Living Paycheck to Paycheck? 7 Tips for Saving More Now

March 2015

Are you and your family living paycheck to paycheck with no financial breathing room? Perhaps you are going a bit beyond your income to make ends meet, running up credit card debt or dipping into savings. If so, you are not alone. At least 47% of U.S. households spend all of their income (or more) according to a new report based on national data and prepared by the Pew Charitable Trust.

If you find yourself in this situation—or close to it—it’s time to pause and look for new ways to cut spending and enhance saving. Having even a small emergency fund can put you and your family on a more secure financial footing. So why not try using the following tips to help improve your financial situation?

Quick First Steps for Saving

1. Pay Yourself First. Each pay period, arrange for an automatic transfer of a small amount, such as $25, from your Corning Credit Union checking account to your Corning Credit Union savings account. If your paycheck is direct deposited, your employer may be able to direct deposit a designated savings amount into your savings account. Paying yourself first makes it easier to adjust your other spending so that you barely miss this small amount. Yet saving $25 each week will grow to $600 in 6 months. After one year of saving this way, you will have a $1200 emergency fund.

Tips to help you boost your savings

  • Pay yourself first.
  • Pay for small purchases with cash.
  • If you pay with cash, save your change daily.
  • Save more on the cost of utilities.
  • Make meals at home.
  • Comparison shop.
  • Make a budget and stick to it.

2. Pay for Small Purchases with Cash, Not a Debit or Credit Card. If you are under age 50, the chances are good that you pay even for small, casual purchases—those costing $5 or less—with plastic. It’s easy and convenient, right? It’s also easy to spend more than you realize on small purchases like coffee, chewing gum, or a lunch sandwich. If you regularly use plastic this way, take a look at last month’s statements and total how much you spent on such casual items. Next, set a cash spending limit for your weekly non-essentials. Put that cash amount in your wallet at the beginning of the week. When it’s gone, you cannot buy any more non-essentials during that week. Deposit the savings in your account once a month (or increase your automatic transfer).

3. If You Pay Cash, Save Your Change Daily. Although paying with plastic is increasingly popular, many people still use cash for most purchases. If that’s your habit, pay with bills and save your change each evening, then deposit those savings into your savings account every month.

Savings Steps That Take a Little More Planning or Effort

4. Save More on the Cost of Utilities. Ways to trim down the cost of electricity, gas, and water each month range from simple steps that cost nothing to home renovations or repairs that require some up-front investment in order to get energy efficiency cost savings later.

  • Turn the lights off when you leave the room, even if all your fixtures and bulbs are energy efficient.
  • Eliminate phantom energy loss. Many electronics continue to draw power and cost money even when they are switched "off." Save by plugging all electronics into power strips that you can shut off when the devices like televisions and computers are not in use.
  • Set heating and cooling appliances to use less energy when you are out of the house. Programmable thermostats make the job a snap and are fairly easy to install yourself.
  • Run the dishwasher and clothes washer and dryer only when you have a full load.
  • When you buy new appliances, select the most energy efficient ones that meet your needs.
  • Don’t leave the water running when you brush your teeth or wash dishes. Take shorter showers.
  • Have an energy audit. Many power companies do this for free. They can also usually help you see what the estimated return might be on various energy-saving repairs or renovations.

5. Make Meals at Home. An analysis from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates that in 2013, Americans spent 49.6% of our food dollars on foods eaten or prepared away from home. That figure includes restaurant and pre-packaged/prepared meals from grocers or other retailers. Making meals at home can help you save money and does not really take much time if you: plan meals in advance, shop once a week using a list, and prepare some meals during the weekend to heat up on those evenings when you know you’ll be time-crunched. The most important key to success with making meals at home is to involve the whole family. Cooking together also provides a great opportunity for learning about nutrition, planning, and one another. It is still okay to enjoy some meals out.

6. Comparison Shop. Like most consumers, I’m sure you comparison shop when you’re in the grocery store, or when you’re shopping for a new refrigerator or a new vehicle. But you can also comparison shop for services, such as your TV package (cable or satellite), Internet and mobile phone, and insurance policies. Having quotes from other companies may help you negotiate better rates with your current providers if they want to keep your business. Then again, you might find a company with costs so much lower that it is worth switching to a new provider.

7. Make a budget and stick to it. Make a budget and stick to it. This is probably the hardest, but also the most effective, thing you can do to cut costs and save more. You’ll need to list all of your income and all of your expenses in great detail. Everything counts, even that morning cup of coffee. The goal is to find out where and how you are spending money and where you can spend less. Check out these tools for creating a workable budget.

The Benefits of Saving More Matter

Often when we think about saving we think about giving up something. In reality, when you make a budget or a spending plan that helps you live within your means, you gain more financial security. You save some money for future needs. You increase your ability to handle emergencies. You are empowered to save to purchase things you want and take part in the activities you really want to do. You also gain peace of mind.

Remember that Corning Credit Union is another valuable resource for programs that may help you save more. For example, check out their Loan Makeover and insurance review programs online at

For More Information

The Precarious State of Family Balance Sheets, a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Budgeting Tools from the Institute for Financial Literacy has lots of tips and information to help increase savings in many areas.

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