With three-fourths of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, according to Careerbuilder.com, (including some who earn six-figures a year), paying our bills on time each month can be very difficult. Even if we earn “enough” to cover our expenses, bills have a tendency to pile up leaving many of us close to cash poor for a period of time. It’s a cycle that’s hard to quit.
To help give your bills– and thus, your budget – more breathing room, here are four strategies that have helped others and me in the past.
And as always, if you have additional methods of making bill payments easier, please leave a comment below.
1. Ask for Different Due Dates
If many of your bills fall on or around the same due date each month – fast depleting your bank account — call the billing department at your creditors and utility companies and ask for a different due date. This way you can spread out your bills to match when you get paid (or when you have ample cash in the bank).
From credit cards to utility and cable bills, call and request that they move your billing date to a more preferable time during the month. It can’t hurt to ask. Many companies are flexible, especially if you’ve never been late paying your bills.
2. Consolidate Your Debt
Streamlining your credit card debt and student loan payments into one monthly loan may reduce some of the flurry and fury around your monthly bills.
If possible – and it makes financial sense because you can bank on a lower interest rate – consider consolidating your various debts. For credit cards, opening a balance transfer card with an introductory low-interest (or no-interest) rate could alleviate interest payments for 12-15 months.
For bundling multiple student loans, find out about the various refinancing options at both major and small banks. Lenders generally only consolidate private loans together or federal loans together (never mixing the two types), but SoFi.com is a relatively new lender on the block that offers more flexible refinancing options for qualifying borrowers.
3. Aim to Get Cash Flow Consistent
In that same survey, researchers at CareerBuilder also found that of those who have a minimum wage job or have held one in the past, two-thirds are struggling to make ends meet. For many of these workers, weekly or monthly wages can be unpredictable. Unless your employer is able to provide you with a consistent advance or you can somehow get on a routine work schedule, planning ahead and forecasting how much you’ll have in the bank (and whether that can cover your bills) can be close to impossible.
To help put an end to that, a new mobile app called Even has arrived, designed to help those struggling with inconsistent paychecks. The New York Times describes it as a tool that “smooths the irregular, up-and-down paychecks of hourly workers into the steady flow of a simulated salary.”
How it works: Even figures out your average paycheck amount, and then assures that you will receive at least that amount, each paycheck, as long as you’re still employed in that job. With Even’s Pay Protection feature, anytime you make a paycheck lower than your average, the app automatically deposits enough money into your bank account to make up the difference. So, for example, if your average was $500 and you got a paycheck for $450, Even would make a deposit of $50. The deposit usually arrives the next business day after your paycheck.
You pay the money back when you make a paycheck that’s bigger than your average, and only from any extra you make over your average. So you always keep at least your average.
According to a company rep, for many people, Pay Protection is free, because their employer covers the cost. For people whose employers don’t cover Pay Protection, it costs $3 per week, withdrawn from your bank account every Friday.
4. Eliminate Some Extras
Finally, what small or large expenses can you forgo? The things that we often forget about because they just don’t really add that much value to our lives (e.g. $10 monthly magazine subscriptions, $100 monthly cable, $10 box-of-the-month memberships, etc.) can take big bites out of our budget and create stress when it comes time to pay for the necessities that actually matter like student loans, rent and car payments.
With the end of the year approaching now is a better time than any to audit your expenses, review cash flow and filter out those expenses that we’ve gotten accustomed to – but can really afford to spare.
Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.