How to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck

Living paycheck to paycheck can be exhausting. Take these steps and follow the tips to pave your way to a better financial future.

I grew up way below the poverty line, and without financial support from my parents, through college.

Like a lot of young people today, I racked up a ton of student loan debt going to school without a clear plan about what I would do after college.

In short, I lived the classic, anxiety-filled, paycheck-to-paycheck life while I worked my butt off delivering pizzas and changing tires at a local car dealership.

It wasn't until I got married, when I felt a different type of responsibility, to support my new family, that I decided to break the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.

Living paycheck to paycheck is exactly what it sounds like—you get one paycheck, spend it, and then it's ramen noodles until you get paid again.

I'll never forget only having $19.33 to get by for four days.

It was a wake up call and one that tested our relationship. But we got through it together.

And while I have no regrets, considering how reckless I was with managing my money, there were things I could have done earlier to help us not go through that sort of financial stress.

Spending, without really understanding our income and expenses, is a surefire way to end up living paycheck to paycheck.

Most Americans Live Paycheck to Paycheck (2017)

Luckily, getting control of your finances and monthly payments is not as difficult as you might imagine.

What I learned was that just by knowing how much you earn and how much you spend, you'll find that you can find a solution to stop living paycheck to paycheck.

That is, knowing is half the battle.

If you're reading this story, then you're probably aware that you may need to take a harder look at how you manage money.

Still, it's not always clear if you're  three out of four Americans living paycheck to paycheck.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you find yourself counting down to your next payday?
  • Do you start a new countdown after you've been paid because all of your money has already been spent?
  • Do you worry about what will happen if you get laid off your job?

If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, then you're living paycheck to paycheck, which is stressful and risky.

Don't think that those with more money aren't immune from financial struggle.

In fact, 25% of high-income earners making $100,000 or more still live paycheck to paycheck, according to a poll by Suntrust. Wow!

This is due to "lifestyle creep," which is when the more you earn, the more you spend – a problem many of us face, regardless of income.

If being stressed out about money is bothering you, then it's time to rethink how you handle money.

It is possible to become a more disciplined spender, even on a small paycheck.

I've put together a simple five-step plan complete with budget ideas, saving tips, and lots of proven ideas to help you break yourself out of the cycle of living paycheck to paycheck.

These are things that worked for my family and have been shared far and wide by financial experts (and friends) as proven to work.

Most the advice and tips in each step can help you immediately start budgeting, saving, and earning money.

But several have a lot to do with how you think about money.

What I learned early on was that to break the cycle, I hadto spend less than what I was earning.

When you learn how to stop living paycheck to paycheck, you will:

  • Always have money for your basic needs, even if your income is being reduced due to wage garnishment
  • Cover your expenses, with some wiggle room in your budget to afford fun things and the occasional splurge
  • Switch your focus to saving money, so it can make money for you (because social security isn't going to come in and save us when we retire, sadly).

Even if you've tried before to be better with your spending habits, but have failed in a spectacular fashion, you can follow these step-by-step tips and succeed this time around.

Americans Overspend Due To Emotions (2017)

Step 1: Use technology to know where your money is going so you can track it more easily

The best way to get control of your spending is to find out where your money is going.

You may have a general idea of where most of it goes each month, but when it comes to getting and keeping control of those concrete monthly payments, a "general idea" is not going to keep more money in the bank.

"You have to know where your money is going, and you have to give every dollar a purpose," writes finance blogger Alex Thomas Sadler.

"Tracking how much money is coming in versus how much is going out—and where exactly it's all going—is the key to making smart financial decisions that have a big impact on both your life now and your future."

So how do you do this? By logging everything you spend.

That's right—everything.

You can go old-school and whip out a pen and a notebook every time you're at the cash register, but for most people, the easiest way to get a sense of where their money is going is to download one of the many free apps and software tools that track and categorize your spending and income.

6 digital tools to automatically track your spending and income

There are so many great free budget services that work with your phone and bank account these days.

