Have you ever felt like your income stretches a little less as time goes on, even if the amount on your paycheck has remained the same? Well, the “good” news is that you’re not imagining this phenomenon. But the more challenging news is that you, along with Americans everywhere, are dealing with the rising costs of living—inflation not necessarily reflected in salaries and hourly wages.
So, what’s a consumer to do when the cost of living is outpacing their earnings? Here’s more on what’s happening and some tips for making every cent of your income count.
While Cost of Living Rises, Wages Stay Stagnant
At first glance, the current economy is chugging along: Unemployment’s at a low following the gradual recovery from our last recession, and wages are up. But what’s increasing even more rapidly than income is the cost of living. One survey found the cost of living in America has climbed 14 percent within the last three years. The median cost for a home has jumped 21 percent, while median rent has gone up by 7.6 percent across the same period.
As debt expert and Freedom Debt Relief co-founder Andrew Housser writes, many U.S. consumers are feeling the pinch as a result: household savings rates are down, few people have the emergency funds they’d need to cover an unexpected expense, and household budgets are “more fragile for the lower part of the income distribution.”
The takeaway? In the face of the rising costs of living, it’s more important than ever to make the most of every penny you earn.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Income
- Create a budget: Avoid randomly using your paychecks to address expenses by writing them down in order of cost and necessity, then logging how much of your paycheck goes to each one. Prioritize from there. You can use a spreadsheet or a budgeting app to stay current on your budget.
- Adjust how much you’re withholding: You may be withholding too much from each paycheck in the name of getting a refund at the end of the year; that’s money you could use each month to save, pay down debt, etc.
- Pay down debt: Interest on outstanding debts will hold you back over time, so it’s wise to pay more than the minimum. Many people find it helpful to pay down debts in descending order based on either balance or interest rate.
- Set up automatic savings: To avoid the temptation of accidentally overspending, make sure a healthy percentage of each check automatically goes toward saving.
- Build up your emergency fund: Make sure a portion of each paycheck goes into a separate emergency fund to pad you against future catastrophes large and small.
- Plan for the future: Even though retirement may seem a long way off, setting aside a percentage of each paycheck will set you up for the future once your income stops.
- Have some fun, too: Once you’ve prioritized the aforementioned financial goals, you can use some of your paycheck to reward yourself for staying on track. Allowing yourself some wiggle room for discretionary spending is important.
Instead of expecting yourself to avoid discretionary spending altogether, simply build it into your budget as something you can do after you budget for necessities. This will help you wring more value out of each paycheck.
It’s undeniable the costs of living are going up for Americans, which makes it more important than ever to be strategic about how you use your income.