Are you living paycheck-to-paycheck?

stop living paycheck-to-paycheck, save money, budget, family finance, budgeting


If you didn’t get paid for a month would you be OK to pay your bills and eat like normal?


If not, you aren’t alone. According to this source, 78% of full-time working Americans struggle to make ends meet; even people earning 6 figure incomes report not having enough to cover monthly expenses.


This living situation puts families at the mercy of employers. One unfortunate event and BAM! Things fall apart.


How stressful!


Now, imagine not living paycheck-to-paycheck.


How would it feel having an emergency fund that has enough money to cover 6 months of your monthly expenses. That’s half a year for you to find another job (if necessary) or a nice stash to help you deal with a personal emergency.


It’s a small security measure that offers breathing room and decision making that isn’t always money-centered. Taking a few sick days wouldn’t mean the electric bill or water bill couldn’t get paid.


It sounds good right? Did the thought just lower your blood pressure a bit?


If so, now is a great time to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck.




I’m  glad you asked! 



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Surprisingly, many people aren’t aware of how much debt they really have. We often make estimates and assumptions but when was the last time you sat down and looked at ALL your debt?


a. Write down all the debts listed on your credit report. You can get FREE access to your credit report with no credit card and without hurting your credit at Credit Sesame or Credit Karma.

b. Write down all the debts you have that aren’t on your credit report. Do you owe your family, friends, or co-workers money. Add those debts to the list.

c. Be aware and document interest rates.


It can be intimidating to put a number to your debt, but this is an important first step.



Even if you don’t have a boat load of debt, if you are living and breathing in the Western world, you likely have monthly expenses that can’t be avoided like water bills, electric bills, and insurance.


a. Write down all your variable monthly expenses, you know, the ones that can change based on usage.

b. Write down all your fixed monthly expenses, the ones that are exactly the same each month like the rent or mortgage (fixed rate).

c. Write down all the miscellaneous money you spend on things like eating out, drinking, partying,  shopping, and gifting.

Tip: Use 1-2 recent monthly bank and/or credit card statements to help complete this step.




a. How many of the expenses are essential/needs? Meaning how many of the expenses are required for you and your family to live. Think housing, food, transportation, medical insurance, electricity, water.

b. What expenses make life more comfortable but aren’t essential?

c. What expenses are frivolous?


Answering these questions can be a tedious task but having knowledge of where your money is being spent is a necessity.


Tip: Take a pen or highlighter and mark the frivolous spending. You aren’t in control, if you don’t know what is going on.


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If you having multiple incomes in your household and/or multiple streams of income, calculate how much money you have coming in each month.


a. If your paychecks aren’t the same each month, use the lowest payment amount earned, to estimate your monthly income. It’s better to underestimate than over estimate income.

b. Determine if you have enough to cover your essentials.



If you are making enough to cover your families essentials, skip to step 6.




If you aren’t making enough to cover your families basic needs, its time to find ways to earn extra income. This isn’t always a simple task but there are ways to bring in extra money. I met a man who makes good money mounting televisions in his spare time. How creative and in tune with the public’s needs!


Find ways to use your skills to build a side hustle. For example:

  • You can sell baked goods. Make sure it’s legal in your State.
  • If you have a spare room or space that can be rented out consider using Airbnb.  Katie from Chain of Wealth is an Airbnb Super Host and teaches the methods she used to earn more than $7k in 6 months renting out a room in her home.
  • If you write well, there are opportunities to freelance write about topics in every niche and earn money online.
  • There is a huge market for business owners looking for website designers, if you have knowledge of web building and design.
  • Completing surveys is a real thing that isn’t going to make you rich but it will bring in extra money.
  • Start a money making blog. Abby Lawson of Just a Girl and Her Blog earned $40K in one month with her blog. She has a FREE 10-day email course that shows you the basics of starting your own money making blog.


Can you think of any skills you have that can be employed to get you more income?



