Federal employees and contractors have returned to work, but the reality of two missed paychecks is a harsh one. We know this because in the past two months, 2-1-1, the nation’s most comprehensive resource for human services, has received a 30 percent increase in requests for help – especially with rent and utilities.
Getting a month behind on bills is a stressful situation in the best of times. But for the many Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, it’s a near-crisis. And that’s about half of the country. A recent Federal Reserve study found that 40 percent of adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 unexpected expense. And 60 percent don’t have enough to cover a $1,000 emergency. That means one big car repair or a leaky roof can spell disaster.
So what’s the solution? Now is a good time for all of us to take stock of our finances. Do you have enough savings to cover your expenses for a week without pay? What about a month? If not, you may want to look at your budget and identify one or two areas in which you can cut back, even by as little as 10 percent, to build up your savings. America Saves Week (Feb. 25-March 2) is a great time to start a healthy savings habit. To get started, take the saver’s pledge by setting a goal and making a plan.
Take the saver’s pledge: americasaves.org/for-savers/pledge.
I pledge to save money, reduce debt and build wealth over time. I will encourage my family and friends to do the same.
Now share it: Studies show when you let your friends and family in on the plan, they help keep you honest.
If saving even a small amount is a struggle, start by trying to put aside $10 a week. If you receive your paycheck via direct deposit, you can route this money directly into a savings account, so you won’t even see it. At the end of the year, you will have saved $500, which is a great start! Gradually increase your weekly savings as your salary and expenses allow.
Many of us believe living paycheck-to-paycheck is a predicament that’s impossible to escape. You can spend less – but you have to be honest with yourself about where your money goes. Your weaknesses could be dining out, entertainment or clothing. You may also find that the bills that are draining your bank account are things you should be putting money aside for, such as holidays, weddings and other gift-giving occasions.
To plan for a vacation or other big expense, try a product or app designed to help better manage cash flow. Although still new, a growing number of financial technology, or fintech, companies are leveraging technology to provide tools that help workers better match their income to their expenses. For example, United Way partners with Salary Finance, a fintech company that provides affordable credit as an employee benefit to help workers pay down their debt faster to build savings.
Want to find out more about your financial health and how you can improve it? Visit MySmartMoney.org to begin tracking your income and spending. Starting to save today will help you realize your dreams in the future.