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Budgeting by paycheck using a phone app

5 Tips for Saving Money Using the Budget by Paycheck Method

From cash envelope stuffing to zero-based budgeting to the 50/30/20 ordeal, there's no shortage of budgeting types and methods available. However, many base themselves on traditional monthly pay schedules — something not everybody can relate to. If you've tried such regimens and failed, it may not be down to a lack of effort or commitment. It just isn't the right solution for you.

Being paid once a week or bi-weekly can be a blessing and a curse. While you may feel like you have more freedom to spend on necessities since you don't have to wait very long for your next paycheck, you can easily fall into a sticky situation where you don't have enough cash when you need it most. But the budget-by-paycheck method aims to change that.

In the following sections, you'll learn everything you need to know about this modern budgeting strategy, helping you determine whether it's your next best financial decision.

Key Takeaways

  • Embrace the budget by paycheck method as a flexible and modern alternative, allowing you to create a new budget with each paycheck, providing structure for those paid bi-weekly and aiding in financial stability.
  • Assess the paycheck budget method based on your unique circumstances, recognizing its benefits for increased visibility, improved cash flow management, and easier expense tracking. Tailor your approach to align with your financial goals and challenges.

What Is the Budget by Paycheck Method?

The premise is simple: you create a new budget each time you're paid. And with each paycheck, you assign every dollar a job to cover your outgoings until your next paycheck. It's an alternative to monthly budgeting, wherein you budget just once per calendar month, regardless of when you're paid.

Why Should You Budget by Paycheck?

Budgeting by paycheck works wonders for many, and there's no reason it can't do the same for you! Here are just a few advantages of following the strategy:

  • You can break the living paycheck-to-paycheck cycle. 
  • You'll think about your budget more often than when following a traditional method.
  • Predicting spending for the upcoming week(s) is easier. 

Related: Avoid these money habits that keep you poor.

How Do You Budget If You're Paid Bi-Weekly?

Managing your finances becomes a breeze when you align your budget with your bi-weekly pay schedule. The budget by paycheck method is a game-changer for those who receive their income every two weeks, providing a structured approach to handling expenses and ensuring financial stability.

Unlike traditional monthly budgets, the bi-weekly budget requires you to stretch your income over two weeks. This means that each paycheck needs to cover a broader spectrum of expenses, from bills and groceries to savings and discretionary spending. The key lies in breaking down your monthly commitments into manageable portions, allocating funds strategically, and staying disciplined throughout the pay cycle.

Is the Paycheck Budget Method Right for You?

Below are some reasons why you would consider the paycheck budget method.

  1. Increased Visibility. With a bi-weekly budget, you gain a more granular view of your finances. This enhanced visibility allows you to track and manage your spending more effectively.
  2. Improved Cash Flow Management. By budgeting with each paycheck, you can optimize cash flow and avoid financial strain during the latter part of the month. This method ensures that you always have funds available for essential expenses.
  3. Easier Expense Tracking. Breaking down your monthly expenses into bi-weekly increments makes it easier to monitor where your money is going. This transparency empowers you to make informed decisions about your spending habits.

Is the Paycheck Budget Method Right for You?

The budget by paycheck method

Determining the suitability of the paycheck budget method depends on various factors unique to your financial situation. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, this method tends to be particularly advantageous for individuals facing specific circumstances. Consider adopting the paycheck budgeting approach if:

  • Variable expenses are a concern. If you often find it challenging to manage variable expenses like groceries, entertainment, and dining out, the paycheck budget method can help you allocate funds more effectively throughout the pay period.
  • Cash flow alignment is crucial. Individuals who prioritize aligning their cash flow with their expenses will find the bi-weekly budgeting method invaluable. This approach ensures that funds are available when needed, reducing the risk of financial strain.
  • Discipline is a priority. The success of any budgeting method hinges on your ability to stick to it. If you value a structured, disciplined approach to managing your finances, the paycheck budget method provides a clear framework for staying on track.

In essence, the effectiveness of the paycheck budget method lies in its ability to tailor your financial management strategy to your specific needs. It is a versatile tool that, when implemented thoughtfully, can pave the way for financial success and stability.

You're Paid More Than Once Per Month

People paid monthly benefit from an easier budgeting scheme. After all, they know where the cash to pay their bills is coming from. However, you don't have that luxury.

Timing your expenses is imperative when you're paid more often to ensure you aren't spending dollars that haven't landed in your account yet. With a budget by paycheck system, you can easily assign every paycheck to certain expenses, decreasing the likelihood of falling behind. 

You're Living Paycheck to Paycheck

A PYMENTS report showed, that as of November 2022, 76% of US adults earning less than $50,000 live paycheck to paycheck. 65.9% of those making between $50,000 and $100,000 live paycheck to paycheck, as do 47.1% of Americans earning over $100,000. These figures mark an overall increase from May 2021, meaning even more individuals would benefit from this tried and tested budgeting method.

Running out of money before every payday can be tricky, but with this budget, you'll make a plan for your income to ensure you don't have to scrape by on your last few cents. 

You're New to Budgeting

Traditional budgeting regimes would advise you to plan your outgoings one month in advance. However, they don't consider the fact that most people aren't paid at the beginning of each month. As a budgeting newbie, such advice could necessitate spending money you don't yet possess.

By following the budget by paycheck suggestion, you'll identify when money comes in and out of your account, allowing you to only spend money you've earned.