Here are six that I've played around with or have noticed are generating buzz among personal finance experts.

Mint. Create a budget and manage your spending (in real time!) with the personal finance app Mint. It's easy to use and keeps you in control of your finances by linking directly with your bank accounts.

You Need a Budget (YNAB). With YNAB, every dollar counts. It allows you to create a monthly budget based on your income, expenses, and savings goals.

Personal Capital. With over 1 million users, Personal Capital is the real deal. Use its financial tools to make it easy to build a manageable budget and financial plan.

Spendee. If you need help monitoring your spending, Spendee is for you. Track your expenses and categorize where your money goes. Figure out what categories you should spend less on and budget for saving.

BUDGT. With BUDGT, set saving goals, track daily spending, monitor your transactions, and discover an end-of-the month income surplus you never thought you could afford.

Digit. Digit monitors your daily spending and tracks your income. It syncs with your bank accounts and moves and saves money for you in a unique Digit account, all the while tracking your daily spending.

Many of these programs and apps are free at their basic levels.

I like to download a few of them to see which one works best and then upgrade after I've figured out which is my favorite.

Mint got a head start on many of them, so it's super strong and well known.

Still, the combination of millennials and smartphones means that there are new ones worth checking out. Some personal finance experts swear by Personal Capital.

Step 2: Make a better budget based on your current financial situation

Now that you know what you're spending your money on, you'll be able to create a realistic budget.

Most Americans Seem Confident In Their Money Skills (2017)

A budget is simply a list of things you plan to spend your money on, and a dollar amount assigned to each item on the list.

It is not as hard or time consuming as you think, but finance writer Miriam Caldwell does warn people that they must then actually follow the budget they've written down!

The first step to making a successful budget starts with knowing what you actually spend versus what you think you spend.

Otherwise, you'll over budget for some things and under budget for many others.

"Every dollar in your budget should have a job," says finance writer Ryan Guina.

"That means each time you receive your paycheck, you should know where and how your money will be used."

Typically, expenses in your budget fall into two categories:

  1. Fixed expenses are for things you buy that do not change, like rent, wage garnishment, and your cable bill.
  2. Variable expenses are for things like utilities and food that fluctuate.

So how does knowing the difference help you with your budget?

It shows you where to focus your saving and spending sprees.

For example, you may have a friend who loves her apartment, but she knows she could find an equally cool place with cheaper rent (fixed expense).

That might take some time —plus your friend hates moving—so she decides to eat out just twice a month instead of once a week (variable expense).

Knowing how fixed expenses and variable expenses affect each other is the first part of putting together a budget that you can live with.

6 simple and easy methods to help you make and follow a budget

50/20/30 rule. A solid budget plan that organizes fixed and variable expenses for you is the 50/20/30 rule, prescribed by many personal finance advisors.

In this approach recommended by Mint and many other personal finance experts, a person eager to break free of living paycheck to paycheck should aim to spend their money the following ways:

  • 50% of your take-home income (after taxes) should go to essential items like rent, utilities, and groceries.
  • 20% should go to your savings (or if you have credit card debt or high-interest loans, pay off those first using the Snowball Method, which means you pay off the smallest debt as fast as you can, while paying the minimums on any larger ones). You don't want to be without an emergency fund, which is why it's so critical to save.
  • 30% can go to personal expenses, like entertainment and leisure.

The envelope system. Calculate your monthly expenses, and place each expense in its own envelope in cash from your paychecks.

This assures you have your expenses paid each month and allows you to either spend or save your remaining income.

Reverse budgeting. Instead of categorizing your spending while budgeting, this method creates aggressive saving goals and focuses on always hitting your target amount.

Incremental budgeting. Using your previous budget, expand your expenses and credit card spending habits with incremental budgeting.

It allows you to build off of your previous budget and allotted spending.

Zero based budgeting. Spend zero extra on expenses with proper planning for the zero-based budget method.

Allow the exact amount for bills and expenses.

