If you're caught in a paycheck-to-paycheck cycle that's consistently leaving your checking account balance low, examine your everyday expenses and look for ways you could slash unnecessary spending.
Once you start freeing money, use it to boost your emergency fund by banking it in a high-yield savings account.
From Bankrate.com, here are four everyday saving ideas:
Cut down on phone extras. Do you make a lot of directory-assistance calls from your cell phone? Typically, cell-phone providers charge a fee every time you call 411. Instead, you can call 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) to get the listing you want for free. Another free service, 1-800-FREE-411, requires you to listen to a short ad before you get your number.
Also, drop your long-distance carrier if you make infrequent long-distance calls. Instead, use a prepaid phone card, a dial-around service or even your cell phone if you've got the minutes.
Learn feel-good financial tricks. Pay in cash. Unless you're in the habit of paying your credit-card bills in full each month, don't use the cards for anything you can eat or wear. Try to pay in cash to make yourself aware of how much you're spending. Live one pay raise behind. Rather than spending that 3% cost-of-living raise, add it to your emergency fund. The next time you get a raise, increase your disposable income by the amount of your last raise.
Save on insurance costs. You can get a break on car insurance for good behavior. Ask about discounts if you've gone a certain number of years without an accident or ticket, store your car in a garage or drive less than a certain number of miles each year.
Also, get rid of private mortgage insurance: if you have 20% equity in your home, you could qualify to start saving that money. And adjust your auto coverage - if the kids have left for good, take them off the policy; if they are simply away at college, ask about a distant-student credit.
Entertain yourself on the cheap. Evaluate your cable package. Do you really need 300-plus channels? Do you have time to watch those movie channels you're paying a premium price for? You can always rent movies when you want to watch a particular flick. To rent movies economically, try an online rental service that charges a flat rate each month to rent a certain number of movies. And, dated as it may sound, you can use your local library to borrow movies, CDs and even exercise videos.
By Marshall Loeb