If the expense is not a need, can you justify the spending the money?

  • For example, cable is not a need. Can you justify keeping cable as a monthly expense, even with all the inexpensive streaming options?
  • What about the subscription box service. Do you need the samples that are sent in the box?


If you can’t justify the expense, both people if you are in a partnership, it can be eliminated.

a. Take the time to go through each non-necessity expense and eliminate those that your family can do without.




If you aren’t ready to give up on a service, find ways to reduce the cost of services you already have. This can be accomplished with a simple phone call or a small amount of research.


  • We lowered our home security bill by calling our current provider and mentioning a competitors price. They immediately matched. Seriously, all we had to do was ask!
  • We lowered our phone bill by switching to a lower plan after learning we weren’t getting close to our data usage limits (at all).
  • We lowered our car insurance bill by re-evaluating our needs. I have an old car but we were carrying comprehensive insurance, it was a waste of money.
  • We eliminated cable but we still watch television. How?

1. We purchased a one-time buy antenna for the basic local channels.

2. We have Netflix.


Find areas in your expense list to reduce spending.




Admittedly, downsizing is a difficult task. Most people have valid reasons for not wanting to downsize (school districts, sentimental reasons, etc.). If downsizing is something you and you family can swing, it saves mucho money. Also, downsizing doesn’t always need to be the actual home.


When we decided that I would leave my job as a chemist to stay home with our daughter, we were in the process of aggressively paying down my husband’s student loan debt. We even sold our second vehicle and reduced down to a one income and one car household. It’s  a sacrifice that is saving us money on car insurance, car maintenance, and car finance expenses.


Is it really a sacrifice? Well, we have been together for more than 10 years and have never shared a car. It’s definitely an adjustment.




Buying items at full price should be taboo for people living paycheck-to-paycheck. Finding deals and sales should be a priority when shopping, especially for non-essential items.


Shop store closing, store clearances, and look for promo codes.


I love craft stores like Michael’s and ACMoore but I never pay full price because both retailers offer 40% coupons online frequently AND they don’t need to be printed! I just show the cashier the code on the phone. BOOM! SAVINGS!


Many stores provide coupons and discounts to people, even without needing to sign-up for the in-store credit cards.


I saved 20% at Old Navy,  in-store, just by showing a promo my husband found on the website’s home screen header. Win!


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Now, I’m guilty of falling into the fast fashion gap. However, I quickly learned many of the clothes just don’t last long.


So, while the purpose of this post is to find ways to spend less money the answer isn’t buying cheap clothes.


Buying quality clothes that last longer but cost more on the front end is a better investment than cheap buys that only last a few washes.


I still go to fast fashion for cotton tees and basics but my jeans and staples pieces are purchased at higher quality brands.


Also, have you heard about capsule wardrobes? Look great with less! Learn more here



The cash envelope system is magical; we tried it and it does work if you stay committed.


If you are unfamiliar with the cash envelope system, it is a system of organizing your spending with a budget and cash that is literally placed in envelopes to cover monthly expenses.


We use it to cover our eating out expenses which was a major problem area in our spending.


If keeping up with cash is not for your family,  you could place the ‘cash’ in a separate account and only use that account for the monthly expenses.




Meal planning was just a cute idea before I became a mom. I did it occasionally. Now, it is a necessity!


We have one car that means efficiency in every area of our home is key. I use the meal planning printables I created to plan our meals and grocery shop AND I use money-saving grocery apps like Ibotta


We have saved hundreds since we started combining the Ibotta app savings, with coupons, and weekly specials! Plus it’s easy to use. 




When my husband and I decided to get out of debt, we realized those minimum payments weren’t moving the needle. Each month the balance was only changing by a few dollars because interest rate is a killer.


To pay off our credit cards, we began to double and triple down on the minimum payment, whenever we could.