Cash only budget. Spend only cash. It's easy and simple, with proper planning and allocation of funds.

It ensures you spend within your means.

By following a budget, "Eventually, you will reach your financial goals of eliminating your debt and increasing your savings.

Somewhere along the way, you will notice that your cash flow has increased—and what seemed like a struggle from paycheck to paycheck slowly disappeared," Guina says.

Financial Goals Americans Hope To Achieve Within The Next 10 Years (2017)

Step 3: Be ruthless in cutting down spending—and make saving your #1 priority

It's time to change the way you think about money. Don't think only about what money can buy.

Instead, think about the security that a healthy savings can give you.

Guina says it's time to redefine your relationship with money—particularly how you're spending it—in order to move forward to financial freedom.

For me, would not have been possible if I hadn't been smart with my spending and saving.

It's true I had to take out a high-interest loan to help get the site off the ground, but even with that, if I hadn't been saving every extra cent from my full-time job along the way, the site would have more than likely crashed and burned like most dreams.

Come to think of it, once the site finally stabilized and I had paid off the loan, it was only because I continued to save, spend smartly, and avoid lifestyle creep that I was able to help my wife get through law school.

Don't think of having more money as being able to spend more. Instead, think of it as having more choices.

For example, if you were to lose your job tomorrow, whether it be a minimum wage or high earning gig, would you be able to stay in your current living situation, or would you have to move back home or in with a friend?

If that question is one that will keep you up at night, then that's where you need to create and stick to a budget to know where you can save money and where you absolutely need to spend it.

15 ways to lower your costs

Find ways to trim the fat and save money each month. When you're trying to save money, start with those monthly expenses that can be immediately trimmed away:

Cut the cable. See if you can get away with the bare bones channels and lowest speed of Internet.

Check out bundle options—you might save more if you add telephone and internet on the same bill.

Go on a data diet. Assess how much data you are actually using, then purchase a plan that covers only that.

Or, put yourself on a "data diet"—opt for the lowest possible plan that will suit your lifestyle and memorize all the "free WiFi" hotspots in your neighborhood.

Reevaluate your car insurance. Don't go underinsured, of course, but find out how to reduce your premium.

Compare rates using an auto insurance comparison tool like the one offered by

Make gifts instead of buying. Creating gifts instead of buying new will save you hundreds of dollars a year while adding a personal and creative touch.

Cancel landline. Save $15-$30 a month by canceling your land line at home.

Use your cell phone instead.

Drink less alcohol. Cutting out alcohol from your diet could save you anywhere from hundreds to thousands a year.

It also reduces the costs of health-related risks alcohol bring over time.

Drink more water. Stay full longer by drinking more water. You'll eat less, avoid soda, be healthier, and spend less money.

Quit smoking. The average cost nationwide of a pack of cigarettes is $5.50, with most states charging over $8. Save money by quitting smoking.

Your pack a week habit will  save you $286 on average.


Meal prep. Prep all your own meals for the week and have dinners or lunches (or both!) ready for you. You'll save time and money throughout the week by not eating out, and save on groceries.

Choose free family entertainment. Most children want your time rather than stuff, and many cities offer free entertainment.

Pick up your newspaper and read the events section. Go to the park, beach, free museums and farmers markets.

Go to the library. A paperback novel can put you back $20. Instead, save your money and visit your local library.

Library card programs are often free and many libraries offer online book rentals and have great movie selections.

Install a low-flow showerhead. Low-flow showerheads are easy to install and often inexpensive. They can save you up to a gallon a minute, which will save you on your water and energy bills.

Condiments, utensils, and napkins. Yes, it sounds wacky, but it's actually a clever way to save about $20 a month.

The next time you order fast food, ask the cashier/clerk for as many things as she can possibly spare i.e. napkins, ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, etc., and stock up. Yes, you are allowed to laugh at this, but $20 every month adds up over time. Indeed—that's $240 a year!

Cancel unused memberships. Unless you are making good on your fitness resolutions, get rid of the gym membership.

