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Living paycheck to paycheck

From Brent Rassmussen
CareerBuilder.com Editor

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(CareerBuilder.com) -- Counting down the minutes to payday? You're not alone.

Four-in-ten workers (41 percent) say they often or always live paycheck to paycheck, according to CareerBuilder.com's latest survey.

At the end of 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the average weekly earnings of a full-time worker was $682.

Take out taxes and other deductions like Social Security and Medicare, and that take-home pay is even less. Now subtract money spent on food, clothing, rent or mortgage, utilities, transportation, healthcare, education and other services for day-to-day living and there's often not a lot left over.

Scrambling to make ends meet is an exercise all too familiar in many homes. One-third of workers report they don't have enough income to live comfortably. To achieve this, more than half said they would need to earn more than $500 per paycheck. Thirty-seven percent of workers said they have one income for their households while 16 percent say they work more than one job just to make ends meet.

Because workers' paychecks are often spent before they even hit the bank, saving is often not an option. One-in-five said they don't set aside any money for savings each month. Twenty-eight percent save $100 or less per month and 16 percent save less than $50. And those golden years might not be so golden: 25 percent don't participate in a 401(k), IRA or other retirement plan.

So if you had the extra money, what would you do with it? Turns out many of you'd like be saving for a rainy day... or the future. In a 2006, American Payroll Association asked 33,128 Americans the question what they would do if they received a 100 percent pay raise. A combined 51 percent said they would either deposit it into savings, contribute it to a 401(k) or invest it.

While a bigger paycheck may help, planning ahead and maximizing benefits offered by employers can also play a major role in stretching your dollar. Here are some ways to help create a healthy bottom line at home:

Use direct deposit.

Many employers offer this to employees. By having your paycheck deposited directly into your bank account, you resist the temptation of just cashing it or getting cash back.

Pay yourself first.

Even if it's only $10 a week, set aside a certain amount of money every payday in a separate savings account. Don't touch it. Over time, you'll see it add up from your regular contributions and earned interest.

Don't leave any money on the table.

Take advantage of your employer's cost-saving benefits including flex-spending, education reimbursement and wellness benefits. Flexible spending accounts enable workers to designate a certain amount of pre-tax dollars for health-related expenses. Consider your commute, too. Some employers will reimburse transportation expenses or provide flexible work arrangements such as telecommuting.

Track your spending.

Although 58 percent of workers have a set budget each pay period, 21 percent say they typically spend over their allotted amount. When asked what puts them over budget most often, the most popular response was eating out.

Skip the ATM.

If you have cash on you, you'll spend it. Minimize your trips to the ATM by giving yourself a weekly cash allowance and using only that for the week. This might mean cutting back on daily lattes and lunches out, but you won't miss it over time.

Evaluate your paycheck.

Eighty-one percent of employers surveyed plan to increase salaries for existing employees in 2007 and nearly half expect to increase salaries on initial offers to new employees. Negotiations may be in order.

Start a job search.

Some job search expenses such as agency fees, travel expenses, long-distance calls and copying and mailing résumés are tax deductible for qualifying workers.

Brent Rassmussen is COO of CareerBuilder.com. He is an expert in recruitment trends and tactics, job seeker behavior and workplace issues.


© Copyright CareerBuilder.com 2007. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority


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