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Living Paycheck to Paycheck? How to Get Ahead
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Living Paycheck to Paycheck- How to Get Ahead

Studies show that more than two thirds of people are living paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time.

That’s a pretty stunning statistic.

Keeping your head above water financially seems to be getting harder and harder every year, and there are a variety of reasons why that’s happening.

Some of it has to do with the way our attitudes have changed when it comes to money.  Some of it is the economy we’re experiencing, and some of it is due to how the world is changing and leaving some people behind because they won’t change.

It’s been a phenomenon that’s been happening even since ancient times, as evidenced in the Bible in Haggai 1:6 where it says You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. Your drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”

But just because there are a lot of reasons why it’s more difficult to make ends meet these days doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to be successful financially.

There is always hope.


Read all my posts on Living Paycheck to Paycheck here



You Don’t Have to Live Paycheck to Paycheck

Any big change in life always starts with the decision that change has to happen, no matter what.

So what do you do if you’re living paycheck to paycheck believing there is just no way to get ahead?  There are several steps you can take.

The first step is to get your mind right.

It’s easy to believe when you’re living from paycheck to paycheck that that’s just the way things are and that’s the way it always will be.

But that doesn’t have to be the case.

There is a way to get off the paycheck to paycheck treadmill and overcome the mindset that comes with living in that mode forever.

You can read about how to overcome that mindset here.


You can still succeed financially if you’re living paycheck to paycheck. Here’s what has to change. 


Figure Out Why You’re Living From Paycheck to Paycheck

Once you make the effort to get your mind and your thought processes moving in the right direction, you have to decide that you’re done living hand to mouth and you’re going to change your financial situation no matter what it takes.

Now that you have made the decision that you’re never going back, then you have to figure out what it is that caused the situation in the first place.


Here are some of the common culprits:

  • You’ve come to the conclusion that debt is just a part of life-  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Decide to be different.  Car payments and credit cards are NOT inevitable.
  • Luxuries have turned into needs-  Cable TV, eating out several times a week, and so many other things that we once looked at as “extras” are now viewed as a necessary part of life.  In reality these are not needs, they are wants
  • You’re not making enough- You may be underemployed or just not making enough effort to go out and kill it at work and need to kick it up a notch.
  • You’re overspending-  You are simply spending more than you make. You need to gain better control of what you spend and how you spend it.  Usually this is because you don’t have a plan.
  • You don’t have a plan-  You don’t really keep track of your money and spend until the money runs out.  Then you get your next paycheck and do it all over again.  You just simply have no idea where all the money goes.  This is how most people end up living paycheck to paycheck.
  • Money is just too easy to spend-  Credit cards, and even debit cards don’t feel like real money.  When you swipe and sign it doesn’t hurt as much as using cash, so you end up overspending before you even realize what you’ve done.
  • You have a spending problem-  There is a lack of self control that needs to be addressed such as a shopping addiction.

My friend Lauren Greutman wrote an awesome book to help all you spenders out there!  Check out “The Recovering Spender- How to Live a Happy, Fulfilled, Debt Free Life”

  • The job market has changed-  Businesses are changing the way they hire and compensate workers.  You have to learn to change with the times and understand how to overcome those challenges that come with how the workplace is changing.

I recommend a great book by Dan Miller titled “48 Days to the Work You Love- Preparing for the New Normal” that can help you with that.


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Take a Long, Hard Look

Be brutally honest with yourself.

You have to take a long, hard, honest look and figure out what is really causing your problem.  Maybe it’s one of the things I mentioned above.  Maybe it’s something else.

It might be painful to confront those issues, but lying to yourself never allows you to get ahead in life.

But once you figure out the main reasons you’re living paycheck to paycheck, then you can start taking concrete steps to address those problems and totally overcome them.


Now You Can Leave the Paycheck to Paycheck Life Behind

Ok, at this point you should understand that getting your mind right and taking an honest look at your situation are a couple of good initial steps…

Now I’ll give you specific strategies that will show you how you can leave the paycheck to paycheck life behind and start getting ahead financially, instead of treading water like a shipwreck victim in the middle of a school of sharks.

