Everybody in the personal finance world seems to know that step #1 to almost anything personal finance is to have an emergency fund. But what do you do if you don’t have one yet, are living paycheck-to-paycheck, and need to get out of the hole before you dig it any deeper?
You have two options: cut your costs and/or make more money. Period.
Cut Your Costs
Cutting your expenses helps stop the bleed pretty quickly. You may not be able to save a ton this way since there is only so much that you can cut, but at least the world will not be demanding as much of your money. The biggest expenses to look at right off the bat are usually housing, vehicles, and food.
With housing, look at what you have and see what you can change to make it cheaper. If you rent, can you rent somewhere cheaper or ask your landlord for a reduction? How about getting a roommate? If you have a mortgage, can you refinance? Or rent out a spare bedroom? Or downsize to a cheaper place realistically? Remember, a sacrifice now means more padding for your future and hopefully some peace of mind.
Vehicles are very similar to homes. Do you have a payment? Can you realistically reduce it? If so, do it. If not, maybe you can look at reducing gas costs by carpooling or insurance costs by raising your deductible. Pretty much, look at your costs, and be honest on whether or not you can cut them down.
With food, there are a ton of options to save. Honestly, the less pickier you are, the better. Then you can buy fruits and vegetables that are in season and cheaper rather depending on the ones you like whether they cost a lot or not. You may also want to look into cutting back on the expensive foods you enjoy without giving them up completely. A 14 ounce steak makes a delicious, fantastic dinner. But it also could make two yummy main dishes instead. For anybody that actually pays attention too suggested servings, it may make 3-4 awesome main dishes and you can fill up on cheaper sides instead. My favorite lately has been boiled carrots or steamed frozen green beans. The point is just that you can cut back on food most of the time unless you’ve already pared back a ton.
Make More Money
There are a ton of ways to make money fast. There are also ways to increase your income long term. I suggest working both of those sides at once. Look at the time you have, the things you may enjoy or at least not hate, and jump in. At work, you can make yourself promotable by stepping up your game. Or at home, you can look into side hustles or hobby jobs to make fast cash.
With effort and a bit of luck or sacrifice, you too can stop digging yourself an early financial grave. Or even just tackle making more or spending less to achieve a different financial goal. The concept is simple even if the steps themselves can be hard.
Crystal Stemberger uses Budgeting in the Fun Stuff to write about finding the balance between paying your bills, saving for your future, and budgeting in the fun stuff along the way.