8 Tips for Anyone Who’s Counting the Minutes Until Their Next Paycheck

a woman's hands count money.
Carmen Mandato/ The Penny Hoarder

If you survive on ramen as payday approaches, you’re in good company: Nearly 8 in 10 workers in the U.S. say they live paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey.

And people with low incomes aren’t the only ones struggling. About 1 in 10 workers surveyed who said they earn six figures or more reported living paycheck to paycheck.

Breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle is never easy; if you plan to try, you’ll have to take a hard look at your mindset and habits.

8 Ways to Break the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Lifestyle

“Money Girl” host Laura Adams outlines tactics for breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle in the episode “8 Tactics to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck.” By saving even a small amount each month, you can achieve greater financial security and finally feel less stressed about money.

1. Acknowledge the Problem

If you’re not saving money, you’re one emergency away from financial disaster. Your first step is to figure out why it’s so hard for you to save. Maybe you’re overspending, or perhaps you need a side hustle because your paycheck barely covers your bills. Once you figure out the “why,” you can change your habits to start saving money.

2. Stop Worrying About Your Self-Image

When you obsess about looking successful, you risk living a lifestyle you can’t afford. No amount of material goods will make you happy. Focus on yourself and your goals, and find ways to fill emotional voids that don’t require spending.

Another pro tip: Learn to say “no.” Repeat it whenever someone pressures you to overspend or distracts you from your goals.

3. Track Your Spending

If you want to have cash left over from your paycheck, you need to track everything you spend. There are tons of tools that you can use to track your spending, including budgeting apps, Google Sheets and Excel. Or you could take the old-school approach to budgeting by documenting each transaction in a paper notebook.

4. Focus on Your Biggest Expenses First

If you’re living in a home you can’t afford or drive a car that’s beyond your budget, you’ll probably never stop living paycheck to paycheck, no matter how much you cut the smaller stuff.

Try to avoid spending more than 20-25% of your gross income on rent or your mortgage, even if that means you need to downsize by finding a smaller place, get a roommate or move in with family. Your car payment shouldn’t eat up more than 10% of your gross budget, so consider a cheaper ride or alternative transportation if you’re paying too much.

5. Re-evaluate Your Debt

By refinancing your home or consolidating your credit card debt, you could save big bucks on interest. Adams’ Online Loan Comparison Chart can help you compare your lending options.

6. Set Up Automated Savings

Automation is your friend when it comes to saving money. You’ll be less tempted to spend money when you save it before you have the chance to touch it.

If you contribute to a workplace retirement account like a 401(k), you’ve already automated savings because contributions can only be taken out of your paycheck. Consider setting up automated transfers to an individual retirement account (IRA), 529 savings plan for your child’s education or a savings account.

7. Find Ways to Earn More Money

Sometimes cutting expenses isn’t enough. If you need to make more money, consider getting a second job, working extra hours at your primary job or taking on a side hustle. There are tons of ways to earn extra money, such as driving for Uber or Lyft, grocery delivery, taking online surveys, and more. Or, perhaps it’s time to make the case to your employer that you deserve a raise or promotion.

8. Focus on Future You

It’s frustrating when you feel like your paycheck never goes far enough, but change takes time. Focus on where you want to be in the long term — think five, 10 or even 20 years down the line. By thinking about the big picture, you can set smaller goals that will help you get there someday.

Listen to the full podcast for the full eight tips on breaking the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, plus find bonus tips for saving on your electric bill from The Penny Hoarder’s Lisa Rowan.

Robin Hartill is a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder.