Living Paycheck to Paycheck: A Quick Guide to Making Your Paycheck Last

February 20, 2017
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Living paycheck to paycheck got you feeling all weary, doesn’t it?

A few of you have reached out to me, either through email or the reader survey I sent out a few months ago. You have expressed concerned about being able to get ahead, but it just seems like you can’t make your paycheck last until your next payday.

I have a goal of being one month ahead of my expenses; however, some of you are simply trying to stay $10 ahead. How can you possibly fathom being a month ahead of your expenses when you’re worried about right now?

I feel you. I really do and that’s why this advice is going to be a hard pill to swallow.

There isn’t some magic formula and you can’t wave a fairy wand and make this situation go away. Learning how to stop living from paycheck to paycheck isn’t an easy process.

You have to be willing to do the work involved to help you get ahead. If you’re not ready to do something about it, reading this won’t help.

I’ve written this for those of you who are ready to throw in the towel to this way of getting by and are finally ready to do everything possible to make paycheck to paycheck living a thing of the past.

If you’re with me, continue on.


Are you living paycheck to paycheck? This quick start guide will help you make your paycheck last longer!


Living Paycheck to Paycheck: The Ultimate Guide to Making Your Paycheck Last


1) Budgeting

This is the foundation, good people. If you don’t know where your money is going, it’s impossible to make your money last until your next paycheck.

It’s sort of like that saying my mama used to say, “out there spending money like its water.”

You turn on the faucet and you know all that extra water is going down the drain but you’re not sure how much water you’re wasting until the water bill comes.

The only way you’re going to know where you are spending all of your money is 1) by tracking your spending for a few months and 2) creating a budget to tell your money where to go in the future.

Tracking your spending helps you figure out where the money is going and the budget is telling your money that you want to spend it here instead of wasting it on stuff that doesn’t even matter to you.

Related Reading: Budgeting for Beginners: The Ultimate Budgeting Series


2) Stop overspending.

If you start tracking your money as suggested, you will be able to clearly see the areas where you’re overspending. You know, where you’re wasting water and all.

If your biggest area of overspending is in the takeout or dining out category, you have to find a solution to help you cut back or eliminate this spending altogether.

You can try using to save on date nights out or you can meal prep on Sunday so you have enough meals to take to work for lunch. If you’re brave enough and decide to cut the expense altogether, cook at home and start meal planning. Here’s a free 2 week meal plan to get you started.

Related Reading: 8 Easy Ways to Stop Overspending


3) Save on groceries

That brings me to my next point — groceries.

Food is usually the second largest expense besides shelter. There are several ways you can cut back spending in this category to help make your paycheck last longer.

You can stockpile on frequently used items when they are at rock bottom prices. There are apps like Ibotta that you download on your phone to save money on grocery and household items.

Most importantly, you can create meal plans and make a list of all items you need before you go grocery shopping. With a plan, you will be able to determine how much food you need to last you to your next paycheck.

Try Ibotta and get a free $10 bonus when you sign up. It’s free!


Related Reading: Reader Question:

How Do I Break an Eating Out Habit

11 Easy Ways to Save Money on Groceries Without Coupons


4) Cut out unnecessary bills like cable.

I hear this all the time, “I’ve got to have my cable.”

This is cool and all, but if you’re struggling to make it to your next paycheck, either you’re willing to give up some things to get where you want or you can continue on with your regularly scheduled program.

I’ve been cable free for six years now. We most recently signed up for Sling that allows us to pay a subscription for certain sports and lifestyle channels only offered on cable.

Other than that, we’ve been winging it with Hulu, Netflix, and a good antenna like this one.

By doing this, we’ve added $130 back to our budget and it’s not killing us. We aren’t any less entertained than we were when we had cable.

And even if we get two to three months ahead and never have to entertain living paycheck to paycheck again, I wouldn’t be so eager to sign up for that cable package again.

This applies to any unnecessary bills you may have. If you have a gym subscription you aren’t using, you can get rid of it. If you still have a home phone but you’re never home, maybe you can eliminate it too.

You know your situation, so sit down and think of everything you’re spending money on and write it down. Then go through and mark out those things you can live without and add up your savings.

Related Reading: Can Cutting Cable Save Your Finances


5) Go on an all-cash diet.


Broke on Purpose Cash Budgeting System Money Envelopes 2


If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, try going on an all-cash diet for your everyday spending. This wouldn’t apply to day-to-day bills that may come out of your checking account, like your mortgage.

I’m talking about your day-to-day spending like gas, groceries, grooming, medication, fun money, etc.

My friend Melody over at Broke on Purpose has some very pretty and affordable cash envelopes (shown above) that will help you divvy up your money by category.

