10 Ways to Get a Month Ahead of Your Expenses

Stop the Stress of Paycheck to Paycheck

Learn how to get a month ahead with your bills and budget for less stress and you’ll never have to worry about over drafting. We’ve got some ideas to get you started.

Picture this: ten bills with the same due dates and instead of wallowing in despair, you just pay them—without batting an eyelash. The money has been sitting right there in your checking account for a month (or longer!). Sound like magic?

But how can an ordinary person, with an ordinary salary, get so far ahead of their expenses that an entire month’s worth of new paychecks simply lay, unused, on top of the pile? 

The answer is bit by bit, month by month, and budgeting. Get creative, find ways to spend less, new ways of earning money, and watch your money grow (old). Here’s some ideas on how to reach that blissful state of being a full month ahead with your bills, car insurance, debt payments, savings goals, and stay there. Kiss living paycheck to paycheck goodbye once and for all.

How You, Too, Can Have Old Money.

Unfortunately, you can’t simply take your dollars to the beach, sans sunscreen, and let the sun work it’s age-accelerating magic. You’re stuck waiting on the sands of time to get the job done. Luckily, there are unlimited ways to ramp up your savings as you wait for those gainful granules to fall. And here are ten strategies to put to use.

Unfortunately, you can’t simply take your dollars to the beach, sans sunscreen, and let the sun work it’s age-accelerating magic. You’re stuck waiting on the sands of time to get the job done. Luckily, there are unlimited ways to ramp up your savings as you wait for those gainful granules to fall. And here are ten strategies to put to use.

1. Sell Stuff You Don’t Use

Just the other day I had an old pair of skis collecting dust in the garage. A few quick clicks and a Facebook Marketplace listing later, I had $50 of cold, hard cash.

You know how the old saying goes: one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. Sites like Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, and Ebay make it easy to turn a basement of clutter into a gold mine and earn extra money.

2. Cancel, Cancel, Cancel

This one’s obvious, but it gets really good if you can be merciless. You can dramatically minimize your monthly bills with a few keen evaluations of the subscriptions you actually need and want. No use to pay bills for things you don’t need. Here are some examples:

  • Cut down on your streaming subscriptions (do you really need all seven?)
  • Cancel an audiobook streaming service (many podcasts are free!)
  • Switching from a paid service to a similar, freemium service (or downgrading your account for more cost-friendly pricing)
  • Canceling a gym membership (Exercise is free!)
  • Cut ties with the monthly box membership that sends you more stuff than you could possibly need in a month.

3. Try the More Money Challenge

Sometimes we just need to hit the reset button with our spending. Maybe it was an out-of-control online shopping binge, or just a credit-card hangover from holiday spending. Swing the pendulum the other way with the help of an intense, all-out savings challenge! For 30 days, follow three simple rules:

  1. Track your spending (every dollar)
  2. Only buy essentials (you decide what’s an essential)
  3. No eating out (say what now?)

After 30 days of this intense sprinting, the average participant had over $1,000. Just think: in just over a month from now you could make some serious progress on your month-ahead goals with a little elbow grease and motivation from this challenge.

Learn more about the challenge.

4. Cook Your Own Meals

The degree of difficulty for this one depends on your lifestyle, but it packs a punch! Do some research for budget-friendly recipes, and you’ll really feel the difference. Bonus: cooking at home can help you minimize your spending and your waistline.

5. Get Cheap, Real Cheap

I know some folks are very loyal to their favorite brands, but think about it. Would you rather pay more to bathe, or save that money and enjoy financial peace a decade early? Now, I’m not about to start throwing out brands or categories only to deeply offend, but I will challenge you to try generic on things you don’t actually care that much about.

For me, that means a lot of my grocery staples come in the form of the grocery store brand, I’ve yet to splurge on a $90 bottle of moisturizer (the $16 version seems to be working just fine), I get books from the library rather than buying, and for big ticket items I try to rent or buy used before purchasing. 

On their own, each of these little scootches toward frugalness add up to $1 here, $10 there. But once you start stacking these on top of each other, you might see savings of hundreds of dollars each month! Your savings account will thank you. Heck, it might even hug you, if it could do such a thing!