Here’s what you can do…


4 Strategies for Stopping the Paycheck to Paycheck Cycle

Now that you’ve worked through this much of the process (I hope), here are four things you can do to get off the paycheck to paycheck cycle for good (you may need to do some or all of these, depending on your situation):

  • Get Out of Debt-  Debt is a choice.  It drains away your hard earned money in the form of interest and fees and keeps you from getting ahead.  Becoming debt free is the best way to start succeeding with money, period.  My get out of debt course can show you how.
  • Do a Monthly Budget-  There is no good way to really know what you’re spending unless you keep track.  A monthly budget lets you see what’s coming in and what’s going out.  It allows you to see where the money leaks are.  A budget is essential.

You can access my free printable budgeting forms here.

  • Make a Plan-  You won’t succeed in changing your financial life without a plan.  Winging it doesn’t work!  Write down how you’re going to get out of debt (Here’s how to do that) or increase your income, and then go for it.  It’s difficult, if not impossible to change your financial life without a plan.


4 Strategies for Stopping the Paycheck to Paycheck Cycle

Living Paycheck to Paycheck Stinks

Most of us, especially the middle class, have been squeezed for years with stagnating wages and increasing prices.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed financially.

You just have to fight fire with fire.

It’s time to be relentless.

You have to become diligent about learning how to overcome those paycheck to paycheck demons and keep them from rearing their ugly heads for good.


Have you been implementing any of these strategies in your own life?

Tell me how they have worked/not worked for you in the comments.


The CFF Coupon Database

Living Paycheck to Paycheck? How to Get Ahead (Part 1)

Creating a Get Out of Debt Mindset

5 Ways to Make Extra Money, Even in a Tough Economy

Are You Leaking Money?

How Do You Get Out of Debt? (Part 1)- Get Mad and Naked

Firewalk Your Dream


Ready to Get Serious About Getting Out of Debt?

Celebrating Financial Freedom Online Get Out of Debt CourseIf you’re seriously considering changing your financial life by getting out of debt, then you have to check out my free mini-course that will get you started on the right track.  It’s a shorter email version of my popular online get out of debt course.

In this 6 day mini-course, I’ll reveal the steps that my wife Angie and I took to stop struggling with money, get out of debt, and pay cash for things like cars and college tuition!  Best of all, it’s absolutely free!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Ruth

    We make around 40K a year and have 3 young kids. Before this year, we were broke, in debt, living from paycheck to paycheck, had just one car which we were afraid that we were going to have to replace sooner rather than later, using credit cards when we ran out of money, etc.

    This year, we decided to do Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. We destroyed the credit cards and got on a written budget. We are now debt free including a fully paid for reliable second vehicle, and have $1,300.00 in our emergency fund, which is going to keep steadily increasing each month we follow the plan.

    We also have a savings account that we use for irregular expenses such as propane fills. No more stress when the propane truck comes!

    Our eyes were really opened to see the leaks in our budget, once we started budgeting. We also brainstormed ways to pull in side income, because once we trained ourselves to live on X amount of dollars, anything extra just went to savings.

    We figured out a way to reduce our cell phone bill to $30 per month for two smartphones with calls, data, and texts. This month, we found a way to lower that to $27 for this month. We put the extra $3 in our savings account immediately!

    Now that we’re on a budget, we know that our vacation pay that we receive next month will just get deposited into our emergency fund. Getting paid becomes an exciting event because we can see tangible progress. Currently we’re saving towards a fully funded emergency fund. For us, that will be 12K.

    My spouse and I rarely ever have disagreements about money anymore, because we agree on the budget and are saving for emergencies and irregular expenses, so there’s really nothing much to fight about.

    This whole process has changed our marriage for the better and has reduced our stress level tremendously.

    The number one key to success was working together and being on a written budget. If you don’t tell your money what to do, it will leave.

    No matter whether we make $300,000 or $30,000, we have to spend less than we make.

    • Ruth, it’s so good to hear a success story like this! This stuff really does work when you commit to it and work hard toward your goals. Isn’t it great to have no money fights, less stress, and more money in the bank? I always say, it doesn’t matter how much you make, it’s how well you use it!
      Thanks for your story!

      • Ruth

        Thanks! We are thrilled with the results.