There are 12 envelopes available and you can create your own bundle to get the envelopes for your particular expenses. The price is right on these too at just $1.25 to $2.00.

Check out the Broke on Purpose’s Money Envelopes here.


6) Get more for free!

There are a lot of different ways to get stuff for free, especially on the internet. You just have to exercise a little patience, of course.

My favorite way to get free stuff is through Swagbucks and taking surveys. I don’t take surveys as much as I used to, but I do buckle down and get a few done when I don’t want to spend my cash on a few upcoming expenses.

For instance, my daughter and I were in a wedding the week before Christmas. I didn’t want to spend any more money, so I got on my favorite survey site and started taking a few extra surveys.

Those extra surveys cashed out enough to get a gift card to Amazon where I purchased her flower girl shoes. Yes, honey. Shoes.

The two survey companies I earn the quickest from are Pinecone Research and Vindale Research. I also refer friends to Swagbucks from social media and earn passive Swagbucks on their Swagbucks earnings.

Check out this post for other awesome survey companies you can try.


7) If you shop online, make sure you’re getting free shipping and cash back.

If you’re shopping online, you might as well get something out of it. If you’re spending on true needs, those savings can certainly add up to a lot of money over time.

You can get cash back towards your purchases through sites like Ebates or MyPoints. By shopping through these portals, you can often score free shipping and other coupon deals on different websites like Macy’s, JCPenney, Old Navy, Bed Bath and Beyond, Target, Amazon, Wal-mart, Groupon, and more.

And even if you don’t shop online, Ibotta’s cash-back app gives you cash back for in-store shopping, including retail stores! Stop leaving money on the table. If there is a way to save, do it, but make sure you’re not spending just to get the savings (that’s a whole other topic for another day).

Sign up with Mypoints and get a free $10 gift card with your first $20 qualifying purchase.


8) Renegotiate or lower existing bills.

I recently lowered our security alarm bill using a service called Bill Cutterz. They will call the company for you and negotiate your price down for at least two years worth of service and you pay them half of the savings for the first year.

It was a fairly easy service to use and I was impressed at how quick they were able to get it done. However, I’m sure I could have gotten on the phone and did it myself had I not been so lazy.

So, if you want to save money, carve out the time to call your bill collectors and negotiate your bills or try out a service like Bill Cutterz (they aren’t paying me or anything and I’m not an affiliate of their product…just sharing in case you’re feeling a little lazy like me — nothing wrong with that.)


9) Have no spend days every week.

Another surefire way to make your paycheck last longer is to have a no spend day (days) every single week.

Your aim could be to avoid spending money on Fridays and Sundays. I usually have no spend days every other weekend. It’s quite easy for me since I don’t like going out in public and all.

There are other ways to keep yourself entertained other than spending money. By eliminating one coffee shop run and a run to a fast food joint, you’re looking at a $15 to $20 savings (minimum) right there.

Just choose your days and commit to spending no money. Make sure you plan ahead to have everything you need on those days so you won’t have to run out for ingredients or other needed items on those days.


Wrapping Thangs Up

We’ve already established that this isn’t going to be an easy task, but if you just do ONE of these things today, you’ll be on your way to making your paycheck last a little longer.

So here’s what you do, think of two things from this list you can do this week. Then next week focus on two more things. Repeat this until you’ve done everything on this list.

Over the course of a few months, I hope you’ll come back and share your testimony with me of how you’re making that paycheck last a little longer and getting one step closer to forgetting about that paycheck to paycheck life.


What’s the most difficult aspect of money management for you? Do you think some of this advice will help you with your situation? Weigh in!


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Latoya Scott
CFEI/Social Entrepreneur
Latoya Scott is a Certified Financial Education Instructor and personal finance writer with a mission to help millennials learn how to stop living paycheck to paycheck so they can become financially carefree.

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  • Rachel @ The Latte Budget February 20, 2017 at 12:35 pm

    Oh, I definitely can share this with some friends. People also ask me how they can get ahead financially when they only have $10 a week to spend freely. It takes some guidance and a little tough love, but truthfully, there are always things you can (and probably should) cut. And it isn’t that difficult to make more money!

    • Latoya Scott February 20, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Yeah, it really is. You just have to take the time to think about whether or not some costs are justified or not.

