More than 74% of American workers would face financial difficulty if their paychecks were delayed for just one week, according to a recent report by the American Payroll Association. Sadly, living paycheck to paycheck is a reality for three-quarters of the U.S. population, and not only for low wage earners — nearly 10% of Americans with salaries of $100,000 or more struggle to make ends meet at the end of their pay cycle.
Fortunately, there are many easy, often overlooked, ways to start cutting back on expenses and building up your savings right away.
Douglas Boneparth, president and founder of Bone Fide Wealth, says saving comes down to "balancing a subjective lifestyle against your saving goals."
This of course requires a little effort and sacrifice. But before you can even begin saving, Boneparth says you need to understand your financial parameters by mastering your cash flow. This can be achieved simply by doing these three things.
Determine where your money is going. This involves going back into past credit card statements and identifying your spending habits. Thankfully, there are many automated services, like Mint and Tiller Money, that generate trend reports to identify your monthly purchases, listing them by category, merchant and amount spent. This is the process of "intimately understanding" how money comes into and goes out of your life, Boneparth says adding that people who do not have a firm grasp on this are setting themselves up for a financial rut.
Make a budget. According to a survey by Credit.com, about 60% of Americans don't have a budget — and that's because many don't know how to create one. But having a budget will always ensure you have enough money for the things you need — or dream of having. Begin by making a list of all your monthly expenses. Next, calculate how much you spend on each line item and compare it to your take-home pay. If you find your expenses are higher than your income, you need to cut back.
Identify your wants and needs. By separating the essential expenses from the nonessential, you can easily trim costs. Everyone needs food, shelter and clothing. But you don't need a $5,000-sq-ft home or a designer wardrobe. It's important to delineate between the two and control the urge to give into lifestyle creep.
Now that you have a clear picture of your finances, it's time to start saving. Here are 7 areas in which you can drastically reduce your expenses.
Food. Besides housing, food is perhaps the one line item in the household budget that Americans spend more on than anything else — Urbanites, especially. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend more than $7,700 per year on groceries and going out to eat. Food waste alone costs the average family between $1,365 and $2,275 every year. Meanwhile, the rise of convenient food-delivery services makes it very tempting to overspend on food, especially because it involves hidden fees, says Winnie Sun, founder of Sun Group Wealth Partners. The average American household spends $3,000 on takeout and food delivery every year. Sun says meal planning in advance can help make cooking at home less of a struggle. This is an easy way to save; the average meal prepared at home costs $4.
Sun also suggests maintaining a consistent diet, as purchasing the same food enables you to know exactly what you need from the store, preventing overspending and mitigating food waste. You will also be able to more easily monitor when food prices rise or items go on sale.
Alcohol. Cutting back on alcohol is another saver. According to a recent survey by The Harris Poll for TD Ameritrade, millennials spend nearly $300 on alcohol every month. Going dry for three months could easily save you close to $1,000.
Transportation. According to Sun, transportation can also weigh heavily on your budget. Depending on the city, Uber and Lyft users spend anywhere between $25 and $110 every month, according to a study by the personal finance app Empower. The convenience of these apps makes it easy to spend nearly $700 in a single month. Avoiding these apps, though, can be a boon for your finances.
Owning a car is less expensive than using ride-hailing services when it comes to your commute as well. On average, owning a car costs $10,049 per year, while using ride-hailing services for your commute costs $20,118 per year according to a AAA report.
Public transportation, though, remains the best way to commute. You can save hundreds every month by making the switch to public transportation, according to an American Public Transportation Association report.
If you can't make the switch to public transportation, resources like GasBuddy can help you find the cheapest places to get gas along your commute.
Subscription services. Twenty percent of Americans are expected to cut the cord by next year, according to eMarketer. But streaming services can add up. In fact, the average American consumer pays $37 every month for streaming services. Add that to extra iCloud storage, digital newspapers and all the free trials you forgot you signed up for and it can add up to hundreds of dollars every month. Boneparth suggests scrolling through your email inbox to see which services you are subscribed to and cancel as many as you can. Start-up subscription management services, including Truebill and Trim, offer free reviews of consumers' bank statements, specifically to flag recurring charges.
Cellphone plan. Research competing cellular plans and be open to the idea of switching providers. The wireless carrier market is ultracompetitive, and it is very likely there is a plan available that is cheaper than your current plan. With the help of sites like reviews.org, you can find plans that can potentially save you hundreds.
Cleaning. Americans spend $5.7 billion on paper towels annually, according to Euromonitor International. This is almost as much as the rest of the world spends on paper towels combined. Eliminating this expense and using reusable cloths instead can save the average American family of four hundreds of dollars every year.
Dry-cleaning. The average American household spends $500 on dry-cleaning every year, according to industry reports. To save, purchase clothes that can be washed at home or buy a personal steamer, available online for no more than $50.
Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.