month 4: Fill out Surveys While You Watch TV or on Your Commute
A number of sites will pay you to read advertiser’s emails, sign up for offers and take surveys.
We’ve tried about a million of them (OK… we’ve lost count), but there are only a few we’d recommend.
VIP Voice is one of those companies. The surveys are relatively quick to complete and reward you with points you can redeem for cash or gift cards.
Sign up for VIP Voice and log in a few times each week. You’ll have no trouble earning an extra $30 a month with almost no work.
At that rate, you’ll bank $360 in a year.
Another option we like is PointClub. This is awesome because you’ll get points for every single survey you take — guaranteed. Plus, the company gives you $5 just for signing up! Once you accrue enough of them, you can redeem those points for gift cards to a ton of useful vendors like Walmart, Amazon and PayPal.
Month 5: Join an Online Focus Group
You might recognize the Ipsos Panel name because it’s the same company that does most of the political polling during elections. It also has a survey app called i-Say that pays you for your opinions.
Some of the top-end surveys can pay up to $95, but those are rare and can take awhile to complete. Most surveys pay a buck or two and only take 10 to 15 minutes.
Also, i-Say rewards you with points you can redeem for cash via PayPal or gift cards to Amazon, iTunes and others. (For example, you can redeem 1,000 points for a $10 PayPal deposit).
For more options, Opinion Outpost also offers surveys from all kinds of businesses and organizations.
Log in 20 to 30 minutes a week to answer questions, and you could easily bank $5 to $10 each month.
That could add up to $120 after a year.
Month 6: Pick up a Simple Side Gig
Have a spare room? Might as well use Airbnb to make some money by renting it out.
If you’re a good host with a desirable space, you could add hundreds — even thousands — of dollars to your savings account with Airbnb.
And there’s no reason you can’t be creative. We found a guy who earns $1,380 a month renting out a backyard tent on Airbnb!
A few simple steps can make the difference between a great experience and a less-than-satisfactory one.
Here are some tips:
- Make your space available during high-demand times in your area. Think: concerts, conventions and sporting events.
- Be a good host, and stock your place with the toiletries you’d expect at a hotel — toilet paper, soap and towels.
- Be personable. A lot of travelers turn to Airbnb for the personal touch they won’t find at commercial properties.
Try renting your room just a couple nights each month to earn $100, and you’ll set aside $1,200 this year!
You could even put half your earnings toward monthly expenses and still save $600 in a year.
(Hosting laws vary from city to city. Please understand the rules and regulations applicable to your city and listing.)
Month 7: Automate Your Savings
Some simple tricks can help you continue to build a stash of cash.
That’s where micro-savings apps come into the picture — like Stash.
With its Smart-Save feature, Stash users can automatically tuck money into an emergency fund (or a vacation reserve) without thinking.
Let us walk you through how it works:
- Sign up for Stash in about two minutes, tops. Plus, you’ll get a $5 bonus just for opening your account!
- Connect your checking account to the app.
- Smart-Save does the rest, analyzing your available funds, spending and income to calculate exactly how much you can afford to save.
- Watch the automated savings build.
If you’re tight on money one week, you can easily turn off the automated feature. Or if you need to tap into your savings, you can withdraw at any time.
Plus, it’s nice knowing Stash will never cause you to spin into overdraft. If your balance is low, Smart-Save won’t initiate a transfer.
Sneak a peek at Stash’s Smart-Save feature — then try to say that five times fast…
Please note, the Smart-Save feature is not a savings account offered by a bank. Smart-Save is a feature that may be turned on and connected to the checking account that is linked to your Stash Invest account.
To save $1,000 in one year, you’d only have to stash $19 a week.
Month 8: Download These Apps (Yeah, That’s It)
A number of companies will actually pay you for downloading apps on your smartphone or computer — and you’ll get paid again for every month you keep them installed, so this is a great way to boost your passive income for the rest of the year!
The apps collect data and help companies better understand web and mobile usage — such as what times of day people browse, how long they stay on websites and use apps, and what types of sites and apps are popular (or not).
Here are some apps we’ve checked out:
- Smart Panel: You’ll earn $5 just for downloading this app, plus $5 for every month you keep it installed. And you get periodic “loyalty bonuses,” so you’ll earn up to $110 by the end of a year (and another $120 in your second year)!
- MobileXpressions for iPhones: After you’ve installed this app for one week, you get to play an instant rewards game for a prize (everyone wins something). We’ve seen users win a $25 Amazon gift card, but some of the other prizes include iPads and Samsung TVs.
- MobileXpressions for Android: This one is the same as above, but for Android devices.
Month 9: Finally Part With Your Copy of ‘Jagged Little Pill’
Have a bunch of movies or CDs collecting dust on a shelf? Decluttr will pay you for them!
