Finding Extra Money in Your Budget

I often tell people that investing in the stock market over a long period of time is a surefire way to generate wealth. But one of the most common objections to that is “I am barely getting by. I don’t have any extra money to invest.”

As someone who initially supported myself on minimum wage jobs and who eventually put myself through college, I don’t accept such answers at face value. It’s usually about the choices we make. Admittedly, there are people who are experiencing extreme financial hardships. They would have a hard time finding any money to invest.

But, more often than not, I find that people have extra money in their budgets. They just need to know how to extract it. As I often tell them, it’s about making as much cash as possible flow in your direction, while minimizing the cash flowing in the other direction.

Here are some of the best tips I know for making that happen.

1. Create a Budget

I am a strong believer in measuring that which you seek to control. People often tell me that they really don’t understand where their money goes. But it’s really easy to lose track of hundreds of dollars a month just eating out or making impulsive purchases.

So, start by tracking your income and expenses each month to identify your cash flows. Then, create a budget that allocates your income to different categories, such as housing, food, transportation, and entertainment. Stick to your budget to avoid overspending and identify areas where you can cut back.

2. Set a Savings Goal

Determine how much you want to save each month or year and set a specific savings goal. If you have many years until retirement, you can growth wealthy by investing a modest amount each month. Even $100 a month invested over the course of 40 years can grow to a sum of more than half a million dollars.

3. Make Cuts

I can’t promise that the process will be painless, but it doesn’t have to be overly painful. These cuts are designed to meet the savings goal you set in the previous step.

One way I control spending is to limit eating out. We plan meals in advance, and we stick to that plan. We will generally eat out once on the weekends. If you currently eat out two to three times a week, cutting back to once will free up a lot of money in your budget (even if it’s just fast food you are buying).

That’s just one example. Amazon has made it easy to impulse buy items that get delivered quickly. Be disciplined. Do you really need that item, or will you use it once and put it in a drawer? Often, I will wait a week on making a purchase, and then realize I didn’t need it as bad as I thought I did.

Also, look over your credit card and bank statements and identify and eliminate any recurring charges that you no longer need.

I hate subscriptions to anything. Many of us set up a subscription or an automated purchase at some point, because it seemed like a good idea at the time. But we aren’t always so good about canceling that automated charge when it has outlived its usefulness.

4. Automate Your Savings

One of the most useful strategies for savings is to pay yourself first. Make automatic contributions into a savings or investment account before you buy those discretionary items.

Personally, I think it’s better to first figure out how much you can afford to save, but you can be more aggressive by automating your savings, and then forcing yourself to live on what remains.

6. Get a Side Gig

If you really want to boost your savings, you can always look into a side gig. There are many ways of making a little extra money, some of which don’t require a huge commitment of time and energy. Ideally, you will do something you are passionate about that can put a little extra money in your pocket.

The key point is that this process isn’t supposed to be overly painful. If you feel like you are living on bread and water, you are going to be far less likely to stick with the plan. Further, if you have a family, you are also going to want to make sure life doesn’t become unpleasant for them. The key is small sacrifices as a way to build long-term wealth.

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