Rethink your transportation. Start or join a carpool and/or use public transportation to lower or eliminate a car bill.

Of course, the list can keep going, depending on your lifestyle. Once you figure out what matters most to you, you'll have a clearer picture of where you can save money each month.

After all, if you're going to ever spend less money than your wage brings in, it would be super helpful to know what exactly puts you in the black or the red.

9 apps and ideas that help put you in control of your spending

OK, so you definitely don't have control over certain bills every month, like utilities, rent or the mortgage bill. You also need to eat. But as far as other discretionary purchases, you are certainly in control.

But here's the issue: There are so many things to buy, and companies large and small are all too eager to take your hard earned cash.

They can lure you all they want with their shiny coupons, two-for-one deals, and the easiness of spending with multiple credit cards. But you've got to put the blinders on.

Here are a few techniques and apps to help resist the siren call of merchandising and find deals on things you actually need.

Ibotta. Cash in on rebates for your grocery or clothes shopping at participating stores. Simply take pictures of your bar codes and receipts to cash in.

Retail Me Not. With Retail Me Not, find coupons and sales at hundreds of retailers, and save hundreds on future credit card purchases.

SnipSnap. SnipSnap is a mobile coupon app that allows you to browse coupons and "snip" them for use next time you're shopping.

Grocery IQ. Grocery IQ ties grocery shopping and budgeting together. Create a list, find coupons, stick to your budget, and save.

Saving Star. Save money and earn cash back on groceries by taking pictures of your receipts. Cash out and deposit your money into your bank account or donate it to charity.

Military Cost Cutters. Find military-friendly businesses for veteran and active-military discounts in your area.

Unsubscribe to store emails.Your favorite store is emailing you… again. If it had its way, you'd be shopping there every day. Stop the madness: Click "unsubscribe." Unroll me helps you find and get rid of those pesky e-newsletters.

Beware the BOGO (buying one get one free). Unless it's something you use regularly, avoid buying in bulk just to take advantage of a good sale.

Promotions Used During the Holiday Season (2017)

I learned this the one the hard way. When I used to pack lunch for my kids each morning, I always would buy 2-for-1 cartons of yogurt on sale at the local grocery store.

The problem was that there was always yogurt that ended up sitting in the fridge way past the expiration date, and my wife would end up throwing it out without telling me.

Not until I scooped an expired carton of sour yogurt one night after a late night at work, as my wife walked into the kitchen laughing, did I realize what was going on.

Since then, I got smart and started hesitating on the 2-for-1's at the grocery—to the delight of my wallet… and taste buds.

Forget about free shipping. Free shipping is an awesome, awesome thing, particularly around the holidays. But almost all free shipping deals come with a minimum order.

Unless you can easily meet the price minimum needed to get the free shipping, don't go shopping willy-nilly. In the end, you might be paying $30 extra just to save $10 on shipping.

Focus on the benefits of saving, not the sacrifice

Sacrificing is hard, we know. That's why it's important to think less about what you're giving up and focus instead on what wonderful things you'll be gaining on the finance front.

For example, if you're on a diet, which sounds like a better plan: moaning and groaning over the enjoyable foods you've had to cut out in order to lose weight, or finding delicious recipes for the foods that are good for you?

It's easy to complain, but in order to benefit your waistline, you need to focus on the actions that will encourage positive outcomes.

The same goes for your bottom line.

Take it from Mary Beth Storjohann, founder of Workable Wealth: "Instead of feeling deprived when cutting costs, take a moment to think of what you'll gain by breaking the spending cycle."

Here are the benefits:

  • Pay off credit card debts, which will reduce your monthly expenses
  • Start or build an emergency fund for any situation that requires fast cash to fix it
  • Save for large purchases or investments, such as a vacation or a home
  • Invest in a retirement fund for a secure future because social security isn't going to be the same by the time we retire

Increase your income and build a bigger safety net

We already discussed ways of reconfiguring your budget so you can spend less.

