How to improve your finances on a low income
This is an all too common problem in America, as 78 percent of full-time workers live paycheck to paycheck. Even scarier, 34 percent don't have any money saved whatsoever.
That said, there are steps you can take and resources you can utilize to better your financial picture.
The first and one of the most important things you should do is create a budget. This is a great way to figure out where you are at. Here are the steps:
- Write down your expenses for the last few months (month-by-month breakdown)
- Line items for expenses – housing, utilities, debt, food, transportation, bills, discretionary spending.
- Write down your monthly income
- Compare the two numbers to see exactly how much you have left over.
Here's another way to look at it.
- Write down your income
- Write down your necessary expenses (housing, utilities, bills, transportation, food, debt)
- If there is any left over, do you want to save it, pay down more debt or have fun with it
If there isn't any left, you need to figure out how to lower your expenses and make adjustments as needed.
- Move closer to work – this should reduce your transportation costs
- Take public transportation – much less expensive than driving a car
- Walk or ride a bike – if you live close to work, this could save you tons on commuting costs
- Move to a less expensive place to live – if you work in a metropolitan area, housing probably isn't super cheap; look for a cheaper place to live
- Shop at discount stores
- Shop at thrift stores
- Use coupons
- Use apps
- Find a side hustle
- Only buy necessities
Automating your finances is an important step, though not possible for everyone. If you have a lower income, you may be afraid that the money won't be in your account for that automatic withdrawal.
Automate what you are comfortable with, or voraciously set reminders. Don't forget to pay a bill. You can damage your credit score and incur late penalties.
Additionally, having a small transfer from checking to savings once a month can be a great way to save up for emergencies.
Open a Credit Card
There's no denying it, your credit score is important. It determines your interest rate on loans, it can influence where you live, it can even play a factor when applying for a job.
Start small and start slowly. Open up a credit card. Look for one with no annual fee and a great rewards program. Make small, necessary purchases each month and pay them off right away.
Don't carry a balance month-to-month. Doing this will inevitably cost you money via interest charges. And never miss a payment.
Start an Emergency Fund
If you don't have one, set one up today. Having some sort of safety net available is vital. If you don't have that, you'll probably charge an emergency expense, which will cost you more money in the long run.
Start small and stay consistent. Contribute a little bit each month or each week to build up that emergency fund.
Get Rid of Debt
This will have a huge impact on your financial life. Once you are free from debt, you will have more money available for savings, fun money, or for improving your situation in other ways.
There are a few methods to help with debt repayment.
- Debt avalanche – This method targets high-interest debt. You will pay the minimum to your other debt accounts and pay as much as you can towards your debt with the highest interest. Once that is paid off, you refocus that money towards the debt with the next highest interest
- Debt snowball – This method targets low-balances. You pay the minimum on your other debts and pay as much as you can on the debt with the lowest balance. Once it's paid off, you redirect that money towards the next lowest balance.
- Balance transfer – If you have credit card debt and have a high-interest rate, it may be beneficial to transfer your balance to another card. Many cards have 0 percent interest, introductory offers on balance transfers.
This will also save you a lot of money on interest payments! Debt is very annoying, and getting rid of it will feel so liberating. Work towards this goal.
Go to the Library
There are two ways the library can help you.
One, it's filled with knowledge. If you want to get a different job, but don't know much about your target industry, there are resources to help you. If you want to get promoted at your current company, and need to learn about different job roles and responsibilities, you can learn more.
Two, the more time you spend at the library, the less you have to spend at home. You can turn off the heat or air conditioning and your lights while you are gone. This could drastically lower your utility bill.
One thing I forgot to mention, is the benefit of small rewards. When you are trying to better your financial situation, and are focusing everything on that goal, it can feel discouraging and you can quickly lose motivation. If you meet a milestone, like paying off a debt account or you cut a balance in half, reward yourself.
Now, don't go crazy, but a small reward for a job well done can keep you motivated.
You can improve your situation, but it has to be a priority. Do your best to improve a little bit each day. These improvements will compound over time and you'll be amazed where you stand in a year or two.