As someone whose income varies every month, I’ve had to employ a few budgeting hacks to avoid waiting on client payments. One of my favorite hacks is getting a month ahead on my living expenses. By the end of January I have enough in my bank account to cover my rent, utilities, food and other expenses for February.
The beauty of this approach is that you only need to do this once. After you have this one-month baby buffer fund saved, you’re golden.
Here are some ways you can get a month ahead on your living expenses:
Save 'extra paychecks'
If you’re a 9-to-5er and get paid every two weeks, there’s two months each year when you’ll get three paychecks. If you stick to your budget, those two “bonus” checks will be enough for you to get ahead one month.
I did this when I had a day job. I was able set up automatic payments for my bills and stash a bit of each paycheck for retirement. I no longer needed to constantly check on due dates of bills.
Save during 'good months'
If you receive a windfall, whether in the form of a work bonus, a cash gift or a good month as a freelancer, save some of it for your “get ahead fund.” For your birthday or the holidays, ask friends and family to bypass the gift cards or pajama set, and politely request cash instead.
Save your raises
If you get a bump in pay, save the extra amount each month. You might be tempted to upgrade your lifestyle. In some cases, that may be OK, but hold off until you have enough saved to get ahead. Once you do, you can consider a new car, more luxe digs or an upscale gym.
Cut back on expenses
Living within your means is a timeless money tip. But to save one month’s living expenses, take it a step further and cut back where you can. This is only temporary. If you can slash your spending by 10% and sock away that savings, in 10 months you’ll be able to get ahead of your bills by a month. Be more aggressive in your savings, and cut back 20%, and you’ll hit your mark in five months.
Make sure to put the funds you save into a savings account. For instance, if you normally spend $100 a week on groceries, and manage to spend only $50, deposit the balance into your get-ahead savings account. Otherwise, you may be tempted to carelessly spend the money you worked hard on saving and your efforts will have been futile.
Take on extra side hustles
Consider taking on a side hustle to get ahead. There are about a million different ways you can earn money. If you’re doing it just to rake in extra cash and not to grow it into a side business, go for gigs that don’t take much money or experience to start. For instance, ride-hailing service driver, pet sitter, Ikea furniture assembler — you get the idea.
To earn money on the side, I’ve done my fair share of pet sitting and test proctoring. I have worked health fairs and been a paid audience member and rent-a-friend (true story). Besides being easy gigs, they also offer a break from the computer.
Living paycheck to paycheck blows. By adding a bit of breathing room into your money situation by getting a month ahead, you allay some stress in your life.
Looking for more life hacks? We've got plenty in our Moneygenius magazine.