But if that still isn't enough to get you out of the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle, there's only one other possible remaining solution:

You must make more money!

If that seems like an impossible endeavor to you, keep reading.

Step 4: Discover how to earn more money

When you've learned better spending habits, the next achievement to unlock is your potential to earn more.

When it comes down to it, you can only save so much money each month. But your ability to earn is something that you have control over—and you can keep increasing over and over again.

"But I already work two jobs!" you might be thinking.

"I have kids! I can't be out of the house more than I am already for work," you might also say.

Both are valid arguments. But times have changed. We live in the digital age, as well as the sharing economy.

It is entirely possible to boost your income by hundreds, if not thousands of dollars each month with a part-time job or a side gig outside of whatever hours you currently work.

Women with Part-Time Jobs

"Being wealthy is a state of mind, but so is being broke," Peter Voogd wrote for Entrepreneur. "You are what defines you, not what you possess."

Here are three of his tips for making more money:

Prioritize your profits. To create more income, do more things that are profitable. Find out what these things are, then make them the priority in your weekly schedule.

For example, if you're speedy with posting things for sale on eBay, take the time to find more things for sale. Maybe you have friends who can't be bothered with eBay, but also want to de-clutter—so do it for them and take a cut of the profit.

Realize that your time is valuable. It's actually more valuable than money, says Voogd. That's because you can make more money, but you can't make more time, no matter how hard you try.

Your goal instead should be to make double the amount of money in the same amount of time.

For instance, back when I was in college, I had a part-time job as a delivery driver for Papa John's. This guy "Fred" worked the Friday shift, but was also on the football team, and often needed a cover when he had a game.

I knew that weekends are the best time to make more money in tips, so I made sure Fred knew he could rely on me to cover or swap shifts.

Not only was I making more money for the same hours of work, but I was doing Fred a solid and could rely on him to return the favor when I needed someone to cover!

Stop making excuses. The more excuses you have, the less money you have. Instead of making better excuses, make better solutions. "Excuses are a disease and those who continue making them will continue to have money issues," Voogd says.

We've said it before and we'll say it again—you need to be spending less than you earn. If you make more money, that widens the gap between earning and spending.

When you focus on earning more, you're focusing your energy in a positive way toward your finances and your future, so it's a win-win for you and your bottom line.

Here are 21 ideas for you to earn more money:

Drive your car with Lyft and Uber. Take advantage of your car, truck, or van and drive people around.

On average, full-time drivers make $40,000 annually after expenses.

Tutoring. Impart your knowledge on those who need it and work as a tutor. Whether it's for a middle school kid needing help with math, or on an online site like Chegg, use what you know to make money.

On average tutors make $17 an hour.

Sell lesson plans. Teachers Pay Teachers is an online website where educators can share knowledge and expertise with one another. Sell your original educational materials and earn cash.

Since its founding, over $330 million dollars has been paid out to teachers for materials ranging from $3 to $200 each.

Start a side business. Starting a side business is a lucrative option if you want extra income after your 9-5.

The options are endless: Become a consultant for a skincare company, or sell jewelry and earn commission on your sales. Make 25%-40% profit on your sales.

Rent your parking space. Renting your parking space can earn you an extra $10-$50 depending on where you live.

Live near the slopes? Parking rates can be $35 a day, so charge $5 less and sell your spot. Live near a sporting arena? List it on Craigslist, make a sign, and attract customers.

Sell your hair. Sell your hair to be made into wigs. Sites such as World of Wigs will buy your hair for $3-$5 an ounce, as long as it's at least 12 inches long.

Sell bottled water at events. Set up shop outside of a music festival entrance or sporting arena, and sell water bottles for $1 a pop. Spend $4 on a pack of 40 at Sam's club and profit $36!

Rent your home. Sites like Airbnb and VRBO are very popular for unique travel experiences. Rent your home, or a portion of it to earn easy money and interact with people from all over the world while you're at it.

Earn enough money to pay your mortgage or subsidize a vacation. Make anywhere from $90-$300 a night.

