I just recently learned that the phrase "living paycheck to paycheck" means different things to different folks. For some, the meaning is literal. They spend the contents of one paycheck on one month's living expenses. Then the next paycheck arrives (typically just in time) and they spend that…and so forth. But for other folks, the meaning is more metaphor than fact. Some financially savvy folks set a savings goal—and what is left over is what they live on. Obviously, living this way requires willpower, sacrifice and clear goals. But for those who can do it, the payoff is definitely worth it.

The power of purposeful saving 

Research now shows that if you have a motivational savings goal, you will be more likely to follow through with a savings strategy (for more see Forbes).

Why do you want to save? What do you want? What do you need? When you think about money, what worries you?

These are the questions to answer to identify a goal with enough motivational strength.

Examples of motivational goals:

  • Establish your emergency fund.
  • Pay off debt.
  • Travel to a place on your bucket list.
  • Buy a new home/car/vacation home.
  • Have a child.
  • Quit your "day job" and start your own business.

What is your motivational goal?

5 Obvious obstacles (and how to overcome them)

In between every motivational goal and its achievement lurk obstacles. So let's look at some common obstacles and how to find workable alternatives.

1. Eating out

In every article I have read about saving more money, "eating out" is a #1 culprit. You may eat out for all kinds of reasons—but if you want to save, you will need to cut back or, ideally, stop. As well, savers worldwide cite couponing and deals as a major savings vehicle.


  • When you do eat out, use a coupon or Groupon deal (check out KCL's How to Eat and Drink on a Dime for more ideas).
  • Set a monthly eating out budget in the first few months of savings so you don't have to quit "cold turkey."
  • If you are a fast foodie, set up your kitchen with all the fixin’s to make your favorites quickly at home (burger patties, buns, condiments—it's a snap!).

Couponing helps:

2. Entertaining

Entertaining (or being entertained) can be as pricey as eating out. And in some circles, the pressure to keep spending can be intense. But research shows that if you persist in pursuing your savings goals, you may be surprised to find your "big spender" friends ease up—and even follow suit!


  • Host a potluck (in rotation at each others' homes) with your close buddies.
  • Have a get-together where everyone brings one ingredient and then cooks the meal together.
  • Do a BYOW (Bring Your Own Wine)—have everyone bring a bottle of budget wine with a budget cheese pairing and crackers (that you got with a coupon)—cheap and fun!
  • If everyone loves watching a certain television show weekly, have them all over—you supply the popcorn and they can bring beverages and snacks.

Entertain and get paid:

3. Starbucks (or Dunkin' Donuts)

Here you might be thinking, "Hey—anything but the coffee!!" But oh yes, for those who are serious about saving, that $15-$20 per week really adds up.


  • Give yourself a weekly limit—say, one visit per week, or only when you have a coupon (or both).
  • Buy your favorite coffee in bulk and invest in the one-time cost of equipment to brew your favorite drinks (espresso, latte, frothy cappuccino) at home—the savings will show themselves over time!
  • If you always drink your coffee at work, bring your home brewing system to work with you.
  • Campaign your office manager for a break room makeover (why pay for great coffee when you can get your company to pay instead)!

4. Shopping

The good news is, unless you are in extreme financial distress, you won't have to totally give up shopping to meet your savings goals. What you will need to do is reframe what "shopping" looks like, where it happens, how often and how.


  • Institute a "48 hour hold period" before you buy anything new.
  • If your willpower will not go for this, use layaway. This gives you a breathing room period where you can change your mind (minus the service and cancellation fees if you do).
  • Fall in love with "swaps." Swaps are becoming big in this age of reuse-recycle-repurpose.

Find swaps:

5. Travel

Travel doesn't have to be expensive. It also doesn't have to mean you travel a long way away from home. Knowing when to travel, and how to find deals can help you travel a bit even as you save.


  • Resolve to only travel during the cheapest times.
  • Traveling in larger groups can lower costs for everyone.
  • Offering your services as a Vacation Nanny, ESL teacher, or tour guide may even score you free travel (see How to Fly for Free for lots more tips!)

Travel savings helps:


The Payoff of Living Paycheck to Paycheck