Decluttr buys your old CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays and video games, plus hardware like cell phones, tablets, game consoles and iPods.
We talked to one user, Gil Flores, who sold about 100 DVDs and 75 CDs and made $275 — an average of $1.57 each.
Just download the app and start scanning the barcodes on your media to get immediate quotes. It’s completely free to use, you won’t pay listing or seller fees, payment is super fast and even shipping is free.
Plus, enter FREE5 at checkout to get an extra $5 for your trade-in order!
Even if your collection isn’t as hefty as Flores’, maybe you could add $50 to your bank account?
Month 10: Rate Local Businesses (Without Looking Like a Jerk on Yelp)
Got an eye for great service? You could make money — and get the occasional free meal — as a mystery shopper.
Companies want to know the employees serving their customers are putting a good face on the brand. Because a CEO of a huge chain can’t pull an “Undercover Boss” every week, many companies send mystery shoppers into the field to rate the customer experience.
This can be a simple way to make extra money — if you’re efficient. Here’s what to do — and what not to do — if you want to be a successful mystery shopper.
If you make about $30 a month as a mystery shopper, you can bank $360 in a year.
Month 11: Clear Your Closets
Do you still have a prom outfit from, like, 10 years ago?
It’s never going to fit — or come into style — again, but something just keeps holding you back from sending it to Goodwill.
Maybe money could change your mind. Instead of storing clothes indefinitely, try selling them.
One app we especially like is Letgo. You can literally list your clothes in less than a minute.
Think you can find one item a month you’re willing to part with for $10?
That’ll bank you $120 in a year!
Month 12: Cut Your Monthly Bills
You might think you’re squeezed to the limit because of monthly bills you can’t escape. We bet you can find places to save. Here are a few tricks:
- Trim: The price of internet — and cable, if you’re still into that kind of thing — certainly isn’t decreasing. If anything, prices are steadily climbing. A negotiation bot like Trim will negotiate your cable or internet bills down for you. It works with Comcast, Time Warner, Charter and other major providers. There’s no fee to use it until you save. Trim takes 25% of the savings tab, and you get the rest.
- Upstart: Ever considered refinancing your debt? It could substantially lower payments you’re already making and help you save more money each month. A good resource is online lending platform Upstart, which can help you find a loan without relying on only your conventional credit score.
- The Zebra: There’s no getting around car insurance, unfortunately. But one way you could save money is by shopping around and comparing rates at least once a year. The Zebra, an online car insurance search engine that offers “insurance in black and white,” compares your options from 204 providers in less than 60 seconds.
- Qoins can help you get debt-free without really thinking about it. It rounds up each purchase you make to the nearest dollar. The app tracks the roundups and makes withdrawals in about $5 intervals that it automatically pays toward a debt account of your choice each month.
If you can cut your expenses by $100 a month, you’ll bank an extra $1,200 a year!
Year 2: Collect Bank Bonuses
This hobby is way more fun than stamp collecting.
We’ve put together a list of our favorite bank promotions happening right now. These banks will pay you up to $300 just to open a new account! Here’s one of our favorites:
Visit this Chase Total Checking® page to apply online, or enter your email address to get a unique coupon to take with you to open your account at any Chase branch.
This coupon expires on April 16, 2018, so you’ll need to complete the application at a brick-and-mortar location before then.
- Get a $200 bonus when you open a new Chase Total Checking® account and set up direct deposit.
- Get a $150 bonus when you open a new Chase Savings(SM) account, deposit a total of $10,000 or more in new money within 10 days, and maintain a $10,000 balance for 90 days. You’re not required to open the savings account to earn the $200 Chase checking bonus.
It’s up to you to decide how to manage several bank accounts. Some of us find it’s helpful to have multiple places to stick our money for various purposes — we’re less likely to touch it that way.
You could always open an account, collect the bonus, and close it when you’re no longer using it — just make sure you read the details and know the requirements you need to meet to earn the bonus.
So you don’t have to juggle too many at once, try opening a new account every few months — and collect about $800 in bonuses in a year.
Fine print from Chase:
Checking offer is not available to existing Chase checking customers, those with fiduciary accounts, or those whose accounts have been closed within 90 days or closed with a negative balance. To receive the $200 checking bonus: 1) Open a new Chase Total Checking account, which is subject to approval; 2) Deposit $25 or more at account opening; AND 3) Have your direct deposit made to this account within 60 days of account opening. Your direct deposit needs to be an electronic deposit of your paycheck, pension or government benefits (such as Social Security) from your employer or the government. After you have completed all the above requirements, we’ll deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days. You can only receive one new checking account-related bonus per calendar year. Bonus is considered interest and will be reported on IRS Form 1099-INT.
Account Closing: If your checking account is closed within six months after opening, we will deduct the bonus amount at closing.
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