Most Famous Online Portals For Vacation Apartment Booking (2017)

Recycle. Cash in on your glass bottles and aluminum cans. Depending on where you live, you might have options to earn more.

Earn anywhere from 5 to 10 cents per can or bottle.

Refunds for purchases. Shop and earn money back by downloading apps like Paribus and Ibotta. They link your receipts from merchants like Costco, Best Buy, Target and more, paying you the difference if there is a price adjustment on purchased products.

Refunds vary with purchasing habits and items.

Buy groceries and get rebates. Using the Ibotta app, download digital rebates.

Simply shop for certain items at the market and take a photo of your receipt and the barcode of the item.

Earn anywhere from 50 cents to $3 in rebates per item. Earn $10 for signing up.

Share what's in your fridge. The Nielsen Consumer Panel (NCP) offers points for scanning the barcodes of the items in your fridge.

You must be willing to answer questions and give your opinions on a panel. Earn points and exchange them for rewards.

Sell your services and skills. Quick jobs can add up quickly to easy money. Use Fiverr, a virtual marketplace for those hiring out tasks and jobs, and make $5-$10 for small jobs.

The bigger and more time-consuming the task, the more money in your PayPal account.

Online surveys. Work from the comfort of your couch and answer online surveys from sites like Swagbucks, Survey Junkie, InboxDollars, and more. You can make up to $250 a month.

Test websites. Click around a website, and get paid. Sites like User Testing pay up to $30/hour to visit websites or apps by completing tasks and recording your opinions.

Online focus groups. Share your opinions on products and services and participate in online focus groups.

Make as much as $50-$100 for two hours of participation.

Rate pizzas. It's as easy as placing an online order, timing the delivery, and rating the quality and taste of your pizza. Earn free pizzas and cash, anywhere from $5-$20 for your time and taste buds.

Online focus groups. Share your opinions of products and services and participate in focus groups.

Make as much as $50-$200 per focus group for your participation.

Play games online. InboxDollars pays you to test out games online. You earn cash and make $5 for just signing up.

Purchase token packs, play games and earn 18% cash back for every dollar spent. Games pay around $3, and with over 12,000 game options, you have opportunities for a lot of cash.

Host a garage sale. Get the neighbors to kick in their unwanted stuff and keep a percentage of the profits

Set up an online store. Sell your stuff on online sites like eBay, Poshmark, ThredUp, etc.

Get your kids involved by teaching them to take pictures of items and packing them up for shipment. (Bonus: They'll learn early about the value of the dollar!)

These are just a few of the many ways that you can earn extra money. If you have any other great ideas, I'd love to know. Leave them as a comment below.

Step 5: Learn how to avoid spending and watch yourself become a savings ninja

Think of it as a game, if you will. If you're the slightest bit competitive, this will be fun for you—and you're pretty much guaranteed to win every time.

Wait 30 days before you buy. Finance writer J.D. Roth suggests the 30-day rule to curb impulse spending.

It's simple: If you want to buy something that's not in your budget, wait 30 days. Think about the item in question. If you really want or "need" the item, then buy it—but only with cash. If you forget about the item by the end of the 30 days, then pat yourself on the wallet.

Cut out the latte. You don't need to wait 30 days to make an impact on your savings, though.

Finance expert David Bach touts the simple sacrifice of a daily latte as a springboard to major savings over time. His theory in a nutshell is this: Take the money you would normally spend on a cup of coffee and invest it.

Let's say your favorite cup is $4. It'll take $20 to get you through the workweek. Now imagine if you invested that $20 instead—you'd have $1,040 in a year's time—and that's before it even earns any interest. Add in a shot of compound interest, and it's no wonder that Bach believes a latte-less day can make you a millionaire.

Trim those "small" expenses. If a trip to the café isn't what's getting in the way of your savings, find some daily or weekly expense that is small but that can add up over time.

Do I really need to buy a Diet Coke out of the vending machine every day? Definitely not.