        I totally agree that it’s not the amount that’s made. People can figure out how to spend every cent of virtually every income level. What’s amazing is that the longer we’re at it, the more we refine our habits and reduce our waste. I used to think that we were already being frugal, but we’ve been budgeting for almost 8 months and we continue to find ways to reduce our spending. We’ve also explored some alternative ways to bring in additional income, which has helped us boost our savings account.

        My husband got a raise recently. Instead of raising our lifestyle with it, we’re raising our savings amount.

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  • Mark

    Dr. Cabler, so I make roughly $50K per year, and my wife has a variable income that equals to about $11K per year. We too, live paycheck to paycheck. We are not extravagent spenders by any means. We rarely go out to eat (maybe 1-2 times per 2 weeks if even that). Our cell phone bills are minimal, we have two relatively low car payments ($140/month and $203/month), and our house bill is about $700/month. We spend an average of $200 for groceries per week. Still, it seems like our checking account is bleeding out. I like to keep a $500 cushion in there, but as of this week, the average seems to be about $350 after bills. I’m currently attending Grad School to prayerfully make a better life for my family, but as of today, I don’t know what to do. Any suggestions?

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  • smith

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  • Black Bart

    Dr.Cabler…. your advice to these people is horrendous and borderline criminal. You tell one of them that if she wants to be the CEO of a company, to “learn all you can about business and work your way up” That is a vacuous non-statement lending absolutely NO direction or guidance whatsoever. If they’re working three retail jobs, do you seriously think they have the connections and knowledge needed to start a career in marketing to rise up to CEO in 10 years? What college did you attend again? What are you a doctor of exactly? If you want to HELP these.people, then give them tangible, concrete steps they can take. Don’t just tell them that shower them with quick fixes and platitudes. This is seriously shameful. You are hurting more than helping

    • “…. your advice to these people is horrendous and borderline criminal”

      Borderline criminal… Really? So they’re arresting people for giving advice now? Here’s the comment you’re referring to…

      “If you want to be CEO of a company one day, then start learning everything you can about business and work your way up the ladder by making yourself so valuable to your workplace that they have no choice but to promote you.”

      So advising someone to learn business and work your way up in a company is bad advice? Hard work and making yourself valuable to your company is a bad recipe for success? Telling someone to have goals is wrong? This is how virtually every successful person gets started in a successful career. If they don’t have enough sense to seek out resources on goal setting and being valuable at work after I recommend them, then they will never be successful anyway (I’ve written on both of those subjects, by the way). Dude, this is a comment thread, not an MBA program.

      The blog post above has tangible, concrete advice for people to follow, just like almost every single post I write.

      As for my education, I am a practicing dentist, so I have a Doctorate of Dental Surgery degree, along with a Bachelor of Science degree. Of course, that doesn’t qualify me to advise people on finances. What does qualify me is that I have been a successful business owner, real estate investor, and financial teacher for years.

      I have also been in debt, and along with my wife worked our way out of all consumer debt except for our mortgage, which will be paid off soon. I have been where many of my readers have been and have learned what it takes to live a better financial life through the knowledge experience I’ve gained in that area over many years, which I share with others.

      I have studied the subject of money, debt, and being a good steward of the resources God has provided us with for over a decade. I’ve read hundreds of books on the subject. I also teach people how to get out of debt, and get appreciative comments and emails every day from people whom I’ve helped live a better financial life through the teaching and advice that I provide.

      Therefore, your premise that I’m “hurting more than helping” is invalid. I have the results in my inbox to prove it!

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  • shannon

    hi ive been living week to week because i dont budget my money and expenses are always paid with a plastic card. i seriously need some help in getting infront of this issue. im behind on my bills and my utilities are subject to being cut off. i have admitted to myself i need to change and do something about my current status but dont know the right path. thanks

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  • Andrea

    I’ve been irresponsible in the past and got myself in debt. Every time I get caught up on things something happens that sets me back…ie car needs new motor. I don’t have extra expenses ei cable. I live minimally. I work full time with overtime every week. Plus do work on the side when I have the energy, which is diminishing with age. I don’t know what else to do.

