Month-by-Month Guide to Save $1,000+ and Break the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle This Year

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It’s an easy cycle to fall into — living paycheck to paycheck.

And it’s such 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

Wouldn't life be a little easier if you had a $1,000 cushion in your emergency fund? It's possible! This year, you can break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle for good.

One of the best ways to tackle this 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 a little time. But in the end, it’ll be worth it — and it doesn’t have to be hard.

Over the next several months, follow these steps to get into the habit of saving a little more money. 

Month 1: Get Your Paycheck 2 Days Earlier

Woman taking picture of paycheck
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Want to get a jump on payday? Let Chime be your secret weapon.

Unlike most banks, this online bank won’t wait until your pay date to get your money. As soon as it receives notification of a direct deposit from your employer, it immediately posts those funds to your account — up to two days before payday!

Month 2: Set Aside Money Without Trying

A woman pays for groceries.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

Saving money is tough. So what if you could do it in a way where you wouldn't even notice?

Digit makes that possible.

This innovative app automates saving for you. Simply link it to your checking account, and its algorithms will determine small (and safe!) amounts of money to withdraw into a separate, FDIC-insured savings account.

Using this set-it-and-forget-it strategy, one Penny Hoarder saved $4,300 without noticing — read his Digit review.

If you need that money sooner than expected, you’ll always have access to it within one business day.

Digit is free to use for the first 100 days, then it’s $2.99 per month afterward.

Month 3: Make Money You Don’t Have to Work for

Woman looks at her cell phone.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

To build your savings, start bringing in money you don’t have to work for — like, at all. Here are a few cool ways to build up passive income and savings:

  • Paribus gets you money back for your online purchases. It scans your email archives for receipts. If you’ve bought something from one of its monitored retailers, it’ll track the item’s price and help you get a refund anytime there’s a price drop.
  • An app called Long Game Savings combines playing games and saving money. Automatic savings deposits earn you coins you’ll use to play and hopefully win more coins to play more games or even cash prizes, which will automatically go into your Long Game Savings account.
  • MobileXpression 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 other prizes include iPads and Samsung TVs.

Month 4: Fill This out While You Watch TV

A man pets his dog while drinking beer.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

A number of sites will pay you to read advertisers’ 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.

  • MyPoints: Earn gift cards for taking polls, answering surveys and other things you do online — a great way to cash in on long lines or an endless commute. You’ll earn a $5 bonus when you complete your first five surveys.
  • PointClub: You get points for every survey you take — guaranteed. Plus, the company gives you $5 just for signing up! You can redeem points for gift cards to a ton of useful vendors like Walmart, Amazon and PayPal.
  • Survey Junkie’s clean look and “cashout wheel” keep you motivated to take as many surveys as you want. They're relatively quick to complete and reward you with points. Once you earn 1,000 points — or $10 — you can cash out for gift cards or cash paid via PayPal.

Month 5: Put Your Spare Room to Work

A picture of a bedroom
Photo courtesy of Airbnb

Have a spare room? Might as well try to earn some money by listing it on Airbnb.

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!

(Hosting laws vary from city to city. Please understand the rules and regulations applicable to your city and listing.)

Month 6: Clear Your Closets

A picture of a closet
Samantha Dunscombe/The Penny Hoarder

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. Plus, enter FREE5 at checkout to get an extra $5 for your trade-in order!

What about old clothes? Instead of storing themindefinitely, try selling them. One app we especially like is Letgo. You can literally list your clothes in less than a minute.

Month 7. Reduce Your Monthly Bills

An aerial of a red car driving at the beach.
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

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:

Save On Car Insurance

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.

Cut Down Your Cable & Internet Bills

Meet Charlie. He’s a money-saving penguin. Unfortunately, he’s not here to bring delight to your household with belly flops and fin hugs. Rather, he lives in your SMS text messages or Facebook Messenger (your choice, though Charlie is more fun and reliable on Messenger).

Charlie offers help with a little bit of everything. Our favorite is his knack for finding you free money by making sure you’re getting the best deals around (ahem, overpaying $24 a month on that cell phone bill?).

Getting acquainted with Charlie is easy. When you click “get started” on its homepage, you can opt into chatting via text or Facebook Messenger, and follow his prompts. You’ll connect your bank account or credit card (or both) so he can get to work.

Consolidate Your Debt

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.

Month 8. Collect Bank Bonuses

A tip jar is full of cash
Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Here’s a super simple way to boost your savings quickly and with almost no work.

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!

It's up to you to decide how to manage several bank accounts. But we find when you’re building your savings, it's helpful to have multiple places to “hide” money so you’re less likely to spend it.

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.

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