Ever since I was young, I have had a piggy bank, a place where I threw my change in to help de-clutter my pockets. Every month I broke into that piggy bank, counted my change in order to buy myself an ice-cream cone, or, if I had waited long enough, I might even have had enough money for a Barbie doll. As I got older, I stopped throwing change into the piggy bank and left it in my pockets because, frankly, I needed all the change I could get, especially in college. I still do today, and so do many workers and job seekers.
If you’ve seen the stock market news in the past few weeks (or even the past couple of years), you know many Americans are in a time of uncertainty about the future of our economy and breaking into that piggy bank is a necessary reality. If you find yourself rationing your pennies and cutting back on expenses, you are not alone. A recent CareerBuilder survey found that almost half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Although the figures are slightly better than this time last year, it is still a reality for many Americans.
Let’s look at the numbers:
- 42 percent of workers report that they usually or always live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet
- 46 percent of female workers live paycheck to paycheck compared to 38 percent of their male counterparts
- 14 percent of workers who earn six figures live paycheck to paycheck
Despite having to countdown until every payday, workers simply cannot give up certain items, regardless of their financial worries. When asked what items they could not give up, workers cited access to the Internet, driving and their mobile phones. Waiting to win the lottery might not be the most plausible idea, so I have gathered some basic budgeting tips that will help you track your spending and find ways to cut your costs:
Look at your expenses under a microscope
Although spreadsheets can be tedious work if you’re not a numbers guru, they can make budgeting manageable. List all of your monthly expenses, such as rent, insurance, utilities and then have categories for groceries, gas, going out and shopping. If you are tech-savvy and would rather keep your finances in check on your phone or computer, there are numerous applications and programs that will help you track your finances. And best of all, many of them are free.
Put an amount away, even if it is small
Hard as it may be, start saving. Even if you only have a few dollars to set aside, put away money for short term and long term savings. If you have trouble remembering or fitting savings into your budget, try setting up an automatic deposit into a savings account. Even $2.00 here and $4.00 there can add up over time.
Savings may be right under your nose
Talk to your HR department about how you can make the most of the benefits at your organization. Also, find out if your company offers discounts to stores or for other services, and ask about how you can make sure you’ve selected the right benefits plans for your budget.
Find alternatives to your lifestyle
There are simple ways to cut corners in order to save money. Bring your lunch to work instead of over-spending when going out to restaurants. Bring water in a reusable water bottle instead of using change on soda pop. Ride your bike to work or to the grocery store if possible, that way you can save some pennies on gas. Make your own coffee and bring it work. You may not realize that your $4.00 no whip, easy foam, extra hot mocha from your local café makes a dent in your savings, but it does.
Use coupons and find savings in everyday items
For those of you who have seen “Extreme Couponing,” a new reality show, you may understand the benefits of coupons. If you have not seen it, the premise of the show centers everyday people who save hundreds of dollars at the grocery store and come home with tons of products. Maybe you don’t need to buy 45 bottles of ketchup, but coupons can be a big help when you’re trying to stretch your paycheck. There are plenty of ways to save on groceries, gas and restaurants if you keep an eye out for coupons.
Financial security feels like a luxury in today’s economy, but with a little bit of extra effort and attention to your finances you can take some baby steps to get there. It’s rough right now for both job seekers and workers who feel like more money is going out than coming in, so the best thing you can do right now is know what your finances are and have a plan that works for you.
How are you saving — or at least trying to save — money in today’s economy? Are you living paycheck to paycheck, too?