Find a money buddy. Friends and acquaintances can be powerful allies in your quest for financial freedom.

Do you know someone who has similar financial goals? Ask him or her to be your money buddy.

A money buddy is someone you team up with to keep each other on track financially. Do you see a cool pair of shoes you want to buy?

Call your money buddy for some quick advice on how to resist the urge. (And be ready to return the favor when he or she texts you mid-shopping spree!).

Here's one tip to offer off the bat: How many credit cards do you own? More than you can count on one hand? It's probably time to purge and cut out some of that plastic.

Don't know anyone who's into saving as much as you are? Use MeetUp to find like-minded people in your area.

There are groups online, too—Smart Cookies is a big one that's specifically geared toward women.

Think about how successful Weight Watchers has been over the decades in helping people lose weight with the support of weekly meetings.

Now imagine what that kind of support can do as you shrink your spending habits!

Americans' Goals In Weight Management

For example: Try giving up your gym membership, and hoofing it the extra blocks around town instead of hailing a cab.

Avoid peer pressure spending and lifestyle creep

Living paycheck to paycheck isn't relegated to lower income earners only. Even high-income earners can live paycheck to paycheck.

This phenomenon is explored in the book "The Wealth Hand-to-Mouth."

Authors Greg Kaplan, Giovanni Violante, and Justin Weidner discovered that back in 2010, two-thirds of households just scraping by on minimum wage were wealthy hand-to-mouth, in that they had high incomes, but did not have enough liquid assets to get them out of a jam.

Long story short, just because you earn more, doesn't mean you have to spend more.

It's not only possible, it also has a name: lifestyle creep.

Sounds like some gross predator from a B-movie, right? But the gist of it is this: When your income increases, so do your tastes and spending habits.

Though I grew up below the poverty line and was forced to take out a number of loans over the years to get off the ground, as the site has grown so has my income, and I can proudly say my wife and I have settled down comfortably.

But by comfort, I don't mean a pool in the backyard and five vacations a year. I still drive an unfashionable, beat-up sedan, we eat out rarely, and overall, just live a modest lifestyle.

Comfort for us is deliberately skirting lifestyle creep, and instead, saving aggressively so we could support our children (and eventually our grandchildren) with any necessary child support.

Finance writer Suzanne Woolley says that whenever you get a raise, be sure to "think about ways to head off little lifestyle upgrades that add up to big lost opportunities to save."

If you're in a position where you can cover your expenses easily, but still have trouble holding on to the rest of your paycheck, here's one thing you can do right now to avoid that icky lifestyle creep: automate your savings.

Appreciate that saving is a good thing, not a bad thing

If the mere thought of implementing these tips will cause you to lose even more sleep, then take a deep breath and relax: You do not have to put all of these strategies to work at once.

Instead, take your favorite tip from this guide and start there. For example, if you're attached at the hip to your smartphone and haven't tried tracking your expenses, download a free app and start crunching some numbers.

For me, Mint has fundamentally changed my life. The app's executive summary/dashboard is so intuitive, and injects a level of visibility into my finances and credit card habits that has helped me put things into perspective in a way spreadsheets were never able.

Or maybe you've never even considered getting a side job, but you've got a closet full of clothes you never wear anymore and a laptop at the ready to list them for sale.

Once whatever you focus on in your let's-save-money-step-by-step routine becomes a habit, take another tip and implement it.

This month, I'm trimming another small expense from my routine—twice daily premium coffees on the run, because, well, it's a lot easier, and cheaper, to have a nice machine in my office and make it on demand…

There's no doubt that it's easier to spend money than it is to save it. But when you think about the security that comes with being in the black versus being in the red, it should motivate you to create new, better habits for spending and saving.

I think you'll like these articles since you're on your way to taking control of your spending and saving:

Have you ever lived paycheck to paycheck? What got you out that tough rut? Let us know in the comments below.

5 Steps and 50 plus Tips to Stop Living Paycheck to Paycheck Infographic

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Learn More About Consumer Finance

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