18 Things You Must Do to Squeeze the Most Out of Every Paycheck

You may feel financially strapped, but there are strategies to make your paycheck go further.

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Updated June 6, 2024
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These days, every dollar counts. It can be tough to make ends meet on an average salary, especially when it’s losing buying power to inflation. You may be living paycheck to paycheck.

However, there are a number of steps you can take to increase your financial wellness and stretch your paycheck a bit further, even if there’s no increase in the amount.

We’ve compiled key ways to make the most of your money so you can provide for your needs, reduce your spending, and save for a rainy day.

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Buy used when practical

Philipimage/Adobe woman checking clothes at garage sale

Your local thrift shop and Facebook Marketplace can be enormous boons when it comes to making the most of your hard-earned cash.

Housewares, clothing, furniture, sporting equipment, and more come at steep discounts if you buy them used.

Use cash back and rewards programs

Drobot Dean/Aadobe young woman shopping online using laptop

If you’re already shopping online, using a web browser extension like Rakuten or TopCashBack can help you earn cash back while you do so.

Using a cash back credit card can also help with this, but only if you have the discipline to pay it off each month so you don’t pay any interest.

Cook meals at home

Prostock-studio/Adobe african american man baking using laptop

You’re probably tired of hearing it, but making your meals at home rather than eating out is a key way to stretch your dollars. Apart from housing and transportation, food is the biggest expense for most people.

So when you make a $3 sandwich at home rather than buying one for $10 at a restaurant or deli, the savings add up quickly.

Resolve $10,000 or more of your debt

Credit card debt is suffocating. It constantly weighs on your mind and controls every choice you make. You can end up emotionally and even physically drained from it. And even though you make regular payments, it feels like you can never make any progress because of the interest.

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Negotiate your bills

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For bills like gym memberships, cable, and phone service, call up your provider and ask if they’re running any discounts or will work with you to lower your bill.

Shop around to make sure you’re getting the best deal, and be prepared to cancel if you’re not. Companies will often make you a discounted retention offer if you threaten to cancel.

If you have credit card debt, call your issuer and see if they will lower your interest rate. Or look into a balance transfer to a card with a lower interest rate.

Ask for discounts

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Always ask if the company has any discounts or deals going. These could be anything from discounts for veterans, first responders, or teachers to special seasonal pricing. Remember: If you don’t ask for a discount, you’ll never get one.

Be a savvy shopper

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Paying attention to how much things cost is essential if you want to be a savvy shopper and spot a great deal. 

Buying when prices are low and delaying a purchase when they rise is a smart shopping hack to make sure you’re not overpaying for anything.

Cancel your subscriptions

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These sneaky vampires will slowly suck the life out of your budget if you let them. The most insidious ones start with a free trial that you forget about until you’ve paid six months’ worth of charges.

If you opt for one of these subscriptions, set an alarm on your phone a few days before you get charged so that the subscription doesn’t become a financial parasite.

Track your expenses

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It’s hard to make the most of your money if you don't know how much is coming in and going out. 

By tracking expenses, you can know how much everything costs so you can avoid wasting money and make any necessary shifts in your spending habits.

You don’t have to do this forever, but tracking every penny you spend for just a month may show you where you can cut back.

Add to your savings

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Creating a stash of extra cash for big purchases and emergencies makes life cheaper in the long run. Disasters won’t have to be funded by a cash advance or credit card with high interest rates.

Plus, you’ll be able to pay cash for things you might otherwise finance, like a car or furniture.

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Ditch your debt

fizkes/Adobe senior couple happy after clearing debt

High-interest debt is even more of a leech than the Netflix subscription you never use. Although it might be tough to pay down your debt, you’ll have a lot more salary to work with when less of it is going toward your creditors.

If the debt seems insurmountable, take it in small bites. Make all of your minimum payments, then pay more on your highest-interest debt. When that is paid off, move on to the next one, and so on. Once you've crushed your debt, don’t run up the credit cards again.

Use a carpool, bike, or public transportation

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Transportation is a big line item in most people’s budgets. 

Reduce what you spend on getting from here to there by taking the bus, a train, or arranging a carpool. You can even get your exercise in with your commute if you can walk or take a bike.

You might also ask if your employer is willing to let you work from home a few days per week to reduce transit costs.

Find free entertainment

JackF/Adobe woman giving books to librarian

Not everything that’s fun costs funds. Look for free ways to have a good time, such as community festivals, free museum days, or activities at the local library.

Nature also offers many fulfilling things to do for no or low cost, like hiking and stargazing.

Contribute to retirement savings

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When you’re struggling to make ends meet, contributing to a retirement account might be the last thing you want to do. 

However, certain accounts, like a 401(k) and a traditional IRA, come with tax breaks that can reduce your taxable income. Also, ask your employer if they match your contributions, because that’s free money.

Prioritize essentials

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When your income is lean and your expenses are high, you may have to make some tough choices about which bills to pay and which ones to delay.

Prioritize basic needs like shelter, transportation to work, and food. After that, stay current on the minimum payments on your debts, if you can.

DIY repairs

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Thanks to the internet, you can learn to fix quite a few car and household breakdowns yourself.

Invest in a good set of tools (you can probably get these used on Facebook Marketplace) so you can fix leaky faucets, change your own brakes and oil, and perform a variety of other low-skill DIY repairs.

Limit impulse buying

Krakenimages.com/Adobe african american couple with shopping bags

If you find yourself mindlessly spending on impulse purchases, make it harder for yourself to do so.

Make a list and stick to it when you’re at the grocery store. Turn off one-click purchasing or remove your credit card information from online shopping sites. You might also consider sticking to cash so you don’t overspend while you shop.

Stick to a budget

tirachard/Adobe asian couple reviewing bills at home

The word “budget” may carry the same negative connotation for you as words like “diet” and “regulation.” 

But deciding how much to spend on each expense and sticking to those decisions puts you in charge of your money and is a key to your financial fitness.

Don’t know how to create a budget? Use the 50/30/20 rule to get started: 50% of your salary goes to needs, 30% goes to wants, and 20% goes to savings.

Refinance high-interest debt

pathdoc/Adobe cheerful african american man holding document

If you’re in over your head with high-interest debt, look into consolidating it to a single loan with a lower interest rate. This can reduce the amount of interest you’ll pay over the long term.

Remember, though, that refinancing your debt won’t fix a spending problem. So if you go this route, be sure not to acquire any new debt.

Bottom line

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Inflation, layoffs, and stagnant wages have made it harder and harder to get by in recent years. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless to improve your financial situation.

There are ways to stretch your dollars to get the most out of your salary; they just require a little planning and forethought.

By using these tips, you can rest assured that you’re making the most of your income, regardless of how much it is. And If you can’t make it on your salary, try to find ways to make extra cash.

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Author Details

Jenni Sisson

Jenni Sisson is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. She has been published in Business Insider and The Ways to Wealth. In addition to writing, Jenni hosts the Mama's Money Map podcast to help fellow stay-at-home moms on their journey to financial freedom.