How the Paycheck Budgeting Method Works

As alluded to earlier, you'll make a brand-new spending plan (i.e., a budget) based on how often you're paid. It forces you to sit down and take stock of your finances frequently, making sure you have a plan in place before you get the money. This way, you're unlikely to run out of cash early.

The Pros and Cons of Budgeting by Paycheck

Everything comes with positives and negatives; the budgeting by paycheck method is no exception.

Pros

Cons

  • Provides more flexibility. 
  • Easier to pinpoint extra paydays. Those paid weekly have some months with five paychecks and some with four. Those paid bi-weekly have some months with three paychecks and some with two.
  • Saving is more manageable.
  • It's simple.
  • The added flexibility can also be a disadvantage, offering too much temptation to go off the beaten path.
  • Checking in every week (or every other week) can be overwhelming.

5 Tips for Budgeting by Paycheck Successfully

You're almost armed with everything you need to start budgeting by paycheck, but here's a step-by-step guide to make it even simpler:

#1 Get a Blank Calendar

You need a calendar to write down when your bills are due and which paychecks you'll pay them with. Whether it's a digital, printable, or paper version, just make sure it's blank to avoid cluttering the space.

Acting as a visual representation of your budgeting efforts, it'll help you see how far you've come and what the financial road ahead looks like. Plus, it guarantees you never forget your bills' due dates again.

#2 Add Your Bills and Paychecks

With your calendar in hand, it's time to add all your paychecks on the right dates. Always add the specific amount you'll be paid, too. 

After that, slot in your regular monthly bills on the due dates. These include your fixed expenses, like debt payments, insurance, childcare, subscriptions, cell phone, internet, rent/mortgage, and car payments. Make the process easier by looking through your transaction history; it'll reduce the chances of missing important bills.

#3 Calculate Your Total Expenses

Now your fixed expenses are in place, it's time to calculate your variable expenses. MetLife emphasizes the following common variable bills:

  • Groceries
  • Gas
  • Entertainment
  • Dining out
  • Medical care
  • Property and auto maintenance
  • Hobbies
  • Utilities
  • Clothing
  • Entertainment
  • Personal care (i.e., haircuts, nails, waxes, etc.)

Again, look through your bank statements to find averages in the above-mentioned categories.

Alternatively, add grocery and other regular spending to your calendar as a weekly expense. That way, you don't have to account for the entire month at a time.

#4 Don't Forget About Savings and Sinking Funds

You should put money aside every month for emergency and sinking funds. While there isn't a specific date to inject money into them, selecting a consistent date is recommended. Try setting up automatic transfers to properly commit to saving.

Note: A sinking fund is money you save every month for an irregular or one-time predetermined outgoing, such as a wedding, honeymoon, vacation, baby shower, 50th party, car, house, or similar.

#5 Assign Every Expense to a Specific Paycheck

Lastly, assign each expense to a particular paycheck. Use different highlighters to note which expense goes to which paycheck, understanding that not every expense will be paid for by your most recent income. 

What To Do If Unexpected Expenses Arise

This method is fantastic for intentional spending and saving. However, it doesn't prevent unexpected costs from emerging. From unplanned car maintenance to an emergency medical bill, you don't know what curveball life will throw at you. Thankfully, you can handle such financial scares using the paycheck budget strategy in many ways:

  • Always put money into an emergency fund. 
  • Use a sinking fund if you don't have enough in an emergency fund.
  • Include a buffer in your budget (i.e., a set amount perfect for covering small emergencies)

4 Best Tools for Setting Up a Paycheck Budget

Make paycheck budgeting straightforward with these four tools:

#1 Smartphone Apps

If you're more digitally inclined, you can use one of the many budgeting apps available for smartphones.

Like the strategy itself, your preferred app may not be the same as your friend's favorite. Spend time filtering through the best-reviewed before settling on one. Some of the most popular applications include Mint, EveryDollar, and YNAB (You Need a Budget). Taking your budget with you will never be as easy!

#2 Worksheet

Do you prefer budgeting with pen and paper? The paycheck budget worksheet will undoubtedly be your favorite tool. You can make your own or find a template online (free and paid versions are available).

All you need to do is print a clean sheet off every payday and input the details. Templates tend to come with instructions, so don't worry about getting overwhelmed; they'll guide you through each stage.

#3 Spreadsheet

Spreadsheets are perfect for paycheck-to-paycheck budgeting since they do all the calculations for you. Say goodbye to that calculator. 

Granted, making one from scratch requires fairly in-depth knowledge of how Excel or Google Sheets work. However, there are plenty of ready-to-go versions online. Pretty Arrow's budget by paycheck spreadsheet is particularly intuitive. Not only does it have the formulas in place, but it also includes a transaction tracker to handle variable expenses like a pro.

#4 Calendar

At the end of the day, it doesn't need to be fancy — it just needs to work, and a monthly printable or digital calendar does exactly that.

The method is deep-rooted in assigning certain expenses to specific paychecks based on the day they're paid. Hence, an ordinary calendar is the perfect tool. You can even use color-coding to transform it into an at-a-glance affair.

As we've explored the advantages of budgeting with each paycheck, particularly for those paid bi-weekly, it's clear that this strategy offers a practical and dynamic solution to the challenges posed by varying pay frequencies. Whether you're breaking free from the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, navigating the intricacies of multiple paydays, or just starting your budgeting journey, the paycheck budget method stands as a versatile tool ready to be tailored to your specific needs. By adopting this approach, you not only gain financial insight but also empower yourself to proactively manage your resources, paving the way for a more secure and stable financial future.

Related Reading:

How to save more money on groceries

Why having a household budget is important

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