6. Keep the Car and Fix It

The cheapest car is usually the one you’re driving right now. It is oh-so-tempting to sail into a different car with a low monthly payment and no money down once the $1,000 maintenance bills start showing up. But here’s the thing, paying to fix your old car (especially if you own it outright or are about to) keeps more money in your pocket than shelling out a monthly payment on a depreciating car that is a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have.

I drive a car that was made the same year that frosted tips and Motorola phones were all the rage. It’s old. A few months ago I paid $800 to fix something. What I fixed, I don’t know. My husband does though and apparently it was a fair price. But we own it outright. In the next year or two it will likely require another $1K-$2K of repairs. 

Things like these mental hacks are one of the best-kept secrets of being debt free or paying off debt faster. What if—instead of fixing—I decided it was time to get a new-to-me car with a $350/month payment. After a single year of ownership, that new-to-me car has gobbled up $4,200 of my hard-earned cash. After two years, $8,400.

If I would’ve just kept my old car and kept repairing it for about $1,000 a year, I’d have saved $6,400 from that decision alone! That’s enough for many folks to be a month ahead (or more!).

7. Just Use Less

Turn down the heat, turn up the AC, drive less or get off of your phone! Look at your bills that fluctuate with use, and see what you can do to minimize your usage. Once we started meal planning and using up more food that was already in our pantry, we saw our grocery bill drop by over $100 a month! Of course, that won’t be possible for everyone, but what other bill could you affect with a behavior change?

8. Minimize Gift Purchases

People that love you will understand if you can’t participate in this year’s gift exchange. They want to see your face, and enjoy your company—that’s what really matters! So opt-out, or try something more economical.

Another idea that I came across, last year, was totally free: trading ‘grateful fors’. That family’s gathering sounded so fun, I might try it myself! Here’s how it works: Everyone writes down the top three things that they were grateful for that year. Then they go around the room sharing their memories. For a modest price increase, you could add hot cocoa, too. Sounds merry and bright to me.

Finally, you can gift experiences! A day hiking with Dad. An afternoon watching the entirety of a favorite movie series with your sister. If you thoughtfully customize this one for the recipient, it might just be their favorite gift from you, yet.

9. Save Your Surges!

When you get money from tax returns, bonus checks, gifts from grandparents and, yes, even that ‘extra’ check in longer months? Treat them like fine cheese, and age them! These infrequent surges are much easier to bank, because they’re not part of your regular monthly income.

10. Hustle!

If you can find a way to add more income to your life with a side hustle, you’ll age your money at warp speed! Get a seasonal or part-time job—be strategic and pick an industry that you’d enjoy when you’re not at your full-time job.

Or offer your professional talents as a freelancer (just make sure you’re not violating anything in your employee contract). For motivation, check out the this Heard it From Hannah video and get inspired.

How to Track Your Progress

You can make more money, you can spend less, but what will help tremendously in this process is a system to measure your progress. And we wholeheartedly suggest you need a budget if you don’t already have one. We’re on-brand, what can we say?

A zero-based budget will help you see exactly how much you need every month: everything from your monthly bills to your yearly car insurance and holiday spending. Plus, it helps earmark things like your emergency fund or savings goals to protect that cash too. 

With your monthly baseline, say it’s $3,500/month—you’ll know that you need to have $3,500 every month. If you make $4,000/month, you’ll know that in just seven months you’ll be there in glorious month-ahead land without too many difficulties. 

If you’re not currently using a zero-based budget, try YNAB for free! Use it to find your monthly number and then track your progress to breaking the paycheck to paycheck cycle. It’s only a matter of time before you’re out!

Remember, This Is Temporary.

As with most things in life, the speed at which you age your cash will vary. And remember, none of these suggestions has to be your new normal! Streamline your lifestyle for a tolerable amount of time, save up some dollars, and then adjust. You might find that you really don’t mind spending less in some areas, and keep some of your new habits, too!

For more help getting a month ahead, drop into one of our free, interactive sessions about cutting spending or saving money on groceries. It’s a place to ask questions and our teachers are wildly brilliant, relatable, and here to help.