This article is part of our 52 week journey through Bill’s latest book, The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Each week, a full excerpt from his book will be presented from beginning to end. To get your copy of his book, visit www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.
Last week I explained how to calculate exemptions and gave an overview of how federal taxes are withheld from your paycheck. This week we will look at ways to stretch your paycheck so you can get much more for your money.
Ways to Stretch Your Money
There are a lot of things you could do to make your paycheck stretch further. You are probably thinking these are all going to be painful, but they really are not. What you have to remember is there are an unlimited number of ways you could spend your money, but you only have a limited amount of money. The point is you’ll have to make choices. Figure out what is important to you and don’t let anything get in your way of achieving it. Usually we sacrifice the big, important things for the small, insignificant ones. Look at the ideas below for ways to stretch your budget.
Save on Food
- Skip the name brand foods, and get the store brands. The same companies that make the name brands usually make these, but they are not spending money in advertising costs. I have found that cheap ketchup and mayonnaise just don’t work though.
- Watch for sales. Look at the store ads in the newspaper (or online). If you don’t really need something this week, just wait and see if it comes on sale the next week. Don’t be afraid to look at more than one grocery store. You’ll quickly learn where the better deals are.
- Make a list of things you need and only buy what is on the list. Most grocery carts are full of things that were not on the list in the first place. Nothing is worse than food going to waste when you are on a tight budget.
- Brown bag it. If you pack a lunch every day instead of eating out, you could save more than $1,200 per year. Also, you could actually use left over grocery bags (the plastic ones) instead of buying the brown lunch bags.
- Clip coupons. Too much of a headache? Just do it the easy way. Flip through the Sunday ads, and only clip coupons that are at least 50 cents and only for those products you always purchase, such as your favorite brand of coffee, cereal, peanut butter, etc. Also look for food coupons such as pizza, or any of the larger restaurant chains you always end up going to on Friday nights (and Saturdays, and Tuesdays). Do not use coupons just because you have them. Only use them to buy the things you were already going to purchase anyway.
- Skip the appetizers. Most restaurants charge at least $5-$7 for an appetizer. Unless you are splitting with friends, they are usually just a waste of money. Not only do they tend to be unhealthy (think cheese, plus carbs, plus grease), but they also keep you from finishing your $15-$20 meal.
Curb Some Habits
- Make your own coffee in the morning (assuming you drink coffee). Don’t pay $2 or $3 per day for coffee, when you could make it for just cents a day. At $3 per workday, you are spending more than $700 per year on coffee.
- If you smoke, then quit. I know it is not as simple as that, but do what you have to in order to quit smoking. How can you complain about never having any money when you are spending more than $50 a month on a bad habit? Think about it.
- Don’t make any large purchases until you have thought about it for at least 24 hours. You’ve made it this long without it, so what is another day? If you can, wait a whole week. This really works. Think about how many things you have that you just don’t use. By waiting a couple of days, you may realize you really don’t need it.
- Remember, you do not have to be the first. Yes, we all like the latest and newest gadget, but don’t purchase them as soon as they come out. Wait a few months and the price will drop significantly. Look at HD-DVD players. When they first became popular, they were priced at more than $500. Just a couple of years later, you could get a better one for $300. Even after just a few months, they were priced below $400. Let your buddies spend their money. You can get the same model a few months later much cheaper.
Save at Home
- Take a look at your telephone bill(s). Do you need call waiting? Do you use all 9,000 minutes on your cell phone? Do you always go over your minutes? There is money to be saved here.
- How much time do you really have to watch television? Do you watch 99 channels, or do you watch five of them? How often do you watch the premium channels? Remember, this is about choices. Would you rather spend your money watching television at home, or would you rather spend another night out at the movies?
- Don’t use so much electricity when you are asleep. You should adjust your thermostat when you go to bed so you are using your heating/cooling less. In fact, you could adjust it before you go to work. The best bet is to get a programmable thermostat (if your landlord will allow it) and set it to change accordingly. That way your house could still be comfortable by the time you get home from work.
There are, of course, entire books devoted to saving money and spending less. Hopefully I have given you a taste of a few ideas you can use. The important thing to remember is you may struggle a bit in the beginning, but you can look forward to moving up through the ranks. If you are one of the fortunate ones who make more money than you can handle right after college, you should still try to be somewhat conservative with your spending.
Since we are talking about your paycheck, now is a good time to mention one very important tip. Look over your entire pay stub and check for mistakes. I know you are already scanning every little deduction hoping to find a mistake. Chances are everything will be accurate, but if you have any questions, ask someone in Human Resources to explain the deduction. Don’t be surprised if they are unsure about certain items. Perhaps they too can learn something new from your question.
Don’t get too caught up just in the numbers. Make sure your social security number is right. I have heard horror stories about people who work for several years, and all of their social security benefits went to someone else, because they had the wrong social security number on their pay stub. In fact, something similar happened in my household. Fortunately we caught the mistake and had it corrected before it was too late. It only takes one digit to make the difference. If there is a mistake, have it corrected immediately. Assuming it is your first paycheck no harm was done. If you have been working for a while you may want to follow up with it and make sure you are credited for all of your contributions to social security, including those made before you discovered the mistake.
Chapter 5 Summary
- Gross pay is the larger number on your paycheck. It is what you actually earned before any deductions were taken out.
- Net pay is what is left over in your paycheck after all of your deductions are taken.
- Expect to ‘net’ between 60% and 70% of your salary, after taxes, insurance, retirement, etc. are taken out.
- Adjusting your withholdings only slightly changes the amount of each paycheck. It does not affect the total amount of taxes you will owe for the year.
- In order to make your money last longer you can curb some of your spending habits or look for other ways to cut back on wasted expenses.
This section wraps up our discussion of your paycheck. Next week we start the journey of making plans for your life and assessing where you are now. We will start with how to get organized, what files to create, and the one place you should NEVER have your social security card.
Bill Pratt is a former credit card executive turned student-advocate. He is the author of Extra Credit: The 7 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Credit Debt & Ca$h and The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Bill speaks at colleges to educate and entertain students about real-life issues in money, leadership, and success. His goal is to help students succeed personally and financially so they can improve the lives of those around them. You can learn more at www.ExtraCreditBook.com or www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.