When we finally got aggressive on student loans, we took an uncomfortable chunk from our savings to get the balance down. We had to get that ugly Sallie Mae/Navient girl off our back.  We were paying her way too much in interest. The effort paid off and we paid her off last year.



If you want living paycheck-to-paycheck to become a thing of the past, having a plan for the unexpected is necessary. That’s the purpose of an emergency fund.


Last year, our water heater and hvac system both needed maintenance at the same time. YIKES!


While the guy was fixing the hvac, he pointed out a leak we had in the water heater pan. Uggh!! We had cash to pay for the maintenance because we had an emergency fund.


Funny how the air conditioning went out in the heat of the summer! It’s Murphy’s Law! 




Getting on the saving train isn’t always easy. 


If you think putting money in a savings account regularly would be difficult, have it automated. No more thinking about putting money away, set it and forget it!


Also if you get a raise and you think…”finally more money!”  It’s not the time to increase living expenses. We have found the best way to handle extra money is to put it in a far away place where we don’t see it.  That place is a saving account that isn’t connected in any way to our checking accounts.


The idea is to not give ourselves easy access to savings funds.




Investing is intimidating to lots of people because no one teaches us about it in school. I have four college degrees and while I had to learn calculus (I failed 3x) and physics, there was never a required personal finance course. What the heck?!! I digress.


Investing advice specific to your family, should come from a certified financial professional.


I recommend  finding that professional and getting educated on investing money in retirement, college-savings plans for the kiddos (we have a 529 plan for our toddler), and building wealth. 


Tips: Take advantage of free resources.

  • How many times has your employer brought in a financial representative during open enrollment? That guy or girl often gets ignored but taking the time to learn what they know about setting up benefit accounts can be beneficial.
  • Credit unions often have financial educators available not trying to sell you anything. 



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Usually, one person in the family is better with money. We all know couples where one person pays all the bills and the other person has no idea or interest in knowing the numbers. 


While this situation can work, what happens when the money person becomes unavailable?


Having a money meeting is a great way to touch base on budgeting, spending, and open communication about money. It’s not about who has control, it’s about having everyone on the same page.


My husband and I have money meetings where we talk about expenses, spending, and financial goals. Our go-to app for shared lists and meeting reminders is the free version of Cozi.



As our daughter gets older, I want to include her in the meetings (as appropriate) so she understands the value and importance of budgeting and communication too.


Gosh, I want to teach her so much about managing money, basically, I want her to know all the lessons I wish I would have learned before college!




We take our daughter to free local parks, free museums, and free library programs.




The hardest part of getting out of the debt cycle and not living paycheck-to-paycheck is saying ‘no’. Lots of us have FOMO (fear of missing out).


Most events we get invited to involve a venue or restaurant where it easy to buy pricey food and $5 drinks. If it’s not in the budget, we politely decline.


Yep. You may have to decline being a bridesmaids or hosting the baby shower. 


Friends and family are often understanding when they know you have a goal that doesn’t align with the expense. 


Tip: Saying ‘no’ early as possible and politely is key. It’s essential to prevent false expectations.




This post was lengthy because it’s an issue that is close to my heart.


I graduated college with car loan debt, credit card debit, and student loans. I have some experience making bad money choices and finally finding ways to stop living paycheck-to-paycheck has made my current situation (staying home with my daughter) a possibility. 


When more than half the population is living paycheck-to-paycheck, it may seem impossible to make the leap to living instead of surviving but you have it in you.


There may be difficult sacrifices that need to be made and it may involve some major creativity, BUT not living paycheck-to-paycheck is worth the all the effort for the peace of mind.


What do you think? Can these tips help you stop living paycheck-to-paycheck?

Are there some tips that you’d add?




Tiffany Green

Hi, I'm Tiffany! I'm a doula trained, scientist turned mom entrepreneur, with a master's degree in family life and youth development. I use my education, technical skills, and my love of organization to help pregnant women and new moms crush overwhelm so that managing family life is an adventure - instead of a hassle.