  • Chonce February 20, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    I love the idea of no spend days! While I’m not necessarily living paycheck to paycheck, I still love learning about ways to cut down on spending and expenses. Thanks for sharing!
    Chonce recently posted…7 Smart Moves to Make With Your Tax RefundMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott February 20, 2017 at 1:12 pm

      Me too! You’re very welcome:)

  • Kemkem February 20, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    I totally remember those days. Worst part was that it was my tenants that lost their job during the crisis, but the bank did not want to hear that!!! 🙂 Never again.
    Kemkem recently posted…A Happy Blogabration As We Turn ThreeMy Profile

  • Amanda @centsiblyrich February 20, 2017 at 2:45 pm

    No spend days – weekends, weeks, or months can really help you get ahead. We were able to get a full paycheck ahead after a no spend January. But, if you don’t have the other important things in under control – spending, expenses, budget, etc., progress will be short lived. Everything on your list is a necessity to stop the paycheck to paycheck cycle!
    Amanda @centsiblyrich recently posted…No matter what your age, now is the time to improve your financesMy Profile

  • Tiffany February 20, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Amazing Tips!! An all cash diet would definitely help me in eliminating extra spending. Swiping those cards can be so simple and a bit too easy. Giving myself a cash limit could be just the change I need. Thanks so much for sharing!
    Tiffany recently posted…Why Facebook Live Has Me Stressed & How I’m Gonna Get Over It!My Profile

  • DC @ Young Adult Money February 20, 2017 at 11:15 pm

    We just cut cable a couple weekends ago and I’m really happy with our choice so far! Definitely something I wish I had done sooner.

    • Latoya Scott February 21, 2017 at 9:44 pm

      It’s an amazing feeling not seeing that cable bill come in the mail! Right there with you on this one!

  • Mimi Green February 21, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Having a budget has helped me tremendously. Now I know where my money is going. In the beginning I was spending a ton of money on ATM fees. Looking back I’m so annoyed that I thought that was okay.
    Mimi Green recently posted…Do You Know the Secrets of Grand Central Terminal New York?My Profile

    • Latoya Scott February 21, 2017 at 9:43 pm

      Yeah, ATM fees suck.

  • Kenya February 21, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    This is good. Budgeting really is key. When I stay on top of the budget it definitely lends to having what’s needed and more versus having the gotta have it stuff.

  • Tanya February 21, 2017 at 1:59 pm

    I love this list. YOu know I’m all on board but it’s hard when your spouse isn’t there yet.

    • Latoya Scott February 21, 2017 at 9:42 pm

      Yeah, that’s a toughie.

  • Bernetta February 22, 2017 at 12:29 am

    Great great tips! I have a few things on this list I can take advantage of! Especially no spend days. I have the iBotta app, but don’t use it. I need to really change that.

  • Jonna February 22, 2017 at 2:24 am

    These are some great tips. I know we just recently cut cable a couple of weeks ago and honestly I haven’t noticed much. Besides watching Golden Girls late night, which actually helps me either get more work done or get more rest. We are also about to renegotiate our largest credit card bill to hopefully get a lower interest rate.
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  • LaShawn February 22, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Great tips! Meal planning has helped our budget so much! And I have no spend weeks. It really helps!

  • Lauren Gay February 22, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Fantastic tips. I’ll have to pin this to refer back to it. I hadn’t heard of the ibotta app and I’d like to look into taking some of the surveys you mentioned. As a single mom with teen I’m always looking for any little thing to help add a little extra cash back into my pocket.
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    • Latoya Scott February 22, 2017 at 6:06 pm

      Awesome, Lauren! I’m glad you found it helpful!

  • Terri February 23, 2017 at 9:26 am

    As always, great tips. An all cash diet is definitely the goal, but its definitely not that easy. We seem to do everything with our debit cards. Just a this month, my husband and I agreed to to only buy gas with cash. Hopefully, that one small adjustment will help get to an all cash lifestyle soon. Plus, guying gas with cash is always cheaper.
    Terri recently posted…Random Acts of Kindness that Cost a Dollar or LessMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott February 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      I know! I’ve tried all-cash before and I thought I was going to lose my mind. It’s crazy how dependent I’ve become on my debit card. In high school a debit card was some rich and fancy thing that was used…you used cash. Now it’s a simple convenience that’s taken over.

  • Sweetestsaranade February 24, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    I feel like I needed these tips. I was just discussing with a friend that it seems like my paycheck just kind of melts away. I am guilty for being that person that never carries around any cash and I need to change that.

    • Latoya Scott February 25, 2017 at 12:49 am

      I hope they help!

  • LaQuisha February 27, 2017 at 2:10 am

    This a reality for so many. I can relate and use the tips to improve financial habits in general. Thanks for sharing!
    LaQuisha recently posted…Wifey: Valentine’s Day does not end the romanceMy Profile

    • Latoya Scott February 28, 2017 at 9:19 pm

      You’re welcome:)

  • Tione March 3, 2017 at 1:07 am

    I am really trying to cut back on my spending. I really need to put a limit on it and stop spending unnecessarily. You have shared some really important tips. I have been with eBates over 3 years now and I never miss a cash back opportunity.
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