Are you like me? Cheap as cheap can be, and let the little things you need pile up? Then your family finally gets a fat paycheck – maybe there’s a quarterly bonus or some overtime- and suddenly it’s gone in a second because three kids needed shoes and you bought a new curtain rod and husband needs new pants and it all just piled up?
And suddenly you spent more in one day on a million little things than you have in the prior six months. And your fat paycheck? Never made it into savings at all.
Perhaps you have decided to save 10% of your income, but after your check is deposited you find you need that 10% for something else. Or you never actually get around to transferring the money. Or you wait to do it all at once, say, at the end of the month but then the money isn’t there.
It’s hard to save when you live paycheck to paycheck.
The traditional budgets just don’t work for us. My husband is on an hourly wage. His paycheck varies. I write from home. My paycheck varies a lot. Our utilities also vary so much it’s impossible to strictly budget an monthly amount. (Our electric bill can be $100 or $500, depending on the season, and my electric company doesn’t offer balanced billing.)
So, what I do is set our monthly budget in a general way. In our case, we can live very comfortably and pay all of our bills on $800 a week. This might be crazy high to some of my readers, and crazily frugal for others; for us, this is just right. It covers basic expenses and then a little bit more, so we can pay out allowances, hire a babysitter once in a while, and keep the kids in birthday presents (almost every month, around here!)
Now, live within that budget. Don’t live on what you actually earn. Live on your budget. Just because you make $60,000 a year, doesn’t mean you have to spend $60,000 a year.
In our case, it means we don’t pay a monthly cable bill. Why? Because we are living under $800 a week, and that’s one way we do it.
You are resetting how you live. You are mindfully living within your means.
Now, when you get paid, deposit it in your savings account, and then transfer only your budgeted amount into your checking account. Even better, if your employer offers direct deposit, you can often split your deposit in this way and have it deposited into more than one account. (Yes, I’ve mentioned this before but I thought I would elaborate a bit.)
You will have enough to live on, and everything extra will be saved. It never even hits your checking account and you never have the opportunity to spend it. It’s not in your budget and those savings are never allocated for anything other than…saving.
But, the money is still available in case you have a real emergency. If the oil pump on your car dies, or the water heater explodes, or a pipe bursts and you have to call a plumber in the middle of the night your emergency fund is only an ATM or online transfer away.
How does this work?
Say you have a great week, with a holiday bonus and lots of overtime. Deposit the whole thing into savings, then transfer $800 into your checking account.
Say you have a short week, because you got the flu and only worked 3 days. Deposit your whole paycheck into savings, and then transfer $800 into your checking account.
Wait, what? How can you do that?
The key is when you set your budget and determine to live on less than you make. Choose a number that is more than your on-paper budgeted expenses – we all need a little breathing room – but less than your take home pay.
If you live on less than you bring home in a typical week, then you will build up a cushion against those rainy days. When you have a short week, you’ll be able to transfer the usual amount, because you’ve been saving your overage every single other week.
If your expenses are more than your take home pay, then you have some work to do. Aim to live below your means. You may have to do things other people don’t have to do. Don’t whine about it. Put on your big girl panties, and cut the cable, mow your own grass, or eat meat only twice a week. Maybe you need to move. Maybe you need to get cable and watch it instead of looking for entertainment at the mall. Maybe you’ll need to cancel your cell phone, get rid of Caller ID and the other peripherals, or -gasp- use the library internet. I know, I know. That‘s drastic.
Live below your means and save the rest. That’s what Mama Says.