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Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck? Top Five Ways Get Ahead

by Lazy Man on 02/29/08

Has your wallet been so empty that you thought, “There must be something cheaper than Top Ramen. Isn’t there a Middle or Bottom Ramen?” When the technology bubble burst eight years ago, I had that problem. While I felt alone at the time, I now realize that I wasn’t.  

I was talking with Joseph Sangl just the other day and he said something that shocked me, “The sad fact is that over 70% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.  They can’t see past this week, so taking the time to think about retirement and funding some of their dreams is a foreign concept!”

If Mr. Sangl is right, much of America is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. That’s extremely scary to me. With that in mind, here are some tips to save money and get you out of the paycheck-to-paycheck grind.

  1. Home – Many people own homes bigger than they need. This means that they spend more not only in rent and mortgage, but also to heat and furnish the home.
  2. Car – It seems that everyone is looking to get a better and better car. If your neighbor gets a Toyota Avalon, you get a Lexus. The person next door sees the Lexus and gets a more expensive, better BMW. I made this mistake and bought a more expensive car that I should have. I’m seriously considering making my next car one a used one that gets me from point A to point B.
  3. Food – I’m always surprised at how many people go out to lunch. At $10 day, it adds up to $220 a month (assuming a 22 day work-month). Don’t forget about going out for dinners as well. It’s easy to spend $150-$200 going out to dinner a few times a month.
  4. Subscriptions – Do you watch enough HBO to justify the cost? What about that Netflix subscription? Do you need as many minutes on your cell phone? Can you switch to something like a $15 Vonage plan for your home phone?
  5. Splurges – I love technology and gadgets. However, it’s easy to get caught up in buying a stereo system one month, an iPod the next month, and an iPhone the month after that. Other people might like to cook and find themselves buying new specialty appliances and cookware every couple of months. These kind of things add up each month. I found that if I wait, I can get my technology fix via Craig’s List for a small fraction of the original cost.

With a little work, you may find that you can save $500-1000 a month from the above tips. If you put that money in savings, you’ll soon find that this period’s paycheck is not something that you have worry about. These ideas may not help everyone living paycheck to paycheck.  If you find yourself still having trouble, you might want to look to increase your income. That’s a topic for another day.

Lazy Man has been a lender at Prosper since February 2006. He is the author of the personal finance blog, Lazy Man and Money and the health and fitness blog, Lazy Man and Health. He enjoys watching Boston sports while sipping diet cola.


  • http://myspace.com/pianokeys Adam

    what do you do if you’re frugal, live in a tiny apartment (with cable provided no cost), have a paid-off (albeit junky) car, and still have money trouble?

  • Chrisfs

    Good question,
    From personal experience,#1 thing is to make a budget. Can’t control your money if you don’t know where it’s going. Spending slightly below what make is the key. Plan out how you are going to pay off debt. Work at not creating new debt.
    #2 Pay yourself. Set up an account with INGDirect or other internet bank. Set up a direct deposit so that an amount automatically goes into your savings account and you don’t see it.

    #3 start thinking and looking around for a better paying job. Consider what you do, what you can do, look at the paper or online. Get a copy of “What Color is my Parachute” from the library. A number of years ago, when I was doing admin temp work, I went to a different agency, told them my minimum rate was $14/hr and effectively got a $2/hr raise, it was stunning, but really cool. Will that happen for you ? I don’t know, but you can try.

  • http://www.lazymanandmoney.com Lazy Man and Money

    Adam, that is a fabulous question. If you can’t save more money (and many people fit in this boat) then the only other thing to do is to make more money.

    There are a few ways to do that. In this space it’s hard for me to go into them, so I’ll get you started with these three articles

  • http://www.onemillionandbeyond.com Matt

    The car suggestion alone could save you thousands per year. All of my car costs combined adds up to close to half the mortgage. The scary thing is I drive a used car which I actually drive infrequently. I could only imagine what the price would be if it was a nice new BMW. In general I think people in North America have become too attached to their cars which in turn translates to prices at the pump.

  • Chris

    Adam, I’d suggest getting rid of your junky car (which you’re probably sinking expensive, costly repairs into) and getting a brand new Toyota Yaris, or similar vehicle, which would have a lower overall cost of ownership, and higher eventual resale value. (Better warranty, better gas mileage, more reliability meaning you get to that new job interview on time, etc.)

  • Calibarbb

    i really do number 3… im a skinny mini with an obese appetite…i was buying breakfast lunch and dinner and groceries. so now i just buy groceries and pack lunch occasional dinner spluge but im no longer wasting my 100-130 allowance and have money to spend.

  • Candacy Roberts-Anderson

    I recently applied to recieve a loan and I became unsure of the great comments I’heard about prosper.com therefore I hastily withdrew my request sad to say, now I can’t seem to re-open my account to get the much needed help I was so close to obaining.

  • http://www.rateladder.com RateLadder

    @Candacy

    You should directin inquires of this nature to Customer Support: http://www.prosper.com/help/support.aspx


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