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Living paycheck to paycheck

  • Story Highlights
  • Survey: Almost half of workers live paycheck to paycheck to make ends meet
  • Quarter of people don't save any money, 34 percent save less than $100 per month
  • Health insurance and retirement funds are necessary, experts say
  • Take advantage of benefits like education and gym memberships
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By Hope Gurion vice president
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Invisible expenses -- a smoothie after yoga class or a burger for lunch -- can quickly deplete your account.

Invisible expenses -- a smoothie after yoga class or a burger for lunch -- can quickly deplete your account.

If you find yourself counting the hours until your next paycheck is deposited in your bank, you're not alone.

Almost half of workers live paycheck to paycheck just to make ends meet, a new survey finds.

While we are all advised to earmark some of each paycheck for savings, a quarter of workers say they don't put any money into savings and, of the ones who do, 34 percent set aside less than $100 per month.

Workers don't intend to struggle between pay periods -- it just seems to happen. Nearly two-thirds of workers set a budget for each paycheck, but 19 percent don't (or simply can't) follow it on a regular basis.

The answer for many employees would be to earn more money. Forty-two percent of workers believe an additional $500 per paycheck would allow them to live comfortably. Yet, 21 percent of workers who earn at least $100,000 also claim to live paycheck to paycheck.

Where does all the money go?

Although you budget for rent, monthly bills and groceries, do you factor in going to the movies, eating out for lunch, repairing your car's busted radiator or tailoring your new suit?

When accepting a job offer and setting your budget, think about how much money you need to live your regular, everyday life, not just enough to cover the recurring bills you receive in the mail.

Your invisible expenses -- a smoothie after yoga class or a cab ride after a night of partying -- deplete your account more than you think.

"Consider creating a budget and then writing down all money spent for a month. Compare it to the budget," financial specialist Lisa R. Featherngill advises. "Are there surprises?"

Eating away at your budget

One of the reasons so many workers can't put anything in savings might be their penchant for eating out. You could pack your lunch that morning or make a little extra dinner and take the leftovers to work ... but do you?

You might not be surprised to find out that nearly two-thirds of workers set a budget for each paycheck, but 19 percent say they don't stick to it on a regular basis. Quick bites are often the culprits.

"Most of us don't plan to eat out so often, but there's a delay at work, an appointment takes longer or the subway is running slowly. We're tired and hungry; there's no time to cook, so we end up calling for takeout or running next door for a quick restaurant meal," says Stacy Francis, a financial adviser and president of Francis Financial.

By the time you pay for your meal, you're probably hard pressed to go anywhere without spending at least $5. Factor in a drink or chips and you're closer to $10. Do that more than once a week and you're hitting your bank account pretty hard.

"Saving just $25 a week for 40 years with a 5 percent annual yield will give you more than $165,000; at 7 percent, you'd have $286,640," Francis calculates. "Oh, and double the weekly amount to $50, find a 9 percent return, and you'll have tucked away [more than $1 million] at the end of 40 years."

Don't mess with the necessities

One good expense you might have coming out of your paycheck is a deduction for your health benefits. Although you might think that money's better off in your pocket, it's not. A health issue can be costly; for many Americans it has been the cause of bankruptcy. If you have a spouse or partner who has health benefits, you can see if his or her plan offers comparable or better benefits for a better rate.

The same can be said for your 401(k). It can be tempting to dip into your retirement so you can maintain your current lifestyle, but don't. Although a third of surveyed workers don't contribute anything to a 401(k), IRA or retirement plan, those who do should keep putting in what you can. When your employer matches your contribution, you're taking full advantage of the compensation package that probably lured you to the job in the first place.

Ask what your job can do for you

Of course, sometimes just getting to work can be expensive. By now everybody knows how high American gas prices are and many people have opted to take buses and trains to work instead. Switching to public transportation isn't always an option, however, if you live in some major cities and many rural areas.

One way you might be able to cut back on transportation costs is to work from home as much as possible. If you're lucky enough to have a job and employer that allows this, take advantage of it to save both money and travel time.

Perhaps the best way to save money is to take advantage of benefits that don't cost you a thing. If your company offers an education reimbursement and you're in school, use it. If you can have all or some of your gym membership paid for, find out how. Missing opportunities to get back cash you're already spending is the equivalent of throwing money away.

Sometimes, though, living paycheck to paycheck is not a matter of luxurious spending; it's a simple case of math. You might not be earning enough to ever get ahead. You have to decide whether you're happy with your current salary or if you need to earn more.

Sixty-four percent of hiring managers plan to provide an increase in salaries for full-time, permanent employees in the third quarter of 2008 -- this could be your opportunity to ask for a raise.

Hope Gurion is vice president of business development for

Copyright 2009. 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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