6 Things You Must Do If You Have $0 Left Over for Yourself Each Month

Close up of man hands holding and empty wallet.
Suriyawut Suriya / Getty Images/iStockphoto

If the end of the month comes and you find that you have just enough to pay your bills but nothing left to spend on yourself, let alone build a financial buffer for the future, you probably need to make some changes.

However, you’re not alone. A recent GOBankingRates survey found that 35% of people spend less than $100 on themselves (aside from food, housing, etc.) out of each paycheck.

But there are some steps you can take to improve your situation. Also see common ways you may be wasting money every day.

Set a Budget

This is common advice for a reason. While budgeting might not sound fun, it can be worse to get caught off guard by overspending, especially in months when your expenses go up and put you into negative territory.

“Many of us tend to spend as much as we earn, and that can get tricky if things change. Ignoring money problems doesn’t make them go away,” said Luis Andino, founder and CEO of Ditch, a financial wellness platform.

Instead of ignoring the problem, tackle it head on.

“Plan ahead,” Andino said. “Being smart with your money now can save you from headaches later. Start with a budget. Write down what you earn and what you spend. See where your money goes. Are there places you can cut back? Even if it’s a little bit, it can add up over time.”

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Review Your Fixed Expenses

As part of setting a budget, you’ll see what your fixed expenses like rent and car payment add up to. Although steps like moving or selling your car might feel painful, they can make a substantial impact on your budget, leaving you with more money to spend on yourself.

“Sometimes, it’s not about cutting out fun stuff but looking at the necessary stuff,” Andino said.

For example, he said, young people should “think about living with family a bit longer. It can help save money and gives you time to plan your next steps without the burden of rent or a mortgage.”

Watch Out for Little Expenses That Add Up

While your fixed expenses can be where most of your money goes, that doesn’t mean you should ignore the little expenses, especially if you find yourself with no money left over each month.

“Buying coffee every day or eating out a lot can sneak up on you,” Andino said. “Maybe make coffee at home or pack lunches a few days a week. Small changes like this can really make a difference in the long run.”

Increase Your Income

The other side of budgeting is looking at what you’re bringing in every month. The reality is that many people aren’t earning enough to cover their wants and needs. And it’s not the case that everyone’s wasting money on things like online shopping. While some people certainly could free up room in their budget by cutting these costs, the GOBankingRates survey also found that 39% spend less than $100 on online purchases per month.

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So, you may need to look more at the income side of the equation.

“You can cut costs to zero, but you can increase revenues to infinity,” said Gilad Uziely, co-founder and CEO of Sequence, a fintech company. “This is easier said as a business owner and not the owner of one’s own life.”

Still, in his experience with his app’s community, he said, “We’ve found that personal finance hackers who find themselves short of discretionary spend at the end of the month often find ways to increase their revenues first. A side hustle, Amazon selling, advertising, whatever way you can earn more money — if you have the time — should be prioritized.”

Review Interest

If you have debt, you could potentially free up cash by reviewing how much interest you’re paying. You might be able to make moves like refinancing or doing a balance transfer, and then if you get serious about paying down debt, that can save money in the long run that would otherwise be going toward interest.

“Check how much you’re paying in interest and try to pay a bit extra on your loans when you can to accelerate your payoff timeline and save on interest,” Andino said.

On the flip side, review the interest you’re earning on savings. If you have an emergency fund, for example, and don’t want to touch that but want more spending money for yourself, you might benefit from moving those funds to a savings account with a higher interest rate. The difference might be relatively small, but even having a few extra dollars per month to treat yourself to a latte, for example, can be enjoyable.

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Splurge With Intention

Lastly, don’t just think about cutting costs and earning more. While those are important, it also helps to be more intentional about what you do splurge on, which can naturally help you save more and avoid other expenses.

Most people don’t have time for a side hustle, Uziely said.

“Instead, what we’ve seen with our users is to list their most important spends each month that spark the most joy, and ensure they spend their discretionary money on that,” he explained. “Sports tickets, concerts, favorite restaurants, whatever. Saving shouldn’t hurt; it should spark joy. And we’ve found that saving for a specific reward makes saving feel more comfortable in general.”

Even if it feels like you don’t have room in your budget to save, you’d be surprised what a good goal can do. If you know you need $100 for a ticket, for example, you might be more careful with your grocery spending. Maybe buying fewer snacks each trip helps you save enough.

When you do spend money on yourself, consider which types of purchases have lasting effect.

“Spend on things that make you happy not just for a moment, but for a long time,” Andino said. “Make wise investments in your own happiness. Instead of buying stuff that only feels new for a little while, like a new purse, spend on experiences or things that make you feel good inside and out for a longer period of time.

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“Splurges on getting fit, eating good food, spending time outdoors or taking trips that give you great memories are all worth it. These are things you’ll look back on and smile. But find ways to do it economically, like taking short weekend or day trips, hiking or buying organic foods. These kinds of things should be prioritized because the ROI on your money is much better than material indulgences. It’s not about spending a lot but spending on what matters most to you.”

Altogether, these steps can help you break out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle and feel more comfortable with your spending. It can take discipline, but it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.

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