The fact that most Americans are behind on savings is hardly news. Last year, a study by GoBankingRates revealed that a whopping 69% of Americans have less than $1,000 in the bank, while 34% have no savings at all. But a new report by MetLife confirms that those who are indeed living paycheck to paycheck aren't exactly celebrating their precarious way of life. In fact, 49% of workers are "concerned, anxious, or fearful" about the current state of their finances.
This data is consistent with a 2016 report by Northwestern Mutual, which found that most U.S. adults suffer from what it calls "financial anxiety." Not surprisingly, the primary concern among those surveyed is not being able to cover an unexpected expense. If the state of your finances is causing you to lose sleep at night, you have two choices: You can continue on the stress-inducing road you're currently on, or you can take steps to break free from the vicious cycle that is living paycheck to paycheck.
Building your safety net
Let's be clear: Saving money isn't easy, per se, but it's feasible if you have a game plan. The first thing you need to do is create a budget if you don't already have one to map out your current expenses and compare them to the amount of income you're bringing in. If you're among the many folks who live paycheck to paycheck, you'll probably come to find that your budget doesn't leave you with much, or any, wiggle room for an unplanned expense. And that's when you'll move on to the next step, which is making changes.
What many people don't realize is that saving money often boils down to making choices. You might think you need to make that $300-a-month car payment or pay your $1,200-a-month rent. But while you do need an option for commuting to work, and you're not crazy for wanting a roof over your head, you probably have some options for lowering those costs.
If you're serious about building some emergency savings, you'll need to reevaluate the things you're currently spending money on, even if it means making some personal sacrifices along the way. For example, what if you were to give up your vehicle and take the bus back and forth to work every day? You might double your commute time, which is unfortunate, but if doing so shaves $200 off your monthly expenses, it's a move worth making.
Similarly, imagine that instead of living in your current apartment, you downsize to a smaller space that's less costly to rent. Doing so might instantly put, say, $300 a month back in your pocket, as would moving to a less convenient or hip neighborhood. Is giving up your beloved abode ideal? Of course not. But if you're struggling to keep up with your bills and don't have enough money in your savings account to cover a single month's rent, it's a sacrifice you may need to make if you're looking to break the cycle of financial insecurity.
Of course, these are just two examples of ways you might eke out some savings in your budget. While larger changes are the most effective means of reducing your living costs and building your emergency fund quickly, if you make enough smaller changes, over time, you'll achieve a similar effect. The key is to think about which sacrifices you'll find the least disruptive, and pinpoint those as the ones to make. If, for example, you absolutely adore your apartment but are willing to give up your cable plan, video streaming service, and weekly takeout allowance, you might save the same amount of money as you would by moving to a less pricey space. But if the idea of giving up all those things makes you miserable, then by all means choose another avenue.
No matter what you do, just be sure to do something rather than resign yourself to a lifetime of financial uncertainty. Otherwise, you're apt to lose a whole lot of sleep worrying about the big next money-related disaster.