I’m pretty sure most people understand that the first step in achieving financial security is to spend less than you make. Sometimes easier said than done, but it’s the only way you can save any money and avoid high interest credit card debt. What a lot of people don’t get though is that just because you’re able to pay your bills each month, it doesn’t mean you’re not living beyond your means. If your bank account balance gets dangerously close to zero right before payday, you’re not “getting by,” even if you don’t overdraw and are technically making ends meet. Here are 7 other signs you’re living beyond your means, even if you are able to pay all your bills on time, and what you can do about it:
1. You’re not paying off your credit cards every month or you don’t have a plan in place to pay them off. Use the Debt Blaster to get a plan going and then stick to it.
2. You don’t have an emergency fund. This is your first line of defense against long-term financial issues. Get started on this ASAP.
3. You say you can’t afford to do that thing you really want to do. This was actually the wake-up call for me to realize that I was living beyond my means even though I was making ends meet. I really, really, really wanted an iPad and a new bike, which added up to about $1,000. I said I couldn’t afford it and yet I was spending that amount monthly on dining out and booze. If you tell yourself you can’t afford something you really want, and that thing would be reasonable for someone of your income, lifestyle and life stage to have, that’s a sign you need to examine your spending and start living within your real means.
4. Unplanned expenses like a traffic ticket or a family member’s destination wedding send you into a tailspin. If the first thing you think of when you hear a cousin is getting married at an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean is, “How rude! I don’t have the money for that!” you are not “making it” financially. There needs to be wiggle room in your cash flow for things like this. Here’s a good way to plan for it.
5. You’re taking out 401(k) loans to pay off other bills. Even though you’re paying interest to yourself, this is still a form of debt. If you’re borrowing against your savings, you’re not living within your means.
6. You’re not on track to retire at 65. Ideally, you’d be financially able to retire before you are mentally ready, but 65 is a good age to shoot for if you’re still in the earlier parts of your career. Here’s how to find out if you’re on track. If you’re not, the earlier you start saving, the sooner (and easier) you’ll get on track.
7. A job loss or medical emergency would severely alter your future. If going without even just one paycheck would send you into late fees with all your bills, it’s time to get a system in place that helps you save for these unexpected events.
The best and easiest times to escape the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle is when you experience any type of windfall like a tax refund, an unexpected bonus or even just your annual single-percentage increase at work. Be strategic with that money and use it to find some space in your finances, rather than just adjusting your spending to match. You don’t have to wait for a windfall to do this though. Even just a small change each day that you mindfully use to put away a little extra adds up.