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  • Alex

    I’m 20 years old. I work two jobs to support my family. It’s just that the checks aren’t really cutting it. I don’t have any breathing room & I feel like I’m suffocating. All of my money goes to bills. Lights,Gas,Phone, Rent… I think about having a better life everyday but for some reason I’m still in this same position. Living paycheck to paycheck. I want a better life for my family & sometimes I get so defeated. I know what I have to do but for some reason I can’t actually do it. I don’t know what’s wrong & I really need help. Nothing motivates me to the point where I can actually go out & get what I want because I’m so stuck on why I’m in this situation. Iam so afraid of being stuck in my situation that I can’t move forward.

    • Alex,

      You can’t sit around worrying about how or why you got into your situation. Even a small action taken every day will get you moving out of that and into something else. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do first and it all can seem overwhelming, but the biggest results always start with the littlest of steps.

      I recommend a couple of books that might help you clarify what you want and how to start toward getting it. The first is “Quitter” by Jon Acuff, which you can find here: http://amzn.to/1DrIKs7

      Another is “48 Days to the Work You Love” by Dan Miller found at this link: http://amzn.to/1Cz1elL

      Also, there is a new book out by Jeff Goins called “The Art of Work- A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do” I haven’t read it yet but I hear it’s a good one that can help you figure out what you’re meant to do in life. You can find that one here: http://amzn.to/1JvI1qw

      I think these will go a long way toward helping you figure things out and motivating you to start taking action. Let me know how it goes!

    • Billy t jr

      Get a wife that works

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  • Jessica

    i work full time and go to school full time. i have no kids, I’m not married. I NEVER have enough food because I pay all the bills first. I have to pay people to bring me to work because I cant afford a car. So all my money is gone before I can put food in the house. I depend on friends and people at work for food. Every time I save up a little for a car I get an unexpected bill, or something. Its always something. I paid someone to bring me to work today after class and they never showed. I had to call out which is becoming a frequent thing due to lack of a vehicle and dependable people to bring me to work. Im in fear of losing my job, and then what??? I’m at my whits end today. I never even spend money on extra things like movies or shopping. I’m going to need clothes soon and thats definately not in the budget. What do I do???

    • One thing you should think about in this situation is prioritizing what you pay for first. Food and shelter should come first before anything else. Don’t pay someone else in favor of putting food on the table.

      Is there any public transportation available in your area? If so, that would be cheaper and more reliable than friends and coworkers, and certainly cheaper than taking a cab.

      As for clothing, there are always churches and other charitable organizations that give away clothes for free throughout the year. Ask around and I’m sure someone can help you with that.

      With full time work and school, obviously you can’t take on another job very easily. What kind of work do you do right now? What are you going to school for? Let me know and maybe I can help with a few suggestions on how you can increase your income.

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  • Jamie

    Im 19 abd I have 3 jobs but I don’t want to work myself to death what should I do

    • There are several things you can do. The main thing though is to decide what you want your future to look like. Once you figure out a direction, then start taking small steps every single day to make it happen. If you want to be CEO of a company one day, then start learning everything you can about business and work your way up the ladder by making yourself so valuable to your workplace that they have no choice but to promote you.

      If you want to be a doctor, find a way to go to school. If you have a dream to open your own business, then find out everything you can about the industry you want to be in and take steps to start making it happen. It may take months or even years to start seeing results, but the earlier you start, the earlier you will see results.

      The point is to have goals and work toward them. I’ve seen way too many people who never really had any direction or goals, and floated along for years just getting by. Then they hit 40 and realize that a large part of their life has been wasted because they never really had a plan. I don’t want you to be one of those guys.

      So tell me Jamie, what is your dream for your life? Do you have any goals you’ve already set for yourself?

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  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer

    Jason, great post!!! We were like this until January 1st, and I can’t tell you what a relief it is to have a plan in place now. Our journey to debt free may take awhile, but we WILL get there. My one tip to others out there is that while you may still be paycheck-to-paycheck during the beginning of your journey out of debt, remind yourself that you are at least on the road to the end of tight living.

    • You definitely have the right attitude. Keep working your plan and you definitely will get there. It’s certainly a journey that can seem daunting at times but pays off huge when you finish.

      Keep it up! Thanks Laurie!

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