Stretching your paycheck to fit your life

Tips on how to make it work

Seven years ago, Michelle Schroeder-Gardner was in a constant state of money stress, regularly running low on funds as she grappled with a whopping $38,000 in education debt.

“I lived paycheck to paycheck for years,” says the founder of Making Sense of Cents, a personal finance website, who lived and worked in St. Louis, Missouri. “Even little purchases were stressful, and there were sleepless nights.”

It’s a feeling many Americans know well. Living without a financial buffer is common, says Rachel Schneider, co-author of The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty, a book that chronicles the financial challenges faced by 235 low- and middle-income families over the course of a year. But take heart: the following financial fixes may help you cope.

Look at your large expenses

Tracking your expenses and focusing on big-ticket wins can help jumpstart your budget fix journey. A single move with big impact—for instance, getting a roommate, which will halve your rent—could be worth hundreds of small saving and skimping steps.

Huntington National Bank branch manager Adrian Vestemean, who works with customers at the bank’s Northville, Michigan, branch to help them reach their financial goals, offers a roadmap. “Start by listing every expenditure you have for the month into columns of wants or needs,” he suggests. “Where things fall will tell you if you’re living out of your means or right on budget. Then you can look at the ‘want’ column and decide whether you might want to take steps to save such as downsizing to a smaller home or do without a car.”

Hide your savings

Schneider says the families she studied found stashing cash in an account that was difficult to access or even see was helpful. Even if it’s just a small amount, having something set aside in case of emergency can help make a big difference. “Create barriers for yourself so that you’re less likely to raid your savings,” she suggests, adding that automating savings has a similar benefit. (You can set savings goals in the Savings Goal Getter tool on The Hub.) “It’s an out-of-sight, out-of-mind effect—a nice little savings pool builds up while you’re not paying attention.”

Tackle timing troubles

If you find yourself anxiously awaiting payday as payment due dates pass, rescheduling your billing cycles can be a life-changing move—you can learn more about billing cycles here. “It’s often as simple as calling your credit card or utility company and asking if they’ll let you change,” says Schneider.

Explore new ways to earn more money

When careful management and cost trimming don’t cut it, consider looking for ways to boost your income. While asking for a raise or improving your skills and finding a job that pays more are time-consuming and difficult, they can make a real difference, says Schroeder-Gardner, whose own journey to financial stability involved taking on side jobs and, ultimately, a career change.

“What really helped me in addition to budgeting better is learning how to make extra money,” she says. “I realized that I could use my extra time to get more hours, freelance, and more.” Ultimately, Schroeder-Gardner was able to pay off her loans, and trade her full-time job as a financial analyst for a career as a blogger that she was more passionate about.

Among other benefits, earning more can help ease financial stress, which may improve your health and well-being§. For more money-finding moves, see our article “Earning ideas for a cash infusion.”

Money hack: make technology your wallet watcher

Huntington customers can manage budgeting and spending through The Hub. “You can set goals, such as how much you want to spend per month on groceries, and it will keep track of your daily spending against that goal and send you alerts when you’re coming up against your spending limit,” explains Vestemean.

Life can present challenges that make surviving from one paycheck to another almost impossible, but some of these tips may make managing a little easier.

To get help with your overall financial picture, check out The Hub, or stop in to talk with your local Huntington banker.

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Making Sense of Cents, https://www.makingsenseofcents.com

Schneider, Rachel. The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty, https://www.usfinancialdiaries.org/book/.

§“Money Stress Weighs on Americans’ Health,” Monitor on Psychology, Q4 2015. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2015/04/money-stress

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