Are you looking at your bank balance and thinking something like: Um, where did all my money go?
You’re not the only one. Luckily, we’ve got your back.
We’ve all been there. Whether you’re living paycheck to paycheck on an entry-level salary, you’ve overindulged in one too many online shopping sprees this month, or you’ve had to unexpectedly treat your car to new brakes, at some point we’ve all stared at a dwindling bank account in wide-eyed horror with a pit in our stomachs.
Not to worry, ladies. As someone who only gets paid once a month, I’ve mastered the art of stretching a paycheck until its final days. These are some of my favorite hacks to make the most of some very low bank balance digits and survive until the next pay day.
1 – GET SMART ABOUT YOUR INDULGENCES
Technically, if you’re stretching your paycheck, you should probably curb your online shopping addiction. But we all have our guilty pleasures, right?
If you insist on indulging yours even when funds are low, web browser extensions are your saving grace. Download Honey, which automatically finds and applies coupon codes when you’re checking out, and Paribus, which gives you money back when the price on an item you purchased drops (if you buy in store, a lot of places have a similar price matching policy, so be sure to check that out!). You’ll save small amounts, which granted, won’t immediately fix that mounting credit card balance. But it’s a start.
Bonus: If you’re a savvy investor, you might also want to consider downloading an investing app like Acorns. It rounds up spare change from your purchases and invests it. How cool is that?
2 – CLEAR YOUR BROWSING HISTORY
If you are trying to kick that online shopping habit once and for all, though, going cold turkey can be tough. Do yourself a favor and clear your browsing history.
Online companies are pretty savvy. Many enable cookies in your browser and follow your searches based on your cache and history. This means that as you peruse the Internet, you’ll see more ads for those killer heels you were eyeing—and maybe even some raised prices—thanks to the information some companies have gathered.
Clearing your browser history will help lessen temptation and leave you with more affordable prices if you are going to buy something.
Bonus: While you’re at it, delete your credit or debit card number from websites you frequently shop so you’re not one click away from an unnecessary purchase.
3 – NEED A NECESSITY? BUY IT ONLINE
OK, I know it looks like I’m contradicting myself here, but hear me out. It’s inevitable that every month—no matter how broke I am—I’ll run out of some household item like shampoo or paper towels. Right? Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and buy the necessities.
But before you run to the drugstore, check online first. Websites like Amazon and Jet usually sell what you need at a lower cost, and if you don’t have a membership with them, their minimum shipping amounts are pretty fair—perfect for those awful months when you run out of everything at once. Even retail chains like Target tend to sell certain items at a fraction of the cost online, and often you can arrange to pick it up in store for free.
Bonus: The best part about this trick is that it keeps you from the psychological slippery slope that is in-store shopping. Whether it’s Whole Foods or Walmart, stores plan their layouts to subtly encourage you to drop additional items in your cart that aren’t on your list. By buying online, you remove those temptations.
4 – GO FOR BOGO AND BUY GENERIC
If you read my piece on how I lived off $100 for a week, then you know I’m a huge fan of BOGOs at the grocery store. They largely dictate what I’ll eat for the week since two for the price of one deals lengthen the time between kitchen hauls. Even if your grocer doesn’t have BOGO deals, keep an eye out for similar offers in the weekly saver. And buy generic when you can. A lot of generic and name brand products are made with the same ingredients, and most things taste the same. Promise.
Bonus: You know the 99 Cent Store? They carry essentials—like toilet paper, dish soap, whatever—for a fraction of the cost that Walgreens or Target does. Remember to make a list so you don’t get distracted by all the extra junk like hot pink gel pens and cocktail umbrellas.
5 – TRACK, ASSESS, AND BUDGET
This is the number one trick to tracking where your money goes—and just how much of it is spent on morning coffee (BTW: Did you know you can get 10 cents off any beverage at Starbucks when you bring your personal cup? You’re welcome.) Once you’ve identified where your cash is actually going, you’ll be able to cut back in certain areas and create a budget.
Seem like a lot of work? Use a budgeting app to keep it simple. You can download both apps on your phone (YNAB has a monthly subscription fee but offers a free trial). They make managing your budget easy, maybe even fun.
Bonus: If you know your coffee addiction is adding up, make the simple commitment to cut out one or two stops at Starbucks a week. That’s around $10 you just saved or $40/month or $520/year.
6 – PAY WITH CASH
It’s easy to spend, spend, spend when your credit card bill doesn’t show up for a month or when your purchases automatically withdraw from your bank account. You’ll notice your money disappear a lot more quickly when you pay in cash. When you can see what you’re spending, you’re less likely to actually spend it. Depending on how much you need, get cash back next time you buy something at the store or your bank to avoid ATM fees, and request larger bills. You’re less likely to break a fifty than a ten.
Bonus: Once you’ve set up a budget for yourself on an app or good old-fashioned paper, give yourself a “fun money” allowance. You know, like the one your mom used to give you. Figure out exactly how much you can afford to spend on stuff like clothes, drinks, dinners out, concert tickets, and withdraw that amount on a weekly basis. When it’s gone, it’s gone.
7 – TRY HONESTY
Being low on funds doesn’t mean you have to forgo your social life. Chances are most of your friends are worried about money and overspending, too. So talk to them about how you’re a bit tight on funds. Suggest alternatives to the usual dinners out or split dishes. Have drinks at home before going out. Having a support network will help keep you on track until pay day.
Bonus: Instead of girls night out, bring the entertainment to you. Invite the girls over for pizza, wine, and a movie or host a potluck dinner for all your friends where everyone provides one dish. These are just as fun as hitting the bars, and everyone can use a low-key night in once in awhile. Your friends—and your bank account—will thank you!
How do you make your paycheck last? Share your tips with us in the comments below!